The Frontstretch: Driven to the Past: How To Have Fun With a Pace Car by John Potts -- Thursday May 20, 2010

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Driven to the Past: How To Have Fun With a Pace Car

John Potts · Thursday May 20, 2010


A few weeks back, during the Frontstretch live blog for the Talladega race, one of our moderator participants at the track mentioned that he had taken a ride in the pace car with Brett Bodine.

Naturally, we all wanted to know about it. He told us it was a real thrill to go up on those banks at just over 100 miles an hour.

Well, there’s another case of being driven to the past.

In 1967, my brother and I were at Daytona for the ARCA race, and during a rain delay on a practice day, John Marcum asked us if we’d like to have a ride around the place.

Oh, yeah, let’s go…

John had a full-size Mercury convertible that looked pretty tame, but he explained to us that it had been prepared by the Holman-Moody people so he could use it for a pace car at virtually any size race track without worrying about something happening. Right down to the tires, he said.

OK, we’re in this big ol’ Mercury with the top up coming out of the second turn, and Marcum drops the hammer. The speedometer said 115 the last time I looked at it, and he didn’t ease up going into the third turn. I mumbled something about the track being wet, and he said not to worry about it because we were on treaded tires.

After a couple of laps we came in, and a friend of mine came up about half an hour later and said he’d gotten a photo of us on the backstretch.

“I’ll send you a print after I get home,” he said. “You’re not gonna believe this.”

I asked for some clarification, but he told me he’d rather I waited until I saw the photo.

Sometime in March, I received an 8×10 black-and-white photo of the ARCA pace car going down the Daytona backstretch, leaving a rooster tail. That wasn’t the startling part. I don’t know if it was an optical illusion like I hoped it was, but it looked like there was an inch of water on the track surface, and the tires were hydroplaning on top of the water. From then on, I accepted offers to ride in a pace car only when the track was dry.

- – - – - – - –

I’ve had a little experience driving pace cars myself from time to time, and it can be a real hoot.

Once at Kentucky Motor Speedway at Whitesville, Ky., again back in the 60s, I had the Fairgrounds Motor Speedway pace car with me, and they asked me to pace the feature.

No problem, and I even had a soon to be famous passenger. Darrell Waltrip had suffered a mechanical problem with his 1956 Ford, and asked to ride along.

Coming to the green, I came off the fourth turn a little faster than I had anticipated, and in turning into the infield I got that Chevelle just a little sideways. Nothing serious, a little steering input and a little throttle straightened it out.

However, when I brought it to a stop, Darrell didn’t even open the door. He jumped out, came around the car, and said, “I ain’t never riding with you again!”

Then there was the time at the old 25th Street Fairgrounds at Columbus, Ind. when Boyd Smedley and I had the Salem Speedway pace car, a 1968 Ford, with us.

The South Central Indiana Racing Association non-wing sprinters were running on that great big half-mile dirt track, and they asked if we’d pace the feature.

Butch Wilkerson, a Columbus resident and a sprint car driver of considerable talent and repute, was without a ride that night and said he’d like to drive it. Boyd said it was OK as long as I rode along.

On the first lap with the cars behind us, Wilkerson looks down at the dashboard and says, “Hey, Potts, the speedometer don’t work!” This was not unusual in the days when you could unhook that thing. Dealers did it all the time, I suppose to make the car easier to sell when they got it back.

I said, “Does the mirror work, Butch?”

“Well, yeah, why?”

“Because all you have to do is stay ahead of them until you’re ready to get off.”

After the one-lap-to-go signal, the guy on the pole, Larry somebody, driving a 427 Chevy powered car prepared by none other than Karl Kinser, decided Butch wasn’t pacing fast enough, and waved at him to speed up.

We came out of the fourth turn in a wild slide, and I’m not sure how Wilkerson got that thing into the infield without rolling it over.

I told him the same thing DW had told me at Whitesville.

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05/21/2010 08:09 AM

Ah, the good ol’ days. When racers were cowboys and every track was the O.K. Corral.

05/21/2010 12:20 PM

Hey, John, next time I see ol’ Butch, I’ll ask him about that. Wished I’d known it last Friday. He and I sat together at Bloomington. More old stories, a really good time, and he gave me some material for future articles to be sure.

Take care…DB

Matt Potts
05/21/2010 04:20 PM

I remember riding with the late Leo Parrish at Winchester one time, and when we came up the hill into the pits, Vern Schrock’s big german shepard ran across the pit road in front of us. I don’t know how, but Leo got us stopped without hitting the dog. Then there was the time at Nashville when he entered the pits a little faster than he wanted to and proceded to throw it sideways, back and forth to slow it down. There were people diving over the wall to get out of the way. I remember that being the last time I rode with Leo in a pace car.