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See You At The Races!!!

 Musings of An Old Racer - Part 1
by Norm Bogan

In conversations with my acquaintances, I have related experiences from racing, which they have found to be entertaining.  I have been encouraged to share these stories with others, by writing them down.  You must understand that I am using recall as I sit at the keyboard and this could be rambling.  If I leave you thoroughly confused, don't hesitate to quiz me when you next see me.  Please don't take this to be self-serving on my part, since I have either been fortunate enough or stupid enough to become involved with racing, and itís characters.  Let me review my history, so this makes some sense.

As a youngster, I was fascinated by auto racing, but being from a large family with limited funds, I was unable to attend races.  I was a devotee of Sid Collins as I sat by the radio for flag to flag coverage of the Indy 500.  After World War II, I lived in Gardena and used to watch roadsters pass, being towed to Carrell Speedway.  These cars looked very much like the "Hot Rods", which traveled the highways, with their open wheels or motorcycle fenders, engine compartment open to view a Ford flathead with finned heads and chrome head bolts.  Just about any young man wanted to drive down the highway, with the wind flowing through his hair.  In the early fifties, I learned how to maneuver my bike through Meadow Park Dairy and position myself on the north turn of Carrell to view the likes of Marshall Teague and Marvin Panch at battle in Hudson Hornets and Olds 88s.  Racers were just about the bravest souls I could imagine.  I wanted to do what they did!

Television brought us Dick Lane from Culver City Stadium and the famous jalopies of C.J.A.  Later, we had coverage from Gardena/Western Speedway and eventually Ascot.  Names I recall were Termite Snyder, Nick Valenta, the LoPiccolo brothers, Scotty Cain and guys named Parnelli and Hogle.

The last half of the decade was spent serving in the Air Force, so I missed much of the transition to racing, as we know it today.  During this period, we lost many of my heroes, but Indy was still the "greatest spectacle in racing".  In 1959, I was stationed at a small radar site near Madera, CA.  There was an abandoned track across the street from the location of the present raceway.  It was a paved quarter, with no walls or stands, but asphalt in fair condition, where we raced go-karts, non-sanctioned of course.  Two tracks near Fresno, Kearney Bowl and Clovis, ran weekly hardtop and modified shows with names like Al Pombo, Marshall Sargent, Herman Hutton and a young kid named Vukovich (Billy Jr.).  I remember some of the racers bringing their hardtops and midgets (Ford V-8/60) to our little abandoned track to test and set up.  Some of the more adventurous kart drivers would hot lap with these guys.

As the sixties dawned, I was trying to build a career, get an education, buy a home and start a family.  Racing took somewhat of a back seat, however, I still followed Indy with names like Manny Ayulo, Rodger Ward, Tony Bettenhausen, Eddie Sachs, and guys named Parnelli, Foyt and Hurtibise.

In 1961, I attended the Los Angeles Times Grand Prix at Riverside Raceway.  The track was still a primitive place in those days, with few facilities.  The cars were not the winged beasts with ground effects that we see today.  Then, the cars resembled something similar to a SCCA club race that we see now.  There were the Ferraris, Lotuses, Elvas, and something called Ol' Yeller, a Buick powered home built car.  Names of note were, Sterling Moss, Dan Gurney and Ritchie Ginther.  As we departed after the races, we noted many of the racecars were beside us on the highway, being driven home, a far cry from today's 18-wheeler haulers.   

In 1964, my neighbor took me to Saugus Speedway, a flat third mile paved track, that once was Bonelli Stadium, where a guy named Andy Linden had done quite well.  Now the names were Ron Hornaday, Walt Price, Eddie Gray, Frank Deiny, Oren Prosser and Clem Procter.  It seemed only natural that I should get involved, so in 1965, I started working on a crew for a driver named Hinnie Gukas.  Later in the year, I met a fellow in college, whose son was racing a flathead Ford, but was going into the Army and I was offered the ride.     

For the next several years, we raced on a very limited budget.  To tell the truth, it was my G.I. Bill money, I got for attending college.  We ran the flat-head Ford, then a Plymouth with a hemi engine, and finally a 57 Chevy, all with little success, but I loved it.

During this period, the Whiteman brothers, Marv & Gary, opened a track at their airport in Pacoima.  It was a third mile, banked in turns 1 & 2, flat in turns 3 & 4.  They ran NASCAR stocks, Figure 8 cars and C.R.A. sprinters.  Some of the drivers that I recall were Hal Minyard, Bruce Walkup, Mike Mosley and Jon Ward in sprinters, Ray Johnstone, Art Hendrick (Karaís dad) and Jerry Johnson in stocks.  The track only lasted a couple of years, then became an airport industrial complex.    

In 1965, J.C. Agajanian promoted a USAC Midget race at Saugus.  The Agajanian #98 Offy midget showed up with none other than Parnelli at the controls.  He gave a driving lesson that night, lapping the field.

In 1968 & 1969, I attended races for the USAC Champ Cars at the expanded Marchbanks track in Hanford, a mile and a half tri-oval.  Gordon Johncock won a couple of the shows and Mario Andretti took the STP car to victory circle, just prior to his Indy victory.  Bobby Unser was there in the Bardahl checkerboard car, Joe Leonard was driving for Vel's Ford.  Ned Spath from C.R.A. raced in Carl Alleman's car and I believe Gary Bettenhausen was in the Joe Hunt Magneto car.

Many folks in racing have come from the movie industry.  A couple that I recall from my Saugus days were Hal Needham, a stunt man and director of "Smokey and the Bandit", who raced Sportsman cars, and James Garner, an off-road racer and star of "Grand Prix".  Others who frequented the pits were Allen Heath, Indy vet Dempsey Wilson and occasionally, Johnnie Parsons, 1950 Indy Champ.  Allen Heath used to demonstrate that you could get plenty of grip with a hook.

This gets us to the dawn of the seventies.  My career took another direction as I joined "Bill Gazaway's Traveling Circus", what is now known as the NASCAR Winston Cup Circuit.

This will be covered in depth in Part II.  






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