The history of Wagtimes, and what it's all about...
The past years seem to have just flown by in some respects, and now I can reflect back on it as we close a chapter in the Wagtimes. When we began, what is today a very wide range of Wagtimes stuff, it was just a letter of my excitement about that season that I mailed to about 20 people who had set on the steps at Ascot with me each raceday afternoon ready to run for their seats. Those days were very interesting and memorable. I can still see the steps in my mind today, even though there is nothing left of the famed track but weeds and a few mounds of dirt.
In the mid 70's, Terry and I had recently married and moved to Fountain Valley, CA from her home in Broken Arrow, Okla. Being a California native that moved around a bit, I had already seen a race at Ascot a few years before I met her. I was living in Oklahoma from '71 until '75 and visited the Tulsa Fairgrounds Speedway on a regular basis to watch what they called Super Modifieds. Benny Taylor and Emmett Hahn were the hot dogs then, and I went racing alone for several years before I met Terry. One of her girl friends was married to a local driver back then, plus Terry grew up across the street from the fairgrounds, so she liked racing! Hurrah!
Our early days together at Ascot merely had us in the grandstands on about a once a month schedule, with camping and three children part of the weekend mix. When her kids were off during the summer visiting their dad, we went almost every week. It was then we began going real early to get good seats. I still remember the rush thru the gates, and how the young legs oftentimes beat me to my seat. I remember the old timers verbal assaults on anyone who dared to take their special spot. I remember a lot of fans who are not with us any longer. I remember much, but some of it becomes too sad to bring back.
After that first Xmas letter called "Wagswatch", the response was surprising to me, so much so that I did another letter a month later. It was still formatted like a letter and not in newsletter script yet. What started out as two dozen hand delivered missiles, eventually went up to near 500 at the peak. I never marketed it, because it was a hobby newsletter, and hardly not a money making source. We started with asking for stamps to mail it out. That worked for several years, until one day I spilled a glass of water on the desk the stamps were hiding in and didn't look inside. A week later, I pulled out one huge stamp collage, all stuck together, and realized I was going to have to change my thinking. The subscription rate was set at $10, and I figured it would drop the number down to a manageable pile. No, it just continued to grow. In the early days, the pub package I used on my computer was DOS based and my typing and it's inadequacies merged into some pretty weird monthlies. In time, the Windows stuff allowed better formatting and eventually better looking results.
Different people got involved to print the newsletter over the years. Gregg Gallant, even had color capabilities we took advantage of and so we had my red hat logo on the front for a while. I upped the rate to $15, where it stayed until the end, because of the rising costs to get it out each month. I tried the 3rd class mail for a few years, and it worked great for me. Then I only had to pay $.20 a copy, and just take to the post office with no fanfare, it was great, but things change. When new 3rd class rules came out a few years ago, with special sorting and handling and bundling and labeling and boxing it up and marking just so, it became too much trouble to get it prepared for the post office, so I went back to 1st class. It cost more, from $.32 to $.78 sometimes, but I only had to put it in the mail box. Not make out a pedigree for each letter. I didn't raise the subscription cost, mostly because I thought it would begin to eventually drop off enough to end it then.
I never had a plan when the Wagtimes started, and although I have some today, it was never to make money. I stated early on, when I got tired of doing the newsletter, I would stop. I am not tired of doing the newsletter writing, but times change and the new Web page, Wagtimes.com, will save me tons of menial paper handling. So far what I have learned about my page, there is a lot more to mentally handle, but the results are faster and hopefully, better. It is all in color and timely on the web, unlike the newsletter of today that comes out six weeks after the first story in it is done.
The best part of the Wagtimes newsletter for me has always been the people. I have met and created many wonderful friendships, both locally and around the country. The many fun people around the racing scene just makes it better. I have nicknamed many fans and drivers along the way, and I look back and wonder about the delight of it all. How did it ever get so fun? And, will we continue to have fun with the Wagtimes?
The Wagtimes made it possible for the many successful follow-on ideas. Wagsbucks, Wagsdash and now Wags Web have all grown from that little seed planted on the Ascot steps a long time ago. Funny, but my low-key approach to it has been the thing that made it a smooth transition from there to here. Until we started selling billboards on the Wagsdash T-shirt, I never asked anybody for money, just printed in the newsletter what we wanted to do, and those who believed in it, followed along. In my personal life, I have never really tried to consciously stand out, yet I have never been one to dress like everyone else either. For work I choose to have wild ties and colored shirts instead of the "plain white shirt/gray tie" routine many prefer. So, the original hat I wore at the races wasn't like many others in the grandstands. It was really a green and white polka dot welder's hat found in an Army Surplus store. I still have that original one, and it was on my head from about 1963, when the Ram's "fearsome foursome" defensive line was led by Deacon Jones. Those guys wore silly multi colored welder hats on the sidelines and I liked the "dashing" look. I wore the green one until I had been going to Ascot for a couple of years, also wearing my green Kawasaki jacket, and someone told me to lose the green. We bought yellow Gambler jackets with a red sprinter on them and next came the red & white polka dot hat. I guess you could say it is ridiculous, but I am easy to find at the track! My grandson Tory wore one for many years, until he was old enough to see how funny it looks.
When we started calling my monthly ramblings the Wagtimes, it began to grow pretty fast. It was a mouth to mouth operation with people hearing about it or getting a copy from us at the races. We actually met about this time to form a fan club. I remember Gene & Nancy Tussing, Robert Mason, Larry & Myra Jolly and a couple more were at the first meeting. Nancy, who passed away about 1995, introduced me to Jerry Hudson, who took my stick figure drawing of what I wanted the Wagtimes logo to look like and made the logo from that. Brad Noffsinger was the first one to screen the shirts and then the "Cap Doc" Galen Nelson took it over. When he and wife Jan moved to South Dakota, Elgin Freeman took over the honors. That shirt is still around and a new updated version came out in 2000.
That first Wagsbucks night, the Peabody Classic in 1989 at Ascot, was a culmination of the desire to help the racers. I got permission from Cary Agajanian to have our chili feed at the track and collected money to have Chris Holt pass on to the recipient. We decided the money would go to the first guy who did not transfer to the main from the semi. We had a big feed and sold a lot of shirts and collected $660 that night. Steve Formost got $100 from just missing the Semi and Cary Faas received the balance when he was the bump spot for the feature. We were started and that was the end of 1989. The next season, I began to carry a clipboard around, Ted Otto talked about what we were doing over the P.A., and Chris Holt would interview and present the money to the driver during intermission each race at Ascot. We didn't travel a lot then, but when the season ended and Ascot closed, we had a dilemma. Was the Wagsbucks dead?
The season started and we moved around to Manzy, Bakersfield, Santa Maria, Hanford and a few more tracks, and I carried the clipboard and continued collecting money. It never stopped as the Wagtimers were growing and supporting what we were up to. At times we did better when Chris was announcing and he played it up. Patrick Nalon was helpful at Manzy in those days, so we kept it up there, too. One time, on a trip back from Manzy with Pat and Norm in the car, we came upon an idea to have our own race. As far fetched as that was, the first Wagsdash was run in 1991.
We struggled with the format until I decided we would pay the winner $2,000, exactly what a regular feature winner was getting with the CRA then. We collected about $4800 for that first one and planned to run it at Hanford on the first of two nights closing out the season. That was the 8 lap wonder that Jimmy Sills won on a night when USAC was the keyword and delays were rampart. We moved on to Bakersfield for the next night, but not before I broke the first Wagsdash trophy. It was made by Trophy Dave of Trophy City in San Jose, Ca. Dave had surprised me, when we went up to a San Jose race, with what I was about to ask him to make for me. It was awesome, but that night at Hanford, when we dejectedly walked back to our motorhome, I didn't handle it properly, and it broke an inside piece, not the trophy part. Norm to the rescue the next day and he fixed it good as new. That is why you never see me carrying the thing anymore until I present it, they don't trust me!
Bakersfield came the next night and the CRA president, Frank Lewis, informed me we would run it right before the regular show. At Bakersfield the announcer's booth is a small building with the announcers inside and a "porch" in front for photographers. Greg Stephens was one of those trying to tape the racing that night as Terry and I stood nearby to be close to the action. This nightmare race started out with a number of yellows, to say the least. We couldn't get a lap in! After each incident, Terry would rustle around the area unnerved and very anxious. She was finally asked by Greg to vacate the area, or hold still. So she ended up behind the booth, where she couldn't even see the action, nervous as a cat, because she couldn't watch the massacre any longer. Finally, it was done with Ron Didonato the quiet survivor/winner. That is after the grandstands had emptied, and Ron's soft-spoken acceptance was very quiet, we were almost alone on the track. The photo session didn't take place until after the main event, but we didn't care, we had accomplished a miracle. Over the years there have been many good Wagsdash races, the best of which might have been in '93 when Bobby Michnowicz and Gary W Howard started side by side in the back row. Gary worked his way into the lead about halfway into the 30 lapper and Bobby just kept methodically moving forward. With a few laps to go, Bobby was still a half lap behind and when they went under the white flag, Gary was ahead by several car lengths. Down the backstretch, Bobby rolled up even and they came around the last two turns very close. Gary had the lead up until the two-foot mark, and then in a photo finish, Bobby took the win. There was more money for the field, but still only $2,000 for the winner. It was a blast.
Raising money for a race is not easy. In the beginning, it was all promoted by the Wagtimes newsletter and checks were sent in as a result. In the end, we utilized many forms of fund raising and the dollars came from the humble beginnings of just under $5,000 to a high water mark of $23,000, that in 2000. The annual Wagtimes auction raised plenty each year and billboards sold on the annual event T-shirt was another good moneymaker. 50/50 raffles, the T-shirt quilt made by Mrs Wags and a rear-end clock by Buzz Shoemaker just added to the lore of what we were doing.
With the ending of the paper Wagtimes, I was sad, but to answer the question of what is this Wagtimes stuff? It is merely a way to help the racers, and we did it as long as it was needed and/or the politics didn't kill me, and that certainly got to me in the end.
Yes, we ran out of "OPM", other peoples money, for a variety of things, but mostly because discretionary dollars became scarce due to the many fund raisers that tracks supported and mostly the economy. Of course my "retirement" in 2014 from the weekly battle to commute from my home in Las Vegas had a lot to do with it. I am thrilled to have been involved with raising money for the racers over the years and will keep those great memories with me in the future. Having moved on to more family commitments won't keep me from coming to the races, but not nearly as often as I accomplished over the last 40 years. Remember my motto "When it's racetime, it's Wagtime"!