July 19, 2008
STAR(TER) OF THE SHOW
When he climbed the ladder to wave flags for the NEMA midgets at
Stafford (CT) Speedway’s Xtreme Tuesday show on July 8, you could
tell Steve Grant meant business.
On the stand he stood tall, taking energetic command of the field.
He pointed at cars with authority, flew the flags colorfully and
grandly, and moved around constantly, his eyes always searching the
track. He was a show in and of himself.
Such performances come naturally to Steve. Thirty-six years ago his
dad Earl stood on the same platform to wave off a huge field of
modifieds at Stafford’s first Spring Sizzler. All the open
competition big shots were there for their piece of the pie. By
feature time the air was thick with intensity. The drivers were a
little too racy on the parade laps, as if demonstrating their
testosterone to one another.
Twenty-thousand eyes were on Earl as the pack raced unevenly off the
fourth turn, looking for the green. Earl didn’t like the edgy feel
of the moment. He wasn’t having any. He threw the flags down,
stomped to the back of the stand, and turned his back on the field.
He sent them ingloriously around for another lap – and for a deep
Veteran Northeastern race watchers still talk about the incident,
about how dramatically Earl signaled to everyone that it was he who
was in charge of the show.
The days of starters strutting their stuff from down on the track
surface are long gone. Surely, the nature of their job has changed
with lofty starters’ boxes and radio communications. But still,
fundamentally, the fate of every car and driver is in the hands of
the starter. And he or she is the most visible person at a race
track, right there, smack dab in front of the grandstands. A starter
who looks unengaged and inactive is as deadly to a good racing
program as warm beer. It’s also inexcusable.
The following excerpt is from
PAVED TRACK DIRT TRACK, a Coastal 181 book on Old Bridge
Stadium in New Jersey and Nazareth Speedway in Pennsylvania. It
recalls Tex Enright, another of racing’s most memorable starters.
|THE MAN THEY
CALLED THE INDIAN
Tex Enright used to say he was half Cherokee, but from
the way he roamed around, he seemed more likely a Plains
Indian. There was hardly a speedway in the tri-state
area he did not frequent, and at the height of his
career he was a major drawing card, well-advertised in
advance. He was a starter, the most renowned in the
business. He told Dave Gerrity in a May, 1971 Stock Car
Racing article, “My grandmother used to tell me, ‘If
you’re going to be a clown, be the best there is. Or a
bum – the same thing.’”
With carnie-like color for the fans and stern command
over the field at the same time, Tex elevated flagging
to a whole new level, while never leaving the track. He
would start the racers on the front straightaway,
kneeling and pointing his flags, as if goading the
field. Suddenly, the moment perfectly timed for drama,
he would leap in the air, waving the green madly as the
engines exploded to life. In early days he would
actually stand between the rows of starting cars as they
roared by. Over the years, he did move to the right
side, offering at least the chance of escape into the
infield. He refused to perform from a platform, even
though he was hit and busted up on too many occasions.
A key component of Tex’s package was wild garb – often
white with gaudy turquoise, loaded with fringe and
frill. He went on to tell Gerrity, “I adopted a style of
my own. I stayed with the whites okay, but with the
widest bell bottoms you’ll ever see. Enough to make a
kid today go in the corner and cry. And I hunted around
for the widest hat I could find. Three feet in diameter.
I wore it for one race. I watched them coming out of the
fourth corner and I’m crouched down there and they’re
all lined up neat. I go up into the air to drop the
green and I swear that hat was like a parachute and it
held me up there like the Flying Nun on TV. I floated.
And the cars came on. I continued to float. When I
finally landed, in time, I tore that hat off and threw
it away. Once was enough.”
Tex’s longest association with any track was with
Nazareth. He lived for some ten years in a trailer with
wife Sally and the kids right there at the Raceway. He
performed all manner of work for Jerry. Likely his
dirtiest duty came the night a mentally challenged
resident of the nearby Gracedale County Home snuck out
for a night to go to the races. The poor kid decided to
peek into the Ladies’ Room, but ended up falling inside
the containment area. Needless to say, the gentlewomen
were aghast to look down and seeing eyes staring back at
them. It was Tex who pulled him out and hosed him down.
Tex was feisty during the week as well. One night, Maine
racer Ernie Gahan broke down and had to stay over on a
Sunday night. The next morning he set out to buy some
parts for his trailer. Tex went along. “Needless to
say,” says Ernie, they had to stop for a beer. Before
long Tex got in a beef with someone he thought was
looking at him strangely. Ernie pulled him away – and it
was off to another gin mill. Same thing again. “Jesus
Christ,” says Ernie, “it was safer down there on Sundays
After a tiff with Jerry Fried, the Enrights moved up to
New York. Tex built Cairo Speedway with Kenny Shoemaker,
the “Super Shoe.” He was subsequently injured terribly
in a mid-seventies construction accident. After
thirty-seven different injury- related surgeries, he
tired of doctors, brushed them aside, and resumed
flagging at Five Mile Point Speedway. But he didn’t feel
well. When he finally went back to the hospital, he was
riddled with lung and liver cancer. Tex Enright died on
January 5, 1980 at age fifty-seven.
© 2008 Lew
Boyd, Coastal 181