Don Bohlander, shown in this 1966 photo, once gave some useful racing advice to Jim Gerber about getting around the turns at Peoria Speedway. Photo from the Phil Roberts Collection.
Advice. Whether you want it or not, you receive tons of it when you go through life.
Much of it’s common sense. It comes from folks who learned things the hard way and want to save you from doing the same thing. They advise things like, “Don’t spit in the wind.”
Some advice is humorous. Mark Twain says, “Be careful about reading health books. You might die of a misprint.”
People — including race drivers — tend to remember the good advice they get and forget the bad advice.
Take longtime eastern Iowa hotshoe Steve Johnson. He once said the best racing advice he ever received was, “If the radiator fits, go for it.”
Back in his early years of racing, Dale Fischlein of Fletcher, N.C., was told, “Don’t pretend to know everything; listen and learn. Try to learn something every day. Accept criticism to better yourself.”
An informal survey of other drivers, both past and present, yields some interesting results.
Mike Duvall, the famous “Flintstone Flyer,” began racing in 1968. He won 700 races in his Late Model career, including the prestigious World 100. These days he stays busy building race cars and operating a race driving school.
Duvall, of Cowpens, S.C., was brought up to believe “you are what you think you are,” and that’s been his motto.
But he has also received advice from others that has led to his on-track success.
“Back in the late ’60s, me and Freddy Smith was always one of the winners,” Duvall recalls.
At one particular race that Smith won because Duvall admittedly was “all over” the track, Smith’s father, Grassy Smith, told Duvall, “Son, if you’d quit runnin’ so hard through them corners and going over the bank, you would outrun us.
“You run us down and catch us, but then you run wide open after you pass us and go over the bank. You need to learn how to make that circle and use your foot instead of your hands.”
Duvall remembers replying to him, “What are you talkin’ about, old man?”
Grassy Smith continued, “Just think about it. You can run us down. You pass us. And then you keep running harder, harder and harder until you go over the bank, and we end up winning the race.”
Adds Duvall: “Freddy was standing beside him, and he said, ‘Daddy, you ought not tell him that!'”
“So I started doing that, and I started outrunning Freddy about everywhere I went,” Duvall says.
“You come up through building cars, and you have all kinds of tips and you try a lot of things to make cars faster. But going back, it just comes to my mind that that driving tip really helped me more than anything.”
Racers can be helpful that way. Duvall says Grassy Smith “was just that kind of guy; he’d help anybody.”
Roger Dolan of Lisbon, Iowa, winner of the NASCAR Weekly Racing Series national championship in 1987 and numerous other titles during his storied career, says he got a lot of advice over the years from a lot of people, including Cedar Rapids legend Darrell Dake.
Dolan guesses the many little pieces of advice Dake offered added up to some big results. An example?
Among the words of wisdom from Dake was, “You’ve got to race for the money.” Dolan notes that “none of us are wealthy enough to race without winning some money.”
Dolan also passes along this racing advice he has given to others over the years: “You have to learn by doing. The more laps you turn, the better off you are.”
Noting that racers sometimes tend to overdrive their ability, WORLD Dirt Racing League star John Kaanta of Elk Mound, Wis., says someone once told him, “Sometimes you have to slow up to go fast.”
That’s a good one.
Retired Iowa race driver and promoter Jim Gerber says he once got some good advice from fellow competitor Don Bohlander of Glasford, Ill. Gerber wanted to know how to get around the tight corners of the quarter-mile dirt Peoria Speedway, where Bohlander raced regularly, without hitting the imposing wall.
Bohlander told Gerber not to look at the wall as he made his way through the corners.
“Look at where you want to go, not where you don’t want to go,” Bohlander advised.
Leon Zeitner, an Omaha Late Model driver who started in 1982 and has some track championships to his credit, says someone — he can’t remember who — once told him, “If you want to make a small fortune, get into racing with a large fortune.”
A lot of racers would probably say “Amen” to that.
Hershel Roberts of East Moline, Illinois, has been racing most years since 1968.
His best racing advice came many years ago from the late Midwest racing legend, Ronnie Weedon.
“Ronnie told me, ‘Everybody wants to win a race. Go out there and do your best and run clean and fair, and it will come around,'” Roberts remembers.
Greg Walters of Bancks, Ore., has been racing Dirt Late Models since 1998 and has seven championships and nearly 100 main event wins to his credit.
Walters say he received some valuable advice from his father and mentor, Doug Walters, who died in August of 2008.
“Worry only about yourself and your own racing team instead of what others are doing,” his dad told him. “The more time you spend worrying about others, the less time you have to focus on your plan.”
Mert Williams of Rochester, Minn., who competed from 1952 to 1982, didn’t get much advice from others.
He says his experience was, drivers were tight-lipped about their “secrets” back then.
“There never was much racing advice given out by anybody,” Williams says. “You kind of learned everything the hard way. If you told somebody something, they’d probably beat you.”
Copyright 2009 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises. This article appeared in the May 2009 issue of Late Model Illustrated.