That UPS commercial with David Ragan pulling a couple of trailers in the racecar, drove me back to the past on Sunday.
We had a series in the 1970s we called the “Amateur” division at the old Fairgrounds Motor Speedway in Louisville. Nowadays they’d be called “Bombers” or “Slammers” or something like that.
Anyway, it was what (also nowadays) is known as an “entry level” division, for cars which weren’t expensive, left virtually stock and for drivers that had no competitive experience.
I remember the first night I flagged those guys. It was pretty wild. They were all over the place, bouncing off the walls and each other.
Milt Hartlauf, the promoter, was on the flagstand with me and said, “Remember when we ALL started, John? They gotta learn somewhere,” referring to the late 1940s at the Jeffersonville (Ind.) Sportsdrome.
Yeah, it was pretty wild.
As with all entry level classes, and as any promoter who has ever had one can tell you, the same situation applies that hits you in the upper levels: Keeping the lid on the equipment.
Sounds pretty simple to say that you can run strengthened wheels, put in some safety equipment, etc. Just like Big Bill France did when he got NASCAR started with the “Strictly Stock” division. That, of course, has morphed into the Sprint Cup Series, and they’re still trying to keep the lid on. This has brought on the spec car era, which is a topic for another time and another venue.
Turned out that keeping things strictly stock wasn’t as simple as it sounded. Our tech director, Jim Carnforth, had to really bone up on what was factory stock back in the mid-’60s, which was where all those cars were coming from.
Putting a 400 cubic inch limit on the engines helped keep out the Ford 406s and 427s, as well as the Chevy 409s and 427s, but suspension pieces gave Jim fits.
We had a terrific argument with one driver who was running a 1964 Ford, and Jim’s research told him the guy was running too many leaves in his rear springs.
The driver was Tony Johnson, who eventually became an awfully good late model driver, and he was a pretty decent fellow.
This particular night, however, he was pretty upset.
We gathered in the speedway office to discuss the matter. The primary participants in the debate were Milt, Jim and Tony. I was just sitting in as an “observer” at Milt’s request. He said, “Occasionally, Potts has something sensible to add to these things.”
Jim laid out all the paperwork showing Tony that the 1964 Ford specifications showed two less leaves in the rear springs.
Tony responded, “I’ve been working at Ford for almost 20 years, and I KNOW that they built that Galaxie in 1964 with these springs. It was a trailer option.”
It got pretty quiet in there for a while, as everybody was thinking about it, with Tony staring down first Milt, then Jim.
Finally, I said, “Tell you what, guys, let’s allow him to bring it back next week and run it with those springs.”
Milt and Jim both said, “WHAT?”
Tony’s reaction was “You mean it would be legal?”
My response was “Sure – as long as you pull a trailer.”
Suffice it to say that this ended the discussion and Tony came back the next week without a trailer and without the trailer option springs. The car still ran pretty well.
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Another topic came up during our Frontstretch live blog of the Talladega Cup race last Sunday (and if you aren’t taking part in these things, you ought to check it out – it’s a blast. It’s like watching a race in a sports bar and not having to explain your comments, because everybody understands).
The topic was unnecessary caution flags, and how NASCAR tries to avoid going yellow in the middle of a green-flag pit stop sequence.
I always tried to avoid throwing the yellow if it wasn’t necessary, but I always kept in mind that my primary responsibility was safety. If a car spun down low on a banked track and got rolling, and could get back up on the track without slowing things down, I tried to let it happen.
Once while doing a local race for Earl Baltes at Dayton, this almost got me in a fight.
After the white flag in a four-lap trophy dash, the car running last spun in the third turn. He stayed in the grass, and I went ahead and finished the race.
As I came down from the flagstand, a fan of this driver got in my face and asked me why I didn’t throw the yellow.
He was pretty vehement, even casting some doubts about whether my parents had been legally married, and I guess I was just as vehement in answering.
I told him that we had the four fastest qualifiers out there, presumably four of the best drivers on the property, and if they couldn’t make a full lap without getting in trouble while slowing down, it was going to be an extremely long day.
A security guard showed up about that time and asked if I wanted the guy thrown out.
I told the guard the guy was just a rabid race fan, let him stay but cool him off. Without people who feel strongly about their racing, we wouldn’t have anybody.
After the program, the guy actually came up and apologized.