Winning doesn't always mean you finish first.
The winner may not be the fastest or the best, many times the winner only has to outlast stronger efforts that fall to misfortune. Whether it was a fair fight or not, there will be a winner... and losers. Our society requires it. There is no room for shades of gray. The result must be black and white. The winner's name goes in the record books and they add one to his win column. The fans go home remembering who won. Their friends ask who won. The drivers are asked did you win. It's a winners world.
And there is no denying that winning is best. That winners are remembered and respected. But the what's missing in all this, is, that there are many winners in each race that the fans never know about. Victories usually celebrated on a personal, family or team basis. Winning is not always being the first one across the line.
Racing is a tough sport. For a driver to finish first, it takes equipment and setup and skill. In the end the combination of them all determines how well he can do and the weakest link in the combination can set his limits.
During my racing career I beat the rest to the line and collected the winner's prize on occassion. Those victories were exciting moments that I got to share with a faithful crew, family, friends and thousands of fans. I treasure those times when we were able to show how good we really were. Beating the rest is very difficult. The other 23 starters are trying to do the same thing every time out. And it's not always a fair fight because the biggest difference between being able to win or not in racing is based on how good your equipment is and that comes down to money.
Now spending lots of money is not going to automatically win races. Lots of fortunes have been spent in that quest with out the knowlege or ability required to complete the package. But generally if there is lots of money, the knowlege and ability are not far behind. So it's hard to beat money and harder still to beat smart money but on occassion the well financed teams guess wrong and the David's of the world beat the Goliaths.
On this site I want to share the stories and emotions that come from a life long love of racing. So as you browse my site, I hope you can feel the excitement of the wins and also enjoy the private victories and feel the disappointments... even though we didn't always finish first.
Sprint racing in Pa. has a large dedicated following, good purses, large crowds, several tracks and lots of cars. In central Pa. there were 15 full time racers. They say you're only as good as the competition. And winning doesn't come easy, but it's tougher when you are running with the some of best.
So sometimes we would travel from this eastern hot bed of sprint racing in search of easier prey. Just trying to pay the bills and cop a win. The car was ready and it was thursday night. Williams Grove had been drawing 45 cars to the muggy friday nite events during June and we talked about going to Lernerville; a 5 hour trip to western Pa., about an hour north of Pittsburgh.
The promoter is one of the kindest we have ever met and he always went out of his way to make us feel welcome. I had always thought that he treated me special but we found out that he treated everyone special. So my crew member Duval Dressler and I left friday morning. We could take our time and arrive early. Traveling the Pa. Turnpike is an added expense but racing at Lernerville was easier on the equipment. The long straights and tight turns of Williams Grove demanded power from the motor for longer periods, the surface was usually rough and you would use up new tires in one nite. Lernerville was the opposite. The third mile banked track gave the motor and drive train a break and the surface was easy on even the softest compound tire. The short twenty lap feature started every one of the twenty or so cars that showed up and the promoter, Don Martin, would usually give us a little traveling money and anything we wanted to eat from the concession when things were over.
There were only a few cars there that were tough to beat and we wanted to win there. The fans there always liked us and always cheered for us as a welcome outsider. We were the underdog with a chance. Our tow vehicle was a Ford cube van with the car on an open trailer. Enclosed trailers were nice but I would rather spend the money on a spare motor. Everything was on board from sleeping quarters, spare motor, to the racks of tires and wheels mounted on the trailer.
As we crested one of the many mountains between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh I heard a tic tic tic tic noise from the motor. I've heard a lot of motor noises from this truck but this one was different. As we drove on it was quiet but got worse each time we crested a hill, when the load would be taken off the crankshaft. At the next rest area I pulled in and parked near the service garage. I had a spare oil filter for the truck motor so I removed the oil filter from the motor and with the can opener we used on the race car filters, opened the canister to check for bearing material. There it was, burned flakes of bearing material.
When you race you get to know your motor junk and this motor was grinding itself to death. "We aren't going to make it much further before this thing leaves us sitting," I told Duval. We sat quietly trying to figure out what to do next and how to get home. "I can call my friend at the towing service. He has a big wrecker and a permit for the turnpike" said Duval. "Call him," I said with disgust, "we're not going anywhere here". Duval and I went to the phone. "We're stranded on the turnpike and need your big wrecker," Duval told his friend. "Can you tow the truck and the trailer together?" Duval asked. "No, they won't let you do that on the Turnpike" he answered. Wow two tow jobs; an hour each way; very expensive. Then Duval got an idea! "Go over to my house and hook on to my black van and tow it out here with you. Then we can hook it to the trailer and tow it home". At least now there would be only one tow bill. But wait, we didn't have to tow it _home_, it was still early and we could tow it to the race.....maybe.
While we waited we rolled the car off in the parking lot and changed tires and gears to set up for what we expected at the track. A four hour drive ahead and it was 3:30. Racing starts at 7:00 and there are lots of classes so maybe we can even make it for the heat. When the van arrived in tow we made the quick switch and loaded the van with everything it could hold and hit the road. Duval drove the van at 'speed'. He had bought the van from me after I had used it to tow the racecar for several years. It was like old times, this old Dodge had never let me down on the road and we were traveling again. Even to this day that was my favorite truck, we had been to lots of races together.
When we arrived at the track the dust was rolling in the setting sun and the roar of motors made it clear that the sprints were on the track. I was dressed and ready. "Those pits are so crowded that we won't be able to start the motor when we get inside and we won't have time to warm it up before we race," I said. We stopped the truck beside the road and quickly rolled the car off the trailer, into the parking lot road, and push started it down the long driveway to the pit gate. I fired the motor and rolled to a stop at the gate. I had a twenty dollar bill wadded up in my hand and someone came out of the ticket booth with the pit sign up sheet and stamped our hands and stuffed a pit pass in my pocket. No one said anything. It was too noisy and the second heat was lined up to go out.
Duval pushed me around the pit and in line at the back of the second and last heat that was lined up at the gate to the track. A push truck came up behind me and I put on my helmet, tightened the belts and watched the water and oil temp as I elevated the idle speed with the throttle. The first heat came to an end and I was pushed out on to the track. The motor needed more warm up time so I circled a couple of laps and pulled the car out of gear as far from a push truck as possible and let the car roll to a stop with the engine still idling. When the push truck got me rolling I blended the engine speed to the car speed and gently locked it into gear as I had done when I came out of the pits.
That 'stall' was good for a couple of minutes and the engine temp had gotten to an acceptable level where I could race. I lined up at the back of the field and saw the one lap to go form the flagman. The green dropped and I charged into the first turn cushion. The car worked well on the wet clay and I surged down the back straight. By the end of the race I had made it to third and now I was able to catch my breath and let the adrenalin subside.
We started to work on changes to the car to set up and get ready for the feature. I would start mid pack. Now under the lights we would wait for the Sprint feature. There was a chance to win tonite. The car felt good and there were only a couple of cars that would be difficult.
Feature time. Sitting in the car waiting for the start of the race is a quiet time. The seat snugs around your body. Everything fits tight but not uncomfortably. It's a secure feeling. The push truck pulls up behind you ready to give the needed momentum to start the engine. The car sets so low that he feels his way to your bumper. Fuel off, switch off, Duval rocks the car gently while I lock it in gear. He checks the tire pressures and pats me on the shoulder as he always does, once, and walks over to the fence to watch the finish of the race going on, on the track.
The pit steward swings his arm and motions us onto the track. The push truck spins his wheels and we move out onto the track. Oil pressure up, fuel on, switch on; the engine sputters and then snaps the car away from the push truck for a few quick tests of the bite at the cushion and the bottom before I find my place in line. Lined up and one lap to go. This is the part of the race I hate but it's where the best do best, the start. Into three and on the throttle, looking at everything at once.
Wide open and into one, ducking to the bottom. The car gets bite coming out of two lifting the weight of the front end off the front axle. Great bite! as I pass two cars in the back straight and one more diving to the bottom of turn three. He backs out of the hole we both aimed for. Picking up the throttle following a car out of four and up against the wall. The cushion is open and my car rides up against it like a slot car. Now the field strings out; everyone trying to find their best way around. The car goes where I put it and I pass cars right and left and move to the front in a few laps. In the lead and already picking off lapped cars while running up against the cushion, convinced it's fastest way around. The race goes by fast and then three to go and I see the nose of a car running the inside of the corner.
What was that? My mind computes all possibilities at once. It must have been a lapped car I just passed....... except I didn't just pass one. Johnny Beaber! He has won more features at this track than anyone else and I'm about to find out why. A ton of stagger and lots of bite on the bottom of this dried out track has paid off for him for years. He's been there before. It's hard to beat the regulars. I try the bottom but I can't get a hold of anything. Back to the top. I'll finish second, car in one piece, expenses light, $600.00 toward a new.................. oh yeah, a new engine for the truck.
After the races everyone goes to the VIP suite at the top of the grandstands. It's where Don, the promoter, brings his special guests and after the races he prides in introducing the drivers to them. Open bar and whatever you want to eat. We go for the food but also to say hi to Don and his crew. Someone there asks if we are going to Expo tomorrow. "Where's that"? I ask. "It's a couple hours north of here over in Ohio. They are running a special open sprint show tomorrow at 1:00. Most of these cars will be there," they say. On the way out I tell Duval and we decide to give it a try. We drive an hour and sleep in the van at a rest stop and on to the track in the morning.
It's an old fairgrounds. Covered grandstands, a stage in the infield and a short half mile flat track. These daytime shows really dry out the surface and that's when we're at our best. Lots of racers show up, glad to get in a extra race on saturday afternoon and then a race again that night. We draw for starting position and I'm in the middle of the second heat. The sun is directly overhead and the track is already getting dusty and there is not much of a cushion. I finish second in the heat which starts me outside of the second row for the feature.
We put on our best used right rear tire, lower the chassis and decrease the stagger. It's easy to blister a tire on these dry slick tracks so a cured right rear has a better chance of going the distance. Keeping the wheels from spinning is the trick and we do everything to put forward bite into the car. Move the wing back, drop the tire pressure a little and use a higher gear; most other things the same as last nite. At the drop of the green the car is hooked up like a rocket and I pass two cars down the front straightaway and fall in behind the leader. Down the back straightaway I sweep out to the guard rail and as he goes for the cushion I dive for the bottom.
That was the last I saw of him. The next 29 laps was just a matter of keeping out of trouble. Duval kept stretching his arms to let me know I had a big lead and take it easy. If I went any slower the car wouldn't work right in the turns or the engine might foul. I thought I was taking it easy but I had lapped everyone but second and third. I hadn't won a feature before, but this one was easy. The car was exceptionally right. All those times we tried and were close or something broke or we were second and the leader would finish; winning this was one of the easiest races I ever ran. It was so much fun to out run everyone that way.
Afterwards everyone came over to study the car to see if they could find the secret of it's speed. You never can though, it's a hundred things that are all adjusted in concert in a way that you may not be able to duplicate. Besides, the track will never be the same again. You keep track of your settings but they are only clues for solving the setup mystery for next time. We pick up our $900.00, make our phone calls, get in the van and head for home.
|Duval, Dave, Duval's son Clayton|
There was a big storm coming and everything to the west is already canceled and racing to the east is questionable. About an hour down the road it starts to rain and Duval says, "Oh yeah, I forgot that the wipers don't work on this thing". We stopped and I checked it out to find that the wiper motor was burned out.
We fished around in the van and found some clothesline. We tied the ends to the wipers and ran it through the vent windows. One of us would drive while the other pulled the left rope , then the right rope...... It was a rainstorm that demanded double speed wipers and we were going east......same as the storm.
The fans paid their money, saw a race and went home to tell their friends what they saw. Our win made for an uneventful race to watch but it kept us laughing and smiling throughout the seven hour trip home in the driving rain.
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