Racing Commentary

Email Lew at



Last week Coastal 181 shared a booth with the re-launching Speedway Illustrated magazine at the International Motorsports Industry Show at the Convention Center in Indianapolis. We had not been before.

Almost as soon as we arrived, a plump, aging guy worked his way around the corner on his scooter, taking in carefully the offerings at each display. His badge read “Willie Davis.” What a flashback!

It seems like just yesterday, but it was in April of 1971 that Dick Berggren and I went down to Reading, Pennsylvania, to catch the USAC sprint car races. Gary Bettenhausen, very much at the top of his game, was there in Willie Davis’ City of Syracuse sprinter, then powered by a dual overhead cam Ford. What a machine! In time trials Bettenhausen appeared to forget to quite acknowledge the third turn. He bicycled violently up on two wheels but somehow managed to keep the rubber side down. Back in the pits, a very stern Davis grumbled, “Gary, what the hell was that all about?” Gary’s response: “Willie, I just couldn’t lift ‘cause it sounded so good.”

Gary Bettenhausen wearing Willie Davis’ City of Syracuse Sprinter
at Terre Haute in 1970. From USAC SPRINT HISTORY 1956-1980,
Carl Hungness Publishing (Gene Crucean Photo)

Willie listened intently as I told him that story. “Those sure were the days,” he reflected. “But what I remember most is all the work.” He smiled deeply, contently, and motored on down the aisle.

Then, walking by looking understated and almost professorial, was that Rex Merritt out of Billings, Missouri. I knew not to let him fool me in that wrapper, as he has at least a million people. He is, beyond question, one of the top short track drivers and technologists in the country, but he is also a half-bubble off center. EVERYTHING he does is filtered through a twinkle in the eye. Rex has over 500 wins, he works for Bilstein, and he runs a successful racing school. Would you expect your teacher to say this: “You know, time is going by these days and some gray is creeping in and I find myself becoming a little more safety conscious. The other night before the feature I noticed my fuel cell was leaking. In the old days I wouldn’t have gotten too worked up – just buckle up and go. Now I think about it. I climbed in but I left the belts off in case I had to get out in a hurry.”

Bobby Pierce, “the Short Cool One,” is dwarfed by his dad Bob, but by the looks of it, he’ll be catching up in no time. Bob, mayordomo of Bob Pierce Race Cars (BPRC), is a Dirt Late Model Hall of Famer and a former UMP Champ. His cars are everywhere, but young Bobby, still knee-high to a hub cap and still wearing braces, wheels them as well as anyone. The personable kid, head of his class at school, won 16 UMP Pro Crate Late Model races at age thirteen this summer, sweeping the Illinois State Championship and earning a close second in the nation.

Bobby Pierce – Little Big Foot. (Pierce Family Collection)

We’ve all seen teeny boppers bubbling with talent. But somehow racing dreams have their way of slipping away in the night. There just may be something different about Bobby, though. I’m not sure just what it is: he’s not pushy in any way, but, diminutive as he may be, he somehow stands tall. He looks you right in the eye.

The Pierces will heading from Oakville, Illinois, down to East Bay for the races February 6-12. I suspect a whole lot of people will be watching Bobby. So, doubtless, will be his mom, Angie, making sure all that eight grade homework is race-ready.

There was also just a bit of a battle for bravado at IMIS. Scott Bloomquist was there, typically reserved while at the same time a formidable presence. He worked the floor, dropping in on booths manned by marquee names. He spent an hour in intense conversation with Speedy Bill Smith.

Scott in Bloom (Mike Adaskaveg Photo)

That night, when Bloomquist strolled into the Howlin’ Moon, some wag wrote on a mirror “that f….ing Bloomquist is here.” Within minutes the message was crossed out and this added: “Scott who? The Dirt Knights are in the house.”

And so they had. Hardly in Bloomquist’s image, Al Hejna, Corey Dripps, and Mike Spaulding were all over IMIS like a wet T shirt, pumping their upcoming TV reality show with non-stop playfulness. The first of 13 episodes will air Sunday, January 2 on Versus and will cover five modified drivers as they battled grittily last summer in pursuit of the USMTS national title.

IMIS really was amazing. There were over 560 booths, some truly spectacular. In the Winters display, they actually erected a house frame- like structure using interconnected rear ends. And Chad Wehrs of Wehrs Machine showed up with an ingenious cart that unfolded into a huge display that just made you want to buy some kit from him.

In places the glare of buffed chrome was near blinding. Displays showed off all those amazingly robust new racing software applications, trick new coatings and chemistries, and thousands of shiny bits and pieces, so many made in China.
But all said and done, for all the bling and technology, IMIS still came down to just plain cool racin’ folk.

Thank goodness.

Arin McInstosh stopped by the booth. She was pleased with
her new-found fame, having been the subject of the
last Tearoff (11/21/10)! (Mike Adaskaveg Photo)

© 2010 Lew Boyd, Coastal 181

Stop by our Book Store Directory for a look at our book and DVD selections:

Book Store

.: Previous Tearoffs :.

11/21/10 - Mutt and the Brutal Ballet

10/29/10 - The Johnny Bensons and Their Supers

10/13/10 - Anatomy of an Accident

9/28/10 - Maybe Marty

9/14/10 - Push Refresh for Speedway Illustrated

8/23/10 - An Ode to Senior Supers

8/6/10 - Adrian and the Deep Water

7/20/10 - Holdout in Yuppieville

7/7/10 - The Wins are Gustin

6/16/10 - Racin' Kid, Racin' Dad

5/28/10 - The Monk and Matty D.

5/15/10 - Bluebird

4/27/10 - Catching Up With Steve Arpin

4/11/10 - The Song of the Fifties

3/22/10 - Davey!

3/8/10 - Restart!

2/21/10 - Miracles of the Rock

2/8/10 - Roger The Remarkable

1/21/10 -  Shane's Sensational '78

12/28/09 - The Flying Finn and The All American Boy

12/12/09 - Hello Wall

11/29/09 - Once More for Ernie

11/15/09 - Ernie's Excellent Chase

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

© 2007-10 Lew Boyd, Coastal 181