Reading through my copy of Speedway Illustrated this week got me to thinking about Dick Berggren. Dr. Dick and I became friends when I was with ASA. In addition to doing some flagging, I would write a story or two for Stock Car Racing when he was the editor. I was impressed by his knowledge of racing and the fact that he was a former driver himself. People tell me that he was particularly adept on the dirt.
In the December 1982 edition of that magazine, he used a “most unforgettable” format, and my pal Al Stilley, an extremely accomplished racing writer and newspaperman, chose me for his subject and called for an interview. I was very flattered, of course, and muddled my way through it, being more accustomed to acting as the interviewer than the interviewee. The story took up one page, and it was a good one, I thought. My mother framed it, and I’ve still got a copy of the issue.
To accompany the interview, Berggren chose a photo taken at Bristol by Don Thies of Milwaukee. That was one of those ASA/All-Pro combination races. Bob Harmon of All-Pro had a Million-Dollar Bull mascot. I wish I could remember the guy’s last name, but his first name was Paul, and he was good. Roller-skated all around the place, and the crowd loved it. (A year or so later we put my son in a borrowed eagle mascot costume, and Phil Holmer of Goodyear gave him a vest to wear. He and Paul had a great time entertaining the crowd at Nashville.)
Anyway, Paul and I had a belly-bumping contest on the front straightaway before the race at Bristol. The bull lost, probably because I was on solid ground and he was on skates. Paul played it to the hilt, flattening out on the track, legs splayed out. I put one foot on him and raised one fist in a victorious pose, and that’s when Thies took the photo. And that’s the photo Berggren used. No waving two checkered flags, no crossover with cars going by on each side, but me clowning around with a guy in a bull suit.
I told him I’d get even someday.
That day came at Nashville for the All-American 400, another combination race with All-Pro. Dick came to me and said he wanted to take an overhead shot of Dick Trickle’s car on the track for the cover of the magazine. He asked if I had any ideas how to do it. (As an aside, when I reminded Dick of this by email this week and said I was going to tell the story, he replied, “Of all the crazy things I’ve done, that has to be right up there.”)
Oh, yeah, I had an idea. I had seen a bucket truck parked at one of the fairgrounds buildings. I went to Gary Baker, then the promoter at Nashville, and asked who I had to see to borrow that truck and a driver. He pointed me in the right direction. Before we were ready to qualify on Saturday, the truck shows up on the front straightaway and the driver asks what we want him to do. I explained, and said it would probably take 50 miles an hour or so for him to keep the truck up on the banking.
“What idiot are you going to put in the bucket?”
“Just a minute – Hey, Berggren!!!”
Dick comes over and I explain the deal to him. Trickle has already pulled up behind the bucket truck and is ready for the show, since I’ve already told him about it. The only hitch was Rex Robbins, el presidente of ASA, who is yelling at me on the radio, “Potts, you’re holding up qualifying!”
“Just cool it, Rex, I’m gonna get us on the cover of Stock Car Racing if you give me a chance.”
Naturally, he wanted to make sure Trickle had a Silver Creek (the series sponsor) decal on the windshield, and I assured him that I thought of that, too. Berggren, looking slightly unsure about the whole thing, dutifully climbs in the bucket, the driver raises it to about 15 feet off the track, and off we go. Two or three laps later, the parade stops on the front straightaway, the bucket comes down, and Berggren hops out. I asked if he got the picture he wanted.
“Yeah, and I think it’s a good one,” and started to walk off (a little unsteadily, I thought).
Then he turned around and said, “By the way, Potts, we’re even.”