Race Weekend Central

Driven to the Past: ‘Different’ Tracks

Got to thinking about some of the stranger tracks I’ve worked on.

First one that comes to mind was a UMRA TQ Midget race in the coliseum at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. First indoor race for me. Very small track and VERY narrow turns 1 and 2. Reason was a big hole inside those turns covered with 2×8 boards – something to do with the ice-making equipment for hockey games.

We moved the boundary tires out past it and that narrowed up the turns. I had offered the opinion that if we took the boards off, it wouldn’t be a problem after we filled it up with cars, but nobody liked that idea.

Then there was that 0.375-mile (I think) track at Louisville Motor Speedway. It was D-shaped, only backwards from what you’re used to seeing; the backstretch was curved. On top of that, you went uphill in turn 1 because of the banking of the quarter-mile, out onto the big curve, then down hill and over what amounted to a ski jump coming off turn 4. The NASCAR truck series found it particularly challenging, as did everybody else.

I recall one midget race there, when Tony Stewart told me afterward, “I never expected to drive a USAC midget on a road course.”

The best memory, I suppose, comes from an ARCA race in 1967.

Bill King, the owner of Louisville Downs, got together with John Marcum and decided to present an ARCA race on that half-mile trotting track. This track wasn’t dirt – it was crushed limestone.

Bill King, by the way, was an extraordinary promoter who put on all kinds of car shows and other events. He’s probably most famous for one of his only mistakes. In the early 1950s, he turned down a young hip-jerking singer from Tupelo, Miss. Told him he didn’t think he’d ever make it and sent him to another agent, Tom Parker. Another case where the rest is history, as they say.

I called Bill and asked him what they were going to do about a flagstand, and he said he’d have one built for me.

When I got there that Sunday morning, I checked over the front straightaway, and there’s no flagstand. I went to Bill about it, and he said, “Don’t worry, I’m taking care of it.”

I went back to the horse barns, which were being used for garages, and was there when Les Snow fired up his Plymouth. When that hemi sounded off, both walls of the stall it was in fell down.

Before practice, I went back to the front straightaway and found a table laid across two box seat sections across from the finish pole. No rails, just a table.

I told Bill and John Marcum I would rather work from the track if it was all the same to them. Bill was a little skeptical, but John said, “He’s done it before, don’t worry about it.”

Back in those days, working from the track was a hoot. I liked to get out there with the cars, and you also felt like you had room to run. The Figure 8s at the Louisville fairgrounds were a ball to flag, and I had to dive out of the way more than once.

I always told the drivers that if they were headed right for me, not to turn either way, I’d jump out of the way. I figured if they tried to swerve, they’d do it in the same direction. It worked out.

One night in an ARCA race at Springfield, Ohio, I had to dive over the inside rail to keep Dick Freeman from hitting me. After the race, somebody came up and handed me the red bandana I usually had in my left hip pocket – sort of a trademark, along with the cowboy hat, in those days before radios.

I asked where he found it, and he said it was in the first turn.

“I think it came off the front end of Freeman’s Mercury,” he said.

Well, a miss is as good as a mile.

This day at Louisville Downs turned out to be a good one. Paul Wensink, an Ohio driver, won the 100-lap feature for what I believe was his only ARCA victory.

And, if I remember correctly, the same driver I wrote about getting in Curtis Turner’s way at Salem ended up in the infield lake.

Those were the days.

About the author

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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