While surfing the web, I ran across a video of the big wreck they had at Daytona in the Sportsman race back in 1960. They started 68 cars. Speeds were a then-incredible 150 mph. Banjo Matthews and Fireball Roberts were one-two at the start-finish line when the trouble started behind them in turn 4. At the end of the first lap, there was only 31 cars left in the race. That’s right, 37 cars in all damaged or destroyed without completing a full lap. As I understand it, miraculously, there were no serious injuries, just cuts and bruises. This is still known as NASCAR’s most spectacular accident. Sure gives a new meaning to the “Big One.”
The Soldier Field track was listed as a half-mile, but I suspect it was closer to a 3/8ths. Tommy Thompson (not our writer, the driver from Louisville in NASCAR’s early days) once told me it was a “big three-eighths.” Looking at the accompanying photograph, it was well off the football field. If I remember correctly from my high school days, a true measured quarter-mile (1,320 feet) running track would just touch the corners of the end zones, or be very, very close. That photo also shows that they had crowds which would have made any promoter’s mouth water–remember, the place held 100,000 in those days.
Reading through my copy of Speedway Illustrated this week got me to thinking about Dick Berggren. Dr. Dick and I became friends when I was with ASA. In addition to doing some flagging, I would write a story or two for Stock Car Racing when he was the editor. I was impressed by his knowledge of racing and the fact that he was a former driver himself. People tell me that he was particularly adept on the dirt.
All the uproar over the Talledega finish got me to thinking about the past again. As for the finish itself, we’ve been all over that in back-and-forth e-mails between Frontstretch contributors, and I don’t think this is the place for my personal opinion since it isn’t supposed to be editorial commentary. The idea is to be entertaining and informing. However… the “past” it made me think of came in the 1970s at Salem, Indiana.
Anyway, Leonard Blanchard, a pretty decent driver who had just run third or fourth in the late model feature, mentioned that he was thinking about hauling his 1967 Fairlane up to Indianapolis Raceway Park the next day to run a 250-mile USAC race on the road course. Seems he had found out they needed a couple of more cars to fill out the field. He asked if I knew anything about the track. I replied that I’d been to a few races at both their oval and the road course as well as the drag strip, and knew it was a 2.5-mile course with the drag strip as the front straightaway. “Well,” Leonard replies, “you know more about it than we do, you are now the crew chief.”
Got another question this week, after I was talking about myself and Shorty Miller, the irrepressible flagman/starter from Ohio. Did I ever drop a flag on the track? Oh yeah, once or twice. Twice at the old Fairgrounds Motor Speedway in Louisville, where the cars were so close to the outside wall sometimes that a flag could snag on them.
I remember one of those looonnng ARCA races (we ran a couple that were 600-lappers) when Shorty was still flagging. I was in the infield, and somebody grabbed my shoulder and pointed to the flagstand. Shorty was pointing at me, wanting my attention. When I looked his way, he started patting his head – the accepted signal (again, before radios) for “I need relief.” When I noticed that his legs were also crossed, I knew what the problem was.
The fifth edition of NASCAR’s Chase has three clear favorites: Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, and Jimmie Johnson. But in a system where 12 drivers are separated by just 80 points, anyone could come out on top in a playoff race that seldom goes according to plan. With so many drivers and so much at stake, how do you sort out the mess? Well, your Frontstretch favorites have given you a head start. All your favorite experts have submitted their Chase picks, giving you their take on the good, the bad, and the ugly for the next 10 weeks.
I’d like to call my readers’ attention to a website, Dayton Speedway Lives. This site contains all kinds of stories about a historic Ohio track that’s gone now. As a matter of fact, it’s a landfill. The site is an effort by some old racers and fans to keep the memory alive, and I love it. The Dayton Speedway I remember was a high-banked half-mile, actually over a half, and faster than all getout. I’m sure a lot of other people remember it, too. The stories and photos on the site brought back a lot of memories for me. I flagged a few ARCA races there, and even freelanced a couple for Earl Baltes when he was running the place.
Excuse me for getting off stock car racing for this week, folks, but the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals reminded me of one of my favorite people. When we lost Wally Parks last year at the age of 94, we lost another legend. Those of you who could care less about drag racing — or even any kind of racing for that matter — may never have heard of Wally Parks. To me, that’s unbelievable. I knew Wally’s name from before I was in junior high here in Kentucky, when I was already reading Hot Rod Magazine and he was the editor. I knew he was the head of the Southern California Timing Association, which ran speed trials on the dry lakes, and I read all about it in 1951 as he founded the National Hot Rod Association — effectively becoming the founding father of professional drag racing.