While taking part in the Frontstretch “live blog” during the Martinsville race, somebody said something about the guy standing at the end of pit road with the stop-go paddle and asked, “How would you like to be that guy?”
I responded that it wouldn’t be as much fun as the old ASA crossover, because the cars would all be going by on the same side. One of our staff members wanted to know about it, and I said it would take up more space than I wanted to use on the blog, and promised I’d tell the story in this space later.
In our first year of visiting I-70 Speedway at Odessa, Mo., we were there seven times… right, seven times in 1977 the ASA entourage made the trip to the heartland of mid-America. As the motorhome driver for the trip out, I became familiar with every bend, every hill, every bump in the road between Indianapolis, Ind. and Blue Springs, Mo.
In September, on our last visit for the year – the race was the World Cup 400 – we were sitting in the motorhome on race morning when our esteemed president, Rex Robbins, said we needed “…something to spice up the show a little.” After some furrowed eyebrows and thoughtful expressions, Wayne Doebling (the photographer of whom I have written before) piped up, “Hey, John. How about the old UMRA crossover?” And Steve Stubbs chimes in, “Oh yeah, that’ll get their attention.”
Wayne and Steve had been to a few of the United Midget Racing Association TQ races I had flagged back in the ’60s and early ’70s, and had seen us pull it off on some of those really short (1/8-mile and less) fairgrounds short tracks. I can’t take credit for inventing it. I had seen the man I think was the world’s greatest flagman, Bill Vanderwater, do it with the AAA midgets back in the ’50s, and had never seen anybody else do it except for myself and the late Ray Gross, president of UMRA at the time.
Rex wanted to know what it was, and I explained.
You line the cars up as we were used to doing, at a 45-degree angle against the inside wall of the front straightaway, with the crew chief or at least one crew member beside each car. I pointed out to Rex that the next step should be easier, because we didn’t need push trucks. After the invocation and National Anthem, with all the drivers buckled in, we’d give the command to start engines, and the crew chiefs would signal that they were ready by raising their hands.
I would station myself at the front of the line with two checkered flags, and when all engines were started, I’d wave them out one by one. The pace car would take them around in single file, and they’d make one full lap that way, waving to the crowd and with the fans being encouraged to wave, yell, stomp, whatever, because the drivers were going to be busy next time past.
The next time down the front straightaway, I would station myself just past the start-finish line, and as the pace car went by me on the outside, I’d drop to one knee and cross the flags. The pole car would go by to the inside, the outside pole car to the outside, and so on. After the first couple of rows I would point with a flag and signal to make sure they went the right way.
Now, with the old midget guys, this got interesting. On those really short fairgrounds tracks, since they were nearly sideways already coming off the corner, some of those on the outside used to like pitching it and lifting the left-front off the ground and letting it pass over my left toe. More than once I thought I was gonna wear one of those things home, and also more than once I went home with mud on the toe of my left shoe.
Rex was somewhat skeptical, but the more I thought about it the more I liked it. I had never seen anybody do it with stock cars and was ready to try it. I pointed out that nobody wanted to hit anything “this big” with their shiny racecar.
When I explained it at the drivers’ meeting, needless to say we got some weird looks, and I could see people like Dick Trickle, Butch Miller, Rusty Wallace, Don Gregory and some others exchanging what passed for evil smiles. I told them I knew some of them would try to get close, but I had no problem with it as long as they only did that when they were going outside. I wanted only the guys who knew exactly how far away they were to get close.
Well, it was a hit with the crowd and the drivers. I guess it was like driving – I never in my life felt more alive than when I was in the middle of that thing.
It took some fine tuning, like having the pace car slow down as it went into the first turn so they didn’t hurry to catch up, but it remained part of the show as long as I was with ASA, and I think a year or so longer.
I used to do a little prayer as they were heading into the first turn after the “wave” lap, and somebody asked me what I was praying for. It was simple – “Lord, please don’t let me screw this up.”
At places like Bristol and Milwaukee, the cars went by pretty darn fast, and it was a thrill I can’t explain. Milwaukee was my favorite. The crowd there really loved it, and they let us know it when the last car went by, and I turned around to salute as they formed up in the first turn.
And that, folks, was the ASA crossover. Courtesy of John Potts by way of Bill Vanderwater.
As much as I loved it, to this day I think Wayne Doebling and Steve Stubbs set me up.