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Driven to the Past: There Was Some Pretty Good Stock Car Racing in the Midwest Back in the Day, Too

I’ve talked about the USAC Stock Car Series before, most notably the road race at Indianapolis Raceway Park and a race at Salem that I had a hand in helping Larry Moore with. One of the best races I ever saw was during that series’ heyday in 1964, when the factories were throwing everything they could at it in addition to their NASCAR participation.

This particular night was on the mile dirt track at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, a 100-miler they called the State Fair Century, naturally because it was held during the state fair. That particular year the fair was in the first week of September.

I and the guy I was with were running a little late. We got to the pit area just before qualifying was over. After wandering down to the Nichels Engineering pit to take a look at their sharp red Dodges, we found a lot of activity going on.

Seems that AJ Foyt had blown the engine in his Texas Dodge Dealers No. 47 in practice and Len Sutton hadn’t been able to qualify the Illinois Dodge Dealers No. 29 fast enough to make the planned 24-car field.

When we got there, they had the doors off of Foyt’s car and were preparing to put the No. 29 doors on it, and one crewman was busy taking the deck lid off. They had a number on the deck lid in USAC in addition to the one on the top. Somebody had already sprayed red paint over the number on top, but it wasn’t going to fool anybody.

About that time, Emil Andres, an old Indy 500 veteran who supervised the stock car division, came on the scene and saw what was happening.

Again, as I recall it, Mr. Andres’ statement was something like, “AJ, that’s not legal.”

Which was answered by Foyt with an innocent-sounding, “It’s not?”

Mr. Andres and Henry Banks, the director of competition for USAC at the time, then came up with a decision to start all 30 cars on hand, which would put Foyt on the tail in the No. 29 if they’d put the doors back on it.

I’m sure this decision was helped along a little by Jo Quinn, the fairgrounds’ racing promoter at the time. In those days, the latest Indy 500 winner was guaranteed $500 to enter and try to qualify, and Foyt had just won his second.

This set the stage for one unbelievable race.

I was covering the event for a racing column I wrote in a Louisville-area weekly, and Mr. Quinn told me we could go to the roof of the grandstand to watch it if we liked. It proved to be a fantastic view for a fantastic race.

Tom Carnegie was announcing, and when the green flag came out he had eyes for nobody but Foyt. He was counting the number of cars AJ was passing on that first lap. He got as far as 13th before they came out of the fourth turn for the first time.

At eight laps, Foyt was in fourth, and a lap later he was third.

Just like you see when a fast car comes from the rear in NASCAR, it was tougher as he got close to the front. He finally got past Don White’s Zecol-Lubaid Ford for second on the 39th lap, and it took another three to close in on the tail of Parnelli Jones and the Bill Stroppe Mercury.

For the next 20 laps, it was a real FoMoCo vs. Mopar battle, with Parnelli managing to hold on. Foyt would get halfway alongside coming out of the second turn, then fall back behind Parnelli as they came to the third turn. That turned out to be a good move on the 60th lap.

The Mercury ran out of brakes and Jones crashed into the outside wall. Lloyd Ruby, running seventh at the time, couldn’t avoid the Mercury and demolished his Plymouth in the process. Neither driver was hurt.

When the green came out again after 67 laps, White caught AJ napping and took over the lead as they went into the first turn.

This, as you can imagine, did not set well with AJ. As they came down the front straightaway on the 69th lap, he went way outside going into the first turn, and I don’t think he lifted all the way around. He took over the lead coming out of the second turn and pulled away.

He beat White by three-quarters of a straightaway, and they were the only two cars on the lead lap.

Bobby Marshman was third in the other Zecol-Lubaid Ford.

Ned Jarrett was there in a Ford a year before his first NASCAR championship, and was running third before engine problems relegated him to an eighth-place finish.

On the way up there from Louisville, I had told the guy with me that the then-young Foyt was somebody who had to be seen to be believed. I’m not sure he bought into it at the time, but he was certainly convinced when it was over.

Foyt came up with one of the best interview lines I’ve ever heard when Carnegie asked him what kind of race it was for him.

“Well,” he said, “It was pretty interesting until Parnelli went out.”

About the author

The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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