Got another question this week, after I was talking about myself and Shorty Miller, the irrepressible flagman/starter from Ohio. Did I ever drop a flag on the track?
Oh yeah, once or twice. Twice at the old Fairgrounds Motor Speedway in Louisville, where the cars were so close to the outside wall sometimes that a flag could snag on them.
But I only remember dropping a checkered on the track once, and that was in an ASA race at Springfield, Mo. in the ’70s. Didn’t have anything to do with being close to the cars.
I had the checkered in my hand and was ready to throw it when a corner caught on the light switch cover and it whipped out of my hand. This was before I was using two checkered flags, so as quickly as I could I tried to use the red without turning the light on, so nobody would slow down before they hit the start/finish line.
It worked out fairly well, except for the shape the checkered flag was in when I got it back.
I think some of those guys (I suspected people like Dick Trickle, Mike Miller, Dave Watson, Rusty Wallace, etc., all of whom had a mischievous streak) actually went out of their way to run over it, and a couple even locked their brakes when they thought they were on top of it. Suffice it to say that my wife was not happy about having to make a new checkered flag before it was time to start a new season.
It was similar to something that happened while I was working with ARCA in the ’60s. Last week I referred to one of my trademarks at the time, a white cowboy hat that I wore before we had radios and headsets. The other trademark was a red bandana hanging out of my left hip pocket.
During a heat race at Salem, Ind., the hat blew off. The field came out of turn 4 with two laps to go, and I pointed at the hat, which was lying about halfway between the start/finish line and turn 1.
Ramo Stott (another guy with a mischievous streak), waved in acknowledgment that he understood and saw the hat. Then he proved it. He ran right over the hat, and, naturally, the whole field followed him right over it.
When my younger brother Bob, who served as sort of a track steward with ARCA at the time, brought it back, I yelled down that Ramo had run over it. He looked at it and said, “EVERYBODY ran over it!” The hat looked like something Gabby Hayes wore in one of those old Roy Rogers westerns, with a few bullet holes in it.
Ramo used to bring a group from Iowa to the Busch race at IRP each year in the ’90s, and one of the primary topics of conversation was always that incident at Salem some 30 years before. Reading through some of the stories of the early days of NASCAR has brought about the realization that a lot of race drivers have that playful streak in them.
Sometime I’ve got to try and recall all the details of the great bottle rocket battle at Bristol…