Somehow, while the guys on television were going over the past bringing up the names of legendary drivers, one came to my mind.
I had occasion to meet ol’ Pops (and if he didn’t know your name, he’d call you that, as well as expect you to call him by the same handle) in the late 1960s when he ran a couple of ARCA races when I was flagging. As I recall, both of them were 500-lappers; the first at the old Dayton Speedway. Curtis couldn’t be there on Saturday to qualify, and somebody else qualified the car for him. When it came to a big-name driver whose name had been used heavily in pre-race advertising, John Marcum didn’t stand on ceremony. I suspect that there were parts of the ARCA rulebook back in those days that were deliberately vague to give John some wiggle room.
The car was a former Holman-Moody 1966 Ford, previously driven by Fred Lorenzen. It was still pearl white and still had the baby blue interior, carrying number 4. It was owned by an Ohio resident named Barney Barnhart. I’m grateful to two or three Dayton-area residents for helping me remember the owner’s name.
I’m not sure who qualified it for Curtis, but whoever did put it on the outside of the front row. As I said, John didn’t stand on ceremony and even with the driver change, the car was starting on the outside of the front row, with Benny Parsons on the pole.
After the drivers’ meeting on Sunday, this living legend of NASCAR racing walks up to me and says, “Hey, Pops, how do you want to do this?”
“When can I go past that No. 98 car and still get a green flag?”
I said he needed to at least wait until I threw the green to pass Benny, and that I’d appreciate it if he waited until they went across the start-finish line.
“No problem, Pops.”
Sure enough, we had a great start. Curtis took the lead going down the backstretch on the first lap and stayed in front until he encountered mechanical problems – the engine in Barney’s car decided it had enough and blew up.
After the race, which I believe was won by Parsons, I went over to Curtis and told him I was a little disappointed.
He asked why, and I said, “Well, they told me that you knock everybody else off the track, and when there’s nobody left you knock the fence down.”
“That was when I was younger,” he said, and offered me a beer.
Then he asked how long I’d been flagging, and I told him. He said, “Keep up what you’re doing, I like the way you handle yourself.”
Two weeks later Curtis shows up in the same car at Salem, again with a start on the front row, and once again comes to see me.
“Same deal, Pops?”
“Yep, I got no problem with it.”
This time he again charged out in front, and was maybe half a lap ahead of second place when he came up on a car I was having trouble with. The guy just wouldn’t move over when the layover flag came out. John Marcum was real big on this, but he didn’t come out to the track and point at the guy this time, maybe because Curtis had such a big lead. If you can find an old, old ARCA racer, ask him what it meant when John came out to the inside rail and crossed his arms. It meant, “You’re stinking up my race, ease off a bit.”
Anyway, about the fifth time they came off turn 4, I had the layover flag in my right hand and had the black one rolled up in my left, holding it over my head. This was my signal for, “Dude, you’re beginning to tick me off.”
Curtis waved me off, and somehow I got the message that he was going to take care of the problem on his own. In the second turn, he gets the nose of his Galaxie under the left quarterpanel of the guy that was blocking him, and turned that Fairlane neatly sideways. It didn’t end there – he then planted the front end of his car in the left side of that car and took it down the backstretch sideways. At about 100 mph. Close to turn 3, he moved to the outside, spinning the car into the infield and going on around.
As he came by under my yellow flag, he gave me a big thumbs up.
Once again Curtis must have abused the engine, because he didn’t finish the race.
The guy he spun out? Let’s just say that for the rest of the time he was in ARCA, he was never a problem again when the leaders came up behind him.