One of my old acquaintances from Louisville reminded me this week of something that happened at the old Fairgrounds Motor Speedway there back in the ’60s.
It involved Leonard Blanchard, who started out as a figure-8 driver and developed into a pretty darn good wheelman in the late models and even raced pretty successfully with ARCA and USAC. I’ve already told the story about his first trip to Indianapolis Raceway Park for a USAC race on the road course and how we fought our way to a fifth-place finish with yours truly acting as crew chief.
This particular night, I think it was his figure-8 car that Leonard was qualifying when he got into the wall coming off the second turn and banged off pretty hard, ending up with the car sliding down the backstretch on its top. Something dark flew out the driver’s side window and I jumped off the flagstand and started running.
Well, it seems that Dennis Oeschsli, a mutual friend, ran into Leonard last week and Leonard told him to ask me if I remembered the incident. He then related the way he remembered it to Dennis.
“I looked over and saw John running across the infield at full speed. Now, John was not a small person and I had never seen him move so fast.”
He then proceeded to relate what I said when I got to the car and had seen exactly what had happened. It doesn’t play as well in print as in telling, but I think you readers will get the idea…
“Leonard… huff, puff… you’re alive!… huff, puff… I thought… huff, puff… you were dead… huff, puff… the battery… huff, puff… came out the… huff, puff… driver’s window!”
At this point, I recall sitting down on the track and leaning up against the still-overturned car to catch my breath. When the rest of the track crew got there, I was still sitting there and Leonard was still hanging by his seatbelt, laughing like crazy.
We explained the situation and everybody got a laugh out of it, and then I got up so we could turn the car back onto its wheels.
This was pretty standard procedure back in those days when we really didn’t know much about safety procedures, and if the driver said he was OK, we took his word for it.
Wanting to get back at Leonard a little for laughing so hard, I didn’t even give him the choice of crawling out before we did it. To be honest, I even thought about reaching in and flipping the belt latch and letting him fall on his head.
Any old race driver who has ever done this and had the car turned back over without getting out of it can tell you about it. The belts always stretch a little, and sometimes getting rolled back over is worse than going over the first time.
Leonard swore he got shaken up more by that than the original crash.
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That old Louisville bunch could be a little crazy at times, especially on the road.
We had a driver named Tommy Winters who turned into an expert mechanic and crew chief and fit in very well with this group.
One year at Daytona, Tommy rode his mini-bike through the lobby of the hotel and onto the elevator, taking it on up to the room with him.
The manager saw this and wasn’t impressed much.
He asked who it was, and the desk clerk told him who it was and what room he was in.
The manager then went to his office and called the room.
“Mr. Winters, this is the hotel manager. Would you please come down to my office and see me right away?”
A few minutes later, the manager was treated to the sight of Tommy sliding into his office sideways on the same mini-bike.
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Then there was the time we took the Salem radio station’s car, equipped with a PA system, down there for the ARCA race and put it in the pre-race parade.
Late on the night before the race, we were driving down the beach (you could do that in those days) and used the loudspeakers to inform everyone who could hear us that a prominent driver from Louisville was relieving himself in the surf.
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