Win It or Wear It



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Racing Commentary

Email Lew at lewboyd@coastal181.com

Ernie Gahan never had a lot of media spin around him when he was gunning for his championship.  He probably didn’t even notice that his name wasn’t spelled correctly on his coupe.
(Gahan Collection)

November 15, 2009


Ernie Gahan called from Berwick, Maine, the other day and got to reminiscing about the final weeks of his NASCAR championship. That was the modified chase back in 1966. Ernie, a full-time racer, was in it for the purse money. He raced all the time and everywhere, sanctioned events and outlaw alike. It was another kind of smoke.

By mid-season he had raced nearly 50 times, towing back and forth among the East Coast tracks like a hockey puck. He was often alone, working on a shoestring budget, redefining what it meant to be tired. “I never even thought about points until one night someone out at Fonda, New York, said, ‘Hey, Ernie, do you know you are leading the nation?’ Well, I figured I should go for it.

“One Wednesday night they had an open competition show down at Middletown, New York. Larry Grainger (the promoter) called and urged me to come, so down I went. And, wouldn’t you know, down that backstretch I flew – and right out of the ball park. What a mess. Broke my neck in three places and my car in quite a few more than that. There were no points, but Grainger was all heart. He gave me $15.

“The doctor at the hospital wasn’t too cooperative, either. He told me, ‘If you ever race again, you’re a dead man.'

A lot was fractured at Middletown, but it was hammer down
again a couple of days later.

(Gahan Collection)

“Well, I raced at Albany-Saratoga in someone else’s car the next Friday night wearing a neck brace. Got in a little jingle, and it straightened me right out. The next night, Vic Kangas and Marty Harty showed up at Fonda with a coupe they’d built for me in a couple of days, and we were off and running again.

“By October I thought I had the championship in the bag. Then NASCAR scheduled some big modified race in Atlanta on November 6. Crap. I sure didn’t have a superspeedway car, but I went down there with my hat and picked up a ride. It was kind of a sled, but I drove my butt off. I couldn’t believe it when Ray Hendrick, my closest competitor in the points, driving Junie Donlavey’s real hot ride, drove plum into the wall. I always teased him afterwards that he shouldn’t have been concentrating so much on giving me the finger on the way by.

“So, I got tenth and the championship. And doesn’t Bill France come right up to me and say, ‘Now, Ernie, we’re gonna have to send you off to that Dale Carnegie School of Speech.’ I said, ‘Bill, I am a damn race driver. Not a speaker. I’m not gonna get up in front of the whole country like some kind of hypocrite. My thing is winning races.
“I had a helluva time back in those days, but look what’s happened to the sport since. I should probably regret some of the things I said back then. But I don’t.”

© 2009 Lew Boyd, Coastal 181

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.: Previous Tearoffs :.

11/1/09 - In The Zone

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