NASCAR Fan Q & A · John Potts · Thursday February 10, 2011
Well, Frontstretch said we’d be back when it got close to Speedweeks. This is about as close as we can get, I suppose.
About the column name change…
After some conversation with Editor-in-Chief Tom Bowles, we decided on this, the Fan Q & A column to give me some latitude in what I write about. I was beginning to worry about running out of stories from back in the day, and that’s when he suggested that I begin to handle the question-and-answer deal, replacing Matt Taliaferro (who’s returned to Athlon Sports full-time).
This doesn’t mean we won’t be driving to the past now and then, though, because I seem to be reminded once in a while about something that happened, and it blossoms into a story…
Like this week, for instance.
Over the winter, we’ve had a lot of discussion on the chat boards and forums about the old Fairgrounds Motor Speedway and the Figure 8 division that was so popular during the 1960s and ’70s.
One of the topics was about the bumpers the guys used on those cars.
After a couple of frightening intersection crashes, which fortunately did not result in serious injuries, and with the cars getting faster, we could see the handwriting on the wall. This led to a long post-race skull session during the week, with all officials and a couple of the top drivers trying to solve the problem. We had already started requiring a 1/4-inch steel plate on the driver’s side, at least 18 inches in height and running from in front of the door to behind it, and specified how it was to be attached. We felt this would, in effect, spread the force of a driver’s side impact rather than having the impacting car come through the door.
However, we felt more had to be done.
The answer was to bring a halt to the practice of strengthening the front ends. These guys were well on the way to developing what I called “cow catchers” up front. We decided that there would, from that point on, be no bracing allowed from the front spindles forward. Nothing but stock metal. No bracing of the radiator, nothing. Stock bumpers only.
Then some really smart driver asked if we would allow them to install larger bumpers, as long as they were stock and mounted in stock fashion.
After some discussion, that sounded fine.
Immediately, everybody started showing up with bumpers from 1957 and ’58 Mercury models (I think; the memory gets a little fuzzy 50-plus years later).
These were BIG bumpers, as you can see from the accompanying photograph.
The photo is of Andy Vertrees, a track champion who went on to become the promoter at Kentucky Motor Speedway at Whitesville, Charlestown Motor Speedway, and the Louisville Speedway. He also was voted Auto Racing Promoter of the Year while at Louisville. I’ve already written that he was one of the three best Figure 8 drivers I ever saw.
That’s not the really interesting part of the story, though. It wasn’t long before every salvage yard in Louisville and the surrounding area had been picked completely clean of ’57 and ’58 Mercury bumpers.
I was driving a friend’s Mercury station wagon one day, and when I stopped to fill up with gas, a car owner came out of the station and offered me $250 for the bumper.
About that time, it wasn’t uncommon to see a Mercury from one of those years going down the street with a wooden replacement bumper or no bumper at all. You had to wonder how many midnight requisition sessions led to people finding their car without a bumper when they came out of the house in the morning.
Just another example of racers’ ingenuity, I suppose.
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About the question-and-answer part.
I don’t claim to know everything there is to know about motorsports, or even any segment of motorsports. Anyone who does make that claim is fooling himself.
However, at what used to be Indianapolis Raceway Park, the late Bob Daniels (another Auto Racing Promoter of the Year) drilled into my head that the really smart people are those who know what they don’t know, and aren’t ashamed to ask those who do know about it.
I think I’ve got enough contacts, and if not, enough resources on the Internet (y’know, I think this thing is going to catch on) to go looking for the answers.
I might not answer you the first week when I get the question, but I’ll do my best to print an answer when I find out.
Also, if this idea really takes off, it goes without saying that we’re not going to be able to answer every single question in print. But if I get an e-mail address, I’ll try to respond to you in person as soon as I come up with a response.
OK, let the fun begin…
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