They called it the "Dream Event" or something like that. It was the first time that a USAC race and a World of Outlaw race were run together. This two day event had the "USAC Dirt Champ Cars" running time trials on Saturday with a WoO 20 lap preliminary race, and Sunday, a 40 lap Outlaw Main event and a USAC 100 mile contest.
We had done well on the mile at Syracuse and Duval and I decided to give this mile a try. We left a day early for Springfield, Illinois so we could run the All Star race at a place everyone called "Little Springfield", the nite before. We arrived in the late afternoon and waited in line at the back gate. The track was located within a city block in what looked like an industrial area of the city.
When it was time to roll in, we were surprised to find that this was not only a little track like everyone said, but it was a tiny track, a fifth mile, it would have fit between the front and back straight of any of the Pa tracks we ran. But this thing was banked, like Eldora. Banks so steep you could barely walk up them.
Being one of the first in the gate they waved us on into the infield. We were glad that we would be able to pit in the infield until we found out that we had to unload and move the truck and trailer out. If we had known we could have pitted in the area at the top of the first turn, we would have. But being inside gave us a better view of what we were up against.
They were watering the track with a fire hose. The place was too steep for a water truck so they had a fire hose hooked to a hydrant and the track crew stood at the base of the turn and sprayed the banking. We set up the car and asked around to see what gear they were using here. The lowest gear we had ever used was a 6.26 and they were telling us 7.86 or something. That sounded like first gear in a school bus but this was a really short track and the guy pitted next to us ran here all the time and offered us a set of gears to run.
Time trials put us mid pack with times in the mid 10 seconds. Driving the track was a real rythmn thing. It was like riding a swing. VvvvrrrRRRRRROOOOMM, a two second spurt in the straight, out to the wall, lift, set the car, drift to the top of the banking, vvvvrrrrRRRRROOOOMM, down the banking, out to the wall, lift, set the car... ten seconds... this was a SHORT short-track!
In the heat I started mid pack and the format was top 10 in time were locked into the feature, the rest duked it out in the heats, 2 from each heat, the rest to the B-main. I ran the first heat and two cars ran side by side for the whole race in front of me. Unless I went through the infield there wasn't room to get by on this narrow track. I waited and waited for a break in this 3 minute race but they finished side by side. On to the B-Main.
I started up front in the B-Main but the track had changed more than we had guessed. That thing slicked up like ice. The lights glared as dust swirled around the poles. We hadn't made enough changes to hook up the car and it was loose and had no forward bite. Spinnin' coming out of the turns, the locals drove on by. First four to the A. We watched the feature.
The guy that won that night (I think it was Todd Bishop) had a white car #80 painted almost exactly like our car had been the previous year. Lee Osborne followed and tried to pass him the entire race but couldn't get by. As we were driving out of the place Lee came over and congratulated us on the win. We told him thanks, but that wasn't us. All race long he thought he was chasing me. Then when he saw our car on the trailer he realized it was someone else.
We left for the big track and parked somewhere outside to sleep in the cube van for the night. The next morning we were in the pits getting ready for the day's events. A new Hoosier tire from Kears for the RR was mounted and we were ready for warmups. We found that if we put some laps on a tire and let it cool, that it lasted on these hard tracks. The sun was already bright in the sky and this wide, round mile didn't have the surface worked in very deep.
Springfield is a beautiful track with straights and corners so wide you could spin out and not hit the wall. The big covered grandstand overlooks the smooth surface that had worked up into two grooves with a dusty cushion. The surface was abrasive. Six laps of warmups and that new tire was blistered. It looked brand new everywhere except that the center rows of blocks had the appearance of the charred remains of burned fudge. This was a new one for me and we thought it was a bad tire. A lot of people were looking at our tire as we rolled it back to the tire truck. It was junk but "that's racin'". We bought another tire and dropped the air pressure to reduce the crowning.
In qualifying we ended up 5th and started on the outside of the front row for the Saturday afternoon A-Main (after getting our time back from qualifying in the heat and inverting the first 6 in time). The stands were full. The cars lined up behind the pace car. Clear track ahead, pace car in, out of four, drop of the green, I pulled to the lead heading for turn 1. As I followed the low groove in to put the car on the inside guardrail, ZOOM!, a car came flying through the narrowing space. It was Sammy Swindell. He charged through the closing hole in a startling dash to the front and now the car was sideways in front of me as he gathered it in.
I had to let off to keep from running into him and waited for his car to get going again. We were doing 120 with a pack of cars behind us but for that instant he was in the way. It was a slide job, not a respected tactical move at that time like it has now become on ESPN's thunder, but Sammy pulled it off with out wrecking all of us and had the advantage coming out of two.
Sammy was fast and there was no getting back by him. I could stay with him and as this 20 lapper continued, no one was even challenging me. Behind me, Ferkle, Kinser, Doty, Wolfgang, Davis, Smith, all the big Outlaw names in a line. A little over half way I noticed that the oil pressure would flutter in the straights. We were pretty much flat out all the way around and the long sweeping turns were throwing the oil to the left side of the engine without much chance to flow back to the bottom.
This Hutter motor was built with a wet sump oil pan. I couldn't afford a dry sump at 5 times the price and we had had good luck with this system. Normally I would park the car immediately if I saw that the pressure wasn't steady. I took care of this motor and that's why it had reliably lasted so many races. But today I was running second in an Outlaw race, on the Springfield mile, with all the USAC guys watching. I took the chance to run to the end.
Every lap I watched the gauges. The pressure bounced to zero at times. I visualized the pan drying up where the oil pick up was, I knew I was hurting the motor but the temperature was ok, no noises, no smell, still in second. It was a short race, only a few laps to BANG .. the car shook like crazy. That was it. I pulled it out of gear and drove low. Coming off four to get the two to go and it broke a rod. It was easy to coast right into the pits from there with the trail of oil telling the tale in the dusty infield pit road. They never had to throw the yellow.
What a huge disappointment. Not only not being able to grab a good finish in an important race, but loosing that motor was like loosing a good friend. It was major damage under a heavy load. Junk.
This was one of the few times when we had a spare engine, well, sort of. We had put together a 355 with left over parts from other engines. Six good rods from this set, 2 rods from another, a mix of pistons matched up in a junk yard block. It wasn't a complete engine, just a short block really. We went to Gator whose speed shop truck was set up in the infield. We had met him at Corky's Racer's Auction in Syracuse and he set us up with a local racer who took us to his nearby shop.
We worked all night, transferring the heads and other parts from the blown engine to the spare, borrowed a pan and pump from another local racer, and by 6am had the motor in the car and we were off to the track to try to get a couple hours sleep before the Sunday noon race.
Another warm, sunny July day. Times stood from the previous day, we qualified in the heat and started heads up, 5th, in the 40 lap feature. At the drop of the green the pack entered turn one and I fell in line in 5th. We had the gearing right and it kept that 355 turning nearly the same RPM all the way around. It was a real momentum track. If the car handled well enough, you didn't have to drop the rpm much in the turns. Stand on the gas and run the car on the rail. A challenge from Danny Smith in the Gambler car put me 6th about midway through the race.
At halfway the race was red flagged for a planned fuel stop. I came to the pits where Duval was ready with fuel and tires. I was so tired from wrestling the car on the track after being up for 36 hours without sleep, that I laid face down in the grass while Duval did the work. He collared Bob Cicconi who was there for the Champ Car race and the two of them prepped the car for the last 20.
Everything went fine on the restart. The little frankenstein engine keep the car at speed and we finished 6th. We were very proud of that finish and it made the long drive home pretty cheerful inspite of loosing our "good friend" (that Hutter motor) out there.
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