Duval put the deal together. He knew that Harry Earnest was looking for a driver. I had been running my Allen Car and had a 410 motor from Hutter. My finances were running thin.
Harry's car was a recent Ben Cook chassis that was fitted with a 454 big block. At the time this was a real economical way to race. The big block motors delivered very good power without squeezing the life out of them. You could run one all season without having to tear it down.
The only penalty was that a cast iron big block like Harry had was 80 lbs or so heavier than a cast iron small block and the aluminum small blocks (just coming on the scene in Central PA) were another 50 lbs lighter than that. Also, there were a number of teams that had aluminum big blocks. They weighed in at about the same weight as a steel small block. These engine choices kept everybody guessing and the differences in weight made the chassis' handle differently. It was known that the cast iron big block made it difficult to get a car to handle.
Harry was a very pleasant guy and was really fun to be with. He got along with everyone and took the ups and downs of racing with a grain of salt. That made it easy to race for Harry, but like so many race teams, we were under financed. Harry had a family and had a siding business and some other misc incomes so the racecar was a hobby. He had the basics and few spares but with several major speed shops within an hour's drive, it was easy to get what you needed as you needed it.
Our first race was an open show at Jennerstown late in the season. Still dirt at that time, it was the place where Opperman had his final crash and where John Drucker lost his life (as best I remember). There wasn't anything
|particularly dangerous about the place that caught the eye . It was wide enough with little banking, concrete front wall and steel rail around the turns. They ran special shows for sprints there a few times a season. I had raced there once before with URC and bent the frame of my first car in a 4th turn wall pounder. Nothing stands out about the race with Harry's car other than the car didn't work very well but we made the show and I got some experience with the car.|
|We ran a number of races together and got the car
working better and we ended the season at Syracuse. We qualified poorly there and in
the B-Main, while running 5th and in a qualifying spot, the engine quit. It must
have been a short in the mag or kill switch circuit. The car quit coming out of four
and stopped in the first turn. When they pushed me off it restarted, but it was too
late to make up enough ground to get in the show.
The next year I moved back home to Brewerton, NY (Teresa came along with me) to work on the development project I had started on the family farm. We were building a new True Value Hardware Store for my father and small shopping center, sold a corner to McDonald's and had a 40 lot housing development in the works. We borrowed a bunch of $ and I did as much work on the project as I could. To build the store, I had to move my parents and grandparents houses. So during that summer I worked on the project, moving the houses during the week and going to PA to race on Saturday and Sunday nite.
On occasion we would do some Friday races at the Grove or do a little traveling to western PA but mostly we ran Port Royal and Susquehanna. Harry had sold his big block over the winter and I sold my Allen car (to local NY stock car legend Bobby Cain #36 of Weedsport NY who ran it and won with ESS). I put my 410 Hutter motor in Harry's car and we raced that season with a combination that worked pretty good.
One memorable nite, mid season at Port Royal, I got the car out front and lead the feature until near the end. It was one of those nites when the track was slick and black but there was a nice cushion. You could run the car into the turn, pick up the cushion and stand on it all the way around the top.
There were a couple of cars following closely including Bobby Weaver who had been having a strong season with several wins at that track. We were pretty even and if he was faster, it didn't matter because he couldn't pass in the middle or the bottom so he chased me around the top.
With four or five to go we came off the 4th turn and ran up on a lapped car in the center of the front straight. He had a flat and was slowing down. The yellow wasn't out and there was room on the outside. I was lined up to pass between him and the wall when the driver decided to change lanes to park the car on the outside of the track.
He thought he was getting out of the way, but for me, I was right on top of him with no place to go but hard left! I braked and turned hard and somehow made a tight "Z" turn in the front straight, gathering the car up in time not to catch the inside wall. The cars behind me were far enough back that they had enough time and room to see the lapped car go right and easily duck under him and past me. I ended up coming out of the deal in third and while going down the back stretch they threw the yellow.
I tried to get back in front for the restart but "you start where you were running when the yellow came out" and I was third. Harry and Duval ran down to the infield tower to fight my case but to no avail. The restart found Weaver in the lead and my car getting looser and looser in the turns. I dropped back one more spot before the checkers fell.
In the pits Duval measured the tire pressures and found the RR at 4 psi. We started at 8 and it would normally have built up to 10 from the tire heat. The tire had a cut in it and as it went flat in the pits I realized I was lucky to have 4th. But we were all pissed that they didn't throw the yellow when the guy had the flat instead of waiting (like they always do) for the car to stop. Not only did it cost me the race but if I hadn't been able to dodge him, there would have been a HUGE crash. The track officials had no remorse about the flagman's actions and I've never forgiven them.
That summer we went to Lernerville, PA to run the Outlaw show. Starting in the second row in the heat race got me in trouble when the front row got together coming out of four for the green, the car got upside down and though it wasn't tore up too bad, we were done.
There was a picture of the car lying on it's side (different from this one) that, unfortunately Don Martin had blown up to an 18"X24" and had it mounted on the wall in the VIP tower. That wasn't the kind of picture I wanted hanging there. I always wanted to win one at Lernerville. We had been close but never got it done.
We never got the car around Susquehanna very well. One Sunday nite the car was running pretty good on the bottom and in the heat I was running side by side with Steve Seigel. I pulled him out of two and ran down the inside of the backstretch trying to beat him into three. He was out against the wall and set the car into the turn. I stupidly thought I could stick the bottom and went in a bit harder and lower than before and caught the wet mud at the bottom. The front end straightened out and pushed right up the track. With the brakes locked up, I drilled Steve in the side and ended up flipping.
I should have known better but in that instant you have to decide when to let off, figure out where the other guy is going and what line you think you can use to beat him�. in that fraction of a second you calculate and make the choice. It's not a conscious thought, it's a reaction based on experience, spiked with optimism. Sometimes it works out and sometimes you are just sucked so deep into making the pass, that you're like a gambler on a loosing streak placing just one more bet, hoping to beat the house.
Steve's car wasn't hurt too bad but his crew was mad as hell. I went over and talked to Steve and apologized for crashing him. Harry was still supportive and didn't blame me or get mad. I don't think he really saw it happen. I didn't lie about it but we all realized that it wasn't a deliberate act. It was just one of them deals, just one of them racin' deals (see proverb at the bottom).
Harry worked on the car during the week the best he could (he wasn't a mechanic) but he didn't always get things right. At the Outlaw show at Weedsport, NY, I went out in warm-ups and after one lap the driveshaft slipped out of the U-Joint. We had been having trouble with the 10-10-coupler between the drive shaft and rearend breaking. Harry had put in a different drive shaft and it was too short. I went to the driver's meeting and when I came back they had it "fixed". It did the same thing in the heat and this time tore the teeth off the drive shaft. We couldn't get it fixed in time and missed the show.
Toward the end of the racing season I made the drive to Port Royal to race and met Harry at the track. Harry had the tank and rear out of the car and had brought the car to the track supposedly ready to go. The car sat so low on the trailer that we had to lift it up to get it over the edge and down the ramp. Then when they put fuel in the tank, the frame sat on the ground. I worked on the car in the uneven pits and tried to get it set up but it was all screwed up and there wasn't time.
We missed warm ups and in the heat it was terrible. In the feature I couldn't pass the next to last place car (I was last) , who I'd easily lapped the week before. After nine laps I pulled in got out and retired on the spot. The project in NY was keeping me from focusing on racing and it was frustrating to drive 300 miles to race when the car didn't work. I was burned out.
Harry wanted to keep racing and offered to buy the motor and some other stuff I had that we had been using. We made a deal and Harry gave me a couple grand or so. He still owed me $5000.00 and said he would pay me next month. The next weekend he put Lance Dewease in the car. Lance was starting out (second or third season with his own car) and had driven for Harry before.
Lance and I were friends and pitted next to each other often and would help each other some. Harry told me that Lance didn't like the way the car come off the corners and that he (Lance) had this killer cam that he really liked. Lance (or his brother) changed cams but they never checked valve clearance. In warm-ups the engine blew up. ALL the valves hit the pistons; valve heads broke off and trashed everything. It broke one of the Brodix heads in two! Pistons were broken, rods bent, cylinders gouged, lifters, pushrods, rockers broke, valves bent� it was a mess. It was pretty clear what happened: two deep shinny valve circles were impressed on the top of each piston.
Harry wanted it to be, that I sold him a motor that blew up. But we had raced with that engine all season without a hint of a problem. And there was no responsibility taken by anyone for having changed the cam without checking the clearance either. As far as I was concerned, Harry bought the motor and screwed it up. Harry didn't disagree, at least not to my face.
This was not a good financial time for Harry. He had gotten into some kind of a deal with football tickets to make some fast cash and had a few bad weeks where the players beat the house. The rumors I heard were that Harry was being strong armed and had to come up with a wad of cash in a hurry or else. He sold what he could and the motor parts and my other parts were liquidated.
I was pressuring Harry too, to pay me the $5K he owed me (I was working on our project without pay, Teresa was working and keeping the bills paid and squeaking by). So after a number of visits I made to him, he wrote me a check for $5K and asked me to hold it for a few weeks. I waited as we agreed and then I called him before I deposited it to make sure that it would clear and not cause him more trouble if it didn't.
It came back "stopped payment". He wouldn't take any
more calls from me and so after a year or so I sued him. He filed bankruptcy and
blew off my debt along with all the other personal and business bills he
I've lost this much racing stuff before in the instant of a bad decision, crashing it, blowing it up, deciding on a wrong clearance or tolerance that tears it up later, or tightening things too tight or not enough. That's racin'.
But this was a deal where I trusted a friend and he stiffed me. I realize now that he didn't have any money then and legally he doesn't owe anything. If he ever got back on his feet again, I don't know, but he never contacted me again or offered to make good on that bad check. I still have it. Maybe someday it will weigh on his conscience and he'll send me that money.... Who knows?
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