Sharon Speedway

is located near the Ohio border,  between
Erie and Cleveland.  The half mile track had a covered grandstand like
so many fairgrounds facilities.  Racing was Friday night so it split the
cars up with Lernerville, a few hours to the south. 
Jean Lynch had been promoting the place, her husband Ed and son Ed Jr. had raced
and won there over the years.  Lou Blaney lived near the track and was a
dominant force in the modifieds that ran there.  His son Dave was a strong
runner in the sprints. (Dave Blaney bought the track in 2002).

For me, the track was 45 minutes due east of Hutter Racing Engines.  When I
was at Hutter's getting engine work done we usually never got finished until
Friday afternoon with only enough time to make it to Sharon.  Duval and I
would also travel the 5 hours from Central PA to Sharon for special races. 
I really liked the place.  It is a traditional oval with wide, fast, banked turns.
The straights are the right proportion for the sweeping turns and it had the pits
in the infield. 

The first times that we went there, were special events with lots of cars.
One night at an All Star show I missed the feature in the heat and had to
run the B-Main.  We won the B by beating Outlaws Danny Smith in the Gambler
#18 house car, Leland McSpadden in the powerful Jensen Construction #55, and
Indy veteran Joe Saldana.   Those were heavy hitters and winning the B main
was a real victory for us.

Toward the end of each year they hold the Sharon Nationals, a two day event
that brings in lots of cars from the east and the Midwest.  One
particular year the track was real smooth and the cushion had worked its way
up by the fence.  You could run the bottom...    but everyone was down there.
The middle was slick and the top was tricky. 

I could enter turn one near the top and run the cushion but when the car got
over into two, the cushion went right to the fence.  Lap after lap I could
run the top and just lift a bit to get by that spot in turn two without drifting into
the fence.  I remember looking over my shoulder, out of the corner of my eye,
to judge just when to get back on it as I would just miss catching the RR on
the guardrail.  

The car on the bottom would get a head start but then I could get a bite on
the top and beat him down the straight.  It was give and take with the car I
was running against for third, but I was finally able to get ahead at the
end.  I never touched the wall but the ambulance crew came over after the
race and said they were sure they would be seeing me before that race was

The next night was for the big money.  I had worked out a deal with Hoosier
tires and the Parts Peddler to provide a few tires each month.  The Hoosier
guys told me that they had this really trick tire that Swindel had been
running and thought it would be good for this race.  What they had done was
insert a two inch spacer in the mold and made an 18" wide tire instead of
the normal 16".  I was looking forward to running this and mounted it up on
our widest rim.  Times stood from the night before and we had qualified well
and started near the front.  We put the trick tire on for the feature and
went promptly to the back.  The car was loose and had no forward bite or
side bite.  There was no way I was getting near the fence on this night.  So
I had to run the bottom and got a poor finish but that was better than
running the cushion and crashing.

After that experience I realized that the problem was the tire, at least
with our combination.  Hoosier had given me one of those tires a few weeks
earlier and it had done the same thing at a two day show near Toledo.  I
thought I had just missed the setup the second nite, but there was something
about that tire that really unhooked the car with our setup.
One Friday night at Sharon I was running the feature and the car was doing a
funny wiggle in the middle of the turns on the cushion.  It went on for a
few laps and I couldn't figure out what it was.  Then coming out of the
fourth turn the car went straight like it does if the front end lifts or
bounces the cushion.  I stayed in the throttle expecting the car to hook up.
This is part of how the cars are. You don't want to lift because sometimes that
makes it worse and besides, the racer in you doesn't want to get passed. You
have to "give it its head", let the car run its line, aiming it in the
direction you want to go and waiting for it to...   well there comes a point
when you know that this is not going to work and there's not enough room to
get the car turned. 

I jumped on the brakes and slammed the wall, right at the base of the stands,
and flipped a couple of times at the exit of four.  It appears that the RF tie rod bolt
had come loose or was cracked during the race and then broke and I lost the steering.
Duval was good about going over nuts and bolts and this one had been ok when it
was checked before the race.

On another night we were halfway through the feature and the car was acting
twitchy.  A caution came out and I went to the pits.  I yelled through the
helmet that there was something wrong in the front end.  Duval and crew
looked at everything and didn't see a problem but the LF tire seemed soft.
So they quickly changed the tire and the push truck sent me back out onto
the track. 

The field was already heading out of two for the restart so I left the pits
and flat footed around one and two and headed down the back stretch seeing
the pack in the middle of three when the car made a hard right and slammed
the outside wall!!!  The car flipped a whole bunch of times down the backstretch,
coming to rest on its side.  I got out unhurt but was shaken by the flipping
and smashing.  They dragged the car back to the pits and Duval and I looked
the car over before we loaded up.

I had been using a new product on the front axle that one of my sponsors had
developed.  With it, I could make a front axle by cutting off a length of
13/4  tubing and sliding in a pre-made king pin insert.  It greatly
simplified making an axle because the finished hole dimension and angle were
designed-in  (you have  to build your own stuff when you're racing on your
own).  It was made of 4130 chrome moly just like the axle tubing so it was
just a matter of heliarc welding the two together.
What the manufacturer found was that because there was so much mass in the
insert compared to the tubing, that after welding, they cooled at different
rates and stress cracks would develop.  I should have pre heated the tubing
and insert and wrapped them for a slow cool down after welding.

 When the car had been twitchy, the cracks had developed in the tubing next to
the weld and the insert had broken loose and it was wiggling inside the
axle.  On the backstretch it just came out letting the RF  tire fold back and dig in,
sending the car into the wall and the series of flips. 

Billy Steif's dad (Billy used to drive the 461 for Walt Dyer) once told me
"Never be the first to use or the last to use".  I've always remembered that
and it applied well, here.  It is one of the risks of being the R&D test
pilot but it's hard to turn down free parts.

After we loaded up I sat down and felt very sick to my stomach.  I went to
the ambulance and they took me to the hospital.  They said concusion and
I said  OK, been there.  Duval showed up there with
the rig a while later and we left for home about 3am.

See the Jim Shampine story for more Sharon experiences.

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