Volume III, Issue 11, Page 12

If I Could Just Turn Back the Clock...

With the passage of time, events that we had experienced can easily assume a higher value than when they took place.  We’ve all had the experience. Maybe we recall only what we want or, possibly, tend to forget the bad and remember the good.  Frankly, I’m not certain.  Over time, I’ve recalled countless experiences I enjoyed, usually reflecting on the fact I’d have enjoyed them more at the time had I been intelligent enough to recognize their value when they were taking place.

Here’s a case in point you might find entertaining.  There was a time in NASCAR, well before it advanced to its present stage, when I think it’s safe to say the environment around its race tracks was much more cordial.  Mega-buck sponsors didn’t exist.  Neither did the influence and pressure they brought upon race teams as in recent times.  Plain and simple, the garage area smacked of fun.  Pranks abounded.  Rules-bending or “being competitive” (cheating, for lack of a smoother term) was clearly woven into the fabric of NASCAR teams.  It was “them against us” with regard to teams and NASCAR tech staff; essentially a game within a game, if you will.

I recall once at Riverside Raceway in California when one team’s crew chief had cleverly plumbed and hidden a nitrous system beneath a particular intake manifold, qualified the car on the pole and got by tech, several of the teams knew it and nobody snitched because after all, we’re talking about a 500 mile race and anything can happen.  Best of all, somebody had snuck something past tech.  In the garage area, that was slick.  Besides, next race it’d likely be somebody else got by with something only the teams knew about. 

And so it went.

Because Edelbrock was providing manifolds for virtually all the NASCAR teams back then, I had the privilege to work with most of the notable crew chiefs.  Leonard Wood once called me aside and said, “I finally figured out how to fix that distribution problem we’ve been talking about, and I’ve got the manifold out in the hauler.”  He said he did it by removing metal from two of the runner roofs.  When I suggested you couldn't reach those areas the way the manifold was cast, he produced the manifold and turned it upside down.  Believe it or not, he’d cut the manifold into quarters, lengthwise and crosswise, thus gaining access to the areas that needed attention.  He then welded it all back together and dressed the topside so that you’d never have known it wasn’t totally stock.  The guys of the era were wizard craftsmen.

Simply stated, there was more color to the landscape, now recalled by either those retired from the sport or persons who like to recall and write about their recollections.  For example, consider the Champion “Spark Plug Room” you’d find at almost every major NASCAR track.  This place was a watering hole for drivers, crew chiefs and periodic visitors from the parts manufacturing sector.  My Edelbrock shirt got me into this area, and it was something I relished before every race.  You cannot imagine the trash talking that ran rampant among the participants.  Recorders probably wouldn’t have been allowed, but if they had you’d have seen some censorable NASCAR best-sellers spin off from the experiences.

Earl Parker headed up Champion’s race engineer staff.  In fact, as I recall, Earl was the race track engineering staff.  He was like the Pied Piper of the garage area, generally holed up in the Champion Spark Plug Room but occasionally seen roaming trackside with his little magnifying flashlight and plenty of savvy on reading spark plugs.  Crew chiefs respected his opinions, virtually without question.  And when you figure the gravity of this trust rested on either qualifying for a race or not burning down an excessively lean engine, Earl’s word was gospel.  And although he knew this, I never saw him once abuse that trust.

But there was another side to Earl.  Put him in his Champion Spark Plug Room surrounded by some wise-cracking drivers and crew members, he evoked a different persona.  Once prior to the Riverside 500, I happened into Earl’s Room when Jr. Johnson, Dale Earnhardt, Darrell Waltrip, Leonard Wood and Benny Parsons were all in attendance.  It was two days before the race and the atmosphere was pretty loose.  Dale was complaining about having a headache.  Earl offered that he had some “pills” back in the garage area that would handle headaches.  In fact he said, “You take a couple of them little pills Earnhardt and you’ll be able to stand flat-footed on the ground and see through a window in a two-story building.”  And it went downhill from there.

I don’t know if Earl is still with us.  My attempts to locate him of late were unsuccessful. His son, Earl II, came on the scene immediately following his dad’s tenure with Champion, providing similar trackside services that included promoting his spin on calibrating carburetors for circle trackers.  Maybe this column will bring him out of shadows.  Regardless, the fondness with which I remember Earl and the antics of those that were in his tow remains today.  In so many respects, if I could just turn back the clock...  

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