One of my goals in life has been to live forever. So far, so good. But it seems like my monthly column has been somewhat of an obituary of many great old friends and racers.
When my shoe phone rings these days, I am always afraid to hear someone on the other end say, “Did you hear about….?” Maybe a good friend or someone you have known for most of your whole life has some type of bad or terminal illness or was involved in a bad crash.
So again, I have to say goodbye to couple of good friends who left us recently and should be honored for the great memories they gave me.
I was on my way to the East Coast when I got that dreaded call and heard Doug Auld, who founded this magazine, had passed away at the age of 59. Doug had a passion for all open-wheel racing and worked hard to publish Sprint Car and Midget magazine for nearly two decades.
I remember when he asked me if I wanted to write a monthly column. From day one he never complained about my constant, last-minute submission of my columns or about how weird or insane, they may have read. Doug will be nearly impossible to replace and I am proud to have been a part of his work. RIP, friend.
Also, this month I got a call from Mary Ann McBeath that her beloved husband, George, had died following an accident in New Mexico. George was a damn good midget racer from the “only-the-strong-survive” ’60s and ran a good-looking little Kurtis Offy midget for his dad, George Sr., in USAC and around the Badger circuit.
George quit driving in 1972 when the roll cages were made mandatory and retired. He got me a ride in his dad’s car. He was the one responsible for me naming my New York Daly News and National Enquirer best-selling book, “Cages Are for Monkeys.”
He disliked roll cages as he figured the young, punk drivers like me would get overly brave and cause wrecks, as with the roll bar only the drivers seemed to have so much more respect for one another as the crashes back then were almost always really bad if you tipped over.
So, the first night I stepped in his dad’s car for a USAC race in East Moline, Ill., George had a stuffed monkey strapped to the back of my roll cage and told me, “Cages are
I had a lot of fun over the years with George, Mary Ann and George Sr. at the races. George Sr. always had a clean-looking and good-running Offy. I can’t tell you the thrill it gave me that first time I fired it up and heard the sweet sound and the smell of the Castor oil that they ran in the Offy.
Oh, I almost forgot. George would tell me it was time to “tip the can,” which was a Nitro blend. I really loved that smell and the extra power it shot into the little 110-cubic-inch, four-cylinder Offenhauser engine. We may have tipped it a little too far on the mile at DuQuoin as it exploded going down the backstretch and I coasted into the pit area with a small oil fire and a big hole in the side case.
I thought I might get fired but when I got out of the car, George looked at it and walked over to the cooler and picked up a piece of watermelon and asked if I wanted one. I took a bite of the watermelon and noticed it tasted quite a bit different from any I had before. Then he explained that he cut a hole in the top of the watermelon and dumped a quart of Vodka into it. He was a real riot, and so was George Jr. I will miss them both.
As I stated earlier, we made our way to the East Coast to visit some great old friends and a couple of new ones. Nancy and I loaded up her Ford Escape because none of my vehicles were currently running on more than 60 percent of the cylinders and, even if they were, she refuses to ride in them.
I forgot to mention to her before we left that I did some modifications to her vehicle that included the addition of Mr. Mooney, who moons passing cars when I squeeze a valve from the driver’s seat. And, of course, the mandatory leg with the Van’s tennis shoe hanging out the back door. I believe we were in Cleveland before she noticed these stylish changes during a fuel stop and asked if I could remove them. I took Mr. Mooney out of the back window, but left the leg in the door, though, I didn’t mention it to Nancy.
With my supply of “Sleepy” Tripp t-shirts safely packed, we headed for Newburyport, Mass., to spend a couple of days with the famous Lew Boyd, publisher of Coastal 181 books, named after his stock car and modified days when he ran cars adorned with No. 181. Boyd won a lot of races over the years, but said he managed to get upside down 19 times and decided to write and publish books instead.
Boyd keeps a couple of his dirt modifieds ready to go in his garage just in case of the possibility of coming out of retirement.
We stopped in Cleveland to see Nancy’s son, Eric, and I decided to visit the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame before heading to Boyd’s. After being refused free admission by showing them my 1987 USAC plastic member card and showing them a picture of me standing by Question Mark (of the Mysterians who performed the hit song, “96 Tears”), I reluctantly paid for a ticket and went it.
I wasn’t there long as I left in disgust when I didn’t see any big displays of Slim Whitman, Boxcar Willie or Zamphier, who according to television ads sold more records than the Beatles. On my way out, I walked through the gift shop and left copies of my book next to books written by rock stars. I hope to open a whole new market with this brilliant business move.
We made it to Boyd’s safely with the leg intact and spent a few great days visiting him at his beautiful 1860s estate. Boyd had Speedway Illustrated editor Karl Fredrickson over one night and I was able to hear some great new stories. I enjoyed Fredrickson’s insight on racing over the years.
The next day we went to lunch and visited the home of the famous race driver, magazine editor and television pit reporter, Dr. Dick Berggren. What a great afternoon we spent at his beautiful ocean view home in Newburyport.
Berggren won a ton of sprint car races back in the day, as well as some in the lightning fast modifieds. As a broadcaster, I always enjoyed Berggren’s insights and knowledge of all aspects of racing.
The next day, Boyd took us to the home of one of my all-time favorites, “Boston” Louis Seymour’s family. I hadn’t been to the Seymour’s home and race shop since the late 1980s when we used to stay in their guest house while racing with USAC on the East Coast.
It was so good to see the boys, Mike and Bobby, again working in their immaculate race shop. The boys have state-of-the-art midgets being prepared for the Chili Bowl. If there ever was a more dedicated racing family than the Seymours, it would be difficult to match.
Back in the day, “Boston” ran 256 consecutive USAC races towing from Boston to the Midwest week after week with some of the best drivers and equipment winning many big events. I admire them as much as any team in the history of auto racing and will tell some stories later about some of their adventures.
Finally, I made if up to Bentley Warren’s famous saloon but I will have to do that story at a later date. If you know Bentley Warren, you can’t tell a Bentley story in a couple of paragraphs. What a story he has!
After leaving Warren’s Maine bar, I decided I needed to make my return to the site of one of the 20th century’s biggest events in Woodstock, N.Y., where I was slated to fill in for Iron Butterfly when they were unable to get to the concert in time due to the traffic jams. I was going to do my accordion version of “Wooden Heart,” but was cancelled when The Who showed up Sunday morning. That’s why I never made the Woodstock album.
I punched Woodstock into my GPS when leaving Maine, but I must have done something wrong because when it told me I had arrived at my destination I was in a little town of five homes. When I knocked on the door of one of them and asked where the concert site was, I was told I was in the wrong town and got the door slammed in my face.
I found out by looking on the map that there was also a Woodstock in Vermont. The GPS people must have been laughing their asses off when I went to the wrong state. I know they are in a room somewhere when you ask for directions and enjoy making idiots like me go crazy trying to find places. I finally read a real road map and when I threw my GPS into the Hudson River, it looked like “Sully” landing his airplane. A few hours later, I was in New York and headed south to the festival site.
By the time I got to Woodstock we were half a million strong but when I got to the music site in Bethel, there was no music playing and only about 16 people looking at a marker and a peace sign. I was disappointed in missing all the action I envisioned, so I stopped at a farm I swear was Max’s and bought a quart of milk.
Then, we headed back to Wisconsin and the home of Angell Park Speedway to hibernate for the frozen tundra of winter with the sounds of Jimi Hendrix’s National Anthem playing in my head.
It was a great trip visiting all the great racing people, opening a new book selling avenue in Cleveland and seeing all those dead leaves in New England. I hadn’t been to New England since I ran a Silver Crown car for Beth Jones at Hagerstown, Md., many years ago. When I mentioned this to Boyd, he told me Hagerstown is not in New England. I think he is mistaken, as I consider anything more than 200 miles east of the Mississippi River to be New England.
I can’t wait to get back to the Northeast again someday, hopefully, without any rock & roll credential problems and with a new atlas. I suggest it is a great trip for anyone and urge you not to miss Bentley’s Saloon. However, I am still upset about the “Wooden Heart” missed gig.