||Hurtebise, Branson, Foyt, Andretti, Parsons, Dallenbach, Walkup, Unser,
Bettenhausen, Parnelli Jones, Carter, Mays, Oldfield, DePalma and all the rest ,
raced the Big Cars and sprints at Syracuse.
Indy winners adorn the Syracuse winners list (click here).
In my youth these were my towering heros.
Races at this track; the height of dirt track racing.
The first time I saw anyone run the Syracusse mile with out lifting was at
a Dirt Champ Car race in the �70s. I was in the stands watching warmups. All the cars
off at the end of the stands, about 100 yards or more from the first turn.
was driving a car with a double overhead cam Mosher
Chevy (like the Foyt
Cyotte Fords) and it screamed at such a high pitch that it sounded like it would
come apart, compared to all the other Chevy V-8s the rest of the cars had.
When the green dropped for practice, Gary came down the front straight so close
to the wall that you couldn�t see the car from the stands. The high pitched motor caught
Then at the point where all the
others would let off and turn in to the first turn, Gary drove straight on,
over the cushion and out into the loose dirt at the outside of the turn. He
never lifted. He just pitched the car sideways, and drove the
||then fell back to the track, resting on its tail, and pointing toward the
sky. Since then, going flat out around that mile seemed like an
It was a decade later that I had had a pretty good season going and
a car that handled good everywhere. When I came to Syracuse the car was
fast right off the trailer. In practice, I was passing cars in the turns
and straights and I figured that they were just warming up or breaking in
new engines. Later that night I ran into some outlaw drivers and they were
asking me what I was doing to go like that and I said I wasn�t really
running hard, just getting used to the track and they told me they were
going all out to stay with me and couldn�t. At that point I realized that
we _were_ fast.
The next day I was in line for time trials. Sammy Swindel had set a new
world�s record for the mile. The truck pushed me off and I left the pits
wide open and scuffed the tires wide-open/sideways through the first and second
turn. When I came down for the green flag I
had gotten my momentum up and headed for the first turn. The cars usually
do a little left/right shuffle entering turn one making the car feel real unstable.
I had the pedal down and started to turn in.
When I turned the car, it took a set and it... just... stuck.
It didn�t drift or wiggle it just went into one on a rail. I had
backed out of the throttle about quarter pedal for a moment but the car needed
more and I was right back on it and was heading for the tight second turn. The
forces of turning drew the engine RPM down some and I just kept on it and
bent the car around the second turn and aimed toward the groove next to the outside
wall. As the engine RPM climbed again to it�s peak, I turned into the third
turn and it stuck again. Out of four I swept the turn out to the wall now
just riding down the front straight. It was a teriffic feeling to have the
car so perfect! This time I took it into one with out lifting and drove the
whole lap wide open. 5th fast time, one spot better than Steve Kinser!
As I thought about running this track flat out I realized that this
was the first year since Bettenhausen had done it, that
the feat had been accomplished. A number of drivers ran those amazing laps, yet
no one had duplicated Gary�s bold laps in the loose stuff, without a wing.
That year the track was perfect. If you heard a driver lift you knew he was out of the top
For me, that lap meant alot.
Having the car stick like that was an _amazing_ feeling.
That was probably the most unforgettable single lap I had ever run.
Before I raced cars, I had wondered what is that that allows you to overcome fear or
the scare factor and drive harder and harder into the turns?
If not bravery, then it must be confidence from experience.
I�ve found confidence from having run laps on the edge and _knowing_ what
the car is going to do.
When you race, you drive the car to it�s limit.
If the car is forgiving, the edge of the limit is soft and when you go past it you just go
If the car is unpredictable, the edge is sharp and when you go past the edge you loose
Anybody can drive a forgiving car fast, but even the best get scared in a car that is
twitchy and unpredictable. You just can�t go as fast in a twitchy car.
Sometimes you misjudge the car and the track conditions and get in trouble
but a racer will keep driving and trying to get control of the car right up
to the last instant before impact.
The very first time that I raced on that mile was a big moment for me. I
didn�t have a very good car and it didn�t handle well at all. I ran around
the inside at the back but I finished.
A few seasons later I had a better car and knew more on setup and
had much more seat time. I remember going out for time trials and on the
warmup lap the car pushed in the first turn a bit so I let it get out into
the loose stuff and pitched it around sideways, threw a rooster tail over
the fence and headed down the back stretch. I got some heat in the tires
and I knew what the car was going to do next lap. When I later looked at
the pictures of the car hung out sideways in the loose stuff near the second
turn wall it looked like a scary place to be but when I did it I knew what
the car was going to do and it did it.