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PRETTY DON'T WIN -- A VERY SHORT STORY OF MINNESOTA DIRT TRACK RACING IN THE 50s

PRETTY DON’T WIN

Minnesota Dirt Track Racing in the Early 50’s

By Mark Berent

 

MARK BERENT AND 182

 

 

In 1950, Lamborn Peet and Frank Macartney, students at St. Thomas and Macalester Colleges, bought a ‘38 Ford five-window Coupe and dropped in a Ford 59A flathead engine with racing cam and four-barrel carb. After some discussion whether it was to be a street rod or a race car, it was decided to put it on the track. I, a St. Thomas student at the time, was more than happy to be their driver.

The Seidl brothers, who owned a body shop at 182 N. Grotto in St. Paul, agreed to be the sponsors and made the necessary modifications. They stripped all insulation, glass, and seats then replaced the bare interior with a sturdy roll bar to which they welded a bucket seat with shoulder harness and lap belt which Peet and Macartney salvaged from a WWII T-6 trainer aircraft. They tied the doors shut, installed a 4:11 locked differential, and put a J hook on the front panel to hold the stick shift in second gear (it would pop out of second sometimes when the driver’s foot came off the gas).

In those days, joining the Minnesota Stock Car Racing Association (MSCRA) seemed quite simple. We probably signed some kind of a paper but I don’t recall any vetting of the driver or car safety features. I suppose there were some kind of dues. One simply showed up, fired up, took a turn in the time trials, and began racing. There were no schools so we were all self-taught. We had monthly meetings at some bar and grill in Minneapolis. At least that is how I remember it was some 65 years ago.

We put the car on the track mostly at the Rex Speedway and the Twin City Speedway. Occasionally we would hook up and go out in the country (Blue Earth being one; another some place in Wisconsin) where various farmers would plow a quarter-mile oval in a field hoping to make some money. I don’t recall any stands or even benches. I think the people just kind of stood around. We would get tow money, three or four dollars, if we showed up and were able to “turn the track.” It was usually a big mess because after a few laps the turns became rutted and very dusty if dry, and muddy if wet. Some cars had screens in place of windshields that the driver would tap with a stick to dislodge the mud.

Some of the guys had beautifully painted, undented cars and when things would get muddy and dusty in the turns they would go high to stay beautiful and undented. That is where I heard the phrase, Pretty Don’t Win.

I seem to recall goggles with a certain tint (yellowish?) to the lens that vastly improved visibility in the dust. But mostly it was just blind and one kept one’s eyes down and to the left hoping to stay on the track and not swing high or low into the midfield. On a flat track on dry days I learned to do the four-wheel drift.

All the time there was the throaty rumblings and roars from the engines as we all had straight pipes. No mufflers to cause unwanted back pressure or get torn off on the ruts. It would get noisy in the pits as drivers would run their engines up and down from high RPMs to “burn out the carbon.” Note; we raced at pretty high RPM so I think it was to just hear that great sound and let it resonant in the gut. At idle, one could hear the throaty burble of each cylinder firing.

 

LEARNED ABOUT CHOPPING THE HARD WAY

 

One evening after a night race, I climbed out of the car and heard someone behind me say; “Where’s that guy from 182?” I turned back, right into the fist of Wild Bill somebody-or-other, and suffered a broken jaw. I had no idea what chopping was until Wild Bill yelled that 182 had dropped down in front of him coming out of a turn. That was termed “chopping” in those days and, if not illegal, at least extremely bad form. The MSCRA paid the dentist’s bill. I walked around with my teeth wired together for a few weeks.

But the rest of the racing community was quite friendly. I remember one time I somehow sheared an axle key in the time trial. We put the word out in the pit and in minutes another driver showed up with a spare key. Fiercely competitive on the track, fiercely helpful in the pit, we were a brotherhood who loved cars and racing.

XXXXXXXXX

 

Frank Macartney flew F-86’s in Korea and served in the Strategic Air Command flying fighters carrying special weapons as a Bomb Commander. He accrued 10,000+ flight hours in all models of Beechcraft, Hawkers, and Gulfstreams throughout his business flying career while he built and owned a 120-plane charter service. His career included 34 years as a Beech aircraft distributor. He also established the Frank P. Macartney Foundation which awards aviation scholarships to outstanding students enrolled in Aviation Management, Maintenance or Flight curriculums at various colleges and universities

 

After 10 years with the airlines, Lamborn “Charlie” Peet became a real estate mogul in the ‘60s California. This allowed him to continue his extremely adventurous life when he bought Humphrey Bogart’s yacht, Santana, and sailed it around the world. Over the next decades he found 132 pirate’s “pieces of eight” treasure hunting; received the Coast Guards top award for saving 5 souls off the coast of California; came in 3rd on his Harley in the 9,000-mile Trans Amazon Rally; did the London-Sydney and the Around Africa Rallies, and many other events too numerous to mention. He now has a ranch in Wyoming where he not only flies his T-34 but builds airplanes as well. A wild-life enthusiast, he raised a bear cub that lived with him for 17 years.

 

Mark Berent had three tours of combat in Southeast Asia and is the holder of the Silver Star, two DFCs, the Bronze Star, numerous Air Medals, Legion of Merit, the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry, and the Cambodian Divisional Medal. In his first tour he flew F-100s with the 531st TFS at Bien Hoa AB South Vietnam. Two years later he returned as an F-4 pilot assigned to the only all-night-flying outfit in SEA, the 497th TFS at Ubon RTAFB Thailand. While there he also commanded the Forward Air Controller unit called the Wolf FACs. His third tour was in Cambodia flying things with propellers on them. While there he earned both Cambodian pilot wings and paratrooper wings. (See https://www.amazon.com/Mark-Berent/e/B000APP91A )

 

MANY OF OUR RACING BUDDIES WERE WWII VETERANS

 

 

16 MAY 1951 A WIN!!


PRETTY DON'T WIN -- A VERY SHORT STORY OF MINNESOTA DIRT TRACK RACING IN THE 50s

We were college freshmen who built a stockcar and raced it on flat dirt tracks. We had no training, no introduction or safety briefs. We learned the hard way how it was in the Minnesota Stock Car Racing Association in those early days. What does Pretty Don’t Win suggest? Not what you think. Read on.

  • Author: Mark Berent
  • Published: 2017-07-12 23:20:11
  • Words: 1140
PRETTY DON'T WIN -- A VERY SHORT STORY OF MINNESOTA DIRT TRACK RACING IN THE 50s PRETTY DON'T WIN -- A VERY SHORT STORY OF MINNESOTA DIRT TRACK RACING IN THE 50s