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Gary Bettenhausen and Larry Dickson in unison and in the zone.
(Al Console Photo)

November 1, 2009


It’s Sunday morning, November 1.

Like a few million other folks, I suppose, my attention has turned once or twice to what might happen on those banks at Talladega this afternoon.

To watch the Sprint Cup gang negotiate en masse the sprawling superspeedway for 500 miles, often in perfect three-deep, row-by-row formation, is beyond amazing. What a testimony to incredible driving skills, mutual trust – and guts. There is nothing quite like it in the world.

Obviously, this kind of spectacle could not take place at some 30- or 50-lapper on a short track. However, short tracks have often been host to another kind of driving exhibitionism, which might just be called getting in the zone.

Sometimes a couple of racers, when both are really hooked up, seem to be able to transcend the normal relationship between cars and track. Incredibly, such was the case for four straight years when Larry Dickson and Gary Bettenhausen offered up the “Larry and Gary Show,” sharing the USAC Sprint Car title just among themselves from 1968 through 1971. Joyce Standridge writes about the phenomenon in Win It or Wear It.

…it’s difficult to explain the magic that occurred. “It was a privilege to watch Gary and Larry race,” says a contemporary. “…you were just racing for third place and in awe of the show in front of you. I don’t think they were ever pals – the stakes were too high – but I doubt they respected anyone on the track more than they did each other.”

It can happen on a single night, as well. In his new book I’ll Never Be Last Again, Bill Wimble recalls pulling into Airborne Park Speedway in Plattsburgh, N.Y., in the early sixties and seeing a buddy from distant race nights past, Buck Holliday.

Over the years Buck and Floyd (Geary, Buck’s car owner) raced more in the Northern Territory, while I traveled south after NASCAR laurels. Buck and I came across each other occasionally along the way, renewing our somewhat unusual combination of friendship and rivalry. Several years later, I was in the McCredy #33 on a Sunday night and there was an extra distance race at Plattsburgh. Buck pulled in the pits with the C-38, and did we ever go at it, lap after lap after lap. It was as if no other cars were there. Never had two drivers been farther on the edge than we were that night on that wide and racy dirt. I don’t know why we didn’t wreck, but somehow we never touched. We passed each other over and over. In the end I won – and it is one of the races I actually remember winning.

Tom Avenengo, the Pennsylvania-based racing historian and all around good guy, recently sent around the clip below from It’s likely Australia in the late fifties or sixties. No question the two drivers featured stretched rather frighteningly the normal zone of human performance, much to the delight of the 35,000 fans.

Sure, they were not going 200 mph as the NASCAR boys will be doing this afternoon in Alabama, and it was a five-lap match race, not a 500-miler. But those dudes down under had no cages over their Cromwell helmets, no Randy Lajoie seats, no Nomex, no nerf bars, no soft walls.

Which do you think is the better show?

© 2009 Lew Boyd, Coastal 181

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.: Previous Tearoffs :.

10/19/09 - Rough Week in the Midwest

10/1/09 - Common Starts, Uncommon Comebacks

9/4/09 - South Dakota Chris

8/15/09 - Facial Exposure

7/31/09 - Dying in the Pits

7/9/09 - Barn Rat's Last Race

6/18/09 - Catching Up With Brad Doty

5/20/09 - Big Boys in The Attic  - rare photos of legends

5/6/09 - Back Up In The Attic - more rare photos

4/22/09 - The Son of Hard Luck - accessible racing
experience for the handicapped

4/3/09 - Racin' In The Attic - Gordon Ross photo collection

3/18/09 - About That Mike Spaulding

3/3/09 - Dick Berggren's First Win - (you had to be there!)

2/11/09 - Peter at the Park - Peter Fiandaca at Riverside Park

1/30/09 - Steve - Steve Arpin

1/4/09 - Racer Speak -cool quotations

12/16/08 - Wimble Power, Will Power - Bill Wimble

11/24/08 - Remembering Chuck Amati - by Joyce Standridge

11/11/08 - That Rick Ferkel

10/24/08 - Beyond Bionic - Bentley Warren

10/6/08 - Fifty Second Classic - Skip and Lois Matczak

9/20/08 - Joey's Dad - Tom Logano

9/1/08 - One Night at The Park - the death of Les Ley

8/20/08 - Transitional Technology - early supermodifieds

8/6/08 - Wallace on Wednesdays - dirt trackin’ Kenny

7/19/08 - Star(ter) of the Show - importance of good flaggers

7/7/08 - McUnderdog - Eddie MacDonald

6/18/08 - The Night Buzz Was Worried - Buzz Rose

6/5/08 - John Richards - Boomer Role Model

5/20/08 - The Spirit of a Racer - the late Al Powell

5/1/08 - Bobby's Blues - Bobby Santos III

4/15/08 - Thinking About Rene Charland

3/26/08 - Carl and Corey - Carl Edwards and Corey Dripps

3/4/08 - A Cool Track with Cool Racers - West Liberty, Iowa

2/14/08 - Doug Wolfgang

1/25/08 - Frankie Schneider

1/7/08 - When Drivers Can't See - cockpit vision

12/21/07 - When Starters Couldn't See - flagstand vision

12/1/07 - Ride Along with Erica Santos - in-car camera midget win

11/15/07 - Tough Drivers

11/1/07 - Cockpit Safety

10/15/07 - That First Race

10/1/07 - Racing Nicknames

9/15/07 - Too Many Officials

9/1/07 - The Look of a Real Driver

8/15/07 - Being Dale Junior

8/1/07 - Armond Holley

7/15/07  -  Red Farmer

© 2009 Lew Boyd, Coastal 181