Friday, May 21, 2010

May 21, 1972: The World According to Herk

I'm a sponge when it comes to Petty Enterprises-related trivia. I soak it up from whatever source I can find it. Who-What-When-Where-Why-How. Interested in all of it.

Several months ago, I learned Jim Hurtubise drove a couple of races in 1963 for the Pettys. He ran the Daytona qualifying race (an official Cup race back then), the Daytona 500, and the Atlanta 500. He finished 17th, 28, and 22nd, respectively.

Hurtubise was a popular journeyman Indy driver from upstate New York. He raced multiple times in the Indy 500 from the late 50s through the early 70s. He earned the nickname Hercules - often shortened to just Herk. Although I'd heard of Hurtubise over the years, I knew little about him. When I think of the nickname Herk, I'm instead reminded of the classic scene of the Klumps' dinner table in Eddie Murphy's remake of The Nutty Professor.

I now know Herk was hired to run another Petty Plymouth in a couple of 1963 races. I know where he finished. In an educated guess, I'd suggest his car was even painted Petty blue. That much I know. What I don't know is why or how Herc hooked up with Lee and Richard.

In 1964, Herk was involved in fiery crash at the Milwaukee Mile. During his recovery, he was advised he'd likely not race again...ever. Instead, he insisted he would and asked to have his badly damaged hands formed to hold a steering wheel.

Return he did - both to USAC open wheel and a few remaining NASCAR Grand National (now Cup) races. He even won the 1966 Atlanta 500 by stomping the field by a full lap.

Somewhere along the way, he adopted #56 as his trademark number and carried it on most of his open wheel and NASCAR rides. Here he is sporting #56 and his Miller High Life beer sponsor in a USAC stock car race at Milwaukee in the early 1970s.

Herk's dalliance with stock car racing continued to interest me. So I dug deeper into some of my Google search results. In doing so, I stumbled across this 1978 vault article from Sports Illustrated. The article is a good mid-70s recap of Herk's career around that time. I tossed aside my primary interest in his stock car racing and just enjoyed the read about his overall racing efforts.

Buried in the middle of the article, is the telling of what has to be one of the greatest, all-time racing pranks pulled in any racing series.
May 21, 1972 was another last day of qualifying for the Indianapolis 500. It had been several years since Hurtubise had entered the race with any kind of chance to win it, lead it or even qualify well for it. For most of that time, he had been engaged in a quixotic attempt to qualify an improved version of the outmoded front-engine "roadster" that had dominated the Speedway until the rear-engine revolution of the mid-1960s.

With time growing short, there was a fever of activity around Hurtubise's Miller High Life Special as it slowly moved toward the head of the qualifying line. The crowd buzzed. Would the old Mallard, as Hurtubise called his car in tribute to its ducktail rear end, get a chance to make even a ceremonial tour of the Brickyard? No. Precisely at 6 p.m. the gun sounded, locking in the field for another year. At which time Hurtubise removed the cowling from his Mallard to reveal neither an Offenhauser nor a Ford, but rather five cases of his sponsor's product, already chilled and ready for folks to drink. Which is what most of the Speedway officials soon did. Erk, erk, erk.
How great would it have been to be in Gasoline Alley that day? The story, from a Volunteer State Bench Racing perspective, would have been all the more gut-busting funny had the brew been Schaefer. Yet to have someone put that brain fart into motion with the Champagne of Beers is still simply classic.

Herk passed away 1989 from a heart attack. His age at the date of death? Appropriately enough it matched his car number - 56.

Delma Cowart from Savannah, Georgia made a handful of infrequent starts in Cup races during the 1980s - most often at Daytona and Talladega. He almost always drove car #0 which pretty well matched his percentage chance of being competitive - much less win.

Yet Delma showed up at the track once or twice a year ready to have plenty of fun. His most oft-used quip was "I ain't never won a race, but I've never lost a party."

Sounds like Herk may have lived that same motto on May 21, 1972.


Sunday, May 16, 2010

2010 Coca-Cola 600 Playlist

So Dover is over. And now only a meaningless average-star race next Saturday, a few days of work, and tempered excitement stands between a Charlotte race weekend and me.

Each year I compile an iPod playlist for the Charlotte race weekend tailgating crew. Perhaps somewhat like an artist with his canvas, I spent a bit of time trying to find the right tunes, how they're arranged, tweaking the MP3 volume levels, etc. OK, so comparing it a true artist may be a stretch, but I do put a good bit of effort into it.

Some songs seem to have tenure on the playlist. Their sequencing may change, but their presence is guaranteed. Others come and go - maybe a one and done while others make it a couple of visits before being shelved.

For a few years, I tried to make as many of the tracks race-related or... err, ahem, uh... "large time" related as possible. However, I've backed off that stance a little bit and just add ones I think folks will enjoy.

One principle I've stuck to is including a handful of artists that aren't familiar to folks. Aside from racing, the hobby I may enjoy most is finding new artists and songs. Whether the singer/band is brand new or one who I'm late in finding doesn't matter. So a fun thing for me to do is then share them with our race crew.

Here's what I've got at the moment - with a handful of links to YouTube vids or song samples:
  1. Schaefer Beer theme song *
  2. Thunderstruck - AC/DC *
  3. Go Faster - Black Crowes *
  4. The Talladega Song - Tim Wilson (YT)
  5. Pocono Joe - Mark Miklos # (song sample)
  6. NASCAR Superstar - Haven Quint (song)
  7. Cold Beer - Colt Ford # (YT)
  8. Tide & Skittles - Tim Wilson *
  9. White Liar - Miranda Lambert #
  10. Drunk All Around This Town - Scott Miller & The Commonwealth
  11. Time To Switch To Whiskey - Corb Lund (YT)
  12. Barlight - Charlie Robinson
  13. Bar Exam - The Derailers # (YT)
  14. Whole Lotta Liquor To Like Her - Pete Schlegel (YT)
  15. I Came To Drink - Chance # (YT)
  16. Jeff Gordon's Gay - Tim Wilson *
  17. Indianapolis - The Bottle Rockets # (YT)
  18. One Bud Wiser - John Rich
  19. Drunken Poet's Dream - Hayes Carll
  20. Talladega Shuffle - The Backstretch Boys
  21. You Wreck Me - Tom Petty *
  22. All I Wanna Do Is Play Cards - Corb Lund
  23. Rednecks, White Socks, and Blue Ribbon Beer - Johnny Russell # (YT)
  24. Chicks Dig It - Chris Cagle
  25. Boom - P.O.D.
  26. The Ward Burton Train - Tim Wilson
  27. Sweet Lady Vegas - Hair Of The Dog #
  28. Oh Atlanta - Little Feat #
  29. Richard Petty Blues - Al Tackett
  30. I Love NASCAR - Cledus T. Judd *
  31. Darlington - Ron Pestana
  32. The Girl With The Biggest Hair And The Longest Nails - Red Meat # (YT)
  33. Dale Jarrett's Car - Tim Wilson
  34. Earnhardt - Tim Wilson *
  35. Under The Wrench - Red Meat
  36. Steve McQueen - Sheryl Crow
  37. Dale Darrell Waltrip Richard Petty etc. - Tim Wilson
* Permanent playlisted tracks
# Rookie tracks for 2010

Any other suggestions?


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Saturday through Wednesday

Saturday - May 8 - Darlington - A few, final thoughts
  • Big speeds - designed for around 70-80 MPH, today's cars are running about 2-1/2 times that speed. Amazing...
  • "The knee" - The media drama-queens more about Denny Hamlin’s knee than he does. Quite frankly, I've been super impressed with Hamlin's not dwelling on in when he enters or exits the car beyond obvious body language or some candid comments when a microphone is stuck in his face. But, my tired, worn out, ol' knees ache thinking about the pounding his knee is getting inside the car lap after lap.
  • David Pearson's interview with Kyle Petty on Speed's RaceDay was classic. He said he gets tired of drivers and crew chiefs discussing tire pressure adjustments of as low as a quarter-pound. Pearson said "They oughtta just move up or down the track. That's what I did." He also said part of his great success at Darlington was trying not to let cars behind him follow his line too closely.
  • The battle of the Jeffs - Gordon's and Burton's tight racing late in the race reminded me of their tussle in the 1997 Southern 500 where Gordon had the $1 million Winston Million bonus on the line.

  • Yet 13 years later, it was amazing both the 31 and 24 left the 2010 money on the table when it mattered.
  • "I'm tahred, I'm haht" - FOX's "dream team" pointed out on more than one occasion the drivers and crews must be exhausted from the heat of Darlington. Puleeze - DW of all people should remember the masochism of racing Southern 500s during the daytime on Labor Day weekends. Hot temps in the 90s with matching humidity, ill-fitting aluminum seats, drivers sitting several inches behind the steering column vs. where they do today increasing strain on their shoulders and arms, no power steering, bias ply Goodyears, no comfort motorhomes 100 paces from the start-finish line. Get the picture? I will give the crews a pass and acknowledge now vs. then could be as tough or tougher. Back in the day, it was cotton pants and thin tee or short-sleeve button-down shirts on race day. Today, its full-fledged firesuits and helmets along pit road. Ouch.
  • A.J. Allmendinger better be glad Jimmie Johnson's 48 was there to cushion the blow from his backward sliding #43. I know A.J. didn't wreck Johnson intentionally, but his direct pinball shot into the 48 reminded me a bit of Cole Trickle taking out his teammate, Hardy Boy Parker Stevenson.

  • Old Spice's leaving Stewart-Haas - Really bad timing for Smoke as he needs all the deodorant he can get to cover the stinky run he’s had lately.
  • Robby Gordon carried too much speed going 3 wide and nearly knocked the wall down in the Cup race. Steven Wallace hit the wall in Nationwide practice. This just in: the sun will rise in the east tomorrow.
  • The Southern 500? At night? On Mother's Day weekend? - I dunno, it still just doesn’t seem right. I've only been to Darlington once. I'd love to return and spend a lot of time touring National Motorsports Press Association Joe Weatherly museum. But as its currently scheduled, it'll never happen. (By the way, the museum is sadly under-maintained and under-marketed by NASCAR and ISC. They even dropped the original Joe Weatherly tribute name. Its simply the "Darlington Stock Car Museum" now. Pitiful.)
  • How long before Ford drivers photos start appearing on the back of milk cartons? Hard to believe Matt Kenseth is a Cup champ and won the Daytona 500 almost 18 months ago. Hard to believe Carl Edwards used to do backflips when he won. Hard to believe The Possum, Greg Biffle, mixed it up while racing up front and even snookering some teams on pit strategy. Hard to believe David Ragan...oh wait, never mind. And the Richard Petty Motorsports Ford contingent? I don't even wanna blog about it right now.
Sunday - May 9 - Mother's Day and a King's Anniversary

Mother's Day? Hopefully, it was memorable for my wife. The kids and I took care of her okay I think - gift, flowers, card, made her Sunday dinner, stayed out of her way, etc. My mother had a memorable one because she spent it tending to my dad who is recovering from recent hip surgery. Bless her heart.

The King? He likely still has memories of May 9 too. From 1970. But not necessarily in a positive way. In practice before the spring Darlington race that year, Richard totaled his iconic winged Plymouth Superbird. The Petty team quickly readied a backup Plymouth Road Runner short-track car as the backup. What did Richard do? Wadded it up in the fence too! Two times out, two wrecks. The team sent for a third car from the Level Cross shop, and he was able to successfully qualify it. Whew. All was good, right? Wrong. During the race, Richard wiped out his third car in as many days. But he gets a TEN on style points as seen in this video.

Remarkably, his only significant injury was a dislocated shoulder resulting from his arm flopping outside the window. Following this wreck, the Petty team installed window netting to minimize the risk of it happening again. It was shortly afterwords the net became "standard issue" on all Cup cars.

Tuesday - May 11 - Hall of Fame opening

I already blogged about my visit to the HOF last week. It sounds like the crowd for the sho-nuff, day 1, grand opening was pretty good. And for good reason! When folks like Richard Petty, Junior Johnson, Terry Labonte, Rick Hendrick, Jack Ingram, Eli Gold, Ned Jarrett, and the like are there, that should be plenty of reason to attend.

In trading messages with writer Monte Dutton, we agreed the hall seems to be directed more to visitors vs. hard core, long-time NASCAR fans. Perhaps its a necessary evil. The hall is near the Charlotte convention center, so some combined traffic is likely anticipated. NASCAR, the hall, and the city of Charlotte are always going to be looking for the casual observer - especially if they can convince them to part with a Jackson to tour the facility. But lastly and most cynically, NASCAR has seemingly alienated a lot of the hard core fans anyway - so hey, one more instance isn't altogether surprising!

Some controversy lingers about David Pearson not being included in the inaugural, 2010 class. What's done is done, and even the Silver Fox says let's all just move on. But even without the Frances absorbing 2 spots in the 2011 class, choosing just five inductees will be difficult. Pearson will likely be among them, but who will be the other four? Let the next round of debate begin.

I recommend the hall expand its induction class to seven for the next seven years for a couple of reasons:
  • The NASCAR Numerology - Dale Earnhardt had 7 championships, and Petty had 7 Daytona 500s to go along with his 7 championships.
  • The hall needs to prove its mission is true - that its more than just the drivers. How long will deserving crew chiefs, engine builders, owners, promoters, media members, etc. be omitted if just drivers are selected in the early classes? Or if blended classes are chosen, what deserving drivers are going to have to wait another year?
  • Some very deserving individuals are aging ... quickly. NASCAR is in a unique position to not only induct them but to also have the media and fans hear from them before their voices are lost forever.
  • Seven seems to be a manageable number for the hall to promote and to induct annually in the short run. If the number hits double digits, each deserving inductee might get shorted because of time or coverage constraints.
Once these initial "seed" classes are selected, I'd be okay with the hall returning to five annual inductees.

Wednesday - May 12 - Memories of a tough day in 2000

May 12, 2000 - Kyle Petty and his daughter were on a plane headed to England. His oldest son, Adam, was in Loudon, NH with the Petty Enterprises #45 Sprint-sponsored Busch Series team. During practice for the race, Adam hit the wall ... a ton. And *snap* just like that, he was gone. 19 years old.

Many posit to this day Adam would have been a good'un, maybe even a great. I have no clue whether he would have or not. His résumé was too short to predict a career of two decades or more. What I do believe, however, is Adam's death pretty much sealed the fate of Petty Enterprises as a viable, stand-alone race team. Richard nor Kyle have been the same racing-wise in the 10 years since.

I've often heard a quote that the night is darkest right before the dawn. Perhaps that is true in this case. Adam's legacy continues with the Victory Junction Gang Camp. The camp was visioned by Adam before his death, and his dream was brought to fruition by Kyle, Pattie, Richard, and Lynda Petty and countless others after he was gone.

May you continue to R.I.P. Adam.


Saturday, May 8, 2010

Visit to the NASCAR Hall of Fame

Last Wednesday, I had a business meeting in Charlotte NC. Knowing the meeting was scheduled for morning, I planned to book my flight from Nashville to Charlotte for Tuesday evening. The person with whom I was meeting suggested I fly earlier and be his guest at a pre-opening, sneak peek tour of the NASCAR Hall of Fame. He barely got the word "NASCAR" out of this mouth before I could say "done!".

He and about three dozen others are part of a business school alumni group. Because of the variety of the schools represented, none of them have enough critical mass to form an alumni group of their own. So they all meet as a group about every two months at various business ventures in the Charlotte area. This month's meeting just happened to be at the new hall.

I thought our tour might be very limited. Instead, we got the full deal for a solid two hours - including our own tour guide. We got to ride the iRacing simulators, practice pit stops, observe a lot of the memorabilia, see a big panoramic video, tour the great hall where a lot of classic cars are stored on graduated banking from flat to 33 degrees, etc.

The hall gives each person a 'hard card' when you begin. You register your card and pick one of about eight drivers as your narrator. Needless to say, the King clued me in whenever I used my hard card to access an interactive exhibit. The card also allows you to log-in to the hall's website and find out more info after you go home.

As we were wrapping up our tour, I ran into Brad Daugherty (again) and Michael Waltrip at the HOF. They were there to tape their Showtime NASCAR shoe. I'm pretty sure neither intended to be spotted. But Brad was nice enough to shake my hand when I reminded him we sat next to each other on the plane to Vegas. Mikey kind of just nodded, but then he turned his back. He clearly didn't want to draw any attention.

The hall has over a dozen cars from past and present. The interactive technology is pretty cool. And what would NASCAR be without a nod to its current drivers and sponsors who help draw fans and pay the bills. If I left with any unmet expectations, however, it might be the limited amount of memorabilia.

Don't get me wrong. The stuff in the display cases is quite cool and is from some of the expected drivers - the Pettys, Earnhardt, Fireball, the Allisons, etc. And the hall included some car parts - some legal and some parts confiscated by NASCAR after instances of cheating...err, fudging.

It seemed, however, to be sparse. Maybe I feel this way simply because I didn't have the time to look at every detail or read every note card. The King had 200 wins and 7 championships. Earnhardt had 7 Cups and is arguably the sport's biggest figure today - even almost 9 years after his death. Yet the items on display for both were largely limited to the same size display cases as all others. Additional memorabilia will likely be collected for specific drivers as they are inducted to the hall each year and as the hall gets some age on it. Like all museums, I'm guessing some things will rotate on and off display.

After the HOF tour, we returned to a local law office overlooking the Carolina Panthers football stadium for an additional meeting, a bit of booze, and some appetizers. (Yes, believe it or not, toomuchcountry held his own with high-end beer, wine and fancy hors d'oeuvres vs. his normal Schaefer, summer sausage, and saltines.)

The featured speaker was Steve Hallam, the director of competition for Michael Waltrip Racing. Great guy. He spoke about his transition from Formula 1 to NASCAR. I had a chance to chat with him a bit before and after his remarks. One of his constant comments was his admiration of the fan dedication and interest in the sport, tracks, drivers, etc.

He had some really good one liners such as:
  • Bristol is as close you can get to ancient Rome in the 21st century.
  • A quick car in F1 is called...a quick car. In NASCAR, a quick car is called...bad ass.
It was pretty funny when he said he enjoyed the spectacle of Bristol as much as F1's Monaco - though he acknowledged his wife (who was there) didn't quite think the same way. As a car guy, he said competition is the same regardless of its form. I thought that was a pretty neat assessment.

Here are several pics I took during our two-hour tour.

Jimmie Johnson's 4 Sprint Cup championship trophies. Sadly, the display looks big enough for a fifth.

Rusty Wallace's 1989 The Winston trophy and Kodiak Pontiac after an all-too-close encounter with the Tide Ride of Darrell Waltrip.

A jacket worn by the Gipper, President Ronald Reagan, when he attended the King's 200th victory at Daytona's Firecracker 400 on July 4, 1984.

A couple of helmets worn by the late Adm Petty.

One of my favorite pieces of memorabilia in the hall - the red and white checkerboard crew pants from Bobby Allison's Coca-Cola team in the early 1970s. They're as ugly as homemade sin, but they are so iconic in drawing attention to a team's sponsor. Of our tour group, I was the only one to stay behind and take a photo. Even our tour guide didn't mention it.

For anyone reading this under the age of 30, you may not have known the teams didn't always have in-helmet radios. Crew members chalked messages on pit boards like these and stood on pit road trying to get their driver's attention - lap speeds, when to pit, knuckle down and race harder, etc.

A jaw-dropping display is Glory Road where cars from the beginning through today are on display on a simulated track with graduated banking from the zero degrees of the old Daytona Beach course to the 33 degrees of Talladega. I got pictures of just about all of them.

Red Byron's coupe owned by Raymond Parks. Mr. Parks was the first multi-car team owner. Red Vogt built the cars, and Parks used the cars to promote his legit businesses. (He couldn't exactly advertise his not-so-legit likker haulin' business.) Drivers like Byron, Lloyd Seay, and Roy Hall won often in Parks' modified and later NASCAR Strictly Stock series. He's up in his 90s now and simply must be selected for this year's NASCAR hall of fame class.

Herb Thomas' Fabulous Hudson Hornet. I simply can't imagine having a track full of these things do battle at Martinsville, Wilkesboro, and Darlington.

Lee Petty's Oldsmobile from 1959.

Fireball Roberts' lavender #22 Ford from early 1960s.

You're dadgum right this one is in here. The King's 1967 Belvedere.

Bobby Isaac's #70 Harry Hyde-prepared winged Dodge Daytona from 1969-1970.

Cale Yarborough's #11 Junior Johnson/Busch beer Olds 442 from 1979-1980.

Darrell Waltrip's Dew Crew ride from 1981-1982. I liked the way they chose to display DW's car right behind Cale's Olds - especially considering Cale wasn't a big fan of DW's mouth and nicknamed him Jaws. (Cale was an early adopter. The rest of us caught on later.)

Ironhead's Monte Carlo from 1998 when he won he Daytona 500.

And to acknoweldge the hall is a NASCAR HOF - not just a Cup one - the late Richie Evans' modified was included.

Here's another cool exhibit - The remains of the cars driven by Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison following their last lap crash and scrap at the 1979 Daytona 500. We were told these were the original cars. But the paint and decals seemed to be in awfully good shape for two cars wrecked over 30 years ago. During that era, I think teams were still re-skinning cars as much as possible vs. tossing them on the scrap heap as has become the norm. I left wondering if Junior Johnson and Hoss Ellington had the presence of mind to hold onto these cars with a mental "what if?" about a future display - or if the hall operators simply did a pretty realistic re-creation and is snowing its visitors.

This case includes the driving uniforms and other memorabilia of Janet Guthrie and Wendell Scott. I'm sure a debate will soon begin if this case represents enough space and is done in the right way to show the impact of non-white, non-male drivers and other participants. For opening day, I think its fine.

Here's the Union76 observation ball from Daytona International Speedway.

The hall does have some quirks about it. Some of the interactive features didn't work with my registered 'hard card'. I didn't sweat it too much and just moved on to the next exhibit. If I were a paying customer, however, I wouldn't be happy. And if the staff end up constantly trouble-shooting cards or displaying 'out of order' signs, lines will grow long and tempers will get short.

The other odd thing to me is some of the details. In an art museum, a professional curator works to understand and document everything about an artist, the medium, and sometimes even the meaning of the art. I've never been to any other sports halls of fame, but I'm guessing they do a good job of cataloging and documenting their collections.

But I picked up on a few things that didn't seem quite right. For example:

A Winston Cup Grand National Series sticker on Bobby Isaac's car. RJ Reynolds didn't begin sponsoring the Cup cars until 1971. The winged Chargers ran in 1969 and 1970.

A Petty Engineering Ford crew shirt supposedly from 1969. The company formed by Lee Petty was originally known as Petty Engineering. But somewhere in the early 1960s, he, Richard, and Maurice re-named it Petty Enterprises. And in this picture from 1969, the crew shirts clearly show Petty ENTERPRISES vs. Engineering. So I left confused.

Glory Road displayed this Bobby Allison Miller Buick - one that had been transitioned to a second life in another series. It seemed weird to me that the chose to include this one with its additional non-NASCAR series decal - especially since this really wasn't one of Bobby's key cars over the years. Seems one of his AMC Matadors, the gold #12 Stavola Miller Buick in which he won his final Daytona 500, or his white #22 DiGard Miller Buick in which he won his only championship would have been a better choice.

Overall, the whole evening was a very cool experience. After the tour and Hallam comments, it was on to dinner and then a successful meeting on Wednesday. A great trip all the way around.

My one regret? Forgetting to add my own special touch to the hall. I should have taken a Schaefer empty and left it amongst the other special memorabilia.


Monday, May 3, 2010

Just Say I Love Really Thin Pancakes

After a weekend of mind-numbing coverage of middle Tennessee rains and flooding, I needed some lighter ways to pass the remaining hours. I found it on TBS last night - yet another airing of Talladega Nights. The movie has become TBS' 2010 version of 2009's Shawshank Redemption. Its on just about all the time now. In this case, however, the juvenile-humored, NASCAR-themed movie was just what I needed.

In watching it, however, one scene triggered a thought with me. Actually, it was the omission of part of it that made me take notice.

When we went to Vegas for the race in February, we went to IHOP twice for breakfast. I remember taking the picture below, but it then dawned on me last night I forgot to include it as part of the race re-cap blog. Sure enough, there it was - still sitting on my cell phone micro-SD card.

It immediately reminded me - then and again last night - of the great scene when Ricky Bobby first meets his new French rival. Sadly the bulk of this clip was scrapped for the TV version to squeeze in extra commercials for the George Lopez show.

Visual cues are a wonderful thing. Almost as wonderful as the line "Its dangerous and inconvenient. But I do love Fig Newtons."