I worked quite a few races indoors in my officiating career, and each one was an experience in itself. Just like outdoor tracks, each venue has its own personality.
The first time was with the United Midget Racing Association TQs in the coliseum at the Indiana State Fairgrounds in the ’60s.
We’d run some pretty short dirt tracks on the fair circuit in Indiana and Ohio, but this one was the shortest yet. That was the night we had to narrow the third and fourth turns after we covered up the hole that had the ice-making equipment in it. I think I’ve told that one.
At the drivers’ meeting, somebody asked if they could race to the yellow flag. I told them yes, but pay attention, because the flagman’s position was liable to move around.
Sure enough, in the first heat two cars running at the tail spun in the first turn. It only took me about 10 running steps to make it from the middle of the front straightaway to the third turn and put the yellow out there.
Worked out well, I would say. Did that the rest of the day.
But by far the most interesting race I ever worked indoors was with ASA in February of 1983. Rex Robbins called me a couple of weeks before, and asked if I had any experience with indoor races.
After I told him I had, he said, “Good, we’re running in the Pontiac Silverdome on the 27th.”
I wondered how many of our guys had experience on concrete, but he told me the floor of the Silverdome was asphalt.
What brought all this about was a blizzard and deep freeze in southern Michigan. They were planning on running an Outlaw sprint race, but the dirt they had piled up outside had frozen solid. Well, when we got there we found out it was, indeed, asphalt. The track was quite a bit bigger than the one in Indianapolis, by roughly a fifth of a mile.
But the interesting part was that the floor had a crown in it, just like an outdoor football field. Not very high, but enough that you could tell when standing on one side and looking toward the other. This gave the corners a little negative camber, which made setting up the cars really interesting.
There was a midget race the night before, and we got there early enough to watch the feature. Seeing the little cars have trouble on the outside gave some of us from the weekly short tracks an idea – set up pylons several feet off the inside, and only apply resin to the outside. It worked, and the midget guys who stayed over to watch us said they wish we had gotten there early enough to suggest it earlier.
While we were setting up, Rex got on the radio and wanted to know where my son, Matt (13 at the time), was. They liked using him for a runner. Leo Parrish, our tech inspector, said the last time he saw him, he was trying to figure out how to get into the Pistons’ locker room.
“Something about stealing Isiah Thomas’s shoes,” Leo said.
After the first practice, I went over in the pits to see how everybody was handling the “unique” setup problem.
Dick Trickle had the best answer – “You have to use some bump steer.”
I asked what he was talking about, and he said, “You bump a little and steer a little.”
Most guys actually found it fun, and we had a pretty decent racing program. Bill Robbins, Rex’s brother, was flagging that day, but I did the crossover. It wasn’t much of a problem to do it on the front straightaway and then hustle across the infield to the backstretch and hop up in the front row of the grandstand with my yellow, red and black flags (Rex had vetoed any thoughts of me or Bill working from the racetrack).
As I said, we had a pretty decent racing program. They said we had more than 10,000 people there, and I wouldn’t be surprised. You could lose that many folks in that place. Butch Miller won it after starting on the pole, but he had his problems staying in front of Rusty Wallace, and Rusty had his own battle with Tom Jones right on his rear bumper.
Nobody was taking it easy. Mike Eddy was giving Jones all he could handle – a little more than he wanted – and Bob Senneker was right behind Eddy.
That had to be one of the more interesting events I’ve ever been a part of. Although there was that one time I flagged a motorcycle arenacross race in Freedom Hall at the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center around the same time frame… but that’s a pretty good story in itself. Maybe I’ll cover it some other time.