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Racing Commentary

Email Lew at lewboyd@coastal181.com

The Little 500 (David Sink Photo)



Memorial Day weekend in this country is chock-full of tradition. For racing people, it's the time of each year that motors bark the loudest, from the Brickyard, to Charlotte, to special shows at virtually every short track in the country.

Certainly among the most famous events each May is the Little 500, that zany 500-lapper, starting 33 sprinters three-abreast around the quarter-mile banked asphalt at "Sun Valley Speedway" in Anderson, Indiana. Needless to say, there has been a slew of drama in the 33,000 or so laps run over the last 67 years. Near the top of the list, though, has to be Wayne Reutimann's story of what happened back in 1979. He's what he has to say:

"That race was always a big deal to guys with pavement sprint cars. There were a lot of cars from the Midwest, but some of us would come up from the Southeast, too. I first went in 1969 when I was driving for the Kash & Karry food chain. We loaded the car - and the whole garage, it seemed - into a food truck and up we went. It was some scene. That was before roll cages. It was kind of a disaster for us. We broke a spindle, and, fortunately for us, I guess, then it rained out.

The Kash & Karry Sprinter (Randy Gilbert Collection)

"So, a decade later we went back. A fabulous Indy mechanic, Charlie Alfater, was with us then and he built a great little car that Frank Rise bought. We were winning a lot with it down at Bradenton, Florida.

"I'm not a big person, so I knew I had to get myself ready. I built a seat setup with a steering wheel attached to a power steering box so I could adjust the preload to work my arms. I'd sit there on my back porch and count out the laps and turns I would have to make at Anderson and I'd start twisting that wheel and working up a sweat. The neighbors thought this guy was gone!!!

"Charlie really didn't do anything special in prepping the car, other than he tried to make it more comfortable for me. He did a couple of things like putting a real strong headrest on the seat. We didn't really understand what was necessary that year. To go that distance, you have to have the driver positioned tightly enough such that all he has to do is move his arms. For example, you have to have extra padding around the knees so you can't slide down and have the belts loosen up, so that you have to hold yourself up.

"One later year up there in Anderson we tried to help out with the continual strain of turning by duct taping my helmet to the roll bar, so the laps would be a little easier on my neck. It's not too pleasant to think about that now. Can you imagine going into a pit stop with a sprint car, and the crew has the fuel drum way up on some funky stilts with a hose to pour quickly - and you are in the car with your head taped?! I don't know what we were all thinking. You know, when you're a racer, you always think it's the other guy that could get hurt.

"Anyway, the race began. Two locals, Butch Wilkerson and Bob Seelman were real fast. They had set new one- and four-lap qualifying records. They took off in quite a duel, but I tried to stay in the hunt. It was a struggle. You see, I was not a finesse driver. That would be more my brother Buzzie's style. I didn't think to drive. I was in the moment, on the hammer, doing things by instinct. I just wasn't into finessing sprint cars. If you do, you usually don't go. I later learned that in the Little 500 you had to learn to relax your muscles and drive like you're cruising down some highway. You just can't allow yourself to tense up and get racy too early.

"Well, all I can say is that when the rain came on lap 234, I sure was relieved. I was totally worn out. When on lap 249, it was postponed until the next night, I hurried off to get some sleep.

"As we expected, the next night Wilkerson and Seelman took right off again, with me chasing. Then on lap 420 Wilkerson retired with a broken torsion bar. I was continuing along in second, when 50 laps later Seelman pitted. I was suddenly in the lead.

"The scorers were in the stands back then, and there were no radios. I had no idea where I was in relation to the rest of the pack, except that I could see from the leader board that I was up front. So, I was driving just as hard as I could, and it bit me. With just nine to go, I came across a couple of lapped cars, and I was in too much of a rush. They took me up to the wall, and I flipped. It was a mess. I do remember crawling out of the car, but not much else. I must have conked my head on that head rest that Charlie put in. Instantly, I knew I couldn't see and later I knew I had quite the concussion. On the way to the hospital, my sight gradually came back. You know, it was just like an old television when it started up. A circle in the middle and then lines coming out until you got focus.

"The car was toasted. The shocks were broken, the brake lines ruined, the steering wheel was up against the dash board, the torque tube was torn loose. At the same time, Charlie could see that with all the spilt fuel and gear oil everywhere, it would take the track crew quite a while to clean up, so he got to work.

"It must have been quite a scene. Wrenches flying. The seat had to come out to weld up the torque tube, and in that process there was even a little fire. But, they got it done, sort of.

"Danny Smith, 21 at the time, happened to be standing nearby, as his car gave out earlier with a spun bearing, and he joined in with repairs. When it was almost ready, he got his helmet and jumped in. The seat wasn't even bolted in. He used the seat belts to secure it - and him.

"I am sure Charlie told him just to take it easy, but I am told that Danny put his leg right in it, bouncing off the walls. And nine laps later that battered Rise #68 took the checkered.

"Meanwhile, I was on a stretcher in the emergency room at St. John's Hospital with my wife, Anne, all bummed out that we had lost. Then the crew arrived and told us what had happened, and we were cheering and carrying on. Those hospital people then knew how wacky we really were.

"So, it was pretty neat. I did meet Danny Smith once over the years. Charlie divided the $6000 purse and paid Danny well for nine laps of racing. That was proper. Danny was one brave kid to stand on it with a car with all those parts fallin' off!"

Here’s Danny Smith collecting the Little 500 hardware.  (David Sink Photo)

Wayne Reutimann, shown here at DeSoto (FL) Speedway in 1983, continued racing sprint cars and stock cars into his sixties. (From Florida Motorsports Pictorial, Vol. 2, by Eddie Roche, Bobby Day Photo)

© 2015 Lew Boyd, Coastal 181

If you were interested in this Tearoff, you might enjoy the books below:
Florida Motorsports
Retrospective Pictorial, Volume 2

by Eddie Roche
Win It or Wear It

by Joyce Standridge

by Lew Boyd

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.: Previous Tearoffs :.


4/22/15 - Billy Betteridge - The Improbable Superstar

3/25/15 - Putt Mossman - Character for the Ages

3/3/15 - Four Bounces of Bergie

2/15/15 - On Golden Ice

9/3/14 - The Lindsey Flash

8/7/14 - Two Lucky Guys and Their Modifieds

7/7/14 - George and Art's Sweet Sorrow

6/9/14 - The Ring and Its Ringmasters

5/11/14 - Inner Tough

4/17/14 - Being Eddie MacDonald

3/25/14 - Matty D and the Track of Champions

2/25/14 - In the Southlands with Bugsy Stevens

2/10/14 - In the Moment with Jessica Zemken

1/23/14 - On the Plane from Tulsa

© 2007-15 Lew Boyd, Coastal 181




























































































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