**Editor’s note** By way of introduction, Cody Dinsmore is a NASCAR historian, and comes to us from the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame in Dawsonville GA, where he has conducted tours for several years. As noted later, he is also a member of the RacersReunion radio show, Racing Through History. What makes Cody so unique is that he’s been doing those things since age 11. Cody turned 16 on August 16, 2012. Happy Birthday Cody, and welcome to the RacersReunion writing staff. Gentle readers, please make him feel welcome as well. We here at RacersReunion are very proud of our young protégé.
by: Cody Dinsmore
Remember when racing was considered a sport only for the ones with the most guts and adrenaline? Even though some women raced, it was known as a “Man’s Sport.” Remember back when racers were the toughest, built from moonshiners, grease-monkeys, and war veterans … when the cars were built from junkyard cars and by the end of the day, if it was all torn, up, you had to find time away from your real job to work on it? Only if you were in the big leagues did you have the money to build another monster. Most drivers of the day raced their moonshine cars or some backyard jalopies. Heck, some even used their family’s own means of transportation.
Remember when they ran at places like Lakewood, the Peach Bowl, Suicide Circle, Hickory, Columbia, Daytona, Chattanooga, and the list goes on? The money wasn’t big considering admission was usually around a quarter. In those days, if it wasn’t a well-known track, you couldn’t trust the promoter; by the time the money was all counted, many a time would the boss-man run off with the money. If a driver would happen to win a race, they would earn a small amount. On a weekly circuit, $10 was a fair first place award, plus a small trophy. Neither one meant a thing to the drivers as they weren’t in it for the money and most trophies were the same at each track with no inscription on them.
Do you remember when the race cars hardly ever had a sponsor on the fender? You look at the top dogs like RaymondParks’ cars, they had sponsors, but that was because they had a good record and a good backing. If you were a veteran racer, you usually had a garage to sponsor you. But then again, this story is about the little man, and the little man of early stock car racing had nothing. Every once in a while, a local service station might give him a set of tires or a can of gas for the race in exchange for recognition at the track. This sometimes meant putting the name of the station on the side in white shoe-polish. There was no such thing as vinyl on a racecar.
Remember when drivers of the day performed daring driving abilities like putting the car up on two wheels, or sliding side-ways all the way through the turn? There was one time where a driver was leading on the last lap at one track. With half-a-lap to go, his car started to act funny. The driver then reached through the area where a windshield would be and held the carburetor open with one hand while steering with the other and keeping one foot on the gas at the same time. He managed to finish third.
Remember when drivers of the day were heroes to many? When wearing all white was the norm on a dusty clay track? When the drivers would step out of their machines looking like they hadn’t taken a bath in weeks? When drivers would sometimes keep a cigar or cigarette in their mouth to use as a filter so no dust could get trapped in their lungs?
Remember when drivers weren’t concerned about safety? Many didn’t have safety belts or harnesses and no roll cages. Once you got into that racecar, you wouldn’t know if you were ever coming back out. Many times, doors would fly open or a driver could get trapped inside. At certain tracks, the turns were the most dangerous part of the whole track. You could crash into the grandstands, a pit, or a lake in some cases. There was only one thought in mind while driving, and that was the sweet feeling of victory.
Folks, do you remember the wrecks that took so many lives? Dirt tracks were notorious for the dusty conditions that caused so many head-on collisions. And even on the paved tracks did many pass on in wrecks that were unavoidable.
Remember when drivers of the day had grudges against one another at the racetrack, but the next day they could be seen at the local diner or at one’s shop just shootin’ the bull? One good example of this would be around 1952 at the Peach Bowl Speedway, one fella had been beating on Gober Sosebee almost the whole race. Finally a couple of laps later, he spun Sosebee. He kept his car idling and the next time the other driver came around, Gober slammed his Ford into reverse and drove backwards into the rival driver causing his radiator to burst. The two got over it and that driver soon became a good friend of Gober’s for the rest of their racing careers.
Remember when working on your own car was something most did? Not many hired anyone else to tune their cars. Most racers were a one-man crew, they might have a young kid tag-along to give him a thrill of a lifetime. The races back then were 30-50 lap features, so there was no need to change tires or fill it up with gas. If you built engines, you were considered a genius by the racing community. Even if you had anything to do with cars back when, you were considered ‘somebody’.
And lastly, the one most people refer to, remember what the cars looked like? Even though most small-time guys drove older model cars that were cut down, most spectators could relate to what car a racer drove. In the early days, the Ford coupe was the only car of choice for most, but as time progressed, racecars were Studebakers, Hudsons, Oldsmobiles, Chevrolets, Fords, Lincolns, Mercurys, Cadillacs, Willys, Nashes, and the list of car manufactures goes on. That’s when people could pull for someone because of what car they drove. Basically, if it had four tires and a body and an engine, people would race em’.
Now by now I hope you realized that I was never there to witness these things, I can only relate by pictures and stories. I have always longed to see at least one race from way back when, so I could say “I remember”.
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(Editor’s note: Cody Dinsmore is a member of the regular cast of the Tuesday evening racing show ” Racing Through History”, presented on Zeus Radio Network by RacersReunion®. Archives can be found by following the link. Live broadcasts can be heard from 7:00-9:00 PM every Tuesday. Please feel free to join us in the RacersReunion® Chat Room for the show.)