FOUR CHARACTERS AND A COOKIE
Between raindrops this spring, a paved track here in the
Northeast got in a 50-lapper for late models. It went non-stop, no
passes for the lead, and the pole sitter with the peach fuzz face
won it. Frankly, the whole thing was a snore. As he took a victory
lap, dutifully spinning his tires in front of the pits and the
stands, you wondered what the kid would say in Victory Lane.
The podium can be such a moment. Such an opportunity to
deliver some of the deliciousness deep inside our sport. Such a
chance to reassure the crowd that racers really are ordinary people
who do things that aren’t ordinary.
Case in point was the
modified event accompanying the Hoosier Hundred this year. Ken
Schrader was there and was predictably the winner, though he seemed
to try to make it look like a race. In the victory interview, the
announcer reflected that Schrader had won an ARCA show a couple of
weeks earlier, making him the oldest ARCA winner ever, and what did
Mr. Schrader think about that? The irrepressible Kenny’s answer was
quick and crisp. He pointed out that there would be another ARCA
race in two weeks and he planned to be two weeks older then.
Moving right along, the announcer then asked whether in a modified,
like a Silver Crown car, the driver can hear where the cars are
behind him. Kenny was right on top of that one, too, pronouncing
that in any kind of race car or any kind of race, “I really don’t
give a sh*t where they are as long as they’re behind me.” The crowd
roared with approval. At this point the interviewer wisely concluded
that it was time for Mr. Schrader to go have a cold one. The
promoter should have kissed him.
There’s been that same
appealing thread of outrageousness weaving through American racing
since day one. Fifty years ago, Bentley Warren, then just an
open-wheel neophyte, had a two-fer one day driving Ed Perkins’ #
Crown 7 roadster. On the agenda was an afternoon supermodified show
at Bryar Motorsports Park in New Hampshire and a USAC event at
Stafford, Connecticut, that same night.
Bentley ran well in
New Hampshire, dicing with main man Ollie Silva, but he had to drop
out in order to make it to Stafford on time. They loaded up onto
helper Albert Stevens’ pickup and homemade trailer in a rush, and
Albert climbed in to take off. Bentley shoved him aside. “Albert,
you’re too slow.”
By the time they got to the Mass Pike, the
speedometer pegged well north of 100 mph and Albert was pretty much
freaked. “Dammit, Bentley, how fast are we going?!?” Bentley took
his hands off the wheel, formed them in the shape of a cup, looked
over at Albert, trailer swaying wildly, and suggested, “Albert,
don’t you know you’re always in good hands with Bentley Warren?”
That was it. Albert asked to be discharged immediately, and
Bentley complied. Albert was still there, standing lonely on the
side of the Turnpike when Ed Perkins and the rest of the team came
motoring along a half hour later.
|That’s Bentley inside the Crown
7, Eddie Perkins up front with those white socks,
and poor Albert Stevens in the middle. (Ed Perkins
And do you recall the racing community’s
enormous, national response to Dick Trickle’s death in May. No
question much of it was to honor the Olympian successes of one of
the greatest short track wheelmen ever. But no question so, too, was
that outpouring in celebration of Dick Trickle’s zany joyfulness.
He’s the guy who so famously suggested that breakfast is the
intermission between partying and racing. Trickle made any situation
special. Hang on whenever he was with his friend Father Grubba,
Wisconsin’s Roman Catholic Priest and racing writer. Here’s what
Benny Phillips wrote a couple of decades back in Stock
Car Racing magazine: “Dick Trickle, always asking Father Grubba to
bless the water in his radiator and the beer in his cooler…delights
in leading Father Grubba into conversations with crew chiefs or
mechanics who are already heated up over an issue at the track.
Trickle: The track is picking on you. That new rule will slow
Mechanic: I know. Those $&**@# have been after me all
@##$$% year. I think I’ll just *&^%$ quit the #$%^@ sport.
Trickle: Oh, by the way, this is Father Grubba.
Trickle: Father Grubba. Maybe you should talk with him about
Mechanic: Trickle, maybe I should kill you first.”
|Dick Trickle: Hands
on, keg on, hang on. (Coastal 181 Collection)
Quite probably all that passion gets stirred up around the race
track because racers so love what they do. Illinois’ Rick
Standridge, husband of Coastal 181 author Joyce Standridge, has been
going round and round for 45 years, to the winner’s circle on over
200 occasions. He’s just as cool as they come, but he’s been one
long-distance challenge for Joyce.
She says, “This year
they’ve got a car like Sibyl, sometimes very fast, sometimes very
bad, but no one knows just why. A few weeks back she was bad, and
Rick was struggling in the B main and got spun and drilled hard.
Really banged up his rib cage. The same weekend his buddy and crew
chief for 35 years, Buddy Gathard, got pinned to a grandstand, of
all things, by a two-year-old on an out-of-control golf cart.
next week they looked like Civil War vets. Buddy had a stool with
him so Rick could access the cockpit. Neither one of them could
twist or cough, but Rick ran third.
“Then a couple weeks
after that, Rick blasted those ribs over at Lincoln. Again. I don’t
know what to do to stop this guy. We just let him go and make sure
someone goes with him so he can have a ride home from the hospital.”
|Some things just never change.
That’s Rick Standridge in 1994 racing just after a
wreck when he had to have his wrist clipped.
(Standridge Family Collection)
By now the kid in the late model was in
victory lane. He ascended the roof of his car, and flung his arms
mightily in the air, victorious towards the heavens for the
assembled multitude. It was about 400 bored people. Descending, he
commented that it had been one tough race and he appreciated
everyone running him clean. He thanked his sponsors, particularly
his dad for all the equipment and the chassis company for preparing
the car so well. All he had to do was drive it, so it suited his
busy schedule. And he was oh-so-careful to thank his girlfriend’s
parents for allowing her to join him at the races. It was all so
Maybe the problem nowadays isn’t just
cookie cutter cars. How about cookie cutter drivers?