HAROLD HARDESTY

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Born in Idaho and raised in Washington state before coming to Ashland, Oregon in 1960 where he lives today,  Harold Hardesty made his money in excavation and construction, and his pastoral estate on Bear Creek is home to the evidence of his passion; collector cars and the photos and trophies from his hall of fame stock car driving career.

In 1956 Harold drove in nine NASCAR Grand National races with six Top 10 finishes (inlcuding a 7th at Redwood Acres), only once finishing worst than he qualified due to a bearing failure in Portland, the only race he was not still running in at the end.  In 1957 he raced in four GN races but was plagued by car trouble and a crash, and only finished running in Eureka.  In sixteen Grand National races he had eight Top Tens which included five Top Five finishes.

In twenty two Pacific Coast / Winston West races from 1966 to 1973 he had sixteen Top Tens, inlcuding seven Top Five finishes and two wins; one coming at Redwood Acres Raceway in 1968.

A member of the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame, Harold by all accounts won hundreds of races around the country, a major factor in his being one of only a handful of west coast drivers, along with Herschel McGriff, that have been elected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Harold owned and operated the track in Medford, and regularly traveled to races all over Oregon, Washington, and California, and was a frequent visitor to Redwood Acres Raceway in Eureka from the 1950s to the 1980s, where his reputation preceded him.

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“Back in the Hard Top days they’d run about five, six nights a week, so I got to race a lot, and that’s what I really loved,” Harold says.  “Up there in Washington’s Tri-Cities and Walla Walla, Ephrata, etc.  I had a ’34 Ford, purple and white, with a flathead in it.  I run it two years for a guy. But I had a lot of fun racing. I was lucky enough to be fairly good at it.   Never made any money,”  he says, laughing.

scan00077“You can see in an early photo I have a scar on my forehead” (shown in photo at right).  “In the 50s I was partying pretty hard and hit my head on the windshield of a 1940 Packard convertible.  Me and another guy was drag racing in Kennewick, and there was a passenger train stopped across the track and I went clear underneath it, clear to the windshield.  The other two guys got out and ran.  They only had two officers in Kenewick at any one time, and they took me to the hospital and the police chief called and said ‘Where are you at?’ and they said ‘We’re bringing Hardesty home’ and he said ‘Bring that sonofabitch down and throw him in jail!'”

“The #52 Hudson, it was the second car after the ’34 Ford.  Everybody laughed about it, and I went out and won damn near every race with it.  I’d go from last to first to last to first again in one lap.  It had a super six cylinder Hudson engine;  270 cubic inches was the limit.  I won a lot of races, so they made us go back to 150 cubic inch and we put that pacemaker engine in and it was faster, made the RPMs quicker.”

“I’m not a mechanic, I can’t even change spark plugs hardly.   Wally Cannon who used to own my cars’ engines, he says ‘You let me work on them.  You can tear them up, go out, over wind them, do whatever you want to do, let me work on them.’  So I did”  he says,  laughing.

Harold Hardesty's first NASCAR, a '56 Chevy he first drove at the Portland Speedway May 26, 1956, finishing 6th (with car owner on right)

Harold Hardesty’s first NASCAR, a ’56 Chevy he drove at the Portland Speedway May 26, 1956, finishing 6th (with car owner on right)

Herb Thomas brings his Chrysler 300 to Redwood Acres (Humboldt Standard May 29 1956)

Herb Thomas brings his Chrysler 300 to Redwood Acres (Humboldt Standard May 29 1956)

1956 NASCAR COMES TO REDWOOD ACRES

Harold drove in nine NASCAR Grand National races in 1956, including the Memorial Day weekend race at Redwood Acres in Eureka.  5,000 fans, the largest local racing crowd to that time, watched 26 drivers compete in the 125 lap 100 mile race on the 5/8 “Big Track” (which ran outside the normal 3/8) for a purse of $4600.  The field included two drivers from Eureka; Bob Havemann and Sam Steers.  1953 Champion and national point leader at the time, Herb Thomas of Charlotte, brought his Chrysler “300” to the race.

Eureka in the 1950s was known for its rough area of  town – 2nd Street – a notorious section of bars near the bay frequented by burly loggers looking to let off steam.

“My first race at Redwood Acres in ’56 was when Gustafson Chevrolet sponsored me.  I was working in their shop in Eureka, and I said ‘What do we do around here for fun?’  They said ‘Go into town but don’t go past 3rd Street.  Those god-damned loggers are there.”

“So Harold Beal and Bill Hyde arrive; two drivers from Portland, great big cussin’ guys – Beal used to break steering wheels in his hands in his race car.  So they get here and ask ‘Where’s the party?’, and we said ‘Right down there on 1st Street!’    They went down there and I guess they had a helluva brawl!”, Harold says now laughing.

Harold finished 7th, with Herb Thomas winning after early leader Clyde “Bad Boy” Palmer from San Jose dropped out due to engine trouble.  As for the 2nd Street brawlers; Beal would finish 19th and Hyde 20th, both perhaps a little worse for the wear from their nighttime excursion into roughneck 1950s-era Old Town, Eureka.

1956 3img220Rare photos of Harold and his car (above and below) in the pits at Redwood Acres in 1956 provided by Leon Warmuth of Leon’s Car Care of Eureka.  Leon remembers, “I worked in the parts department of Gustafson Chevrolet and I was recruited as a tire changer for him and a mechanic named Phil Derringer for his mechanical ability.  The big track was very dusty with potholes that broke two wheels on Harold’s car.”  (photos courtesy of Leon Warmuth)

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On June 3, 1956, reigning NASCAR champ Herb Thomas joins Harold after they battled in a 200 lap race at the 1/2 dirt track at the Merced Fairgrounds.  "I was changing the gears before the race so didn't have time to put on a shirt before getting in the car."1956 MERCED FAIRGROUNDS – BATTLING WITH THE CHAMP

Next after the race at Redwood Acres, on June 3, 1956 at the Merced Fairgrounds, reigning NASCAR champion driver Herb Thomas (above, left) joined young Harold (right, in tank top) in the pits after doing battle in a 200 lap race at the 1/2 mile dirt track, Thomas winning and Harold finishing 2nd.

It was a big honor for Harold that the champ would come over to him and pose with the winner’s trophy, and it remains one of his favorite moments in racing.  “I was changing the gears before the race so didn’t have time to put on a shirt before getting in the car.”

1956 SOUTHERN 500

The biggest drive of Harold’s career was at the 1956 Southern 500 in Darlington, South Carolina.  Or to be more accurate, his biggest drive was to, at, and back from, the Southern 500 in Darlington.

“Hurst shifters wanted to take a car to Darlington.  Beryl Jackson, who had a lumber business up there, had three 88 Oldsmobiles.  Herschel McGriff and Johnny Kieper drove for him, other Cup guys. He let me take this car.  We raced in Portland on Sunday afternoon, me and one pit man, two gas cans, three capped tires, and a tool box.  After the race we changed the rear end, drove it to Darlington (nearly 3,000 miles).  They put a new motor in it, because the motor had a Eldorado carburetor on it and it was illegal, so Oldsmobile put the new motor in it, and we did all this in a week.”

“Herb Thomas had come out and drove my car a couple of times after I had outrun him.  We got to be pretty good friends, and he told me how to time in at Darlington.  He said ‘Don’t try to go out there and break any track records, just get in one lane, one lane down from the top, don’t cross the yellow lines, just be consistent.’  And I passed my driver’s test.  I then qualified 39th and then we went out and we run the race.  I had one pit man.  I had a flat tire before the first pit stop.  And I hollered at my pit guy, I said ‘What happened?  Did I wear it out?’  and he said ‘Yeah.’   So I run pretty slow until the next pit stop.  And I come in and there’s this tire sittin’ there against the fence with a piece of chrome sticking out of it.  I said ‘I thought you said I blew it out’,  so I went back out and ran faster, ran pretty good.  I finished 18th out of 70 cars.  All those other drivers were driving factory cars.   Bill Amick was from Portland.  He was sittin up near the pole, and I didn’t even know him.  Anyway, he finished 7th.  And I bought that car, made a dirt track car out of it.”

Harold finished just behind Lee Petty and ahead of big names like Elmo Langley, Tiny Lund, Buck Baker, Parnelli Jones and Fireball Roberts.

“I was the first Oldsmobile to finish so I got extra money, I think I made $339 or so.  Drove the car out there, drove it home.  Drove it to Syracuse where they had a half mile dirt track, and I was running 2nd in the race, about 15 or 20 laps in and it started raining.  It rained out and I never got to finish the race. I think one of the top drivers was leading, might even have been Petty.  Petty was there.”

Not counting any side races, all told the 500 race and trip to and from Darlington put over 6,000 miles on the car that week.

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Late 60s Winston West Ford

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1968 & 1969 RIVERSIDE

In 1968 Harold raced a Ford for Bob Bristol in the Pacific Coast (Winston West) race at Riverside, but went out on lap 67 due to a crash.  He returned to Riverside in 1969, qualifying 29th in a field of 44 and finished 10th.

“I was the only one that passed Richard Petty, I passed him twice.  Passed him into turn 6, but he got back around me down the straightaway.  I couldn’t run with his car, I was in a two year old car.  I ran it for Bob Bristol for a couple of years.”

1969 Riverside: Pass on Petty

1969 Riverside: Pass on Petty

1968 Eureka Times Standard September 13, 1968 x4001968 PACIFIC COAST LATE MODEL WIN AT REDWOOD ACRES

“I knew Bob Britt (of Britt Lumber and 1969 RAR track champ)”, Harold recalls.  “I got to know him pretty good.  I don’t think I ever got to run the 101 track (that Bob built between Arcata/Eureka).   I won a lot of races there at Redwood Acres in Eureka, though.”

On Friday, September 13, 1968, Harold came down to race in the Pacific Coast Late Model Series at Redwood Acres.   Scotty Cain of Fresno, the eventual champ, won the A-Trophy dash with Ray Elder 2nd.  Ed Tanferani of Fortuna won the six-lap ‘early-model’ trophy dash, while Jim England won the late-model heat with Bob Britt of Eureka finishing 2nd. Unfortunately the rains had arrived all week and a low turnout of  11 Late Model cars resulted in the scheduled 100 lap distance being shortened to 50 laps.  Harold ended up borrowing local driver Ed Tanferani’s car for the Main Event.  The local paper reported that Harold took the lead on lap 35, taking the checkered flag.

The field of 11 cars was the fewest in Pacific Coast late model history.  Facts on the race are a bit vague, with only 7 of the 11 finishers documented.  They included Cliff Garner finishing 2nd, Ray Elder 3rd, and Bob Britt 4th.  Not mentioned in the records is Herschel McGriff, who Harold says was in the field as well.  It is reported that Harold’s qualifying fast time of 21.22 was a new track record, which considering the conditions, seems a minor miracle.

“I borrowed Ed Tanferani’s Ford”, Harold recalls.   “They let me drive it because they didn’t have enough cars to start the race.  They let me start in the back.  They told me run a few laps then pull in, because they needed more cars.  It was rainin’ and sort of slick, they were trying to get the race off.  So, I got to racin’ with Herschel and I won it.  And NASCAR came over and gave me an ass chewin like you never seen!  I won a NASCAR race in a ’58 Ford.  Oh, they were pissed.  They held up my money for a year.  And they wouldn’t give me credit for that race, and they give it to me a year later.  But I got paid!  Anyhow, that was sort of one of those things.”

Part of the lore of this strange race is that when the race was red flagged due to rain and the promoters did not offer fans a refund, “several local Indians” tried to burn down the grandstand in protest.  Another story was that they were just trying to keep warm and started a fire nearby.

Harold also brought his parents down to Eureka to see the race and they were able to celebrate the win with him.  “My parents had never been to Mexico and I had the motor home, so I picked them up in Pasco, Washington.  I took them down to Eureka and watched the race when I won.  My mother kept that trophy which is why it didn’t burn up in that fire.” [Not the fire in the grandstand during the race- there was a fire a few years ago in one of his offices which resulted in the loss of many of his trophies won over the years.]

The swapping of cars becomes confusing when figuring out the night.  The advertisement in the local paper shows Harold was bringing the #18 Holman Moody Ford, a Grand National car like the others that ran in the Pacific Coast series.  But he borrowed Ed Tanferani’s local car that Ed had raced earlier in the night, winning the main event in it.  Yet the winner’s photo that clearly shows Harold with his parents with the trophy appears to be taken in front of his #52 short track car with mud on the tires.  Ed says now he believes Harold’s #52 car might have broke (after qualifying on pole?) and that is why it was in the photo.  Either way, Harold won perhaps one of the strangest races in the history of Redwood Acres.

One thing is for sure, the show Harold put on that night made a lasting impact on those who witnessed it and has become one of the most memorable moments in the history of the track.  While Redwood Acres was normally a dry slick dirt track and cars used asphalt tires, when the rains came Harold got a chance to introduce the local drivers to some new kind of racing.

In his book Dirt Trackin’ At The Acres, Tom Dilling wrote-

Remember Harold Hardesty with Ed Tanferani’s Ford in the mud?  Harold would slam that thing completely sideways at about the flagstand, never take his foot out of it, and flat clean the turn – then do the same on the back chute.  He did this lap after lap.  Mr. Hardesty gave a little demonstration that night on how to play in the mud!

Long time Redwood Acres driver and mechanic Casey Dungan remembers:
“Hardesty was sliding around backed into the middle of the straight at the flagstand and everyone thought he had spun out, nobody knew what he was doing.  So everybody thought we better learn how to do that.”

On dirt track racing, Harold says-
“Herschel McGriff and I used to kid about this.  He was super on the road courses.  Him and I was just about equal on asphalt.  But he couldn’t catch me on dirt.  Dirt seemed to be my specialty.  On the slick tracks, I could get crossways and in two laps I could figure it out.  That’s when I won that race in Tanferani’s car, NASCAR just about had a fit.”

Howard sees dirt tracking on mud as the great equalizer.  “On the wet and slick, power didn’t mean much.”

In the pits after 1968 Pacific Coast Late Model win at Redwood Acres

Harold Hardesty (in gold jacket) celebrates in the pits with his crew and parents after the 1968 Pacific Coast Late Model win at Redwood Acres

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Medford 9-2013 1941972 REDWOOD ACRES OPEN COMP RACE

In 1972 Harold won the International Drivers Challenge series which took place at several tracks in the Washington and Oregon pacific northwest.

In October the Six Rivers Racing Association open finale at Redwood Acres saw several drivers dominate from the Medford area.  Markey James won a 25-lap “Race of Champions” between association titleholders from different areas, over a field that included local racers Ray Luzzi and Jim Walker, and Pappy Boyd from Anderson.  Tom Wyatt of Medford drove the car of Eureka’s Clyde Carlilleto to win the 75-lap B Main.  And Harold Hardesty held off Bill Schmitt of Redding and Ray Luzzi to win the 100-lap main event.

1970s Hardesty Dirt CarEVEL KNIEVEL

Harold operated the Medford track for a period of time in the late 60s/early 70s, and one of his promoting adventures at that track involved the most famous daredevil of all time.

evel knievel“I met Evel Knievel in Spokane Washington way back in the 50s.  He’s from Butte Montana right close there.  Then I hadn’t seen him in a while and he was doing a jump in Yakima where I was at a race.  He missed his jump; he missed more than he made.   I won the race.  He came limping over and told me ‘I hear you own the Medford Speedway.  I’ll make a jump for you’.   So he came in on a big limo.  He had to build a track in the infield.  He jumped 12 buses or so.  You could hear a pin drop in that crowd.  He made that one.”

“He was quite the character.  We went out drinking the night before.  Every time we went to a bar someone would call out ‘Is Evel Knievel in the crowd?’ and he’d say ‘Yeah!’ and he’d go to the phone.   And I couldn’t figure out where in the hell they were finding out where he was.   He finally told me he’d hired four girls to page all the bars and ask if Evel Knievel was there.  He was quite a promoter.”

“He got in some sort of jam down in Riverside.  He got thrown in jail for something.  Then for all the inmates that got out for daytime shifts he was renting limousines to pick them up and drive them around and the judge found out about it and he really got on his ass.”

Camaros

AMAZING HIMSELF AT MEDFORD

“One thing happened and I sort of amazed myself”, Harold says.   “You know I won a lot of races there at Medford.  I owned the track, late 60s, early 70s.   They always complained about me; that I was grading the dirt track to suit me.  I was sitting in the grandstands because I was letting my step son run the car.  And I’d grade it and get it all ready.  Sometimes I’d go race somewhere else.”

“One night I was sitting in the announcer’s booth at Medford, and the guy from Grants Pass set a track record, and I had the track record.  I was sitting up in the booth and everyone was yelling that I should have the chance to beat him.  But there was a guy, Carl Wolfe, that just built a Dodge, only it’s second race, it was the only Dodge out there.  It was in the B-Main, so I walked down out of the grand stand and got in that Dodge.  They give me one lap to warm up, and I reset track record.  So he come back out and broke it again.  So I went out and broke it again.  I broke it three times in one night and ended up with the track record that stood for a long time, in a car I had never set in the seat.  I think that was the most amazing thing I’ve ever done.  I don’t know what it was…. I could get in strange cars.”

“In fact in the 70s people would call me from Washington- Seattle, Spokane, Wananchi – and want me to drive their car.  At four o’clock in the morning I’d get up and get on a plane, fly to Portland, fly to the race track and I’d be there before ten o’clock.  I did that for about two or three years.  So I was awful lucky about getting into strange cars.  I did well enough to have them call me up and drive their cars, I don’t know if I won them all, but I won quite a few of them.   And I enjoyed doing that.”

“Every car is different.  I could get into a strange car and get the feel within a couple of laps.”

1981 North Coast Dirt Track Classic results from the Stock Report program (left) and dirt car at Harold's shop from that era (right).

1981 North Coast Dirt Track Classic results from the Stock Report program (left) and short track car at his shop from that era (right).

1981 NCDTC Hardesty

1982 North Coast Dirt Track Classic win at RAR.

1982 North Coast Dirt Track Classic win at RAR.

TECH TEAR-DOWNS and ONE CYLINDER SHORT OF A V8

Along with Hall of Fame recognition, winning so many out of town races can bring other kinds of attention as well.

“When I won in Salem or Roseburg they’d tear you down to determine if you were legal or illegal, and they’d come up with the phoniest damn things.  I got tore down quite a bit.”

“Then these guys built me a Chevrolet,  a ’60-something.  I went to Klamath Falls, a 1/4 mile asphalt, I passed Ray Elder and Jack McCoy on the outside in practice, they come over and measure my car, it was a quarter or half inch short on the driver’s side and they told me they wouldn’t let me run if I didn’t change it.   I’m not a mechanic.  So we loaded the car up and me and my partner had an airplane we flew to British Columbia and raced it out of state,” he says laughing.

“We went down to Anderson when it was still a dirt track.  I took my car out there and I was playin’.  I had fast time, and somebody broke my time, and they let me go out and try again.  I broke a timing chain, bent two valves, so I called Wally Cannon (the You Drive It I Fix It mechanic), and we got it started.  One cylinder was clear dead, one had a little bit of compression.  It was a pretty good pay race.  I could get in the lead, but if they had a yellow flag about four cars could get by me on the restart before I could get my speed up again.  I lost the lead four times that way but we won the race.  But they came over and gave me shit for running on seven cylinders and still out running them.”

RACING ON DIRT IN THE 80’s

“They went to wedge cars and I never went much into those.  But Dane Smith, and his wife, used to follow me.  If I was going to Sacramento, they’d follow me down.  I don’t think he won too many at that time but then he started driving that wedge car, and he was doing good out there.  Dane Smith, Don Harper…Tom Wyatt was pretty popular out there. But they came after me,  when they started doing good.”

Harold and former Redwood Acres driver Don Price and a dirt car, one of the "Early Lates",

Harold Hardesty today with former Redwood Acres driver Don Price next to an old dirt car, “One of the Early Lates.”

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Harold on a break from a day of yard work on his property next to Bear Creek in Ashland.

Harold and some of his collector cars; a Thunderbird in the foreground and a '57 Oldsmobile in the back

Harold and some of his collector cars; a Thunderbird in the foreground and a ’57 Oldsmobile in the back

While he says he never really made any money from racing, Harold’s excavation and construction companies and other business interests “Keep me in beer money”, as he likes to put it.  He still enjoys maintaining the grounds and puttering on his old cars, with several restoration projects in the works.  And he still watches the NASCAR Cup races with keen interest on TV from the bar at his house on Sundays.

Medford 9-2013 192Harold has hosted many large parties over the years at his Ashland estate, with different car clubs passing through, often having their classic cars photographed in front of the vintage gas station he moved from main street in Ashland.  He restored the gas station and outfitted it with Gilmore signs and memorabilia as a nod to the company’s connection with racing in the early days.  “Several car clubs have stopped here.  I’ve had 225 Model As on the property.  Cruise of Oregon would stop here and we’d feed them hamburgers.”  Neighbor and former character actor Jack Elam was a frequent visitor to poker games at the house over the years.  “I’ve had a great life, and met a lot of interesting people” he says.

“There weren’t too many race tracks around where they didn’t know me…. a little bit….so that makes me feel pretty good.  I can’t say too much about it; I was just too damn lucky.”

Medford 9-2013 200It was an honor to meet Harold and I want to thank him for his generosity in opening his home and museum of collector cars and race memorabilia.  He definitely strikes you as a guy who has been around the world a time or two, and has some great stories he’s collected along the way, and enjoys telling them.  And he’s one of the very finest pure racing talents ever seen at tracks out west.

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DANE SMITH

1970s In Car

Oregon’s Dane Smith is at the top of an elite class of Pacific Northwest drivers who began racing in the golden era of the 70s.  Regularly traveling to races from Washington to California and Nevada, he made a name for himself as the man to beat when he came to your track during those Saturday night shootouts.  When Dane was in town, the local boys would have a battle.

Dane began racing 42 years ago, a year after opening Mr. Smith’s Bar & Grill in his hometown of Medford in 1971, and he’s not done yet.  Lately he’s been inspired to get back out there, as he says, “to see if I can still do it.”

Medford High Sports

EARLY ATHLETIC CAREER

A stand out basketball player and All-State in football at Medford High where a coach referred to him as “a great leader” and teammates elected him ‘Team Savage’, Dane went on to play starting linebacker at the University of Oregon before injury ended his career.  (The back up LB at Oregon at that time was Gunther Cunningham, who would go on to be defensive coordinator for the Raiders and head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs.  Another teammate was eventual Vikings WR Ahmad Rashad.)

“My career ended with a head injury.  I busted a helmet, had a couple of bad seizures, so it ended before I wanted it to.  I had letters from the Detroit Lions, Cincinnati Bengals, and the Green Bay Packers, that were looking at me.  So I went from thinking I’d play football some day, maybe professional – don’t know if I’d had been good enough – to not being able to play, and not by my choice.”

Mirroring his racing rival, Ferndale’s Jimmy Walker, Dane also went into stock car racing after college football, searching for a fix for the that competitive desire.   Dane was not a car guy per se, but he liked the driving and liked to compete. “So I stumbled into racing and like Jimmy Walker, that competition thing is hard to get out of your blood.”

Dane Smith #55 LB for Oregon gets in on a tackle of Stanford's future Heisman Trophy winning QB Jim Plunkett in September 1969 loss to Stanford.

#55 Dane Smith LB for Oregon gets in on a tackle of Stanford’s future Heisman Trophy winning QB Jim Plunkett in a September 1969 loss at Stanford.

Dane's first car: a 1957 Chevy #86- a reference to "getting 86'd from the bar", specifically Dane's Mr. Smith's Bar & Grill

Dane’s first car: a 1957 Chevy #86

“The ’57 Chevy, that was my first race car”, Dane says.  “That’s the one I paid $600 for, ‘race ready’.  I’ll never forget- I got ready to race and the battery was dead, and I think I had to pay $33 for a battery and I didn’t know where I was going to get the money.  Now a helmet costs more than that car cost.”  The car number – #86 – was a sly reference to his bar & grill; “as in ‘getting eighty-sixed’ from the bar”, he says.

Dane's second car:  a '64 Chevelle circa '72 or '73 at Medford Raceway

Dane’s second car: a ’64 Chevelle circa, ’72 or ’73 at Medford Raceway

#86 Chevelle with son Tommy and trophy won in Chico, early 70s

#86 Chevelle with son Tommy and trophy won in Chico, early 70s

1977 race program ad for Mr. Smith's Bar & Grill

1977 race program ad for Mr. Smith’s Bar & Grill

A 300 bowler, a 3 handicap golfer at Rogue Valley Country Club, who in 1985 while the Medford High golf coach hit a double eagle during a tournament at Oak Knoll – a trait handed down to his son, Tom, who at age 13 hit a double eagle at Rogue Valley four years earlier.  In the town’s centennial year of 1985, Dane was inducted into the Medford Sports Hall of Fame.

So Dane Smith seemed the perfect person to ask:
Are race car drivers athletes?

“Yeah, I really think so”, he says.  “I play golf also, and it’s the same question; ‘Are golfers athletes?’  It’s different athletically, obviously it doesn’t take great strength.  Women are becoming race car drivers.  Hand-eye coordination is really important in racing, and that’s part of being an athlete.   And it’s physically taxing- probably mentally more than physically.”

Dane's 3rd car - the Nova - he raced at Medford, Anderson, and Redwood Acres.

Dane’s third car – the Nova – that he raced at Medford, Anderson, and Redwood Acres.

1977 Medford:  #86 Dane Smith locked up bumpers with Jack Webb during the fast heat race as depicted in the Medford Raceway program and the local newspaper (below).

1977 Medford: #86 Dane Smith locks up bumpers with Jack Webb during the fast heat race as depicted in the Medford Raceway program and the local newspaper.

Getting ready to drive the Pete Cartwright owned Camaro at Anderson

Getting ready to drive Pete Cartwright’s #22 Camaro on the asphalt at Anderson

1977 Heidelberg 100 Medford collageIn 1977 Dane won the Heidelberg 100 at Medford.  The previous winners were Jimmy Walker (1973 / 1974), Jack Keck (1975), and Markey James (1976), and all were in the ’77 field of 24 cars.  Dane started on pole and lead all 100 laps, with his Medford rivals Tom Wyatt 2nd, Dave Machado 3rd, and Jim Walker of Ferndale driving Charlie Charlton’s #88 car 4th.  Jack Keck was involved in a crash along the front wall that ended in turn one.  Dane says it was one of his more memorable race victories, because the winner received $1,000 in silver dollars.

Mid 70s Chevy Camaro, the car of choice in the Super Stocks on the short tracks in the late 1970s.

A classic mid 70s era Chevy Camaro, the car of choice in the open tour Super Stocks on the short tracks in the late 1970s.

1978 Medford Muscles Flexed 980REDWOOD ACRES RACEWAY

The Redwood Acres program Stock Report reported the April 23 1978 races as a sort of “Medford Invasion”; with the grid for the A Trophy Dash: Pete Cartwright on on pole, Tom Wyatt on the outside, and Harold Hardesty lining up in the back (top), with the race won by #86 Dane Smith (above).  Pete Cartwright would win the A-Main.

“Redwood Acres was my favorite track”, Dane says today.  “I liked coming down because of the competition.  I liked racing against Jimmy Walker.  He was my favorite guy to race against, because he was clean, he was a gentleman, and he was the best.  We were the two guys to beat; me in Medford, and him in Eureka. Jimmy is a class act.  I raced with a lot of good racers but he was number one in my book.”

“One time after a race at Roseville, a guy came up to him and was saying he was trying to take him out, and Jimmy just smiled at him, and that said it all.   The guy backed off.  I remember at Ukiah in the pits once he had to put a guy down, he had no choice.  You didn’t mess with him; Jimmy was strong.”

1978 at Redwood Acres: A new track record and a backwards victory lap with local rival Jimmy Walker of Ferndale.

1978 at Redwood Acres: A backwards victory lap with local rival Jimmy Walker of Ferndale.  On the back of the photo Dane wrote at the time: “My favorite dirt track”.

At Redwood Acres, the dry slick track could be dusty.

“That was the scariest race.  One day we raced a day race because it had rained out.  Going down the back stretch, going 90, close to 100 mph,  I couldn’t see shit and the guy had wrecked and I just missed him.   Ended up I won the race but it was scary.   I thought we shouldn’t be doing this, you couldn’t see.”

“My favorite one at Eureka: for some reason everyone went on the bottom of the track, and I was on top.  I came from the back.  And it was like I was in a different race.  I was like ‘What are you guys doin’?  You’re all down there’, and I just took off around the top.   I don’t know why anyone didn’t jump up and go follow me.  I don’t know if it was a comfort thing.  I just found a groove up there, a cushion.  It was pretty slick, you had to tip toe, around the dry slick.”

The track was paved in 1988.  With a nostalgic tone, Dane says, “I wish they would add dirt to it now so I could bring my modified down there and race it.”

#86 Dane Smith racing against #25 Dan Press at Redwood Acres Raceway

#86 Dane Smith racing against #25 Dan Press at Redwood Acres Raceway

Evergreen 1979: the lineup of cars in the "105 mph Club" (left) and the patch given to the drivers (right)

Evergreen 1979: the lineup of cars in the “105 mph Club” (left) and the patch given to the drivers (right)

105 MPH CLUB

The “105 mph Club” consisted of six drivers who broke the track record July 1979 during Speedweek at Evergreen Speedway in Monroe, Washington.  The drivers included Ron Easau, Jimmy Insolo, Mike Miller, and Dane Smith.

“We pinched a transmission line, we were running an automatic back then” Dane says.  “We had the transmission out of the car before the race when we were heading up there.  Somehow the line got under the frame or some cross member, and when we rolled it off the trailer it pinched the line and ended up losing it some time during the race.  Mike Miller won, he was big in ASA back east.  He ran an Oldsmobile or something, it almost looked like a station wagon, it was really different.  Those guys were a little more advanced than we were.”

The Real Estaters car, early 80s

The Real Estaters car, early 80s

May 1982 win at Medford

May 1982 win at Medford

Chico 1982: Dane on the high side in turn four (top left) and with the winner's trophy (below).

Chico 1982: Dane on the high side in turn four (above left) and with the winner’s trophy (below).

1982 R Car Chico Trophy

The distinctive "R" car - originally named for a real estate sponsor and unique for appearing in programs signified with a letter rather than a number

The distinctive “R” car – originally named for a real estate sponsor and unique for appearing in programs signified with a letter rather than a number

1984 Silver Cup Trophy in Dane's shop.

1984 Silver Cup Trophy in Dane’s shop.

SILVER CUP RACE OF CHAMPIONS

In the 80s Dane had great success winning the Silver Cup Race of Champions at the Silver Dollar Speedway in Chico, California.  He won the Silver Dollar Cup four out of five years, with future dirt legend Scott Bloomquist winning it the year Dane’s car broke.  “I didn’t know who Scott was, he was only 18 years old back then, and he told me that there weren’t enough races out here and he was going to move back east, and I thought ‘yeah right’,  just some kid spouting off.  Next thing you know he’s Scott Bloomquist, winningest driver in history of racing back there.”

Did Dane ever think of going back east and racing dirt?  “No, I never.  I mean, I’d love to, I had a chance to go to Australia and race in the winter.  But between owning my sports bar, being married, I couldn’t just pick up and go, so I had to pass.”

Due to traveling to a variety of tracks from Oregon to California, Dane had one track championship, that was in Medford in 1984.  “That was the only track championship I ever had, I never ran for points.  I always tried to race where the good races were.”

Building the Bullitt

Building the Bullitt

1985 ad in Racing Wheels

1985 ad in Racing Wheels

THE BULLITT CAR aka “THE I-5 BANDIT”

The 1984 “Bullitt” chassis car by Vern Gilmore with Dane behind the wheel was track record holder at Medford, Yreka, Eureka, and Chico, with Open Show wins at Chico, Yreka, Eureka, Medford and Skagit.

It was known as the”I-5 Bandit”, in part due to the sponsor, KOBI-TV Channel 5 in Medford, and also because it raced up and down Interstate 5 highway to tracks in Washington, Oregon, California and Nevada, setting fast times and winning races.

1984 July Open Comp Outlaw Showdown Day 1 A Main Winner

1985 July North Coast Dirt Track Classic - Racing Wheels 1 - Clipped 400In July 1985 Dane won the Dirt Classic at Redwood Acres in Eureka.  On Day One he broke the front end going for the lead.  On Day Two he set a new track record, and won the 40 lap feature.

At the Fall Classic at Redwood Acres later that year, Dane held the track record going into the race, set fast time, and led the 30 lap feature wire to wire.

“Vern Gilmore was my crew chief and I think that one year we won 32 out of 36 races or something like that”, Dane says.

When asked what made him so fast on dirt – he quickly answers “I had good cars”, crediting his mechanics. But in 1986 Central Point driver Tom Glover was quoted as saying “Dane Smith could drive a wheel barrow and still win.”

When pushed further, Dane said the seat of your pants feel, the quick reflexes; that skill known as ‘car control’, is just hard to explain.  You either have it or you don’t.

“It’s funny- when I’d watch other cars out on the track, I’d think ‘God, I can’t do that, they’re going so fast!’.  But then I get out there and I’m in the car I can do it somehow”, he says, with some amazement.  So do things slow down when you are in the car?  “Well, it still feels like you are going fast.”

When asked about fellow Medford driver Tom Wyatt’s description of racing as an addiction, Dane totally agrees.  “Probably once you get away you realize how much time, money and work it took for a little bit of fun, and you think…. shit.  And that’s where I’ve been fortunate, most of those guys did all their own work on their cars.  I’ve always had a guy that did the work.  I’m not a mechanic.  I can do anything with a ball; played all the sports, but as far as turning a wrench, I’m worthless.  That’s always been a good thing, that I’ve had good mechanics.”

“Tom Wyatt and I were heated rivals.  We lived two houses apart at the time.  He was a helluva talent.  He built his own cars, and they were great cars.”

The Bullitt car at Fallon, Nevada

The Bullitt car at Fallon, Nevada

FALLON, NEVADA:
LOST IN THE DUST

Dust could be a problem at other tracks, not just at Redwood Acres.  “One time in Nevada – Fallon I think – up in the mountains.  I’m leading and it was so dusty you can’t see the flag man so he moved over to the backstretch.  I was the only guy who knew it because everyone behind me were in the dust and they thought I was jumping the restarts, not knowing they had moved the flag man over on the back stretch.”

Dane Smith in Rick Singler's #4 at at Florida Speedweeks

Dane Smith in Rick Singler’s purple #4 at Florida Speedweeks

VOLUSIA, FLORIDA – SPEEDWEEKS

Dane recalls, “I went back there to Florida and drove a car for Rick Singler, who was from here in Medford.  He asked me to come back there and drive it.  Rick died just this past year.”

“We qualified about middle of the pack, this was Bloomquist, Moyer, and everybody.  We were going around taking the tires they’d take off their cars to use in our race” he says, laughing.  “We were like 37th out of 60 cars.  We qualified pretty good; car was older.  The motor blew up in the heat race, so I didn’t get to run the main.”

“I flew out there, went to Speedweeks, had a great time.    But we were definitely out-classed.  I knew what the guys around here in Medford felt like when they raced against me- I had better equipment.”

Dane Smith in the Butch Jump Oldsmobile at Ukiah

Dane Smith in the Butch Jump Oldsmobile at Ukiah

PAVED TRACK LATE MODELS

Dane drove a number of paved track late model cars for different car owners in the late 80s and 90s, as well as fielding cars of his own.

“I drove for Butch Jump on asphalt, the red #5 Oldsmobile.  Finished 3rd to Jimmy Walker at the 150 at Anderson.  Not sure the year.  Jimmy won it, went wire to wire.  I started 5th or 6th, ended up 3rd. ”

scan00002In 1999 Dane drove the Cross Creek sponsored #9 car.  “I drove that car for Ed Fleury.  We won a Carson City race.”  On the back of the car was painted the useful advice to trailing drivers: Eat Your Veggies.  “That was from Cross Creek Trucking – they hauled produce.  That sure as hell wasn’t my diet”, he says now, laughing.

1999 Redwood Acres Open Tour race

1999 Redwood Acres Open Tour race

2000 in the Redwood Acres pit Area: Dane and wife April

July 2000 in the Redwood Acres pit area: Dane with wife April

2004-6-25 NSCS Fri Fair Nights 1

2004

In 2004 Dane Smith arrived at Redwood Acres as part of the North State Challenge Series tour for the traditional Fair Nights races sporting the ‘Mr. Smith’s’ logo on the hood and his old car number, #86.  [Shown at top in practice and below in the pits after the main event, a little worn out, sitting in his hauler.]

2004-6-25 NSCS Fri Fair Nights 2

North State Challenge Series reporter Peter Moss recalled pointing out to Dane one time in the Redwood Acres pits that back on the wet clay Dane actually drove faster than they all did now that it had been paved- “Dane was very modest, and he said ‘Aw, well, they must’ve made the track longer when they paved it.’ ”

“I never won much on asphalt”, Dane states today.  “I loved Redwood Acres when it was dirt – it was just awesome.  And its a good asphalt track too.  I liked it better dirt.  It’s harder passing on asphalt than it is on dirt.   You can’t pull a slide job on asphalt too well.”

Still, there were some dramatic moments at The Acres during his later years of paved racing.   “At Redwood Acres when it was paved one night I was following Eureka’s Tim McCracken and Rusty Olson, and Rusty just drove right through Tim and took him out into turn three.  I was pissed, so going down into turn one I just drove right into Rusty and took him out.  The crowd cheered like I had won the race!”

Dane's car he raced in the North State Challenge Series in 2005.  By July of that year word was he had sold the car with plans to go back to a dirt car with a schedule of occasional races in Oregon.

Dane’s car he raced in the North State Challenge Series in 2005. By July of that year word was he had sold the car with plans to go back to a dirt car with a schedule of occasional races in Oregon.

#1 Ledford Construction Rogue Valley Oil Modified

#1 Ledford Construction Rogue Valley Oil modified

Dane back on dirt in the Cross Creek Trucking #1 modified

#1 Cross Creek Trucking modified

RECENT YEARS BACK ON DIRT

Dane explains:  “That #1 modified was a Bruce Rayburn locally-built car.  I’ve had three or four since then.  It went pretty good, first or second year out of Medford.  I hadn’t won a lot in modifieds.  I think my age is catching up.”

In 2006 during a test & tune night, Dane got a chance to take a powerful Sprint Car for a few practice laps around the track, bringing both smiles and rumors.  He says it wasn’t in fact an official tryout but rather just for fun.  “I just hot lapped it.  I was going to take it easy, then thought ‘what the hell’ and stepped on it”, he says, grinning.  “It was pretty awesome.  The adrenaline kicks in, the competitiveness, I guess; once you’ve stood on the gas it’s hard not to.”

Lonnie's Auto Body Dirt Late Model #55 (his Oregon football jersey number) - Dane: "That was my last dirt late model car, around 2008 or 2009."

Lonnie’s Auto Body Late Model #55 (his Oregon football jersey number) – Dane: “That was my last dirt late model car, around 2008 or 2009.”

Medford 9-2013 142NEW MODIFIED ARRIVES IN SHOP

On a Friday night in October 2013, Dane Smith was eager to get out of the kitchen where he was the cook at his bar & grill and get to his shop in an industrial section of Medford.   His new modified was being delivered from car owner Don Roemmer.  The last car he had suffered from “too much motor”, and after an absence from the track, this was the first step of getting back into racing.  “I want to see if I still have it”, he says.

As the new car is backed into the shop, Dane comes back to his office and reports “It doesn’t have any bumpers on it, no lettering, the thing is pretty ugly.”  His mechanic, Joe Davison, then begins the process of tearing it down piece by piece, adding new parts that will be legal for the series they will be running in.  “We are planning on taking it to Las Vegas”, Dane later says.

Medford 9-2013 148When the car was finally race ready, the first time out they took the car to the track in Fernley, Nevada, and in the qualifying race Dane says “We crashed big time.  Got caught up in a wreck of two other cars and had nowhere to go.”  They decided to take the car to the Brooks-Shaw Driving School in Bakersfield and got it sorted and going faster.  “We found a lot of front end stuff that was messed up”, he says.  “They put their guy in it, Wayne Brooks, a fast driver, and he went fast.  Then I got in it and I went as fast as he did.  They were surprised that a 65 year old guy was that fast.  I felt like for an old guy I could still do it.”

Medford 9-2013 151Now in 2014 Dane says “We don’t really know yet where we are gonna run.  We’ll try and go to Vegas at the end of the year, and Reno Fernley.  And probably run local here in Medford a little bit.  I’m not going to run a big schedule.  I don’t know how we did it years ago, between work and everything else.  When you’re young you can have that energy.  When you get older, I don’t know, between work and family and everything else.”

One thing is for sure, on a given night on a dirt track, Dane Smith has still got it.

I want to thank Dane Smith for his kind support and for opening up his home and his shop and office for access to a great collection of photographs and racing history.  And he personally cooked me a fine burger.

If you are in Medford drop by Mr. Smith’s Bar & Grill at 401 E. Jackson street.  There is a nice collection of portraits of historic Medford athletes on the wall, including cars driven by a racer I don’t hesitate to call an athlete, Dane Smith.  And Dane might even be in the the kitchen cooking for you.

 

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