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Not Just Another Racing Column Pastor Dudley Balmer
Dirt Divas Camisha Miller
the PITS 2013Central PA
NOT JUST ANOTHER RACING COLUMN
by Pastor Dudley Balmer
ALL HAVE DRIVEN ONE
First we all drove’em. Few drivers from the sixties and seventies have not spent some nights in a Trevis built sprint car. This was the time that the supermodified coupes had given way to the caged sprint cars with a little piece of tin on top of the cage that allowed them to be run as a “super”. There were several builders at the time but if you were racing in Ohio or further east the Trevis Craft was the way to go. These rugged four bar cars became the beast of burden for area racers and travelers alike. There was a time that in a field of twenty cars, fifteen quite possibly were out of the North Lima, Ohio shop of Floyd Trevis. Most owners of the day had one car, would freshen it up over the winter and run it for several seasons. If you twisted it up too badly to fix it at home it would take the ride back to North Lima for repairs. They were built to survive the rigors of weekly racing for multiple seasons. I remember helping Ted Swiontek bolt the injection and mag on a Chevy crate engine, set it in his Trevis #12, run it for twenty minutes, change oil and head to the track for Dave Lundy to win the feature. Ted later built his own school bus yellow #12 creations. No tie down shocks, hydraulic wings or trick stuff of today. Race it this weekend, wash it and race it next week end.
Miller's 1950 Trevis Midget
Weikert's Old Blue
Just a reminder to our vintage racing friends. The
Daytona Antique Auto Racing Association Fall Nationals are just around
the corner. The dates are November 14 through 17 and the venue is
Florida’s Marion County Speedway. The heat and humidity have passed and
it should be a great time of the year for some dirt racing vintage
style. The annual business meeting will also be held during the banquet
at the Holiday Inn & Suites Ocala Conference Center. Area rooms can be
had for $59.00 and up with information available on the web site. All
members should make an effort to attend. With the weather cooling down
and hopefully the rain tapering off for the season we should expect a
good field of cars in each division. The only negative about the
upcoming DAARA fall event is that it will be missing Jim Kaserman. Jim
passed away October 18th. Please keep Sarah Jane and the family in
prayer. Further event information may be found at www.mydaara.com . For
additional details you may contact Karen Dunn at email@example.com.
Midgets, sprints, stock cars, coupes, speedsters all make their way onto
“The Bull Ring “ for some high speed exhibition racing. An absolutely
great way to wind down your racing activities for the season.
WHY ALL THIS VINTAGE
equipment grew from Model T chassis to rail frames, to home assembled
CAE kits to the off the shelf cars we run today. Gambler, Trostle and
Nance were preceded by Trevis, Altfater, Edmonds, and earlier by
Hillegass , Kurtis, and the list goes on. These beasts were powered by
Frontenac Fords, V8-60s, Offys, Outboard motors, aircraft engines and
later the small block configurations of today. But really, who cares?
That is the problem. Who cares?
It is great fun to run
into folks like “Ralphie the Racer” Liguori and listen to his racing
memories. So many others likewise share the histories of their careers
of another time during our travels. Listening to the tales of these
aging racers is even more entertaining than their restored machines. It
would be sad indeed if the racing lore related in these stories were
lost forever. If you ask one of today’s young guns about a name from the
40’s, 50’s or even the 60’s, more often than not they get that deer in
the headlight look and are completely oblivious as to what you are
talking about. The sad part of the matter is that it is not their fault,
but ours. We have publications like Vintage Oval Racing magazine and
others that promote racing history. There are vintage auto organizations
in every corner of the country but there won’t be in years to come if we
don’t share our interest with the younger crowd. We grew up working on
our cars and spent our free time making them faster, prettier and
louder, but not so today. Souping up your car today consists of
installing giant rims and low profile tires. They are not going to have
an interest in vintage racing and pieces of racing history if we don’t
introduce them to it. To many of today’s racers, racing history is last
season or the season before. We can’t let those who fought the wild
beasts of yesteryear, often paying the ultimate price, be lost in the
dust of progress. It was a different time and to many a better time.
Even if we don’t speak the language of the younger crowd, if we fail to
cultivate an interest with them for preserving our racing roots, the
roots will surely wither and not survive. Display your restored piece of
history at every opportunity. We are always inviting folks to church,
why not invite a group to join you at the next vintage event. If we
don’t actively promote it we will watch it die.
Should you be inclined
to take in one of these vintage events you are in luck. The Daytona
Antique Auto Racing Association Fall Nationals are just around the
corner. The dates are November 14 through 17 and the venue is Florida’s
Marion County Speedway. This is a fun place hosted by good people that
make you feel like they are really glad you came. It is a well
maintained dirt track with plenty of pit parking. The annual business
meeting will also be held during the banquet at the Holiday Inn & Suites
Ocala Conference Center. Area rooms can be had for $59.00 and up with
information available on the web site. All members should make an effort
to attend. With the weather cooling down and hopefully the rain tapering
off for the season we should expect a good field of cars in each
division. Further information may be found at www.mydaara.com . For
additional details you may contact Karen Dunn at totallydunn@aol,com.
MENTAL HEALTH NITE AT OAKSHADE
We apologize for being behind on our column but travel and ministry commitments have taken priority for a few weeks. Our detractors that surfaced after our north vs south column have had no influence on our timely posting of these articles. Just to support my point, both northern speedways I mentioned were dark both on our way going north and on our way returning. Enough of that however as this is a positive column about a fun night at a place I had never visited but will long remember.
The trip due to family obligations was more of a challenge than expected. Our ability to attend our usual number of races was very limited. We did however make the trek to northern Ohio to spend a few days with vintage racer and restorer Gene Steele. Gene had two cars prepared for us to race at Oakshade Raceway a few exits west on I-80. This event was under the banner of Vintage America Race Cars and the able leadership of John Lawhorn. John is fellow Daytona Antique Auto Racing Assoc. member and always makes us welcome at his events. This one was no exception. We followed Gene across I-80 towing the 07 that was my designated ride for the night. What we found between cornfields just off the Wauseon exit of I-80 was a pleasant surprise. This 3/8 mile track was carved out by the Hendricks family a generation ago and they still hold the reigns and direct track operations. Pam Hendricks is designated as the promoter, Chrissy Hendricks does the public relations, Mike Smith was our contact in the pits. The whole deal is pretty much run by family and friends. The adult admission is $12.00. Always. No matter the special event or what it pays, admission is an affordable $12.00. Likewise, the pit passes remain at $20.00. You got it. If there is a big show with a larger purse, pit passes are $20.00. The concession stands reflect the family friendly pricing as well. All the help at every station were friendly and helpful. So what does this prove anyway? The place was packed. People filled the ample grandstands and the pits as well. Race cars packed the pits with five divisions of cars plus our vintage presentation of two races. There is even a division for 12 to 18 year olds. They also gave away fifty bicycles of all sizes during intermission. Yes fifty, as in five zero. There is truly something for everyone. Harry works the track every day except Sunday. Yes that is six days a week fellow track preparers. One division had six heats, others had at least three. That is a long night of racing but there was still a racing surface at the end of the program. All the promoters who are complaining of empty stands should visit this place and take notes.
The VARC vintage group had a good turn out with a variety of cars. Our cars ran a fifteen lap feature. Gene had his blue modified hooked up and passed everything in sight winning the event overall. I started third from the tail and kept Gene in sight and had more fun than probably anyone on the grounds. The 07 that I had wrecked the last time out was working with those six pistons switching holes and we were passing cars throughout the event. It was just plain fun as I remember racing used to be. We had a lot of people say that they enjoyed the vintage cars and looked forward to their return each year. Mike Smith came by to welcome us early in the evening and called us out in plenty of time to the staging area. He also came back after our feature to thank us for our participation. Yep, this place was a refreshing mental health night in the middle of an otherwise difficult trip. The action shots are compliments of Charlie Orns of Freeze Frame Photos. (freezeframephotos.net) We appreciate his forwarding us enough shots from which to select for our article. Also, thanks to Chrissy for taking time to call with the Oakshade history.
Jimmy Jeep Knapp called to update us on the David Johnston Indy Roadster crew and their 2nd attempt to set a Bonneville Salt Flats record. David, Bill Wendt, Jerry Carbone, Debra Emery and a crew of untold participants are back on the salt for what we hope will be a successful run and a new record. The whole story can be found at saltflatfever.com If you love the old Indy roadsters you will enjoy following this recreation featuring A.J. Watson himself. We certainly wish this adventuresome group a safe and successful attempt.
August 10th will find the DAARA vintage group at North Florida Speedway. This is a fun 3/8 mile speedway just off I-75 at Lake City, Florida. Anyone in the area might want to take in this event. It should be a good one.
Thanks to our friend Gene Steele for a fun night and to all the Oakshade Raceway family. Racing as it was meant to be. Also, we appreciate the hospitality of the Vintage American Race Cars organization. Our remaining schedule is still up in the air but we hope to see you somewhere along the way. We will close by asking everyone to remember the Kramer Williamson family in prayer. We have lost a good one. God bless and see you at the races.
SOUTHERN INDIANA WINS
One of our favorite stops when we get into the mid-west is the Lawrenceburg Speedway. Dave Rudisell and his wife have made this old fairground track into a super fast, fan accommodating and all around great place to watch open wheel racing. We pull in and Dave comes to our motorhome to welcome us to his speed plant. After we attend Jackie Apted’s pit prayer service we are treated to some of the best modified and sprint racing of the season. The staff is friendly, the accommodations clean and complete with camper hookups. We were not able to get to Lawrenceburg last season due to scheduling conflicts but look forward to stopping this trip. For any sprint car fan touring the mid-west Lawrenceburg is a must.
Likewise, was our 2011 World Of Outlaw experience at Bloomington. The WOO folks always treat us well and the Bloomington staff went out of their way to make us feel at home. We know the management has changed since our last visit but we hear Bloomington is still a great family venue for weekend racing. Another recommended stop for the visiting race fan. This place is fast, friendly and reminds one of the old days at the Blanket Hill Speedway in Kittanning, PA. People stake out their lawn chair spots, grab a beverage and sit back for an evening of high speed, wheel bang’n racing. This is another fun place that takes one back to a more simple time. Bring the family, park your camper in the ample lot, relax and enjoy.
Lincoln Park better known to the locals as simply Putnamville. This place is another family deal that actually makes you feel like they are glad you have made the trip to their facility. Credentials were no problem, the racing was fast and furious and the staff friendly. We accompanied the Frederickson #58 sprint car team on our most recent visit and we all commented at the end of the night on the great competition and the all around positive racing experience.
Recently I got a call from the Frederickson team asking me to please let people know about their experience this past Saturday. They towed to Haubstadt for a winged show at the Haubstadt Speedway. Bill, the senior Frederickson was amazed at the welcome they had received from track management. The announcer went out of his way to gain pertinent team information. Frederickson could not say enough about the positive experience at Haubstadt from the time they arrived till they were loaded and leaving the plant. They were even assisted in repairing a trailer tire failure.
Paragon is another family deal in southern IN. Many current and past USAC competitors cut their teeth on the Paragon dirt. This is not a high dollar, race for the big bucks venue, but a place for the weekend family racer to do it cause they love it. Lots of the big names in sprint car lore at some point slung the clay at Paragon.
Southern Indiana sprint car racing is alive and well. Promoters are thinking out of the box on how to put people in the stands and keep the coming back. But there are northern Indiana tracks running sprint cars as well. We have visited Kokomo and I-69 Gas City for many seasons. Kokomo is another animal indeed. We need our passport, birth certificate, marriage license, dog license and updated background check to secure credentials. Once admittance is granted the gates are locked behind you and you are monitored for any outside drinks, even water being smuggled into the seating area. The pit gate is not attended through the event and recently the ambulance could not leave the property after an on track accident. One never knows when this long time staple of area racing is going to be open. The sign advertising Sunday night racing can be misleading at best. Much of August finds the place dark. Who would think of Sunday night racing on a warm August night? Track preparation or lack of such is expected to be facilitated by the high dollar sprint cars for countless laps putting time on their engines and burning fuel. These secretly held races attract some of the best drivers and equipment in the mid-west but the hospitality, facilities and lack of promotion present a challenge.
I-69 Gas City is another fast non wing venue. Scheduling seems to be the big problem here. Most folks think of Gas City is the place to go on Friday night but this is often not the case. As we drove north into the Cincinnati area we thought of detouring further north for some Friday night action. Oops, not a good plan as they had run a Wednesday night special show therefore were closed on Friday. This scenario happens frequently throughout the season. I talked to vacationing folks from the state of Maine, in the Gas City parking lot a while back, who had driven out of their way to see some of their favorite sprint car drivers on a Friday night. They found only midgets and mini sprints on this particular Friday, they pulled out never to return.
Many of us old timers expect a Friday night track to run on Friday; a Sunday track to be open Sunday and so on. We don’t all live on the internet continually checking who is dark and who is not. If there is a special event it should be in addition to, not in place of the regular card. Promoters who are struggling might want to take a drive and learn from those who are not. A free pass or two to each race team on occasion would bring people to the track, and if they enjoyed the show they would return as paying customers often bringing a gang of friends and kids with them. Even when they are there as guests they consume food and drink and buy souvenirs, all high profit items. Empty seats bring in no money, look bad to those who do come, and lead to another closed overgrown racetrack. Everyone is fighting high costs, insurance battles, gov. regulations both local and national but some are doing it and winning the battle. We all love sprint car racing and want to see as many tracks as possible stay open and do so with full stands and full fields of cars. One compliments the other. Race track operation, as with any business, success comes to those who respect their customers and give the best service. Ask some of the teams that run both the northern and southern Indiana venues and you will get a clear picture of their preferences and reason why. We have, but won’t print those words here. One thought is that many tracks are under the direction of people who are not or have never been racers or race fans. A good example of this came home last Saturday night at Pittsburghs Pennsylvania Motor Speedway. The staff was friendly and the lady in the pit booth had my credentials and even took a minute to chat. The Mileys who run the place have been in racing forever and their staff are on top of their game. Pit steward Smokey Schemp has been heading pit activities about as long as I have been attending western PA tracks. Also the Buckeye Outlaw Sprint Series brought 20 sprint cars to the game. The young man, who is a racer, along with his wife and one other fellow did the whole BOSS deal with just the three folks. He went around and talked to the teams, showed them that they were the important part of the evening and from all I heard everyone left with a good feeling. He did more with a team of three than some series do with a team of thirty. My compliments to the BOSS folks. This is a young series you might want to visit when they come to a track near you. Race teams are people and would like to be treated as such. Their needs should be a major consideration in scheduling and event operation.
Okay, now for us. We hope to take in the Vintage American Race Cars while we are visiting mid-west venues. Also DAARA has been invited ", to show our" Daytona Antique Auto Racing Association vintage race cars", inside the Coronado Resort Hotel at Disney World. They will be inside the hotel lobby. There is only room for approx. 50 of our DAARA cars. You must RSVP, to place your DAARA car into the event. Contact Hank Goodrich at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 386-405-9595 Understand that there is no charge for DAARA member’s cars. More information may be had by contacting Karen Dunn at email@example.com Sorry if we stepped on some toes but this racing thing is a business and race teams and fans needs should trump promoters whims. Nancy, Baby, the cat and I are on the road and it is you that we hope to see along the way. As always, God Bless and see you at the races.
IS IT REALLY SO MUCH BETTER
I recently walked through the pit and observed a young woman putting on makeup using her reflection in a stainless race car trailer for a mirror. One would have been hard pressed to find even a bug spec on this eighteen wheel highly polished race car hauler. Lots of dollars invested here to say nothing of the contents which undoubtedly equal the value of the hauler. But it is necessary for this kind of investment to put on a show for the paying fans, or is it?
The way we used to do it
Is it more impressive today to field a mass produced, off the shelf race car, differentiated only by it’s graphics than a handmade, highly chromed, one of a kind show piece of days gone by? There was a time when cars were treasured for many seasons, sometimes decades as opposed to the throw away cars of today. Whether it was a midget, sprint car or a champ car, you could actually see the driver at work as opposed to a rare glimpse of a helmet if the car is right in front of you today. But of course the 900 hp beasts of today put on a better show right? Well, yes they are a couple of seconds faster than their predecessors, but is the competition better? It sure was great to see your favorite driver fighting the wheel (no power steering) with diamond digger tires throwing rooster tails high into the air. Yes they were sideways too and wilder to point in the desired direction than today’s machines. I can’t remember anyone in the stands, in earlier days, saying “I wish these things were a couple of seconds faster”. I wonder how many of the big dollar “shoes” of today could put on an open face helmet, a folded handkerchief and a pair of goggles and go run a hundred laps in one of the contrary animals of yesteryear.
JR man handling the Deuce
The enclosed haulers everyone now must have are a far cry from the open trailers that carried the car, a few tires and four fuel cans. Most of us that towed these homemade trailers with the car proudly advertising the fact that this was a real race car, not some sedan with the glass removed and a number painted on the side, and we knew we were being watched. Often folks would follow us to the race track. Fueling up always meant you had to figure in time to take questions from admiring onlookers. The race car openly displayed on the trailer was a real testimonial to our intentions as opposed to a printed advertisement on a rolling billboard. I realize that the traveling series need their shops with them but we covered many states with what we could carry on the open trailer. Often someone was sent several hundred miles home to pick up a motor from the shop which would be installed under a tree in some race track or motel parking lot. Somehow it got done and the car was in the show at the end of the day. It wasn’t pretty but it got done. Sleep was often a memory from two or more days past. A hot shower was often a memory from the distant past as well.
Cheap motels were a treat and the order of the day whenever possible. Many nights were spent sleeping in front of a pickup, sometimes with a couple of your closest friends. Motorcoaches were not even a vision at the time. Lots of meals were shared in greasy spoon diners rather than in the kitchen of your own motorhome. In my experience, Bobby Allen’s shop often became home on a Friday or Saturday night. Likewise the late Don Martin’s truck shop for the travelers coming to Lernerville. Racers and fans alike would welcome traveling teams in need of a place to work or rest up for a night. No matter the part of the country, there would be an invitation to recoup for the next event. It sure is more comfortable today. We like pulling over, starting the generator, putting something in the microwave and watching a bit of tv. We did however survive the earlier days and have the memories to prove it.
The late Jud Larson at speed
V8 60’s gave way to Offys that gave way to Chevys that were replaced by the high dollar motors of today. Most of the drivers of 2013 never heard of the names Kuzma, Hillegass, Floyd Trevis, Curtis, Pop Dreyer or some of the other builders of what are now museum pieces. You could race all season for what today’s guys spend on tires. When we do the DAARA vintage shows we get to once again hear the roar of the mighty Offys and even see a race car being transported on an open trailer. My concern is, that as us senior citizens fade into the sunset are we the final generation that will treasure our racing history. Will the hand made roaring pieces of history survive future generations or will they expire under the weight of the chrusher to be recycled into disposable 21st century throwaway appliances. It is my hope that we can instill the value of racing history to the younger set, but I would not stake the farm on it. Each day pictures, films, cars and the people that made them famous are being lost forever. Okay, enough of the reminiscing of seasons long gone. Everything is better now, right? Families, values, government, entertainment, music, racing. Maybe your perspective depends on how many seasons you have under your belt.
Yes, we should be on the road by now but our ministry obligations have us a bit delayed. We are experiencing withdrawals from not smelling alcohol, and tasting a bit of race track dirt but that will come. Nancy and I hope it is you that we get to see somewhere along the way. Remember, if you would like to participate in the restoration of the Tom Hagar modified or be part of our ministry in some other way, just contact us through the information on our web site. Until next time, God bless and see you at the races.
Like Father, Like Sons
Many seasons, okay, many, many seasons past, my dad took me regularly to the long since defunked Greater Pittsburgh Speedway. One of the rising stars in the supermodified division was a young kid from Hartford, Ohio named Lou Blaney. He piloted a white #10 coupe with Cadillac power. It stood out not only for the fact that it was usually near the front of the field, but by the distinct whine that it made when going down the straights of the quarter mile oval.
I began racing there as the coupes were giving way to the caged sprint cars in the early 1960’s. Blaney was by then driving the white Blaney Lumber #10 Trevis, and his regional success soon led to the forming of a three car team known as the “three white mice”. The other cars were driven by Gib Orr and Dale Johnson respectively. Upon arrival from Hartford, Ohio, Lou would back his Chevy convertible against the pit fence and Kate would often be seen changing diapers of the next Blaney generation on the back seat. Lou was always helpful as I was learning the ropes and ever remained the gentleman racer. The last time I talked with Lou about old times was after one of his last modified wins at Mercer. Again, Lou always had time for a friend.
The Blaney sons Dave and Dale, both basketball standouts in high school are well known in their own racing careers. Dave, former WOO and USAC Silver Crown Champ, pilots the Tommy Baldwin #7 in the Nascar Sprint Cup series and Dale is a three time All Star sprint car champ and consistent winner everywhere he races.
Dave took the Casey Luna Vivarin Ford that was called the “penalty box” by previous drivers to a World of Outlaws championship. Dave had campaigned his own #10 in Pennsylvania and Ohio before taking his show on the road. His sprint car trophies include 2 Kings Royal and a Knoxville Nationals mantle piece. Dave never got the big multi-team deal in Nascar but is consistent competitor and a trusted drafting partner of many drivers through his long Nascar tenure. Recently, when the Nascar contingent had a weekend off for Easter, Dave got in his own #10 sprint car and took the win at Pennsylvania’s Port Royal Speedway opener. He had also won the Port’s opener in 1984. Some things you just don’t forget.
Talking to tall, quiet Dale is very much like talking to Lou. After a standout basketball career at WVU, Dale has been successful with the World of Outlaws and the All Star Circuit of Champions. He has been All Star champion 3 times, Lernerville champion, won the Kings Royal and multiple times, Ohio Speed Week champion. From Pennsylvania to Knoxville, when Dale and the George Fisher TI-2 pull in, drivers know that very possibly they will be moving back a spot at the end of the night. While older brother Dave was winning at Port Royal, Dale was winning opening night at Attica, Ohio. Dale quipped after winning Attica, when he learned of Dave’s victory, that it might not be a good thing for the Ohio guys if Dave decided to run a lot of sprint shows in the area. Lou would certainly have had to be proud of his boys on this Saturday night.
If this Blaney legacy is not enough, here comes another one. Dave’s son Ryan is already making waves in the Nascar world. He is the full time driver of Brad Keselowski’s No.29 Cooper Standard Ford in the Camping World Truck Series. Ryan is in the Penske development program and will drive the Penske Discount Tire Ford in select Nationwide events in 2013. It appears the Blaney name will be prominent in the racing world for quite some time.
Ryan & Dave Blaney
With roots at Sharon Speedway, the country’s dirt tracks and two generations of Nascar, the Blaney name and reputation are synonymous with racing success.. Bob Blaney, brother of Lou was multi-year champ of Sharon Speedway’s late model division. Bob lost his life in a racing accident in the late 1960s. I am fortunate to have spent many years racing with Lou, and also have raced with both Dave and Dale. One is hard pressed to hear anything not complimentary about any of the Blaney racing clan. Still the memories of the tall kid in the white Cadillac powered coupe come to mind. I can almost hear the whine as it streaked down the back straight over a half a century ago.
Speaking about vintage stuff, which I wasn’t, we missed the North Florida Speedway hosting of our Daytona Antique Auto Racing Assoc. group due to ministry commitments. Glad to hear Jimmy Jeep is again ready to push off with his recently repaired trusty Jeep after hit number two. Each time we attend one of our DAARA events it is a weekend of stories like those of the Blaney family. To be around and get to drive some of these storied cars is great but to hear the war stories of some of these heroes of seasons past is even greater. We are still putting together our travel plans for the current season but hope to see you somewhere along the way. Again, a race track wedding makes a great start of a life together of two people dedicated to racing. We are available as our schedule permits. In the mean time, we look forward to meeting you somewhere along the way. So, until then, God bless and see you at the races.
Cicanese Number One, Number One
Thursday morning of the recent Daytona Antique Auto Racing Association Nationals found Dave Cash (#98), Capt. Jack Sapp (#77) and myself discussing the morning’s test and tune activities in the sprint car pit area. We noticed a motorhome entering the pit area towing a sprint car on an open trailer. My attention was immediately drawn to the wing lettering which sported “North Street Auto Supply.” This brought back memories of years racing with Johnny Beaber who piloted the Jim Zeigler #66 in PA. and Ohio sprint car competition which was sponsored by North Street Auto Supply.
Bill in VanNess 35
As the motorhome and trailer parked next to where we were standing we saw it was indeed a Beaber car, but it was the number one built by Bill Cicanese in 1984 for yes, Johnny Beaber. Much of the remainder of the week was spent with Bill Cicanese, son John, Eddie Bauer , and Rick Venema (also an owner of a Cicanese Car) and the Cicanese #1. Not only was this car restored to original specs, every detail was brought back as it was when campaigned by Beaber at tracks such as Fremont, Ohio where there was a long standing bounty on Johnny Beaber and the #1.
This past summer I got to spend some time with Johnny at the Beaberbuilt shop in Gibsonburg, Ohio. John, Pam and Tony made Nancy and I welcome and it was great to renew our long standing friendship. One of the things we discussed were the days John worked with Bill Cicanese when they were both residents of Gibsonburg. At the fall DAARA banquet we were seated with Bill and Betty Cicanese and got even more history of the Cicanese / Beaber alliance. Betty had taught Pam in the fifth grade. Betty was not sure about pretty Pam marrying the rowdy racer but years after roughing it, racing across the country, sleeping in pickup trucks and John’s injuries, Pam and John are still together with grand children running around the shop. The Beabers and the Cicaneses’ have become much like one big family going far beyond the racing. John was unable to make the trip to Florida for the DAARA event but the Cicanese family and the car did and what a weekend they had.
Cicanese Team at Ocala
Marion County Speedway in Ocala, Fl. was our hosts for the week. This small family run dirt facility was kept in great shape for the week but it was a bit of a challenge for the high powered sprint cars. John Cicanese was the appointed driver of the beautiful black, red and yellow family car. The car setup had been given the team by several phone calls to the Beaber shop talking to both John and Tony. From the initial outing, no one would have known that Tom had never driven a sprint car before. He learned quickly using both pedals on the car and getting quicker and smoother each lap. By the second day he had won his first feature event and was turning the heads of the veteran drivers. Not to be outdone, Bill who had not raced competitively in 38 years took his turn in the car and also put it through its paces to the delight of all those in attendance. In seasons past Bill had been a sought after driver in supermodifieds and sprints in the Midwest. Bill at one time drove the number 35 for Jim VanNess. Jim’s wife Jo Ann and Bill’s wife Betty are sisters. Harold VanNess, Jim’s dad also pictured with the 35 car is the granddad of current driver Alvin Roepke. The Cicanese /NanNess family relationship covers three generations. Upon getting out of the cockpit Bill continued to work on race cars and to build his own creations. He believes he built somewhere between thirty and thirty five cars, some after moving to Punta Gorda, Florida. Several have famous histories and many still survive.
You could not write a movie script like this. They bring in a perfectly restored car down to the last detail. John, who had never driven a car in competition wins two events. Bill takes the car out and is competitive after a thirty eight year absence from the cockpit. The team wins the best appearing trophy. Pictures are taken, they load the car without a scratch and leave. Unquestionably a storybook week for a proud Cicanese team. The only way the week could have been any better would have been if Johnny and Pam Beaber could have made the event. Well, maybe next time. Even more importantly than the week’s results was the camaraderie with a group of really nice folks. The still pictures were taken by Kathie VanNess of kvannessimages.com. Randy Harbaugh took the action shot. We hope that Bill and the crew make DAARA events a regular part of their year.
John Cicanese at speed
Other than the cold wind this was a great week. The folks of Marion County Speedway could not have been better. They worked tirelessly on the track and were all in all great hosts. The Saturday barbecue was unquestionably the best we can remember. Hope we can return again to this neat “Bullring” just off Florida’s I-75. Nancy and I are planning more Florida events this season in addition to our abbreviated northern trip. This was a great beginning to our season. Neither Bill Higner nor “Jimmy Jeep” Knapp were hurt in their on track incident. I just spoke to Gary Lane who suffered a slight heart attack Friday after winning his feature ahead of son Cory. Gary is back to work on a limited basis and doing well. We hope to see him back at the next DAARA event though he is undecided about getting behind the wheel again. Remember, we are available for race track weddings or any other need you may have throughout the year. Restoration on the Tom Hager dirt modified continues. Until we meet at the next event, God Bless and we will see you at the races.
It is always a good story when a “young gun” takes the marbles from the big dogs. So it was last June when young Brandon Matus drove with his head instead of his foot and took the checker ahead the likes of Tony Stewart, Dale Blaney , Kyle Larson and the other hot shoes chasing the Pennsylvania rookie. The All Star Circuit of Champions victory at the Sharon Speedway was the biggest of Brandon’s young career. It makes one wonder about the origin and development of this new talent. As Paul Harvey used to say “now the rest of the story”.
Back many seasons ago when I first got into a race car in the 1960’s there was an established family race team from northwestern Pennsylvania owned by John Matus racing the PA and Ohio dirt tracks. John had owned midgets and now had a beautiful Trevis Craft sprint car driven by his son Jerry. The Wampum PA, Matus #33 was a competitive effort over the tri-state area for many seasons. After driving for his dad, Jerry spent most of his long career in the Dionise purple #15 where he won Lernerville track championships in 1983 and 84 and was a force to be reckoned with wherever he competed. In 2011 Jerry was inducted into the Lernerville Hall of Fame. One of the notable things that come to mind about Jerry is that even though he was usually in contention for the win he seldom was brought in on the hook.
While Jerry was still competing son Brent began his time behind the wheel in 1984. Instead of going to his prom Brent chose the race track instead. For several seasons the father and son competed with each other for the checker. Brent like his dad racked up victories at Lernerville Speedway, notably no easy task. Brent grew up around sprint cars so following in his father’s footsteps was not unexpected. In mid career after a couple of tough seasons Brent switched to a Maxim chassis and got fast all over again. Upon getting out of the race car, Jerry found going to the local casinos a way to pass the free time. His winning continued there as it did in the sprint car. Brent was now carrying on the family tradition by himself keeping the Matus name in the racing spotlight
As Brent and wife Liz kept the racing business going young eyes were watching and taking it all in. Young Brandon was waiting his turn to carry on the family tradition. At sixteen most kids are anxious to have a car to go to the junior prom. Brandon at sixteen brought the family sprinter to Lernerville’s victory lane. Brent and Brandon made their way south to Florida in 2012 and equated themselves well against some of the best teams in the country. Skeptics probably wondered if the All Star win was just a fluke or a preview of things to come. Brandon answered the critics with A-main finishes of a 2nd then a 1st his first weekend in a midget at Indiana’s Montpelier Speedway. The first time I got to see Brandon in person was at a World of Outlaws show at Lernerville where he took an incredibly hard tumble on the front stretch. This ended plans for the hoped for reunion with Jerry and the clan. Not exactly the time for reliving old memories.
Matus, a name that has appeared on racing rosters for over six decades. John, Jerry, Brent and now Brandon all contributing to our sport in their own way. It may well be Brandon that takes the family name to the national stage and soon as well. Brent speaks proudly of Brandon’s maturity and of his own racing heritage. It is a real possibility that this column will be congratulating Brandon on his first World of Outlaws victory in the not too distant future. Jerry remains a friend as well as a former competitor. These are really good people and our prayers for Brent and Brandon’s continued success go with them as they carry on their family tradition.
Speaking of going, we are preparing for the four day Daytona Antique Auto Racing Association “Spring Nationals” coming up the 28th of this month thru March 3rd. This should be a fun one as it will be on the dirt of Marion County Speedway in Ocala, Florida. Considering the weather that persists up north we hope a lot of those folks wanting to escape the cold are making their way south for what promises to be one of the biggest and best vintage events of the year. With all the racing activity in the area there is certainly enough to fill everyone’s need for speed. If you are in the area for any of the other racing venues you might want to add this event to your calendar. This is truly a living, roaring, racing history of all types of circle track racing. Open wheel cars, modifieds and a variety of stock cars all take to the track in their respective divisions competing each of the four days. Details may be found by clicking the really neat DAARA web site at www.daararacing.com Everything from nearby motels to what to expect after you sign in and more awaits you there. Whether it is at Ocala or one of our other stops, we hope you come by our motorhome and say hello to Nancy and I and Baby the cat. Until then, as always, God bless and see you at the races.
TWO TOUGH HEROES
One of the definitions for the word hero is as follows, “A person of distinguished courage or ability, admired for their brave deeds, noble qualities and strength. We are going to take a look at two such gentlemen.
During the travels with our ministry we get to meet and work with truly special people. One such person is western Pennsylvania’s race chaplain, Bill Beck. We remain in contact with Bill throughout the year and he keeps us updated on his activities including the recovery progress of area sprint car driver Brian “Cowboy” Steinman who was seriously injured at Lernerville Speedway early last season. The “Cowboy” designation comes from the fact that Brian had been a professional rodeo rider. After breaking his arm twice and beginning a new marriage, Brian decided to trade the dangers of bareback bronc riding for the safer confines of a sprint car cockpit. This transfer of competitive challenges did not prove to be the better choice for Brian however. After backing his sprint car into the concrete wall Brian found himself suffering from severe burns on his lower body, serious injury to his c-5 vertebrae and unable to move from his neck down.
Steinman and Doty
Chaplain Beck visited Brian often and supported Brian and wife Bri with prayer and emotional support as he began fund raising efforts to help with Brian’s day to day expenses. Bill working with Lernerville and Mercer Speedways, sold T-shirts, held auctions and took up collections to benefit the Steinman family. Bill, Mike Lutz and Racers For Care, area promoters. racers and so many others stepped up to the plate to help. While these fund raising efforts were going on Brian was on a mission of his own. Through his faith and pure will, he chose to not only embark on the road to recovery but to attack it at full throttle. When doctors said he couldn’t, he did. As the burns healed following the skin grafts he fought to regain movement in his upper body. Strengthened by his faith, Bri and the support of those in the racing community he made slow but steady progress. Today Brian is working to the point of being able to transfer from his chair into his vehicle on his own which would allow him drive again. Not bad for a guy that was told that would probably never happen. This kind of determination, strength and winning attitude certainly makes Brian a hero in my book.
Enter hero number two. The name Brad Doty is probably familiar with everyone reading this column. Following Brad’s 1988 accident at Eldora, he followed pretty much the same challenging path as Brian. Though Brad is confined to his chair he has been color commentator for TNN and has remained a central figure on the national sprint car scene and has been inducted into The Sprint Car Hall Of Fame. Brad has remained the same great personality that he was when beating the competition on the race track. At the November fund raiser held at Tiffany’s Banquet Hall in Brookfield, Ohio, Brad joined Brian bringing the two hard charging heroes together. The interview with these two inspirational guys can be seen on the internet from the area tv show Open Throttle 360. To watch the interview hosted by Tom Lang, just go to openthrottle360.com and episode #4 is the one to click on to see the interview. It is a great interview with two focused guys looking forward and not lamenting over the past. I think they both fit my definition of hero quite well. Brad has written an article in the January issue of Sprint Car/Midget magazine about Brian and the Ohio fund raiser.
Brian “Cowboy” Steinman
We all have a lot going on in our lives and sometimes we get lost in ourselves. It can be easy to become lost in one’s own life challenges. Listening to these two gentlemen with their positive attitudes should serve as an example for all of us as we deal with far less debilitating obstacles in our own lives. Both of these guys were great while in a sprint car and are even greater examples from the confines of their chairs. We are quick to throw labels around but I believe both Brian and Brad fit the bill for “hero”.
Anyone wishing to send something along to Brian may send it to The Brian Steinman Benefit Fund, C/O First Union Bank, 400 Liberty Street, Clarion, Pa. 16214.
As for us, we are looking forward to what the new season has in store. Our first event will be the Daytona Antique Auto Racing Assoc. Spring Nationals. This one should be special as it will be held on the dirt of Marion County Speedway in Ocala, Florida. The dates are February 28 through March 3rd. Those making the trip south for the spring races in the area should add a few days to their stay and participate in some great vintage racing, dirt track style. All our news and contact information may be found on our nationalspeedwayministries.com web site. As always we are here for our racing family no matter where here may be at the moment. God Bless and we hope it is you that we see at the races.
CHRISTMAS GREETINGS FROM THE SOUTHLAND
Though the weekend temperatures are going to be above 70 degrees here in north Florida this weekend it is beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Shoppers are rushing home with their treasures and in Tulsa the dirt is being hauled in for the Chili Bowl. It must be Christmas.
Looking back on 2012 brings lots of good memories and guarded expectations for 2013. There are far too many people to mention who have helped us in some way during the past year to begin to mention names. We have been humbled by the reception of our Daytona Antique Auto Racing Assoc. family as Nancy and I serve as their chaplains. Folks have welcomed us in over fifteen states during our tour this past season. We have hooked up to their electricity, ate their food, driven their race cars and shared in their personal lives. New relationships were made and old ones renewed. We didn’t make all the shows on our schedule due to rain outs and cancellations but those that we were able to make were first class events. Hugs and handshakes were in abundance. Our travels began with a blown tire on the motorhome and ended in the same manner. To our amazement this column has been well received and commented on at most every stop. Our Christmas present to ourselves is moving into our 100 year old house that we have been restoring during the past eight months along with our ministry responsibilities. Nancy wasn’t sure that Santa would find us in the motorhome and has been pushing for a pre-Christmas move in. It looks as though we are going to make it.
Some of what we found in our travels was apprehension about the survival of race teams, race organizations and tracks themselves. The uncertainly of tax policies, EPA regulations and government policies in general are curtailing some businesses from stepping up with expected sponsorship dollars. I guess, cautious optimism would say it best. All of us had hoped for a more prosperous economy with businesses free to lay out a bit more sponsor and advertising dollars. The general public has no idea how big the racing industry is and how many people it employs. Every ad seen on this web site employs staff, uses materials from other suppliers and buys equipment and employs the use of consumable goods and these are just a few of the dirt track businesses involved in some way in our sport. Tow equipment, tools, support equipment and the list goes on to unbelievable dollars being exchanged in our industry. Should racing diminish, the economy in general would feel the hit.
Aside from the challenges that face us all that are involved in the sport in any way, racing still in my opinion, has the best people of any professional sport. We are privileged to be able to work with some of the best. Whether it is association heads, promoters, chaplains, race teams, individual racers or the fans that keep us all going, we have the best. This has shown up this year with people stepping up for injured drivers, teams and tracks supporting our military, and racers in general still standing up for family needs and values. We have been the beneficiaries of sacrificial giving by the racing community on more than one occasion. We have witnessed this giving attitude directed to others as well. Many of you have become like family and that means more than any present under the tree.
So, once again we anticipate the arrival of a new year. This will be number 53 of being active in dirt track racing. As of now, we plan to limit our northern swing by about two thirds in the upcoming year. Our DAARA family has expressed the desire for us to make more of the regional vintage events and that will keep us a bit closer to home. We have been invited to add some Top Gun events to the mix as well. Also, the more limited schedule will allow restoration work on our dirt modified to proceed in a more timely manner. We saw some fantastic racing this past season, but again it is the people that stand out in our memories.
I will close with thank you once again for a memorable 2012 and Merry Christmas. We don’t succumb to the happy holiday generic greeting. We celebrate the birth of Jesus as the reason for the season. So from Nancy and myself ( the faster pastor) and Baby the cat here on Lake Alice in Wewahitchka, Florida, Merry Christmas and have a blessed new year. Likewise, happy Hanukah to our Jewish friends.
LOOKING FORWARD TO LOOKING BACK
With remodeling our old house, our ministry and just being old, my
dreams of restoring a car of my own were rather dim to say the least.
Gene had another vision however and was determined I would be taking a
project back to Florida. It is a dirt modified, built and driven by the
late Tom Hagar. The car is a complete roller but badly in need of a
complete restoration. The car has a great history and it was presented
to us from Gene complete with a trailer and assorted parts needed for
the project. I have to say that as I survey the sad looking vehicle,
there is an excitement starting to build as I vision what the completed
car can possibly be. Perhaps even a win in one of Florida’s DAARA
vintage events lies somewhere in the future.
As I am writing this column we are getting ready for the Daytona Antique
Auto Racing Fall Nationals at Bronson Speedway near Gainsville the last
week of November. As chaplains for the organization Nancy and I look
forward to the national events. After a long and challenging season I
can not think of a better way to wind up the racing season. I, as many
others, will do whatever it takes to make this unique event. Up to 100
of some best cars in the country that have survived thirty years or more
will take to the track for four days of competition. Whether you race
now, have raced in the past or just have a casual interest in racing
history, this will be the place to be.
I don’t know what Gene has gotten me into. Yes, owning one of these
things is expensive and we are looking for sponsorship help just like
everyone else in racing. Ours doesn’t require as many zeros in the
number as the big guys do however. If you ever had the desire to
participate in a race car operation the National Speedway Ministries
vintage modified might be a way to get your feet wet. Just having the
car in my possession and knowing it has been saved from the scrap yard
is a really good feeling. To hear it roar to life once again will be an
even better feeling.
TRADED MY 50th HS REUNION FOR A FEW LAPS
I recently had an opportunity to travel back to western Pennsylvania for my 50th high school reunion. It sounded like fun to spend a whole evening with a bunch of old people that I had not seen in half a century. Though sitting in the bar with a lot of pot bellied old men sounded like fun, seeing some former cheerleaders that had doubled in size would have certainly added to the evening. The decision was made however to stay at our temporary digs in Indiana and pass on the senior citizen festivities. This proved to be the better choice.
Good friend Jamie Frederickson had crashed his non-wing sprint car three weeks earlier at I-69 Gas City Speedway. Jamie was suffering from a torn retna and broken blood vessel in his eye. Jamie’s dad, Bill Frederickson and the crew had gotten the Triple X sprinter back together but not quite so with Jamie. The doctor advised against him getting back in the car until complete healing had taken place. Now came decision time. It was Sunday and Kokomo Speedway was holding their Vince Osmon Memorial Classic. Bill and Jamie and the crew wanted to go racing, at least to shake down the repaired race car but Jamie knew another crash could do serious and perhaps permanent injury to his eye.
An hour before time to leave for the race track Bill came to our motorhome parked in front of his house and said Jamie had decided not to get in the car and asked if I would run it that evening. Could this weekend actually end up more exciting than an old folk’s reunion? I had not been in serious competition in a current race car in fifteen years but the decision took no time at all to make. “Lets go racing”.
My helmet was not compatible with Jamie’s tear offs. Using a strange helmet was an indication of challenges to come. Drawing the pill didn’t go well as I drew number one. That meant I would be in the first qualifying group on a very wet track. That proved to be exactly what happened. There was nothing to get a hold of as far as side or forward bite and the car just slid around on top of the track. This aside, I was in a sprint car once again with bunches of horses at my command and was again being hit by dirt and feeling the rush of all that makes up driving one of these animals. Lots of memories come to mind as one returns to run with the big boys after fifteen years. There is still no feeling like the engine lighting and pulling away from the push truck leaving you in command of an absolutely incredible machine.
The car did get set up to where I could actually feel the track and could give some input to the crew as to what the car was doing. Starting on the tail of the “B” we were ok till bouncing through the ruts broke my old helmet glasses. Trying to straighten them enough to see didn’t work and the sharp edge got caught in my hood so I had to pull into the infield as I could not see enough to stay out of everyone’s way. I sort of hoped the yellow would come out as I was rather close to the track but it didn’t, and our night came to a less than auspicious end.
A reunion of refugees from the old folk’s home or getting back into a sprint car. I think we made a wise choice. My heartfelt thanks go out to Bill and Jamie Frederickson for having enough faith in me to trust me with their car. My main goal was to bring it back in one piece and that I did. We did determine that all was well with the driveline and that the car had been well put together after the crash and was again ready for serious competition. It was great to once again strap into a new race car with one of Kercher’s high power engines and go play in the dirt. Perhaps Nancy my wife, was the only one who failed to enthusiastically support our decision to race the big boys. She seemed relieved when I was back in street clothes and the car was in the trailer. Possibly at 68 years old I belonged at my class reunion but I’m betting they did not have as good a time as what I did. The Kokomo, Indiana, Frederickson Race Team have been very special friends for several years and again to Bill and Jamie I say “thank you”. We wish them the very best in what remains of this season and look forward to hearing good things from them in 2013. Thanks too for Dave Merritt’s great actions photos.
Now perhaps back to where we belong, with the vintage group and stretching the facts about how fast we once were. Nancy and I being chaplains for the Daytona Antique Auto Racing Association are looking forward to the Fall Nationals event to be held Nov 28 through Dec 2nd at our new venue, Bronson Speedway, near Gainsville, Florida. The actual location is highway 24 in Archer, Florida. Complete details may be had by going to daararacing.com. DAARA is one of the premier vintage organizations in the country and this should be an outstanding event. The weather should be getting cool and the humidity down to enjoyable tolerances. We are counting on a great weekend and the proximity to the PRI trade show is just another reason to put this event on your calendar. Reservations for the November 30th banquet need to be in by November 23rd but I would recommend not waiting till the last minute.
We want to thank everyone who welcomed us and made this season’s tour, though very unusual, so special. Covering thirteen states and over three thousand miles we have a lot to look back upon. Seven planned events were lost to weather or cancellation but once again what we do is not about events but about people. To all who shared their support and hospitality, THANK YOU. Driving a sprint car in competition, what a way to end out tour. As ever, until next time, God bless and see you at the races.
MAYBE WE NEED TO TAKE A BETTER LOOK
With the season winding down at our local venues we find we have a lot of drivers fighting injuries, some of which will be career ending. How come so many? With the safety equipment on the cars and on us as well, why so many injuries? Encompassing seats, Hans device, driver’s uniforms and safety equipment costing thousands, yet we are getting guys hurt and worse yet burnt.
Its racing and it will never be safe. We all accept that. And heaven help us, we don’t need outside rules or regulations or the TSA explosive inspectors examining us, but I can think of some things we could take a look at. Some have been hashed and rehashed but others maybe not so much.
One thing that comes to mind is the insurance coverage of your local track. How many competitors know what is covered, the coverage limits, who holds the policy or how to convey these facts to the emergency room triage team. No one asks to see the policy when they get their pit pass which is intended to cover insurance costs rather than to pay the purse and the utility bill. There was a time when pit passes were available to owner, driver and two crew members. Some of our currently injured folks might wish they would have pursued checking insurance coverage before the fact but none of us do. Organizations as well as local tracks have been lax on providing minimum or even advertised coverage. If they get upset at your asking to see their paperwork there could be a problem.
Some of our tracks just don’t think about preventing tragedies but tend to deal with them after the fact. They can always drop the lease or in some cases, just walk away, leaving their regular competitors to fend for themselves. The physical makeup of the tracks in many cases invite injury. Jon Stanbrough recently crashed hard into the protruding pit entrance at Kokomo Speedway in a multicar crash but was able to walk away. The protruding wall remains for the next hit. Many fences and catch barriers are insufficient for our high powered cars with ever increasing speeds. Some places worry more about a soft-drink brought from home entering the stands than a flying beadlock wheel wiping out a row of spectators. Tracks outlaw your favorite right rear tire but fail in many cases to enforce on track rules, particularly for the name participants in on track violations. Rough over aggressive actions can put all the competitors at risk. Tony Stewart throwing a helmet at the front of a car slowly passing through the pits is a priceless publicity stunt endearing to his sponsors, Sammy throwing a rock at a moving competitor’s helmet, not so much. Few of the local venues have an assigned tech person. If the pit personnel see a glaring safety issue the staff will call the offender on it but follow-up is rare. If we are doing this as a business then the race track is the workplace and should be responsible for providing as safe an environment as possible.
With Jeff Bloom recovering from serious burns we hear that the fire crew was not equipped to immediately extinguish an alcohol fire. That in itself is pretty scary. What do they train on to come to a sprint car track? The video shows them arriving in a pickup truck with no fire truck in view. Fellow racers ran to get water to douse the flames. Some extinguisher chemicals add to methanol flames and are harmful to the driver’s lungs. Water. Lots of water is still the safest method for everyone in an alcohol fire, but it takes a lot of water. A ratio of 5 parts water to 1 part burning fuel is required. If you have a ruptured 20 gal cell, it is going to take an actual fire truck to handle the challenge. All the blame can’t however be placed on the tracks. We all see drivers wearing uniforms that are long past their usefulness in fire retarding capability. Many wear T-shirts under their uniforms, another no no. Preparation is still the partner of prevention. Incidentally, there is a fund set up to assist Jeff Bloom through his long recovery. Any help you can give will reach Jeff through Racer In Need, PNC Bank, 1965 Boardman Road, Jackson, MI.49202.
Michigan’s long time safety tech Randy Cronk sent me lengthy articles on safety, on and off the track. They are in a folder and can be emailed to anyone who may want to refresh their knowledge. The sad part is that it is all stuff we have grown up with and have either forgotten or ignored. It is all about the bottom line for the tracks and for the racers and crews, they are going to do what they do with little regard for things that don’t make them fast. Replacing the helmet that has taken several hits or a new set of rear tires, what is going to win? Right. The helmet should be good for another hit or two.
I began at seventeen. I was not mature then (my wife expects it to happen any day) but I had some great mentors. I made a lot of bad decisions on and off the track and it was also during a different time. Some of our youngsters today are outstanding and will be around for a long time. Not the case for all however. Daddy buys a 900 hp sprint car and puts junior in it and expects him to run up front with guys who have been doing it for decades. Maturity and fast are not synonymous. It takes laps and time for the race car to become an extension of the driver himself. Conditioned reflexes come with time and experience. Daddy going and fighting junior’s battles does not add to the scenario but I have seen that happen this season as well. It takes time to realize there are two pedals down there and that they should be firmly attached to the brain.
State and federal government folks are always looking for something else to regulate. In many cases your local track can be one lawsuit from closing. As payouts increase so will insurance costs. You can’t race or take care of your family when you are recovering from a serious injury. These are all good reasons to consider the safety issue. The race car has become safer than ever before. How about you and the place where you compete? How do you look at the safety issue? We usually don’t get a restart with our lives.
This edition of our column is a bit late due to getting off schedule on our travels through racing country. Nancy’s mom has been hospitalized and Nancy had to go back to WV for a week. Rain has been an issue this time as well. Scheduling hookups, tank emptying sites and fast internet has been a bit more challenging than usual. We thank all who have welcomed us and made us comfortable along the way. A couple more races and we will be heading south to Wewehitchka and home. After officiating at a beach wedding our next event will be the Daytona Antique Auto Racing Assoc national event at the new location near Gainsville. We are looking forward to visiting Bronson Speedway in Archer, Fl for what is shaping up as an outstanding vintage event. The dates are November 29 through December 2. Yes, you can take in the PRI show in nearby Orlando as well. If you are interested in the history of our sport or have restored a piece of racing history we hope this event is on your calander. Additional information may be found on the organization web site at daararacing.com. God bless and remember, being safe is perhaps the most overlooked part of our racing program. See you at the races.
PENNSYLVANIA’S MAN IN BLACK
We have gotten word that Gus fell and broke a hip and has some other health problems and this brought back a flood of memories. Of course we can be talking about none other than Gus Linder, Pennsylvania’s man in black. Gus has been friend and foe alike through the years but one thing is for certain, there is only one Gus Linder.
Gus gained prominence in the 1950’s racing with western Pennsylvania’s Pittsburgh Racing Association or PRA. In the early days older brother Dick and Gus raced against each other until Dick moved on to the sprint cars making an impression on the national scene. Dick was moving up in national prominence when he was killed at Langhorne. Though Dick was gone Gus kept driving and winning. Gus was good and rides were plentiful as were western PA victories. Gus even ran a few NASCAR Grand National events, the equivalent of today’s Sprint Cup series. In the late 50’s the PRA decided to go late models only and Gus made the decision to leave PRA and pursue the supermodifieds which were gaining popularity in the Pennsylvania area. Enter Mickey Banas.
Seldom in the history of racing has there been an owner/driver relationship like Mickey and Gus. They started their relationship with a conventional super and with the immediate success Mickey shortly purchased a new Trevis Craft sprint car and put a 289 Ford in it and the rest is history. They raced in western Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia and won. They beat the best in the area, won track championships and were a threat at every track they visited. They had a contentious relationship but Gus in Mickey’s Trevis/Ford was winning. They made the decision to go east into central Pennsylvania with the black 69 where the money was so much better, but so was the competition. What happened was that they won. Back to back to back feature wins at Williams Grove, wins at Lincoln, wins at Susquehanna, wins everywhere they appeared. The Banas, Linder combination was beating the best in the country.
Along with success came more dissention. Gus would quit Mickey’s foul handling machine then return the next week. Mickey would fire Gus after he would break the car then hire him back. Neither could find the magic on their own. Everyone wanted in the Banas 69 and Gus was in demand but it was the pairing of the two that brought the greatest success. After their initial success Mickey, due to cost more than anything else, switched from the Ford to Chevy like most of their competition. This was of great benefit to me as I was running a Ford in my URC sprint car and I inherited much of Mickey’s Ford parts. He kept me going my first couple of years of racing. Gus continued to win after the engine change. He would run some URC shows and dominate the competition. The PA wins continued but dark clouds were rolling in. Mickey was sick. Gus and I knew it but most did not. Mickey started traveling less and stayed closer to home where the competition had now gotten better. The wins still came but not as often. Then the night we all remember. Mickey died at Lernerville. Cancer had won that race but what he and Gus did will be remembered for years to come.
Gus had decisions to make as to his career. He had his Pittsburgh tire business and racing was not the only thing in his life at this point. He bought a new Heinzelman car, painted it like the car that had made him famous and out of respect for Mickey he was once again a black 69. He was again very competitive but racing had changed and it was now all about dollars. Bruce Kimes of Kimes Chevrolet joined with Gus in a sponsorship roll and helped keep things going.
If Gus was there he was tough. People either loved him or hated him. Cheers were deafening when he won but the boos could be heard as well. He did intimidate some of the competition. When you finished ahead of Gus, you earned it. I had always been around Gus from the early Mickey Banas days. We stayed at the same motels, went to the same places to eat. We attended Steeler football games together and Gus and Joan would host Steeler parties when the team was on the road and I was invited. The relationship was good till one night at Tri City Speedway when Gus broke and was stopped in the high groove. I was behind two cars and when they split, one to the top and one to the bottom I was in the middle and there was Gus. I received severe neck injuries and the car was destroyed. Gus blamed me for the incident. This put a strain on our relationship but we were okay. A year later at Lernerville I was coming off four on the cushion and Gus was coming off under me. He thought I should lift as he came up, I didn’t and he ran over my right rear and flipped down the front stretch destroying his car. The state police had to separate our two teams in the pits and this fractured an already shaky friendship. The next season found me racing in Texas and Gus hung it up after Spanky Lewis was killed.
The old timers in western Pennsylvania will say that Dick Linder was one of the best they ever saw. I was small when he was at his best but I know from years of experience that the younger, Gus was one of the toughest sprint car drivers ever to strap into a sprint car and that covers a lot of truly legendary names. Many a Friday night I would ride to central PA with Gus. I bought his Dodge van and froze at football games with Gus and other friends. He was cocky to some, opinionated to others. But one thing no one could deny, he was a natural when buckled into a sprint car. Mickey Banas was a friend and yes, Gus is my friend as well. Gus would not have backed off at Lernerville, Gus didn’t back off anywhere. He was once chased off the grounds while still in the race car at Lincoln. I hope his tough spirit remains as he deals with his recovery. The Linder name is in many racing halls of fame and etched in many fans memories as well. Good luck Gus, we are praying for ya.
We so much looked forward to seeing a lot of the folks from the Linder days when we visited Lernerville on our tour. Severe storms on Thursday and rain again Friday cancelled that opportunity. Saturday it was on to Mercer for a replay of Friday’s weather. We got to visit a bit with promoter Frank Benic but realize he had little choice in calling his event as well. Lernerville and Mercer were high on our list for reuniting with friends on this trip but there is always next year. We are now in Pemberville, Ohio with friend Gene Steele where we will pick up our dirt modified restoration project. We have been to nearby Gibsonburg to visit long time friend Johnny Beaber, Pam, Tony and the rest of the family. That has helped uplift our spirits as we toured the Beaberbuilt facilities. Look for a Johnny Beaber column in the near future. Hope to get to see Tony run this weekend in the Beaberbuilt house car. Our host, Gene Steele is just coming off a win in his vintage modified at Butler, MI. It is great to hang around with winners. From here it is on to Indiana and a full schedule of commitments. Check our nationalspeedwayministries.com site for details and check the darraracing.com site for upcoming vintage events and the progress of the Indy roadster creation as they prepare for their run at history at the Bonneville Salt Flats. Until next time, we will see you at the races, I hope.
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Copyright © 2013 by "Hosehead's Sprint Car Photos & News." Do not reproduce anything from these pages without the permission of the photographers, writers or webmaster.
Hosehead's Sprint Car Photos & News,PO Box 42, Drums PA 18222-0042