How about a good story involving a pay phone?
You remember the pay phone, the original communications center where people reached into their pocket for a couple of coins each time they stepped inside.
For racers, the pay phone was once a critical part of their daily routine. It was the lifeline to home, where the voices of loved ones – or the sharp observations of a disgruntled spouse – could be heard.
It was also the employment hotline, allowing a recently fired racer to network with friends and car owners for his next gig. And it was a crucial link to car owners and sponsors, reporting in on how you did on that particular outing.
Sometimes, however, the pay phone was the tool you used to have some fun when things went really, really well. Such is the case with our story, involving Hall of Fame racer Shane Carson, a friend to the entire sport of sprint car racing.
Carson spent a very successful 1978 season (including the Knoxville track championship) with the late car owner and builder Bob Trostle, and was excited about the upcoming $10,000-to-win World of Outlaws season finale at Eldora on Oct. 29.
A $10,000-to-win event was a very big deal in 1978, paying double the $5,000 that Doug Wolfgang scored by winning the Knoxville Nationals two months earlier.
After returning from a successful autumn swing out west, Carson called Trostle a couple of days before the Eldora race to ask when they were leaving for Ohio.
It wasn’t a good conversation for Carson.
“Well, we’re not going to Eldora,” Trostle said.
“Why not?” Carson asked.
“You don’t run worth a damn at Eldora. So I’m not going. Oh, and by the way … Wolfgang is driving my car next year. Sorry.”
Car owners of that era tended to be rather honest and direct.
“Well, I’m going anyway,” Carson huffed, and hung up.
Carson was a little, shall we say, irritated. A few minutes later, however, his ringing telephone brought renewed hope.
It was Harold and Don Nickles of Lima, Ohio, asking if he would run their car – appropriately a Trostle chassis – at Eldora. Carson immediately agreed.
Unbeknownst to Carson – he would learn this later – the Nickles brothers had just called Trostle a couple of minutes earlier asking if he knew any available drivers for Eldora.
“Call Shane,” Trostle urged them. “He’ll be out there, and he doesn’t have a ride.”
Harold and Don Nickles were two of the most eccentric and memorable personalities of the day, with their laid-back style and country ways. They were low-buck racers, but they had many good days along the way, with a variety of top racers in the seat.
A whopping 95 cars were on hand at Eldora for a 40-lap showdown that would decide the inaugural World of Outlaws championship. Rick Ferkel and Steve Kinser were locked in a tight point race, and Kinser led early, looking to clinch the title.
Ferkel was right behind, and Carson and the Nickles No. 31 ran third.
Kinser struck a loose wheel midway in the race, ending his day. Ferkel took command, only to blow an engine on lap 24. That put Carson on the point, and he held the lead the rest of the way to score a major payday.
Carson scored the finale, and Kinser was crowned the first “King of the Outlaws.” Moments after the checkered flag waved, the celebration began.
The afternoon sun slipped over the hill and the party at the Nickles’ pit was still going strong well into the evening.
“Hey, let’s call Trostle!” Carson exclaimed. So they walked up the hill to the pay phone behind the official’s tower. As Shane dialed Trostle’s number, Harold and Don Nickles squeezed in close so they could listen, giggling like schoolkids.
Everybody was happy and feeling no pain, partly because of a number of visits to the Earl Baltes beer stand.
“Trostle!” Carson yelled. “Guess who won Eldora?”
“I have no idea,” Trostle replied.
“C’mon, you’ve got to guess! I’ll give you three guesses.”
“Hmmm … Rick Ferkel.”
“Nope, it wasn’t Ferkel. You get two more tries.”
“No, not Kinser. One more guess!”
The third guess, Carson says these days, he can’t exactly recall.
But one thing he’s sure of: Trostle’s third guess definitely wasn’t Shane Carson.
“No, that’s not right either. We won! We won Eldora, Trostle! Ten grand!”
There was a pause at the other end of the line.
“How’d that happen?” Trostle asked.
Yes, the pay phone. The high-tech device of the day when news – good and bad – traveled a little more slowly.
Those times, they were good. Very good, indeed.