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Saturday, August 13, 2016

Watching Motorports History Unfold

My View Of The 1969 Daytona 24 Hours
So, for the 1969 Daytona 24 hours, we parked our motorhome in the infield, just outside of the entrance to the paddock and garage area. Since I was an ordinary little kid,  I was able to slip unnoticed past the security guards and into the garage area. I met Chuck Parsons, a grizzled veteran of sportscar racing who, for some reason, took a liking to me. Must have been my starry eyed enthusiasm.
Chuck had seen the wars. He was a tough old coot and his very visible limp told me he had gotten hurt in racing at least his share of times. Somewhere along the line I asked him where the limp came from, and he just answered "Pain builds character, son."
Chuck sneaked me into the Penske pits, where he was driving a brand new Sunoco sponsored Lola T-70 Mk.III with another racing legend, Mark Donohue. Donohue was an engineer by trade, but hooked up with Penske and began a remarkable relationship that yielded multiple Trans Am championships for Chevrolet and American Motors. Donohue was instrumental in the development of the Can Am Porsche 917/30, a car that was so dominant that it killed the series.
As a driver, Donohue was the 1972 Indianapolis 500 champion.  Donohue won multiple Trans Am championships, the 1973 Can Am championship, and International Race of Champions, back when it really meant something.  After a sterling career he retired from driving to become the director of competition at Penske. 
Donohue was famous for his polite, friendly, easy going nature. If there was ever a man who was too nice it was Mark Donohue. In fact, the motorsports press often called him "Captain Nice." He was shy and quite, but upon occasion he could be quite playful, and stories of his firecracker pranks are legend.  While Penske was Donohue's age, Mark would always address him as "Mr. Penske." Mark would almost never have any run ins with other drivers, and was a media darling because, well..........because he was so dammed nice to deal with.
Everyone loved Mark Donohue. Everyone.
When Penske went Formula One racing, the lure was too much, and Donohue returned to the cockpit. He very sadly secumbed to head injuries after a crash in practise for the 1975 Austrian Grand Prix . Donohue had been one of my absolute heroes from the very beginning and the entire racing world was devastated. Everyone loved Mark Donohue. Everyone.
I was sitting in the corner of the Penske pits when Roger came strolling in and noticed me. Actually, it was more like Penske walked in and imposed his presence on everyone. The moment he walked in, everyone, even those who were too busy working to look up, knew that Roger was in the house.
Though Penske had not yet built his formidable reputation, it was very clear that this man was really someone who was quite extraordinary. There was just an air about him, much as one would feel, I suppose, in the presence of someone like Elvis, or the president of the United States. Of course, when Roger looked over at me, I was like a deer caught in the headlights.
 "Who's the kid?" Penske asks.
  "Oh, he's a big fan, Roger."  Parsons replies "Why don't we make him our mascot or something?"
Penske scratched his chin thoughtfully and then replied “Sorry, kid. If you’re not working, you’ve got to go.” Now, I was pretty excited that I had weaseled myself into position with my favorite team, and just before the start, I was going to get tossed out.  I could feel my face becoming flush with the tears building up behind my eyes, and right before the damm burst, a man walked up behind me,  handed a helmet to me and says “Put a nice shine on that, will you please?” and, of course, it was Mark Donohue.  “Ok, Mr. Penske, he’s working. Can he stay?”
Through all of 1969 Mark Donohue wore a Sunoco blue helmet with a nice primer grey spot on the back, evidence of the enthusiam with which I applied myself to the job at hand. Yeah, I got sent out for donuts and coffee a few times too, probably just to get rid of me for a few minutes, but I always managed to sneak past the security and get back to the pits.
Penske's Lola was pitted against the legendary Ford GT40s that had steamrollered the entire world for the last three years, but technology moves fast in racing and the GT40 was no longer the fastest car. By now, the GT40 was a technical dinosaur, but it was so well developed that it would run almost forever without so much as a hiccup. They were, however, not fancied as the favorites for this race.
The white Armada
Instead, most thought the race was already over. The Porsche team came with their armada of 908 longtail coupes, five of them, lovely cars with beautiful, flowing lines and blistering speed.  These cars were painted in the official German racing white livery, with different colored panels on the nose to differentiate one from another. They had lost the championship, and the prestigious 24 Hueres Du mans, the world's greatest sportscar race the year before to John Wyer's Gulf GT40 team, mostly because of reliability issues at the worst possible times.
No one wanted to win as badly as Porsche. They would come to every race with a supply of brand new cars. Brand new! Such was the pace of their engineering, innovation and development that last week's car was useless to them, and there was a long line of privateer entrants, money in hand, eager to buy nearly new and sorted race cars with all the latest factory developments. In 1969 they introduced the 908 spyder, the all conquering 917, the Porsche 914/6 road car, and moved their facility to the legendary Zuffnenhausen location.....all in about two week's time. And, of course, the 908 was updated on almost a daily basis. For a small, family owned concern, it was remarkable, and they were probably spread pretty thin.
Clearly, Porsche was pushing the outer edges of technology and development, and paid the price by having sure wins blow up in their face. There is the old motorsports adage "fast, but fragile," and at this point in time it applied to the Porsche 908. The car was still early in it's development, though it later went onto a crushing series of wins that secured the Stuttgart firm's first world championship. The 908 became, in my view, may be the most important sports prototype in Porsche motorsports history, though most Porschephilles would argue for the 917. 
And, of course, there was the Lola T-70 coupe. This car was a descendant of the famous Lola T-70 spyder, which won the Can Am championship in 1966. Donohue had also driven a Penske operated Lola T70 to win two United States Road Racing Championships. The initial batch of cars were nothing more than a T70 with a roof put on, but Penske had the very latest version, a T70 MkIII. Very pretty car, and one would suspect that with all the development and sorting the T70 had received over it's lifespan that it would be nearly bulletproof, especially with the near perfection of Penske preparation. Still, the effort came together so late that the team had virtually no spare parts for the car, which would come into play later in the race.
Donohue had qualified the car on the outside of the first row, in second position. Up against the formidable Porsche 908s, this was an incredibly encouraging sign.  In the early going, Donohue mixed it up with the Porsches at the front of the field, but it was only a matter of time before they established their superiority with outright speed and Donohue fell behind them. Still, it was a long race, and the 908s had broken before.
Well, it was a long race, but it was probably longer for the Penske guys than anyone else. About halfway through the first stint, Donohue had brought the car in, unable to get any fuel to the engine and had only just gotten back on the reserve tank. After a bit of poking around, the chief mechanic surmised that the left side fuel cell, where the gasoline is carried, had collapsed, and the car could only burn about half it's fuel before it could no longer deliver any to the power plant. Making matters worse, it was burning the fuel off of only the right side of the car, which left it unbalanced.....and unstable. Now, the Penske Lola would have to stop for fuel about twice as often as the Porsches, and we were already dropping back.
By nightfall, we were in a reasonable position behind the 908s and the GT40s, but the car was becoming more and more ragged as it suffered several small collisions with slower cars, running over debris, and running off the track due to it's poor handling. By now, it was held together with duct tape and safety wire, because there were no spare parts to replaced the damaged ones.  Near midnight, the car cracked it's intake manifold, and the car was pushed back to the garage where, because they had no spares, the crew was forced to weld up the crack in the manifold.
This was roughly a 30 minute job, so Mark, Chuck and I headed off to the speedway cafeteria in the infield. With all the chaos unfolding around us, this was the first chance since noon that any of us had to grab a bite to eat.  Nowadays there is merely a series of vendors to provide food, but back then it was a real cafeteria.....only it wasn't very well stocked. All they had left at that time of night was beenie weenies, which even under the best of circumstances would apparently give Chuck plenty of ammunition for fart pranks.
Chuck would squeeze off a long, slow, loud, stinky one, grunting, visibly straining, and holding one foot off the ground for effect, and then he would look around the cafeteria hoping someone would notice, and say in a loud voice, "Good lord, Mark! You'de better go check your underwear."  Donohue was such a shy and polite man that he turned red with embarrassment, in front of the entire cafeteria, of course. Still, I think he appreciated the artistry of Parson's humor, but it was probably a damm good thing that Penske never saw what was going on.
The car went back out, ran for a bit and then returned with the intake manifold cracked in another place. The crew was already overworked and the car by now was totally ragged out and about as sorry looking as you could imagine, so it was decided to pack up and go home. By about now, my parents were in the motorhome wondering just what the hell kind of trouble I was in, so I had to get back anyway. Donohue, Parsons and Penske thanked me for my "help," and I headed out.
It was already going to be an awesome memory, though I went to sleep in the motorhome sad that we were no longer in the fight. I suppose I would just have to wake up in the morning and watch the Porsches dominate the rest of the race.
Morning comes and I see the Sunoco Lola is back on the track, and has fought it's way up to seventh place.  Apparently the team decided to fix the car and use the rest of the race as sort of an extended test session. Of course, I had to hurry back to the Penske pits, because they would be out of donuts soon enough.
While I was at the cafeteria rounding up coffee and donuts, I heard over the PA system that the second placed Gulf GT40 had crashed upon exiting the pits and was out of the race.  At the time, this was encouraging, though the best we could hope for would still probably only be sixth place. The Porsches were now running like clockwork, in positions 1-5, with over a one and one half hour lead on the Sunoco Lola, with only about 6 hours left in the race. The invincible white army kept circulating round and round, leaving the rest further and further behind.
Strange Voodoo
When I arrived at the Penske pits, all the mechanics were really glad to see me as they had all been so busy that no one had the time to round up some grub. It was just greasy day old donuts and burnt coffee, but I was a pretty popular guy. I turned to Mark and I say "You've got this thing won,"  Whereupon I do a little dance and chant  "Eeenie oonie wanna! Eeenie oonie wanna! Shakka zulu!"
Donohue looked puzzled, but Parsons knew a zoodoo curse when he saw one, and the entire crew laughed hysterically.....right up until the lead Porsche rolled down pit lane and stopped with whisps of smoke rolling out from under the rear of the car. The mechanics poked around under the rear deck, and there was lots of grumbling, which must have been swearing going on in German. After a few minutes, the deck went down, and the car was pushed off, out of the race.
One of the crew looks at Roger and says "Hey, Roger, this guy is our good luck charm." Penske looks over his shoulder at me and says "Got any more, kid?"
Within the span of the next ten minutes, every single one of the factory Porsches rolled down pit lane, with the cursing becoming more and more vocal, until the entire team simply vanished. They were taken out by identical intermediate idler gear shaft failures, a small little shaft which an idler gear in the valve drain spun on. It broke, the gears fell off, the valvetrain stopped turning while the engine kept screaming, and the pistons chewed all the valves into tiny little pieces, which ground up the entire inside of the engine.
A $5 part. Utter, irreversible, catastrophic destruction.
I had to get back. My father had given me the riot act because I came back to the motor home so late the night before, and he promised I would get a good lashing if I did it again. I said my goodbyes, and as I turned to leave there was a presence behind me, and a firm hand on my shoulder holding me back. Of course, it was Roger Penske, who says "Our good luck charm isn't going anywhere until this thing is over." 
This from the guy who almost threw me out the day before.
One and one half hours later, the bruised and battered Sunoco Lola swept into the lead that it would keep until it rolled into Daytona's victory lane.  The team was ecstatic, and I was swept along with them as we pushed the car to victory lane. Once there, a security guard noticed I wasn't wearing the proper credentials, and I wasn't let in.
The story of my motorsports life: on the outside, looking in, even when I had won.
Thirteen years later,  my wife and I were at the Atlanta CART race. I was a grown man now, sporting a mustache and looking nothing like the little kid who didn't show up in the 1969 Daytona 24 hour victory lane. As we strolled down the pits before the race I come up behind a Penske car and stopped to take a closer look. Suddenly, there is a presence, and a heavy hand on my shoulder. It's Roger, of course, who smiles, and says "We already have someone to polish helmets. Can you do wheels?" 

My View Of The 1971 Daytona 24 Hours
As 1971 rolled around, Ferrari had developed it's 512S model into a very formidable contender, though now named the 512M. The car had dominated the 1970 world championship race in Austria before suffering an electrical failure, then won the 9 hour non-championship in Kyalami, South Africa, so the car now had good endurance to go along with it's new found speed. 

Ferrari had taken such a pounding from Porsche in 1970 that the factory wanted nothing more to do with racing them, and all the 512Ms were sold off to privateers, one of which landed with Roger Penske and his partner Kirk F. White, who was a Ferrari dealer in, errrrr, I dunno.....maybe Connecticut or something.

Of course, John Wyer was back with his Gulf liveried 917s, complete with revised bodywork and full 5 liter engines. New to the team was former LeMans winner Jackie Oliver (one of the tandem that robbed Porsche at LeMans in 1969) and a man who would go on to win 5 lemans and two world driver's championships, Derek Bell.
The Porsche contingent was further augmented by the Martini and Rossi Team, who had taken over the Salzburg operation.  There were also a battery of cars from Alfa Romeo and Matra. 
The Polish Connection
Another Ferrari, a year old 512s, was purchased by Luigi Chinetti's North American Racing team (N.A.R.T.). Chinetti was Ferrari's North American importer, and a winner of the 24 Hueres Du Mans in his own right. In 1970, my buddy Chuck Parsons had driven to class victory at Sebring and LeMans in N.A.R.T.'s little 312P coupe along with and another great American driver, Tony Adamowicz.
For the 1971 Daytona 24 hours, Tony was paired with Ronnie Bucknum won the very first Indycar race at Michigan International Speedway, which was a prestigious distinction.
Tony was an interesting character. He had won the very first professional championship for Porsche's 911, the first of about 1000 that model would win, and still counting. After that he moved into the SCCA's Formula 5000 Continiental Championship, which was an open wheeled series much like Indycars, though they raced on road circuits instead of Indianapolis and other oval tracks. The engines were different, but the cars were similar and they were terrifyingly fast. Tony won the 1969 championship with an underfunded effort in a clutch performance against much better funded and fancied teams. In later years he would compete in just about everything, seemingly all at once, being at five different races at the same time. The guy was everywhere, racing in World Championship Sportscar, Trans Am, Can Am and F5000. He also tried to qualify for the Indianapolis 500, but was screwed by an errant yellow flag coming out on his attempt. To this day, he is the only man ever to complete a qualifying attempt for the Indianapolis 500 under a yellow flag, a distinction he would probably have rather avoided, though he at least maintains a sense of humor about it. Yet another case of racing not being a fair sport.
I had been at Sebring in September 1969 for the final F5000 race when Tony clinched the championship by manhandling an ill handling car in the blistering Florida sun. Tony only needed a 6th place finish, and considering the pig he had to drive that day, that 6th place finish was a worthy championship gut check. Tony and the team had overcome so many insurmountable odds that he became an instant hero, and I was thrilled not only to have the privilege, through Chuck, to meet him, but also he took me into the team for the race guessed it....helmet polisher and donut fetcher.
I found out pretty fast that while Tony had already achieved considerable success and notoriety, he remained completely unaffected by it, and no matter who he was around, Tony was just just a regular guy. I imagine one day he will wake up in the morning, go into the bathroom to shave, look into the mirror and exclaim "Oh, My God! I'm Tony Adamowicz!"
Tony was also the tall, dark, handsome type, and he always seemed to have a super model on one or both arms. Flying around the world, driving the world's coolest cars on the most demanding circuits on the planet, surrounded by beautiful women. Yeah. Racing is a hard sport, but I wouldn't have minded having Tony's job.
N.A.R.T's Ferrari 512s was a 1970 model, though this particular one had the roof cut off and was considered a spyder. When the car first came out it was not as good as the highly developed Porsche 917. Not at all. Tony and Ronnie found themselves starting the race in a car that wasn't quite good enough last year, and such was the pace of motorsports development in the early 70s that even  last week's finest would be hard pressed to keep up this week's newest wundercar.
 Endurance racing is a funny sport, though. You can have everything going for you one moment and the next your mechanics are cursing in German as they load your still smoldering heap into the hauler. And sometimes when you think everything is lost, your mascot will do a voodoo dance and pull you back into the fight.
We were not having a very spectacular race in the early going. Penske's new Ferrari and Pedro Rodriguez in one of John Wyer's Gulf Porsches were setting a staggering pace, burning around Daytona's banks at over 200mph and eating up the slower traffic. The second Gulf Porsche sat back a bit, taking care not to overtax itself or get involved in someone else's accident.
And speaking of which, that's exactly what happened to Vic Elford around midnight in one of the Martini Porsche 917s. A little 911 had an accident and got collected by Elford, instantly putting them both out of the event. Also caught up in the melee was Mark Donohue in Penske's Ferrari.  The car was horribly smashed and crawled back to the pits, smoking. hobbling on three wheels, with the nose cone gone and all the doors askew,  scraping along the inside guardrail because it was so torn up that Donohue could barely steer the thing. The crew surveyed the damage and set about screwing it back  together, which was sort of unbelievable considering there wasn't much left to work on.
Meanwhile, our car was chugging along very nicely, though at nowhere near the pace Rodriguez was setting in the lead Gulf car. Tony and Ronnie were setting a pre-determined conservative pace. During 1970 the original 512s models suffered a myriad of problems ranging from electrical, engine and gearbox woes...........and our car was one of the original cars that had never been updated.
Individual racecar histories from that period tend to be a little.......errrrrrrr, unreliable. The teams would play a little game of swapping the car identification plates around because it made it easier to get them through customs. From what Luigi Chinetti told me, his 512s was the car that Nino Vacarrela finished second with in the previous year's Targa Florio, a race around the treacherous "roads" of Sicily. The race was 10 laps, or about 500 or so miles around narrow, bumpy and pothole filled roadway. There were all sorts of wayward things to hit on the 54 mile course, like concrete mile markers, curbs, signs, buildings, and even a goat or two if you were unlucky. The Targa was probably the most brutal race that ever was, so Luigi's 512s was probably already beaten to within an inch or so of it's life expectancy even before he got it.
Things were looking pretty good for most of the night with our car holding stay behind the two Gulf cars. The car just chugged and chugged along, slowly falling a bit further and further behind the Porsches every hour. Still, a third place finish against the works Gulf team would really be a worthy result for the small team, and we were all pretty excited at the prospects.
During all of this we ran short of personnel. N.A.R.T. had also entered a little Ferrari 312P spyder for Luigi Chinetti jr to drive. Since there weren't enough crewmen to service both cars, the pitstops were staggered so the two were never pitting at the same time. Tony and Ronnie's car suffered a major electrical failure, and the car was getting some new electronics installed as the little 312P was nearly ready to run out of fuel. Since they were going to be short of men on the stop, Luigi sr gave me a drink bottle to hand to the driver and squirt bottle and a rag, telling me to clean the driver's visor and rearview mirror when it came in.
Oh, boy! I'm getting to go over the wall and into the hot pitlane in the Daytona 24 hours! Now I was a real part of the team!

Luigi jr screamed into the pit and we all jumped on the car like rats on a block of cheese, wheel wrenches whirling and fuel guzzling into the car. I handed jr the water bottle and set about cleaning the mirror, then ran back in front of the car to go back over the wall. Just then, I saw a big piece of newspaper stuck in the front radiator, something that could block airflow and overheat the engine. I turned to go after it and never saw Luigi sr give jr the signal to go. Before I knew it I was on top of the little 312P, hurling down pitroad at about 60mph, desperately clutching at the mirror for all I was worth until jr realized what had happened and stomped on the brakes, sending me flopping down pitroad and sliding on my ass to a stop about three pitstalls down from ours.
Of course, every crewman in the pits was over the wall and rushing to my aid, and by the time Luigi sr got there about all I could think to do was hold up the newspaper and exclaim "Don't worry. I got it. I got it." I got a pat on the back from every member of the team, but they never let me go over the wall again after that.
The little 312P chugged and chugged it's way around the speedway, never missing a beat and pausing only for fuel and tires, and of course, to occasionally punt an errant crewman out of the way. The car won it's class, so I guess I was directly responsible for contributing to the result. The elder Chinetti sadly died a few years ago, but junior is supposedly living in Orlando or something. If you are reading this, Luigi, at the very least you owe me a beer.
Our 512 lost a lot of time with the electrical repairs and it seemed a good result was going to be difficult. This became even worse when about daybreak the rear bodywork blew of the car while Ronnie was driving. Tony was in the corner, sitting on his helmet and catching a few Zs when Ronnie came in, unbelted and got out of the car. The crew was furiously thrashing about trying to get the ill fitting spare bodywork snugly onto the car while a rudely awakened Tony was searching in a panic looking for his helmet. Finally he comes over to me and yells "What did you do with my helmet, kid?" I had been snoozing too, so I had no idea, and a few tense moments passed before Tony remembered he was using it for a bench just moments before. I was pretty relieved that it wasn't my screw up, but still, no one was amused.
Somewhere along the line, something happened to the second Gulf Porsche and a few of the other challengers and we found ourselves incredibly back into third place. The Sunoco Ferrari was still falling apart from it's previous crash damage and it would pit for repair, we would move into second, and then they would steam back around us, only for something else to fall off of Roger's car and then we would find ourselves right back into second place again.  

Pedro Rodriguez in the #1 Gulf Porsche was long, long gone and there was never going to be any catching him unless he pulled over and took a nap, and incredibly, that's exactly what he did. The Porsche's gearbox had ground itself to bits and Pedro pulled into the pits, switched everything off and fell asleep right there. The Gulf mechanics furiously ripped into the car's transmission and set about repairing it, but it was a long job that would require hours and hours, so we were looking pretty good. Luigi send me down to the Gulf pits to observe the repair, because replacing the entire gearbox was not allowed. All you could do was replace the internal components.
While I was there a lean looking Englishman in a Gulf jacket told me to "get lost, kid" and I told him to "get......" well, you know.  He was furious, and there was almost a scuffle, but the rest of the team got between us and that was the end of it..........until 30 years later at the Daytona historic races when I ran into Gulf team engineer John Horstman again. We relived the story and he told me many, many others until I felt guilty for taking up so much of his time and excused myself. He is probably one of the finest gentlemen I have ever had the pleasure to talk to, but we sure got off to a rough start. I  hope I get to run into him again sometime.
The Gulf mechanics pulled off a miracle and had the gearbox back together in about ninety minutes. Horstman went to the front of the car and smacked the windshield three times, whereupon Rodriguez woke and set about the drive of his life, which for Pedro, was saying something.
Incredibly, in all the chaos, our 512 had emerged into a clear lead. We were about two laps ahead of Rodriguez, and quick math showed that in the remaining hour, we could not be caught. Well, not if everything went right, that is.
Sadly, things don't always go right, and something happened to the engine. I don't remember exactly what it was. It bent a valve or cracked a cylinder head, but every time it would flash past our position in the pits and braked for turn one, we could see a huge fireball shoot out of the exhaust pipes with a loud bang.

Boy, this could get ugly quick. Tony was forced to cut his rpm, thus slowing our lap times and allowing the others to close in. Chinetti was furiously scribbling the mathmatics on a scrap of paper and saying "We'll be ok. We'll be ok."
First, the Sunoco Ferrari caught us, but it suffered a fuel pump belt failure and had to pit, putting us back into the lead. Then, with about 30 minutes to go Rodriguez passed the ailing 512s to take the lead. It began to rain, and when Rodriguez pitted for wet weather tires, Chinetti gambled that the shower wouldn't last, and left Tony out. It almost worked, but when the track dried, Pedro was flying, and battling with a now temporarily healthy Sunoco Ferrari. With 15 minutes to go, Pedro caught Tony and streaked into the lead. The Sunoco Ferrari had yet another fuel pump belt failure,  falling back to a third it would never recover from. Considering almost the entire car was held together with duct tape and safety wire, it was a pretty amazing effort.
Chinetti realized he had left his camera in the garage. He wanted to document the occasion, so with about 10 minutes to go he sent me to the garage to retrieve it. Unfortunately, I had been caught hopping the fence by one of the security guards the day before, and when he saw me come out of the pits he threw me right into the back of a Volusia County Sheriff's car. That was the end of the race for me and I was kept there for a couple of hours so the lesson would sink in.
So this time I wasn't out the outside looking in.  This time I was inside the police car, looking out at the celebrations that were going on without me...........again.
Tony and Ronnie finished an incredible second with an uncompetitive car that was on it's last legs. To this day Tony talks about it as one of his greatest achievements, and it was certainly a damm good one. Later in the year he would race a N.A.R.T. Ferari 512M with at LeMans, paired with yet another great American, Sam Posey. Against what was the strongest field LeMans had seen in about a decade, they pulled off a very smooth 3rd place. This was an astounding result considering it was a private entry and Porsche, Alfa Romeo and Matra had all brought a battery of factory supported cars. 

Are We Laughing Yet?
One of America's grand tracks is Road Atlanta, a beautiful rolling circuit that winds through the Georgia countryside. The track snakes it's way up hill and downhill, and up and downhill all over again. In several places they just carved the track out of the landscape, almost like they strip mined it. There were a few corners where if you went off you would be greeted by a sheer vertical wall of red Georgia clay. Road Atlanta has never been a good place to crash, but in the early 70s when racing was supposed to be dangerous, lots of us were wondering just what the hell we thought we were doing rolling the dice like that.
Now, having said that, the place has been freshly refurbished and those sheer walls moved back. Road Atlanta today is one of the safest and best kept circuits in the country.
 When I was going to school in Valdosta I raced enduro karts there a few times and it was one spookey place. Enduro karts were designed to race on full sized racetracks and run at incredible 140mph+ speeds. To cut wind resistance, the driver was reclined (and out of the airstream) as much as possible, and it was almost like being flat on your back with your head propped up. In that position your whole perspective of the road, the trees, everything......everything looked different and it seemed like you were doing 300mph. All of this while you are going up and down hill around blind corners with your stomach in your thorat. It was like a roller coaster, except I was driving it.
But, oh, was it ever one fun place to go fast. There are places where you turn into the corner without being able to see it because it is on the other side of a hill. The corners come one right after the other, which each one faster than the one before until you have to slam on the brakes, crank the wheel over and head back uphill again onto a lung busting straight away with a huge dip in it that slams you so hard into the seat you wonder how many laps you could go before you broke the chassis. The kicker of them all is the bridge turn where you turn under a bridge into the corner and then the world falls out from under you as you plunge downhill so fast your stomach rises up into your throat. The first 20 or so times that I went throught there it was absolutley terrifying, but after that it was mererly thrilling and exhilirating.
Road Atlanta is such a gut clenching high speed rollercoaster that every time I got out of the kart I had to go behind the pits and throw up from motion sickness. Then, I'de get some fluid back in me as fast as I could because I couldn't wait to get back out there and scare myself silly all over again. It is truely a magnificent circuit.
Years before even that, though, I had gone to Road Atlanta to see the 1973 Formula 5000 race. This was the series formerly called the Continental Championship, which was won in 1969 by Tony Adamowicz. Tony was still racing in the series with a different team and car. Tony had the latest Lola T333 chassis, which in this series was the one to have. The car was painted in black/red/white Carling Black label colors and was the most stunning car on the grid. The thing was simply beautiful. 
For opening practice we were standing on the outside of turn five.  Five was at the bottom of a hill after a series of high speed esses. The road turned 90 degrees left and went right back up hill again, so it was a really challenging turn. About five feet outside of the turn was a sheer four foot earth embankment, so you didn't want to get that turn wrong. Of course, on top of that wall was were we were standing behind a fence that was right on the edge of the wall.
We were standing just to the left of where the picture ends. we were probably even there when this was taken............

Tony comes streaking through the esses and when he hit the brakes for turn five, all four tires simply stopped, and in a blinding cloud of dust and white tire smoke, Tony slid off the track at high speed, and slammed into the wall with a sickening thud. Tony started to exit the car when a small fire broke out in the rear, but little fires on a race car turn into big ones really fast. As Tony scrambled up from the car, my friend Dave and I reached over the fence and gave him a hand over. 
Tony pulls his helmet off, recognises me and smiles. We spoke for a couple of seconds, but understandably he had to get back top the pits and get the car looked over. Unfortunately it was so badly damaged that it was done for the weekend.
As Tony walked off, the last thing he said was "twenty years from now we'll laugh about this." 
Well, that was the last time I actually saw Tony, but about thirty years later I found him through his website, and eventually Tony called me so we could share a few laughs. I asked him if he was ready to laugh about Road Atlanta and he says simply "Nah. It's still not funny," 
30 minutes with Bob Wolleck
A few years ago I went to Sebring the day before the 12 hour race to do some model business with the vendors and some of the drivers I build for. Generally, all the drivers are approachable no matter how famous they are. They are just guys and I have something they want anyway, so they are happy to see me. Hey, somebody has to do it.

After I got done with business, it was late and we needed to head back. I stumbled across French racing driver Bob Wolleck, who was chatting with some journalists and packing his gear. Very famous guy. Had won just about everything except LeMans, but had raced there something like 28 consecutive years. Multiple Porsche Cup champion and three Daytona 24 hours wins.

He was known for being a mad cycling enthusiast. He would travel to most of the the European auto races on his bicycle, sometimes hundreds of miles, and then race the car for 1000k. And then ride home. He even kept a bike in the states for when he would fly over here for a car race. So I had to have a quick word with him about bicycles.

I wandered up and just asked him if he liked a steel or titanium frame. He immeadiately waved everyone else away, "Go! Go away!" and we sat on a stack of tires for about a half hour, just two guys talking about bicycles. We were at one of the most important events of the year and it was like auto racing didn't even exist for us.

It was getting dark and he was desperate to get out of there so he could get a ride in. Tomorrow was the car race and he wouldn't get to ride. It was almost like he didn't enjoy motoracing because he couldn't cycle every day. He made me promise to meet him and some friends at the airport on Sunday morning and join them for a ride. So, I couldn't say no.

I was pretty excited to get home (two hours by car) and tell my friends about my latest adventure. I was on the phone and taking my shoes off, waiting for the computer to boot when my home page, Speedvison, came up "Bob Wolleck killed in traffic accident." It was a drunk in a motorhome.

He was 56. I was probably one of the last people he ever spoke to.

I like to remember him and share the story of when we met. He was an interesting guy with a big cycling heart.


Thursday, August 4, 2016

Ten Motorsports Oddities

#10 Joe Zimmerman And The Beast 
Joe Zimmerman was the most ordinary looking man you could ever meet. I don't mean he was not a good looking man, I just mean he looked like Joe Average. He looked completely straight and was all business. He's the guy you see walking in the background in the movies, or the guy standing by the fence at an auto race looking the other way while a crash is happening in front of him. He was just sort of, errrrr, invisible. You saw so many people like Joe Zimmerman that they all sort of ran together. 
Well, until I got to know him, that is. He is probably going to go down as the wildest guys I have ever known, and I later discovered it wasn't just with R/C airplanes. We would travel to races and, of course, we would visit a men's club somewhere along the way. I can't really go into it here, but remember that he was one wild character. And there are other stories, but they are best left untold.
He was just plain evil with firecrackers. 
Joe Zimmerman's specialty was mischief by stealth
He got to be pretty good at flying, and one day he showed up at the flying field with a 200mph Formula One pylon racer, just to burn the field up. I thought the safety patrol was going to go into seizure over that one. 
But he never got into any trouble because no one ever saw him as anything but Joe Average, while I was cocky and cheezed off the establishment. He loved to wind them up too, but they never knew he was doing it on purpose. We were really an odd couple. 
The pylon racers were the bad boys of the sport, so it was natural we ended up on the circuit where we fit in with the rest of the lunatics. It was the middle of a long season and I was in the thick of the SEMPRA championship battle with a real shot. Joe was just getting his start, and wasn't really competent enough to be competing at this level. 
But he wasn't above cheating, installed a .51 engine and put a .40 head on it, so it looked legal. It was utterly the fastest thing anyone had ever seen and Joe was fighting for his life every time he flew it. He couldn't even hold the thing at a constant altitude on the straights. The thing screamed along going up and down like a roller coaster and scared the crap out of everyone. He would lose control and fly over the pits at low altitude and send everyone scattering for their lives. You know, I look back and laugh, but it was really pretty dangerous stuff. 
My friend Bob didn't travel very well. He would come to a race and all he would do is spent the day in whatever facilities were available. We normally teamed up because it takes a flyer and a caller to race (well, it did then), but that day, he was so sick he never raced. I ended up with Joe instead. 
I managed to get him to calm down a little. I made a few adjustments to the plane in practice and it was much more docile to handle. But, lord, it was some kind of streak. It would blast down the back stretch and you could almost see a shock wave coming off it. I would lay it up on it's wing around two and three and it felt like the thing was going to rip the transmitter out of my hands. The thing was just plain scary. 
So we went through a couple of rounds and Joe won them all. At the end of the day, he, two other guys and I were tied with perfect scores. And we always handled that the right way....we lined up and we raced for it. 
I had to team up with another caller, and the guy Joe got wasn't very good at keeping him calm. Joe was back to the porpoising on the straights, and he was so all over the sky that none of us even dare to try and pass him. Joe had his moment in the sun, but it was just a moment. 
He was finally so exhausted and confused by the beast and the pressure that he lost control, clipped a pylon and then another plane which exploded, the debris of which took out yet another plane and mine too. After that, there was no stopping what was left of Joe's flaming plane and it slammed into the outhouse at full steam, nearly knocking it over. 
And of course Bob came rolling out with his pants around his knees and cursing. But when he found out it was Joe, well, no one can get angry with such an ordinary man, right? 
Every single plane in the race was taken out in the incident. One guy just laughed uncontrollably, but the other guy was furious and screaming and cursing and stopping up and down, looking for someone to fight. But because Joe was so ordinary, so invisible, the guy was furious with me at the one time I was actually haplessly innocent! The officials moved between us as the man became more verbal and animated. 
Joe moved silently to the sidelines and wore the Cheshire grin
The heat was stopped (heck, no one was left anyway) and it was decided to go back to the last scored lap (when Joe was still in the lead) and call it over. Joe and I stood there befuddled, staring at each other as the debris from all the destroyed airplanes fluttered down on us in the gentle spring breeze. I'm not sure if we were proud of ourselves or not. 
He did a little dance when they handed him the trophy. It was the wildest thing anyone had ever see him do. Everyone but me, that is. 
OK, one more Joe Zimmerman story, but just one. 
Yeah, Joe was evil with firecrackers, but it only came about as a matter of self defense. We had some guys at the field throwing firecrackers right behind unsuspecting people and since Joe was such an unlikely character, so benign and ordinary, they got him a couple of times. 
Well, one day that was it for Joe. We flew out the day until it was just us and the firecracker perpetrators. They were sitting there having a beer (they were done flying, so that was ok) and laughing about their pranks when Joe sneaks up behind them. 
Joe was an excellent marksman. They never saw it coming when Joe stood two feet behind them and unloaded the entire clip of his .45 into the ground. 
One guy got up, tripped, and when he got up again the entire front of his pants were soaked. The other guy just stood there and sobbed uncontrollably. 
Joe loads another clip into the gun, smacking it home with the palm of his hand like Magnum PI would do. Then the evil grin spreads over his face as he pulls the slide back and lets it snap back into place with an audible "CLICK!" 
"Any questions?" 
Epilogue: When I quit flying Joe and I sort of drifted apart. His kids were getting older and he needed to spend time with them. I was off to the Caribbean chasing sharks and women, so we sort of lost track of each other for a few years. We didn't love each other any less. Our lives just took us different directions from each other. 
One day years later, Joe stopped by and we visited for a few hours. We made plans to get together the next day, ironically the Friday before 9/11, but I never saw him again. He died getting out of his car when he got home that day.....oddly for what the coroner says is no reason at all.......none. He sat down, leaned against his car and checked out. 
I still miss him. I miss him a lot. I imagine wherever he is, he is trying to talk someone into cheating on a motor or something......or playing a firecracker prank on him.
Or tormenting someone by stealth.
Way before there was ever a Toronto Grand Prix or a Denver Grand Prix, or yes, even the Long Beach Grand Prix, there was the St. Petersburg Grand Prix. No, it wasn't the cart race or the TransAm race. It was a lowly go karting affair. But for us, it was the biggest, baddest thing that had ever come down the pike.
Safety? It was 1970, for God's sake, back when we were men.  We would barrel down a long assed straight piece of road lined with 6" tall curbs. Now a kart wheel is just the perfect height to hit a curb with the full contact patch and get maximum launch from it. It was almost like racing with ramps lining the track. 
Things like those giant postal drop off boxes that were bolted to the sidewalk were protected by haybayles and so were the lightpoles. You know, all the important things they didn't want damaged by some karter's skull. 
Generally 1970s kart street racing was just a municipal money maker. It was a $25 entry and the city got all of it. we had about 600 entries, so they were making out good. To the city, our lives were about as valuable as the average hamster's. They would spend about $100 for hay bales and get the Jay Cees (sort of our version of a Rotary club, or an "Order of Odd Fellows") to volunteer crowd control. The Jay Cees were ok with that because they could also set up a beer stand, charge $5 for .50 worth of hot beer and all get drunk. I remember one of them staggered across the racetrack at the inaugural St.Pete grand Prix (yes, the very first one was just a kart race, 1970) and got himself clobbered. 
The local news sportscaster, Dick Crippin (or as we called him "Dick Drippin") addressed the driver's meeting the next day. (If you watch the ESPN powerboat races, he still does commentary on those telecasts, but he is old as dirt now). Why a stick and ball TV jockey (as if he knew anything about racing) was allowed to speak at our driver's meeting still astounds me, but it happened. Not only did he speak, but he was high and mighty. He chided us for the accident and generally spoke to us like we were children. I'm sure it was all for the ever present TV camera. 
Yeah, like you know I was going to stay quiet.
"Hey Dick, why don't you try racing my kart and see if you can dodge the drunken asshole Jay Cees that stumble out of nowhere. We're just the drivers. The organizers are responsible for providing us with a safe environment and protecting the people. Here's an idea. Keep the friggin' drunks off the track and we promise not to hit them." 
Well, I wasn't quite that polite, but you get the idea. You can imagine that Crippin didn't get to use much of that footage on the Sunday sports roundup show. 
I drew starting position #108 out of the hat. And there were 120 of us, just in my class alone. It was a huge event. Goodyear sent down the blimp and everything. I think there were about 20,000 spectators, but there was no admission charge either because they sold a metric ton of beer and chilli dogs. Everyone was drunk and had  a bad case of gas. Hell of an event.
People could come and go as they pleased. All the city did was put up a few hay bales and told the Jay Cees to get drunk and hold everyone back off the track. 
We did a Lemans standing start, all lined up side by side with the engines running. we were off the edge of the road and the track direction was to our right. Thing was, our engines were on the right side of the chassis, and our tuned pipes came out the back of the engine, turned left and shot the exhaust out just behind and over the left rear tire. We started the engines with one minute until green and after 15 seconds or so all the smoke (these are 2 cycles, remember) was shooting out the left side of everyone's kart and in my direction. I couldn't see anything but the guy next to me. But, I could see my watch and I looked and at about what I figured was 10 seconds to go, I took off. I hauled ass through the smoke and when I popped out the other side into the clean air, I saw the starter drop the green flag. Everyone else was still haplessly sitting there. 
 I was streaking away and the rest of them were all still sitting there choking on the fumes. It was all looking good.
Except the tires didn't co-operate. Everyone was shredding Goodyears in practice. I guess they had a bad batch or something. Goodyear slammed into overtime and shipped down a new batch of tires overnight, but no one wanted anything to do with them. We were going too fast to be playing roulette with tires.
Everyone had switched over to Carlisle or Avon and they were scrambling to take up the slack. Goodyear didn't have a single kart in my class. Well, I was starting 108th so I wasn't going to win or even get a decent finish. I had a future in the sport and I had to think about that. Why not?  I wasn't going to win anyway, so if the tires sucked nothing would be lost, and it wouldn't hurt to have a friend in the biz like Goodyear. I was young, invincible and all that. What could go wrong?
So after about three laps it is looking really good. The tires are great and I am just streaking away from the field. I am hauling ass. The tires were really hooking up and it was as good as over for everyone else. I was gone. Checked out.
I look up and there is the blimp with the sign on the side all lit up "Doc Austin, leader, on GOODYEAR TIRES." Well, at least I got my name on the blimp before the left rear exploded coming down in front of Al Lang field. 
It was like slow motion. I felt the bang and then watched the big strip of rubber arc over my head, swirling end over end as it reached it's apogee and cleared the fence, ironically landing INSIDE the ball park! I've heard of hitting them out of the park, but you really have to work to knock one INSIDE the park. 
And not only did it explode, but it took the rear brake line with it and all I had was the fronts. I was headed smack for the outside of the next turn with the fronts locked (and as a result the steering useless) and seeing nothing but a sea of unprotected people. 
Note that the operative word here is "sea." 
I turned the kart into the curb trying to get the contact to scrub off some speed but we were doing over 100mph at this part of the track, and the kart would just whip even more out of control with each brush. I almost jumped up onto the sidewalk and all those people, so that wasn't going to work at all.It was them or me, so I had to choose me, and i was as good as dead anyway. I quickly looked around for a spot where there were no people, but i was about out of options, until I saw an opening.
You guessed it. There was Channel 10's remote camera, and back then one of those things cost about a million bucks. The cameraman saw me coming and bailed out, so I now had my escape route. I clouted the crap out of the curbing, which launched me into the camera, and it blew into about a billion pieces. 
Eat this, Crippin! 
For about a millisecond, I was almost pleased with myself. But I was flying through the air so I really didn't have much time to enjoy it. 
Unfortunately on the other side was Tampa Bay. There was a steel tubing rail there to keep people from falling off the sidewalk and into the water. That didn't help me much though. I knocked the railing right off it's posts. 
It was fortunate that it was still 1970. I was living at home and had good medical care. I had landed in about three feet of water with a rock and barnacle lined bottom, so I really got torn up. Both my boots were ripped off and I guess my feet were the first thing to hit the barnacles. It was something like 25 stitches in my feet and about a mile of gauze to cover everything else. 
Good thing the curb, camera and rail were there to slow me down, but I should have aimed at something softer like maybe some old people or something. St Petersburg is a retirement community, for God's sake. It's not like we would have missed a few of them or anything.
Fortunately, Mom was off in Indianapolis visiting Aunt Barbra, but it still wasn't enough time for Dad and I to come up with a believable lie about what happened to me, especially when it was on the cover of the Largo Sentinel. You know, the hometown boy looks like ass story. Sold lots of copies. Got to autograph a few at the next Grand Prix.
Of course she found out, and it didn't take long either. That almost ended it right there. She was out of tolerance right away, and very begrudgingly allowed me to continue only with Dad's incessant support. They were so torn over it that I think it almost split them up, but they stayed together until dad went home to Jesus at 85.
A couple more years of racing and it was Mom who was adamant that I went off to another state for college. I couldn't be around my friends and my racing buddies. I couldn't be distracted from my studies because it was so important to get a proper education. I would have to go to Valdosta State, where I wouldn't know anyone and wouldn't have any opportunities to race. 
Or so she thought. 
When you are young, there are defining moments that shape your view of the world. And so it was when I was a little boy and we went to the county fair.
The wall of death was a huge attraction that had everyone abuzz. See chimpanzees race for life on the WALL OF DEATH. See incredible speed, incredible danger, incredible, incredible, incredible!
The wall of death was a huge vertical tube where they raced monkeys in go karts. They would go round and round and climb the walls, with the centrifugal force holding the cars up. The monkeys were strapped in, the steering was turned to the left a little, and the throttle was pegged, so the monkey would just have to hold on and wait for the thing to run out of gas.
Spectators would stand on the outside of the tube, at the top looking down, and it's amazing a kart never flew out the top. They would whizz round and round and round, banging wheels, squealing and I think most of them were having a good time.
We stayed for several shows. It was thrilling, compelling stuff. I convinced Dad to stay for yet more, and he was having a good time too, so we lined up at the top of the tube with a hoard of other cheering maniacs to see our little heroes in action.
Well, they brought in a different monkey, and this guy was scared out of his mind. He was screaming his guts out and fighting for all he was worth. Apparently he'd been down this road before and didn't like it.
So round and round they went on the wall of death with the monkey becoming more and more agitated with each blurred swirl around the tube, squealing, screaming, frozen in a blind panic. Eyes wide open, knuckles white on the wheel, heart pounding in his chest, until he had finally had enough and did some serious monkey business.
Of course, centrifugal force took over and most of us at the top of the tube suffered the splattering of monkey business.
Monkeys in a barrel. Round and round the wall of death. Clean up the mess and plug in another monkey. Seems pretty simple, really. 
We were all young and stupid, so it wasn't very satisfying to merely come out of the 1971 St. Petersbrug Grand Prix alive, though looking back, that in itself was an achievement. I had a really good chance to win but I just didn't execute. It wouldn't be the last time either, but the biggest race of the year, right in your hometown, in front of all your friends and high school sweetheart, with the local news and newspapers on hand, well it wasn't the best place to drop the ball.
Fortunately Dave wasn't hurt, but the Batkart was destroyed at the Sy. Petersburg Grand Prix and he cut a deal with Joe Grubb's IKS concern for a new chassis. Now, you gotta remember that Dave Batman was probably the most loved man in the paddock, and when he finally broke through to win the Pinellas Park Grand Prix, it was a hugely popular win. 
Yes, The Fabulous Pinellas Park Grand Prix, and while that sounds all overblown and pompous....well, it was. The race was originally scheduled to be run on a nice twisty set of back roads on the outskirts of Pinellas Park, but the day before the race the city council decided to change things, and we found ourselves racing around a government project in what qualifies in Florida as a slum (well, all of Pinellas Park is sort of slummy). The course was four left turns, oddly sort of like Indianapolis, but you had to throw out the anchor for every one of them. 
Pinellas Park was dirt cheap land because it was so low lying and there was a lot of flooding. It was swamp land they dredged up or something, but the place always stunk. To this day most of it is lined with deep drainage ditches. They are mostly nice and concrete lined now, but back then they were just earth with grass growing in them. About July or so, after the torrent of early summer rain, most of the ditches were just solid mud. Pinellas Park drainage ditch mud. You could smell it when you'de drive through the place. Pretty nasty stuff. And so it was that the race course just happened to be lined with....yes, drainage ditches on the outsides. Drainage ditches full of nasty, smelly, skanky Pinellas Park drainage ditch mud.
Mud and lots of water. All week it had been raining on and off and the ditches were like little lakes lining the circuit. With this being public roads, we couldn't reschedule. It was race in the wet or there would never be a race. Soooo, we were squeezing heats in whenever the track was dry enough, and it finally got to where as long as there was no standing water, We were racing. More than just a little stupid, really.
Dave hit the setup just right and he was gone from the word go. That much is still indisputable and he just blew all of us into the weeds.........well, except me. I landed somewhere else.
I was running my own race, hopelessly watching Dave disappear into the distance and sliding back to about mid pack as it wasn't my best day, though it would get worse. The skies opened and we were in a virtual Pinellas Park low land flood, to the point you could see the water rising up in the drainage ditches, but there were less than a handful of laps left and the starter decided to let it play out. It got wetter and wetter until it was way too dangerous and I thought of just stopping.
But I didn't think fast enough. Out of nowhere appeared this bloody huge beast of a dog, a collossal gargantuan. I was going to pop this guy good at about 70mph and we would probably both be killed, so I yanked the wheel to miss him and totally lost control of the kart. I crashed through one layer of haybayles and straightened out parrellel to the drainage ditch, but with all the mud on my tires, there was never any hope of recovery. It slid into the ditch, dug in to the mud on the bank and flipped, throwing me out and into the drink. Kerrrr-splash! I bounced and tumbled to a stop with a helmet full of mud, sitting about chest deep in nasty drainage ditch water.
And covered in nasty, smelly, skanky Pinellas Park drainage ditch mud. Yuk. 
I pulled my helmet off, spit out as much mud as possible and tried to climb up the bank but kept sliding back down in the ditch on the slippery, nasty, smelly, skanky Pinellas Park drainage ditch mud. So I gave up, and laid back. I closed my eyes and tried to collect myself. It was a heck of a hit and I just wanted to lay there.
And it rained and rained until I noticed the rain hitting my face was warm, 
Only it wasn't rain. It was that bloody damm giagantic dog, standing over me with his leg cocked. A fitting end to the day, I suppose. Welcome to Pinellas Park, home of the Grand Prix. 
In 1970 it wasn't done right. There weren't any concrete walls to hit, as if that would be a plus in a kart. The sidewalks, buildings and other things were utterly unprotected, or more accurately we would be unprotected if we were to hit one of those things. They would place a hay bale in front of a fire hydrant, but if you jumped the curb at 100mph, how much impact do you think that would absorb? 
Yeah, they spent about $100 on hay bales, but mostly, almost everything you could hit, you could hit without interference from any safety measures. It was the most utterly, stupidly dangerous thing I had ever done, and I've done plenty of utterly, stupidly dangerous things. 
Skydiving is pedestrian compared to 1970's kart street racing and so is bullfighting. After those experiences, everything else is just boring. Only the IRL is entertaining anymore. The other stuff is so sanitized and girlified that the drivers may as well wear skirts. 
We would smoke down in front of the Bayfront center, and the curbings were completely exposed. People would stand and sit right on the edge of the road, sometimes even with their feet in the road. If you hooked a curb at that speed it would launch you, and with all those people on the edge of the road, well, it would have been pretty ugly. I'm surprised it never happened. 
At the end of Bayfront, we would be touching 110 mph in the American Reed class karts. They had a police radar gun there, and we would turn into the Bayfront center parking lot at around 45 mph throught a super tight, bumpy and narrow right hand corner. If you went off there, you could count on only one row of haybayles to separate you from the pits. At 110 mph. 
Still, it was alot of fun. when I went back the next year the nightmares were not coming as often and I had a little confidence back. We would run in huge packs down in front of the water, sometimes 6-10 abreast because the road was so wide. It was my first experience running in a draft, and you can't believe the hole three side-by-side karts would punch through the air. If you tucked in at the right time it would grab you like a vise and it was almost like a turbo kicking in. You would propel by like you were shot out of a cannon, but the straight was so long that there was always plenty of time for someone to counterattack. 
After the previous years' experience, I had gone to a dual master cylinder, quadruple caliper brake set up. Each set of calipers was independant from each other, so you could lose a set of brakes and still have something to get you stopped. It was tricky to get the balance right, but when you threw out the anchor, you would stop so fast it was like hitting a wall. 
I used this to great effect at the end of Bayfront and would whizz past 10-15 karts at a lick braking to head into the parking lot. Right after that turn was the start finish line, and I did, in fact, lead the most laps. 
I knew it was going to be a lottery of the draft, so I spent all of practice setting the brakes up so I could make a last lap late breaking plunge down the outside and overtake everyone who was down low chopping, blocking and swerving. Even though the outside was dirty and full of marbles, I still had the thing set up to go in deeper than anyone else. Lap after lap I went down the inside and no one could stop me, so we were looking good. 
But the chopping, blocking and swerving got so severe that I didn't want to die that bad. Once my late friend Dave Batman got squeezed over the curbing and into a giant postal drop off box, I lost any heart for it. It looked like he might have been really hurt and as the race went on, I couldn't get that out of my head. 
So I fell back to the tail of the pack and waited for the end. Even then, I just didn't want to get in there with those idiots and maybe meet Dave in intensive care, or worse, the morgue. 
And at the end, all I could think about was getting this over and checking on Dave. I didn't see the white flag. I never made a move and I ended up 7th out of over 100 entries, which wasn't so bad. Not that I even cared at that point. 
I didn't need to be so worried though. By the time I got back to the pits, Dave had stalked down the guy who squeezed him off the road and had laid him out completely unconscious at the weigh-in scale.  The guy was laying there with his eyes rolled back into his head, frothing at the mouth and all his limbs twitching.
World Star! You just got knocked the **** out!
The officials were sort of walking around looking at the sky and whistling "What? We didn't see anything." 
And so it was in a man's man's sport. The risks were out there and if you didn't respect the other guy, either he would get you in the pits or the cosmic forces of righteousness would get you on the track. Sometimes it would get so hairy that that they would reach out and get the wrong guy, like happened to me the year before, but you either got out there and raced, or you didn't. If you coudn't take care of yourself you were better off in a sissy sport like bare knuckle bar fighting. 
And so it went. I raced in Orlando, Auburndale, Lakeland, Ft. Lauderdale and Pinellas Park, Savanna, and others I can't remember because of all the concussions, all on the streets with all those light poles, mailboxes and buildings just beging someone to splatter their brains on them. 
Hey, we didn't know any better. Racing was supposed be dangerous.. 
Lakeland was so utterly cool. You would come past the post office, brake hard from about 90mph, and turn hard left, plunging dowhill so fast you stomach would come up into your throat, as the access road curved around to the street below which took you around the lake and about 20,000 spectators. Yeah, I missed the set up and sucked, but I scared the crap out of myself and had a great time. After dodging death, destruction and swirling debris, I ended up being such a pedestrian that I fell asleep driving home and wrecked my camaro and kart. 
And Mom wasn't very amused either. 
Yeah, I won a few street races, but they were always so scarey that you had to stop and wonder just what kind of idiot you were.  Not that it mattered. If I got into F-1 there was a 1 in 3 chance I'de be killed in my first season, so the odds could only get better for me as I moved up the ladder. 
It's just staggering to look back and remember the worst injury I ever saw was that guy in the pits, with his eyes rolled back into his skull and laying there spazzing out, shaking, and foaming at the mouth as Dave towered over him ready to punch him again if he got skirts allowed in a man's man's sport. 
Street races in the seventies were good if you had 10 fingers and 10 toes on monday morning. The hand of God was on us the entire time. I know for a fact the angels interceded at least 100 times for me. It's kind of why I am a spiritual man to this day. I don't talk about it much, but the challenge of speed, time and distance is the greatest quest the lord has placed in front of us. 
No nerf bars. No head restraints, Heck, I didn't even have a front bumper. I used my feet to protect me. With those wheels hanging out in the breeze, you had darned well better respect each other. We had a code because no one wanted to die. Dirty driving wasn't tolerated and it was either the kind of thing a man took upon himself to prevent, or the others took care of it in the next heat. If anyone pulled a dirty trick, he either found himself unconscious in the pits or on his lid in the next heat. 
And it was a code I followed until I stepped out of a racecar for the final time, though at the time, who could have known that was the last time. 
Oh, it wasn't like circuit racing was much better. We weren't allowed to have multiple, stacked tire barriers because they were considered a mosquito breeding hazard and the EPA was just beginning to get it's hands into everything. To use a tire barrier, you had to have an expensive permit and grease an official's palm with a few dead presidents, usually multiple Hamiltons. 
Eventually it all became a little more civilized and we started trying to protect ourselves. Before it was just insanely dangerous, but that was just the way the sport was and you either accepted it or you did something else and then laughted at us whenever we would bust our asses. 
The karts grew bumpers and nerf bars, and we had our feet protected a little better. We still hit poles, trees and fences with virtually no protection. Progress was slow, but I was no Jackie Stewart. I just got on with it. I was in a hurry. Worrying about safety wasn't going to propel me into F-1. Going fast and crushing everyone would. Or so I thought. 
The sorry Saga of Pierre LaPoone'. This is a little long, so try to stay with me........
In motor racing, there are the road racers and their counterparts, the oval racers. In R/C aircraft there are those so obsessed with safety that they ruin everyone else's fun, and we called them the "safety patrol." Mostly, they were self appointed. They wore their little armbands and ran up and down the pits trying to tell everyone how to do everything. It was so bad that I'm surprised one of them didn't follow me into the outhouse to make sure I did that safely too.
The counter group (us) was the reckless, irresponsible wild man maniac aerobatic pilots and racers. Of course, we were all just guys, but one group liked to hang it out, and the other didn't really care for that. It was difficult for the two factions to tolerate each other, but we tried.
This was the way it was in every club I ever visited or belonged to. And just like in auto racing, there was considerable animosity between the two groups. See where this is going?  Sometimes, the tension would boil over, and then we would have........well, we would have what you're about to read about.
Of course, my group, in my home club, were always flying 150mph planes just for our everyday sport aircraft. We would buzz up and down the runways upside down two feet off the deck. We would carve our own propellers so the engines would turn 20,000 rpm and used the loudest tuned pipes we could find, just to go as fast, make as much noise, raise as much hell and have as much fun as we could. The only problem with this is it scared the crap out of everyone else.
We really never did anything overtly dangerous to anything but our own aircraft, but some people were scared to try a simple loop (or even fly), so what we were doing was inconceivable to them. And the "safety patrol" would just lose their minds when we brought out the 200mph+ racing planes. 
Of the two groups, those obsessed with safety almost never even flew their aircraft. They would taxi them up and down the runways, and resolutely refuse to let anyone else even on the field when they were doing their "taxi tests." These "tests" had to be done under the absolutely safest possible conditions. No one else was allowed to fly. We just had to wait. Is this a flying club or what?
Oh, they would build wonderful, giant and elaborate aircraft built to marvelous extremes, but they were normally afraid to fly them.
The safety patrol were obsessed with their wind sock, a sort of flag that pilots would use to tell the wind direction. And if you even tried to fly when the wind sock was not put up up, they would throw a fit. It was silly because you have a flag on the end of your transmitter antennae anyway, but they were convinced they alone knew the way to truly safe Nirvana. If you tried a difficult downwind landing, they would go out of their minds and call for a tribunal.
The wind sock was on a pole just in front of a covered area in the pits where all transmitters were impounded when not in use.
Everyone would sit under there, because it is pretty miserable in in the Florida summer sun. 
There may have never been a finer aerobatic pilot molded than Pierre LaPoone'. He served me well in many aerobatic competitions, and together we wore out several aircraft. Of course, he crashed a few too, but we were men's men and that's how it goes in a man's man's sport. 
Well, maybe I was a man's man, but Pierre's French tri-color scarf created much animosity among the others who thought he might have been gay. Since he was merely a bust, and molded from only the shoulders up, I suspect he didn't care either way. It never effected his gritty devil-may-care, in-your-face flying style. 
My other best flying buddy, Rich, had a plane absolutely identical to mine, except his pilot had no scarf . We would fly formation, chase each other around, race, and do all sort of stupid things just hoping we would have a nasty crash, or so it would appear. We really knew exactly what we were doing because we would practice for hours during the week, and on the weekends when the crowds would come out, it was always fun to do some wild things and entertain people. 
And one day, it finally happened. I don't even know who did what because it all unfolded so quickly. We were forced to wait a full two hours before we could fly because one older gentleman had spent the entire time taxi-testing a beautiful new 1/4 scale Stearman bi-plane. It was gorgeous, but he was a dick, and the head of the safety patrol too. We were not his favorite guys, so he relished making us wait. You know, just fly the damm thing. Jam the throttle forward and see what happens. But, no, lets putt around and tie up the field for two hours.
We finally got to fly.
Rich and I somehow got into each other. I don't know how it happened, but my aircraft lost half of a wing, and with the other aileron jammed, it went into an uncontrolled roll and headed right for the pits, all the parked cars, and spectators. By furiously playing with the elevator and rudder (all I had left), I managed to just clear the pits, but not before I gnawed the wind sock into a billion pieces with my propeller and smacked the top of the transmitter impound, which knocked all the transmitters out of the impound and onto the concrete slab, demolishing several of them. That, and what was left of my plane hit a fence post, broke it off and burst into flames. 
Pierre died instantly.
Rich's plane? Well, you saw it coming, didn't you? It drilled itself right through the top of the beautiful Stearman's top wing, all the way through the fuselage and right on through the the bottom wing. It literally cut the plane and both wings in half. And since we parked next to our pit spaces, the debris put a hole in the trunk of the guy's brand new Jaguar!
So, the safety patrol puts out the fire, and with the gentle afternoon breeze, we stood among the falling little pieces of wind sock, balsa and covering, and surveyed the damage. Pierre was melted beyond recognition, and while my plane's radio was not fully destroyed, the elevator was jiggling back and forth on it own just a little, sort of a death spasm or something.
I sifted through the debris and muttered something about "Well, maybe I can save the motor......." when the owner of the stearman came up and began jumping up and down on what was left of my plane and screaming (use your imagination) "NO! NO! This plane is SCREWED!!! SCREWED!!! SCREWED!!! I TELL YOU!!!! SCREWED!!! SCREWED!!! 
He jumped up and down, up and down on my battered, broken and burnt plane, squashing the debris deeper and deeper into the ground until he collapsed from exhaustion and we were forced to drag him into the shade and pour water on him. 
And he never stopped screaming "IT'S SCREWED! SCREWED!"
Pierre was replaced by hapless Frenchman Jacques LaBonne, who was so haplessly French that he lasted merely one aerobatic contest before he........oh, it was a horrible, flaming death. Another story for another day.......................
And, oh by the way, the safety patrol had their day. Of course there was a tribunal and plenty of long, drawn out testimony. The accident was analyzed on a big chalkboard and none of the participants, or our supporters, were allowed to speak in our defense. Of course, we were found guilty, given the death penalty and banished for life. 
The end result was a club divided, with all racing and aerobatics banned. Undeterred, the wild man aerobatic racers formed a new club in Tampa, which eventually merged back with the old club because they lost their flying field.
But was a mirage.
The new club absorbed the old one's treasury (over $20,000), threw the old men out of power and became the hotbed of the southeast for blood curling racing action. 
Yeah. It was ugly. It was downright nasty. 
We were at the 1985 Tangerine International championships, at Orlando, Florida, opening round of the new SEMPRA sport pylon championship. I had traveled there with my best racing buddy, Jim D. We had just staged the closest SEMPRA radio controlled Sport Pylon Championship points race in the history of the sport. And we both lost to Jimmy Moorehouse by a heartbreaking margin. I mean heartbreaking, 3 and 5 points respectively out of 5500 points. I traced my loss to a blown glo plug at Atlanta while in the lead, and Jim had numerous incidents or he would have spanked us all. 
So it's the first heat of the International Championship. We had two days to prove we were the best, and I was jazzed. I had built a special lightweight plane, probably not the strongest thing, but it only had to last two days. And lo and behold, I find myself lining up against Jimmy and, sadly, Jim. 
The competition was so tough that you could not afford to lose even one heat or you would probably not be in the finals. It is the biggest day I would ever have in competition, and I find myself opening against the two toughest guys in the world. We made three glorious laps, racing at 200mph side by side, darting in and out of each other's turbulence, fighting for position to be as close to the plyons as possible. There were seven laps to go when it all came apart. 
Jim nicked the #3 pylon and with nowhere to go, I flew right into the back of him. We had left Jimmy slightly behind, and he missed it, but Jim's plane started tumbling, shedding off pieces, and the fourth plane in the heat came onto the scene, and slammed into Jim's wreckage. All the junk that used to be high speed works of art slammed into the concrete runway and slid all the way down to the #1 pylon, flopping and tumbling until most of it was reduced to sheer, utter rubble.
It was a real apocalypse. 
My plane had suffered a damaged prop, and I was forced to throttle back so it didn't shake itself to bits. Even at that, I was unsure if it was safe to continue. Since only two of us were left, I slowed to a near crawl to take whatever points I could get. They were lucky points. 
While I am digesting that, I hear a rukus and lots of cursing behind me. After the heat is over, I land, and there are five guys holding Jim on the ground. He is kicking and screaming, and cursing at me, threatening to beat my ass. He was out of his mind......clearly. 
While they held him back, I admitted that I was willing to take responsibility for my part in the accident and I would make it right. I took the broken propeller off my plane and offered it to him. 
That was all he needed to get himself escorted off the property. The loss in that heat dropped me to second in the standings, one point behind eventual winner Jimmy, whom we had both left in the dust before our accident. The dream would have to wait another year, though sadly that year never came. 
Next up was the first round of the new SEMPRA points championship, at Smyrna, Tenn. Jim had finally settled down and we were ok. We were friends, for God's sake, and it was just an accident. Still, the ride up in his beautiful new motor home was a little tense, but we would work it out. We had a race to win, so there was no time for crying over balsa dust. 
An oh, this motorhome was something else. It was every bit of 32 feet long and about all of it was polished chrome. It had satellite TV (a major luxury in 1985), VCRs, stereo, a wet bar and kitchen. Everything was carpeted or beautiful, smooth, real Mahogany wood. You should have seen the look on everyone's faces when we rolled into there in this thing. We had them beat right then and there. No one would stand a chance against the might of our motorhome!
It was a different Jim D, too. When we got there Jim just worked on the motorhome, polishing this, or that, always cleaning something with a toothbrush and white glove. What about the planes? Oh, there would always be time for that.....after Jim polished another wheel or two. I was starting to get worried about him.
And irony got us in the very first round. We would have to race each other again. There was no racing for nearly all of the first day as we were plagued with torrential rain and numbing cold, but as darkness closed in, we were called to the grid. 
And it was a resumption of the ding dong we had in Orlando. It was wing to wing for lap after lap after lap. It was the closest, cleanest racing any of us had ever seen.......... Until turn one of the last lap. 
The collision was devastating. At first, it seemed Jim got of lightly as his plane was intact, but it soon became apparent that his antennae had been cut, or the radio switch knocked off, and his plane righted itself, took a nice heading and flew off, controless, out of sight.............. and never to be seen again. 
My aircraft immediately burst into a merry flaming hunk of speeding debris, cleared the race course and crashing at full speed through, you guessed it......... the side window of Jim's pride and joy, the motorhome we were travelling in. It took several minutes for some of the guys to put out the fire in the burning kitchenette, but mostly the motor home would be ok. Just a little charred. 
As I stood watching the inferno unfold, a hoard of people moved quickly between Jim and myself. Everyone remembered the scene from Orlando, but there would strangely be no repeat. All I remember is Jim laughing hysterically, tragically, hauntingly. For ten minutes. For twenty........for an hour.
Until the ambulance came to take him away. 
In the confusion, all the scoring was lost, and the heat was re-flown the next day. It was a little odd lining up with only three planes because Jim never made it back. I drug out my backup plane and won not only the heat, but the race overall. It vaulted me to the top of the SEMPRA point standings for the first time in my racing career, a luxury I would only get to enjoy for another race, but that's another story.
And I drove the motorhome back to Florida alone, in the cold rain with no side window, and the smell of burnt Mahogany haunting me the entire way. 
In the following years, Jim and I would go through many things together, including his nasty divorce, our failed R/C aircraft manufacturing business, and even a few more races (and a few more racing misadventures), but we never talk about Tennesee. 
Or the motorhome. 
If you are going to have a rivalry, have a damm good one. George Hall and I spent the whole year beating on each other. And we really didn't have to do it either. We had everyone covered by miles and there wasn't any question that one of us was going to be the Florida state champion. We would run three heats and determine the winner by points. Six races in a row no one but us finished first or second in any heat. We had both sucked in the first few races and were way behind in the points until about three races to go. Denny H had gotten off to a huge lead, but he didn't have anything for us once we both got rolling.
I could always race with George, and him with me. Every race I would find myself going through a flat out corner with George's wheel just in front or behind one of mine, or even rubbing my knee, but we both knew what we were doing and I never worried he was going to pull something.
Three races from the end, we had the chance to put Denny H away and eliminate him from the championship. The little bastard was cheating anyway. Everytime he was torn down the motor looked like they had ground on it for hours and they were supposed to be dead stock. He wouldn't be a worthy champion, so he had to go down.
Now the IKF is run about as well as the FIA, and they make USAC look like geniuses. About three races to go they found out some guys were using hydrozine in the fuel. It's actually a form of rocket fuel and it made the motors go like utter, stupid stink. It is so unstable that guys were blowing the entire jugs off the engines and a guy was killed out west in an explosion. It was never made illegal because no one ever thought someone would be stupid enough to try it. They changed the rule overnight and it changed the face of the sport and the outcome of the championship. Unfortunalely it was too expensive to do chemical anaylsis on everone's fuel every heat, so they had to find another way to police it.
OK, now it get complicated, but we were running diaphram carburators with steel tipped needle valves. The IKF mandated a rubber tipped steel needle valve because the hydrozine would make the rubber swell and no fuel could get through. Still, the cheaters would soak the needle valve in hydrozine for a week, let it swell up, and then turn it down to specification in a laythe. Unfortunately, alcohol would make them swell just as bad, and I just refused to cheat.
The motors would run beautifully on alcohol. We never had any trouble until the rubber needle valves, but suddently motors were going lean and were popping all over the place. Since I couldn't afford to lose a motor at this critical junction in the championship, I switched over to gasoline and oil. Generally gasoline would give you more power, but these were 2 cycle engines, and we had to run the engines extra rich, to cool them, and they weren't very fast that way. George switched over too, but we had lost alot of our advantage. Don't you love mid-season rule changes?
I had a friend working at the airport and I had him sneak out some J-4 avgas for me. It was still just gasoline, but it was like 104 octane compared to like 89 or something for regular gas. The stuff worked really, really well and I was getting back almost all of the power I had lost.
George blew up early, so I had to be careful to score points and gain ground. Denny H was second, but he again had nothing for me and I was streaking away, running the motor almost full rich and taking no chances.
About five laps into the final heat I felt a real warmth in the seat of my pants. We kept the fuel tank right under the steering column and the damm think had split. I guess the avgas had eaten through it or something and it was pouring fuel out and into the fiberglass bucket seat. There as no way for it to drain and the seat was geting fuller and fuller all the time. I would brake and it would all rush forward onto my feet and the petals, and with the oil in it I had a hard time keeping my feet on the petals.
Well, gasoline will burn the human skin really badly if left on long enough, and this wasn't mere gasoline. This was high test avaition gasoline and it got real painful really quick. All I could do was hang on. I couldn't park it beause the championship was so important and we were so close to the end. I could put Denny H out of the picture and then it would be mano en mano with George, something which would be fun even if I lost.
I took the flag and was in so much agony that I turned the kart directly into the fence, just to get it stopped. I junped the fence, ripped off my pants and underwear and jumped into a 55 gallon Igloo cooler ful of ice, water, and beer. My ass was still on fire, but I was sure lucky that gasoline never burst into flames or I might not be here.
I guess I sat there in the freezing water for about thirty minutes until the paramedics pulled me out to tend to me. They draped me over a gurney and applied creams and antibiotc to my bare ass, with about 500 people watching the entire spectacle. The next day all the burned skin fell off and most of my lower torso was just raw meat, including part of me that a gentleman doesn't say much about.
Yeah, it was a pretty miserable time for me.
And then there were two races left. With George falling out of the last race Denny H had gotten second and still had a remote chance to pull himself back into the fight provided George and I put each other into the fence.
Well, somehow, George and I ended up in the fence together. I was done, but George kept it running and worked his way back to second with Denny H  winning.
But that let Denny H back into the battle and we went into the last round seperated by three or four points With 400 to win a heat it may has well have been a dead tie. 
The last race was at my home circuit, a fast sweeping circuit called Pinellas Kartway. It's a shopping center now, just another reminder that the past past means nothing and everything changes no matter how hard we resist. You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile. Conform. Consume. Obey.
George and I talked about it. We could take turns winning the first two heats, save the equipment and then flip a coin or race for it in the third heat. We just didn't want Denny H in the picture. If I was going to lose, it was better to lose to George because we respected each other and Denny H was a friggin', cheating, dirty driving little shit.
George thought about it for a bit and asked "Do you really want to change what got us this far?" So, it was a ding dong and we wailed on each other like there was no tomorrow, because there really wasn't. George wins the first heat and I win the second. Denny H  is third both times.
But so it had been the whole summer with George and I. Now it was down to just us and ten laps around the Pinellas Karting. We could not have planned it any better. And in the third heat we went round and round, flattening each other's rims, running wide and throwing grass and dirt back at each other and just generally pulling out every trick we had within our self imposed boundaries of good sportsmanship. Oh, no question it was hard. I never gave him anything that wasn't necessary to avoid an accident, and he didn't cut me any slack either. But it was fair.
And it was also going to just be a matter of who was ahead when the flag came out. When I saw the white flag, George was just off to my right side, and he looks over, smiles, and gives me the finger. I laugh and flip him off, but I knew the championship hinged on what came next. I reached down to the carb and twisted the needle to full lean, for maximum power, but unfortunately maximum heat. George had his leaned out too and we were locked wheel to wheel for three quarters of the last lap....until my engine had been through enough. It seized solid and locked the back wheels, putting me off the final high speed sweeper at about 100mph with no control over the kart whatsoever. It just spun a few times, hit a hay bale and stopped. Fifty feet from the flag and the championship I had fought so hard and risked everything for. It was over. Damm.
George was the champion. Well, I got beat by the better man. No big deal and that's the way we wanted it. If I wasn't the best, what would be the point of being champion?
Not so fast. These were diaphragm carburetors with reed valves, the reed valve would open up when the negative pressure under the piston would suck on it and it would let the fuel flow in, snapping closed when when the piston came down and put it under positive pressure. Remember, these are 2 cycle engines.
To keep the engine from flooding out, there was a metal plate on either side of the row of reed valves, and that kept the valves from opening too much. The IKF figured out that keeping the reed valve stops close together would limit fuel flow, and thus evil speed, so they had a mandated maximum distance that the stops could be from center. This was all part of the mandated rubber needle valve rules package that they forced on us in mid season. 
Yes, I know this is complex. Bear with me please.
The Mccollough engines were designed strictly for chainsaws, but they made a bunch for go-kart use when they saw the market and the IKF gave them their own spec class. Since it was the only eligible engine, it didn't matter if the quality sucked. They had the market captured. And since they weren't designed to be abused like that, they were really, really shitty racing engines. This got even worse when the IKF changed the rules and we couldn't run methanol reliably. They spit and sputtered and blew up. And they also vibrated so much that they would shake the reed valve stops loose. And George's was 10/10000ths too wide. 
So long George. Thanks for wasting your summer so we could screw you.
Now Denny H was the champion, but the tech inspectors only had one bolt out of the engine and they were laughing hysterically. "Man, are your really so stupid that you thought you were going to get that by us?" So, the little cheat was out.
So, since George was the points leader coming in, he was champion again. And as George and I sat on the gate of his pickup truck having a beer and laughing about how much fun it had been, the tech inspectors were wheeling the next kart into post race tech.
I went home, had dinner with my folks, who tried to console me because they knew what it meant to me. It was my last chance for a championship because I was off to college in another two weeks and the racing was now over forever. But, I didn't care. If I was really the worthy champion, I would have beaten George a few more times and and it would have gone the other way. I was disappointed, but I was really ok with it because the best man really did win.
Well, I was ok until 8pm that night when the track owner called and wanted me to come to the track right now with my kart. It was important.
So I show up and the tech inspectors start to tear into the motor. What the heck was this about? Well, the first 6 guys had all failed tech, some for chickenshit things like happened to George, and others for blatantly cheating. And I had scored enough points in the first two heats to finish seventh. I was next in line for the win, and unbelievably, the championship. For a second, I was delighted, but then I realized ths was going to screw Geroge. this just wasn't right.
With the first six out, and my motor within spec, I was declared the winner of the race, and the points gave me the 1972 IKF Florida state championship. But this was all wrong. They changed the rules and they changed the game halfway through and it all hinged on 10/1000 of an inch because the motors we were forced to run were such junk pieces of shit that they couldn't hold a tolerance for ten laps.
I went to the banquet and sat with George. We laughed and joked and drank a few beers. Nothing had changed between us, something I have been, to this day, grateful for. George was the fiercest competitor I ever faced, and the one I also trusted the most.
It was the next to last time I ever saw George.
He was gracious when he accepted his second place trophy. He joked and talked about what a great job the officials had done all year long and he even thanked me for making him work so hard. He stood at the podium and congratulated me for winning the championship, and though he didn't say it, George had truly been screwed out of it. George brought down the house and had everyone standing. It was a class performance.
It was going to be difficult to follow that.
When I was my turn, I had a little something prepared in writing to say, but I couldn't do it because this was all so utterly wrong. I folded my note up and put it back in my pocket. I just looked out and said "George is the champion." I put the trophy on the podium and walked out the door.
#1 Helmet Stogie Killed!!! Helmet Stogie Killed!!! 
In the early heydays of slotcar racing I knew a guy who owned a raceway. It was the late 60's/early 70's and we were all hippies. Get the picture? 
Anyway, we would stay late after closing, light up a big stogie (which could be interpreted as a cigar, guys.....Just the disclaimer), put our feet up and race until we were stupid. Well, we were stupid from the stogies, but you get the idea. Eventually he would hand me a big stogie and say "Put this in your helmet for later. 
It was the running joke until I started entering the races as "Helmet Stogie." I even painted the name on the car and painted a little, errrrrrr, stogie on the guy's helmet (yeah, I used to be able to see that well). Of course, the car was sponsored by zig zag. 
And I went through several cars but I always found a way to jam "Helmet" into the next cockpit. The top of his helmet was all scarred up from the times he slid on his lid, but that just gave him character. He won tons and tons of races for me. The track owner would announce the races on the PA system and it was always, 
"Theeeeeeeeeere goes Hemet Stooooooooooooooooooooooooogie!" 
So, we were having our once a month track cleaning race. The buildup of tire traction "glue" would get pretty heavy after a month, so we would just throw a bucket of mineral spurts down on the track and have a race. The mineral spirits would dissolve the glue and the sponge sponge tires would soak it all up. By the time it dried, the track was spotless. No glue was allowed during the race, so with the wet track and no glue, it was almost like racing in the rain. The cars would slide around like mad and throw up big rooster tails and there would be a mist over the track. It was just beyond cool. It stunk, but no one cared. 
So I am out front, but not pulling away. My car seemed a little down on power because even in the slippery conditions, I was having no trouble spinning the wheels coming off the corners. Once the track started drying off a little though, the other cars were putting the power to the road much better......and they begin closing in.
That's when the engine grenaded. The smoke started to pour out and it slowed noticeably. 
Now remember that we had been out there the better part of an hour and the cars were soaked with mineral spirits inside the body and all over the chassis. Something in the motor shorted, and, well.... mineral spirits is flammable. 
So my car bursts into flames.
I am so shocked that I just keep driving it around and watching it burn, while it also set the track on fire behind it. My buddy screams at me to stop as he is chasing the thing around with a fire extinguisher, powder flying about while people thrashed about in a panic to find the door. Everyone dropped whatever they were doing and a mad panic ensued as people where climbing over top of one other and clawing each other's eyes out in the blind panic to get to the door. Well, everyone but me, that is.
Helmet stogie raced while Rome burned. 
Of course, my friend stayed and fought off the inferno with his handy fire extinguisher. It was the dry powder type, so most of the shop (and the rest of the guys) got hosed down as well as us. We are standing there all covered in powder as the cloud settled around us, with everyone gathering around my burned out racer. A couple of other guys got their cars singed too, so I was not the most popular guy around. It would have been a good time to make a run for it. 
I finally get a look at my car, suitably melted and the driver is completely toasted. His suit was all black and his helmet is melted completely flat. 
My buddy screams "Oh my God!!!! HELMET STOGIE IS DEAD!!! Oh my God!!!!!!!" 
And after that, my driver was Hunge De LaMoose, but he was never as good as Helmet. We won a few races here and there, but the magic died the day Helmet melted. 
Long live Helmet Stogie!

Bonus Motorsports Oddities
#11 Stupid Men In A Stupid Sport

Some of you will remember my beloved deceased friend Joe Zimmerman was utterly evil with firecrackers, but compared to George Hall, he was a prince.

Previously, I had mentioned the last time I saw George was at the Florida State karting Championship Awards banquet, but I forgot about the real last time because my psyche had blotted the horror out. The other night it came rushing back in a terrible nightmare that had me terrified to go back to sleep..........and I still l haven't.

Yeah, Joe was evil, but I swear, when you put a firecracker in George's hands an demonic grin would sweep over his face as he scoured the paddock for an unsuspecting and innocent victim. His eyes would roll back into his head until all you could see was the whites with flashing triple sixes. George wasn't a mean guy, but there was something about an explosion that apparently would give him a woodie.

OH, lord, he got me enough times. It was the middle of a long, bitterly hard fought championship. It was also the hottest Florida summer in nearly 100 years.........and a good test of a man's meddle.

Every time he would get me, it would always make me furious. He would drop one behind me when I was bent over working on something, or just standing in a group talking. Everyone would see it coming but me, and they played along because it is always fun to see someone else shit themselves. Finally, in a rage furious I promised George and everyone within shouting distance that I would get him. Not only would I get him, but I would get him.....and it was going to be a stinking BOMB.

What else could you expect from.......... Stupid men in a stupid sport?
Of course, George and I were buddies and nothing ever came between us that a cold beer sitting together on the tailgate of his dilapidated old truck wouldn't make vanish. Well, except my promise, that is.

I came up with many elaborate plans, but I didn't want to kill the guy. I just wanted him to shit himself, and preferably in front of as many people as possible.

George would show up at 8am for the race, and you could set your watch by it. He would have a cup off coffee from his thermos and without warning, he would jump up and run to the loo. It was as predictable as the sun rising in East.

Almost all the tracks had nice facilities until we got to Ft. Lauderdale, which had just been finished, except it needed a few finishing touches, you know, unnecessary things like tire barriers and a fence between the track and the pits. Oh yeah, and grass. The place was nothing but dirt, and you know what happens to dirt when it gets wet, right?

They also hadn't finished the men's room but there was still a good old porta-john there for us to use. In Europe, they may call them something else, but they are plastic portable restrooms that you see at construction sites. They are generally very small and so tight that you barely had enough room to wipe yourself, so it was an ideal trap. When I was in there I noticed the door wouldn't shut right, and I knew I was in business.

On Friday night and Saturday I kept making references to THE BOMB, just to set the stage. I took an empty paper towel roll, painted it red so it would look like dynamite, put a regular benign black cat firecracker in the center with the fuse sticking out of the middle and stuffed the thing with shredded toilet paper. It wasn't a dangerous Bomb, but it was packed so tight that it was going to be ear splitting and splatter toilet paper shreds everywhere.

Well, sure enough, it rained like hell on Sunday and the place was flooded. We were probably going to get cancelled, so I knew it was now or never. This was the most golden opportunity I would ever have.

I made a point to hang out with George so I would know when to go for the kill, and about halfway through his first cup of coffee, George dropped it and made a beeline for the porta-john.


I lit the fuse, gave the portalet door a good tug and when it popped open I dropped my creation right between Georges feet, where it became entangled in his underwear.

"It's THE BOMB, George!" I screamed and slammed the door.

Everyone saw it. They saw me sneaking up with The BOMB, alerted their buddies, and the entire paddock was waiting, standing in the pouring rain getting soaked, just waiting to see George's demise. Hey, he had gotten all of them at least once, so it was payback for everyone.

The door burst open with George wide eyed, screaming and running for his life, except with his pants around his ankles the only place he was going was face first into a soaking south Florida mud puddle........ker-splaaash!

And then THE BOMB went off, with toilet paper shreds, dirty water and mud flying in all directions, but mostly sticking to George's bare, but mud covered ass.

Amongst thunderous applause, all that was left for George to do was smile, go back into the porta-john and finish his business. When someone yelled "Look out, he's got another BOMB," George stormed off into the woods so he could answer mother nature in peace.
"Well," I exclaimed to everyone who admired the prank. "He'll never mess with me again."

We finished out the championship in a snafu that saw no one willing to accept the championship we had all tried to kill each over. Odder things have happened, but not many. What did you expect from stupid a stupid sport?

George was on a budget and would only run the state championship races, while I was living at home, had no life and the blessing of Dad's checkbook (at the time, which was about to end), so if there was a race I was there.

There was a local race at my home track and I would never miss one of those. George stopped by just to see all his buddies and hang out. He also helped me with pit equipment and things, particularly my outboard starter, which maddeningly jammed on the grid.

"Hang on Buddy, it's got a loose contact." George yelled.

I sat there furious as the field got the one lap to go signal.

"Hang on Buddy, I've almost got it fixed." George yelled again.

I was becoming madder and madder as the outboard starter refused to engage until the field took the green and was away. Right then, George hit the button, the engine roared to life and I took off after the field. Right as I sped away off, I felt something drop in my laps, but I was on a mission and ignored it. Whatever it is, I'll deal with it after I win this race.

It was a 500 firecracker brick of blackcat firecrackers, lit, of course.

George knew I would ride it out because nothing was going to stop me once the visor went down, but each miniature explosion sent a sting through my..........errrrrr, manhood.

Pop,bang, pop, bang!

I would try to grab the brick and fling it out, but each explosion would sting my hand so bad that I would drive and drop the brick, drive and drop the brick, right back into my lap where it would smoke, pop, bang pop, bang. They were flying up into my face and exploding just outside of my visor, stinging my hands, legs and errrrrrr, manhood. Pop,bang, pop, bang!

With that and the smoke I couldn't see where I was going. Pop,bang, pop, bang! The tears in my eyes didn't help anything either. My jeans got hotter and hotter until I just couldn't take it anymore and, race be dammed, I pulled off, leapt out and ran away from cacophony of pyrotechnics.

I turned around and watched as the brick danced in the seat of my kart pop, bang, pop, bang, paper flying and smoke pouring.

The red flag was out because not only the grid, but the entire paddock was in on it and they were all standing by their karts, lining the fences and howling with laughter.

Without a word I pushed my kart back, walked over to George's truck and sat on the tailgate. George plopped down next to me and extended a bottle of beer. Without looking over at George, I accepted it, twisted off the cap and held it up, George smiled broadly, and he clinked his bottle against mine.

Stupid a stupid sport.
#12  Rivalries

I've always said that any rivalry worth having had better be a damm good one........and I had several damm good ones. One was with a guy named George Hall when we contested the 1972 IKF Florida state championship and a race that summer never passed that we didn't clang wheels multiple times. The funny part is, we liked and respected each other. We trusted each other, so we would go after each other like there was no tomorrow. I knew George would never pull a dirty stunt, and he knew the same was true of me. Any overtaking maneuver I could dream up I would try, and George pulled out of few wild ones too.

Hardly a lap would pass that I didn't have a wheel interlocked with George's, or even having one of his wheels brushing up against my knee. I never gave him "1/4 of an inch more than he was entitled to and I think he may have given me even less, but there was never a dirty trick or malice of any kind. We were both out there for no other reason than to win, but if the other man was better that day, that's just the way it was.

 Race drivers are such ego driven beasts that accepting defeat is nearly impossible for some. That, however, is completely irrational. You very simply cannot win every single time, and you cannot be the very best that ever lived every single time out. Sometimes you can just have a crappy day, and other times the competition is simply unstoppable. The mark of a mature racing driver is that he will graciously accept a second place when he cannot win, or a third when he is not good enough for second.

 And I had to be gracious at least my own share of times when it was George's day. And every time I would get the better of George he would be the first to bump me after the race, Which was a bizarre way of congratulating each other, Once the summer got rolling, no one had anything for either of us. It was ours to win or lose, though in the end, we actually did both.

 We spent an entire summer glued together and even if we weren't having a blast we could probably have never gotten away from each other because destiny was playing itself out and no one yet knew the punch line.

 And we would always sit on the tailgate of his truck afterwards, have a beer and laugh about what idiots we had been. It went on and on until the bitter, tragic end, and the talk in the paddock was that we absolutely were the craziest bastards that ever lived, but we were sure fun to watch. The America Reed class wasn't the fastest, but it was the most prestigious with the best drivers, but everything in the paddock stopped and everyone moved towards the fence to watch when George and I lined up. 

 Inevitably, we ended up in the fence together, battered, bruised and broken, wondering just what the hell had hit us. It sure couldn't have been our fault. There was one more race to go that settled things for good, but that's another story.

 In the end, the rivalry ended up being a treasured memory of a competitor that I trusted and would go side by side with in complete confidence anywhere we ventured. And that's just the way that rivalry played out. The last thing I remember about George is we were having a laugh about something and he just sort of drifted away. Come to think of it, I really can't picture George's face unless he is laughing.

Not so fun rivalries
 Now, it can go the other way too, and I had better not mention any full names. There was this guy named Denny, and he always managed to get his front wheel tangled with my rear every time I passed him. This resulted in several nasty flips, all of which he never seemed to get caught up in.Imagine that. He always managed to run out of brakes when he was following me into a corner, though just as suddenly he would get them back after he would punt me off. It's a miracle.

 The officials seemed unwilling to do anything about it and just wanted to keep peace. In the pits the guy would hide behind his huge father, so it became clear I,  was on my own. I couldn't take the old man and I couldn't get to Denny and slap some sense into him but I sure wanted to.

 Eventually he swerved the entire width of the straight, clobbered me, knocked me into the grass and cut my front tire. Since this was a state race, I was counting the lost points every time another kart passed me, until I became so incensed that I truly believe I went insane, if only for just a moment. 

 When the race was over, I had to retaliate or this was never going to end. As Denny braked to come into the pits I slammed into the back of him full tilt. He was doing about 20 and I was doing 100,  and put both of us into the fence. It was actually a pretty nasty "accident," but that's what happens when your "brakes fail." Strangely, they worked fine afterwards. It's a miracle.

  After that it took everyone there to pull me off him. My guys were fighting Denny's guys and the officials were getting beat trying to stop it, and the only reason there were no suspensions was because everyone was involved. In the end I told him the next time he even got close to me they were going to have to cut him out of the fence. OK, maybe I went insane for more than just a mere moment.

 Of course I got over it, and I apologized, and told him as long as he raced me clean I wasn't one to hold a grudge. Denny was a little weasel, and I knew the talk meant nothing to him, He smiled and shook my hand, but I knew inside he was laughing at me and planning his next sneak attack.

 Oddly, fate seems to intervene at the most opportune times, and at another race when my crankshaft broke the clutch jumped off and hit the track at full speed. It rolled and rolled the entire length of the straight, pitched itself up into the air over a stone and sailed right smack into the side of Denny's helmet. He was knocked completely cold, and instinctually, I suppose, his right leg locked solid on the pedal and he drove, unconscious, at full steam, into the fence. Ka-blammo.

 Of course, the event was red flagged. George and I ran over to see if we could be of assistance, but Denny was merely dazed and scraped up really good. As others cut him out of the fence, George put the tailgate of his truck down, pulled out a couple of High lifes and we exchanged knowing smirks. 

 Here's to fate.