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Steve Stapp (John Mahoney photo)

Remembering The Bopper, Steve Stapp

While Lone Star J.R. eventually joined forces with Wally Meskowski, the points he garnered at Terre Haute proved to be crucial, as he topped Greg Weld for the USAC title by a mere 2.5 points. In November, at California’s Ascot Park, Stapp scored a second victory, this time with Mario Andretti at the controls.

The 1965 season proved to be a great one for the transplanted Italian, who was the Rookie of the Year at the Indianapolis 500 and went on to win the national championship.

Stapp’s pal A.J. Foyt raced for him, and Parnelli Jones also took a turn at the wheel. Stapp got back into the winner’s circle in 1968 when Larry Dickson won four times at the end of the year to secure the USAC sprint car championship, and veteran George Snider also scored two wins with Steve in the early 1970’s. By the time Stapp had decided to quit active touring, more than 60 different drivers had raced for him.

Yet, if there was a true Golden Age in the Steve Stapp racing resume, it came with a second-generation driver named Duane “Pancho” Carter. Like Stapp, Carter was raised in a racing environment.

His father, Duane Sr., was known far and wide as “Pappy” and he was an unquestioned master of the high banks of Winchester, Salem, and Dayton.

Carter Sr. was the 1950 AAA Midwestern sprint car champion, and his duels with Troy Ruttman, a driver he admired, had everyone on their feet. If there was one moment that captured the essence of this man it came on July 21, 1951, a day known in racing circles as Black Sunday.

During qualifications, Cecil Green and Bill Mackey perished after flying over the wall between turns one and two. As the crash scenes were cleaned up, Carter calmly stepped into his car and established a world record for a half-mile track, and then proceeded to sweep the day’s card.

Pancho began his career in quarter-midgets at an early age, and progressed to midgets with the California-based URA. Not only would Pancho begin to make his mark in racing, but he would also earn a degree in Business Administration at Long Beach State. In 1972, paired with owner Jim Reider, Carter made 34 starts in USAC’s midget division, winning eight times on the way to the series championship.

Lost to many was the contribution Steve Stapp made to Pancho’s title. As Buzzy Dobbins recalls on occasion, “Pancho would drag the midget by Steve’s shop and it greatly helped him win the championship. That’s when he and Steve started working together.”

In 1973 Pancho took the second sprint car date on the card at Reading, Pennsylvania, but by the time he arrived in Knoxville, Iowa in early June he was presented with a new opportunity. Stapp’s primary driver, George Snider, had other obligations and, because a relationship had been established, Carter was a natural choice to fill the seat.

It set the stage for the 1974 season, where Stapp and east coast owner John Conger joined forces and agreed that Carter was their man.

It was a wise choice. Pancho won seven times and became the first man to win both a USAC midget and sprint car championship. Not surprisingly given his pedigree, he was outstanding at Winchester and Salem.

On the surface, the relationship between Carter and Stapp had the potential to be highly combustible. Stapp had definite ideas as a mechanic, and Carter was as fiercely competitive as any racer in the land. As the record shows, they made it work.

“I guess I was as hard headed as he was,” Carter recently recalled. “We could disagree, but somehow we always seemed to come up with a combination that worked right. We would disagree on stagger, disagree on gear, and disagree on nearly everything, but we ended up working it out. Steve was really good. He was really good with the chassis.

“I mean, we missed it totally a few times, but then that could have been partially my fault for not giving him the right information.”

One of the men who had a front and center view of this show was southern Indiana car dealer Innes “Buzzy” Dobbins. Buzzy first attended the Indianapolis 500 in 1949, and he was there when Salem Speedway was an oiled dirt track. He loved every bit of it.

Dobbins was a friend of a one-armed machinist named Walter Flynn, who was the proprietor of Enterprise Machine on Tibbs Avenue in Indianapolis. Walter would field cars on the National Championship trail for drivers like Ronnie Duman and Ralph Liguori, and at times scavenged through A.J. Watson’s trash bin in search of parts he could recycle.

Flynn introduced Dobbins to Watson, and it was there that he met Steve Stapp toiling in the wizard’s shop. In Dobbins’ words, he and Stapp became as close as brothers. It wasn’t long before Steve’s sprint car proudly carried Dobbins Chevrolet on the side.

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