BALLSTON SPA, N.Y. — Regular readers will recall that we’ve been looking at the past in a manner borrowed from comedian Jeff Foxworthy, whose routines always began, “You might be a redneck if…”
In that vein, we have a few more observations that may trigger memories for many “old timers” and offer historical insight to others.
You might be an old timer if you remember when speedways held heavily promoted powder puff races a couple of times a year, with wives and girlfriends of drivers or crew members taking the wheel for a 10-lap race. At a time when women were not even allowed in the pit area, the events drew a lot of interest and some ladies proved to be surprisingly fast.
I can recall my mother taking a stab at it in my father’s flathead powered coupe while leaving me in charge of my sister and two brothers in the ancient grandstand at the old Brookfield Fairgrounds. She found she didn’t enjoy the experience and quickly retired from racing.
That made us all happy, as one lady had driven off turn one on the long straightaway half-mile and nailed a big maple tree, destroying her mount and inflicting serious injuries on herself.
A less serious but similar incident came at the quarter-mile Utica-Rome oval, when a lady gassed it a bit too quick out of turn four, got sideways and, still hard on the gas, shot across the infield and T-boned the pace car. By then, the race cars were much safer and she was OK, though the same couldn’t be said for the pace car.
Another sign you might be an old timer is if you remember when modifieds had fold down windshields that could be tipped back, wiped and then pushed back in place. This was before tearoffs were invented and if your bubble shield or goggles got covered with mud or oil, you were in trouble, as wiping them just smeared the mess.
We found a trove of old side window glass from a defunct Chevy dealership stashed in the other end of the building that housed our race car shop and, after brazing up a frame that came apart at the top, cut rectangles of the safety glass to fit in the frame. That went into two brackets welded to the front roll cage bar and tightened enough so that it could be tipped to be wiped with a rag stored under the seat cushion but would otherwise stay in place.
The number of pieces of glass needed in a season was in direct proportion to the number of rocks in the racing surface.
You are for sure an old timer if you remember when NASCAR modifieds ran Hilborn fuel injection on Chevy big blocks and burned alcohol – lots of it.
We got ours through superstar driver Lou Lazzaro, who had numerous barrels delivered each week to his north Utica gas station. When setting out for a four race week, we’d have the car full, a full 55 gallon drum strapped to the tire rack on the ramp truck and a couple of jerry cans full for transferring the fuel to the car. Today, the state police might take a dim view of that but in the 60’s, nobody said anything.
Speaking of alcohol, you’re certainly an old timer if you remember when North Carolina’s Perk Brown wheeled William Mason’s No. 45 coupe at all the Martinsville races and on a few forays into Yankeeland. Brown won a lot of races while Mason made a great many friends with the cherries in moonshine he provided visitors from the north unused to such delicacies.
One person we know who enjoyed the shine said it was great going in but hurt when it came back out and took the black right out of the asphalt where he spewed on the highway. He may have been exaggerating a little but not much.
Another sign of being an old timer came when an observer commented on how teams were constantly checking and changing shocks and some had their digital scales out to check wheel weights.
Old timers will recall that generally shocks were shocks, with most teams forsaking OEM Ford lever arm shocks for 50/50 Monroes, then a mix of 50/50’s and other ratios. Scaling a car, first with old grain scales and then digital units, was unheard of.
Once the desired number of springs leaves was settled on – more or less for dirt or asphalt – then the car was placed on a level surface, a jack with a three-quarter or larger deep socket on it placed under the quick change and the car jacked up. How far the right rear came off the ground before the left rear was your wedge and was adjusted by cranking the right front wedge bolt up or down a turn or two.
A common measure was the toe of a boot inserted in the space. After that, small wedge bolt adjustments were made following hot laps and heat races. For the feature, you were stuck with whatever you decided, though longtime star Pete Corey was found to have a porta-power hidden in his car that let him jack weight in or out during a race.
Nobody noticed the trick for quite a while, as Corey had lost part of a leg in a racing incident and since he had a prosthetic, most assumed he had some sort of hand control in the car because of his leg.
Racers, as the saying goes, are great at making lemonade when life hands you lemons.