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September 1, 2007


Check out this great Ray Masser shot from Indy in 1962. Look at the classic way the driver is holding himself Ė upright and focused, but relaxed. You could tell without even looking at the number on the tail piece that this is the one-and-only Anthony Joseph (AJ) Foyt.

Timeless as Rayís image may seem, the fact is that the look of drivers has been changing over the years. Today people often speak of "back in the day" as the era "when drivers were fat and tires were skinny."

There is some truth to the notion. Guys like Jimmy Bryan, Jim McElreath, and Jud Larsen who wheeled the roadsters around the Brickyard were beefy dudes whose biceps stuffed their oily T-shirts. It was the same on the sands of Daytona. It took grit and muscle to manhandle an early, ill-handling Grand National car for 500 miles. Not a good idea to get cross-haired with Curtis Turner or Tiny Lund. They were not NASCAR versions of Twiggy.

By 2000, however, much of the scene had changed. The most dramatic symbol of the new look came in the í90s, in the form of the surprisingly diminutive Jeff Gordon. He first took on the open wheel world and then faced Dale Earnhardt Sr. and the rest of the NASCAR establishment. And looked it right in the eye.

Nowadays, up-and-coming drivers tend to be short, lean, and extremely well-conditioned. We have become used to the change, and it no longer surprises us when someone like the comely flyweight Mares Stellfox scrambles out of her 360 sprinter in victory circle.

One aspect of race car drivers does not appear to be changing at all, however. That is their intensity. Racing is as unforgiving as it ever was. To survive, you still have to appreciate how dangerous the sport really is, while to win, you have to be focused on getting to the front every moment of race day and the rest of the week as well.

Of all the drivers I have run across over the years, one stands out as the absolutely most intense. I say that never having talked to him, just observed him.
It would have been difficult not to.

Years ago, whenever possible, I would try to take in the season-ending Don Peabody sprint car race at Ascot Park in California. One year, Rich Vogler came out to drive for the Morales Brothers. I can remember seeing him leaning on the enormous right rear tire of the Tamale Wagon watching time trials. That car had hair. It was violence personified. The car had nothing on its driver, though. Vogler stood there Ė taut and in a world of his own, totally concentrated, without smile, emotion, or acknowledgement of anyone around him. There was not an ounce of fat on his frame and or in his mind. He was steel. He was the machine, never mind that sprint car.

I donít remember what happened that night, but, like so many others, I recall as yesterday the last lap of the televised race from Salem, Indiana in 1990 when Vogler died.

Vogler had a lasting effect on a lot of people. Check out what Kenny Schrader says about him in Kennyís autobiography, GOTTA RACE! 

Rich Vogler Ė Winner of the first Chili Bowl race, holder of seven USAC open-cockpit titles.

Rich was one of the most controversial short-track champions ever. You either loved him or hated him, although sometimes it could be a little of both.

I got always got along with Rich, even though there were a couple of times I wanted to kill him. He was driving Louis Seymourís car out in Colorado one night when he started running out of fuel. I was coming up on him down the front straightaway when he hooked a right to block me. I thought there was going to be a big crash, and there would have been if I hadnít hit the brakes.

Rich was fueled more by desire than anything. He heard me and he was prepared to do whatever it took to hold on to the win. He didnít care if he made you mad if he ended up in Victory Lane. And you might recall that I wrecked him one night when I was trying to win a race for the dying Hank Green. Whatever my reason, whatever Richís ever were, sometimes desire trumps the situation.

Thatís why I settled for fourth at Nazareth in Sheldon Kinserís ride. Rich couldnít have cared less about my situation in trying to win the Silver Crown championship that day. I knew I had enough distance on Ron Shuman, it was getting dark and they were going to call the finish early, so it didnít seem worth taking any chances trying to get around Rich, who was only going to be thinking about protecting a third-place finish.

I fell asleep in front of the television the night they televised that sprint race from Salem, Indiana, in 1990. Ann woke me up to tell me that Rich had just flipped and hung his car on a pole. They didnít show any replays, and I knew from the way they were talking that it wasnít good. The following day they announced that Rich died in the wreck. What few people remember is that he was qualified for the Winston Cup race the following day in Pocono.

I donít know what kind of Cup career Rich would have had. He couldnít have continued exactly the way heíd run on the short tracks because the Cup guys wouldnít have stood for it. Hell, neither would Bill France. But, if he could have harnessed that incredible desire he had, Rich might have conquered NASCAR, too.

© 2007 Lew Boyd, Coastal 181

.: Previous Tearoffs :.

8/15/07 - Being Junior

8/1/07 - Armond Holley

7/15/07  -  Red Farmer


























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