Race Weekend Central

Driven to the Past: 150 MPH & Just Inches Away

Seems like every time I reach way back, like I did for last week’s column about the first K&K team at Daytona in 1966, the phone starts ringing and it’s somebody I haven’t heard from for a few years.

Yes, it happened again last week.

“Just who are you in that photo of the 1966 pit stop?” he wanted to know.

I told him I was the guy in the red shirt and red hat leaning over the pit wall, and that I was putting the blackboard away so I could get on with wiping the windshield.

“What were you doing with the blackboard on a pit stop?” was the next question.

Well, of course this was before radios, so we used blackboards to communicate with the driver. I had used it to flash “PIT” to Gordon Johncock on the lap before, then I put a big, bold “71” on it and used it to mark the spot for him to stop.

This is a story in itself. Harry Hyde had asked me to handle the charts, keeping lap times, etc., and do the blackboard thing.

On the day of the qualifying races (now called the Gatorade Duels or something like that), he also informed me that it was the blackboard guy’s responsibility to stop the car on pit stops, and he told me what he expected me to do. This is also before the days of those number signs on long poles that are now used for marking the pit.

I asked Harry how I was supposed to do that, and he said, “You get on the outside of the pit box, and you hold the blackboard up with his number on it so he can see it. Then after you’ve got his attention you lower it down and hold it where you want him to stop the car.”

I keep saying “this was before…”, and here we go again. This was before pit-road speed limits.

Having been flagging Figure-8 races at the old Fairgrounds Motor Speedway in Louisville from the track, I wasn’t really concerned about cars going by me fairly fast – at first.

Then I found out that “fairly fast” for a Figure-8 car on a quarter-mile track wasn’t anything like the same term applied to a (then) Grand National car heading into the pit area.

We were pitted well up toward turn 4, and on my first time out there Richard Petty pitted way down toward turn 1, came roaring past me at what seemed like 150 mph and what seemed like inches away. Then Gordie came tearing down the pit road toward me and I was suddenly questioning (1) my sanity and (2) the care which had been taken on setting up the brakes.

Fortunately, it all worked out OK, and Gordie stopped with the front bumper just nudging the blackboard.

By the time we had made a couple of pit stops in the 500, I was feeling like a real veteran at it. Just trust me when I say it was a real adventure.

I’ve only been that “apprehensive” on pit road once since then. That was one day at Michigan (also before pit-road speed limits) in a NASCAR race when somebody asked me to help change the right front.

Cars going by at those speeds behind you while you’re down on one knee can be even more unsettling. I told them to find somebody else for the second pit stop.

For all those folks who wondered if it was exciting for me to stand in the middle of the track when we did the old ASA “crossover” in the late ’70s and ’80s, putting cars in double file as they came at me in single file – all I had to do was think back to those days on pit road and it was a walk in the park.

About the author

John has done it all in racing over the past half-century, filling every position from flagman, to track promoter, to award-winning newspaper editor all over the Midwest. Back with Frontstretch in 2014, John’s e-newsletter column Potts’ Shots appears every Thursday while he dips his toe in the site’s IndyCar coverage. John resides in Indianapolis.

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