BALLSTON SPA, N.Y. — Someone asked me recently how old you have to be to be considered an old timer. My answer was that it’s not a number, it’s a state of mind.
Here are some examples in the style made famous by comedian Jeff Foxworthy.
You might be an old timer if you remember when the hoods on coupes ran uphill to the radiator, not down in an aerodynamic swoop. The reason was simple, as the design of Ford flatheads made them prone to overheating and spraying water on the distributor, so racers ran huge radiators that wouldn’t fit under the conventional hood.
One exception we remember was Hall of Famer Steve Danish, famous for beating the Fords with his six-cylinder GMCs. He always said he’d give up two cylinders anytime for an overhead-valve engine that didn’t overheat.
You might be an old timer if someone mentions famed NSSN editor and TV broadcaster Chris Economaki and you know who he is. More and more we get a blank look from younger people when we mention Economaki, which is disconcerting at best.
You might be an old timer if you remember when race cars were transported on ramp trucks instead of in smaller enclosed trailers or huge stacker trailers. We recently ran into DIRTcar President Brian Carter, racing his pro stock while on vacation. When told we loved his hauler, the first ramp truck we’d seen in years, he tipped it was Dick Trickle’s.
Come to think of it, you might be an old timer if you remember when Trickle was the king of the Midwest late models.
For sure, you’re an old timer if you remember when race cars were flat-towed to the race track with a tow bar. Looking back, it seems that drivers roughed each other up less in those days, knowing they’d have to hire a tow truck to get their car home if they bent it up.
One of our earliest racing memories is heading out with my father in a black Chrysler with scotch plaid upholstery off the used car lot with his flathead Plymouth coupe in tow.
You might be an old timer if you remember when getting lapped meant you were a lap down until you passed the leader and got back on the lead lap. There were no lucky dogs or sending all the lapped cars around to the tail of the field. We understand the argument that Richard Petty used to win by eight or 10 laps and the race wasn’t exciting.
But we also believe that on short tracks, if the leader has to work hard to lap back markers, then those chasing him should, too.
You might be an old timer if you remember when a racing program was three heats, a consi and a feature for a single class. If you’re not quite that old, you’ll recall when a supporting class was added. But just one, not the five or six seen today. Hot laps were at 7:30, racing at 8 p.m. and most nights everyone was out the gate by 10.
You might be an old timer if you remember when women and children were not allowed in the pits. Women, especially, felt discriminated against and rightly so. Speedways and sanctioning bodies, at least, can say they were on the equality bandwagon well before much of the rest of the world.
You might be an old timer if you remember when all the cars didn’t look alike. Instead of coming from a handful of fabricators, they were all homebuilt with coupes, sedans, Pintos and other compacts shortened and narrowed in a variety of styles that made each car unique.
It was a lot more work to build a car, but they were often raced for a few years, then sold to a beginner in the class.
When we built a new car, we bought an adapter from a Chevy engine to a Ford top-shifter transmission, a quick-change center section, a fuel cell, a seat and some engine parts. The rest we built or adapted from junkyard parts. Now teams would be out of business if UPS or the fab shops closed down.
Finally, you might be an old timer if you used to get all of your racing news from NSSN and the many other regional trade papers across the nation.
Sadly, the Northeast, which at one time had four trade papers, now has only Len Sammons’ Area Auto Racing News. The situation is the same across the nation, with almost all the trades merely a memory.
Websites, Facebook and other social media are all good and their immediacy is handy. But if you still like your news on a printed page, you are definitely an old timer.