Once again, I’ve been surprised by the number of comments, e-mails, and
phone calls I’ve gotten. Apparently I’m not alone in thinking getting to the
races used to be a lot more fun than they are these days.
About that ferryboat ride – I should have mentioned that Tommy “Wigs”
Williams, who was the one that spotted the sign, didn’t want any part of the
deal after he saw that rickety barge. Bob Sanders and I almost had to drag him
back to the car.
And about those haulers going past you when you thought you were traveling
at a pretty fast clip – I don’t think anybody ever passed the St. Amant/Gregory
crew on the highway. Trickle’s bunch was just about as fast, but if they passed
you, you’d better find some more speed, because chances were they were right on
Heading for Berlin one Friday, we were going across Michigan when that White
Knight 99 rig came down a ramp and merged in front of us. My son said, “Dad,
we’re running late.”
Matt also came up with a comment last week about one of my early trips to
the NHRA U.S. Nationals at what was then Indianapolis Raceway Park. There’s
more to that story.
That was in 1964. My best friend at the time was Dick Winburn, who we lost
to a truck wreck back in the ’70s. He and I were sitting around drinking some
adult beverages and eating White Castles after a Saturday night race at the old
Fairgrounds in Louisville, and decided we’d like to go to the drags the next
After three or four hours sleep, we headed for Indianapolis in his new
Mustang convertible. You know what beer and White Castles can do to you, right?
It was a little chilly that Labor Day weekend, but we had to drive the whole
distance with the top down.
I’d been to IRP before for oval races, but for some reason had always been
riding with someone else and hadn’t paid much attention. Thus, we weren’t sure
of the quickest way to the track.
Apparently we had gone past it on a road south of the property when we came
up behind a guy pulling a trailer with a Fiat Topolino with huge tires on the
Our logic told us this guy would be headed for the same place we were going,
so we followed him. And followed him. And followed him.
Matt recalls me saying it was somewhere between the track and Brownsburg,
but I think we were about halfway to Terre Haute before he pulled over for gas.
Talking to him, we found out he’d been eliminated the day before and was headed
home to Peoria. The Illinois plate should have tipped us off. Didn’t know all
that much about drag racing in those days, but I learned soon that anybody
competing in that event arrives way early, not on Sunday morning.
- – - – - – - –
Another thing my son commented on after seeing it on my Facebook page was
the photo accompanying this column.
I used to do on-track interviews both before and after races when I was with
ASA. In this one, I’m interviewing Jim Sauter. Other drivers in the picture,
from left to right, are Mike Eddy, Bob Senneker, Butch Miller, Dick Trickle, and
Alan Kulwicki. Quite a collection of talent, huh?
The officials in the background are photographer Wayne Doebling, PR rep
Steve Stubbs, and the late Leo Parrish, our tech director and pace car driver.
I think this one was taken at Bristol in the early 80s, and if Matt is right
about the year, it was a pretty interesting race by the time it was over.
As I recall, Eddy was leading by four laps with about fifteen to go. That
doesn’t sound very exciting, I know, and I was pretty much just counting down
All of a sudden I noticed a different sound as Mike went under the
flagstand. It just didn’t sound right.
I looked over to his pit area, and the crew was looking at each other like
they’d heard something amiss also.
After a couple of laps, it was obvious he had slowed perceptively, and
suddenly that four-lap lead didn’t look so safe.
Miller’s crew was apparently on top of the situation, because Butch was
running second, and he began pushing a little harder than a guy who is about to
settle for second, four laps down on the leader.
With about 10 laps to go, Butch made up one lap and Eddy slowed further.
Even the crowd was into it at this point, knowing that this race had
suddenly become a bit more exciting.
It turned out to be a race between what was left of Eddy’s fuel pump and
Miller’s charge around that high-banked half-mile.
Myself, I was just praying that we wouldn’t have a reason for a yellow flag.
That would have sealed the situation, because I didn’t see how Eddy could
recover from a caution period, especially with our “last five laps under green”
policy.” (And you thought NASCAR invented the green-white-checker?)
We didn’t have to throw it, and I think Butch passed Mike for the fourth
time with a couple of laps to go.
Like Yogi Berra said, it ain’t over ‘til it’s over.
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