I’m tired of hearing all these technical explanations about engine failures. It was much better when the driver and crew chief just said, “It blew up.”
Besides, all of these technical terms are ignoring the real reason that the cars run. We suspected the truth back in the day, but I never heard it explained quite as well as an old mechanic did in telling my son about it one day.
Forget all that stuff about pistons, rods, camshafts, crankshafts, bearings, etc…. What really makes a racing engine run is magic smoke. Ever notice all the smoke that comes out of a car before it falls out of a race? When they lose their magic smoke, they won’t run no more. Sometimes, if it’s an oil-line break or a fitting that lets some but not all of the magic smoke out, they can fix it and put some stuff in so it’ll make more magic smoke. And sometimes, it all comes out so slowly that you can’t even see it; but trust me, they’re losing it. Once you lose all of your magic smoke, you’re done.
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Have you ever wondered, out of all the cars they make in Detroit, how many are produced that have duplicate keys? The car makers won’t talk about it, but I’m sure it happens. One day at a combined ASA/All-Pro program at what became Georgia International Raceway near Jefferson, Ga., Dan Spence of All-Pro was flagging on Saturday, and I was backing him up. When we did this, whoever wasn’t on the flagstand would usually fill in wherever necessary. Dan and I became good friends in those years, and we used to have a ball working together. We were getting ready to run a celebrity race – disc jockeys, racing writers, etc. – when Bob Harmon told us we needed a pace car. Spence threw me a set of GM keys and said, “Go get the one I drive, it’s in the infield.”
My son and I went out there and started looking, but we couldn’t find a car with All-Pro lettered on it. Finally, we located a big Chevrolet convertible with lettering all over it from some track in Alabama. Since Dan was from Mobile, I thought this might be what he was talking about. The top was down, and sure enough, the key fit and the car started. We pulled around the track and to the front of the field. Dan walked over and said, “Uh, John… this is not the car you went after.”
Then the owner came over and wanted to know if we had hot-wired it. After some explanations, he told us to go ahead and use it. Any advertising is good advertising, they say.
I thought we did a pretty good job of pacing the field, but one of the amateur drivers got carried away on the start. As we were heading down pit road, I looked up in the mirror and saw all kinds of dust flying, and people running for cover. Spence is on the radio saying, “Yellow, yellow! Get back out there, John.”
We had to stop the race after we got ‘em slowed down. The only injury was a very sore leg for veteran photographer Bob Appleget, who should have known better than to be sitting on the pit wall.
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In the ’60s and ’70s at the Fairgrounds Motor Speedway in Louisville, we had a driver who was a Jefferson County (Ky.) deputy sheriff. His real name was Reese Dickson, but because of his position, he drove under the name of Speedy Adams. Reese lived a rather interesting life, using his racing experience once in a while in his “real” job. He was pursuing a fleeing felon on Third St. in Louisville one night and made the papers by spinning the guy out. And into a utility pole.
My best memory of him was the night he was qualifying and flipped his car in the first and second turns. The car came to rest upside down, and Reese was just fine. The only problem with the whole deal was that he took his helmet off before he released the seat belts, and knocked himself out against the headliner. Still groggy when I got to him, he said, “I was trying to ride the cushion and I think I hooked a rut, Potts.”
I hated having to tell him it was a paved track.