Backlund at Allentown, PA, in 1967 in Bill Hodack’s IMCA
car. Backlund ran
13 states that year in this car alone.
(Backlund Family Collection)
It’s that dark January/February nadir of the
year, with the sun swinging as low as the thermometer on the wall.
But It was a bright and cheery gift to see an email from Jon
Backlund, who had read the TEAROFF about Daryl Ahrend (11/7/11),
one of his car owners along the way. There’s nothing like a Jon jolt
in your cup. Just mention racing to the Kansas City oval track
legend, a Hall of Famer four times over, and he’ll fill you with
old-time motorized joy. He knows a thing or two about it, as he’s
had victories in each of the last seven decades.
1965, I won my first race at Olympic Stadium in Kansas City. Now
that was something. That place was the best school in the world if
you wanted to be a race car driver. There were 50, 60 cars each week
in the pits. It was a 1/5 mile, fast cars at the back.
got in my first open wheel ride, I flipped it four times that year.
But, you know, I was willing to drive it hard enough that the guys
began to give me rides the next year.
In 1968, Kenny Weld was
thinking about Pennsylvania, and Pappy Weld put me in his
Supermodified. Man, did I ever get hurt over at Saline County in
Marshall, Missouri. When I got to the hospital, I didn’t know if I’d
fallen out of an airplane or what. When I finally got back to
racing, Pappy let Jay Woodside go and put me back in. Damn if I
didn’t get messed up going into the turn and I almost wrecked it
again. Then I realized what had happened, both times. You see I was
a little bigger than Kenny, and I was smacking my head on the roll
bar when I pitched it. Pappy did widen out the bars for me, but I
was spooked by that car by that time. I went on my way. So did the
car. It’s in the Knoxville Museum these days, back with the narrower
A guy like Ray Lee Goodwin was good – real good. He
drove good cars and he was sensitive to that. I got into anything
that had four wheels – sort of like Kenny Schrader. I was the
designated driver, waiting for someone to get hurt.
had the success of a Weld or a Sutcliffe because of some of the cars
I drove, but I raced a lot. I always had to find jobs that would let
me go off and race. And I quit a couple of real good ones cause they
didn’t. Heck, I even worked once for Mike Edwards, Carl’s dad, as a
VW mechanic. He had some truckin’ VW race cars himself.
Jon with Charlie Aldrich’s asphalt roadster at I-70
in Odessa, MO. He won the track championship,
beating out Jan Opperman in Speedy Bill Smith’s car.
(Backlund Family Collection)
I did win the first night out for 12
different owners. Bob Mays says I drove for 200 different guys. I
think it was a lot more. Sometimes I’d drive for three or four guys
in one weekend. In fact, I am sure I drove for more owners than are
out there right now! But, when I drove for myself, I was awful. I
couldn’t see cause I was always looking at the gauges.
Silver Crown, modifieds, late models, I drove them all. How I loved
it. But I liked the midgets the best – and those Belleville high
banks. You wrestle a stock car, drive a sprint car, but a midget you
slip on and it becomes a part of your body.
Bill Darnell had
a midget that was my favorite. I drove it for ten years. Never
wrecked it, never flipped. Just one bent nerf bar. It was a magic
midget. I won the first night with it and the last night on the same
date ten years later.
Darnell was something. He paid me 40%,
50% for a win. We could just scrape by. He made everything himself.
Filled tubing with sand and bent it up right in his garage. I wish
we could have run some USAC shows, but he had no interest in buying
a fuel bladder. He had a Chevy II, but had a box on front of his
open trailer. He kept an Offy in there. One time at Winchester it
was 35 degrees out. We blew warming up ’cause we didn’t get the
engine up to temperature. Bill actually changed engines between
warm-ups and qualifying. I pulled out, though. Winchester was the
only track that intimidated me.
Gosh, we raced everywhere.
Very often three or four nights in a row in different states. Coast
to coast. Sometimes we’d have chartered flights. Sometimes things
were leaner. Kenny Schrader and I went down to Florida to race one
year. We both had rides but not really even enough money for the gas
to get down there. We stopped at a motel one night goin’ down. It
was Kenny, his wife, and me. Kenny slept in the middle.
when I was growing up, my dad, my hero, used to take me down to
Riverside Stadium in Kansas City. Somehow it captured me
immediately. I was horrible at school work, and everyone was saying
I would never amount to anything, so I grew up with real low
self-esteem. Racing is what saved me. I just had to be a driver. I
had to excel at something. I’ve had a lifelong desire to please
people. I found that if I ran well, I pleased the owner and I
pleased the fans in the stands. And, when they were pleased, I was,
one thing Jon always wanted to run was a Can Am car.
So he built his own look-alike for the street.
Everyone is very pleased. Mike Caraway Photo from
UP ON THE WHEEL – Kansas City Auto Racing,
by Bud Hunnicutt
© 2012 Lew Boyd, Coastal 181
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