By James Essex
I had never met former Columbus racer Bobby Baker until the Columbus Racers Reunion conducted in March at the Bartholomew County 4-H Fairgrounds. I have read and heard the stories of his racing exploits primarily back in the 1950s at local dirt tracks in our area.
I was introduced to him by Columbus racing legend Butch Wilkerson. I shook Bobby’s hand and told him who I was. I told him I had been wanting to do a story on him for my weekly motorsports column. He was very gracious and said, “Sure, anytime.” He appeared to be in very good mental and physical health.
You couldn’t tell he was 89 years old unless someone told you.
I wanted to sit down with him and talk about local dirt-track racing back in the 1950s, especially racing at Columbus Speedway. It was known as the “hole” or the “hill” just off State Road 7 east Columbus. I wanted to ask him about racing with the legendary Larry Crockett of Columbus and Pat O’Connor of North Vernon and competing against future sprint-car standouts Bobby Black and Allen Barr, who began their careers in the 1950s.
I wanted to ask him about the time in 1955 while racing at Columbus Speedway before 1,500 fans when he was knocked unconscious in a four-car pileup in the first heat race of the day. How he was transported to the Columbus hospital, checked out and returned an hour later to win the feature race later that day.
What about the time when long-time racer Ted Pfeiffer jumped into the river that ran adjacent to the track and saved a man’s life after his racecar had come to rest outside the track landing in the water? How Pfeiffer swam to the car and pulled the driver out before medical help could arrive. The driver survived.
I wanted to ask Bobby Baker about racing against such local stalwarts as Jim Quillen, Gene Minor, Charlie Johnson, Johnny Fewell, Fred Wilbur, Red Carmichael and Pfeiffer, one of his biggest rivals, who passed away last year at the age of 90.
Unfortunately, I will never get the chance to interview Bobby Baker. He passed away at the age of 89 on May 28. The news came about from Butch Wilkerson, who keeps tabs on all the local racing legends. In fact, a few months ago, Wilkerson nearly died from pneumonia, but fortunately overcame his health scare and is back at his beloved Bloomington Speedway serving as the track chaplin and advising Elizabethtown racer Dakota Jackson.
Stewart wins at Pittsburgh
Columbus’ Tony Stewart won his second career Arctic Cat All-Star Circuit of Champions Sprint Car feature on Monday at Pittsburgh’s Pennsylvania Motor Speedway in Imperial, Pennsylvania. Stewart, who started third in the 40-lap feature race, took the lead on a Lap 23 restart and then pulled away for the win in his Rush Truck Centers/Ford Performance/Arctic Cat/No. 14.
Trailing Stewart across the finish line were Carson Macedo, Lee Jacobs, Chad Kemenah and Ryan Smith.
Twin Cities cut short by rain
With three feature events in the books, the remaining of the July 22 race program at Twin Cities Raceway Park in Vernon was rained out. Before the rains came, Marty O’Neal of Spencer won the crate late model feature in a car owned by Larry Hartwell of North Vernon. Troy Clark of North Vernon captured the pure stock feature, and Andy Bradley of Bloomington won the 305 RaceSaver sprint feature.
The rained-out Hornet feature will be made up Aug. 5, while the makeup date for the super stock feature has been announced for Aug. 12. Twin Cities will be idle tonight and resume their season Aug. 5 with a regular show. For further info, visit twincitiestrack.com.
O’Neal wins at Chandler
The Indiana Late Model Series made an appearance at the Chandler Motor Speedway on July 21. Marty O’Neal would come home the winner of the feature race. He was followed to the finish line by Tyler Neal of Paragon, Austin Burns of Morgantown, Tyler Collins of North Vernon and Tyler Cain from Seymour.
Brownstown fair race tonight
After taking last weekend off, Brownstown Speedway will host its Grand Champion fair race tonight.
On the docket will be the Paul Crockett Memorial Race for super late models, paying $2,500 to win. Also racing will be modifieds, super stocks and pure stocks. For more information, visit brownstownspeedway.com.
Lawrenceburg hosts special event
After having its race program cut short by rain July 22, Lawrenceburg Speedway concludes the month of July tonight with the BOSS Sprint Cars/Jason Soudrette Memorial for the 410 non-wing sprint cars. Also on the program slate will be modifieds, pure stocks and hornets. For more info, visit lawrenceburgspeedway.com.
This week in racing history
From 50 years ago in 1967, Don Nordhorn made it four wins in a row at Bloomington Speedway by winning the supermodifieds feature over Sheldon Kinser, Kenny Simpson, Mike Johnson and Dick Gaines.
Allen Barr of Columbus won the feature race at Paragon Speedway 50 years ago over Rex Mitchell, Danny Bowlen, Bobby Black of Taylorsville and Ray Crippens.
At Brownstown in 1967, Jack Owens won the late models feature event.
From 40 years ago in 1977, Bobby Black won the sprint-car main event at Bloomington. Dick Gaines was second, followed by Butch Wilkerson of Columbus, Ron Dorsett and Bob Kinser.
Russ Petro of Columbus won the hobby stock feature at Bloomington over John Mull, Steve Trabue, Steve Sutliff and Dusty Chapman.
Also from this weekend in 1977, Ira Bastin won the late models feature race over Ray Godsey, Bob Fleetwood, John Davis and Paul Crockett.
Scott Taskey of Columbus was victorious in the hobby stocks feature the same night at Brownstown. Taskey outran Dusty Chapman, Jack Smith of Columbus, Gene Minor of Columbus and Cody Pearson for the win.
From 1987, Ricky Hood won the sprint-car feature at Bloomington. Randy Kinser was second, with Tony Weyant, Greg Staab and Kevin Thomas completing the top five. Larry Harris won the street stocks feature.
Columbus’ Willie Sallee won the late models feature this weekend in 1987 at Twin Cities. Danny Eichler was second, and Carl Collins finished in third. Don O’Neal and Jim Beeman of North Vernon rounded out the top-five drivers.
Jeff Daugherty won the street stocks main event at Twin Cities over Mark Barber of North Vernon, Phil Fultz of Clifford, Rolla Millspaugh and Troy Burton of Columbus.
From 30 years ago at Brownstown, it was Dusty Chapman taking the late models feature victory over Merrill Downey, Paul Shafer, Terry Eaglin and Paul Crockett.
Larry Harris captured the street stocks feature at Brownstown over Joe Johnson of North Vernon, Mike Fields, Mark Arthur and Dave Barnett of Columbus.
James Essex writes a motorsports notebook for The Republic. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.