Somebody asked me last week if I ever “lost” a car while I was in the flagstand. Well, I have to admit I did. Twice in about 30 years. First time was in an ARCA race at Campbellsville, Ky., a dirt (red clay, actually) high-banked quarter-mile, in the late 1960s. They had a corrugated metal fence about 30 feet off the top rim of the banking in the first and second turns, and about halfway through the 100-lap race this huge hole appeared right in the middle of the turn – just about big enough for a stock car.
I knew that hole hadn’t been there the last time I looked down there, and I made it a habit to keep my head on a swivel, trying to keep an eye on the whole track at once. This was before radios, and there wasn’t anybody in the infield waving at me, and I hadn’t noticed the crowd reacting. That might sound curious, but you’d be surprised how often the crowd can inform you of something. You don’t focus on the crowd, but in the corner of your eye you’ll see a surge as they all stand up to see something happening. Many times I was accused of having eyes in the back of my head because I’d have the yellow out as soon as a car spun in the first turn and I had been looking at the fourth turn at the time. I’d see that crowd surge and glance over my shoulder to see the car getting sideways.
Anyway, this particular night, I immediately went yellow. Frank Canale, handling the scoring, held his hands up as if to ask “Why?” I pointed at the hole in the fence, and sure enough, the driver came walking through, waving that he was OK. Can’t remember who that was.
The second time came in the 1970s at I-70 Speedway near Odessa, Mo. We were running a 50-lap qualifying race on a Saturday night, and something suddenly didn’t look right to me. I counted cars, and came up with 23. 24 had started. I glanced over in the pits and couldn’t be sure whether anybody had pulled in or not.
About that time I saw Don Ely, a driver from Kingman, Kan. who had a really sharp Mustang, standing on top of the wall in the first turn, waving his arms to let everyone know he was OK. Naturally, we went yellow right away.
Wayne Doebling of Cincinnati, our photographer, told me on a message board recently when I posted a photo of Ely that he was in the infield toward the third and fourth turns and said he “lost” Don, too, but knew something had happened.
The scoreboard was blocking part of Wayne’s view of those turns, and he was watching as Ely went into the turn.
“He didn’t come out the other side,” Wayne said.
A few minutes later, according to Wayne, Ely appeared at the top of the wall and started to run across, then realized we were still under green. Wayne didn’t have a radio on that night, and he was running to get my attention when I saw Don waving.
– – – – – – – –
For some reason, that also reminds me of a time at Indianapolis Raceway Park when we were having an AMA ProStar motorcycle drag race. We had a doctor on hand for virtually all events, and they usually stayed around the treatment center, our answer to the “infield care center” you hear about on the NASCAR telecasts. The treatment center was (and still is) a well-equipped emergency room-type facility located on the west side of the drag strip (or the main straightaway of the road course, whichever you prefer).
This particular day was a qualifying day, and I had stopped to get something out of the soft drink machine at the treatment center. The doctor on duty told me he was new to motorsports, and asked, “Can you tell me anything about this motorcycle drag racing?”
About that time, through an opening in the wall, we saw a bike go sliding past all by itself.
“Well,” I said, “to begin with, there ought to be a rider on that thing. I suggest you get your bag.”
Fortunately, the rider suffered only bruises.
Another time, at a motorcycle road race, I was about in the same area with another doctor when one of the riders in the front row went down right after the standing start. After the field cleared the spot, the doctor and I went over the wall about the same time and got to the rider. He was lying face down with his feet together and his hands pulled up under his chest.
The doctor leaned down and said, “Are you OK, son?”
The answer through the full-face helmet was a muffled, “Yeah. Are they all gone? I ain’t gettin’ up until they’re all gone.”