Back to Basics

With the start of the 2015 racing season at hand, for me the Daytona 24, it’s time to pick up a pen (a quaint thought) and get back to basics. When the 2014 racing season came to an end I intended to do my annual year end wrap-up.  I reviewed my 2014 posts and notes and came to the conclusion that most of my posts about 2014 were snarky and critical while my posts about the past were primarily positive.  As a result I have decided to focus on historical events, drivers, tracks, and cars.  My opinion of the current state of racing in general is very low.  I really have little confidence in the future of motorsports, particularly in America.  The only bright spots are short track racing and grassroots motorsports.  Never fear however for I am certain that I will have a few snarky comments about the 2015 season.  So here we go.

When I was reviewing my 2014 notes I was reminded of the recent death of Gary Bettenhausen and the first thing to come to mind was the “Larry and Gary Show”.  For those of you who are saying “Huh?” this was what we old-timers call the 1968-1971 USAC Sprint Car seasons.  I pulled out my old USAC yearbooks and magazines and refreshed my memory.  I took a shot and “googled” it and found very little additional information, although there was a good deal of info about a radio show also called the “Larry and Gary Show”.  There was one intriguing hit, a reference to an article from May 26, 2014 in the British newspaper “The Independent”.  I could not imagine in what context a USAC Sprint Car rivalry would fit in a 2014 British newspaper article.  I pulled it up and it was an article about the then raging rivalry between Mercedes F1 drivers, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.  The article then went on to discuss other famous F1 rivalries of the past and finally reached the conclusion that F1 had never produced a driver rivalry the likes of the “Larry and Gary Show”.  The fact that a British newspaper would recall a USAC Sprint car rivalry more than 45 years later only confirms the legendary nature of this on track feud.

Just the facts:
     USAC Sprint car season standings:
          1968: 1st – Larry Dickson   2nd – Gary Bettenhausen
          1969: 1st – Gary Bettenhausen 2nd – Larry Dickson
          1970: 1st – Larry Dickson     2nd – Gary Bettenhausen
          1971: 1st – Gary Bettenhausen 2nd – Larry Dickson

     68 – 71 Total USAC Sprint car features: 128
     68 – 71 Dickson wins: 29
     68 – 71 Bettenhausen wins: 27
    Percentage wins by Dickson and Bettenhausen combined: 44%

I was fortunate enough to witness a few of these races.

Larry Dickson came to USAC Sprints 1966 and was successful almost immediately.  Gary Bettenhausen arrived on the scene in 1967 and soon began challenging Dickson for superiority which set the stage for the next 4 years of outright war.  The fundamental basis for the rivalry was the fact that they were both vastly talented and aggressively competitive; and each one was convinced he was the best.  They raced each other as if there were no other competitors on the track. It was the same high banks or flat track; pavement or dirt; day or night.

Was this a friendly rivalry or pure hatred?  It was probably close to, but not quite, hatred.  There was respect but absolutely no give and take.  It was reported that Dickson had a photo of Bettenhausen taped to his steering wheel center pad so that he could punch him during the races. I never saw the picture myself but it would not surprise me if this was true.

Both Dickson and Bettenhausen eventually made it to the 500, neither had great success, but  Bettenhausen clearly having the better Champ Car career.  Apparently they eventually became friends — after the “show” was over.

©Through the Catch Fence 2015


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