1973 "Oklahoma Today" Article

In the earliest of morning light, the occasional flutter of an awakening bird can be heard. The slight slap of water propelled by a steady breeze competes only with the flutters, and with the rustling of leaves, and as the stars dim, the muted voices of early risers break the stillness.

Then, the sound of an engine. Two engines. Loud, unmuffled engines. Then a third. The crunch of tires on gravel. A fourth. Shouts. A camper door slams with that peculiar metallic sound. A fifth. A sixth. Soon, the sounds are so mixed they defy definition.

The voice on the loud speaker cuts through the sounds: “First practice in 25 minutes.”

And it is as if a beehive has been disturbed.

The crescendo of powerful engines obliterates all else, signaling the beginning of a weekend unique in Oklahoma, unique in the Midwest, and almost unique in America.

rogersIt is the July weekend of the Ponca City Grand Prix, a gathering of sports car racing buffs from across the country, lured by the challenge of a mile and a half long race course which for 51 other weekends each year is the scenic asphalt drive through Lake Ponca Park in Ponca City.
They have come here from Colorado, Kansas, Florida, Nebraska, Missouri, Tennessee, New York, Texas, Indiana, Louisiana, and other states, these amateur racers who think little of a 1,000-mile round-trip weekend to pursue their amateur road-racing avocations.

They park their campers, their vans, their trailers and their RVs underneath the cottonwoods and the cedars, unloading their race cars from every conceivable conveyance.

Wives, children, friends, neighbors, spill from the vehicles also.

It is a gathering. A different gathering, too, for Ponca City is one of only two races in America held on normal-traffic roads. The second is half a country away, at Long Beach, California, and it is a bare babe in arms compared to Ponca City’s long-standing, ranking as America’s premier, true road-racing course.

For 15 years now, the Ponca City American Business Club (Ambucs) and the Oklahoma Region of the Sports Car Club of America have joined forces to stage the Ponca City Grand Prix. It has been a profitable union, both in terms of civic endeavor and the luring of tourists/spectators to Oklahoma./In 1976, the Grand Prix was officially designated a Bicentennial Event.

In recent years, the Ambucs have used race profits for speech therapy scholarships, for construction of a fence at the Opportunity Center for retarded children of Kay County, and for other civic and educational projects. Every year, a portion of the profits is given to the City of Ponca City for improvements in the city’s 20 parks.

The races—held each year on the weekend nearest July 4th—actually begin on Friday, as competitors and spectators begin filling local motels.

On Friday night, the intersection of Fifth and Grand downtown is blocked off and the racers unload their multi-colored, decal-covered vehicles for “tech inspection,” a regular pre-race agony which could result in a sleepless night to correct a mechanical or safety defect. Crowds generally gather, young and old eyes alike glowing as they take in the promise that the gleaming metal and paint holds.

On Saturday morning, the real activity begins. Around the course, water-filled barrels, old tires and hay bales put in place by volunteers on two previous weekends, are double-checked by safety-conscious Ambuc and SCCA officials.

The first of an annual 10,000-plus spectators begin to arrive, adding their printed t-shirts, cutoff blue jeans, hats of all sizes and descriptions, cameras by the legion, and voices, to the gathering.

Just east of the lake, a flat-bed truck is equipped with tables and chairs and numerous timing devices. Here sit the timers and scorers, whose job it is to keep track of which car is on which lap, who’s first, and who’s in last. From the truck, which parallels the main “straight,” and the start finish line, Turn One is visible to the north and Turn Six to the south.

A quick tour of the Lake Ponca drive as a race course: From the start/finish line, the ears head north, into a left-hand, uphill turn into a very short straight (which at racing speeds is no straight at all), then into a tight right-hand turn,

Turn Two, accelerating through Turn Two A, through Turn Three, into a sweeping right-hand Turn Four, and then into Turn Five, the fastest of the six turns. Down the hill, from the fastest of the turns, to the slowest. Turn Six is a backwards “L” which requires severe braking before entering, and driving skill upon entering. Through Turn Six, then down the main straight to the start finish line again.

Inside this course is the “false grid,” where the ears line up to begin each race. Adjacent are the scales, used to weigh each car to insure it is within the weight limits for its class of competition. Close by are the pit and paddock areas, where mechanics and drivers labor over their cars before, during and after qualifying runs and actual races. This also is where the campers and other vehicles are parked.
At track-side, just north of the timing and scoring flat-bed, sits a wrecker, an ambulance, and a fire truck. A helicopter sits on the infield area. Just in case.

At each corner around the course, there are flagging and communications volunteers who monitor track conditions and spring into action in the event of accidents or on-course obstacles. All are trained in safety techniques and have emergency equipment at hand.

As the hour of the first race approaches, the sounds gradually diminish, until there exists a muted silence, as if everyone is holding their collective breath. 

Photographers scurry for their vantage points. Spectators crowd the fences along the main straight and Turn Six. A bewhiskered fan rushes from one of two snack stands with a cold drink in one hand and a hot dog in the other.

Then an official on the false grid raises an arm and signals in a counter-clockwise motion. It is the signal to start engines. The staccato sounds erupt. The blipping of throttles recalls a yo-yo: up and down, up and down, the noise goes. Then, the signal to enter the course, and the cars, in pairs, pull from the grid onto the course and spurt off, their exhausts raising the excitement level ten-fold.

As the cars enter Turn One, they begin to form up, running at part throttle. As they slowly navigate the course, the official starter awaits them at the start/finish line. Into Turn Six, and through it. The green flag is up. As the two lead cars cross the line, the flag drops and the race is on, the cars accelerating swiftly into Turn One, jockeying for position.

This scene is repeated over and over at Ponca City each year. In recent years, there have been an average of 8 separate races in different classes of competition. Often, there are races within races, two or more classes being started together, as is the case in the growing-in-popularity “Showroom Stock” racing series. These are street-stock vehicles, with safety equipment added, driven to the race course by their owners and (hopefully) driven home once the racing is ended.

To Ponca City come those amateur racers whose goal it is to one day be professionals. And there are those who seek only to compete, knowing that come Monday morning, the 8-to-5 job back home awaits. It is this mixture of goals and attitudes that contributes to the popularity of the Ponca City Grand Prix, and to road racing in general.

An estimated 300 volunteer workers from the Ambucs and the Oklahoma Region, SCCA, make Ponca City work each year.

For 15 years, they have created an event unique not just because it occurs in Oklahoma, but because it draws to the state those who would have no other reason to come. It gives those from Oklahoma who participate the opportunity to say, “See You Next Year!”

And each year, when the 10,000- plus spectators are gone and the race drivers are back at their 8-to-5 jobs, and the water-filled barrels have disappeared, the occasional flutter of an awakening bird can be heard in the morning stillness.
The slight slap of water propelled by a steady breeze competes only with the flutters, and with the rustling of leaves.

OKLAHOMA TODAY

Dash Plaques 1961-1975

  • 1963
  • 1973
  •  1972
  •  1970
  • 1964
  • 1966
  • 1975
  • 1965
  • 1974
  • 1968
  •  1969
  • 1971
  • 1962
  • 1967

Feature Winners

  • 1963 Jack Hinkle Cooper Monaco Climax
  • 1964 Bud Morley Elva Mk7 BMW
  • 1966 Bud Morley McLaren Ford
  • 1968 Bobby Alyward McLaren Chevrolet
  • 1992 Wendell Miller Swift SE3Q
  • 1971, 1972, 1973, 1976, 1977 and 1978! Fred Parkhill, McClaren Mk8 Chevrolet
  • 1987 Don Flegal Chevrolet Corvette
  • 1969 John McComb Ford Mustang
  • 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.)
  • 1974 Bud Crout Lola T294
  • 1961-62 Jack Hinkle Birdcage Maserati
  • 1980 Neil Harrison Bobsy SR6
  • 1967 Bobby Alyward McClaren Chevrolet
  • 1965 Dick Durant Durant Special Chevrolet

Dash Plaques 1976-1992

  • 1976-A
  • 1990
  • 1976-B
  • 1977-A
  • 1987
  • 1978
  • 1979
  • 1981
  • 1980
  • 1991
  • 1989
  • 1977-B
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