Color the first
Memphis 200 an embarrassing red.
The United States
Automobile Club, which sponsored the race June 29 at Shelby County
International Raceway, left Memphis with a sour taste, so bitter one USAC
official said it could mean a death blow to the Mid-South hopes of landing a
spot on big-time racing’s million-dollar circuit.
afford to come back there unless things are changed," said William F.
Taylor, stock car supervisor for USAC.
Taylor, who joined
USAC’s staff in April, 1968 left Memphis red-faced from a combination of
the 100-degree heat and a chain of events which handicapped his organization
throughout the race.
He spoke strongly on
Memphis’ automobile racing hopes.
"First, they are
definitely going to have to resurface the track, at least a good portion of
it," he said. "Also, they’re going to have to provide better
communication. Frankly, they’re a little short of knowledgeable people on
"They did the
best they could to get the track prepared. We couldn’t get a paving
contractor Saturday night before the race. We just couldn’t seem to get
hold of the right people ."
(Spokesmen for the
Memphis track said they were aware of most of the difficulties in the
running of the 200. "Many of the problems were the kind you usually
find the first time around of such a race," one said.)
The heat, which took
its toll on the drivers and spectators, wasn’t forgotten by Taylor.
"It was a
combination of heat and some rough spots in the track that had been patched
that caused the most trouble," he said. "They definitely need more
availability of water supply in the pits. It was almost non-existent during
Deep holes on curve
nine were tough on the drivers, as well as spectators. Marvin Gamble, Jr., a
photographer from Nashville, was struck on the right shoulder by a concrete
Taylor credited the
track’s buckling with the heat, and said, "they laid it in a hurry
for the Cotton Carnival Grand Prix and installed it over wet grounds.
"There just wasn’t
time to really impress upon them the importance of a few minor details. They
did correct the crash wall."
Taylor and Norm
Nelson, owner of the winning car driven by Roger McCluskey, agreed that the
race should be re-scheduled at a different date; or at least have a better
record, they might find a better starting time than 2 o’clock," said
Taylor. "It’s the hottest part of the day. If they insist at this
time of the year they should provide some kind of shelter for the drivers
and mechanics. The only shelter was for the scorer and they couldn’t work
Nelson, who started
his racing career in 1940, said the race would be better suited for
"possibly late April or early May," which would bring the event
into direct conflict with the Cotton Carnival Grand Prix held this spring on
"If not then, why
not in October?" Nelson asked. "Or, maybe even at 4 in the
afternoon. By that time the track has cooled. As you probably noticed, that’s
when the best qualifying times were turned in during Saturday’s races. It
means a lot to the drivers if the track’s cool."
McCluskey declined to
criticize on the twisting 1.7 mile, nine-curve course. "I’d just like
to thank the people of Memphis for the way they treated us here," he
said. "I’ve never been treated better at any track."
None of the criticism
was ???? Timing Association, owners of the year-old renovated track.
"They did the best they knew how," said Taylor. "They took
our advice as much as possible."
improvement at SCIR. Now that they’ve been through one exercise, I’m
sure they’ll work things out better next time. But we’ll have to make
certain things are done before we’ll come back again."
Taylor was pleased
with the 13,453 turnout for the race, but offered two reasons why it wasn’t
as successful as first hoped:
"First, there was
the heat," he said. "Secondly, it was ???? admission ticket will
cost you about $4 or $5, with the top seats about $8" Ticket prices for
the 200 were $6, $7 and $10.
"They were too
high," Taylor added. "That was a serious mistake, particularly on
a first event. It could only create an impression of not coming back."
Most racing followers
agree the Mid-South is a prime testing ground for the sport. In fact, a
Detroit promoter is said to be considering a track halfway between Memphis
and Nashville on Interstate 40.
Also, on a test run
are planned tracks at St. Louis and Kansas City. If St. Louis lands a
course, than Memphis’ chances for big time recognition would drop.
"You’ve got a
big marketing area here," said Nelson, who is the only driver to win
the USAC stock car crown three times and is the all-time point leader for
Automobile racing in
the U.S. has been described as a giant supermarket, in which manufacturers
and accessory firms show their wares, and as a theater for the entertainment
at Nashville, the Mid-South’s ???? recently announced construction plans
on a new high banked 7/8 mile racing plant for 1970.
The new track will be
built with a $876,000 covered grandstand, which will have a seating capacity
of 18,500, 8,000 more than the existing grandstand. The speedways is home of
the NASCAR Nashville 400, which will be run July 26 at 8 p.m.
SCIR officials are
moving ahead with plans to gain a spot on one of the national circuits.
Mid-South Sports Action, Inc., is hopeful of attracting another major race
sometime this fall, possibly in early October.
The Mid-South has long
been a solid rock on the drag racing ???? something new and different.
"It’ll take time to develop," said Taylor. "I think you’ve
got it started here," Nelson added.