I’ve mentioned how Earl Baltes used to call me and ask me to flag for him at various events on dates when I wasn’t working anywhere else back in the ’60s and early ’70s. One of those was a program at Dayton in 1964 which very nearly ended in Earl getting run over.
I had forgotten about it until reading an account by Mickey Thompson, the custodian of the daytonspeedwaylives.com website.
Mickey and his father, along with a good friend, built a 1952 Chevy Deluxe to compete in the Sportsman class at Eldora. Mickey wanted to drive, but was under 18. His father was willing to sign the minor’s release, but Mickey’s mother refused and said if her husband signed he could sleep in the garage along with Mickey and the car.
His buddy, Gerry Lantz, volunteered to drive and somehow got his parents to agree. After competing at Eldora for a while, they got that urge most young racers acquire, to try other tracks. Mickey said they got the front end torn off at Kil-Kare, near Xenia, Ohio.
Anyway, after hearing that Earl was promoting a race at Dayton which would include the Sportsman class from Eldora, they decided to enter.
Dayton was high banked, a little over a half mile, and BAD fast. They figured their little 216 cubic inch cylinder might get up to 80 or so.
We were practicing the Sportsman cars, and after four laps or so, Earl decided this was enough. I’ll admit I agreed with him. Those things were right on the edge of control, and more than one engine was screaming when they went under the flagstand.
Earl, however, decided that instead of trying to get my attention (no radios, remember?) he would take matters into his own hands. I had been keeping an eye on him and sensed what was going to happen.
He stepped over the pit guard rail and started waving his hands. I immediately turned on the red lights and put out the red flag.
Unfortunately, this one Chevrolet had just gone past the fourth turn traffic light, and came barreling down the front straightaway at full tilt. The driver saw Earl out there and, of course, applied the brakes. Hard.
The car fishtailed one way, then the other as the driver (whose name I didn’t know at the time) managed to get it pointed straight. Then it got
crossways again straight for Earl.
Back in those days we had a saying that if you weren’t careful around the racetrack, you could get your backside wiped by a quarterpanel. I could just see that happening to the guy who was supposed to pay me when this whole shindig was over.
Mickey says the original swerving was due to four mismatched tires taking control of the steering, and the last sideways skid to a couple of the brakes locking up.
About this time, Baltes decided maybe he’d better let me handle traffic control and headed for that pit guard rail again.
He made it, by what appeared to be the slimmest of margins, leaping over the rail as the car whizzed by and then slowed to a stop on the inside of the front straightaway.
I yelled down there not to move the car, but it turned out that wasn’t necessary. Mickey says they had to pry Gerry’s hands off the steering wheel.
I went down there to check the car over. Several others came around, including a few officials, thinking I was doing a safety inspection.
Nothing of the sort. It was so close that I was wanting to see if there was a piece or two of Earl still stuck to the car.
Not so much as a thread.
I couldn’t tell you how that race turned out, but I’ll never forget the practice session.
And Mickey says the rest of the afternoon was somewhat anticlimactic and unmemorable to him as well. Although he does maintain to this day that Gerry would suffer recurring nightmares and face years of intense therapy.
I also informed Earl that I had been keeping an eye on him, and that the universal “shut it down” signal, a hand across the throat, would have gotten the job done without all the theatrics.
You can read Mickey’s account of this on the daytonspeedwaylives.com website.