WANDERING BACK IN WAGTIMES TIME KIND OF TAKES MY BREATH AWAY!!!!
April 27, 2017
By Ken Wagner
Wags Wanderings 7
Boy, after retiring from my many years of race chasing and now after enduring 3 plus years with limited race track appearances, it’s obvious that life has changed for the Wags! Not just for me, but for all who use to be around me, IE “The Wagtimers”. Think about it, most of us in our younger years did little but talk about racing, going to races, and planning the next race. I look back on my life focus and realize, that besides my wife and family, I was so dialed in on dirt track madness, the years rolled by leaving me with a lot of great memories to bring back in my mind, Add a few dates of today’s racing on my schedule to keep me going and all is still good!
I can’t believe we will be celebrating my 75th year on this earth soon and where did the years go? Search me, as I was too busy living than to stop and figure where it went. I can look back at my racing life and remember in my youth when drag racing was the bomb! BT, before Terry, I had logged hours and hours at drag strips thruout SO Cal and the Midwest. I had seen the greatest drag racers of all time run Lions, Pomona, Irwindale, Bakersfield and many more drag strips for my pleasure. I can still recall a lot of those smoky runs and high speed blasts, but I moved on when I saw my first dirt track race and by then Mrs Was and I were joined at the hip doing everthing together.
The formative years of dirt track watching actually started at the Tulsa Speedway in Oklahoma where I had moved to try and fix my first marriage when things went shaky in California. The move changed nothing, and while my marriage faded away, a visit to a Get N Go store in Tulsa left me with a coupon for the Super Modifieds at Tulsa Speedway for $3!! That pesky little coupon started all this madness, can you believe it? I remember when I was 18 and working in the parts department at a Mercury dealership in Springfield, Mo (for $1 an hour by the way) for Dean Roper. Dean drove stock cars at the local fairgrounds on Friday nights and ran modifieds in Joplin and St Louis also. I built a model of his modified for him because I was building all kinds of models that didn’t come in a box ready to glue together in those days. So I knew what they were, but had never seen them race. Anyway, now some 12 years later my coupon got me in to see something new and exciting. Those high horsepower little race cars that put on a hell of a show were facinating. I saw a lot of late model stuff in Springfield after marring my first wife as her father took me to his favorite thing ever week. He was the first 100 mile winner at the track so had the inside of who’s who and it was fun going with him.
The Supers at Tulsa had Emmet Hahn, Benny Wahoo Taylor, and a host of stars of the 70’s running and I soon made that my Saturday night destination. It was really great racing and even my roommates would come out because the beer was sold in the grandstands for their easy access. These good times were perpetuated when Terry and I married and moved to California where I had heard Ascot was good racing too. Little did I know that my first visit to Ascot Park would literally change my life script. In time I got so involved I was shocked as I began to travel to races all over the country, began writing about it, and created the whole Wagtimes thing without any planning at all. It just happened, why I can’t say, but I am so glad.
Of course I had a tremendous amount of help to get here, as my friends, a.k.a. The Wagtimers, were born and force fed me thru some exciting times. You can’t make this stuff up! “When it’s racetime – it’s Wagtime” is more than a motto, it’s my holy grail! I think it’s about being in the right time at the right place! A higher power moved it along as I never planned to get out of my grandstand seat to collect money or create a race, somehow it just happened?
Over the years this Wags snowball rolling down the hill thing was just that, and our efforts were out of control as we collected over $620,000 for the little guys to help them out. I remember thinking with three kids at home, I couldn’t afford to help any racers with my money, so decided to get my “friends” to pool our money and buy a tire. That was the thought pattern where it all started. That first time we collected $660 at the first Mrs Wags Chili Feed at the 12th annual Peabody Classic at Ascot where many brought food items for the feed and also bought the new Wagtimes T-shirts that Jerry Hudson created from a stick figure drawing I made him, such a deal and that’s how it began. The first Wasbucks recipient was Cary Faas who got $560 for being the first car missing the transfer to the main and not be in the top 10 in points. $100 went to the car that missed the transfer to the Semi, Steve Foremost. Chris Holt announced the winners in front of the crowd and from that day forward, my clip board made regular appearances at all CRA races until we folded the tent a few years ago.
As they once said on an old TV program, there are a million stories in the naked city, and I aim to tell a few. Here’s one now!
My now famous Friend Don “The” Barber and I met at Ascot in 87’ I think, after he and another friend, Baylands Frank had come to Ascot for a year ending race and sat right in front of us. I mentioned a planned trip the next year to Eldora and beyond as we got to know each other. Little did I know that when I went to Eldora the next year, they showed up and blamed me for their trip there. With our now 30 year friendship, we have history of a lot of trips together, including a CRA mud and rain tour of 1990.
This CRA tour looked great and I planned it well. I would drive the Wagsmobile from home to Phoenix where I would pick up Don “The” Barber and we would see the CRA opening tour race at Manzanita that night. I arrived in town early and parked at Manzy to take a nap. Well the wind blew, and the dust flew and when it woke me up I spent an hour cleaning up my rig before picking up The Barber at the airport.
John Redican started out the night winning the trophy dash and some interesting heats happened. Billy Boat looked like a sure winner that night until Ron $human snuck up on him and passed him down low for the win. We spent the night at the track and headed out in the morning for the long trip to Wichita, KS where the next race would be.
The wind was pretty vicious thru Arizona and into New Mexico. Sometimes it came from the back and gave us an assist, but mostly it was in our face or coming from the side. That little Toyota powered motorhome had a pesky problem that seemed to happen when I least expected it. The fuel filter would clog up and needed changing. Knowing this, you would think I had an extra somewhere, but I didn’t. As we traveled down the road, the speeds lowered to barely 10 MPH with the pedal to the floor, so I pulled over and stopped. I knew the drill, but when I didn’t find a replacement in my vast cache of tools, a screwdriver, a hammer and a pair of pliers, I removed it and banged it on the round a bunch and reinstalled it. Remember, I am not a mechanic, but this trick reoccurred enough I could manage it. The thin started and we moved on down the road looking at gas stations for a new filter, but nada! We made it to Tucumcari and parked in a local motel lot behind Verne Sweeney’s rig. In the morning, a nearby auto parts place snagged us two filters and I immediately replaced the old one. We had no more trouble with the filter the rest of this trip.
The trip continued with more strong winds blowing the little 4 cylinder Toyota 18 foot motorhome all over the place. We drove straight thru to Wichita and went to the track first. After hanging out and visiting with many day early arrivals, we headed to the Red Roof Inn and parked next to Bob Meli’s rig and spent the night. There was more visiting and fun as we were on a race trip, and that’s what you do!
Morning brought cooler weather with rain clouds in the air, so we went looking for Laverne Nance’s shop. The Bromme’s at that time had quit building their own Bromme cars, and were using Nance chassis now. When we arrived, they were in the parking lot working on a new car. Laverne welcomed us in and we scoped out the busy shop and talked with a lot of racers in the house as John Redican, Lealand McSpadden and many more were there for various reasons. Even some Phoenix fans on the trip were there that included Joe and Ellen Ellis , Big Steve, Crazy Darrell and Bob McCrea wandering around the place. Always was a neat deal in a race shop and this one was extra fun.
It was still cloudy and windy, but to the track Jack was always our motto! Gentleman John Redican led the feature that night until he hooked a big tractor tire causing him to spin out with a messed up front end. Brad Noffsinger was struggling with a dangling shock, but after he decided he wouldn’t turn over, he chased down local driver Mike Peters and took second from him near the end. Okie driver Shane Carson ran the scary top to the win from his mid pack starting spot. That track had no walls and it was hard to run the top and not roll off the track and lose spots or even crash. Lealand was 4th followed by Steve Ostling and Bubby Jones. A tradition at Wichita Speedway was the big Steak feed after the race. I think you paid $5 and received a delicious big steak and baked potato. It was fun eating with the racers and hearing them jaw at each other about the race. Oh by the way, Super Rickie Gaunt received the Wagsbucks that night!
Don and I left after the race and cruised into Kansas City in the morning to my Mom’s house. I got in a visit with two sisters, my Grandma and some other family before we were in the road to Danville, ILL. It rained the whole trip and we were a little tired, so pulled into another motel and parked behind Kim Craft’s rig and went to sleep. When we finally woke up, we were deserted by all the rigs that stayed there overnight, but it was on to Indy we went. We arrived and had a nice dinner and went to sleep. While all the rain was pouring down I noticed one of the pop tops was leaking, yikes! So I masterminded a fix using a racer tool, 100 MPH duct tape, and made a trough for the water to go directly to the sink, and all was well.
Mrs Wags was arriving at 6 AM at the airport, so we gathered her in and set off for Eldora Raceway and the first of two nights of racing, or so we hoped. The rain followed us all the way and when we arrived at the track at 10 AM, the race was already called due to the rain? I guess Earl knew what he was doing, even though the latest big storm arrived late. The covered grandstands allowed us to visit with a lot of people thruout the day. Promoter Earl Baltes held court with all us fans and racers telling stories of days gone by. When I introduced Mrs Wags to him, he merely looked at me and said “she aint the bitch you brought the last time”? Yowzer, that was funny. He said it with a smile and continued on.
After a night in the motorhome, we ate and went back in to visit some more until Earl pulled his old truck on the track and began working it for the race. CRA president Frank Lewis put up a $10,000 bond for anyone who could beat the CRA regulars and quite a few big boys showed up to do just that, including WOO regular Steve Kinser. My first view of the CRA at Eldora was, in a word, spectacular! Hot laps sensational! Qualifying special! Billy Boat got fast time with Lealand McSpadden 2nd in his Ford powered racer.
I had a lot of questions put to me by some of the locals that hadn’t seen non wing racing in many years. After the trophy dash, one new friend remarked “there was no passing?” I told him to hang on as the heats started. Some of the drivers were more timid on this high banked oval running in the middle of the track, but after Bubby Jones ran the top against the wall and passing to a heat race victory, you could tell he’d been here before. My friend now asked “is this normal”, meaning all the passing for positions, and I said yes, every Saturday night at Ascot back in California!
The last chance race saw a horrendous crash where Rip Williams came up short on a slider of Jerry Meyer and sent him into the wall end over end and tearing a section of the front stretch wall down. The starter, Tony Otto, was hit by something that gave him a bruise under his eye. Bubby Jones started on the front row and led the first 19 laps dancing easily thru the lap cars before falling out of the seat! Bubby wasn’t a youngster anymore, but you could see if he was in top shape, nobody would have caught him. The action behind him was amazing! Steve Kinser was smooth as he worked by Bubby when he saw an opening, but it wasn’t over yet! Lealand had that Ford flying and was faster than Steve, as was Bubby before he fell back, so he took up the challenge and reeled him in. Suddenly, on lap 25, Lealand tried a slider on the King, but came up a bit short. It was his last gasp because his arm was hit by a rock about then and it went numb, so he drove one handed the rest of the way to finish runner up. Bubby hit the wall near the end but hung onto 3rd in a great drive. Jack Hewitt, the local hero, was 4th with Mike Sweeney, Ricky Hood and John Redican following. It was mind blowing watching all the action, and I was thrilled.
It may have been the best race I ever saw there, not just because it was one of the few non wing events I viewed, but because it was a real race, with lots of passing and fast slide jobs. Comments from the crowd included one from an old timer who said he hadn’t been on the edge of his seat like that since the days of Don Branson and Jan Opperman! The crowd roared their approval of Kinsers win, but also for the CRA boys racing talent. Many nearby said it was better than an outlaw show there as that is all they saw in those days. Watching the cars roll up to the top at speed and launch under another fast car was impressive and made me hold my breath sometimes as I was friends with a lot of them and most hadn’t been there before. Ron Didonato got the Wagsbucks as we continued to collect on the tour like always.
One of the things I remember from my pit walk that night was when I talked with Brad Noffsingers wife Robin, she said the track scared her so much, she couldn’t watch her hubby on the track until late in the race! Walking the track and looking up to the top of the berm was a little shocking as it looked tall like a two story house and you couldn’t get much traction trying to walk up it. It was too bad we didn’t get a second night of racing in as I think it would have been even better!
Goodbye Eldora and soon hello Terre Haute at the other end of Indiana. The sun was out and many fans were blanketing their spots in the stands as we walked around. About 10:30 we settled in the covered grandstands to watch the track prep. At first it looked weird as the mud had extremely deep ruts and the few trucks working it did nothing to iron it out. People walking it were swallowed up, so to speak, but it soon was obvious they didn’t have the equipment that could fix the problem. It was called mudded out by noon. That has never happened before and not since, so it was just plain weird. We got our money back and took off.
There were several tracks within driving distance to head to, but we picked a non sanctioned non win race at Lawrenceburg near Cincinnati. When you smelled the Seagram’s whiskey factory on the hill overlooking the low land where the track was, you knew you were near. I always did like that aroma. The $6 admission was the cheapest of the trip and we were soon in and sitting in the grandstands! The first thing I noticed was the back stretch was lined with spectator owned cars and people sitting on them and doing what can only be described as tailgating, and ….. they were too close to the track! It looked dangerous, but what did I know, right? Greg Staab, Chainsaw Greg, the Sleeze and a few more familiar faces were nearby chatting with us. The grandstand was concrete and had a big crack in it near the top.
Two of our cars, Harlan Willis and Kim Craft, had made the trip to get in a few laps before our next race. Brad Marvel, a familiar driver who hit Ascot occasionally, was running as well as Steve Kinser’s dad Bob. There were 22 sleds, 22 sprint cars and a few modifieds running the night and after the heats, Mrs Wags was off to the Wagsmobile to read? On this night, Bill Rose won his first ever sprint car race as he passed “old man” Bob Kinser on the last lap. We left before the sleds ran and headed back to Indy and spent the night in Carl Mosser’s driveway. Carl worked at the Muncie transmission factory for years, but was now retired and spent most of the year going to sprint car races and the winters in Florida where he stayed with a daughter whose house had a “casita” special built for him and his wife. We had known him for a few years seein him at the races when we went back there.
We spent the day at the big indy track and visited the museum and watched practice. A visit to the Arizona Sport shirt shop was next as they had just moved from Phoenix over the winter. A couple of t’s later we went back to the Mosser’s for dinner with them. Carl’s wife Flo is a big Indy car fan, but doesn’t do dirt tracks at all. She spent her time playing golf mostly when she wasn’t shopping while he was off race watching. They had a lovely two story home near the speedway with a stream running thru the property in a country setting.
The next day we three rode with Carl to Danville for the next CRA tour race. Many traveling fans were in the grandstands to visit as Bud and Helen Burchell, Larry and Myra Jolly plus Richard and Sylvia Watkins were chatting away. One of my traditions when I traveled was to get the track t-shirt, but this one had a stock car on it so I passed and later The Barber second guessed me on that decision. The night started with Ron Didonato winning the trophy dash, probably utilizing his recent Wasbucks? It was an interesting night of racing on the small dusty ¼ mile track. Kim Craft won the semi with Lealand, Robbie Ferguson and $human behind him for the transfers.
The feature looked like a cakewalk for $human as he quickly worked his way into the lead and was walking away with this one until Bubby Jones began working his way forward. There were 3 grooves at this one as $human was on the top with Bubby in the middle and Shane Carson on the bottom. The three of them put on a great show the last half of the race dicing and passing each other until finally Ole’ Bub rolled under the leader for the win with Shane very close behind for third. The pass for the win took a half dozen laps as Bubby was consistent and slowly made the pass. This was Bubby’s home track and the crowd went wild with cheers. Awesome!
Bad Brad Noffsinger ran 4th after spinning out early and coming back at the end, followed by John Redican and Rip Williams. Billy Felts asked that question we heard a lot in those days “what is this Wagtimes stuff” as we handed him the Wagsbucks. It really was an entertaining night with a great ending so we had a lot to talk about in the pits.
After sleeping peaceful that night at the Mosser’s, we had breakfast with them in the morning and all 5 of us went to the Speedway. They showed us their great seats for the 500 as we hung around and took the track tour bus around the big 2-1/2 mile oval. A fun day with nice weather was spent before we went to eat at a down home style restaurant I can’t remember the name of. It was 27 years ago for heaven’s sake! We three then took off in threatening weather for Putnamville and the next race.
The track in those days had only one groove, and if you got out of it you went backwards fast, and it was very rough looking. The grandstands had plenty of space down the rows so the typical trollers you always watch getting up and down, could get by without bothering you, well they got by. Qualifying was going well as our guys had their problems finding THE groove and staying in it. Billy Boat was the fastest looking as he found his groove as the rain began falling. They kept it going as we got wet. Earlier Terry scored an autograph from Steve Kinser when he showed up to watch his dad race. She had him make it out to our grandson Tory and he finally got it last year, as I kept it safe all those years knowing it would disappear in his hands back then. A local farmer, and big race fan named Woody who lived nearby, always brought fresh caught catfish and huge beefsteak tomato’s to Knoxville and Eldora to feed everyone, came by to chat. It was misting with some crackling lightning going on when he said “when she starts a growlin, pretty soon she’s gonna bite”!
The trophy dash winner, Brad Noffsinger, had fun on the nasty track as we got started. Watching the semi drove me nuts as they rolled around the track popping in and out of THE groove and running in the whoop de doo’s into turn one, it was destructive to cars as the flew off the track. Jerry Meyer won ahead of Ron Wolf and Walt Kennedy. The call for the feature came and so did the major league sized raindrops that soaked the crowd just like that, it was so fast. We were parked close in the motorhome, but had to change out of our wet clothes when we climbed in before heading out in the storm. The rain never stopped as the wind and some flooding caused us to pull in behind a Holiday Inn to escape all that. This is where having a lot of food in the rig saved us from getting wet again as we went off to la la land and rested up for the next fun track ahead. We later learned that the main qualifiers split the purse and that was nice. Mike English got the Wagsbucks so he had dinner money.
It was still raining as we took off for Hales Corners near Milwaukee with hopes of a good race. When it was obvious the rain wasn’t stopping, we pulled over and checked the weather for that area. Rain and snow at 32 degrees was called for, so we changed gears and direction to the left towards Knoxville. We stopped in Ottumwa at a Days Inn to get a real bed and showers! Dinner at a local H V grocery store was great as we ran into Joe and Ellen Ellis who reported Hales Corners was cancelled with 4 inches of snow on the track.
Friday was sunny and blues skies with no wind as we cruised into Knoxville on the short ride. We went right to Dennison’s race wear and picked up our new white Wagtimes jackets. They were special and we were ready now. Unfortunately, the end was near as the clouds rolled in and eventually rained all night with no racing happening. We got in a lot of visiting including with my favorite lady Agnes Johnston who lived on the fairgrounds during racing seasons for many years. Never did I take a trip to Knoxville without spending a lot of time with her. She was a special lady feeding the crowds of visitors that came to relax with her. We did some t-shirt shopping and had another meal at the Hy V before getting some sleep. Morning came and the rain was still with us, so we ate biscuits and gravy at the Hy V again and decided to get on the road towards home and not worry about it. We couldn’t stick around and were wore out from the long trip of rain watching. The ride back to Kansas City and my mom’s house didn’t take that long as Mrs was flying home from there later in the day. The Barber tried to buy Terry’s ticket because he was tired of the rain and wanted to get home too! She declined and we talked about the Knoxville Nationals that was pretty soon and she wanted to stay in Knoxville instead of Des Moines. With that said, I asked Mom if we could leave the motorhome behind her house with the idea we would be back for the Nationals, and when she said yes, The Barber and I booked flights and were outa there as Terry would be right behind us.
We all got home safe on what was the worst and maybe a little best CRA tour of all time! While we were out having a great steak dinner back home in Orange County, the Knoxville rainout date happened with Lealand McSpadden winning and Bubby Jones in second as they got another race in we couldn’t stay for. It still was a memorable tour with some exciting racing and our visits with a lot of fans, some of who became Wagtimers in the future as we endured the rain and reaped the competitive events that still remind me of how much fun it is to go race chasing with no worries.
Here is a link to my very first newsletter titled Wagswatch I, dated December 1987. It went on to be renamed Wagtimes and was published thru 1999. At the high point of the paper version, it was mailed out to over 500 people. What a nightmare writing, printing, stapling, folding, sorting and delivering to the post office. I was so delighted with the Lafonds rescued me when they created the Wagtimes online newsletter in 2000.
For the first Wagtimes newsletter Click here to read.
Wags Wanderings Back Issues: