1978 "The Best Ever" ?

1978 "THE BEST EVER" ?

by George England

Photos by John Hansford

Take a sizzling 100 plus 4th of July weekend, add the roar of 155 racing engines to the cheers of 12,000 spectators, throw in a couple of smashing race parties all presided over by a lovely Race Queen and you have the 17th Annual Ponca City Grand Prix. “So what’s new?” you say. You’re right-a typical Ponca City Race weekend but this one has to be the best ever!

Friday evening at 5:30, as scheduled, registration opened. Margaret England and her registration crew of Doris Bonham, Tina Ingram, Helen McKechnie, Diana O’Brian plus Wichita and Neokla faithful, met the surge of awaiting drivers, crews and workers. Margaret had been concerned that the Southwest Division Race scheduled this year to compete with Ponca might cause a serious drop in driver entries. As it turned out it had little effect: though a number of familiar Texas faces were not seen the overall entry of 155 drivers was 3rd highest in Ponca history.

Concurrent with and next door to registration, our famed OkIa. Region Hospitality Room opened to a thirsty, waiting line. Newcomers to Ponca City are amazed that you can’t pay for a drink but the shock wears off quickly. Dave Brown and Frank Smith poured drinks till the wee hours.

Competing with the Hospitality Room party was Hank Kliner’s tech crew who again had tech inspection in downtown Ponca City. The city fathers rope off an entire block on Grand Avenue and many townspeople gather to see the cars and drivers----another Ponca tradition. Helping Hank were Gary and Marilyn Adams, Hillery Bonham, Rosey Clifton and Ernie and LaVonne McBride among others.

Saturday dawned clear and hot to set the pattern for the weekend weather. The usual first morning confusion was almost nil as Race Chairman Paul Grounds and Ambucs Chairman Jerry Stein had done a super job of organizing things. A big assist came from the Tech Inspection crew who for the first time inspected cars in their paddock spaces eliminating the traditional early traffic jam. Hank Kliner’s better idea really paid off! Although start of practice was delayed a bit due to a track security problem, the Saturday races went off right on schedule and the rest of the weekend was the same. Also contributing to the smooth operation was the great job turned in by Race Control Chief Randy Voyles and his team of Ed Pates, Pit Steward, Phil McCubbins, Grid Steward, Glen Regan, Paddock Steward and Norm Foster, Course Marshal.

The three Saturday races were all crowd pleasers with an exceptional field of Formula Vee’s in Race 1 where folks got to see the National Champion spin out in the first lap along with the usual FV excitement. Winning was Bob Willis from St. Louis.

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In Race 2 for GP and HP the lead changed several times with our Gary Wood finally losing 1st place and dropping out near the end. The crowd was continuously on its feet till the checkered fell on Rob Barr in GP and Ed Forrest in HP, both from Tulsa.

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Race 3 for FP, CSR, DSR and CS was yet another barnbuster with Dick Davenport, National Champ, finishing first in CS and first overall. The sizeable Saturday crowd went home pleased for sure.

One of several innovations this year was trophy presentation at a site located in the spectator area. Awards were made approximately 30 minutes after each race, allowing for impound time and spectator interest was even better than expected. Featured at this event was our Race Queen, RaDonna Burton, a delightful person who really added immeasurably to the whole event and who impressed everyone all weekend with her friendliness, beauty and all-around charm.

 queen

After the checkered flag for Race 3 it was not long before what is for many the feature event of the entire weekend, the Race Party!

Bigger and better parties are a Ponca tradition and the bell was rung again. Hosted by our friends and sponsor, the Ambucs, the lakeside beer party, complete with wet T-shirt and jockey short competition was attended by hundreds of thirsty drivers, crews, workers and officials. An impromptu performance by a shapely young lady, whom shall remain nameless, wound up the event with a real bang. Your writer’s only other comment is “What can we do next year to top this?”

At 8 o’cl’ock sharp Sunday morning the first practice group hit the track. Luckily for many these were the showroom stockers who don’t make a lot of noise to offend hungover heads; the hungover heads driving the SS cars had to bear their cross alone. As the time for Race 4 grew near it was evident that as hot as Saturday had been, it would seem insignificant by Sunday afternoon. At 1:00 PM it was officially 96° and the thermometer was due to hit 101°- a still, humid scorcher.

Due to a whim of the Stewards of the Meeting the two scheduled Showroom races had been combined with 32 SSA, SSB and SSC cars on the grid, notwithstanding a written petition of 31 of the drivers involved. Fortunately the race was run with a minimum of body damage and again the SS cars proved real crowd pleasers. Paul Fairchild, Denver, finished first in SSA and first overall with Gordon Perkins, also from Colo., first in SSB with Fred Stout, St. Louis, first in SSC.

Race 5 for FSV, FB and FC (Steward’s whim again) was not exactly a cliff hanger with only seven cars gridded and five finishing, but was surprisingly interesting nonetheless.

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Gary Robinson, Tulsa, was first overall in his FB. A special note of interest-John Saucier’s long standing FSV lap record was broken by Don Kehr of Lincoln, Neb., at a time of 53.0 sec. – 101.89 mph.

Race 6 was for Formula Fords alone and they put on their usual crowd pleasing race with Eddie Miller winning in his Lola. Despite doomsday predictions by some officials, the FF Drivers proved again they are skillful, competent drivers who put on an exciting but safe race.

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Race 7, DP, FP and BS was another exciting race hotly contested with Frank Carney of Wichita coming in first overall and first in BS. Dennis Wilson, St. Louis, in DP and Steve Backenberg, Hutchinson, Kas., in EP won their respective classes.

Race 8 climaxed the weekend of racing with the roar of big-inch engines reverberating through the trees and across the lake. Fred Parkhill, Tulsa, was not contested as he drove his McClaren to a first overall finish.

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Our own Jack Hodgkinson was first in AP; Dave Preston, Albuquerque, first in BP; Dick Salem, Lincoln, Neb., first in CP and Danny Moore, Dallas, Tex., first in AS and third overall setting a new track record in the process.

By 5:30 PM the crowd of thousands (perhaps a record one) was on the way home and the Workers Impound sponsored by the Okla. Race Drivers Assoc. was busy dispensing cold beer to all workers and officials.

As one who has seen them all, I rate this year’s Ponca City Grand Prix as the best ever in almost every category. There were 155 entries in eight races, all good contests, yet there were no injuries and only very minor car damage. There were no protests and no black flags thrown during the races (I think). This all points out the fine driving and sportsmanship displayed by all entrants. Pat McKay and his Flag and Communication Troops did their usual fine job with assistance from our Neokla, Wichita and Kansas City people. The unsung workers, the Timers, headed by Bill Tuzicka of Wichita and the Scorers headed by Mary Anne Henderson were on the job when and as needed: and the Hospitality crew headed by Dave Brown and Sandy Saucier kept information flowing to the troops in the paddock.

It wouldn’t be fitting to close the Ponca City Grand Prix story without mentioning again our good friend and sponsor, the Ambucs, who worked long and hard along with our Oklahoma Region Troops to make it all possible.

Entry List

entry 1entry 2

entry 3

 

Dash Plaques 1961-1975

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

Feature Winners

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

Dash Plaques 1976-1992

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