Former racers spin yarns at annual reunion

Jeff Bobo • May 15, 2007 at 9:21 AM

If you don't think there was a little bit of NASCAR history congregated at Freedom Hall in Johnson City, check out these numbers.

The dozen former NASCAR Cup racers who participated in Saturday's racer's reunion represented 1,097 Nextel Cup starts, 184 Top five finishes, 387 Top 10 finishes, 180,766 Nextel Cup miles run, 207,959 Nextel Cup laps run, 38 pole positions, 29 wins and one championship - all occurring between the years of 1956-94.

That's a lot of what Darrell Waltrip calls racing "sperience."

The fans who showed up to meet these great old pioneers of NASCAR were treated to a terrific show of storytelling, autographs, photos, etc.

I just wish there was a bigger turnout of fans Saturday.

These are the guys who built NASCAR into what it is today, and the got paid peanuts for their trouble. These days the slowest driver on the Nextel Cup circuit can make more money in one race than these guys made in their entire career.

(Of course, I can't criticize the no-show fans because this was the first time I've attended the Racers' Reunion myself.)

These racers didn't become wealthy in NASCAR, but they are wealthy in respect and admiration from the fans who appreciate what they accomplished in the sport's infancy.

Among the former Cup drivers who attended Saturday were Dr. Don Tarr, G.C. Spencer, Mike Potter, Travis Tiller, Paul Lewis, Brad Teague, Randy Bethea, Brownie King, John A. Utsman, Gene Glover and Jack Ingram. The late Church Hill driver Bill Morton was represented by his son Tony; and the late Johnson City car owner Jess Potter was represented by his wife and sons Mike and Gary. For those of you who didn't show who up, allow me to share with you a couple of the tales told during the reunion:

G.C. Spencer: Every once in a while we'd pull something on the NASCAR inspectors. The gas man for Junior Johnson, I can't remember his name, had a chocolate cake made for the inspectors. He made it with Ex-Lax. There wasn't nothing we wouldn't do years ago.

Brownie King: One time I was racing at Hillsboro, N.C. - me and Jess Potter went up there - and the ball joint broke going into the third turn. That A-frame dug into that old red clay dirt and started me flipping end over end. Every time it made a big old tumble I could see the blue sky or the red clay, the blue sky or the red clay. I kept feeling that something would knock the heck out of me at any second, but finally it flipped down over that bank - which they didn't have any guard rails - and down into a field. I never felt was so glad to stop. Then we were towing the car home and stopped at a restaurant to eat. I'd bought a brand new helmet we had laying in the back of Jess's old Cadillac, and when we came back out somebody had stolen my helmet. Not only had I tore my race car up I lost my new helmet, too, all at the same place.

Rex White: I had a great racing career, won 28 races and won 20 Busch races - or Late Model Sportsman races as they were called in 1965. I actually one five races in one week, and I might have beat the guy sitting to the right of me here [Jack Ingram] all five nights. I won Columbia on Thursday night, Asheville on Friday night, North Wilksboro in the afternoon that Saturday, Saturday night I won at Cleveland County Fairgrounds in Shelby, and Sunday I won at Harris, N.C.

Paul Lewis: I doubt if any of these modern day millionaire drivers could do that.

Rex White: Oh yeah, they could do it. I did it with a lot less, though.

Jack Ingram: I got the nickname "Ironman" in 1973. I raced at Columbia, S.C., Thursday night; Beltsville, Md., on Friday night; Coeburn, Va., Saturday night; Maryville Tenn., Sunday; St. Paul Minn., Monday; and Nashville Tenn., Monday night. I ran 1,700 laps of competition in one weekend. We drove everyplace except for Minnesota. We flew to Minnesota and then back to Nashville.

Gene Glover [Talking about one of his most serious accidents which occurred at Nashville in 1966]: I was driving what they called back then a skeeter, and the car didn't weigh hardly anything. I qualified third, but I didn't have my entry blank in so I had to run the consolation race. In the feature they had a wreck on the first lap, and it bent my axle, and eventually I spun out. I was rolling kind of slow down the backstretch when a '55 Chevy hit me running wide open. If it hadn't been a good race car, it would have killed me. It had an "X" where the back seat is in the roll cage, and that brace kept me from going backwards. It broke my back and banged me up a little bit. I was lucky, I guess. I drove for a man who built awful good cars, and I guess that's one reason I'm alive right now.

Jack Ingram: Back before power steering we'd wear blisters on our hand, especially if the car didn't handle well. These drivers today have cars that basically drive themselves and they're just along for the ride. If it gets hard to drive they just keep changing tires or wrecking and quit for the day. Racing wasn't that way when we were doing it. You wanted to finish as best you could, and if the car handled bad, you just drove it. Without power steering, it would handle bad anyway. Race tracks weren't nearly as good as they are now. They were basically in terrible shape, didn't have very good walls or barriers, and they didn't have the safety equipment they've got now. Them cars were built in such a way it got awful hot in them. You had to be pretty tough to race back in our day, but if people want to do something bad enough they're able to do it.

Jeff Bobo writes about motorsports for GoTriCities. E-mail him at jbobo@timesnews.net.

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