by Keith Courson
August 6, 1995
No. 40 Is Still Motoring At 54
To some a number says everything.
When Skip Furlow began his racing career nearly four decades ago, two of the guys he admired were Ronnie Blackmer and Russ Thompson.
Ronnie Blackmer was the pilot of the popular No. 4 and Thompson held down No.39, so he couldn't have either of those.
He eventually figured that painting the No. 40 on the side of his car would serve him right.
Well, for 40 years now No. 40 has been a fixture on the Stateline-Eriez Circuit, and it and Skip Furlow are still going strong.
At age 54, he still enjoys slinging racecars around dirt ovals as much as ever, and having won seven features already in 1995, the "Geritol Kid" has left everyone else shaking their heads in amazement.
"He must love it more than I did, " replied Ronnie Blackmer, who last drove a racecar in 1978. "If he wins everyone, he deserves it."
In fact every driver you talk to - past or present - will tell you exactly the same thing.
"If I can't win it, I want Skip to win it, " noted current S-E circuit points leader Dick Barton.
Furlow is a winner in every sense of the word. He's humble, he's easygoing and he gets a charge out of people. He means as much to racing as racing means to him.
Furlow has been hooked on the sport since he started when he was just 15-years-old. Although he has tried to quit twice in recent years and buy a boat and even work on his golf game, racing cars was just too much of what he was all about.
And he continues to be all about.
"It isn't like anything, really," he says of his "habit". "It's quite a high that is legal."
Since jumping to the late model division in 1974, Furlow has piled up 73 wins on the circuit and he's won several invitationals at other tracks in the area. He is second in wins on the all-time list behind the great Bobby Schnars who amassed 136 Stateline-Eriez wins when he once dominated.
Furlow has gotten better with age and he's still having fun.
"It's all fun because there's no money in racing," he said referring to the high cost of modern technology in motorsports today. "There's a whole lot and fun and it's not just the racing. I get a kick out of the interviews. We've been on television and on the radio. It's just fun to be my age and get the publicity and do as well as we're doing."
Let's Be Partners
Furlow says "we" because there are so many other people behind the scenes, people who have keyed his success and people like Don Keough who have helped him return to his roots.
Keough, a part owner of Keough Electric in Ripley, has always been a big Skip Furlow fan. After Furlow tried to give up racing for the second time in 1990, Keough tried in mid-season to get him back in it. "He just put a proposal to me and said, 'If you get back into (driving), I'll put up half the money and we'll be partners.' It didn't take a whole lot of pushing," joked Furlow.
"I enjoy the competitiveness and the people involved in racing," he said. "The people that are involved in racing are just my kind of people."
The newly formed partners went hunting for a racecar since Furlow had previously sold his late model. Toby Jordan, who owns Tobber Racing in Lottsville, PA, is a dealer for Swartz Racecars and he found a used chassis for Furlow in Kentucky.
Ever since, Furlow has remained in a Swartz chassis and now currently has two race-ready cars at his garage in Blockville.
"We've had quite a lot of luck in the Swartz car. We hit on a real good set-up. The new car - which he won last year for being the high point man in a Swartz chassis - has a different kind of suspension under it which seems real good for these tracks. We're all pumped up trying to see how good we can do."
The other guys behind the scenes are Chris Briggs, Ron Barron, and Tony White. Briggs and Barron have been with Furlow off and on for the past nine years, while White, who helped get Furlow started in a late model in 1974, was asked last year to join his team again.
"They are all faithful to me and we all get along good. Everybody know what their job is and it's worked out well," said Furlow. "This racing deal isn't just my success. The biggest plus in my life is my wife, Valerie, who has stuck by me for over 35 years now. She has to be the biggest plus in my success."
"And my sons get just as much enjoyment out of seeing me do well out there as they were. That means a lot to me."
Tim, Denny, and Chris Furlow have each seen time in the cockpit of a racecar. Tim had the most notable success, winning several times in the past few years in the limited late model class.
"We were talking about putting him in our late model this year," said the elder Furlow, "but the more everything worked out, I decided to hang in there a little longer."
How much longer? "I don't dare say anymore."
This journey to become one of the best drivers in the area all got started more than 40 years ago when Furlow, a self-proclaimed "motorhead" got a chance to hang around Karl Halpainy, who raced a '46 Ford.
"They raced at Roll-O-Bowl near my home in Watts Flats. Along with three or four other guys, I worked on the car. I just loved cars. That's what really got me involved with racing," he said.
Halpainy, who is the father of current late model driver Steve Halpainy, always had cars for Furlow to work on. It was in 1955 when Furlow hopped in one of Karl's Fords and drove a heat race for the first time. "I'd borrow a ride any way I could get it," he said.
Back when he got started the sportsman class was actually called the jalopy class until the name was changed a few years later.
Things sure have evolved throughout the years.
"Back when I started out, we used to build all our own cars, our own chassis, everything. Now we buy chassis. We're buying technology," said Furlow. "Back then it was everything we could did up ourselves (to gain an advantage). We used ingenuity and experience."
Racing With The Best
Furlow, who considers himself semi-retired from his wrecking yard business in Northeast, PA, has battled some stiff competition throughout the years. He considers drivers like Schnars, Blackmer, and Barton his biggest rivals.
Blackmer, of course, was the man to beat in Furlow's sportsman days. He was so dominant that in a stretch of just four years, he unbelievably won 102 races - with the same car.
"Ronnie was the beat around and that was my goal to try and be in his category," he said. "I was pretty successful, but I could never come close to his achievements in sportsman."
Blackmer always felt Furlow was the fairest driver out there to race with.
"I learned a lot from Skip," he said. "He was always willing to help you. He always told me his secrets."
And Blackmer has seen some of the rough times in his friend's career, such as the race at Eriez in '78 when Clyde Porter got together with Furlow and the bumper on Porter's car actually careened into Furlow's car, leaving him with a broken jaw.
"I thought he was done," said Blackmer. "You sure drive slow for a few laps after that."
When Furlow moved up into a late model, he had another tall order to overcome in Schnars.
"Bob was always one of the competitors that I looked forward to try to beat," said Furlow. "We did a lot of side-by-side racing - the whole race. That was fun."
Schnars also has fond memories of racing with Furlow, but he's amazed at how and why he still does it.
"It's incredible to me that he is still interested in it after all these years because I kind of lost interest," said Schnars. "It really takes a lot of hours of your time."
"Skip's a great guy. (Knowing him) dates back to when we used to go snowmobiling with him and his wife. Skip used to have some trails laid out around his house. We always got along real well."
However, Schnars wasn't out to beat any one person on his way to 136 Stateline-Eriez late model victories. Just win.
Meanwhile, it has been Barton in recent years who has been the man to beat.
"I can remember when Dick used to come around when he was a kid trying to get tips," noted Furlow.
Replied Barton, who owns several S-E late model championships, "When we race it isn't necessarily who wins. It's just we're looking to have a good race. I respect his racing abilities. We've had a tremendous amount of fun racing each other."
Like Barton, Furlow possesses one powerful ingredient that is key to success.
"When you are younger, you rely on your quickness," noted Barton. "When you are older, you rely on your experience."
A Win For All Wins
Over the years, Furlow has certainly racked up some notable wins, but perhaps none was more impressive than the one that came in the summer of 1984 at Buckeye Speedway in Ohio, the Buckeye Nationals.
It was a Short Track Auto Racing Series (STARS) event and they were all there: Charlie Swartz, Larry Moore, Rodney Combs, and Jack Boggs. They were the best in the business.
Furlow had trouble in his heat race so he had to qualify for the main event through the consolation. Needless to say, he pushed the field.
But then he started to pick them off. "The track just started to come around to me," he said. "I found a groove I could move well in on the inside. I just kept working my way through. Boggs was leading it and I caught up to him but I couldn't pass him."
But with 10 laps to go, the unthinkable happened. Boggs developed engine woes and had to be black-flagged because of the smoke pouring from his car.
Furlow was now in position to take nearly $10,000 away from some of the best drivers in the late model racing.
"I had the lead and on the last lap I came into lapped traffic and I picked the wrong groove and went to the outside and Jim Gentry (a former track champion there) snuck by me on the inside and he had me. But, I caught up to him by the time I got to the checkered flag and I beat him by three feet."
It was the largest amount of money Furlow had ever won in a single race and it still is.
That Cup Of Geritol
When Furlow, lounging on his trailer one night before the races began, joked to fellow competitor Rich Gardner that he had Geritol in his cup upon being asked, it didn't take long for Gardner to cook up the nickname "The Geritol Kid".
"I've got friends in Florida now that call me the Geritol Kid because they've read about it," quipped Furlow.
A joker he might be - but never a quitter.
"Even when things were right at the bottom, Skip never quit," noted Blackmer. "He couldn't always afford that racecar."
He never quit on the racetrack either.
The first time Blackmer ever went racing at Roll-O-Bowl he saw Furlow break an axle in his heat race, break a rear-end in the semi, and blow up a motor in the feature. But it never slowed Skip down.
Added Barton, "Tracks change. Cars change. What's made him so good is he has been able to change with the times. He is capable of adapting to any situation."
And while some may feel his age is a handicap, it only gives Furlow more incentive to be successful at what he's doing.
Take this season for example. He's giving Barton a run for the point title.
"I'd like to win that and I'd like to win over 10 features. I've had a few times when I've won 10 features, but I've never went over that," he said. "That's a goal for us."
With about a month still left in the local racing season, don't count him out.
After all, as Barton says, "All we want out of this sport is some entertainment."
Through the course of 40 years Furlow has certainly given his loyal fans and racing peers plenty of that. Surely when he finally does step away from racing, he'll always remember that great battles with guys like Schnars, Blackmer, and Barton. He'll remember the invitational wins and the dynamite racecars he and his crew have built over the years. And he'll never forget the people that make the sport what it is and what it has been.
As when Furlow tried to acquire the No. 4 or the No. 39 because those guys were racers he wanted to be like, think of the many drivers over the years that wanted to be No. 40 because he was their idol, too.
Granted they don't retire car numbers, but if they did, No. 40 would have to be near the top of the list.