- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
At Akron last week Duane Decker watched young champions from 38 states race in the 17th coaster classic. Here is his report:
The very first champ to qualify for a seat in the libelous losers' paddock at the August 15 Derby (and he was followed, of course, within the next hour and three-quarters by 150 fellow champion-losers) was a 14-year-old driver named Carl Vogel Jr., from out Chicago way. Carl managed to cop this honor he wasn't exactly shooting for—that of being the first of the 150 who didn't come in first—by taking third place in the first three-man heat of this steaming 17th annual Derby.
Still looking a little bit dazed from defeat and tension, Carl was ushered out of his car at the end of the coasting runway that follows the finish line. As Carl started away, a little bit dejected-looking in head and shoulders, he took a final glance at his car (named by him 7-11). It was rapidly being removed by attendants for early crating and shipment back home. Some bright dreams of three years' standing went along with old 7-11. And they had been shattered for Carl in something less than the very first half-minute of this Ail-American classic. It's not too easy to shrug off a break like that.
Carl didn't look like a guy shrugging it off, not by any means. He did a lot of quick blinking behind his pale tortoise-shell glasses.
A little to Carl's right, Ralph Watts Jr.—who runs the paddock phones—got free of his gab and called over. But Carl was so busy staring straight ahead at some blur or something that he didn't seem to hear. Watts made his remark, anyway.
"You boys all drove a good straight race," Watts said, practically yelling it. "A real close one, Carl. A tough one, Carl."
Carl nodded and made sort of a smile back. Whatever his private thoughts were, there was no arguing the point that this was the end of the trail for him as a soapbox racer. Once a local champ, once sent to Derby Downs, the rules say you're through. Feller, Louis, Trabert—they all had a better chance to get used to pressure than this. "This" being Carl's half-minute.
CARL LABORED MONTHS FOR HALF-MINUTE RACE
For that half-minute Carl had worked some time. He'd spent somewhere between six months and a year of his spare time building three different racers for three different Woodstock (Ill.) competitions before he'd finally picked up all the marbles there and got himself shipped to Akron. And this final feat he'd performed the hard way—finished in the finals in a dead heat with another veteran named Gordon Swanlund, then beaten Gordon out in the big local runoff. No doubt he thought of some of this, the lumps he'd taken, as he sat and stared from his front seat in losers' paddock, watching the fast little four-wheeled bugs come tearing down the speedway, three of them abreast, over and over again, at precisely every 60th second.