It’s been 16 years since Dave Norris and Jerry Castor decided to conduct a bench racing session for the competitors and fans from the old Columbus Speedway and 25th Street Raceway.
It was intended to be a one-time-only deal. However, it was so well received that it simply demanded to live on.
When all of the bills were paid, Jerry and Dave split the $20 that it netted. However, they were both out their long-distance phone calls. Since they had no expectation of making any money on the venture, they were pleased with their small loss.
Harry McCawley, former associate editor of The Republic, gets the credit for designating a “Hometown Hero” for the event. The inaugural “Hometown Hero” was Pat O’Connor, followed by Larrett Crockett the following year. Other Hometown Heroes have been Bobby Black (2002), Justin King (2003), Bobby Baker (2004), Wilbur Shaw (2005 and 2006), Allen Barr (2007), Bob Nichols (2008), Shorty Prather (2009), Johnny Simpson (2010), Butch Wilkerson (2011), Ted Pfeiffer (2012) and Dave Norris (2013).
Saturday, Jerry Castor was named the 2014 Hometown Hero. Truthfully, he would have been selected a long time ago had he not been involved in making the selection. Castor got his start racing jalopies at the Hole (Columbus Speedway) in 1955. He recalled meeting Dave Norris when they raced against each other at Greensburg where Norris got on his lid.
Castor recalled purchasing a 1940 Oldsmobile along with a buddy for $20. He sold an interest in the car to two other guys for $10 each. That represented the only money he ever made racing. He recalled negotiating the purchase of a set of Halibrand knock-off spindles and telling the owner of the spindles that they didn’t have any money. The owner responded, “If you keep racing, I can guarantee that you’ll stay that way.”
Through the years, Castor worked as a radio announcer, promoted demolition derbies, ran a bar in Bloomington and engaged in a number of other pursuits. However, through the years, he remained involved in racing.
A few years ago, Norris decided to retire and move to Florida. When he left town, he left the Oldtimers’ Reunion in the capable hands of Castor.
After several years at the helm of this great event, health issues impressed on Castor the need to ensure the continuation of event. His solution to this situation was to find a successor. Castor would remain available for advice and assistance in recruiting cars, drivers and sponsors for the event.
Obviously, the person who would take the helm of this event would almost certainly feel some pressure not to screw up what was already a very successful event. However, the right person was expected to implement his own ideas to make the event even better. The person who was chosen to take on this daunting challenge was Greg Littleton.
Littleton is a life-long race fan. While he worked in management with Rumpke, Littleton found time to compile a history of all of the roadsters that ever made an appearance at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. This compilation, which was published in the form of a marvelous coffee table-sized book, is almost certainly cherished by everyone lucky enough to obtain a copy.
Littleton next published a novel, “Return to Glory,” surrounding the return of the roadster to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The book provided insight into the Indianapolis 500 and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. You could almost smell the methanol in the air.
One of Littleton’s additions to the program was a sprint-car racing game for the kids, including trophies for the winner. The video center included a video produced by Cummins about the history of the No. 28 Kurtis Kraft roadster that sat on the pole for the 1952 Indianapolis 500 as well as a number of other popular racing videos.
Probably the most popular addition to the program was the selection of a People’s Choice award for the most popular racecar on display. The award went to Joe Cunningham’s beautiful red Studebaker Indy car.
The car had been displayed for several years, and Cunnigham, when asked to display the car again this year, expressed concern that the fans might be becoming bored with it. Certainly, the vote of those in attendance proved that they had never become bored with a beautiful and significant racecar.
Other very popular cars were the Chris Cumberworth midget displayed by his father and car owner Don Cumberworth. The elder Cumberworth served on the crew of Gene Nolen’s champ dirt car for many years. And, most of the time, he drove the transporter that hauled the car and equipment to the track. Also popular with the fans was a sprinter that had been driven by Allen Barr of Columbus.
Barr, who was in attendance, has been residing in Cicero. However, he said that he has purchased a home in Columbus and he plans to move back next year.
The star of the show was obviously the Cummins No. 28. Many of the thousands of Cummins employees had probably never seen the car up close. While I have seen the car many times, it was the first time that I saw the car without the side panels. It gave a clear view of how little wasted space there was under the hood.
One can only imagine the engineering challenges presented by laying the huge Cummins diesel engine on its side. Although everything possible was done to reduce the weight of the car, one of the engineers involved in the project was said to have estimated that the car weighed 500 pounds less than the Bartholomew County Courthouse.
The car was displayed without the left side wheels displaying the suspension and brakes. The car was a project largely executed by Cummins employees and, quite naturally, they took a lot of pride in the accomplishment.
To me, the most significant car on display was the 1948 Brisko SIX Indy car owned by Jim Himmelsbach. It was the first of two cars ever to be run with on-board radio communication between the driver and crew chief. It also started and finished more Indianapolis 500s than any car in history.
The car was originally built in 1925 as Henry A. Miller’s first front-wheel-drive racecar powered by a 122 c.i. straight 8. In 1930 it was converted to a two-man car with a driver and a riding mechanic running a 151 c.i. Miller engine.
In 1940, the car was converted back into a single-seat car and it was powered by a newly developed DOHC inline 6-cylinder engine designed by Frank Brisko called a Brisko Six. This was basically an Offenhauser engine with two cylinders added on.
In 1948 the car was rebodied to its present configuration. The car last raced in 1948, and it has remained untouched since that time. For any car to remain untouched for more than 65 years is truly miraculous.
Bob Moore brought his beautiful 1933 CRA champion car 170 miles from his Ohio home.
Butch Wilkerson continued to be a great supporter of the event. He seemed to be everywhere and did a great job welcoming everyone and doing a number of things to make the event an even bigger success. However, he was even more helpful in promoting the event in advance.
The crowd on hand for the event was almost certainly the biggest ever. Littleton did a great job of building on the base established by Norris and Castor. It was a pleasure to watch him navigate thorough the crowd thanking people for their participation and taking in their comments. You could almost see him making mental notes of the input that he received.
Well done, Greg.
Late models: 1. Joe
Janowski; 2. John Gardner;
3. Tim Prince; 4. Steve Barnett
of Franklin; 5. Mike Myers;
6. Chad Stapleton; 7. Greg Kendall; 8. Bob Gardner
9. Rick Robinson; 10. Alex Bowman
Modifeds: 1. Jamie Lomax; 2. Devin Gilpin of Columbus; 3. Kent Robinson; 4. Joe Godsey; 5. David Mielke;
6. Elliott Despain; 7. Dennis Boknecht of Cortland;
8. Jimmy Lennex; 9. Wes Leigh 10. Keith Smith
Super stocks: 1. Tyler Cain; 2. Aaron Fields of Taylorsville; 3. Marty Cooper; 4. Jeremy Hines of Seymour; 5. Kenny Carmichael; 6. Jim Pfeiffer;
7. Kenny Carmichael Jr.;
8. Danny Hupp; 9. Jeremy Helton; 10. Josh McDaniel
Pure stocks: 1. Mickey Hines; 2. Chris Workman;
3. Brad Kemp; 4. Chris McCoy; 5. Michael Cranmer; 6. Drew Wilkerson; 7. Curt Bennett;
8. Bode Henry; 9. Dusten Carr; 10. Willie Sallee of Columbus
Hornets: 1. Jeremy Reed;
2. Jacob Owens; 3. Greg Garrison; 4. John Mayer Jr.;
5. Justin Robertson; 6. Colton Sullivan; 7. Jason Hehman;
8. Austin Burton; 9. Keegan Cox; 10. Brian Moore