WAGS WANDERINGS RETURNS WITH A NEW STORY - IíM BACK!!!
June 13, 2018
By Ken Wagner
Wags Wanderings 8
A few years ago, Mrs Wags and I had dinner with Bobby Kimbrough when he was in town for the annual SEMA deal. The subject came up that since my retirement from doing my thing at CRA races, I had lost my quest that I pursued for so long to help the racers get extra cash and see great racing like I had for the past 30 plus years. I was really at a loss because the trips were fewer and farther between and I missed the success of collecting Wagsbucks. Bobby encouraged me to dip into my long history and ferret out some tales of my wanderings over those years. Thus Wags Wanderings was born, thanks Bobby, and I started recalling the good times and sharing with everyone. My memory isnít what it used to be back in the day when I took all those racing trips and came home without any notes sat down and wrote each story complete with race results, the restaurant feeds and going down the roads with others. So now I had myself a writing goal and was doing it pretty regularly. I completed 7 issues, the last in April of 2017, until one of my stories required me to find some pictures to illustrate some of my musings.
I quickly realized that my personal stash of pictures had many great driver shots and much more to be shared. So I began to create folders for each driver just like I did for my ďLost Loved OnesĒ files and folders for individual Wagtimers that already had links on Wagtimes.com. I spent hours and hours going thru disks of past races to pull off a lot of digital action from the past. I suddenly had a brilliant idea that a side project could bring back picture those memories to share on Wagsweb as Mrs Wags and I had taken many photos over the years as we went to CRA races. I also realized I had photos from my many close friends who supplied me with their work. People like Ellen Ellis, Darleen Dils, Steve Lafond, Jim Fargo and Doug Allen and a few more had added to my cache and I organized them, too!
Once I got into this process, I couldnít stop. So, for the last 15 months I have been relentlessly creating and updating what started out as ĒSprint Car DriversĒ link, and recently changed to Sprint Car Heroís link, because I had more race people I wanted to showcase also. People like the racing media, photographers, crew members, car owners, officials and just neat racing people who mattered were featured. That link went up on the Wagtimes.com front page for easy access. I branched out to the past for famous heroís I never saw like Don Branson, Jud Larson, Dan Gurney, Howard Kaeding, A J Foyt and many more. So I kept my head down and literally worked every day from 7AM until I turned out the light each night, only interrupted by food, gym visits, store shopping, family gatherings, friends visiting, a few race trips and other regular things that we spent doing along the way.
I am not done yet as I discovered ways to find more pics and do more updating and it seems like it will never end. I kept adding to many links until some popular drivers like Lealand McSpadden, Bubby Jones and others were packed with more photos than I could ever imagine being there. Every day as I research drivers, I find more new stuff that I can add later and it seems self-perpetuating or something like that! Alas it is a good project and I hope itís reaching those who care about their favorite heroís and you all get something out of it, that is my goal. I want Wagtimes to still be relevant going into the future even though I am not sharing the grandstands like I once did.Alas itís time for a break from that monumental task, and back to wandering thru my brain for some good times from the past.
Letís start with a refresh from some about how I got started. My racing life started out at the drags back in the Midwest as I went to college and got married to my first wife. I did a little racing myself until I realized I couldnít afford it. Not long after I quit racing there, my wife and I moved back to my birth place in LA where drag racing was exploding. I discovered Lions Drag strip, Orange County, Pomona, Irwindale, Carlsbad, San Fernando, Riverside and many more strips in the So Cal area plus No Cal strips like Fremont, Sacramento and more. I went every weekend and it enriched my life as I wandered the pits meeting the great stars of the 60ís and 70ís. Drivers like the Snake and the Mongoose, Don Garlits, Frank Cannon, the Greek, the Frantic Four, Walt Stevens, the Surfers and many many more. All I did was be first in line at the entry gate and watch them work on their cars and then hit the grandstands for the smoky runs that were awesome back then. It was really great and dominated my life until I moved to Tulsa, Ok for a new challenge.
When Lions closed I was on a mission to fix my bleeding marriage, so I took her and my two kids back to her world and we settled in Tulsa, Ok where I could find work that paid enough to support us. That fix didnít work, so we split and she move back home to Missouri and I prepared to return to California. After getting them settled in and spending weekends going up to see my kids, I met Mrs Wags and that started me on this wonderful life of fantasy we have lived the last 40 plus years. While I was in Tulsa, I was introduced to Super Modified racing that purely amazed me. I still went to the local drags trip once in a while, so I didnít give that up, but they only ran the top fuelers once a month. The Supers ran every Friday at Okie City, a hour away, and Saturday at the Tulsa Fairgrounds.
You know how something that defines a big change in you happens in your life? I didnít know it at the time, but when I happened on a half off $3 ticket at the local Get n Go store for the Supers at the fairgrounds, it was racing and I checked it out. Drivers like Jackie Howerton, Emmet Hahn, Benny Taylor, Harold Leep, Shane Carson and many more midwest heroís soon became household names to me and I quickly made that my Saturday night deal and really got into those 100 inch cars that put on a great show. It was much different watching open wheelers go round and round instead of dragsters blasting the quarter mile like I loved so much. But that $3 ticket changed my life and I can look back on that day as a milestone of destiny. Soon we left Tulsa and my new racing fun as Mrs Wags and I relocated to California where I could make some money and make our new life together better. As soon as my bride and I got settled in Fountain Valley, CA, we went to Ascot to see if those open wheelers were good enough? Obviously we wereso impressed it took up the next 40 years of our lives. This life changing scenario was key in our future, we were so blessed.
Seriously, I donít know how the Wagtimes was born actually; just know that out of nowhere a small snowball started going downhill picking up steam until it went thru many years of my love for racing and the CRA. Would you believe it just happened? I may have kick started it with my need to get involved, but I never planned ahead for anything like the Wagtimes that evolved. It seems like just yesterday at Ascot when we collected out first Wagsbucks at our first Mrs Wags Chili Feed, had our first Wagsdash and started this Wags thing. We followed the CRA across the country, met so many wonderful people along the way, collected over $600,000 for the racers and then retirement in las Vegas far away from that scene was a sudden shock to my lifestyle.. It was a whirlwind that had a life of its own and I donít regret a day of it.
We started going to Ascot, first every few weeks, then on a weekly basis in probably 1976 or early 1977. I found discount tickets to Ascot and it made it easier to go in those days with three kids and my Kawasaki career just getting started. At first we would arrive about 5:30 on race day so we could be in that first rush for seats at 6 pm when they opened the gates to get our regular spot. As soon as the checkers fell, we were out the gate and gone before the fans really got moving, and we were home an hour away by midnight. Over time we came earlier and earlier as we added a motorhome to make our race days easier. Most of the time we would hit lunch at a local Sizzler that featured an all you could eat shrimp feast before arriving at the track by 1 PM. The usual group around us in the grandstands would also come early and we spent many afternoons visiting with them as we talked about racing. Mrs Wags would often curl up with a book in the motorhome and relax while I was out flapping my jaws. It was there in the grandstands that we met some of those who are still friends today and perpetuated what became Wagsworld to us. Unfortunately, some of those dear friends we met back then are no longer with us, so that part of our story is sad.
It was along here somewhere before Wagtimes that I was prompted to getting rid of my green and white polka dot hat and green Kawasaki jacket that I wore to every race. Many people thought green was bad luck in racing, but I loved my hat and it was the first thing I put on after riding my Kawasaki when the helmet came off. I got the idea of polka dots while watching my Los Angeles Rams one game and noticed many of the players had these engineer bill type hats in many colors. I picked a green one at an army surplus store because of Kawasaki and it stuck on me. After I was encouraged to make a change, I saw a red and white polka dot hat on one of our trips, so I bought it. The next race featured the WOO and their t-shirt trailer that went along with them. They had yellow Gambler jackets with a red sprint car on it, so we bought two of those. I was now outfitted with a red hat and to this day, I still wear the silly thing because it is just me.
We began taking trips, when CRA wasnít at Ascot, to Baylands, Calistoga, Chico, Santa Maria, Hanford and Ventura as it enriched our racing perspective. We met more and more people along the way. After meeting Jim and Holly Hedblom, I was invited to go stay with them in their home in Burlington, WA where I attended my first of many visits to Skagit and the Dirt Cup. We met them at Santa Maria when we camped by them at the track and they needed to borrow some charcoal starter to cook their dinner. We became fast friends and they became Wagtimers, too. When terry couldnít get off work, I went on my own to Skagit and as soon as they picked me up at the airport, it was a whole new world. Jim took me around to many race shops and local motels where the out of towners stayed before race day. I met many local drivers of that time. We went to Troy and Dorothy Fentonís place to meet these great race fans that I saw at Knoxville every year for a long time. Their son Don was a motor man for one of the areaís top drivers, Jerry Edson, so I got to see the car he worked on. Donís background was enriched by an engine builder school back east (canít remember which one) and he was plenty busy with the local cars. I still see him and Jim, along with another friend from up there named Scott Read, once in a while on different race trips. Scottís dad Bruce made those incredible non-wing sprint car key fobs, belt buckles and money clips that I have and once sold for him back in the day. He also had some wing ones.
Anyway the Dirt Cup was amazing as in those days they had nearly 100 cars on that little track that put on a great show with cars from Canada and California that came to race. It was like a big party with everyone camped out as we went from campsite to campsite showing me the race cars and the people who ran them. I remember one team, Cecil Walker, had a logging truck to pull their hauler and that was unusual. The racing was hot, the doughnuts they sold along with the food at the snack shack were great and the night went on. The track was built in the woods so the big trees are a great backdrop up there.
After the race they introduced me to two things. One, they always had a fire pit where everyone gathered and shared stories and talked about the racing long after the feature ended. The other was white lightning! After a lot of palavering, I was kind of thirsty, so asked Jim where I could get a drink of water; at least I know that was what I was thinking. He and a friend had a side business of building wings for the racers, (M & H) so they were really involved in racing. When that friend handed me a glass of his special water he brewed, I took a gulp, yikes! My first taste lasted a long time as I sputtered for a bit while it burned its way down to my stomach. Shocked? Hell yeah, but I got over it and finished the brew before we left. I was thankful to Jim and Holly for the hospitality, and the great Rhubarb pie Holly made me, and I went away with another great experience that I never forgot. I went back on many occasions over the years as it continued to be a must see event.
Over the years I traveled a lot with many Wagtimer friends and saw amazing things, but perhaps the best trip ever was with Harold Hubbs. We met Harold and Alice in the Ascot grandstands. They became part of our lives as we did a lot of racing together. Their truck with a camper and our motorhome were next to each other at a lot of races. This was before the Wagtimes Newsletter was born in December of 1987, but had a lot to do with the start of that very basic rag.
Harold and I decided we were going to go back east and see some racing at tracks neither of us had ever been to. So planning began for a two week trip at first. I always made a trip log listing mile by mile; location by location to follow that included driving time, gas mileage and cost, and where we would stop along the way. So we noticed if we left a little earlier and came back a little later we could add some bigger races than planned originally. Specifically we could start at the Kings Royal at Eldora and end with the Knoxville Nationals, what could be better? We loaded the motorhome up with can goods and food that made eating in easier and ended the need for a lot of fast food. Off we went on a 28 day trip over 7000 miles to 21race days and it was a whirlwind saga Iíll never forget.
We left his home in Colton, Ca and headed straight to Springfield, Mo where my son had requested my presence. Due to circumstances beyond my control, I didnít get to see or talk to my kids often enough and it had been a couple of years since I was allowed to speak to them on the phone. Kevin had tracked me down at Kawasaki, all on his own, and wanted to see me. Shazaam, we drove thru the night and arrived in Springfield about noon where he met us at a Walmart, since we didnít want you know who to catch us. We spent time at a local steakhouse and then a park nearby as we got to know each other a little better. I promised I would see him when I wandered back that way more often and our relationship took a spike up as he now had a dad he could see. Soon Harold and left him and headed towards Eldora for our first stop on this early Wagstour.
Eldora was not easy to find in those days. We found Rossburg, Oh with its one Chevy dealer closed up and not much more, and then headed down the two lane road past the track without seeing it. We did see a little tree in a field and a small pond, but no racetrack. This was 30 years ago and there was no signage anywhere. We stopped and asked some farmer and he said ďgo back a little ways and itís on the left. Look for a tree?Ē We found a tree and a little dirt path to it and parked. When we walked over to what looked like a wall to me, it had a door. Inside was the most amazing thing! There was a covered grandstand and yes, a dirt track out there. We were really early, but before long, cars began pulling in and eventually a race track got going. I had never seen anything close to that track and only I-70 outside of Kansas City was close to as fast. I canít remember much more than the racing with Steve Kinser and Bobby Allen, but believe me it left an impression!
That trip included Eldora twice, and Millstream, Sharon and Buckeye in Ohio, Lernerville, Lincoln, Port Royal and Williams Grove in Pennsylvania, I-70 and Lakeside in Missouri and ending 4 nights in Knoxville. There were a few more like Bryson that I canít remember where it was, but the trip included stops at tracks that were not running just to see. Tracks like Lima land, Winchester and Salem were interesting to walk and look over.. We bought t-shirts at all of them. We covered a lot of miles and enjoyed the voyage immensely.
Here are some highlights of the memories of that trip. Sharon Speedway caused us a little worry as we pulled in there a day early and parked against the trees about 100 yards from the grandstands. We met the promoter and he gave us some programs and chatted us up. The weather was cloudy, but no big deal until we were eating dinner inside the motorhome. A gust of wind came up and almost pulled the awning out of its holder. We managed to get it down and get back inside before a storm hit. No biggie as we slept well and heard the wind most of the night. Morning came and when we went out to look around, we saw a lot of debris scattered around the parking lot and part of the metal covering from the back of the grandstands was among the stuff on the ground. Before the race there were a few cars packing the track with kids driving them around. They had a three wheel water truck that came out too, but it ended up being a good racetrack, so I guess they knew what they were doing. It is listed as a 3/8 mile track, but looked round and larger than that.
When we got to Lernerville, it was right in a little community with houses across the street nearby. The track was a dark red clay and when we left everything we wore was red. The track had a lot of trees on the back stretch, so if you went off, as some did, you might meet a few trees, as some did. Most of the races on the trip were WOO events and in those days I enjoyed the racing partly because the format wasnít with dashes to put the heroís up front yet. I remember two things about the place. One there was an old modified on a trailer parked across the street that never moved, and two, there was only one porta potty and so sometimes they lined up against a fence headed to it and the men just peeíd thru it on the ground when they got tired of waiting.
My memories of Lincoln Speedway that first time, as I went back several times, was it was a neat track with a lot of cars. The night got cloudy and was OK until they stopped running, where it promptly fogged up. It was a little hard to see in the misty night and the show ran late so I donít remember if I saw the end of the race! I do remember a lot of spin outs and time stoppage to get going again. I think it might have rained off and on, too.
The famous Williams Grove track was different than a lot of tracks I had seen before. It had a tunnel going underneath the track to get to the pits for the fans and a walkover bridge on the back stretch, both unique! Port Royal and a few other tracks I know have a tunnel. We arrived a day early and got settled in. We walked to a nearby store and bought some stuff before looking around the area. There was a creek out from the turn 2 area of the track. That creek ran down the road a bit where we found a house that was built spanning it. There was a water paddle wheel mounted on the house and went down into the creek. I guess it made electricity or ground corn or something for the family inside. We met a lady out walking her dog and she lived barely 100 yards away in a house that was over 200 years old that was built by her great, great, great relative in the past and her family had always lived there! Turns out there were a lot of antique houses around the area. Racing was good and only one car ran off into the woods in turn one where the track prep machines were parked.
Buckeye was down a long 2 lane road in Ohio. There were a lot of black horse drawn carriages in the way, I mean going very slow as we went to the track. In fact one we followed lived right across the street from the track. I had never seen those buggies before, but over the years I saw more as I went in to PA several times. I remember the racing to be good, but a rough track sent some front ends to the trash can as a few didnít handle it very well. This race was an All Starr event.
The trip went thru Kansas City and Lakeside Speedway where plenty of action was fun to watch. I am pretty sure we saw my mom while we were there and she went to the races with us. On to our last stop at Knoxville Iowa and the Nationals was a fitting finale. It was t-shirt nirvana with probably nearly 100 or so different designs available. We ate at the Hy Vee grocery store because the biscuits and gravy are the best, and the chicken is good too. It was a long but enjoyable 4 days with all the visiting and race watching and I think Steve Kinser won. When the checkers fell on Saturday night, we were locked and loaded to go home. We drove straight thru and were exhausted, but pleased with the month of racing.
When Harold and I got back to civilization, we had a lot of unloading to do. Talk about t-shirts and other stuff we gathered, the motorhome was bursting at the seams, but we made it. Looking back it was one of those dream bucket list things that was the best. I went on a lot of good trips after that including some CRA tours that were outstanding, but none ever lived up to that 21 race trip that I will never forget. I still see Harold and Alice occasionally, but neither of us goes racing much anymore. But ahh, the memories, thatís what life is all about!
Oh and there is one more thing I want to share. Itís called communication, something that is often neglected in our day to day actions! Some people have asked why I wonít be going back to Perris after the last Oval Nationals. Most of the Wagtimers know the reason. I am embarrassed and hurt over what happened last year after the race.
For over 20 years I have collected money At Perris without fail. Every CRA and SCRA race there, until the end of the Wagsdash era in 2010, I have carried my clipboard around and collected money from the fans to give to the racers. After that I still worked around the Perris track to collect and present the money after every race. As time went on and my efforts were no longer announced to the fans, I lost relevance there, whatever, I understood. Still Wagtimers and others who supported my cause gave me money including Don Blair until he passed. After my retirement from going to every race in 2013, I settled into collecting for just the Oval Nationals Lafond/Wagtimes CRA hard Charger Award.
On that Oval Nationals 2017 Saturday night, I had arrived at the track with a little over $1500. I added another $50 from people who sit around me in the grandstand and contribute every year. After the race Steve Lafond and I handed a record $ 1560.50, plus a bottle of specially labeled Crown Royal, to Damion Gardner for his passing run. All was well, another good year for us. We celebrated another good year before heading home in the morning.
I went home happy until I read an email from Don Kazarian. It said I had to have permission to collect money at his track and it wasnít fair to his event sponsor and the Tony Jones hard charger award they put up. I was embarrassed and shocked and didnít get it that he did it this way. I felt like the kid in school that was asked to meet the teacher in the cloak room. Why couldnít there be two awards? I responded to Don that I was sorry and if I continued on with my award I would collect and do it somewhere else. I promised not to collect for the racers at his track again.
In my defense I had been collecting at the PAS for the racers since the day the track opened with their OK. At one time they did announce what I was doing to the crowd, but over the years that went away. When the Tony Jones Hard Charger Award started a few years ago, he and I talked about it and I didnít have a problem with it, so I kept on doing mine like normal. They announced his and never mine, whatís that mean, you figure it out. Who would care if the racers got more money?
Keep in mind that once I started collecting money for the racers back in 1989, I never wavered. I always did it, rain or shine, it was my quest, my job, something no one else did, and I felt good about it. I know promotors generally thought what I was doing took money out of their pocket, Perris did from the start, but I disagree. All my supporters who brought me money did it because they wanted to support the racers. Communication is a wonderful thing. It was Hell-of-a run at the PAS, but now I donít feel welcome and I wonít be going back.
Steve Lafond retired last season from shooting his fotoís after 24 plus years and collecting for his award he started back in the early Wagsdash days. After he heard my sad tale, he agreed we might continue on somewhere else. If anyone wants to get involved like normal, I will continue to collect for the CRA Hard Charger Award. Feel free to let me know if I should continue.
OK, you tired yet? I have gone about as far as I can go this time. Iíll be looking for more stories in my brain before next time. Perhaps the one about Lealand knocking over the trash can in Yuma, or the time Billy Boat gave a banana to my grandson to keep him quiet, and maybe the time Mr Lafond had his foot on the dash while driving on a CRA tour back East? Those or more like them are bubbling to the top. Hang in there, Iíll go look for more pics now!
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