Denny Zimmerman, age 70, tosses Skip Matczak’s Midget
around Whip City (Zimmerman Collection)
Remember how we were all warned in school
about making generalizations?
Well, I’m not so sure I always
agreed. In racing it seems there are some generalizations that
really do stick. How about these? “The racing is always better when
the fast cars start at the back” and “more races are won by a head
than by a foot.”
Another racing “generalization” that
occurred to me frequently over the years is “when a driver retires
from racing and they come back after time, it’s usually
unfortunate.” I’m sure all of us have watched as an elderly Saturday
night hero comes waltzing back to try to recapture his youth, only
to find that his talent has washed away while those kids have become
so frighteningly fast.
One of the most sobering examples of
unfortunate comebacks has to be the case of Jimmy Smith, a
journeyman open wheel racer from Dayton, Ohio.
In the late
sixties, Jimmy competed in a USAC Sprint Car race at his hometown
speedway. He flipped right out of the place in what was described as
the most spectacular crash in the history of the track. Smith was
not hurt, but, quite understandably, decided to hang up his helmet.
He was married, father of five daughters.
and his mishap at Dayton. Photo at left from
Racers at Rest, by Buzz Rose (Garrepy
Collection). Photo at Right, From USAC Sprint
History, 1956-1980, Carl Hungness Publisher
old racing bug still had him hooked. On September 20, 1970,
he towed into Eldora with a supermodified for a triple
header. He pulled out all the stops in his heat race,
running right up on the rail until he brushed it, and the
flipping again began. This time he died instantly.
But last weekend I ran into Denny Zimmerman, the fine
gentleman airline pilot from Connecticut who was the first
Akron Soap Box Derby champion to run Indy. He became 1971
Rookie of the Year, following an admirable eighth-place run.
He was back again the next season, but was soon to retire
due to the lack of quality rides in a tough seventies
Denny in an Indy Car From
Paved Track Dirt Track, by Lew Boyd.
Just this last year, at age seventy, Denny
was back behind the wheel again.
wheeled a Midget owned by Skip Matczak,
the New England Hall of Famer.
thoroughly impressed, commenting after lap
one that Denny had lost nothing during his
Denny was a
little more cautious, feeling “it took four
or five races” to get his groove back.
In any case, the whole adventure sounds like
it was great fun – and a total, popular
Denny had a
whole bunch of podium finishes at
a racy dirt bullring near Springfield,
“I had a
ball!” he says.
So, seems like those teachers were right to
be wary of generalizing.
And when it
comes to certain old racers riding again, I
guess there is wisdom in the saying “no
generalization is worth a damn, including
with his buddy Jim McGuire, 1960s sprint car
© 2011 Lew Boyd, Coastal 181