The anticipation was overwhelming as I awoke early Saturday morning. I had known for three days that Uncle Jim, Aunt Naomi and cousin Jimmy were taking me to the stock car races this Saturday night. I wouldn’t be able to concentrate on anything else the entire day. My wardrobe for the evenings activities would be dungarees, a striped t-shirt and a crash helmet purchased at the track earlier in the year. Jimmy and I had painted the helmets with Testors Dope (that’s what we called model airplane paint back then) with our favorite driver’s name and number. Jimmy had the familiar yellow and black number 7 of Johnny Roberts and I had the number 5 of Ken Marriott.
We would be attending the races at Westport Stadium in Baltimore, Maryland. The stadium was less than 10 minutes from downtown Baltimore. The stadium was the former home of the Baltimore Elite Giants. A Negro League team that had left Baltimore for Nashville in 1951. Baseball greats Roy Campanella, Larry Doby and others had played at Westport Stadium. Ed Otto, a friend of Bill France’s, picked Westport as a place to hold stock car races. The track would be 1/5 of a mile, flat and run around the perimeter of the playing field. It was basically a circle. Telephone poles, painted white and laid end to end, were used as the inside guard rail. The track was red clay. The stadium had chair back seats and seated in excess of 4,000 fans. The back stretch had an imposing wooden wall that must have been thirty feet high. The pits were behind the wall. There were two huge doors that allowed the race cars to enter the track.
The special thing about this evenings activities was that we were going to go early enough to get some photographs and autographs of our racing heroes. We arrived at the track before the pits were open for the competitors. They were all waiting in line when we arrived. Most were flat towed with a tow bar behind a sedan or pick up truck. Some were towed with a tow truck. Nearly all the race cars had extra tires carried inside the race car. I even think some were driven directly to the track illegally. Sponsors on the race cars were usually gas stations, garages or new and used car dealers. The best part was that the race car driver was usually the owner, tow driver and mechanic. So loaded with our box cameras and autograph books it was easy for Jimmy and I to go from one vehicle to another and accomplish our goal of a picture and an autograph. And even back then race car drivers didn’t refuse an autograph request.
What a thrill.
It is a hot, muggy July, 1953 evening in Baltimore. Jimmy and I are eleven years old. We have taken our pictures and gotten our autographs . We have now entered the stadium for tonight’s races. A stop at the souvienier counter to purchase a small plastic replica of a 1937 Ford stock car for twenty five cents is the first order of business. Two racing newspapers are available, Illustrated Speedway News and National Speed Sport News. There is a book titled “The Mighty Midgets” also for sale. There were also replica crash helmets, checkered flags and generic stock car window decals for sale. A race program was available. There were no t-shirts or baseball caps.
There were between 50 and 60 cars in the pits tonight. We would witness four heats, two semi finals. A consolation race and a twenty five lap feature. The show would begin at 8:15. The grandstands were packed with over four thousand fans. The races were sanctioned by NASCAR.
In the field tonight are: Wally (Crash) Campbell of Trenton, New Jersey the 1951 NASCAR National Modified Champion, Frankie ”Fireball” Schneider of Lambertville, New Jersey the 1952 NASCAR National Modified Champion , Johnny “Big Boy” Roberts of Brooklyn Park, Maryland the 1953 NASCAR National Sportsman Champion and Ken (Bones) Marriott of Baltimore, Maryland who would become the NASCAR National Modified Champion in 1957 . A surprise visitor from the outlaw track Dorsey Speedway in Dorsey, Maryland is Elmo Langley. Elmo would one day win two NASCAR Grand National races and eventually drive the NASCAR pace car at Winston Cup races. Rex White, NASCAR 1960 Grand National Champion , would make his first appearance in 1954 and Glen Guthrie, 1959 NASCAR National Modified Champion , would race at Westport in the late 50’s. Johnny Roberts would go on to win the 1960 and 1961 NASCAR National Modified championships. To say that tiny Westport Stadium in Baltimore, Maryland was the “Home of Champions would be a fair assessment .
The heat races went off like they normally do on the tight oval with plenty of beatin’, and bangin’. A few spin outs and the inevitable car getting stuck on the infield telephone pole guard rail. Of course there are the geysers of steam from the old flatheads that overheated. The semis were run without incident and the 22 car consi was a nightmare as wrecks were the order of the day. The feature was next. The drivers are lined up according to their position in the point standings. They are inverted with the number one point man starting toward the back of the field. Schneider, Roberts, Marriott and Campbell will start towards the rear. The green flag waves and the race is off and running. Schneider, arguably the best dirt driver of all time) passes 6 cars in the first lap. He’s weaving in and out of traffic like a New York taxi driver. On lap 6 a bombshell. A pink ‘37 has put Johnny Roberts in the yellow and black number 111 into the fence. The local hero is done for the evening. Roberts had been following Frankie through the field to the front. Several laps later Junior Tauber , a gas station owner from Linthicum, Maryland would park his car in the baseball dugout along the third base line. It takes some time for the wrecker to get Taubers number 115 out of the dugout. A few more spins and the twenty five lap feature is in the record books. Schneider wins over Ken Marriott. Langley gets a top 10 along with Wally Campbell. Other finishers tonight include Junior Tauber, Danny Woolford, Harry Erbe, Bobby Tester, Buzz Haymire, Duke Martindale, Pee Wee Pobletts, Bucky Guilfoy, Ed Lindsey, Ace Canupp, Cannonball Poore, Lou Thomas, Walt Martin, Reds Kagle and others. What a night. Watching Schneider drive a modified is like watching Jim Brown, a great fullback for the Cleveland Browns, run with the football. Poetry in motion. I would imagine that only the Good Lord knows how many races Frankie won in a career that spanned five decades. He was always special to me because he won the first race I ever attended and put me onto a love of stock car racing that has remained with me for all of my 64 years.
To cap the evening off, Jimmy and I scoured the grandstands for programs and racing papers left behind by others. That was one of the special things about Uncle Jim, he always allowed us the time to accomplish these tasks without rushing us out of the track. Thirty minutes later I was home and in bed reliving the night’s races over and over. It was many years later when I started going to the pits after the races that I found out there were arguments and fights and a lot of beer drinking that was part of the drivers experience. What a day, what an era. Memories are made of this.
It was May 15, 1970, I was so excited about this special night. My Dad was taking us to Beltsville Speedway to see the Beltsville 300 Grand Nation (now Sprint Cup) race. This would be the first GN race I would see live. I had been to the track many times before but this was a special occassion. The "ELITE" of NASCAR would be there. It was a totally new experience for me. Bobby Isaac in the K&K Dodge dominated the race from start to finish. James Hylton finished 2nd in a Ford and Bobby Allison in a Dodge finished 3rd. Now you notice that Richard Petty has not been mentioned yet, well the week before at Darlington he was involved in a wreck and seperated his shoulder and was unable to compete.. The biggest thing I remember was that aftyer the race they allowed to fans to enter the pits and I was in awe of all of the Grand National cars. I saw Wendell Scott and J D McDuffie's Buick. For a GM fan like myself the GM cars could not compete with the Dodge and Ford entries. To everyone's surprise even though he did not compete Richard Petty was in the pits signing autographs way past the end of the race. Even my Dad was in awe of him. It was an enjoyable time for my first GN race and I would attend my first Daytona Speed Weeks 8 months later. I have this memory because I was at the last NASCAR GN race to ever be held in Maryland.
There was supposed to be a second GN race at Beltsville in July but it was postponed. We went to the track that night and us and a bunch of other people were really dissappointed. At that point I didn't realize until later that year that I had witnessed something I would never see again, NASCAR GN short track racing and the fun of GN racing back then. I feel "Cup" racing would "NEVER" compare to what I saw that night.
Former Westport, Dorsey, Beltsville, Mannassa driver Carter Ayres writes:
Summer of 1960 Billy Fox, Herbie Harris and myself had this '39 Ford coupe with a flathead in it that we raced at Dorsey and Old Domion in the Hobby Class.Well coming home after the races at Old dominion we were coming down this really long steep hill to get across Chain Bridge that crosses the Potomac from Va. to Md. Buddy O'Keefe was flat towing (Editors Note: no trailers back then) the race car with his '57 Chevy. We heard this big clunk, next thing we knew, you guessed it, here comes the coupe trying to passus. Luckily the safety chain held and Buddy got everything slowed down and mostly out of the road.. Well what do we do now. We had this extra chain about 15 feet long. We hooked to the Chevy and the coupe. I got in the coupe and away we went. We got to Wheaton, Md. and the Chevy needed gas. When Buddy pulled into the gas station he got on the gas as I got on the brake at the same time. Broke the chain right in half. Well now we have an eight foot chain. I don't guess we thought about bolting the chain back together to make the chain long again. Not want in' to leave the coupe in Wheaton, I get in and start it up with Buddy in front with his lights on and up Georgia Avenue we go. We have about eight miles to go to make it home. We're on Layhill Rd. goin' down through this bottom, 1am and I mean dark and here's old Freddie Mills ( a long time Friday nite Dorsey fan who was always by the chain link fence next to turn two) walking along the side of the road looking for a ride. We stop. We're going his way.He didn't want to ride in Buddy's Chevy, he asked if he could ride in the stock car. What the heck, Freddy climbs in and squates down., holding on to the roll cage. We're off again. The old coupe was loud, shook and rattled. I'll never forget the big grin on Freddy's face as we went down that dark road. No more stops and we finally arrive at the Mobile station where we kept the coupe. Didn't see any police thank goodness. You know, I guess you really do some dumb stuff when you're young but at the time I guess we were just thinking' that this was the only way to get that stock car home that night.
This is a sad story that I will never ever forget as long as I live. It is in no way a suggestion of guilt or blame for the cause at this event, by anyone I mention in the content. This event is seen thru my eyes only at that time.
It was Saturday afterneen on July 24, 1965. I drove over to Sam Myers house for a visit. He was getting ready to tow Ruben McBee's #1 modified coupe to Lincoln Speedway in Hanover, Pa. He asked me if I wanted to ride along. I accepted! We arrived at the track and Sam and Mc (Bee) were preparing the car for the heatrace for qualifying. (Bobby Ballentine was his driver at that time). But this evening was unusual. The track normally has the Late Models race their heats first. This particular evening there were not enough Late Models on hand yet. So the track officials elected to run the Modifieds first instead.
The decision caused a problem for the McBee team. Ballentine would have there on time under normal conditions. But by starting the modifieds first it made Bobby late. Mc asked me to see if Johnny Roberts would qualify the #1 for him. I ran though the pits to find Johnny. I found him inside of the #10 (one of Rick Schmelyun's cars) doing some welding. I asked him if he would qualify the #1 for Mc. He said sure, get my helmet from my truck. I did and both of us ran back to the #1 as the push truck had pulled up behind it. Johnny got in and tried to hook up the shoulder straps to no avail. He said never mind, we can adjust them after the heat. He asked me if the fuel was on and I answered yeas. With that the push truck pushed him off, it started and as the cars on the pace lap came around turn two Johnny enetered the track in seventh starting spot.
On that lap as they took the green flag everything seemed normal. I along with Sam, Bobby Tester and others were standing behind the wall in the pits where most of the pit crews would watch the race. Standing there you get accustomed to hearing the sounds roaring from the engines when they accelerate and back off. On the seventh lap coming down the front straightaway the #1 never backed off. Johnny hit the wall in turn 1 collecting the #10 of Ronnie Fones. A bunch of us ran to help. I fell as I jumped off the wall. When I got up, I see Bobby Tester trying to get Johnny out and I have never seen Bobby's face so red. The medis got there and took over. Johnny was unconscious. That wiped me out the rest of the night. I set on the car trailer with nothing on my mind except Johnny. As I sat there I remembered a conversation I had with Johnny.
On Mondays I would meet John at the Starlight Drive In on Ritchie Hwy in Brooklyn Park. On Mondya July 5 I met him and he said "you'll never guess what I did yeaterday?" I beat the bugs at Hagerstown in a heavy coupe.
As is all well known for most of us, we lost Johnny Roberts on July 25, 1965.
RIP JR & DR love your children
Paul Zappardino 8/9/2009
Harold Sears of Conover, North Carolina (formerly a Marylander) writes:
Paul Zappardina - Baltimore, Maryland
Carter Ayres 8/10/09
This is a story about the personality of an individual who I feel has contributed to our sport in so many ways. Because we are getting on the short side of life and we normally pay tribute after their passing I want give this special person the recognition he deserves while we are both stiull around.
I was a young teenager in the early '50's when I met him at his dad's used car business on Calverton Rd. (Miles Used Cars) in Baltimore. He was working on a shiny black '41 Ford coupe with gigantic yellow numbers 999 on the sides. Well you more then likely have guessed his name, Charles Miles, or like most of knew him as Charlie. Some of you know him very well. His sharp clean red and white wreckers were made available for track help and maybe towed some og your race cars home after the races. I know some of you have stories related to him and perhaps you could share some of them on this website.
In the early years I got to know Charlie pretty well. I would go to his garage (actually a converted barn) at his parents home. There he would paint some cars for me from time to time as I hustled body and paint work for soem side money. He carved a little dirt track behind the barn to practice and hone his racing skills. I don't think his mother likes it at the time but I know he did and had a lot of fun. He would later build a couple of race cars, bright red and numbered 99, and 999, that he would share with Will Dilks. They won many races with those cars. Charlie helped another frien, Charlie B, to build a car number 9. Then there was a 9, 99 and 999. Charlie always found time to help other people. One time after the Hobby Division was introduced at Westport Stadium I had a car that suffered some damage to the rear of the car and Charliecame to my rescue doing some cutting and welding when suddenly the car was ablaze. My friends and I ran for cover. But not Charlie. He put the fire and continued reparing the car. It seemed like anytime I needed some help, advice, parts, motors,, gear change, axle, body work, paint job or towing (racing or personal) Charlie was always there.
I don't belive anyone has ever heard any foul language from him. It just seems like it is easier for him to laugh and smile. I was at hia business (Miles Towing and Body shop) . Hwe was banging on a fender with the left hand under the fender with a dolly and a hammer in his right hand doing the straightening. Suddenly, somehow he hit his left hand. I know it had to hurt. Guess what? He simply got up shaking his the left hand and walked to the Coke maching, deposited a coin, got his drink and went right back to work never uttering a word.
There were so many times Charlie helped me out. There was the time I was looking for an engine and he called to tell me he had an engine from a car that a serviceman had overturned that he towed to his storage lot. I wound up buying the whole car.
His involvement in the sport started at Westport but he continued to conribute at drosey and Potomac by helping his sons Ronnie and Denny to be successful in the sport he loved. Business, friend or racing competitor I don't belive you could find a better person to go to for help.
I hope I have encouraged some to offer some memories of other personalities that may have the Maryland stock car scene. I want to thank Charlie and his wife Millie and the entire Miles family who have been so gracious to me over the years and I will always remember them.
Larry Jendras, Jr. 8/23/09
A real vivid memory and something missing today is seeing race cars flat towed to the track. Not only in our driveway, but driveways and garages all over Maryland, stock cars were resting till the weekend with a tow bar attached to the front. I could ride my bike a short distance down Dundalk Ave. and back a few streets and watch Howard Breeden getting his #822 hitched up for Westport or Dorsey.
Usually on weekends before heading to the races, I could peddle to the corner of Dundalk and Holabird and catch Joe Michals' # 4 sedan or Don "Ratlegs" Prettyman's #96 being towed to the track. Or I could head the other direction to Dundalk and Boston see the #E24 of Jerry Bittner or the #27 of Buzz Flynn heading west.
Back in thte 50's before the Harbor Tunnel, to get from East Baltimore to Westport, you had to go through the city. It was cool seeing stock cars towed through the downtown streets.
Looking back now, some of the tow rigs were good looking matching pickups or just the family sedan. Denzil Dillman had the old Cadillac hearse pulling #81.
Something racecars don't have or need today are tow lights. Back in the day, you would see all sorts of variations of tow lights on stock cars. Some looked so good as if the car was customized.
Car owners probably don't miss flat towing, but little kids sure had fun watching them go by. All you see today is a big white trailer going by.
Harold Sears 8/15/09
It was June 1981, Mike Heath was driving for Reds Kagle now, Anthony had passed away in December of last year. We were only running Old Dominion Speedway since Beltsville had been closed since after the 78 season RIP! I drove over to Mike's apartment early Saturday morning and then went over to Reds house to get things ready for that night. Reds was working on the car seems that the alternator (charging system) was not working. Reds had a replacement alternator and was fitting it to engine. It still would not charge, he figured we would not run that night. As a tech I did a lot of electrical troubleshooting, i ask if I couldd have a go at it. I performed a full field tast by jumping the battery connection to the field connection of the regulator and we had it working , after individual check of the wires which showed no problem we picked up another voltage regulator and we were in business. The next week I brought Reds over an updated replacement regulator that was all tranistorized so it would last longer. I was amazed to find out that most if not all the GM LMS cars were running Ford charging systems, seems they were more durable than the Delco counterparts. Reds and the whole gang were happy that would be able to run at Manasas that nght. We got to the track the only problem we had that night was it rained!!!! no races that night but we had fun eating at Denny's on Rt 234. Just being able to be around Reds Kagle was awesome, don't get me wrong I had a lot good times with Mike Heath and the gang BUT Reds!!! I remember I always dealt with Wallace Engine company for my engine parts and at least once a week i would have to stop by and let him know how Red and Hoss Kagle were doing. I always enjoyed talking to Bob Wallace about what I saw and did, now I talk to Brad who is a lot like his Dad but I miss him like i miss the old days at Beltsville and Old Dominion, the memories will suffuce but what I would not give to go back in time to those days. THANKS Paul.
July 24, 2009
Paul Zapperdino - Baltimore, Maryland
Al Torney - Annapolis, Md.
It has been a while but this always comes back in my mind the date was June 14, 1980. It was a Saturday night at Old Dominion Speedway in Manassas, Virginia. It was a 200 lap National Championship event for the Late Model Sportsman Class.
The night before I had to finish some late work at the shop. I had an extra key that Mike Heath had given me to his apartment in Hyattsville so I could come over and spend the night so we could get an early start for the race in Manassas. I got there before Mike and was up when they in. They had been going over the car and were rady for the race. I told him I felt good about our chances.
We got there in the early afternoon and just went over things and waited for qualifying. I think we qualified in the Top 5 but it bothers me as I can't remember for sure. We were talking things over, Anthony, Tommy Sego, Rick, Warren, Chip and myself. It was good to make the event this year as the previos year while qualifying for another 200 lap National Championship race Tommy Ellis blew an engine and Mike got into the oil and before he knew it he was into the wall backwards between turns turns 1 and 2. The car had taken a pretty hard lick and was out of contention for the rest of the year. The car had to be sent to South Carolina to the Ronnie Hopkins shop for repairs. As a foot note, the car had to be partially dissasembled and I removed the transmission without removing the shift linkage. Anthony could never figure out how I did it. I told him I had learned from my Dad that on disassembly take apart as little as possible. I just smiled and looked at him.
Back to the event, the top 2 drivers in LMS that year were Morgan Shepherd and Boscoe Lowe. From the start we were in the top3 all night with Shepherd and Lowe. Everything was working out fine. We were thinking of possibly pitting dduring the race but never did. I would have been responsible for refueling the car and was going over everything in my mind so I would do it correctly. Anthony, Tommy, Mike and everyone else assured me that I'd be fine. I don't remember any cautions that night. We just ran hard all night and with about 25 laps to go Shepherd and Lowe pitted. Mike was out front and we were so excited over the possibility of winning our first LMS National Championship event. Mike led about 5 laps and then Shepherd and Lowe passed him.We finished third behind Shepherd and Lowe but you would have thought we had won the thing. Mike and I went up to the scorers stand to have the results double checked as we had not pitted and thought there may have been a mistake but no errors were found. This was as close as we would ever come to winning a LMS event It will be thirty years next year and I am still trying to get the complete results for that night to have them as a momento.
Anthony passed away in December and Mike drove for Reds Kagle for 1981 and then they went from LMS to Busch Grand National and short track racing as I kenw it was over. But the memory is still fresh in my mind and will be forever. Thanks go to Anthony, Tommy and Mike for giving me a shot to help out and learn and experience something that is still with meto this day. Chip, Rick, Waren, Darlene, Ina and Old Dominion thanks for the memories. This is something you can't put a price on.
July 25, 2009
Here are some of the letters and emails I've received from our fans over the years...
Joe Haas a former Baltimore race car driver from the '50's who now resides in Tidewater Virginia has written a story of some of his experiences racing in the '50's. Joe wanted to see if it was feasible to turn pro back then and relates this story:
My life in Baltimore was typical of many. Struggling thru high school, part time jobs in filling stattions and playing touch football in the streets. Monumental League Football, the Orioles, the Colts and boys chasing girls. Typical.
Something new, or my awareness of it, was occuring. The was an off the wall transition form midget racing in the northeast at a place in Plmira, Pa. (Mason-Dixon Speedway). At my height I did not fit in a midget racer and sprint cars were overwelming to me by their cost and their speed. I was not inside of the loop of automotive happenings but they were attractive, noisy and exciting for me and my buddies. We began to attend quite a few races.
I bought a stock car with roll bar and bad fuel pump for $150.oo in 1950. Rolled in front of the entire pack at the PenMar track and was hit several times. We pushed it back up onto 4 wheels wobbling and finished the day. I was hooked for good...or bad depending on your viewpoint. We patched it, crashed it, went to the hospital for minor bone repair and tries again in four weeks. I was indeed hooked and not thinking of anything else other than the excitement of competition with cars.
Forward five, or six years. The stock car was now a series of modifieds and one mor two late maodel races. We had won a few short track races at places like Dorsey, Marlboro, Manassas, West Lanham, Mason-Dixon, and Wilmington. Not in dominationg fashion as there were competitors such as Ed Lindsey, Pobletts, Ralph Smith, and many others to fill the pages and who often dominated races. We won a few but oiur constant change in the pocket instead of dollars was a limiting factor. Also, who knew if I was as capable as the car, or is it the reverse. Another limiting factor was the limited availability of a good mechanic, helps and a sober owner. Alcohol consumed was not the benefit... although we did run on menthenol, the owner ran on another brand. Things were as they should be in the crew.... and they were not getting any better. I wondered if I could and should begin investing my limited family resource to test whether or not 50 hours a week already invested was worth the effort. Maybe we could borrow some and I could make a two week vacation into a 15 hour day every day until the car was right and I was ready to try to "GoPro" for one weekend. Okay, here we go...CAN WE MAKE UT PAY BACK?
Before 2, 805 fans at Wilmington Speedway, we won the heat race, semifinaland the feature and stood at the payout window expecting something big.
Ken Marriott and John Cramblitt heard me complain about the huge amount I was given....$200.00. Tires, towing, fuel, time and effort did not add up to a break even.
However a loaf of bread sold for about $.20....Ha...............No, we did not quit, but that was another sobering night of reality. The process of evolvong to making the test of "going pro".....or quitting was getting closer.
The weekend Trial and Test was developing. I will record the results of that three day attempt of "Going Pro".
Unable to find a "driver only" oppurtunity to race it became obvious that the second job was that of of spending a minimumof five hours a night preparing, or repairing, the race car. I had a young family to support and that required forty hours a week also. When racing payoffs became misdriected by the owner, drinking money, I did not get a share. The strongestpart of this structure was a man who mdid research and could build a good race engine with the meager sources available. He knew this and made certain that I and others followed his directions and worked at his chosen convenience. It was maddening to watch him build his first overhead race engine and that required out of pocket expensesfrom me to supplement what the owner would not, or could not, provide Two years of part time work on that beauty and Ed Lindsey, a truly great guy, I finally got to drive a car with that engine in place. They dominated Pittman (Alcyon Speedway), New Jersey every tim the car was available.
After a win at Old Dominion in a single carburator version of the Ford flathead the rupture in our agreement was final. I was supposed to receive fifty percent of the purse for the night's sweep and the car owner and his brother in law drank it away in a motel with women offering commerce of their own. That did it. The next day I decided that I would evolve out of this three year adventure of misfits. I also wonderedwhether or not there was any payback to be gained from this racing venture that consumed and satisfied my physical and mental efforts to be competitive worthy of recognition. I wanted to find out if I now knew enough and was capable enough to make it as a Pro. $$$$
I decided to use the very meager skills I had as a mechanic, expand them, and invest a two week vacation to properly prepare a car, maintain the car available and run this activity as a managed efforts to make money $$$. I could only try for a sample, a three day racing weekend. This was the time of the year, the fall season, when a few tracks would run a final race that paid $1,000.00. I found two of them but they were miles apart and I had never raced at either of them. I lightened the car as much as possible and went over every nut ant bolt. I missed nothing that would could render the car a breakdoen or slow the car down. The engine builder suggested that I check it out at Lanham Speedway, outside of Washington, D.C., as a sportsman, one carb entry. I could not convince him to allow the three carb manifold to stay in place and I will never know why, but we went and finished second to Pee Wee Pobletts who passed me cleanly on the fourth turn on the last lap. $$$$$$$We collected the fifty dollar bonusn for being first sportsman and equalled his payout. I think he had Hilborn fuel injection on his Red Rooster. It hurt but the dollars were in my pocket. That purse money was again taken by the owner who suddenly offered to accompany me on my quest to turn "Pro" for a weekend.
By two thirty in the morning the car had been converted to a modified with a larger fuel tank. We then headed home for some sleep. We were ready to locate to a track min New Jersey called Wall Stadium. It would be paying $1,000.00 to win and all of the cars would be foreign to us, so we thought. $$$$$
The Saturday tow to Wall Stadium was a challenge for the pick up driver but I did my best to make certain that there was no alcohol except for the race car. We arrived in time to get in line with the other 40, or more, cars entering the race They came from all over the U.S. it seemed. Surprise, Rex White with his familiar "X" was there aloong with NASCAR modified cham Jack Choquette from Florida and Tommy Elliott with their 97A and 97B modifieds. I was humbled as I looked around the pits. The $1,000.00 pulled them in. This coulf be another attempt at futility. As we chose a gear to run we noticed that evryone looked hungry and committed. First we knew we had to qualify on a track with no warm up and no history to quide us. It was humbling to say the least. We lined up on this asphalt beauty and I could see up front with the sportsman and I was around thirteenth with Choquette and Elliott. We finished third in the qualifier and poor Rex got caught up in some guys oil from a blown engine and was done for the evening. Now a shocker, some guy who had just gotten out of the hospital from a wreck a few weeks ago comes up and spouts out "You rebels come up here and drive us into the wall and you'll never leave this track alive." I avoided evryone for the rest of the evening. It was not a very good welcome for a driver from Baltimore. Rebel?
I thought that Wall Stadium was a fast and furious track but for some reason I also felt at home there. Maybe because I did not know it. The third and fourth turns were a real venture for me and I probably ran them all wrong. We kpt pace there for about thirty laps until it beacme like a ritual. Everyone seemed to respect it so that made it okay. The laps continued and it appeared that we had moved well during the first half of the race. Started about 21st, or so,at the back and when the one wreck occurred that caused a restart, the owner came to the window to tell me that we were fourth. I mjoked with him and inquired as to whether he found a good place on the infield with the jack. tire, water, etc. His answer " Hell no , Mister" A car lost control on the fourth turn and came into the infield doing about 100 mph, spun just missing where I was and they didn't even stop the race. I am sitting back on the fire truck and can see just fine.
The restart was fast and furious and I did pass the third place car and fell in behind Choquette and Elliott who were doing their version of a drafting duo and I could not touch them as a competitor. Those engine and the car handling combo coupled with their driving skills were just beyond me. I heard that Bob Osiecki down in Florida built those engines. They were the best and toughest I ever encountered on asphalt.The purse fro third was nothing to write home about. Well the night was over and we discovered that the Jersey folks had stolen our luggage from the pick up. I was exhausted and we left about 3 am and headed down the Jersey Turnpike for our rooms in Wilmington for the next $1,000.00 night. This another addition to the "Going Pro" weekend.
So about 4am, black night, we're exhausted and towing down the turnpike. I have been watching the owner's cigar light up a little when he took a draw just to make sure that he does not go to sleep. again and there he goes. I just pulled on the wheel and took us off to the shoulder and he awoke in a panic and fought me for the wheel.. I then took over the driving and stopped at the first Howard Johnsons restaurant I ame to for coffe. There was no struggle to find a booth. The only other person in there was a Jersey State Trooper with everything on him shiny and menacing.. We sat two booths away, my habit, so I didn't have to answer if we had been drinking (often the case with you know who). We had staggered a little due to fatigue. Here comes a slow moving waitress. We both said "coffee" in a real loud voice. I am sure the trooper heard the outburst. She said she would get the coffee and be back with a menu and silverware. We both started drinking coffe and she waited for our meal order. We hadn't eaten anythig since breakfast the day before.
CRASH....BANG............The waitress was on the table face down and the selverware fell to the floor. She has fallen asleep and fallen on the table. Her second shift she said. There he was, the huge state trooper with the big hat and leather leggings and gun, etc. standing there above us. "You guys been drinking?" "I saw a hot rod come in at 4am and wondered?" "No". We did not order a meal. We had two coffees and left the scene of the indoor confrontation and left the ecene after a long explanation.
We arrived at the Wilmington Motel at about 5 am and found that they had given our room away. We had not called to cancel so they rented the room. I sleot in the janitors toolroom with a drapery wrapped around me and the owner slept in the utility room with the air conditioner turned on full blast and no control. He froze, no drapery to tear down. We were not happy.
I only had my one piece coveralls, probably strong enough to walk themselves, so I washed them and had to sleep in my shorts. And the coveralls did not dry. So this is what going "Pro" is all about? Only a good finish, or a $1,000.00 win tonight will make a positive ending for me....for both of us.
It had been Sunday morning for five hours before we into our lavish rooms and now it is only five hours more because they needed access to the rooms. We ate our first meal in twenty-four hours. Glared at each other and found a place in the shade to change the gears in the quick change, change the oil, fill the tank and check the tires. The tire wear was obvious but we selected three that would probably serve the purpose if we were fortunate. The line "the best of times and the worst of times" was a good description and precursor of the next quest for $1,000.00 payoff.
The cars began to arrive and we were surprised then to learn that there was to be a 50 lap race for the Strictly Stock Division before the 100 lap Modified race. There were no heats or smi-finals as far as I can remember. We were to line up and get after it. You are well aware that out of thirty cars, or more, there are usually about ten that are key competitors. Now who I thought will show up for this one. I kept looking for the 97A and 97B and was surprised that they did not show. Who then? Well son of a gun. There is Pee Wee Pobletts and Ray Kable and several others from the Baltimore area here at Wilmington.
After the stocks finished destroying each other and spraying grael all over the front straight from accidents, it was our turn to hit the black top. In thirty five laps our car was first with Pee Wee right on our bumper and Kable about half a lap back. The other cars were falling back as time went on but the apparent competition was going to be between us three. I could not shake Pobletts, my tires were worn thin and I was tired and made a mistake. I moved slightly out of the groove to let him go by if he could and then I rode his bumper for the next 25 laps, He could and he did. It was my plan to take it back if I could but $500.00 for second kept me positive as possible. Ray was still in the same spot. The mistake was that the gravel on the front straight sent a missle into my windshield and raditor with water spray hitting my windshield.
We did not have a screen deflector because I had removed it for asphalt racing. That put the engine over 212 degrees and it was climbing. With about ten laps to go I pulled the car to the infield mand parked it. Frustrated and fatigued I threw my helmet about 50 ft. and flattened out on my back. No, it was not the best of times. It was racing luck and it was the worst of times for me at that time. I watched as Pee Wee had to stop and leave the track for some reason and then Ray took over the lead. I went to sleep and do not know who eventually won the 100 lapper and $1,000.00.
Going Pro$$$$......nope. We had won about $450.00. we had consumed a lot of fuel, tires and energy and were frustrated.
Was it fun for us? It was a real hoot to finish well when we were running well. The best of times fell short of our dreams and it was obvious that I had to keep a steady job to feed the family. This was not to be at this time and in these places. In reflection at this very late phase of my life, maybe, just maybe it was the best of times.
I left John Deere and joined FOMOCO to work in my specialty, the Tractor and Equipment Div.. We have had 13 addresses. We still think of Baltimore as our home city and state. I have a very large Maryland flag that was given to me at one of the races when we won a feature. We fly it when able and fondly wish you and your organization the very best.....as we fade away. God Bless America
Hi Al, It's me again. You said to get those creative juice's flowing for the memories page, so I'll take a stab at it. Pretty sure it was 1963, and I'm gonna say June. "As usual, we were running late over at Clarence Magruder's garage in Kensington, Md. for Dorsey's friday nite races. Our class was the flathead hobby cars. Clarence said if were going to make it for warm-ups, we gotta leave now. Well, there was still a few things that had to be done, including extending the headers past the firewall, and screwing down the floorboards in the clutch and brake pedal area. None of that happened, and away we went. Warm-ups and heat race went O.K. We started the feature, and were going along pretty good. About three quarters of the way through the race I started to feel really extra tired, trying to hang on, and hopping it would soon be over. The last thing I remember was pulling up into the pits off the third turn. They told me later that Ace Canupp saw me slumped over the wheel, ran to the car, claimed in and pulled me out. They said the ambulance crew immediately gave me oxygen, and took me away. I woke up the next day in St. Agnes hospital. The emergency room at the hospital told my wife it was a good thing they got me there when they did, as the carbon monoxide had just about done It's job. I'm extremly grateful to Ace and the ambulance crew for what they did that night, acting as fast as they did. Race car guys, always try to be as safe as you can". Thanks, Carter.
Harold Sears, hobby car owner at Westport and Dorsey, relates the story of he, Red Fouts (hobby driver and later modified driver), Bobby Tester (modified driver), Elmo Mathias (Bobbby's car owner) and a few crew members went to Daytona for Bobby to race in tne annual Sportsman-modified race at the big track around 1962. They were on the boardwalk when they came upon a game vendor, Fouts asked what he had to do to win a stuffed animal. The vendor told him to put the basketball thru the hoop. Reds asked him if it mattered how he did and the vendor said no. Reds paid him, walks back around the board, climbs up the back and droops the ball thru the hoop. The vendor yelled "you can't do that'. In the menatime a crowd had gathered and they started yelling at the vendor that he said it didn't matter how he did it ands to give the man the prize. The vendor relented and gave the animal to Reds who proceeded to give it the first cute women he saw. The race group and their newly acquired fans proceeded to the bumper cars. During the first lap Reds stops and gets out to talk to a women, the operator hollers for him to get back in the car. Reds proceeded to get in the car and do the same thing on each lap until the oprator told him to get in the car or leave the premises. Which Reds threatened to do and take the entire crowd with him. And away they went. The entire crowd followed the racers around the rest of the night. Reds was a joy to be around at and off the track and I thoroughly enjoyed our freindship, I miss him alot.
Bobby started the race but dropped out after 17 laps with engine problems. More about Bobby later.
Harold Sears-Conover, NC (formerly a Marylander) Writes: