Lap 23


The next June, Liz and I joined the gang at Road America for the Sprints. We had pitched our tents in Old Man Miller’s field and were sitting around the campfire, wondering where Big Ralph was. He had told Eric he was coming up right after work on his motorcycle. It was getting to be late in the evening and there was still no sign of Big Ralph. We were all startled when he suddenly appeared out of the gloom of the night, and stepped into the light of the fire. He looked like hell, with his clothes torn in several places and blood everywhere. We had expected to hear him ride in on his bike, but heard nothing because he came in on foot.

He had stopped in Saukville for gas, but forgot to put up his kickstand before he rode off. Just north of Saukville, the old Route 57 has a series of bends as the road follows a river. When Big Ralph leaned the bike over in one of these bends, the kickstand hit the pavement and caused him to dump the bike, doing around 45 miles an hour. Big Ralph and the bike tumbled down the highway several yards and wound up in the ditch. The bike was in no condition to ride, so Big Ralph left it in the ditch and started hiking for Old Man Miller’s field some 30 miles away.

He figured no one would pick him up the way he looked, so he did not try to hitchhike. But Wisconsin is full of friendly, helpful people and after he had walked for over an hour, a guy in a pick up truck stopped to see if he wanted a ride. Seeing Big Ralph’s condition, he asked what in the world had happened to him. After hearing Big Ralph’s story, he offered to take him to a hospital. Big Ralph said thanks, but he was not seriously hurt, just a bunch of scrapes and bruises. He accepted a ride to the campground, but only if he rode in the back of the truck so he would not get blood all over the Good Samaritan’s seats.

Bunky had his pickup truck with him, and the next day he took Big Ralph back to the accident scene to retrieve his banged up motorcycle. After the races ended on Sunday, Bunky kindly drove Big Ralph and his motorcycle home to Chicago. This was very nice of Bunky because he lived in Dixon, Illinois at the time and Chicago is more than just a bit out of the way.

Big Ralph owned a bar on Elston Avenue on the northwest side of Chicago. When he and Bunky got there, Big Ralph invited him in and gave him a beer on the house, then another and another. In fact, a grateful Big Ralph said all the drinks for Bunky were on the house for as long as he wanted to stay. Bunky was lucky to make it home at all that night.

For the 1972 June Sprints, Jerry Hanson had entered in three different classes - A Production, Formula A and A Sports Racer. It must be nice to have money like that. He managed to win the AP race in his Corvette, but lost both the FA and ASR races. He made up for this by winning all three classes at the SCCA Runoffs that year - the only time one driver has ever won the National Championship in three classes in the same year.

Back then, the National Champion was given a nice Heuer chronograph along with the trophy to commemorate his win. Hanson had won the Runoffs several times and had enough watches, so he would donate them to the race staff. The chief of race staff would put the names of all the workers in a hat, draw names and give the lucky ones one of Hanson’s watches. Having won a record 27 National Championships in all, Hanson gave away a lot of watches. Being a corner worker, I thought this was a classy thing for Hanson to do.

The July race in 1972 was another double-header with the Trans Am running on Saturday and the F-5000 race on Sunday. The Trans Am was a far cry from the series it was just two short years ago. There were no factory-backed teams at all this year. AMC still supported Penske but in NASCAR, not Trans Am. The top team in the Trans Am this year was the Roy Woods AMC Javelin team. He had a car for himself and another for George Follmer. The rest of the field was made up of independents and SCCA club racers. Despite the absence of factory-sponsored teams, the race had a huge field of 42 cars.

The race turned out to be not all that exciting. Follmer, the biggest name in the field, started from the pole and had an early lead, but dropped out with engine trouble after the second pit stop. The race was won by Warren Tope in a Mustang. Recalling my old Firebird, I was pleased to see the Pontiac Firebird of Milt Minter finish second.

Saturday night back in Old Man Miller’s field, Big Ralph once again volunteered to look for firewood. Bunky, Jimmy and Eric were busy hearing all about the new pace maker Old Man Miller had just had installed, so I went with Big Ralph to make sure there was no more fencing removed. As we were walking down the road, we came upon some black and white posts guarding a drop off into a ditch where a culvert ran under the road. There was no shoulder, and today you would see a section of guard rail in a situation like that. Back in those days, the highway department used 6-inch diameter posts set fairly deeply in the ground as a guard to keep cars from driving over the edge.

Big Ralph said “These don’t belong to no farmer” and put his massive arms around one and began to try and pull it from the ground. I watched in amusement and said nothing, because as strong as I knew Big Ralph to be, I was sure he would not be able to pull out that post. Big Ralph grunted a couple of times and, to my astonishment, that post came right up out of the ground. In quick succession, he plucked four more from the ground and declared we had enough firewood. It was all I could do to carry one back, while Big Ralph easily carried the other four, two under each arm. These we also hid behind the tents until after dark.

Sunday’s support race for the F 5000 feature was another round of the Two-Five Challenge. Peter Brock was back with three Datsun 510’s. He had one for each of his regular drivers, John Morton and Mike Downs, plus a third car for guest driver Sam Posey. The rest of the grid was filled mostly by Alpha Romeo GTA’s. Brocks 510’s had won four of the five races so far that season, so we were not surprised when they wound up sweeping the first three grid positions. Morton was on the pole with Posey alongside on the first row. Downs was inside on the second row.

Despite his impressive qualifying run, Posey did not fare well in the race, breaking a rocker arm after just seven laps. Morton and Downs ran on like clockwork for another one, two finish. Morton went on to win the series championship for the second year in a row.

John Morton in the BRE Datsun 510

In the sixties and seventies, there was a soft drink company called White Rock. They packaged their beverages in a green bottle with white print. The company logo, which was prominently displayed on each bottle, depicted a naked, curly-haired nymph squatting on a white rock blowing a horn. While we were sitting in Canada Corner after the Two-Five Challenge race, we heard a horn blowing. To the east of where we sat, about midway up the hill, there was a large boulder protruding from the hillside and there, squatting on the boulder was the White Rock Nymph!

It was dressed only in what is best described as a diaper. It had curly blonde locks and was blowing on a horn, just like the nymph on the White Rock bottles. It was much larger than I would have expected a nymph to be, but then I had never actually seen a nymph before. The nymph remained perched there most of the day and then, as suddenly as it had appeared, it disappeared. One moment the nymph was there, blowing its horn, and the next time I looked, it was gone. We never saw the nymph again. OK, now you’re thinking that Terry had over-served himself that day, and that may be true, but we all saw the nymph. I swear we did!

It may seem that we never watched the races, but we did. We saw lots of great racing, but the cars are not on the track constantly, so we had to have something to amuse us between the on-track activities. One group of grillers seated above us decided to fill this dead time with a race of their own. They got out some onions and raced them by rolling them down the hill.

This soon attracted a crowd and spectators, all cheering for their favorite, lined the course the onions followed down the hill. The cheers would even drown out the sound of the White Rock Nymph’s horn. Other grillers came over to enter their onions in the races. It was soon apparent that the Bermuda onions outclassed the yellow and Vandalia onions. A poor little yellow onion did not stand a chance against the larger Bermudas, so they were quickly divided into classes to level the playing field.

In the Bermuda class, there was still one onion that dominated. It was about the same size as the other Bermudas, but it always seemed to win. There was much discussion as to why this onion was faster than the rest and several opinions were put forward. Much of the speculation centered around relative weights until Jimmy settled it when he said, “That’s because it has a special racing skin.” Nothing got past our Jimmy.

The F5000 race seemed a bit anti-climactic after the thrilling onion races. Pole position was won by Skip Barber, who had entered a Formula One March 711. This was allowed by the rules, and it was a small engine compared to the big V 8’s driven by everyone else. Barber and the March proved themselves worthy by winning the pole position. Jerry Hanson was second on the grid, followed by Cannon, Hobbs, Redman and Posey.

Hanson took the lead at the start. Barber’s F1 March passed Hanson for first, but began smoking on lap seven, so he shut it off, finishing last in the heat. Graham McRae, who was leading the series in points, swept by Hanson and won the first heat. Posey led the first laps of the second heat, but we were more impressed with Barber’s march through the field from last place in his F1 March. He passed McRae on lap 13 and went on to win the heat. McRae, however, was the overall winner, having won the first heat and finishing second in the second heat. Still, I thought it was pretty neat to see and hear a real F1 car race on my favorite track.

Copyright © 2006 by Terry Aasen


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