NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Driven to the Past: Stock Car Racing in the Midwest, Part Deux…

My dissertation about the USAC Stock Car Series race at the Indiana State Fairgrounds in September of 1964 brought quite a few responses, both in comments on the site and in emails to yours truly. One of those remarked that until it was disbanded after the 1984 season, that series ran on dirt as well as asphalt… to which another responded that ARCA still does so today. He’s right, ARCA runs mile dirt tracks and on paved ovals ranging from Daytona to some real bullrings. They’ve even started running on a road course.

ARCA has almost always been that way. John Marcum had a policy of taking his series anywhere someone wanted to see them and where the promoter would put up a purse and a sanction fee. I’m honored to say I was a part of that in the middle ’60s, and it made for some interesting times.

One that comes to mind was running on the half-mile dirt at Springfield, Ohio on a Saturday night, and again on the half-mile, high-banked pavement at Salem, Ind. the following afternoon. And those guys did it with the same cars, for the most part.

Sometimes the trip between tracks was as interesting as the races.

Springfield fits into one of those stories as well. We were there on a Saturday night, again, and the next day we were to run at a quarter-mile clay track in Morehead, Ky. Nearly everybody stayed around Springfield after the race, and headed out for the Bluegrass early Sunday morning. Now, this was before all the interstate highways were in place, and once across the river at Cincinnati, we were mostly on two-lane highways.

Two-lane highways which went up and down, and with some really interesting twists and turns.

Coming around a curve and over a hill, I found myself caught behind two haulers (no high-dollar semi rigs in those days – these were the tilt-backs common at the time). This happened to be on an infrequent fairly long straightaway. The problem was these two happened to be Iggy Katona and Les Snow, two extremely competitive chaps, and they were side-by-side and building up speed.

Neither wanted to back off the loud pedal, and I had visions of the road being covered with sheetmetal and other forms of scrap iron before I would have time to hit the brakes.

Finally, as they approached a pretty sharp turn, Snow, who was in the left lane, backed out of his throttle. Apparently, he had also noticed my Corvair in his rearview mirror and he eased up enough that I ended up between the two of them.

I suspect this was deliberate, because like I’ve mentioned before, a lot of those drivers had something of a mischievous streak.

We were still quite a distance from Morehead at the time, and the rest of the trip was spent with me right on the tail of Katona’s truck, mainly because Snow was trying to see how close he could get to the rear bumper of my car without actually hitting it (I think). I found myself very appreciative of the fact that the Corvair handled pretty well on those roads, and we did make it all the way without anything serious happening – although I could have sworn there were times when I could see air under the inside wheels on Katona’s truck, and Snow’s vehicle looked like it was tilting a bunch in my rear-view mirror.

We came up on the track almost unexpectedly; climbed up a steep winding road to the top of a hill, and there it was. Looked like a bowl carved out of the top of a mountain.

Both climbed out of their rigs (yes, drivers drove their own haulers a lot back in the day) at the pit gate and came over to razz me a little and shake hands all around.

“Not bad, Potts,” Snow commented, and Iggy added, “You might want to hang up those flags and find a ride.”

The race itself was almost anticlimactic, but interesting if only because of the weather situation. Just before practice, it rained – hard – for about 30 minutes. We were standing there in the infield, ankle deep in mud, when the promoter walked up and said, “Just wait a while, guys, this place drains real good – it’ll be dusty in an hour.” Danged if he wasn’t right. We didn’t even spend much time packing the track.

I don’t remember who won the race, but I’ll never forget the trip.

The race was in the fall, and that was one of those when my wife was with me, and the next day she asked me if I didn’t think the scenery was beautiful on the way down there.

I told her I really didn’t have time to notice.

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