Stodghill Says So

An opinionated posting on a variety of subjects by a former newspaper reporter and columnist whose daily column was named best in Indiana by UPI. The Blog title is that used in his high school sports predictions for the Muncie Evening Press.

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Location: Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, United States

At the age of 18 I was a 4th Infantry Division rifleman in the invasion of Normandy, then later was called back for the Korean War. Put in a couple of years as a Pinkerton detective. Much of my life was spent as a newspaper reporter, sports writer and daily columnist. Published three books on high school sports in Ohio and Indiana. I write mystery fiction for Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine and others. Three books, Normandy 1944 - A Young Rifleman's War, The Hoosier Hot Shots, and From Devout Catholic to Communist Agitator are now available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other booksellers. So are four collections of short mysteries: Jack Eddy Stories Volumes 1 and 2, Midland Murders, and The Rough Old Stuff From Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine.

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Saturday, May 03, 2008

A Special Breed of Men

Memories of long-ago auto races usually center on the competition itself: who won, was it a hard-fought victory or did it come easily, were there any accidents, did anyone die? Mine are like that, at least for the most part. That is not true, though, for the champ car race at the mile-long dirt track at Bainbridge, Ohio on July 13, 1947.
It was a typical July day for Northeast Ohio with the sky clear and sunny, the air pleasantly warm. The race would be the only “big car” event ever held at Bainbridge and most of the country’s big-name drivers were there, the ones fans saw at Indianapolis and the other major venues. How a race was ever scheduled at the remote village southeast of Cleveland is a mystery lost in time.
There was a lunch break after the morning’s qualify runs, but if you wanted to eat at Bainbridge you had to bring your own food or settle for a lukewarm hotdog on a soggy bun from the concession stand. The drivers and their families seemed to know that and came prepared. That is the memory that first comes to mind when I recall that all-but-forgotten race.
After settling for a hotdog I wandered the perimeter of the track, perhaps to walk off the feeling of having swallowed a lump of molten lead. Along the backstretch I came to a grassy spot shaded by tall trees and there two families were sharing an elaborate picnic spread. It was a familiar sight on any race day with children running around, the wives busy seeing that everything was just right, the husbands talking quietly.
That was what made it different, the two men calmly enjoying their noon meal. Any race fan would have immediately recognized them because Emil Andres and George Connor were two of the best-known race drivers in the country, veterans of many a Memorial Day race at Indianapolis and all the other major events. Seeing them there having a tranquil hour with their families was strangely upsetting. Perhaps it was because during the fifteen months since I had returned from service during World War II so many drivers I had seen or read about had died in crashes. You couldn’t pick up a weekly Illustrated Speedway News without finding that death had shared the cockpit with someone. On occasion there were several stories telling of the final ride of men you had seen racing. It just never seemed to end in those days.
I didn’t enjoy the race that day. Watching the brightly-painted cars speed by, their drivers in T-shirts or dress shirts with the sleeves rolled up, was nerve-wracking. The drivers seemed to have only one thing in mind, getting around that dusty track as quickly as possible with not a single thought given to survival as they went full-throttle down the straight stretches and then let up only a little to broadslide through the turns. I guess my mind was on those two wives and the kids that had been playing their games.

When the checkered flag finally waved I breathed a sigh of relief because everyone, including Andres and Connor, was alive, at least until the next race. A racing legend, Ted Horn, was the winner. A friend had told me of another lunchtime scene: Horn and Paul Russo pretending to have a knife fight that had everyone in the vicinity laughing.
I quit going to races soon after that. The decision came after watching a midget auto driver named Bud Hamilton die when thrown from his out-of-control car and run over by those that followed. It wasn’t until the 21st century that I began watching again, but on TV. It’s a different world today with numerous safety features assuring that drivers rarely if ever are killed.
My concern at Bainbridge sixty-one years ago was for naught. Emil Andres was 87 when he died in 1999 and George Connor lived until he was 94, being the last survivor of the pre-World War II drivers when he ran his final lap in 2001. For them, the story had a happy ending. Not so for Ted Horn, who died in a crash the following year. They were indeed a special breed of men.


Blogger STAG said...

Thought provoking as always.

Personally, I don't like auto racing. Or racing of any kind. I guess I have seen too many injuries when people rush through things to think that it is fun to watch. The last race I watched was when I was 15, a flat track snowmobile event in Manitoba in which a guy was killed. Watching racing gives me the same sort of sick feeling I get inside when I watch kids playing "paintball".

But thats just me. I am sure lots of people don't have that attitude.

9:07 AM  
Blogger Dick Stodghill said...

It's not like it used to be, STAG. Not even many injuries today.

9:45 AM  

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