What began as a card party nearly 50 years ago turned into a nearly lifelong obsession with racing for Mike Stigdon.
Stigdon was 5 years old in 1968 when his mom, Kay, invited a friend of hers from work, Nancy Collins, to a card party at the Stigdon household. Kay’s husband and Mike’s father, Bill, and Nancy’s husband, Carl, played cards one evening, which led to Bill Stigdon suggesting getting a racecar for Carl to drive.
Carl took him up on the offer, so Bill went and built a 1956 Ford. They raced together for one year in 1968 at Brownstown Speedway and 25th Street Fairgrounds Speedway in Columbus. Even though they only teamed up for one year, young son Mike took notice, and as he grew older he wanted to get behind the wheel.
Bill didn’t get a car again until 1976. Mike remembers when he would work on the car and especially the time he burned his hands taking the hubs off it.
“Regis Scaggs drove the car at Paragon Speedway and burned the brakes off it,” he said. “I burned my hands taking those hubs off, but it didn’t detour me from wanting to race. I wanted to race really bad, so Russ Petro came up to him and said, ‘Son, follow me around here, and we will get you some laps.’”
After moving to Columbus, Mike helped local late-model racer Dick Phillips for a few years. Phillips won the Rookie of the Year at Brownstown in 1979, and Stigdon remembers traveling up and down the road with the Columbus native.
“Oh, yeah it was fun. He would let me drive the hauler, and he would sit in the passenger seat playing a harmonica,” recalled Stigdon, who returned to the cockpit in late 1980.
Stigdon got behind the wheel in the Hobby Stock division at Brownstown in a Ford Torino. A year later, he raced a Ford Fairlane but unfortunately flipped the car at Brownstown. So he built another one to complete his first full season of racing in 1981.
It was a memorable year for Stigdon. He set a track record at Osgood, and in his first race at Brownstown he finished second to Merrill Downey, a good friend of his. In 1981 and 1983, he was voted most popular driver.
For most of his career, Stigdon has raced street stocks. He dabbled with a Tucker-built late model in 1995, but primarily his career was built around racing street stocks. In 2016 good friend Mark Collins called him and asked him about putting together a crate late model.
The two went to work on a Mastersbilt Chassis, and Mike was feeling well enough after some health issues to once again climb behind the wheel. The car number was 12 — the same number that was on the side of the first Collins-Stigdon combination back in 1968.
“The two families came up with that number because at the time there were six members of each immediate family, so that’s how we settled on that,” Mike said. “Racing for Mark last year brought back a lot of memories of his dad racing for my father. Everyone respected Carl Collins on and off the track. He was a great man and a very good race car driver. We all miss him.”
Carl Collins passed away in 2010 at the age of 72.
But just as the second generation of the Collins-Stigdon combination took hold, Mike suffered injuries in a fall at his automotive repair business.
“I took a wrong step off a ladder and fell several feet onto my back,” he said. “I had six broken ribs, hurt my left arm badly, and crushed my T12 vertebrae in my back. The doctor said they couldn’t even do surgery on the vertebrae. There wasn’t much left to work on.”
At that point, Stigdon thought his racing career was over. He would recover enough to try and race one more time at Brownstown late in the season. But after nearly flipping the car while on the track, he stepped out of the driver’s seat and let veteran Columbus racer Bobby Davis drive it in the Kokomo Klash at Kokomo Speedway in October.
In 2017, Stigdon is feeling good enough to give another shot at driving. He has the full blessing of Mark Collins to drive the car again. So come either March or April of this season, Stigdon is going to give it one more shot at continuing his racing career.
One thing that Stigdon is most proud of is the success of his stepdaughter Felisha Lucas of Edinburgh. Lucas races in the Hornet division at several local tracks and is the only female driver ever to win a feature at Bloomington Speedway and Daugherty Speedway in Boswell.
“She is highly competitive and has done a really good job racing with the Hornets, plus she is a great wife, mother and daughter,” Stigdon said.
Stigdon wanted to thank several people who have been influential in his racing career including his wife Carlena; his mom and dad, Kay and Bill Stigdon; Carl and Mark Collins; Dave Barnett; Bobby Davis; Joe Johnson; Charlie Johnson and Kevin Weaver.
His pit crew consists of Tom Chandler, Chris Tibbs and Justin Robertson.
Liberty race track reopening
After being closed for more than a year the newly renamed Route 44 Speedway in Liberty will reopen this year.
The track, previously ran as Whitewater Valley Speedway and Union County Speedway, first opened in 1970. Shawn Crouch of Richmond has taken over the promotership of the dirt track located halfway between Connersville and Liberty on State Road 44.
The track has two practice sessions slated for April 8 and 14. The first race is scheduled for April 28.
Racing will be conducted on Friday nights.