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Email Lew at lewboyd@coastal181.com

NEMA Starter Steve Grant at Waterford Speedbowl on 4/1/2007
(Norm Marx Photo)

July 19, 2008


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 breath.

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.

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 than Mondays!”

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

Steve wanted to go back down on the track at the DAV Memorial
at Seekonk Speedway in 2005, and everyone held their breath.
(Norm Marx Photo)

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.: Previous Tearoffs :.

7/7/08 - McUnderdog

6/18/08 - The Night Buzz Was Worried

6/5/08 - John Richards - Boomer Role Model

5/20/08 - The Spirit of a Racer

5/1/08 - Bobby's Blues

4/15/08 - Thinking About Rene Charland

3/26/08 - Carl and Corey

3/4/08 - A Cool Track with Cool Racers

2/14/08 - Doug Wolfgang

1/25/08 - Frankie Schneider

1/7/08 - When Drivers Can't See

12/21/07 - When Starters Couldn't See

12/1/07 - Ride Along with Erica Santos

11/15/07 - Tough Drivers

11/1/07 - Cockpit Safety

10/15/07 - That First Race

10/1/07 - Racing Nicknames

9/15/07 - Too Many Officials

9/1/07 - The Look of a Real Driver

8/15/07 - Being Dale Junior

8/1/07 - Armond Holley

7/15/07  -  Red Farmer