Thursday, June 20, 2013

Looking Back: The Creation Of The Spec Sprint Division Part 2

Don's first order of business was a set of rules.  This was August of 1998 at a pizza parlor in Bay Point.  We went over every rule, one by one, and Don explained them all to me.  He's the expert on this stuff, and all I wanted to know was that we would have a safe and affordable race car for the budget minded racer.  We had a set of rules, I went home and typed them out and then we set out to recruit 12 drivers.

Well, that didn't take long at all.  We had a division.  Most of those drivers actually did race in 1999 or were soon replaced on the roster before 1999 came around.  We were in business.  Don answered all the tech questions, and I hyped it up as best I could.  Anybody who joined got a story in my magazine, Racing Wheels, MotoRacing and any place else I could put it.  We were gonna make this happen.

I don't want to forget the name.  This was Don's brainchild.  We had four names.  They were Sportsman Sprints (Typical me with Sportsman), Econo Sprints, Limited Sprints and Wingless Spec Sprints.  We chose the fourth option.  Technically, it's SPEC Sprints, which is short for Spec Parts Economy Class.  Don was right.  That sums up the idea pretty well.

But, there was a problem.  I did not want this to kill the NCMA.  I know there were people that wanted us to fail, but I did not want them to fail.  I backed the NCMA getting seven dates at Antioch and two at Petaluma, and they knew those dates well ahead of Reno.  They were the first dates they had, so there was no confusion.  I was happy because we were starting something new, but the NCMA would live on too.

And, we gained some big names.  Super Modified veteran Jim Perry Jr. got on board.  Dan Gonderman was building a car.  An up and coming star named Travis Berryhill.  THE star of the NCMA, Darryl Shirk, joined the division after a year or two away from the class.  I was loving it.  It was so easy to hype this thing with the caliber of the drivers coming on board.

I recall the NCMA meeting where the leadership knew they had these dates.  It was going to work out just fine for them.  Their Business Manager gave me tickets to their awards banquet, and I was touched by the gesture.  This was never about destroying the NCMA, but about growing a class of car.  I accepted the tickets, but there were some who took very vocal issue with this.

I also recall one of the most instrumental men in helping this club through a difficult time, Mike Lokmor, as he was in his final days as an NCMA member.  Mike too would get a Spec Sprint.  It was never personal as far as I was concerned, but I know they felt it was when Andy Archer, one of their top prospects, decided to go Spec Sprint racing.

But, Andy had to walk a tight rope.  He couldn't announce his move before the banquet in which he was to get "Rookie Of The Year" honors, but I did a big interview with him beforehand that we would run afterwards.  Andy was a talented racer, and I wanted him to get the recognition he deserved.  I was also asked by his wife to hand in my tickets, but I didn't.  I still have them, because I always appreciated the spirit in which they were given.

I knew I couldn't attend, because there was too much hostility towards me.  Despite the fact that I helped make sure they had race dates, there was lots of resentment towards me.  I can't say I blame them.  It was good for them to be the only game in town.  I did catch word of an unflattering picture shown of Don O'Keefe Jr., who also did not attend, in which the MC said, "Rumors, rumors, rumors."  Folks, this is why I called him "The Rumorman."

Don always taught me to turn it around.  There's always a time and a place.  I was starting to get a little upset at the attitude  I'll admit it.  Don and I talked for hours, sometimes in the chat room too.  We were being attacked.  We were being called the A.S.S. Class by anonymous posters on the Hoseheads forum.  There was a clever joke about me thinking I'm a writer, but I just stayed at a Holiday Inn Express once.  Amusing.

But, the lies were being told about us.  There was an effort to sabotage what we were doing.  If Don and I weren't on our game, this could have fallen a apart fast.  There was doubt that we would really have 12 cars without raiding the NCMA.  That proved false.  I'll never forget the Placerville swap meet.  Darryl Shirk came running over to me to tell me what he heard and ask if it was true  It wasn't.

Man, Darryl Shirk was a Spec Sprint racer.  He won his last main event in a Spec Sprint.  Not just the greatest carbureted Sprint racer I ever saw, but one of the best drivers period!  We lost a great man when he passed away.

All this time, I'm hyping this thing up.  We were serious.  This was gonna happen.  I was writing and announcing, Don was handling the rules and helping the track and racers and John was backing up what he promised.  At that Placerville swap meet, a couple of interesting things happened.

To Be Continued...