The Age of Dick Potts
by Gary Gasper (February 27, 2009) - It started with a phone call at the end of January 2009. My wife said the caller ID said "Dick Potts Auto". What in the world would Dick Potts want with me, a part-time, semi-professional race photographer? Dick Potts, Hall of Fame dirt track driver, Midwest legend, the Hurry'n Hoosier. He's still racing after I don't know how many years. The only contact I ever had with him was asking him to autograph a photo I took of him at Kamp Speedway to go with the diecast car I purchased on Ebay for my display cabinet. I also gave him a few photo calendars I created with his photo on it. Well, that was the reason. He wanted to know if he could get some more calendars to give away in 2009.
How flattered I was to just talk to him on the phone. I told Dick I would work on it and get back to him. The few weeks leading up to our meeting to deliver the goods, I started thinking about what I could do to make it a memorable experience. I called Dick to ask if I could interview him and take a few pictures of him when I bring the calendars. Then I remembered a short conversation I had with Stan Kalwasinski in the pits at a track last year. Stan is a walking encyclopedia on racing in the Midwest. Somehow, Dick's name came up. Stan told me Dick told him once how old he was, but Stan didn't believe him.
So I told myself I would get to the bottom of this once and for all and let the world know Dick Potts' age.
February 20th and my wife Arlene and I, along with camera, photos to autograph, photo calendars, and a Digital Voice Recorder set off for the hour drive down to Morocco, Indiana.
Potts Auto Parts is located just a very short jaunt west of town.
You turn off of the paved road onto a dirt road driveway and
up to the shop. Parked under a tree, I got out of the van and
I'm met by one of Dick's dogs, who ran up to me like I was an
old buddy of his. I looked around and saw the parts shop, connecting
buildings, trailers, auto yard, automotive signs everywhere,
and smoke from a chimney inside the parts shop. There's a cold
stillness in the air. Winter is just not going away. This certainly
wasn't a sterile NASCAR warehouse looking operation. And I didn't
want it to be. This was a down home rural Indiana comfort-climate
situation. And we felt comfortable right from the "git-go".
As I was looking around the parts shop office, at all of the framed old photos, dusty beer can collections, banners, and I'm sure more stuff that I even failed to notice, I realized that there was no way I was going to take this all in the short time we planned on being here. There's a wood burning furnace close by the desk and that's the reason for the smoke outside. Dick signed the 8x10 photos of mine and I presented him with the new calendars. Then, with pen in hand, and the digital voice recorder on, I let Dick talk.
He told me he once was described as "not much of a talker". I'm not much of an interviewer, but I wanted to warm up to him and gain his trust to find out his age!
Dick was born at the Rensselaer Hospital and has lived in Morocco ever since. (No year, still working on trust). He bought the auto parts shop in 1964 and added more buildings to accommodate the race program. He's married to Tressie and has 10 kids, 27 grandkids, and 12 great-grandkids! He showed us a photo of a bunch of good looking girls in Dick Potts tee-shirts. Someone asked him if they were his fan club. He told us they were his daughters and grand-daughters but he told this guy that he was a Mormon and they were his wives! Did I tell you yet. that Dick Potts is a character? So I asked Dick when he first raced? In 1960 Dick and his friend Frank Aay were watching the races and Dick said "Hell, I can do that". So they bought a '34 Ford coupe and went racing and totaled it the first night out. After that, a '46 Ford was built with a bigger motor, but Dick wasn't being tagged as the driver, yet. Then he convinced Frank he could do it, and did it. And is still doing it. (No age yet). Since then, Dick has amassed 521 wins so far, 23 track and racing association titles, and 38 runners-up. He has raced all over the country on dirt and asphalt. He is really fond of Eldora. Every time he would go to Eldora, they'd ask him "So Dick, how old are you this year?" One year he'd say 51 and the next year he'd say 78! (I'm getting close). He liked Rensselaer Speedway a lot also. "I won a ton of races there". 75 to be exact and 9 Late Model championships. Asked about his most memorable victory, he told me with a smile "the 1979 Budweiser 200 at Marshfield, Wisconsin. I came from the back of the pack to beat local star Pete Parker. Pete wasn't very happy with a Hoosier Invader coming up and stealing his thunder, and trophy. Especially, after Pete loaned me a radiator and fan for my race car. Since then, Pete and I have remained very good friends. We're just like brothers".
Dick was a bad guy back in the day. He was the Original Intimidator. That's probably why he took to Dale Earnhardt as being his favorite NASCAR driver. Now, he pulls for Kyle Busch. Dick says Kyle wins and he "kinda reminds me of me". His next best race memory was finishing second to the legendary Freddy Smith in the 1985 Dirt Track World Championship at Pennsboro Speedway in West Virginia.
When asked who he admired on the dirt tracks Dick said without question Larry Moore. "Moore was the best, period. One time at Eldora, I was leading and Larry Moore passed me going so fast that I thought my car had stopped. I was going to get out of the car but I was still going about 100 miles an hour! That's how fast Larry Moore was". How about today's up and comers? He speaks highly of Jason Feger. "He's a good kid, a good driver, and shows respect. He's the best of all the young guns". He also spoke highly of Eddie Leviner, who is presently retired from racing. Eddie was always good for a photo of his car with the left front tire way up in the air. Dick likes to keep all 4 on the dirt. Once at Danville, Dick couldn't see because the car kept raising up through the turns so he parked it. His crew came over and thought Dick would be mad. Dick was laughing and said he couldn't see so he pulled in and called it a day.
How about rivalries in the past? Without waiting to think, Dick yells out "Me and Earl J. Hubert. Every week it was war. At Rensselaer and Henry's Speedway". (I asked how old he was when this happened and the phone rang on the desk).
So Dick, have you had any bad wrecks? "Pennsboro in 1995 in a brand new car that was destroyed and I was laid up for a while in a cast".
Now Dick's getting cars ready for the 2009 season. Who's helping out with the preparation? "I got Brian Cain, Jim Mather, Scott Madison, Tim Davis, and nephews Jason and Jeremy Brammer. We'll be at Kankakee on Fridays and Kamp on Saturdays and look around elsewhere to see what's interesting".
Dick states that this is his 49th year of racing. He wants to go for 50. He said there aren't a whole lot of guys that can say they've raced for 50 years. "I was considering getting a nursing home to sponsor me this year!"
Dick Potts was inducted into the National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame in 2006 along with his good friends Pete Parker, Vern LeFevers, and a few others, Dick said he didn't believe the phone call at first.
I had talked to Bill Holder last month who is the Executive Director of the Hall of Fame, and he told me when Dick was notified by phone of his induction, he said "Who is this?" This is Bill Holder of the Hall of Fame. "Really, who is this?" He convinced Dick that it was on the up and up and ended their conversation. Dick called Bill back and said "Who is this really?" He thought someone was playing a trick. Then, Dick called Pete Parker to tell him the good news of being inducted and that he would try and nominate Pete for the Hall. But the joke was on Dick because Pete had already gotten his call before Dick's. So Dick, how old were you when this happened? (He pulled an old photo off of the wall to show my wife. I missed again!)
So at this point Dick says "let's show you around" and proceeded to go through a door into a shop where a '34 Ford coupe is being restored. Beside it under a tarp lies a late model. On the walls are more photos and trophies line up on shelves. And it's not a small shop. Hey look, there's another door to another shop. This area has a black late model and a white late model in various stages of undress. And there are more trophies and photos!
At this point, Arlene says let's get a picture of you two. It's a shot I'll cherish.
The next door lead to the back yard where we walked up to the house and Tressie greeted us. We stepped inside to an enclosed porch area where there were more framed photos and plaques. Dick showed us a few things and then led us into the trophy room.
What? I felt like Indiana Jones finding the Ark of the Covenant. This room has the important stuff. Along with a pool table stood trophies of all sizes. There were shelves and cabinets and photos and posters and drawings and scrapbooks. It's Disneyland in Morocco! Dick made sure to show us the trophy he won in 1979 at Marshfield. "This trophy is willed to Pete Parker!" One can't possibly take in all to see. And you're definitely not going to learn the complete Dick Potts story in the two hours that we spent. I snapped a few photos but I spent more time just looking at 48 years of success.
After taking in as much as we could and looking at my watch, I thanked Dick for allowing us this great opportunity to visit with him and Tressie. He thanked me again for the calendars and asked what he owed me. I said just a Dick Potts tee-shirt. He's having new tees made for this year, so I'll be visiting his trailer in the pits for a new one! As he was walking us to my van, his dog ran up and he and Dick started to play. My camera was packed back up so I missed a good photo op. But I finally got up in his face and said, "So Dick Potts, how old are you?" As he shook my hand he said "I was born on November 3rd, BATTERY DEAD-BATTERY DEAD-BATTERY DEAD.
(TO BE CONTINUED)