Sunday, July 06, 2008

Kansas Super Modifieds

A post by Dadgum of the Plains Feeder got me to reminiscing today. Some years ago, in a galaxy far far away, there was a racetrack at Wright Park in Dodge City called McCarty Speedway. A race promoter named Jack Merrick put on the shows there. Late Model Stock cars and NCRA styled modified racers were the main draws. This class of racecar was a type of sprint car - I don't remember the rules and the differences, other than the mods had full roll cages, and the sprinters did not. These cars raced every Saturday night at the aforementioned McCarty Speedway, the 81 Speedway in Wichita, special events at the Hutchinson Fairgrounds (such as the Merrick promoted Hutchinson Nationals during the State Fair), Topeka, Wakeeney, Amarillo, Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Muskogee, Liberal and more in Nebraska and Colorado. It was a pretty loose confederation. If one of the tracks had a big money night, the event might draw quite a bit of "outside" talent. Dodge had it's regulars, but there was always an outsider hot shoe there to spoil things.

My dad was a fairly avid dirt track fan, so I got to go along. Mother wasn't the least bit interested, and the noise scared Sis. So, it wasn't always an every Saturday night event - it was a "treat" after all, but we went quite a bit. One of the attractions wasn't even anything to do with racing - one of the racetrack supporter's wife, a Mrs. Gladden, liked to dye her hair in some pretty wild colors. It was with some anticipation to see what color her hair would be that week - electric blue, phosphorescent orange, or whatever shade she and her stylist could cook up. We generally went out into the pits after the race as well.

Of course, we had our favorite:

David (Davey) Ross of Jetmore - The Flying Farmer. He's still around as the top pic attests - that is him next to a restored racer that was shown at the latest Merrick Memorial at DCRP. He built his own cars and was pretty successful on a shoestring budget. For there were cars with a lot of money behind them:

These were the "famous" 6 and 8 duo sponsored by Everett Isaac. Isaac had - for it's day - a huge cattle truck line. There was also a 6&8 Speed Shop that sold performance parts to the general public. Dale Reed piloted the 6, and Herb Copeland drove the 8. Dale raced mostly at the 81 Speedway, so we didn't see him very often, but Herb drove at Dodge quite a bit.

This is another major bit of Super Modified and even Sprint Car History. It's one of LaVerne Nance's development cars. Nance operated Nance Speed Equipment of Wichita KS until he closed it down due to failing health in 1992. Many of the cars I saw during the late sixties and early seventies were Nance built or copies.

Of course there were other legends:
Harold Leep

Frank Lies

Plus there were some of the local hot shoes:

Larry Dewell (pronounced Duel) of Fowler

Terry Uehling of Ness City - another of my favs.

Of course there was "Fast Fred Hembree of Ness City. Check out the Halibrands on the bottom pic.

Alan Herbert (97) under Jim Selenki (4) at Hutchinson. Selinki was a big name in sprint car style racing, and Alan raced in Dodge for years. He used to work at Graves Truck Line as a local delivery driver, delivering to the discount chain I worked for some time ago. I got to know him pretty well. His son Brian worked there as a young teenager, and is now one of the local hot shoes at DCRP and the racing area.

Of course, I cannot forget Jimmy Harkness of Ness City. I believe the tribute photo at the bottom is of the car he bought from The Flying Farmer. An old race car fanatic who owned a pizza joint in Minneola bought and restored it to it's former glory. It and a car Alan Herbert saved appeared at a Merrick memorial several years ago at Jetmore and were the class of the field. Of course, they were the "newest" cars out there as well. Jimmy died in 1976 during wheat harvest. He was taking a load of wheat into town when someone pulled out in front of his truck. Most of us thought his best years were ahead of him, but it was not to be.

All of these guys had a "day job" of some sort, and a lot of expenses were out of pocket. Just like today for many racers. This particular class of cars is but a memory - predecessors to today's sprint classes. I'll never forget the sound of the small blocks on high test gasoline. They had some pretty aggressive cams which gave them a lumpy idle. When they were wide open going down the straights, their song would send chills down my spine. They'd really roar coming out of the corner, and you could really hear them pick through the corners as well. Most were Chevys, as today's are, but there were the occasional Ford or Chrysler blocks. Today's alcohol winged cars just stay on the horn all the way around if it's set up right. The sights and smells are still awesome, but different. One of my best friends sponsors a 305 Sprint car, and helps crew it on weekends. The driver is a Kansas Highway Patrolman - Keef Hemel. So, dirt track racing is alive and well on the plains. It's just more advanced these days.

One of the things that is gone is the trophy girls:

They were usually attired in something sexy, but not too revealing. They were usually kissed in a spectacular fashion by the hot, sweaty, dirty and weary driver. Some drivers were shy, but most laid on a kiss to put on a show. These days, the trophy girl doesn't get kissed, and is generally someone out of the stands.

Dad, I hope you can hear me when I say "Thanks for taking me to all those races." I had a great time, and a lot of good memories, both of the races and my father.

Pics from Racing In Kansas and Racing From the Past. There are a lot more pictures and info at those sites - Racing From the Past in particular. Go and see!


Anonymous said...

Fascinating, Jeffro. I'm coming back later and taking a better look. Right now I hear thunder and it wasn't all that long ago that a lightning strike fried the motherboard on my computer.

CGHill said...

I can't even read that without hearing a Darryl Starbird-esque "BE THERE!" in the back of my head.

Jeffro said...

cgh - in a low growling echo tone, no doubt.

Anonymous said...

jeffro, thanks for the memories. My dad supplied the BF Goodrich air truck and i sold ICE COLD POP and GET YOUR HOT DOGS every Saturday nite in the late 60's. my favorite driver was H.A. Ratzlaff, anything on him. DEL

Anonymous said...

Give me a heads up and I'll have a pit pass for you.

Road Pig

Jeffro said...

10-4, Piggins! Did you find this linked from Ed Beckley's new forum? I've noticed a bunch of hits from a post of his.

Anonymous said...

Looking for anyone who knows how to get old photos from riverside at woodward, and dodge city dad was ralph thompson 1r was his number

Anonymous said...

Nice read Jeffro. It was the same way for me........My Dad love the races and took me along and I loved every part about it. I married and started a family at a young age and couldn't afford a car of my own but helped a buddy with his car and later helped at local tracks any where from line up help to flagman later on. Now I have a vintage 78 Nance Sprinter and currently restoring a 68 Edmonds Super. Having a ball with this Vintage stuff. I even got to race against the great Allen Herbert at Dodge City last year in the Vintage race.