Back in 1972, after I became editor of The Scott County Journal and The Chronicle in Scottsburg, Ind., my reputation as a race official apparently preceded me.
During the annual county fair, a demolition derby was the biggest attraction of the week, narrowly edging out the queen contest. It was always held on Wednesday evening, and I found out the hard way that the fair manager didn’t care for doing it himself.
The “hard way” means that he handed me a flag and said, “Congratulations, you’re now in charge of the demo derby.”
I asked a few questions, and found out there were a few problems with the officiating, since the volunteers they used in the arena didn’t really want to go making their friends mad by making a decision.
Let’s just say I spent most of the event running around the arena, knocking sticks off cars which had been disqualified but whose drivers didn’t want to take down the sticks as they were supposed to do. Since I was fairly new to the county, I survived it, and they told me the assignment was permanently mine.
I then asked for a budget and told them I had a way to solve the problem.
We brought in a group of my fellow officials from the Fairgrounds Motor Speedway, who were only there once a year and didn’t know anybody, and didn’t care who anybody was.
Then I could just sit back, oversee the operation and announce the thing.
The next problem that evolved was that the fair board started running into money problems on one night. They were bringing in a country music show for Tuesday night, and every year it bombed. I mean you could fire a shotgun at the bleachers and not hit a soul. I told the fair manager I’d take half the crowd out for a beer after the show if he’d take the other three.
Naturally, he asked me if I had any ideas.
After a couple of weeks of thought, I showed up at the next fair board meeting and offered up a plan.
“Let’s run a jalopy race on Tuesday night,” I told ’em. We had a quarter-mile dirt track and were using the front straightaway for the demo arena.
“Where are we gonna get the cars?” they wanted to know.
“Easy. We’ll use the same cars.”
Okay, I had to lay it all out for them. We take entries for a combined event. A race on Tuesday night and a demolition derby on Wednesday night. Competitors had to run both.
If you made money in the race, you didn’t get paid unless you pulled your car into the arena for one of the preliminary heats for the demo, and stayed in there until you were eliminated.
We used the same crew for both nights, of course.
The first race was a bit of a struggle logistically, as we worked things out. I had forgotten that we usually had about 50 or 60 entries for the demo. That first one was over pretty late, but it was fun.
This turned out to be one of the best ideas I ever had. We packed the place both nights, the fair board stayed in the black and we had all kinds of fun.
I can remember one of my corner workers coming back after the race feature and saying, “Ain’t never seen no Ford LTD up on two wheels before!”
Of course, racers being racers, some guys tried to beat the system.
One year, one of the guys brought a car with the radiator mounted inside the car. Somehow, I had overlooked that in writing the rules. I got much better at it.
He didn’t do well in the race, but it looked as if he would have an advantage in the demo. However, we pointed out at the driver’s meeting how unsafe it was, and how it would be a shame if other competitors decided to team up on him in his elimination heat.
Deciding that discretion was the better part of valor, he withdrew from competition. Since he hadn’t made any money the night before, he was excused.
Every year, during the race I used to wonder if this was what the early days of NASCAR, or stock car racing in general, were like. I mean, a bunch of good ol’ country boys trying to soup up old cars and race each other, mostly for the fun of it.
One year, we even had the Scottsburg PD show up before the demo to arrest one of our drivers on a warrant for unpaid child support.
We had such a good relationship with the local constabulary that they let him compete before they took him in. He was in a heat, the consi and the main event. Each time he finished, the chief was standing there waiting for him. He took him back to the infield tower and handcuffed him to a post until it was all over.
They didn’t let him stay to get paid, though. Only time I’ve ever had to deliver a driver’s winnings to the county jail.
I’m sure this tradition isn’t still going on, but it continued up into the mid-’80s. After I left to work at Indianapolis Raceway Park, my son took over the administration of it, and it lasted for a couple more years anyway.
Oh, almost forgot. We unofficially named the race the Tiny Lund Memorial because of the kind of race it was. Ol’ Slabfoot would have loved it.
Suffice to say, the country music shows never came back.