The Frontstretch: Driven to the Past: Getting There, Part Deux... by John Potts -- Thursday October 7, 2010

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Driven to the Past: Getting There, Part Deux...

John Potts · Thursday October 7, 2010


I never expected my dissertation last week on getting to and from the race track to draw as much attention and comment as it did. Apparently, there are a lot of folks who think these million-dollar haulers have taken some of the romance out of the sport.

In fact, there are older participants and fans on a couple of racing sites I frequent who have a very definite take on the situation. They feel like interest in motorsports began fading with the introduction of enclosed trailers.

Thinking back, they’re not far wrong. Sure, the real racing buffs know there’s a car in there, but it’s just another trailer to the average motorist – including the kids.

I know that every single time we passed a race car on an open trailer or hauler (or more frequently, when one of them passed us), it piqued my interest, and I imagined that car on a track somewhere. It made me wonder where it raced, and if I’d ever get to see it.

Though considered luxurious, today’s modern enclosed haulers have stripped race cars of some of their mystique.

Same thing applied to seeing a stock car of some type sitting at a service station. Remember when every station seemed to have a car sitting there?

If I didn’t recognize the car, I’d stop if I had time and want to know where they ran it, who drove it, etc. Best and cheapest advertising in the world for the sport.

Also, they usually pulled the car inside when the workday was over and pulled the necessary maintenance on it.

Now that’s nearly gone, too, with so many garages dedicated exclusively to housing and working on race vehicles.

It’s still alive to a certain extent at the local level, of course, but I can remember when Harry Hyde’s two Pontiacs, and even the first K&K Dodge, sat outside his transmission shop until the day’s work was done.

- – - – - – - –

One person who commented mentioned a ferryboat ride on the way to a race.

He signed his comment, “Tom W.” That could only be Tommy “Wigs” Williams, because only three of us were on that trip in the late 60s. The third, Bob
Sanders, we lost to cancer several years back.

There was an ARCA race I was flagging at Salem, and that evening they were
having a challenge race between our racers from the Fairgrounds Motor Speedway
in Louisville and the local guys at the half-mile dirt track near Florence, Ky.

That track is still operating as Florence Speedway, by the way, and is recognized as one of the elite facilities in dirt racing. As a matter of fact, it is the home of the National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame. I recommend a visit to anybody who loves the history of racing.

This was a pretty unique concept, but back in those days it really wasn’t unusual for racers to compete on both types of surfaces. As I’ve said before, ARCA still competes on a couple of one-mile dirt tracks, and I can recall when their schedule had a lot more dirt tracks on it. I’ve come home with dirt all over me more than once.

Anyway, getting back to the original story…

I drove the Fairgrounds pace car to Salem, with Sanders and Wigs as passengers, promising Milt Hartlauf I’d get to Florence at soon as I could.

We left Salem and headed east on Indiana 56, figuring it would be faster than going back to Louisville and going up the Kentucky side.

Therein lies the rub, as Shakespeare might have said.

At least, the rub came in after I bypassed Madison.

Sanders, an experienced pilot, had been periodically checking the position of the sun to make sure we were headed in the right direction, and hadn’t made much comment until then.

He said, “Uh…Potts, do you realize that you just passed up the last bridge before Cincinnati? Or have you forgotten that the race track we’re headed for is on the other side of the river?”

He also pointed out that if we went all the way to Cincinnati, we’d have to back-track once we got back in Kentucky.


Not too far past Madison, somewhere around Vevay, as I recall, Wigs spotted
a sign that said, “Ohio River Ferry,” or something like that, and commented on

We immediately decided that this was our salvation, and followed the signs.

Probably we were expecting a nice, big, modern ferryboat.


Turned out it was a lot like those you see in the old western movies. A less-than-new flatboat, actually a small barge. Of course, instead of a rope across the river, it had a diesel engine which sounded like it was about to expire with every stroke.

Too late to turn back, now, so we boarded.

“Great,” Sanders commented, “We’re going to be the first people who ever sank a pace car and drowned on the way to a race.”

Well, it didn’t turn out THAT bad, but we held our breath all the way across.

Suffice it to say that we made it to Florence before the heat races were over, only to be met at the pit gate by a sweating Hartlauf, who told me to get my butt out there to serve as “guest” flagman for a couple of races.

I don’t have any memory of who won the feature that night at Florence, but I
imagine it would be safe to say that somebody like Floyd Gilbert or Ralph Latham
was up front when it was over.

Yeah, getting there can definitely be an adventure.

Contact John Potts

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Beyond the Cockpit: Alexis DeJoria On The 300 mph Women of the NHRA
A Swan’s Broken Wings Equal NASCAR’s Next Concern?
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phil h
10/08/2010 01:03 AM

I recall headin’ to Caraway Speedway in North Carolina,we were pullin our racecar on an open trailer when a couple beside us on I-40 shouted,“where u headin’ to race?Thats’ a great lookin racecar!“We told them where and they followed us to the track.We were fortunate that night to get the checkers and claim the 100 lap event.That same couple showed up in the pits after the race and told us seeing the race machine on the highway made them want to come see a race!And how tickled they were they followed the car that even won the race!

That was way back in 1985 when Tommy Sigmon was winning alot at Caraway Speedway,but its a night I’ll always remember.That open trailer captured the eye of a couple,who followed and saw it win the race!

10/08/2010 07:44 AM

John: You really should think about writing an entire book. I know it wasn’t originally my idea, but you write really well. A lot of writers forget that writing a story is like painting a picture, only using words.
Someone should be collecting the historic stories from all aspects of motorsports before they are lost forever. You have the talent, and (I assume) the contacts to be able to record history for those of us that weren’t there.

10/08/2010 01:37 PM

Reminds me of the saying “Getting there is half the fun.”

It has also been my experience that following a hauler will show you the quickest way to the track. I remember going to Cayuga Speedway through Hamilton until Howie Scannell’s hauler passed me and I followed it a different way to the track. It cut about a half hour in time. Those were the days.

Matt Potts
10/10/2010 12:25 AM

You have to be careful following race cars, thinking they’re going to the track. I remember Dad telling the story of him and buddy following a drag car, thinking they were getting a quick way in to The Nationals, turned out, the guy had already lost and was headed home somewhere between the track and Brownsburg, ‘The best laid plans…”. Love the stories Dad, several I have already heard, but once in a while even I get to read a new one.