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The book deal, which seems to have given the 71-year-old racer a new lease on life, was an offshoot of Balough’s current career as an adviser, helping teams get their cars right and tutoring young drivers.

“Chris (Larsen) hired me to help get his dirt modified program in order and field a car for Alan Johnson at Syracuse, but then he asked me to get a truck for Stewart Friesen for Eldora,” Balough said. “We got one, tested once to let Stewart get used to it, then could have won the race until a bracket broke and we got a hole in the oil cooler.

“Stewart and Chris both loved the trucks, so we went on with Billy Hess and got him going pretty good.  But then having some old parts and motors caught up with us, so they switched partnerships and Stewart got to show just how good he is in quality equipment,” Balough continued. “I love working with him.  He’s one of the most talented, natural born drivers I’ve ever seen.

“I’ve found that I can work with anyone and make them better, but that last 10 to 20 percent that makes you a winner comes from being a natural. There are drivers who are good, then there are the naturals, like Friesen.”

Gary Balough made a name for himself as a modified driver in the 1970s and 1980s. (Dave Dalesandro Photo)

Balough talked about the famed Batmobile he drove to countless victories.

“In 1980, when Kenny Weld called me about doing the Batmobile, he told me he wanted to build a car I could run around Syracuse at 85 percent and lap the field,” Balough explained. “He figured I was always at 110 percent and sooner or later, that would get me in trouble. He orchestrated it all and started by gathering the right people. That was the real secret to that car.

“We had fabricator Don Brown and Tim Light, the wing guy, on aero. Ron Hutter built the engine and Mario Rossi went to Syracuse with us to tune it. We had the best tire guy, Pete was there offering advice and it all worked. You have to have both the brains and the mechanical pieces to make a project like that come together.

How fast was the Batmobile compared to the competition?  How about two full seconds quicker?

“And I could have run faster if they’d let us practice more and make adjustments, which was my usual routine,” declared Balough. “But they had me put it on jack stands after one session. Thankfully, it was fast the way we unloaded because the only testing we did was my driving it down an icy road by Kenny’s shop one night. I tried the brakes and they locked up and I almost got a fire hydrant.”

Larsen and Balough have restored the Batmobile to its original design, as subsequent owners had changed it to keep it legal, and today’s fans flock to see the legendary car and talk with its driver.

“It was hard to interact with the fans when we were racing,” said Balough. “I was too much of a die-hard.  I had to win. I still won’t shoot pool with someone if I think I’m going to get beat. I wanted to set fast time, win my heat and then win the feature, so I was constantly thinking and adjusting.  Whoever does that the best wins, then and now. Today, with the book and the car, I have time to chat with the fans and I love it. I talk to everybody and write a personal note in their book, which drives Chris crazy if they’re trying to move the line, but I feel I owe it to them.”

Much of the conversation had centered on what went wrong in his life, so we asked Balough to end by telling us what went right.

“My children, two sons and a daughter,” he said. “And I was also blessed with the talent to race.  Overall, the sport has been good to me. I’ve been hurt, both physically and mentally, but I was blessed to do what I wanted to do for a lifetime.”
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