Carl C. Smith, Author of Junkyard Jockey
this fun & brutally honest dirt track biography.
Book signing is September 4, 2023 at the Juniata County Fairgrounds.
We will have a table at the Juniata County Fair where Carl will be signing books and hope to see you there.
Junkyard Jockey will be available for sale on AMAZON soon. If you sign up for our direct email connection, you will know the publish date before anyone else. It’s free and easy to sign up. Just click this link, give us your contact information, (no credit card is required) and we will email you with updates as we go.
You will get behind the scenes pictures as we get the publication “to bed”.
WHO IN THE WORLD WANTS TO READ THIS BOOK?
YOU DO if you are a fan of hard work to reach a dream, or a fan of auto mechanics who can make something out of nothing, or a fan of ’60s and ’70s dirt track racing.
Author, Carl C. Smith, brings the reader directly into his racing dream, into his shop and right onto the track with him, as he designs, builds and races his modified cars in Central Pa at Hesston and Port Royal Speedways.
He doesn’t pull any punches as he relives what it was like for him and his “pit crew” during those glory days of racing.
Carl still lives in the same small town where he was born and raised. Lewistown, Pa, is the setting for this fun-loving, brutally honest and, at points sad, racing biography.
You will laugh out loud, get tears in your eyes for those who were lost in the sport and learn exactly what it was like back then to have a dream of racing but very little money.
Times have changed in racing and these hard-working dreamers are dinosaurs of the dirt tracks.
I’m telling you, you are going to love this read.
Excerpt from Junkyard Jockey
“In the Beginning”
“That’s it! We’re not going to any more races! We’re not going to go watch people get killed!” I couldn’t believe it. My dad had just proclaimed, “No more races!”
It’s 1958. I’m twelve years old. I’ve been going to stock car races at the Port Royal Speedway since 1952 and now, Sunday evening, June 8, 1958, as the family all sat around the supper table, the previous night’s tragedy at the Port had become my own personal tragedy. Pete Swarmer was my idol, and, in 1958 Pete was in his prime in local stock car racing.
His brother, Harold, was only twenty-one years old and was just returning to the race scene. A couple of years earlier, Harold had a serious racing accident and ran a very limited number of races after that.
On that horrible Saturday night, Harold had been driving Pete’s car because Pete was chauffeuring the Regester Chevrolet Special, one of the best rides in Central Pennsylvania. While racing Pete’s car, a freak accident ended Harold’s young life.
It also ended Saturday nights at the Port for me. I suppose what made Harold’s death even worse was that Pete’s mechanic rented a garage from Dad, and the week after the accident we stopped in and looked at the car.
We listened as the grisly old mechanic gave the morbid details and pointed out just exactly what had caused Harold’s death. Old Dusty Rhodes sure had a crude yet colorful command of the English language.
Harold’s death was the first at Port Royal since the Penn Central Racing Association had moved there from Reedsville several years earlier. Sadly, it would not be Port’s only fatality of 1958.
When a Labor Day crash ended Hal Hoose’s life, Dad became even more adamant in his feelings against racing. Hoose was a former champion and one of the leading drivers at the Port and now he, too, was gone.
Racing was no longer a fun way to spend a Saturday night. The crashes and roll-overs that were expected- no, almost demanded of the old jalopies, suddenly took on a new and more terrible meaning.
I guess those deaths always stuck with Dad, especially whenever I decided many years later to go racing. When my boys became teenagers, I was better able to understand and appreciate Dad’s feelings.
In those early days at the Port there was only one class of racing car. They were called “stock cars” or “jalopies,” which was a pretty accurate description. Most of the cars were old mid-thirties coupes powered by flat-head Ford engines or small block Chevies.
Racing tires were for the future. Doors were either welded or tied shut. Seat belts and shoulder harnesses and helmets were left up to the drivers’ imaginations. Old leather football helmets were often the chosen head gear, and it was amazing just how many old leather belts were used to tie doors shut.
Sponsorships were in their infancy and a guy could still use a towbar to get his racer to the track and become a stock car hero.
T-shirts, blue jeans, and engineer boots were accepted uniforms. “Slam-bang” was an oft used and appropriate adjective. Fights were common, injuries were infrequent, and the excitement was continuous.
Trips home from the races usually extended into early Sunday morning. The regular show of three heats, two consolations, and
Australian pursuit, and a twenty-five-lap feature took several hours. Lap times on the half mile clay had dropped under thirty seconds.
I remember so vividly sitting in the back seat of our car on the way home and participating in the rehashing of the exciting crashes and wheel to wheel thrills. Each retelling became a little more exciting as we were all prone to embellish the exploits of these wildly brave drivers.
We spoke in awe of the crazy daredevils, but it was always agreed by all of us that we would never be foolhardy enough to get behind the wheel. Even I would agree because to even a hint of having the desire to someday go racing would have been totally unacceptable. It was okay to watch and admire those wild speed demons, but to become one of them was forbidden. And yet, that was the only real sports dream I ever had.
While other kids had the impossible dream of becoming the next Johnny Unitas or Mickey Mantle, I just knew that someday I would be broad sliding through the turns and powering down the long, narrow straightaways at the Port. Forget Indianapolis or Daytona. Racing at the Port was my ultimate goal, my all-encompassing dream. Only now that dream had become more of a nightmare with Dad’s ban on racing.
The 1958 season had taken its toll in many ways. Harold Swarmer and Hal Hoose were bittersweet memories. Pete Swarmer, my only sports’ hero, lost the season championship at Port Royal to Al Chamberlain by a mere 65 points– lost mostly due to the time he had taken off after his brother’s death. The end of the racing season was always a letdown, but this one was the worst ever. The only good thing was that surely nothing worse could happen. Boy, was I ever wrong.
The 1958 racing season had ended; my time at Port Royal had come to nearly a standstill thanks to the two fatalities that summer. Fall had arrived and thoughts of racing had mostly disappeared for the off season until one of my brother’s friends, Stan, came up to the house one evening after school.
Stan told us that he had heard a news report on the radio and wondered if we had heard the same story. According to Stan, there had been a horrible tractor trailer accident in New Jersey and Pete Swarmer had been involved.
The weather that day had been terrible, the fog like pea soup. During it all, due to the bad weather, Pete had smashed into the back end of another tractor trailer that had become disabled along the highway.
According to Stan, Pete was in critical condition. It was very possible that he might die from the injuries that he had suffered that morning.
That was just too much!
I called Stan a liar. I followed after him, as he went down through our backyard, across the alley, and into his garage.
I yelled at him and cursed him under my breath for making up such a sick lie.
I followed him into his house and demanded to know where and how he got his information. I refused to believe him. It just wasn’t possible.
Heroes just don’t die! I was twelve years old, and I only had one hero besides my dad.
The Lone Ranger never died. John Wayne never died. And Pete Swarmer just couldn’t die.
This was the worst day of my life.
I was so angry at Stan. Just because he and my brother were four years older than me, gave them no right to lie like that.
Even Dad was upset because Stan told the story so convincingly that it almost sounded real. I couldn’t wait for the newspaper to show up that evening so that I could check it out or listen to the news and see for myself that Stan’s story was just a sick, perverted joke.
Sadly, it wasn’t.
In the following weeks, Pete’s condition was updated in the newspaper each day. It wasn’t big headline news, but it was on the local front page.
The wreck was real; his condition was critical. And then the worst news of all.
Besides all his other serious injuries, one leg had to be amputated from the knee down — his right leg at that.
What a rip-off!
A guy races stock cars for years, takes risks every weekend, and then a highway crash takes it all away from him?
Pete Swarmer was now a trucker with no right leg; a racer with no throttle foot and a hero that was no more.
It didn’t seem to matter so much now that Dad had turned against racing. Maybe he was right. Why watch friends, or worse yet, heroes die? And though this wasn’t a racing accident, it had a profound effect on me.
Why should I care about racing any more if there were no heroes? My hero now was only a memory.
The ‘59 season finally rolled around, but I could honestly say that I really didn’t care. Pete had recovered from the accident, except that he did have that artificial right leg now.
The only contact I had with the races was the Monday evening newspaper racing recap. I really believe that I might have made it through this racing withdrawal, if I hadn’t heard about the special memorial race that was going to be held in honor of last season’s fallen heroes, Harold Swarmer, and Hal Hoose.
But it wasn’t the memorial part of it that intrigued me so much as it was the rumor that started to circulate. It was unbelievable.
Pete Swarmer was rumored to be making his return for a one-night stint as a driver in this memorial race. He wasn’t just going to make an appearance and he wasn’t going to just be chauffeured around the speedway for the fans to simply acknowledge him.
He was going to race!
There would be two #6 Regester Chevrolet cars that night. One would be piloted by the great Dick “Toby” Tobias, who had taken over the Regester ride in ‘59, and a backup car, the old #6, would be back in action for one night with Pete behind the wheel.
Even Dad couldn’t handle that one and, though skeptical of Pete’s ability, not to mention common sense, he agreed to take me to see this one race.
All race promoters dream of a gimmick that will fill the stands and Port Royal, whether they realized it or not, had hit on its first and probably most successful gimmick ever. The grandstands were filled.
Race fans who only attended occasionally were there that night out of respect for the two fallen heroes and out of respect and curiosity for a returning hero.
Few expected much from Pete. After all, driving with an artificial leg was asking a great deal, even from a hero. The feelings that night ranged from admiration to curiosity to doubt and fear; fear that maybe this would be even more than Pete could handle.
As it turned out, the race wasn’t all that eventful.
Oh, Pete got a tumultuous ovation as the old #6 hit the clay. But this was Port Royal, not Hollywood. There would be no story book ending.
Pete’s season would simply begin and end with this one night, but he proved that he could still race and that gave both him and me cause for some hope for the future.
Racing was dull and lifeless for me over the next couple of years. After the one race in 1959, Pete continued attempting a comeback and, though his desire and skill were there, the top rides were not.
He managed to drive for several different owners throughout those years, but it appeared that a race car driver with an artificial leg just wasn’t about to attract any great rides. Besides, I had begun to develop other interests. I had replaced horsepower with, of all things, horse flesh.
I bought a quarter horse and joined the local 4-H club.
I also started a love affair with baseball, began attending high school sporting events and, though my grades didn’t reflect it, I ended up in the top academic section in high school.
It was scary. I was almost beginning to act like other socially adjusted fourteen and fifteen-year-old boys.
Thank God it was only temporary.
That concludes chapter 1 of Junkyard Jockey.
Junkyard Jockey will be available for sale on AMAZON soon. If you sign up for our direct email connection, you will know the publish date before anyone else. It’s free and easy to sign up. Just click this link, give us your contact information, (no credit card is required) and we will email you with updates as we go. You will get behind the scenes pictures as we get the publication “to bed”.