Race Weekend Central

Driven to the Past: Potts’s Short Stories

On one of our “test runs” last week for the live blog we did during the Daytona 500, somebody asked how much the Hendrick people would like it if one of their engines in another team’s car beat them.

That reminded me of something that happened in the ’70s, at the old Fairgrounds Motor Speedway in Louisville.

John Anderson was a terrific racer who made it all the way to NASCAR and most might recall had a terrifying end-over-end flip down the infield of the Daytona backstretch. He lost his life in a highway accident, and he’s one of those guys I still miss.

In an ASA 100-lap season opener at the Fairgrounds, John’s good friend Jerry (The Bear) Makara won driving his familiar Thrush Mufflers Camaro (we called it the Woodpecker), and John ran second in the Draime Engineering sponsored car.

I believe John also worked for the Draimes, whose engine business was probably the biggest sports-related business in Massillon, Ohio aside from the local high school football team.

John chased Jerry for the better part of the race finally losing by a car length.

I usually did the on-track interviews after the races, and when John stopped to congratulate Jerry, I asked him to get out of the car for an interview.

When asked about the competition and the fact that he wanted to congratulate Jerry, he said, “Listen, I built that engine (pointing to Makara’s car), and I built this one (his own). If I was going to get beat in this race, I’m glad it was by that engine and not one somebody else built.”

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Speaking of flips at Daytona, I ran across some photos of Jack Shanklin, an old ARCA driver from the Indianapolis area, which brought back some memories.

Jack didn’t have a lot of luck down at the big D.

He flipped pretty badly a couple of years in a row coming out of turn 4 in the ARCA race. It may even have been three years.

A couple of years later, I was sitting on the pit wall a couple of hours before ARCA race and Jack came walking past.

We said our usual hellos, and then I asked if he was just watching or did he have a ride.

“Why,” he asked, “do you know somebody that’s looking for a driver?”

I answered, “Naw, I was just wondering. If you’ve got a ride, I’m going back to the car and get my camera and go down inside of turn 4.”

I don’t think Jack’s answer was printable.

– – – – – – – –

One of my prized possessions is a framed photograph of Troy Ruttman taken after he won the Indianapolis 500 in 1952, personally autographed, “Best of luck to John.”

Interesting story. I’ve mentioned how Joe Ruttman and I got to be friends when he was running with ASA.

One day at Milwaukee, one of our photographers, Don Thies, was showing me some photos he’d gotten from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway gift shop’s closeout bin. One of them was that photo.

Walking through the pits, I came upon Joe’s car, and there was his big brother to watch him race.

“Don’t move,” I said to Troy, and then to Joe, “Don’t let him leave.”

I went back and got the photo, and Troy, who remembered me from the days I was selling newspapers in the infield at Salem and Winchester as a teenager, graciously autographed it.

It now sits in a place of honor behind my diecast model of that 1952 Agajanian Special 500-winning car.

– – – – – – – –

I’ve written before about meeting Lee Petty and having breakfast with him in that little cafeteria they had at Daytona in the ’60s. One day I had the pleasure of seeing him crack up at one of my answers.

Just before we left the garage the evening before, Harry Hyde told me to check the spark plugs before I went back to the motel.

Now, as I’ve also said before, I’m no mechanic. It was even worse in 1966.

I didn’t see Harry that night, and when he came into the cafeteria the next morning, he asked if I had checked the plugs.

I assured him that I had.

He said, “Well?”

I said, ”There was eight of ‘em.”

After he finished laughing, Mr. Petty told me how to check plugs and what to watch for.

About the author

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The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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