1973 Ponca City Is A Time Machine




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Twenty years ago most of the world’s great road races were all staged on real roads.

There were the challenges of the Targa Florio, Spa, the Mila Miglia, Watkins Glen, Rheims, Le Mans, the Isle of Man, Pebble Beach, the Nurburgring, and Torrey Pines. Then came tragedies at Le Mans in ‘55 and again in the Mile Miglia of ‘57. Higher speeds, higher risks; public outcry, soaring insurance premiums, an awareness that the sport was in a dangerous spiral winding faster and tighter: All combined to shove the great races off the roads. In the U.S. they went early.

All but one, that is.

Once a year that spiral stops Friday night at Fifth and Grand in Ponca City, Okla. when these streets are blocked off to normal traffic for Tech Inspection. It’s not unusual for drivers to unload their cars at their motels and drive the several blocks to tech and back.

On Saturday morning the action shifts to the east edge of town at Lake Ponca Park— two lakes, acres of beautiful cottonwood and cedar, and a mile and a half of asphalt roadway. With only six flag stations and two straights, it doesn’t sound challenging as a road racing circuit but one fast lap makes believers out of most. Even the estimable Don Yenko was fooled on his first lap at Ponca. In 1968 he blew past the hairpin at turn six and made his U at registration instead—a full quarter mile off the track.

The trick at Ponca, according to FA and FSV lap record holder John Saucier, is to “drive nine-tenths all the time. If you drive ten-tenths you might win, but chances are the July heat will change the asphalt or someone’s oil will change the adhesion and that ten-tenths might suddenly become eleven-tenths.”

Remarkably, three lap records at Ponca stand from 1968. Five years is an eternity in racing. Those records for AP, AS and D S/R were set by drivers of no less caliber than Don Yenko, John Mc- Comb and Dick Durant.

So it may be little, but Ponca is obviously a tough circuit. In 1973, with near 100-degree temperatures, the record 180 drivers who made it out of the pits had some hot racing, indeed. Only five lap records fell and only three of the record setters won their class.

Bill Jobe fairly blasted two seconds off the BP record on his way to second overall in the big iron feature. Jobe now has four wins in a row to his credit, three of these overall victories. This year, Jobe chased McLaren-mounted Fred Parkhill to the checker with Parkhill taking his third overall win in three years. And that ties a record held by none other than racing patriarch, Jack Hinkle.

Former National Champion Dick Davenport set a new C Sedan lap record of 58.40 seconds, winning his class by two laps. Ahead of him was a dandy dice between Bob Hubbard and Neil Harrison, both in F Production Midgets. Hubbard crossed the line for his first win at Ponca in several years.

In the G and H Production race both class records were bettered, and the pace literally destroyed some of the competition. Jim Aiston set a new GP mark but was beaten to the flag by perennial Ponca winner Dr. Charles Rogers. The H Production race was a near wipe-out with three leaders, thirty percent attrition and innumerable pit stops. Max Herrera led first, then Toly Arutunoff took the lead and pushed his timeless Morgan to a new HP record but watched his hopes for the win go up in smoke on lap 23, and the class was up for grabs. Andy Brown finally won, four laps behind Doc Rogers’ G Sprite. Bugeye driver Edd Forrest drove the last two laps on a flat tire and still came in third!

Theoretically, it takes only two cars to make a race. And there were nearly that few cars in the big formula race due to practice attrition. Still, very few spectators took their eyes off the show. For the first half of the race Merlyn FB driver Porter Brownlee pulled away from the pack, and the dicing was tight among the Super Vees of John Saucier, Larry Anderson and Joe Wedig. First Anderson, then Saucier, then Wedig. By mid-race, Wedig had a slight lead over Saucier with Anderson dropping off the pace. Then Wedig turned up the wick and started to reel in Brownlee. As the race neared completion, Wedig caught Brownlee, passed him and then started to lap Anderson’s Winkelmann and Norman Johnson’s FB Brabham. In turn one the four cars came together when Anderson’s brakes locked. After the smoke cleared Wedig and Johnson got through for class wins, but Brownlee and Anderson were wedged in the guardrail. Two laps passed before the corner crew could free the cars but both finished the race. Saucier eased across with no oil pressure for second in class and overall, his first loss in five years at Ponca !

In remembrance of the eightieth anniversary of the opening of the Cherokee Strip (Ponca City is in the strip) and in nostalgic but strong hopes of more “fun” racing, seventeen drivers started the eighty-mile mini-enduro for SSS and SSSC. Ex-National Corvette terror Bob Spooner ran away and hid with his Fiat 124, leading all but the first four laps. But SSS was a different story.


Alan Cadwell led with his Pinto by turning 70 mph in second gear, hardly using third, never fourth. The strain became evident when, on lap twenty, he lost his water. Then the oil filter warped from the heat and drowned his distributor. Alan did drive the car home, though, mumbling about inoperative idiot lights and dealer warranties!

With Cadwell’s demise, Chip Wilson inherited first, and led for thirty laps in his blue- with-vinyl-roof Colt. With just three laps to go, Chip lost it in turn three and Bob Rollins, who was only three seconds behind after 75 miles of racing, took over.

Ironically, Bob started his racing career in his Pinto, earned his National license in the car and had over 54,000 miles on the odometer, with zero down time. Bob’s glory at Ponca was short lived, however, as he led all the way from turn three to turn six, where he spun backwards, compression-locked and couldn’t restart. His first and a very bitter DNF.

Opel driver John Wilson soldiered on the last three laps to the checker. Wilson, vacationing from San Jose, Calif., had stopped in to see if there would be a race at Ponca. John’s curiosity was worth $168.00, a lap record and class victory in the longest, first money race in Ponca City history.

Opel was again the name in the final race of the weekend when John Bisignano took B Sedan honors with his Manta. John has the only Manta racing in B Sedan in the country and figures to be a contender at the ARRC.

Another rarity in this race was the Mazda RX3 of Mike Bennett. The noise that orange sedan made was incredible and Chief Starter David Wood claims he’ll buy asbestos pants for the next race. It seems Bennett was shifting right at the start-finish line and the resulting tongue of flame licked at Dave’s legs! (Or so he says.)

Unfortunately, not every one can be a winner at Ponca. One Formula Vee driver made a couple of practice laps, then loaded it on the trailer claiming the track was unsafe for racing. But the fact is that the fire truck started up only once during the whole weekend and the ambulance never moved.

Stephen Smith undoubtedly deserved a hard luck award for his weekend. Steve had destroyed his Bugeye engine and his bankroll two weeks earlier at Hutchinson, Kan., so he cancelled his Ponca entry. But somehow he got it all together and re-entered, only to blow it after one lap of practice. Working all day Saturday, his crew got him on the track Sunday, and, (you guessed it) no oil pressure. Steve’s only comment: “It hurts a little. But I got on the track at Ponca and it means so much to me just to be here that I can hardly wait till next year.”

After the 10,000 spectators had gone home, the drivers gathered at the start-finish line for free beer, trophies and some great bench racing. Most drivers declared they had a blast, many from as far away as California and Florida vowing to come back next year.


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(Note: This article originally appeared in the October, 1973 Sports Car magazine.)






Dash Plaques 1961-1975

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Feature Winners

  • 1967 Bobby Alyward McClaren Chevrolet
  • 1980 Neil Harrison Bobsy SR6
  • 1963 Jack Hinkle Cooper Monaco Climax
  • 1974 Bud Crout Lola T294
  • 1961-62 Jack Hinkle Birdcage Maserati
  • 1966 Bud Morley McLaren Ford
  • 1965 Dick Durant Durant Special Chevrolet
  • 1992 Wendell Miller Swift SE3Q
  • 1964 Bud Morley Elva Mk7 BMW
  • 1971, 1972, 1973, 1976, 1977 and 1978! Fred Parkhill, McClaren Mk8 Chevrolet
  • 1969 John McComb Ford Mustang
  • 1987 Don Flegal Chevrolet Corvette
  • 1975 David Jungerman Chevrolet Camaro (The only photos we have of David at Ponca are him spinning. Here he finds the limits of the braking zone at Turn Six as Jack Hodgkinson blasts by.)
  • 1968 Bobby Alyward McLaren Chevrolet

Dash Plaques 1976-1992

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  • 1976-A
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  • 1976-B
  • 1977-B
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