High School Yearbook Photo

"More than a place, the Shady Dell was and will forever remain a state of mind." - Shady Del Knight

"More than a place, the Shady Dell was and will forever remain a state of mind." - Shady Del Knight

Thursday, September 18, 2008

100% Pure Adrenaline! - Part 2: Johnny, James and Jungle Jim

I must have heard Mitch Miller and the gang sing “Yellow Rose of Texas” a hundred times. It wasn't because I was glued to his Sing Along show on television.

"Yellow Rose" and other country and western tunes played over the p-a system at Susquehanna Speedway, ushering spectators to their seats prior to the start of racing and to the French fry stand and restrooms at intermission.

Susquehanna is where you could find me on many warm Saturday evenings throughout the 50s and 60s.

Dirt track auto racing was tantamount to a religion for many of us back then, just like NASCAR is today for thousands across the country.

Hardcore fans could make the rounds of area tracks and get their racing fix every Friday, Saturday and Sunday while the season lasted.

Susquehanna Speedway near Newberrytown was an easy half hour drive up 83. That's why my parents took me there most often.

Over the years, however, we also hit several other tracks around the region: Bowling Green...


Williams Grove...

and Selinsgrove.

Susquehanna was the setting for some of the best times of my youth. I vividly recall the sense of anticipaion as hundreds of noisy, enthusiastic spectators surrounded me on the grandstand. I rarely sat down on those wooden benches - not because they were uncomfortable - but because I was way too excited.

Eager to spot a winner and place an imaginary bet, I used binoculars to get a close-up view of the race cars as they emerged from the pit area and ran warm-up laps. Over time, I became familiar with the cars and memorized the names of many popular drivers:

Bobby Hersh - Calvin Culp - Leroy FeltyDick Tobias - Ed Showalter - BUD FOLKENROTH

Gene Goodling - Lynn Paxton - Ken SlaybaughBobby Abel - Dizzy Dean - PEE WEE POBLETTES

Slim Devilbliss - Ray Tilley – Smokey SnellbakerAND DRIVING CAR #65...JOHNNY MACKISON

The one car that commanded attention like no other was #65, driven by Johnny Mackison of Delta, PA. Mackison absolutely burned up the track with that car, negotiating turns with maximum efficiency and accelerating down the straights at incredible speeds. A crowd favorite, Johnny Mackison stands out in my memory as one of the winningest drivers at Susquehanna.

As I got to know the cars and drivers, I added auto racing jargon to my vocabulary:

"on the pole"
"pace car"
"qualifying heat"
"powder puff derby" (all female drivers)
"consolation race"
"figure 8"
"caution flag"
"under the yellow"
"victory lap"
"the pit"
"banked turn"
"semi late"
"late model stock"

As thrilling as it was when the checkered flag waved at the end of the race, it was the green flag that really got my blood pumping. As any fan will tell you, there’s nothing as electrifying as the start of a race, especially the 50-lap feature.

I get a rush all over again when I remember what it was like: 25 rows of brightly colored race cars sit silent and motionless on the front straightaway while our national anthem plays. As the music ends, every engine roars to life and the tightly packed group of racers follows the pace car slowly around the track.

As the field of cars reaches turn three on the second or third pace lap, the roar grows louder and the cars begin to speed up.

Coming out of turn four, the pace car suddenly makes its move to the infield, the flagman frantically waves the green, and tons of steel rocket past the grandstand at full throttle.

The din is earsplitting. The hot wind generated by the angry horde nearly knocks me off my feet. I'm already sweating and shaking and the big fun has just begun!

By far, my favorite racing movie is Howard Hawks’ 1965 cult classic “Red Line 7000” starring James Caan as stock car racer Mike Marsh and featuring the late Laura Devon in what’s gotta be her greatest career performance as the soulful Julie Kazarian. Click on the links below and “meet the speed breed!”

My favortie line of dialogue from Red Line 7000:
Pat Kazarian: “Ever see a tire iron split a man’s skull?”

If I wasn’t at one of the oval tracks, perhaps I was making the scene at York U.S. 30 Drag-O-Way located at the York airport in Thomasville. As I soon found out, drag racing had its own roster of driving legends, including:

“Big Daddy” Don Garlits - “Jungle Jim” Lieberman
Don Prudhomme - Bill Jenkins - Dave Strickler

Sox & Martin - "Dyno Don” Nicholson

Dandy Dick Landy - Ed Miller -Bill Stiles - Jere Stahl

The sport of drag racing also had a whole new set of words and expressions for me to absorb:

"smoke the tires"
"Christmas tree"
"e.t." (not the lil "phone home" dude)
"super charged"
"turbo charged"
"nitro burning"
"fuel injected"
"wheel stand"
"super stock"
"pro stock"
"top fuel"
"funny car"
"rail dragster"
"alcohol dragster"

WSBA radio ran those power-packed promos:

“Saturdaaaaay! Saturday night and all day Sunday, it’s the biggest drag racing showdown of the year at York U.S. 30 Drag-O-Way!

See a star-studded lineup of drivers go head-to-head in flat-out competition at the Super Stock Nationals!

When the dust settles and the smoke clears, who will wear the crown of Mr. Top Stock Eliminator? It's all happening this weekend at the Super Stock Nationals. The action starts Saturday night at York U.S. 30 Drag-O-Way, Route 30, six miles west of York!


Tickle me pink, color me gone, and have a Shady day!

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