FISHERS, Ind. — Last week’s column in these pages by my colleague Keith Waltz caught my eye, because Keith has hit upon a most interesting and entertaining idea. If you could sit behind the wheel of the time-traveling DeLorean of “Back to the Future” fame, which five races from the past would you visit?
So many races, so many possibilities. After some thought, I came up with these five:
– May 27, 1949, Anderson, Ind. — Anderson Speedway was known as Sun Valley Speedway, and the inaugural Little 500 was about to get underway. The concept of 33 roaring roadsters lining up in 11 rows of three and running 500 laps was as intriguing then as it is today, and what a moment that must have been.
It would have been fascinating to see the birth of what is today a motorsports institution. Plus, it was a pretty good race with plenty of drama at the finish. Tom Cherry took the lead from Sam Skinner on lap 447 and appeared the be the man to beat, but the tread on one of his tires began to separate in the last 20 laps, allowing Skinner to go down in history as the first Little 500 winner.
Just to show you how interesting things were back then, the runner-up was NASCAR star Bob Flock in a roadster built by legendary Atlanta mechanic Red Vogt. Imagine a Cup guy running the Little 500 these days!
– May 30, 1960, Indianapolis — I’m a sucker for beautiful race cars, and the roadsters that dominated championship racing during this era were perhaps the pinnacle of mechanical artistry. On this historic day Jim Rathmann and Rodger Ward locked up in one of the greatest duels in Indianapolis 500 history.
Over the last half of the race the two men swapped the lead 14 times. These weren’t “pit position” lead changes; this was two veterans hammering it out, wheel-to-wheel, for 250 miles. Rathmann took the lead on lap 197 and held on, with Ward second.
What a day that must have been…33 fantastic roadsters under a bright spring sky in front of a full house, Offy engines droning along, creating an unforgettable atmosphere.
– Sept. 9, 1979, Rossburg, Ohio — Larry Moore won his first World 100 on this day, a capstone to an incredible season of 33 top-10 finishes in 34 starts including 18 wins and 12 runner-up finishes. Dirt late-model racing — which unofficially began with the inaugural World 100 in ’71 —was on the cusp of a dramatic surge in popularity, with Moore one of the key players in a memorable cast that included Jack Boggs, Rodney Combs, Charlie Swartz, Mike Duvall, Tom Helfrich and Jeff Purvis, among others.
Brash and brilliant, Moore was one of those larger-than-life characters who personified what short-track racing was all about. Life was meant to be lived at a wide-open pace, and it would have been fun to hang around Moore’s pit after this big win.
– Nov. 21, 1981, Gardena, Calif. — Ascot Park was a “bucket list” type of track; alas, one that I somehow missed. However, so many stories have been told about the setting and atmosphere that it’s easy to imagine what it would have been like to experience a night at one of the greatest short tracks in history.
The rivalry between Dean Thompson and Bubby Jones in the early 1980s was the stuff of legend, supported by a magnificent cast of characters. On this night Deano won the Don Peabody Classic, his 16th CRA win of the season and tying a mark he established a year earlier.
Some of the “other guys” in the lineup that night included Jimmy Oskie, Brad Noffsinger, Rip Williams, “Ol’ Bub,” Chuck Gurney, Eddie Leavitt, Tony Simon, Lealand McSpadden and Clark Templeman.
– July 25, 1959, Lime Rock, Conn. — The idea of a midget winning a road race is ludicrous. Yet on this day Rodger Ward drove Ken Brenn’s Offy-powered Kurtis Kraft midget to victory over an impressive field of Formula Libre sports cars on the Lime Rock road course.
Wouldn’t it have been fascinating to witness the reaction of the sports car guys as this lowly beast dispatched their sophisticated machines? To this day, I believe Ward’s accomplishment is one of the most remarkable in the history of motorsports.
So that’s my five. Your five will look different of course, as they should. But Keith has me inspired…I think it’s time to spin up the old “Back to the Future” DVD and see if I can build a flux capacitor and generate some gigawatts.