Hamilton even took Paxton up on an offer to jump into his car one night when Paxton was driving for Roy “Shorty” Emrich.
“Al and I were always friends. I think in 1974, I was real close to winning the first KARS championship for Jack Gunn,” Paxton recalled. “And I remember we were at Penn National (Speedway). And he walked down and I was at my car.
“And Kramer (Williamson) was in [Al Hamilton’s] car that night, and I remember he came over and he was kidding me. He said, ‘Paxton, you know I’d let you drive my car anytime. Why won’t you ever let me drive your car?’ Well, I handed him the helmet for the warm-ups. I figured he wouldn’t do it. Well, he grabbed my helmet, Ralph (Heintzelman, crew chief for Paxton) helped get him in the car, and he went out and hot-lapped it. What I didn’t realize was that I think he might have had a little to drink – which, he wasn’t a drinking man – but who knows.
“All I’m saying is, he went out and attacked warmups like it was the last five laps of the feature. He had my car where it shouldn’t be. Ralph and I were standing down in the third turn and when we saw the yellow come out – and, I mean, we were holding our breath the way he was driving it. Well, the yellow came out and the red came out and they said, ‘Paxton’s getting out of the car.’ See, they thought I was in the car. But he flipped that sucker down the first and second turn and tore it all to hell. Then they realized it wasn’t me. Then they thought it might have been Ralph. Then, of course, when Ralph and I came running up the pits they realized.
“If there was any time I thought I was gonna get fired as a driver, it would have been that night, cause Mr. Emrich was over in the grandstands and I can still remember seeing him over there with a finger, like come over here I want to talk to you, after this red flag event. Of course, he wanted to know in no uncertain terms how Al Hamilton was in his car.
“Now, I don’t know what transpired between them, but I think what happened was Al paid for the damages and stuff. Now I know that Kramer – he saw what happened, and Kramer sent home to get his Pink Panther, the 73, ‘cause he knew Al was gonna give him his car to run because he crashed mine. And we were in a title chase, I think with Kenny Weld, for the KARS championship. And if I’d have lost that night … it wouldn’t have been fun.
“But as it was, they patched the car back up and I did run the car. And we didn’t need Kramer’s car. But, Kramer thought for sure that he’d been bounced out of his ride because of what Al did to my car.”
Hamilton’s team earned both praise and criticism because of the money spent to race utilizing the best equipment on the market.
He was also known as an owner that expected his drivers to bring home wins.
“He spent good money,” Paxton explained. “And, his only problem – and I told him this many times – he didn’t have the patience to wait for things to gel.
“The reason I say this is that, he would buy the best of everything and let’s just say he got beat by something other than what he owned. He’d sell it and buy the other thing. I saw when he would change brands, OK?
“Then he’d sell the stuff off really cheap and then go to this other brand. Well, later that year or early the next year, the guys that got the stuff he gave up, they were beating him with the stuff he thought was better. And it had to do with waiting for things to gel a little bit. That was all. In other words, he wanted results – he wanted them right now. He had the money to be able to change streams like that; most of us didn’t. Most of us, once we got in a certain position, we tried to make the best of it.
“You had to answer to him. If you told him you were gonna do something, you damn well better have done it.”
According to Paxton, instead of raising the cost barrier for other teams, many of Hamilton’s lower-funded competitors benefitted from his presence.
“I had people tell me at the time, let’s say Bob Weikert and Al Hamilton were the spenders, OK? And I had people that would say, ‘Well, racing would be better without those two.’ I said, ‘OK, what if we take these eight or 10 people out of the deal and then take these eight or 10 out?’” Paxton explained.
“Well, why would you take them out? Because they’re the ones living off parts from Al Hamilton. When he got tired of something or wanted to go to something newer, he’d sell it to somebody else. And there were a lot of teams that – they didn’t have Weikert or Hamilton’s name on it, but that flow of parts is what kept them going.
“Used tires, used parts, and a lot of people never looked at it that way, but Hamilton and Weikert were both benevolent that way. You just didn’t hear a lot about it.”
On Dec. 7, the world lost a fine example of a man who lived the American Dream to its fullest, as well as a man who made an indelible impact on the sprint car world, especially in his home state of Pennsylvania.
But, to Lynn Paxton, what was most important was that he lost his longtime close friend.
“I always said, I might not always be racing for him, but him and I are always gonna be friends, whether I’m racing for him or not,” said Paxton. “And that was the case.”