We’ve all heard stories about race cars being driven on the road. In fact, back in the early days many of them were driven to the track, headlights taped up, and then raced.
But some of my favorite memories are cars that were taken for impromptu “test rides.” I think I’ve already told the one about Allan Barker of Louisville and his Taraschi Formula Junior in the state fairgrounds parking lot. That wasn’t a really good place to test cars, because there was a Kentucky State Police driver test station on the property, and those guys were always roaming around.
The trooper who tried to run Allan down never caught him until the Taraschi was on the trailer, and he was somewhat embarrassed when they lifted the hood for him and he found out his 406 Ford had been outrun by a four-cylinder engine about a foot long.
Another incident on the state property came after a late model race one Saturday night at the Fairgrounds Motor Speedway.
JE Foley had a Plymouth Roadrunner driven by Buddy Webb, and one night they were having all kinds of problems with it. It kept “blubbering” coming out of the turns and Foley never got it right during the program.
Four or five of us were sitting outside the office, having an adult beverage or two after the lights had been turned out. Foley suddenly said, “I just figured out what’s wrong with that thing!” and jumped up on the trailer and began fooling around under the hood.
Then, of course, he had to check it out, so he pulled it off the trailer and took off for a lap around the baseball stadium. Apparently the troopers also pulled security duty, because the sound of that hemi attracted a KSP car.
The trooper pulled up to us, and wanted to know where the guy with that loud car was going. We told him he’d be back in a minute. He wanted to know why the car was so loud.
“They don’t put mufflers on those,” one guy said.
Off goes the trooper after Foley, and we were treated to another car chase around the parking lot. Foley didn’t get around the light poles as quick as Barker did with that little open-wheeler, but he was still able to lose the cruiser on each corner. The trooper was way over on the rocker panels, tires screaming, each time Foley made a left-hander.
After a trip to the other side of the stadium Foley got back to the trailer and pull and was buckling it down when the officer skidded to a stop in front of us.
He wanted to see Foley’s license, of course, then wanted to know why the car didn’t have a license plate.
“Musta lost it,” Foley said.
“Remember the number?” the trooper asked.
“Yeah,” Foley said, and pointed to the big ‘2’ on the door of the Roadrunner.
Like Barker, Foley got off with a warning, and as a speedway official I was instructed to pass the word to all of our people that testing cars in the parking lot was a no-no.
From then on, it was officially a no-no. At least until they moved the driver testing station away from the fairgrounds.
I was only sorry that Buddy wasn’t there to take the car for that spin himself. He had something of a mischievous streak.
Once during the International 500 ARCA race, while Johnny MacIntosh was flagging, promoter Milt Hartlauf had me working the third and fourth turns. I was down there with a box of plastic bags filled with cement. This was standard procedure in long races. If the track got a little slick, the drivers would signal, we’d toss out a few bags, they’d spread the cement, and we never slowed down.
Nothing much happened this particular night, and at about 250 laps Buddy went by and looked over at me. I waved at him.
Next time by, he gave me a signal that I was the best race official around. Told me I was number one.
When he went by the next time, I was still laughing.
Not really the hardest I laughed at a driver, though. Jim Eames, who was the partner of and chief mechanic for a driver (and Louisville motorcycle officer) named Virgil Oakes, used to hop in a late model once in a while himself.
Now, the flagstand at Louisville was level with the top of the 30-inch outside wall, and you were pretty much eye-to-eye with the drivers.
People used to ask me why I was always laughing when Jim finished his qualifying laps and took the checker.
I finally had to admit it was because he made it a point to stick his false teeth out at me as he came by.
I mentioned this on the Fairgrounds Motor Speedway facebook page last week, and somebody replied, “That sounds like something my granddaddy would have done.”
Racing was a lot more fun in those days.