My buddies and I grew up in the 1960s in Davenport, Iowa, a city located along the Mississippi River on the Iowa-Illinois border.
We played sports in school and followed major league teams to some extent, but we generally didn’t have many major league heroes. Our heroes were people many folks had never heard of — guys like Charlie Moffit.
Sure, as a kid I liked Stan Musial of the Cardinals, Jim Taylor of the Packers and NASCAR driver Glenn “Fireball” Roberts. But these athletes seemed such a long way from home.
Iowa had — and still has — no major league teams. The hot ticket around here has always been the Iowa Hawkeyes or the Iowa State Cyclones. The closest cities to eastern Iowa with major league sports teams are Chicago and St. Louis. But both were a long way to go to see a game on the two-lane roads of 45 or 50 years ago.
So my pals and I adopted sports heroes close to home. These were athletes who competed basically in our own back yards on Friday nights at Davenport Speedway at the Mississippi Valley Fairgrounds.
Many fine “weekend warriors” lived in our area, known as the Quad-Cities. And there were contingents from racing strongholds like Keokuk, Cedar Rapids, Waterloo, Dubuque and Peoria who traveled to Davenport regularly to take on our best chauffeurs.
My buddies and I could relate to these drivers, who were generally our fathers’ ages or a little younger. Most of us adopted two or three of them as our favorites in the two divisions that raced on the Davenport quarter-mile — one that featured newer cars and one made up of 1930s and ’40s jalopies.
We’d watch and cheer for these daredevil members of the Speed Demons Racing Association as they competed wheel to wheel, protected back then only by a roll cage, a seat belt and an open-face helmet. Some of the better drivers were really busy on race night; they drove in both racing divisions.
After the races my friends and I would hurry into the pit area and stand a couple of feet away from our hometown heroes — guys like Charlie Moffit — intently watching their every move and listening to their every word as they wiped beads of perspiration from their faces with a shop rag, drank a can of cold Hamms or Burgy beer, told racing “war” stories to anyone nearby and happily scribbled autographs in advertising-laden programs or on scraps of paper for wide-eyed kids like us.
It was a great experience during a great time to grow up — if, of course, you don’t count the assassinations, the racial unrest, the Cold War and Viet Nam.
A lot of years sailed by since then. My buddies and I have now survived the many good experiences and the many not-so-good experiences that six decades of life brings to someone.
And we’ve sadly stood by and watched as, one by one, not only our parents but our childhood heroes, those race drivers, have left us.
Two legendary drivers from the Quad-Cities area who have died in recent years are Benny Hofer and Ronnie Weedon.
The latest to depart, at age 80, was Charlie Moffit, a soft-spoken, hard-driving gentleman from Stanwood, Iowa, who was as fine a wheelman as the Midwest has ever produced.
When guys like me think of Charlie, we don’t picture an old man living out his final years in a nursing home. We picture a tall, big man in his mid 30s squeezing himself into the cockpit of a race car. We remember him speeding around the track — sometimes winning and sometimes losing — but always racing his heart out and running clean.
It’s guys like this who were our heroes.
Copyright 2009 by Phil Roberts: Creative Enterprises. This article was published in the August 2009 issue of Late Model Illustrated.