My trip to Skagit was offered by Jim and Holly Hedblom and I took them up on it. They picked me up at the airport in Seattle about an hour south of their home in Burlington, Washington. Jim took me around and introduced me to a local racer named Jerry Edson where I got my first look at a race car shop and was impressed. I got to know Don Fenton who was the motor man and I used to see those two along the racing road often for many years. The racing was winged, but the track was racy and 3 nights of fun ensued. The HOT topic after the races was my face after I gulped down what I thought was a glass of water after getting thirsty. My first experience with the white lightning imediately showed me it was furious with my stomach. I sure wasn't expecting that, but it was over soon and the after race campfire fun went on. staying at Jim's place was fun and the trip ended too soon. I'll always remember my first trip ro Skagit as we had turned off the interstate onto a small two lane road that went thru a very dark forest. After about 5 dark miles you suddenly came to an opening and wala, there was bright sun, a parking lot and yes the grandstands of Skagit Speedway. Pretty shocking with the track in the middle of a forest all alone, but not when they are racing.
I came back with my bride on several trips thru the years including the CRA's first visit there that Steve Beitler promoted. The Dirt Cup was a great event and I always had fun around the area. Going on the ferries and checking out the small towns was very scenic. One particular berg called La Conner had a nice restaurant overlooking one of the little waterways where the salmon came in on a small fishing boat that you could see walking around the town. The fish tub was unloaded and salmon was then put on a barbeque pit outside the restaurant. Oh my when we saw this, a little investigation found out they opened in 20 minutes and we were there inside and ready to eat! We love salmon and when it's cooked fresh there is nothing better, if you like fish.
Here you can see some of those tall trees that surround the place. The press box is above the main grandstands with the concession stand below it with a opening to walk thru.
On race weekends, and especially the Dirt Cup, the campers are everywhere. Racers and fans alike come to stay for the three days and some never leave until time to go home. Something is going on all the time and walking around, everyone you meet is friendly and they offer food and drink as if you already know them. A little diffeent than the big cities of my home California.
There were many more cars in the 80's than today, even up there. They came from all over Washington, Oregon, California and Canada to race! The pits were obviously packed back then and the organization of getting the show run was surprisingly smooth.
The turn 3 thru turn 4 grandstands are packed by racetime as is the grassy area in front of them. The track size is listed as 3/10 of a mile and was wide and racy.
In those days each event started with two wide racing like normal and after any stoppages, they did single file restarts? I liked it, but obviously no one else did as I never saw that anywhere else.
Here is a view from turn four looking down the front stretch to the right. Pretty comfy sitting in your own chair on the grass enjoying the races.
It's racetime and not a seat was vacant as the packed house was ready!
Before the racing started, they played the national anthems of America and Canada, then introduced the drivers to the crowd. That was pretty special.
The first few WOO shows I attended were pretty exciting as they had to actually race back in those days instead of qualify for a dash and start up front like today. Santa Maria, Hanford and Baylands were particularly good for the wing experiences, and Knoxville was just a natural to go to every year. Those days were so fun, but I began really concentrating on the wingless world and left Knoxville on Saturday mornings to go home to Ascot for MY racing preference. Don’t get me wrong, Knoxville was the biggest racing scene you could imagine with the many friends we met, but Ascot’s Pacific Open was better racing. It took me a while to understand that and I finally went with it.
We had made friends with Harold and Alice Hubbs at Ascot and as we went to more races, a thought passed my mind while visiting with them in probably 1983. What started out to be a week to go to Eldora and Knoxville ended up to be 29 days in my little mini motorhome, just the two of us, Harold and I, on an expedition that was never matched in my lifetime. We saw 27 races from Ohio thru Pennsylvania, Missouri and ending with the Knoxville Nationals in Iowa before heading home to work on the following Monday. What an amazing trip with all the new tracks and seeing a lot of America with memories galore. I’ll never forget the t-shirts, new friends, the tornado winds at Sharon Speedway and much more. It was mostly WOO and ALStars events with a few local tracks on our itinerary, and was mesmerizing! That trip actually started my writing as I penned about a dozen pages of what I saw and sent it to a couple of scribes I met back east to share. It was a once in a lifetime thing for me, but it didn’t keep me from trying to match it over the years. Keep in mind there were no cell phones or debit cards, so calling home and getting cash was a pain.
I started out with a green and white polka dotted “engineer bill” hat in the days leading up to sprint car watching. I bought it because it was Kawasaki colorful and hid my helmet hair when I got off my 750 Kawasaki. I got a lot of heat from my Ascot friends who thought green was bad luck as I wore my Kawasaki green jacket and the funny hat to the races. At a Woo race at Ascot, I broke down and bought a yellow Gambler Jacket with a red sprint car on the back for both of us, (boy I wish I had that back), and we found a red and white hat on the road somewhere on Montana. Wala, my signature red and white polka dot world was born.
The evolution of the Wags stuff really started with a Chili Feed at the Peabody race at Ascot complete with the first collection of Wagsbucks and we sold new Wagtimes t-shirts with art work created by Jerry Hudson and printed by Brad Noffsinger. Man, what a deal, for $10 you could by a little bit of Wagtimes history. With Cary Agajanian’s blessing, we collected $660 from fans and Chris Holt handed $560 to Cary Faas for being the first car to miss the main and Steve Johnson got $100 for missing the B main. That was an amazing night with all the help from people I had never met, but would learn to call many of them friends as time went on.
The Ascot days for me were really amazing as I learned about sprint car racing from the grandstands. It took a while to get me out of my cacoon stage just sitting in the grandstands and start going to the pits to see the cars up close. The very first trip into the pits after the races netted us free Bubby Jones DSD # 91 t-shirts and it took a bit to convince me I didn't have to pay for them. Over time we came earlier and stayed later as we met people and had a lot to talk about. Our maybe once a month trip to Ascot changed over a few years to us going to almost every race and adding trips to other tracks where the CRA ran. Having kids at home to raise was a lot of that growth for us, but they grew up and it became easier. Even though the grandstands were extremely crowded with 16" seats on reserved nights, we would just buy extra to have the room. On the last night before they closed, we had Trophy Dave and Muriel Pusateri as our guests and we bought 6 seats and still could have used more.
The Wagsbucks started at Ascot with their support and encouragement from the start and if I would have had that type of co-operation at Perris, it would have helped a lot in our 20 plus years of Wagtimes fun. Cary Agajanian made it easy having both announcers touting what we were doing and presented the money to the drivers in front of the crowd to make the process easier. I always walked around until racetime with my clipboard collecting money before the races started and still had people find me in my regular seat at the end of the top row in section "H" to give me money. I never thought it would continue when Ascot closed, but because of you people, it did. The memories of that place are not deminished, even today some 25 years later, I still feel the energy from there and it will never go away.
Here is a view of the track from above that is right next to a concrete waterway and you can see the pit trailer parking to the left next to the water and the people parking lot to the right. You entereed the pits from the top going to the left and then into the pits. The bottom right is turn 4 and they raced down the front stretch in front of the grandstands before backing 'em in to turn one, what a sight that was!
The steps where everyone gathered impatiently for the 6 PM opening of the gates to put the blankets down, then go back outside to buy tickets when they went on sale later. The shuffling sometimes was too much as these legs were never into running for my seat. Luckily, most who beat me there found another spot after they heard my reason for wanting "that" seat!
If you look real close you can see the infamous Leslee Bremer waiting to be part of the winners circle presentations. The suntan lotion queen was quite a sight as a trophy girl for years around the races and even last year at Calistoga, she was part of the festivities there.
Yes I think that was Chris Holt out there doing the presentations that race, but can't remember who won what.
This view of the grandstands and press box was from the infield on a day they let us in to check out the cars before the racing got started.
Steve Vodden was the starter in those days and this was his place of doing business. He was one of the best and later became a long time official for the CRA and then SCRA.
The blue car on the left is Jimmy Oskie, the 5 time CRA champion getting read to be bumped off. The car to the right looked like # 77, and might have been Eddie Wirth, but I really can't tell.
Ahhh the Ascot sign, now in the posssion of John Barnes of Barnes Systems and is hanging on his wall after I borrowed it for a Wagsdash day at Ventura.
The 19 second wall at was famous. When Billy Boat lowered the et record to 17.958 on the last night of Ascot, we were stunned. He did it in the Bromme little red sucker.
The 4th turn saw some knarly finishes over the years. The building behind the wall was the RC race track that many used on the weekends and probably more. They had racing events that were fun to watch.
Here's an afternoon "fan in the pits" day. It wasn't often, but was always fun to go in and see the cars in the sunlight to take pictures and often meet the drivers. They put down 4 X 8 sheets of plywood to get over the track without getting stuck on the always tacky track!
That tall building you see was, and still is, tilting and should have been an obvious reason why they couldn't build on the old junk yard property. Too bad no one could see ahead enough to know it was not going to happen as today the old track property is now a car wholesale lot with small buildings on it.
And here is what the Ascot lot looks like as a few years ago. They were not able to build on the property because it was an old junk yard and was too unstable? Too bad they couldn't have continued on as a race track as it wouldn't have bothered the graveyard across the street!
On the last night of Ascot, we had the first Mrs Wags Chili Feed, collected Wagsbucks for the first time, sold new Wagtimes T-shirts and met a lot of people. Actually is was the second chili feed as we served chili out of our motorhome to 7 or 8 friends in the Ascot parking lot the year before. It was a fun night as Chris Holt came by to meet us as he would be presenting the money to the lucky driver. We had no clue if we could or would collect any money, but the $660 collected was a delightful surprise! Chris commented he had some chili with us in the afternoon and had no trouble "zooming" around the infield all night, Hah! (he said something like he was gas powered?) A sad evening as we knew life would change drastically for the racing family!
Someone brought this food display that resembled the racetrack. We all ate some and it was really a nice novelty for the night.
Here's Chris Holt chowing down on some of Mrs Wags chili. That's Don "the" Barber to the left. He later mentioned his gas assist situation when presenting the money.
I patrolled the food table as many brought delights to go with the chili for the big crowd of funseekers. It was all good!
There is Terry and Gene Tussing looking for an easy way in when they open the gates. What a rush and I remember a few battles over who got there first.
Here's a view of the entrance gate from the street where we parked our motorhome each week. We started going there about lunch time and often didn't get on the road until well after midnight.
We Wags were in our signature polka dots way back then. I am not sure when the Minnie Mouse outfit dictated our normal race wear.
Here is a group photo that I don't know who took, but suspect Steve Lafond, as we wanted to be part of the event happenings.
Trophy Dave and Muriel Pusateri came for the last gasp night and we had fun!
Santa Maria was a pleasantly shocking view as we approached for the first time. You could see it all from the freeway as you passed by and I couldn't wait to get inside. The black and white checkered grandstand view was amazing. Action on the small track was viewed from our beach chairs that we dug trenches to set them in on the side of the slanted hillside. The magnificent view was incredible as you could see it all. The freeway traffic bringing in haulers, the parking area where cars rolled in to park, the fans coming in on the paved walkway below you, the filling of the grandstands, the lines for the concession stands and the racing action on the track. It was all there to view and often the side action was very distracting away from the racing, expecially when the cute girls trolled in.
The famous Workin Woody of Art and Carol Malies pushes Jeff Swindell, I think, that night to get fired up and on the track. Some say the big white tractor tires were put there to keep Sammy Swindell from running on the infield? Watching the big haulers come in on the small wet track was always a viewing fun time, expecially when they tried to get back out of there to park. Some had to make more than one lap to get the speed up to crest the little hill. Years later they relocated the hot car pits outside of the track for all haulers and let only stockers and small open wheelers to use the infield pits.
You can see all the haulers parked outside of turn four here. The scoreboard has always been a revered staple of this track.
The infield shows a # 77 car that sure looks like Eddie Worth's car. That # 01 car lower right is the Baily Brothers car, but I don't know who was driving. Lealand McSpadden made that car his wing home for many years and won a lot of races in it. Bobby Allen is upper right in the photo.
You can see Lee James trailer in the background as the WOO filled the track with plenty of cars.
From the grandstnds you can see the lower walkway coming up from the parking lot. You can see the beach chairs dug in to the right. It was very scenic at this track, and still one of my favorites to watch racing along with Ventura.
I believe this was Bob Meli, but he didn't run a wing very often.
This is a more modern view of the press box and the now red, white and blue scheme used in the grandstands.
Here was the old pit gate booth that had long lines when they finally opened for business. There are times you could just pull on in and park, then go out to get your pit pass. I seem to remember you had to wait back in the day and the haulers lined way back to the ticket booth 100 yards or so from the pit entrance.
Typically the grandstands are packed when the sprinters run at Santa Maria, it's always been that way!
One of the best racetracks I ever went to was Baylands near Fremont California with a 3/8 dirt track that was way racy every time I went there. The WOO show in the fall was a must see as they put on a great race there. We stayed near the track and spent mornings heading into San Francisco for some Fisherman's Wharf fun and great seafood! Riding the Bart under water from the Oakland side to San Francisco was a blast. The Trolly Cars were the best way to get around downtown and we did many visits there. Even before my racing days I lived in Orinda Village just east of Oakland, and drove in to downtown SF to work. Looking back, I wished I hadn't moved on so soon, as It was a very exciting time in my life and I didn't get to see it all. While I was living there, the first enhanced topless dancer, Carol Doda I think her name was, began appearing in the nightclub zone. Of course that was just hearsay as I never went to see for myself.
The Baylands track surface was almost always heavy and fun, but one CRA trip up there it was one groove and a local driver was the polesitter and he won the follow the leader 30 lap feature. Besides Knoxville, the best WOO shows I ever saw in order were at Baylands, Hanford and Santa Maria. It was also the coldest track I ever went to. I had the latest and greatest kawasaki Snowmobile wear that I put on over sweat shirts and a jacket and I still froze. You had the breeze off the ocean and across the bay cooling it down and it was record cold. And to think after there were two deaths on the property, one on the dragstrip and one on the dirt track, they decided to let the place go. It was because the wanted to build a car dealership mall with every make to have dealerships there. Guess What, another failure that sent another track to the gone but not forgotten place. I still miss the trips up there and the great racing. Calistoga kind of takes the place of Baylands with it's festival atmosphere with beer and wine tasting plus great racing.
The starters stand, as well as some of the fencing, came from that Ontario Motor Speedway that didn't last long after it replaced Riverside raceway back in the early 70's? It also had a drag strip, so I was unhappy when it closed then. Yes, that's Steve Kinser getting interiewed by Dave Vodden back in the day.
Bobby Allen, one of my all time favorite wing drivers, was in the house. I seem to remember him giving Kinser a good run that day but Ron $human won the finali and it may have been the best wing race I ever saw.
The pits were out of turn one and would fillup on NARC and WOO events. Dave Vodden was the announcer and the first one to ever interview me over the PA when he came by and asked if I did intereviews. My response was not yet and we stared. He would sit on top of the press box during the afternoons before racing got going and just talk racing. You had to have been there to understand that man.
A view looking across the 17 freeway in front of the raceway and you saw some industry including a General Motors plant.
Jimmy Sills might have been one of the drivers of this famous No Cal car.
A look down the front stretch grandstands toward the pits shows it full of trailers.
I think she was selling programs or something.
The famous Andy's T-shirt trailer had all kinds of race memorabilia and was constantly busy selling stuff. My view was the top row next to the press box looking down behind the grandstands. Those were great seats that Trophy Dave helped me get. It was unique up there as there was about 3 feet of standing space behind the seats and only the seat holders could stand there, awesome! That would be a good feature for any track! On some afternoons the dragstrip was running and you could see the whole quarter mile from maybe 100 yards or so away, close enough to see with the naked eye easily.
My first trip to Eldora was an early 80's $50,000 to win Kings Royal and the pomp and ceremony was amazing, but the track was unreal! High banked and fast was the key. When we couldn't find the track on our first pass by the place, we asked for help. Some local said go back until you see one little tree in front of a small building and go thru the door. It was noon and no cars were in the grassy parking lot because we were a day early, but as soon as we cleared the door, there it was that famous track! Today there are a lot more trees, but then it really stumped me when I couldn't find the track. The place often got so packed that just walking from one side of the grandstands to the other took too long. It was easier to go down to the fence and walk along until bottom ......... for 30 laps ...... side by side ......... with hardly a car length between them at any time. I think Steve won, but it was non stop and I didn't have a clue to who else was on the track, so unreal.
One year we were there for another King's Royal and just before the feature was about to start, a friend named Big Steve showed up standing next to me. It was a total sellout and I asked where he parked. Being a truck driver I knew he had a problem, but he just said on the highway with his flashers going, he wasn't going to be there long! It looked like rain all day and I was surprised we made it this far. Sure enough Mark Kinser won and before he could pull down into the winners circle the biggest raindrops in history hit the place and he couldn't control his car as it slid around until it stopped. Being in a covered gransdstands has it's perks and you could hardly see thru the rain for a while! Big Steve took off as the best show was about to start. Many were already loaded and headed out toward the backstretch exit, but they all slid off left or right and couldn't make it up the very tall steep track. Earl's tractors got into play now as that's what it took to get the racers out of there that night. The rain was unmerciful and it didn't seem to let up for a long while. It was a good show watching, but I was in no hurry to get wet! It is probably still the fastest 1/2 mike dirt track and in those days the only other one that was close was I 70 outside of Kansas City. It was a paved track with dirt on it and ran for some years before they went back to pavement racing and eventually closed the gates. That place was the first CRA tour stop they raced there on May 3, 1985. Ron $human won as most of the CRA regulars that made the trip ran the bottom with only a few in the fast lane up top. Bubby Jones, Eddie Wirth and a couple of others were brave, with the rest just cautious on there first trip back east.
You can see the big grain elevator outside the track with motorhomes parking high above the track surface. That would be the turn 3 and 4 area as we look down the front wall of pit parking going away from you.
There is the covered grandstand where no rain can get you if you are in the middle anywhere. Earl Baltes was famous for his track and his bar about midway in the concession area, plus the reasonable food and drink costs. Don't know about the cost of booze as I never drink at a race unless it's with the winner afterwards.
Jack Hewitt practically owned this place, he won so much here in that # 63 car. On one CRA trip when Lealand McSpadden was leading the first night of a 2 day event, Jack tried a slider that didn't work and took em' both out, climbing the fence really high. The next morning Jack was at our motel where the DSD crew were building a brand new car and he was there to work as he didn't leave until the car was done. That night Lealand was leading again and this time Jac Haudenschild took a turn on sliding the Tempe Tornado. Nobody ever acussed Lealnd of being dumb as he saw the move coming and said "oh no you don't" as he backed off and let Jac hit the wall so hard he was really still shook up later when we saw him in the pits. e went to the hospito;, but was OK. That track leaves you no choice but to run the top gaining enough speed to slide under and get back up ahead of the passee without going into the wall, but sometimes it takes more skill than you have at the time, and accidents happen at Eldora.
That is Bobby Davis Jr making a fast pass near the top of the groove early in the evening. He was another of the best drivers of the time and his yellow Gambler he drove was one of my favorite cars and a model of that car is in my collection.
That is turn one and it's hard to tell how tall the wall is until you walk on it. It looks like it is 3 stories to the top and very tricky to walk on when it's wet. Earl had planned to build a mile track back in the turn 2 direction, but it never happened, even though someone told me some work had been done in the 80's.
A view of the right side of the grandstands from the cement parking places along there. People line up their rigs a day before a big race to get their spot!!!!
The front stretch with turn four to the left.
Coming out of turn four might be Slammin Sammy Swindell.
A view of the front stretch pit wall where the cars are pushed along side of it to fire up and go on to the track in turn 1.
The middle of the track is viewed from under the grandstands. You can see the back stretch exit with a car coming or going. It doesn't look too tall, does it?
Knoxville will always be special to me, but I started leaving Saturday morning each year to go home to the and CRA that was more important to me. The CRA ran there a couple of times and Richard Griffin opened some eyes, especially the old timers that missed the non wing. CRA ran Knoxville twice in 1999 and 2000 but the wing crowd didn't tell Ralph Capitani they wanted us back, so it ended there, In nearby Oskaloosa they ran us in 2002, 2003 and 2004 under Terry McCarl's promotorship. I would stay over each year for a day and help out in the Knoxville hall of fame taking tickets or some other chore. Tom Schmeh would then take me up to the suites and I would watch the heats before taking off for the next CRA race on tour. He always knew to get up to say goodby as the heats ended, knowing I was on the road. I have a lot of memories from there, but it's been 15 years or so since I went. They built a wonderful hall of fame and it just keeps growing.
after race stuff is the best. The food is unbeatable as pork fritters, grilled pork chops and other great foods in the area is superb. Add the High V grocery store and their restaurant providing a great buffet and the best biscuits and gravy after the races ever. So if you don't want to eat all the time you can hit the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame right above the turn two wall where the Wagtimes Sprint Car Fans have a brick on the wall. Look for it the next time you are there and send me a pic of you with it! Then there are the nearby camp grounds where all of your friends reside, and don't forget the motels in the area that become race car garages in the parking lots. It's non stop for 4 days and only the humidty can ruin your day. On rainout nights I learned to give away my tickets as the day shows after a rainout are humidplus and unbearable. I went to the Nationals for years and enjoyed camping right behind the grandstands near my friend Agnes Johston who had her trailer on the fairgrounds for many years. When the big buck sponsors moved in and all the campers moved out, nobody got to camp there any more. When they finally moved her trailer out, her family moved her into an apartment in Kansas City and then moved her to an old folks home where she passed away after a long and properous life. Rest in peace my friend.
The back of the main grandstands rises high above the walkway behind it. In 83 the place only seated about 10,000 or so. The expansion was big as they went up 20 or so rows above the existing top, lengthened it to the left and built new ones on the back stretch. It has to seat 25,000 or more, but that's purely an estimate.
That's the back stretch seating that is bigger than most tracks front stretch grandstands. My friend Don "the " Barber had top row center seats on the back stretch for years until he got tired of going back there. He got used to the announcers calling the race for the front stretch watchers.
That is Bubby Jones pushing off on one of his rare late in life starts at Knoxville.
This is an engineers version of an aerodynamic wing creation from Texas. He came several times, but never left his mark. It looked different and I wish a fast guy could have tried it with a strong motor to see if it could work, but no.
Well I was there wasn't I? This was before they extended the grandstands up and added an elevator and before I needed a handrail.
The view from the back stretch grandstands looking at the Hall of Fame building in turn 2.
Another view from behind the grandstands near my camping spot one year.
Turn one and two are to the right. The High V market is to the right and across the street.
The infield here features Bubby Jones and Ron $human parking next to each other.
Wow Mrs Wags is coming up the steps. She made a few trips, but her job got in the way of some of the trips I took.
That's Tim Green with Jeff Gordon right behind him pushing off.
And last but not least a shot from the air showing the nearby area. In the later years of me going to the Nationals, a bunch of us stayed in houses with local people that they shared. Tom Schmeh set it up and it was inexpensive and close by so no trips to Des Moines to spend the night.
Ron Didonato won the first Wagsdash!
Brody Roa won the last Wagsdash called WAG$CA$H 2011.