by Randy Anderson
January 2, 2011
Part 8 of 12
Nine Champions Crowned At Stateline In 1962
That's how Post-Journal Sports Editor Frank Hyde summarized late model auto racing.
The 1962 Stateline Speedway season proved to be another competitive one as nine different drivers won the 15 feature races. Much of the credit, or blame, depending on one's perspective, goes to speedway co-owner Leonard Briggs and the system he employed for lining up the cars. The drivers were inverted according to their position in the point standings, meaning those who regularly finished up front must start in the rear. In addition, the previous week's winner also earned a spot in the back.
Only three drivers were able to win more than once. Squirt Johns led the way with four feature wins, including the mid-season championship and the Grand Championship finale. Veteran Fred Knapp scored three times while Kenny Johnson captured his second Gust Johnson Memorial as well as the Firecracker Fifty.
Floyd Fanale took the honors in the inaugural Dean Layfield Memorial. Other single winners were Sammy LaMancuso, Emory Mahan, Eddie Kisko, Tom Dill and Hyle Russell.
Kisko's victory on July 14 was witnessed by Carmen Basilio, former welterweight and middleweight boxing champion. While congratulating Kisko, Basilio jokingly commented, "After watching this racing action, boxing is not such a dangerous sport after all."
After edging Kisko in the mid-season classic, Johns said of the candy maker from Kane, Pa., "He was like a shadow. Every time I looked in my mirror Eddie was right there. I just couldn't shake him off."
Not only was that the sentiment of Johns on that particular occasion, it may have also been the feelings of all the drivers in 1962. For Kisko combined his single win with many other top results to capture the Stateline points championship.
Kisko's No. 6, a 1961 Chevy, was part of a three-car team for owner Frank Ruhlman of Matthews Run, Youngsville. Hyle Russell (No. 2) and Ron Blackmer (No. 4) were teammates. Kisko's championship was the third for Ruhlman in the past four years. Russell won the titles in 1959 and 1960.
Whether he snored like an exhaust pipe or not, Ruhlman was one of the most respected men in the pit area for his honest-to-goodness passion for the sport.
In addition to a Joie Chitwood Thrill Show and demolition derbies, another attraction staged by speedway managers was Delores Carroll, a stunt-woman from Tennessee, who amazed the crowd by climbing into a dynamite lined box and surviving the resulting detonation. Two 100-lap jalopy races were captured by Bob "Pepper" Martin and a third was taken by Cecil Darrin.
Starter Jim Ponders was feted with a farewell corn roast before his relocation to Florida. Pete Abers replaced the colorful Ponders on the flagstand.
Next: The Squirt and Bobby Show, plus another unexpected death shocked the Stateline community (part 9 of 12).