This post was inspired when I discovered my personal diary from 1962 recently. The diary is filled with my own entries as well as a host of newspaper clippings from the time. 1962 was the year that I began photographing auto racing and writing for the National Speed Sport News. I was 17 years old at the time. This is the story of my experience of racing that summer, mostly at Mt. Clemens Race Track shown here. For more, read on.
By way of introduction, my father passed away in October 1961 when I was only 16. When he died suddenly of complications after surgery, I was devastated. He was my best friend and my role model. I shared his passion for writing, racing and photography. He left active participation in racing in 1952 to become a partner in the electrical contracting firm where he had worked for many years.
Still, we continued to go to races almost every week. We went to Motor City Speedway regularly until it closed in 1959. After that, we went to Mt. Clemens. We often met people he knew. After his death, I began writing and photographing racing with the help of many of his friends. Photo:Al Blixt, Sr. with starter Clem Van Rossen at Mt. Clemens Race Track in the summer of 1961, just before Al's death.
Here is my story from 1962 as told by my diary:
April 6, 1962 - Article in the Detroit News headlined, "New Group to Promote Auto Racing", says, in part, "The Motor City never has been a mecca for auto racing enthusiasts but a new group has started an ambitious program to rectify what many consider a serious over sight. This group, led by John R. Ferris, will operate Mt. Clemens Raceland Park. The track was known as Mt. Clemens Speedway last year when it ran mostly stock and semistock car races." The article continues, "Under the new management, a three-night-a-week racing program will be maintained starting May 10. The program will include sprint cars and midgets as well as super modified and lata and semilate stock car events. Some $25,000 has been put into a track refurbishing program. Both the 1/2 and 1/4-mile ovals have been improved. A plan to black top the surface was rejected."
Ferris was quoted as saying, "Most of the drivers have indicated they prefer the clay to asphalt. Clay makes for more exciting racing." Ferris apparently hired promoter Pete Magrie to run the operation. Photo: promoter Pete Magrie with the Mt. Clemens pace car.
Monday, May 21 - "Out to Mt. Clemens tonite. A lot of changes. Saw Carson Zeiter. He's announcing now. Jack Goodwin was the fast qualifier and took his heat, the pursuit and the feature in a car owned by Vern Fritch. Got in free on my (high school)press pass. That's a good deal. It means I'll see a lot more races this season than I planned. Met Ted Winkle, President of IMCA which is sanctioning the sprint car races here this Saturday." Photo: Jack Goodwin recently identified this as the Vern Fritch car. Vern, paralyzed from a racing accident, had used the car to set a speed record for hand-controlled cars. Jack had Vern convert it back and raced it very successfully. Source: racing historian Steve Wolski.
Saturday, May 26 - "Went out and watched the IMCA sprints run. Eddie Yost was the winner. Pete Folse couldn't do anything. Looked like a barnstorm to me." (Note: barnstorming was a term that described a rigged race where the drivers put on a good show but made sure there were no accidents and everyone knew in advance who would win.)
Wednesday, May 30 - Detroit News headline, "Rodger Ward Wins 500 As Brakes Beat Parnelli". My entry reads, in part, "Memorial Day - went to double header to watch the Tigers split with the White Sox. Listened to the '500' (on the radio). Left the ball game early to watch the IMCA sprints run with Bruce (a friend). Fewer cars the last time. Folse wasn't there. Bruce was very impressed.
Saturday, June 2 - "Went out to Mt. Clemens to watch the midgets run. Talked to Vern Fritch and he got me a pit pass and a pit ID card which is good for a pass anytime this season. Took a lot of pics tonight but they were no good." (Note: Vern Fritch was paralyzed a decade before in a racing accident but continued to be a well-known writer and columnist for the Illustrated Speedway News and the National Speed Sport News.) Photo: Ronnie Duman in #7 with owner Carl Forberg in the cowboy hat at Mt. Clemens, 1963.
Thursday, June 7 - Mt. Clemens Speedway tonite with Marsh (friend). Super Modifieds. Short on cars but a good show though.
Saturday, June 9 - Went to M.C. to watch the sprint cars. Good pics. Small field. Yost took the feature.
Thursday, June 21 - "M.C. for Super Modifieds. Fair show. Mickey Shaw won the feature. Roger Martini, Ohio boy, was really busted up in a spectacular flip in the third heat. He was in the old 2x4. He rode up on another guy's wheel and flipped several times ending up over the wall in the first turn. Suffered broken ribs and a concussion. Shorty Templeman, hurt in Grand Rapids about a week ago, is still in serious condition."
Saturday, June 23 - USAC Midget Show. (Jimmy) Davies won the feature after dueling with Bob Wente all the way. Good show. Photo: Jimmy Davies and others warm up and dry out the track before qualifying at Mt. Clemens.
June 28-August 1 - No racing. Family vacation driving to Alaska to visit my aunt Marie Ann (Dad's "baby sister").
Thursday, August 9 - "Mt. Clemens tonight. Quite a performance. Very little racing. Only 15 or 16 cars showed up and only 11 or 12 were ready to run. None of the big boys were there: (Dean) Mast, (Mickey) Shaw (gone USAC) or (Johnny) White (fair circuit). Vern Fritch came up with an idea that saved the show. Pat Horan set up a match race between Lem Savajn and the other slow qualifier of the night. After winning the rigged race, Lem kept the flag all the way to the pits. There was also a demolition derby. Vern Schmidt took the pursuit, the feature and was second in the dash."
Thursday, August 16 - "Went down (up) to Mt. Clemens. Took (friends) Bruce and Bob with me. They enjoyed the show very much. They had a field of 24 cars including some real hot dogs. The track was really soggy. I was out with the (my '57) Chevy to help dry it out. Real good show. Mickey Shaw was outstanding. It was his last M.C. show as he has gone USAC in hopes of running at Indi. This was the first race I covered for the ISN and NSSN for Vern Fritch. I was glad to have such a good show to start on. Incidentally, there was no qualifying because of the late start because of the rain." Photos: #66 Mickey Shaw leads #88 Vern Schmidt. Close-up of Mickey Shaw.
Friday, August 17 - Got up around 10:30. Started to work on the race story. It took me until 6:00PM to get it in the mail. Even the, I goofed it up by not mentioning the kind of racing in the story (supermodifieds). Outside of that, it was all right.
Thursday, August 23 - Headline in NSSN clipping: "Schmidt Takes Trevillian Honors at Mt. Clemens." The article said, in part, "The (Trevillian) brothers began their racing careers at the old Motor City Speedway and have provided the BEST in timing, scoring and announcing ever since. Carson Zeiter, 'The Voice of the Speedway', presented two beautiful plaques inscribed with the words, "In Recognition of 25 Years of Conscientious Service to Auto Racing." Photo: Trevillian scoring sheet from August 23, 1962.
My entry reads, "In the evening I went out to the races at Mt. Clemens. It was Trevillian Night in commemoration of their (Bob and Stan) 25 years service to auto racing. Vern Schmidt took the feature and Jack Goodwin was a close second. There were two added events - a spectators race and a demolition derby." Photo: #88 Vern Schmidt leads #15D Jack Goodwin.
Friday, August 24 - "Shorty Templeman died last night in an eleven car pile up in a midget race (in Marion, Ohio). Shorty was a good race driver. He was a veteran of Indianapolis and usually finished well into the money."
Monday, August 27 - "Big Surprise! I was paging through last week's NSSN and found my article! Got a by-line too. I think I'll hit 'em up for a press pass. Went to M.C. for the races. Don King won the feature. Pretty good show. The Double "O" idea is really wild. They had camera men out tonight filming the races for a possible TV program this winter. 61 cars qualified. The most this season." (Note: Mt. Clemens had a quarter-mile track inside the half-mile track. The Double "O" meant that cars used both tracks during the race alternating going on the half and quarter-mile on each lap. Same idea as Figure-8 racing. This was for stock cars only.)
Thursday, August 30 - "Out to Mt. Clemens for the Supers. Vern Schmidt won the feature. Jack Goodwin, who blew up his engine Monday night, did the same thing tonight. 22 cars qualified. Chuck Partello gave Schmidt a pretty good battle in the feature.
Sunday, September 2 - "Iggy Katona won the Detroit 250 (stock car race) at the (Michigan State) Fair Grounds Sunday."
Monday, September 3 - "Developed film of Mt. Clemens. The 35 mm turned out real well. I printed 9 racing pictures. Took (friends) Ralph and Chris out to the races tonight. Fair show. Short of cars. They ran two 25-lap Double "O" races. Only 10 cars were running at the end of the second one. Goodwin had a lot of trouble. He was leading with two laps to go in the first race and blew a tire. He lost a wheel in the second." Photo: Al Blixt, Jr. about 1965 with my dad's 4x5 Speed Graphic.
Tuesday, September 4 - "Started football today." This is the last entry I will share. At this point, I was off for my senior year of high school. But I was back as a writer and photographer at Mt. Clemens and a number of other tracks in the years that followed. I went on to cover races for the National Speed Sport News until 1967 when I graduated from college and started law school. The last race I photographed was the inaugural race at Michigan International Speedway in 1968.