September 1, 2007
LOOK OF A DRIVER
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.
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
It would have been difficult not to.
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,
Rich Vogler Ė Winner
of the first Chili Bowl race, holder of seven USAC
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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