Thom­son headed to U.S. Auto Club Hall of Fame

Highly-dec­o­rated win­ner, Boy­er­town na­tive to be hon­ored at long last

The Kutztown Area Patriot - - SPORTS - By Ernie Sax­ton For Dig­i­tal First Me­dia

More than 60 years ago I took an in­ter­est in auto rac­ing. It all started when I went to my first race and saw Freddy Adam flip in turn one at the Read­ing Fair­grounds. I was hooked.

Over the years I have seen, an­nounced and writ­ten about more auto races that I can ever re­mem­ber. I have seen just about ev­ery big name racer in the busi­ness and in­ter­viewed many of them. One that re­ally caught my at­ten­tion was Johnny Thom­son.

As a teenager I was pres­i­dent of his fan club. When he died as a re­sult of in­juries at Al­len­town, PA Fair­grounds while rac­ing a Sprint car I stayed away from the sport for a cou­ple of years. I could not stay away but no driver had the im­pact on me that Thom­son did.

Thom­son, of Boy­er­town, Pa., was one of the sport’s most beloved com­peti­tors. In 1948 he won the UCOA New Eng­land Midget ti­tle af­ter win­ning 32 races. He would re­peat as UCOA cham­pion in 1950. In 1952 he claimed the AAA East­ern Midget crown. Known as the “Fly­ing Scot,” he was the first driver to com­plete a 100-mile dirt-track race in less than an hour in win­ning at Langhorne (Pa.) Speed­way in 1957. That was the first Champ car race that I at­tended. He was pro­fi­cient in the AAA and USAC Cham­pi­onship Cars, fin­ish­ing third in the fi­nal stand­ings three times, and started the In­di­anapo­lis 500 each year from 1953-1960, record­ing a third in 1959 af­ter start­ing from the pole. Among his Cham­pi­onship race vic­to­ries were four dur­ing the 1958 sea­son. In 1958 he won the USAC East­ern Sprint Car ti­tle, a ti­tle he had ear­lier won un­der AAA sanc­tion in 1954. In­ducted into the Na­tional Sprint Car Hall of Fame in 1996 and the Na­tional Midget Auto Rac­ing Hall of Fame in 1997, he per­ished in a Sprint race at the Al­len­town (Pa.) Fair­grounds in 1960.

Thom­son is be­ing in­ducted into the United States Auto Club Hall of Fame. I have to won­der why it took so long.

Some­thing that I just found out

out is that he was a com­peti­tor on the highly-ac­claimed TV show, Bud Col­lyer’s Beat the Clock. That sur­prised me be­cause he was such a shy guy.

My Thom­son Fan Club mem­ber­ship card still hangs on my of­fice wall. He has been gone for well over 50 years but will not be for­got­ten.

*** Some peo­ple go out in style; oth­ers with a bang. Dale Earn­hardt Jr. is go­ing out grate­ful.

Re­cently Earn­hardt Jr. an­nounced his ver­sion of a fi­nal act — a five-month cam­paign called JR Na­tion Ap­pre­ci88ion. It started this past week­end at Day­tona and will carry through the end of the 2017 sea­son, his last as a full-time NASCAR Cup Se­ries driver.

The Ap­pre­ci88ion cam­paign will cre­ate op­por­tu­ni­ties in so­cial me­dia, at-track ac­ti­va­tion, fan en­gage­ment, in­dus­try par­tic­i­pa­tion and phi­lan­thropy to cel­e­brate Earn­hardt Jr.’s his­toric ca­reer while of­fer­ing ges­tures of grat­i­tude to ev­ery­one who made the ride pos­si­ble. That in­cludes fans, team­mates, col­leagues, fam­ily mem­bers, life­long friends and any­one who in­flu­enced Earn­hardt Jr.’s time in the driver’s seat.

“My ex­pec­ta­tions were very low when I started rac­ing — I just wanted to pay my bills,” Earn­hardt Jr. said. “If I could pay bills and make a liv­ing by rac­ing,that was a win.

“Now some 18 years later, I look at what be­came of it, and I just feel grate­ful. I wouldn’t be where I am to­day with­out the sup­port of so many peo­ple, es­pe­cially fans. So as I visit tracks for the last time in this role, that is my mo­ti­va­tion. I’m go­ing to drive as hard as I can for the peo­ple who made an 18-year Cup ca­reer pos­si­ble.”

Day­tona In­ter­na­tional Speed­way marked the first stop of the JR Na­tion Ap­pre­ci88ion Tour, and that is fit­ting as it has been home to many Earn­hardt Jr. ca­reer high­lights, in­clud­ing two Day­tona 500 tro­phies (2004, 2014), four to­tal Cup wins, seven non­points Cup vic­to­ries and six NASCAR Xfin­ity Se­ries wins.

JR Na­tion Ap­pre­ci88ion will have a heavy pres­ence on so­cial me­dia with the #Ap­pre­ci88ion hash­tag and dig­i­tal en­gage­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties through­out the five­month cam­paign.

*** Af­ter a wet spring, the race for the 2017 Amer­i­can Racer Cup pre­sented by Sunoco Race Fu­els heats up for its sum­mer stretch.

Jeff Strunk, rep­re­sent­ing his home track of Grand­view Speed­way in Bechtelsville, Pa., cur­rently leads the Modified chase, while Dale Welty, a reg­u­lar at the pa­per-clip-shaped Wood­hull (N.Y.) Race­way, tops the Sports­man pur­suit. Strunk is a ten time Grand­view TP Trail­ers Modified cham­pion and as this is be­ing writ­ten he sits on top of the cur­rent Grand­view stand­ings.

The Amer­i­can Racer Cup got un­der­way in mid-April. How­ever, per­sis­tent rain has forced post­pone­ments at venues through­out the North­east.

Now, driv­ers look to score points as the cham­pi­onship bat­tles in­ten­sify through the La­bor Day week­end cut-off.

Strunk and the Glenn Hyne­man-fielded Key­stone Rac­ing No. 126 team cur­rently top the Modified stand­ings in search of the $10,000-plus that goes along with the Amer­i­can Racer Cup Modified ti­tle. Strunk’s edge, as of June 26, is just one point over fel­low Grand­view ri­val Craig Von Dohren (481-480).

The cur­rent top-five in­cludes Matt Shep­pard rep­re­sent­ing Out­law Speed­way in Dundee, N.Y., with 470 points, last year’s over­all cham­pion Andy Ba­chetti of Afton (N.Y.) Mo­tor­sports Park with 468 points and Duane Howard from Grand­view with 460 points.

*** Grand­view Speed­way has a huge night of rac­ing on Satur­day with the Sports­man in two fea­tures along with the TP Trail­ers Mod­i­fieds, BRC Late Mod­els and the Vin­tage rac­ers. Kory Fleming will be giv­ing bi­cy­cles away for boys and girls. Rac­ing starts at 7:30 p.m.

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