In Their Words - Volume 5 - *Courtesy of Chateau Speedway History Facebook Group Page

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April 28, 2019

Verlin Eaker: “In Their Words” – Volume 5

In our 5th Installment of “In Their Words” we travel to Mechanicsville Iowa, about half an hour East of Cedar Rapids where we catch up with 1961 Chateau Speedway Track Champion Verlin Eaker. Verlin, age 85, was part of the original Blooming Prairie Gang and one of the Drivers who helped Establish Chateau Speedway as a part of so many people’s lives and is a big part of its History, taking it all the way to the Daytona 500, although it was a brief 17 lap visit ending up 28th in a Qualifying Race. He shared several pictures with us of some of his cars including the Daytona Car and some USAC Cars. The picture of his first car hooked up sitting in Blooming Prairie as well as some of our own Photos of some of his early cars are included here. He also shared a copy of a Story that was done on him several years ago, which we share with you as well that chronicles a lot of his racing career. Verlin lost his wife Sharon last fall at age 83. (Oct 26)

Webpage: So how did you get involved in Racing?

Verlin: Well there was a guy by the name of Chuck Nelson, had a TV Repair Place in Blooming. I’d go down and visit with him and he had a car. We went to Kasson and his driver didn’t show up, that was Smokey Campbell at that time, he said why don’t you get in and drive it. I said no I don’t want to get in that, for some reason it just kind of scared me. So he kept hounding me and hounding me and finally I said OK. Well I got in it, and we had time trials back then. It was muddy, it was really muddy and I had a six cylinder Pontiac four door and we had fast time. So that meant we had to start in the back. Well I was happy I had to start in the back because I was scared to death to go out there. One thing lead to another and it got into my blood and that’s how I got started. Than after I got started I couldn’t quit. Then I bought my own car. One thing led to another and I wound up having two cars and Smokey drove one of em. From there it just progressed. Ed Lindsey, he had a shop there in the alley by Chuck Nelsons TV place and he worked on the car. Sometimes we’d take it up and down the alley just to try it out. I couldn’t wait until I got to the track, just got in my blood. I ate it and slept it, everything, just couldn’t quit.

Webpage: What year was this?

Verlin: It was early 50’s, I got married in ‘55, think I raced a year or year and half before that.

Webpage: Remember much about the early days at Lansing?

Verlin: I remember Ole the most, seemed him and I were always racing together. He had two other brothers. I don’t remember much but I do remember Ole, he was good. I remember the creek. I never got in it, I stayed away from that. Them were the good ole days; I still say that – that’s the good ‘ol days. It use to be so dusty you could hardly see. A lot of accidents and bumping and grinding. Them were the good ‘ol days.

Webpage: What do they put in the water in Blooming Prairie, lot of your drivers out of there over the years?

Verlin: (Laughing) I think at one time we had 7 cars and we painted ‘em all one night red and white one night.

Webpage: Drove several different cars at Lansing. (Looking at Picture of 33)

Verlin: That 33 Car, the guy from Albert Lea, I was driving for him at the time. We bought a midget together, we was gonna get it all fixed up and try racing it. Well we got it all fixed up and I never saw him again, he took the car and everything and went to California. Didn’t pay me or nothing. That Hudson had a pickup box in the back.

Webpage: Ever get injured with all the Bumping and Grinding?

I only got really hurt in a car one time. Hurt my ribs when I rolled it one time. Seemed to roll over a lot. Up at Faribault one time the promoter said he had a case of beer for the first guy to roll over – I went home with the case of beer (laughs) Actually the worst injury I had was on a snowmobile in 1969. We were suppose to race and there was no snow so they had us race on the dirt. I had passed a guy for second and came up to fast on the leader and drove up onto the back of him. The guy I passed than ran into me and the one ski went right between my legs and the sled hit me in the back. My address was the hospital at Cedar Rapids for quite awhile, my back hurt so bad I had to take something for pain constantly. The doctor told me he had my main artery in his hands when he worked on me. By the time it was done it ended 
up taking me four months to heal. I was in so much pain those first seven days I was praying to die. Then one day this cute Nurse was working on my leg and I asked her how everything looked down there. She said I think everything’s going to still work, then I started praying to live. (Both Laughing)

Webpage: You had the Track Championship in Lansing in 61, any others?

Verlin: In Des Moines I had one Track Championship. We were running more specials, we didn’t run weekly shows. Kind of bounced around the country, we never ran for Track Championships we ran for the money.

Webpage: Any crazy things happen at Lansing?

Verlin: There was a guy from Albert Lea, I can’t remember his name, I tried to pass him on the outside and he run me off the track, I’d try to pass him on the inside and he’d run me down into the infield. That’s when I was driving for Daryl Seavy out of Austin. I told his dad I got to get that guy, I can’t pass him. He said whatever damage you do to the car I’ll pay for it. I said OK (laughing), this happened at Lansing, He was going South and I was going West when I hit him. Took the rear end right out of his car (laughing) and we got into a fight in the pits that night. Daryl Seavy and David Simms they helped me a lot. David a lot, he pulled my car. (See picture)

Webpage: You started traveling more in the mid 60’s– how did that come about?

Verlin: Well that Dave Bjorge, I raced with him, we both had Oldsmobile’s at the time. We was pretty competitive against each other. He was winning and I would win. Then he didn’t show up as much. Was trying to figure out where he went. Than the papers came out he was down in Iowa with the car, racing and winning and making a lot more money down here than we made up there. So than we thought heck if he could do that we can to, so we went down here and it turned out I stayed down here, than moved down here in ‘66. My wife wasn’t too crazy about it. She didn’t like living in Blooming either so it wasn’t all that bad I met some good owners down here, Guys that worked on the cars, I had a lot of help. But you know the guys that helped me back than they’re all gone now.

Webpage: How did all the Traveling work?

Verlin: We’d leave Minnesota, we’d run Davenport on Friday night, Saturday night we’d run Cedar Rapids, than Sunday night we’d run Waterloo, than, we’d come back home. Sleep Monday night; work on the cars Tuesday and Wednesday…Thursday if we didn’t get done and Friday we’d do it all over again. My wife didn’t like me going every weekend but I guess when we got married she knew what I was going to do. Not the kindest way to say it but she was a good wife. She put up with a lot of stuff.

Webpage: Came back a few times after you moved, in ‘73 you cleaned up in a two day show at the Fair.

Verlin: Ya that was with Dale Snyder, the car I drove, the 21. That was a good car too. He’s passed away too. Seen a lot of people I couldn’t really remember, that was a lot of fun out there. Can’t remember who, but somebody tried to put me through the wall. They weren’t too thrilled I come up there, and we really did run good. We won a lot of races with that car. In fact we went to Rossberg Ohio with that car and won the World 100 out there. There were 227 cars there that day, 100 lapper on the dirt, that’s a fast half mile.

Webpage: You came back for a Challenge Night at Lansing June 1 1969.

Verlin: I don’t remember much about that. I do remember we went to Omaha Nebraska…a Challenge race with the Iowa guys against the Nebraska guys and we’d just come back from winning the world 100 and we came in there the next weekend. We walked in and there’s this great big trophy, out Wives’ walked up and said that’s ours. (Laughs) Hadn’t even got on the track yet and they say that’s ours. We had a deck of cards; we had to draw for position. Well guess what I was the last to draw. I think it was a put up deal myself. I had to start in the back. Won the heat, had a trophy dash, I won that. Well with that I started on the front in the feature. (Big Smile) It was pathetic how that car worked. I’d just run it wide open and set it into the corner; I can’t explain how good a car that was. We went home with that trophy.

(Note: That Chateau Challenge Night, Verlin Won the 3 way “Champions Race" vs LeRoy Scharkey 2nd (Rochester Champ) and Gerhard Wollenburg 3rd (Lansing Champ) . Then in Feature Race broke an axle while flying thru the field. Dave Noble, who won the race said afterward than if Verlin hadn’t broke no one was going to stop him)

Webpage: You didn’t stick with dirt track as you got into asphalt with some of the USAC stuff.

Verlin: Ya ’69. I had been racing on a Saturday night, I was still in bed yet and my wife called to me somebody’s on the phone wants to talk to you. So I woke up a little bit and he told me who he was, it was Don Lamberti. He’s the one that started Casey’s stores. He had a little grocery store and a motel on east 14th in Des Moines at the time. He said I’d like to run USAC and I’d like to have you drive my car. (Laughs) That was a hell of a surprise I’ll tell you (laughs some more). I’d never run a big track before. And he said you find the car and I’ll buy it. So I knew Ray Nichols out of Chicago, use to build cars for Chrysler corporation, and I called him and I said I got a guy wants to buy me a car is there anything for sale there that you know of. He said well we’re going to have Don White’s old dirt car for sale. I said well this guy wants to buy it. He said well I don’t know who’s going to get it but he says I’ll let you know. I said well I’m going up to my folks for Christmas at Blooming; I gave him the telephone number. By god he called me; he said you guys got the car if you want it. I said how much? He said $19,500. So I called Don Lamberti back up and I said we got the car. He says how much, I told him, he said OK. (Laughs) He had money even before he started Casey’s. He told me back then, he said someday I’m gonna have me a chain of stores. So you know what I did a bought a hundred shares of Casey stock, at the time it was seven dollars. We made a little money on it and my wife says we better sell it. So we sold it. Now today its $130, Talk about dumb.

Webpage: Lots of Different types of Tracks.

Verlin: Ya, one thing led to another and he said we better get it ready for a road course. Well I never saw a road course in my life, let alone race it, and we did. I can’t remember the name of the track right now, it was down south somewhere and we had sixth fastest time, but I never learned that down shift. I’d get to wheel hopping, tear out the rear ends. I didn’t like road courses because I didn’t know how to drive’ em. But it was still fun. We did pretty good. That engine that was in it was a factory motor at the time and it wore out, we were gonna get a new one. Casey wanted to buy a new one; they wouldn’t sell us one because we was running against the factory cars which was bad you know. So Don got disgusted and he sold the car and that was it for me. Than Ray Nichols Son called me up, we were both up for Rookie of the year in USAC, and I won. He called me up after that and he said would you like to drive my car in USAC and I said ya because I didn’t have a ride. That didn’t work out to good. He had an old car that was heavy, it wasn’t balanced, I’m getting a ahead of myself. But anyway He called me up said we’re going to go to Milwaukee. I said OK I’ll meet you there. I got to Milwaukee and he never showed up. A kid from Chicago saw me in the pits and he says who you driving for today and I said Terry. He said, no you won’t be driving for him because when I left the engine was still on the floor of the shop. He was into drugs, he called me a couple times, I could hardly understand him, it was a bad deal. But then later I did wreck his car, I hit the fence; I lost the brakes in Indianapolis on the mile dirt track. You really get to humming on a mile track, I went to hit the brakes and nothing, the pedal went to the floor and I hit the wall and took out a big post. Well than I talked to Ray Nichols and asked him if there’s any chance of driving Bobby Unser’s car the next weekend,’ cause Bobby was on a tour of California running a Championship Car. He said I don’t know why not. So I went to the shop the next morning and he fitted me for the car and we went to Du Quoin, mile dirt track at the Fair down there and we won that sucker. I tell you that was a beautiful car. That thing was really working and handling had a good motor in it. Wish I could of run that car all the time in USAC, but it wasn’t to be.

Webpage: Raced for several different owners in USAC.

Verlin: Went to Knoxville IA, and it was a USAC race, and I didn’t have a car so I asked Fred Horn which built motors in Cedar Rapids if there was any chance I could drive his car. He said, well I got a lot of money in that motor. I said well I’ll drive it any way you want me to I’d really appreciate the ride. Finally he said OK. So we went down there. I don’t know what he had in that thing but it was powerful. We was leading it by about half a lap, I guess I should of slowed down…Blew it up. Took the motor, the transmission and the rear end, we just locked everything up. He wasn’t too happy about that, he was happy about the way it ran; it was good advertisement for him. Than I did get to drive Ernie Derr’s car, that was in Des Moines. Ernie Derr, he won a lot of races you know. He says I don’t know, I never let anybody drive my cars and I don’t have any way to get it down there. I said I’ll find a way to get it down there if you let me drive it. (Laughs) So finally he said OK. It was the Des Moines 300 back then. I don’t remember where we started, but he said before we go out to race he had to run to the bathroom and he wanted to talk to me. So I went with him and was sitting there listening while he was in the bathroom. He said we got to finish one-two, he didn’t say who had to win it. I was leading it, but somehow there was water in the fuel, they knew exactly what to look for, they dumped the fuel filter out and then I was ok. But he won it and I got second, so it was quite an honor to drive his car. It was 7 or 8 years we ran in USAC.

Webpage: How did the Daytona 500 Experience come about?

Verlin: That was Moyer, Glen Moyer out of Des Moines, that’s Billy Moyer’s dad. That was a bad deal. Anybody that wanted to go to Daytona better have a good car and a good crew. That was one of them big mistakes, I should of never done it. But you get all excited about Daytona, didn’t matter what you were driving, just happy you were gonna go. But it was in the qualifying race and ended up in the back of 13 to 17 car pileup on the backstretch. And that ended my Daytona. It was quite an experience.

Webpage: How do you remember the accident happening?

Verlin: I wasn’t in the initial wreck, but they always said to us if you’re sitting on the race track get up next to the wall and get out of everybody’s way so that’s what I did. I was up next to the wall and looked up in my mirror, I was getting ready to get out, and there come a guy. He was in the pits when the wreck started. He come down the back stretch and he was dodging parts and tires and he ran right into the back of me, he clipped the left rear. Man I tell you that could have been a terrible deal to get wrecked from behind. Penske come over to me later and says were you the one that was driving that red car along the wall? I said ya. He said what happened? I said I don’t know I was getting ready to get out and this guy comes down the back stretch and ran into me. OK, so he got that guy barred for 5 years. He said that should of never happened. Like I said he was dodging parts, he was probably going a hundred when he hit me. In that wreck a guy did get killed Dr Don Char was his name. He was sitting broadside in the track, I don’t know who hit him but they hit him right between the wheels, right center on the driver’s side. Probably never knew what hit him. That was about the worst wreck I was ever in. There was another one out in Syracuse New York, it was dusty, couldn’t see nothing. I missed the wreck but I looked up in the air and I saw a windshield flying up through the air. The sun hit it and I just drove up towards the wall and got out of that one. That was another bad one, some guys were hurt pretty bad.

Webpage: There was a Fan Club started with the Daytona trip. (See Photo)

Verlin: Ya we had about 2000 people, we sent all that money back.

Webpage: How long did you race?

Verlin: I quit in the mid 80’s. it was getting to be a business instead of a hobby. Owners were expecting you to win every time. I’d had enough of it, just hang it up.

Webpage: Lot of good memories from those years.

Verlin: I’d go to bed some nights and couldn’t get to sleep, start thinking about all the things that happened, where I went, wished I could of done it over again, but you can’t do that.

Webpage: Any big highlights in your career stand out?

Verlin: The biggest one is that World 100. (Pause) We won a lot of races around here. We won 3 Special Races in Cedar Rapids. Every time that they had a big special I would win it. I just liked the mile dirt’s, the half mile dirt’s, Always seemed to have good cars.

Webpage: See much racing now?

Verlin: I go to a few around here. Trying to decide what’s going to happen here. Farley had a nice race track, nice grandstand; they don’t know what they’re going to do. West Liberty, they don’t know what they’re going to do. And Des Moines, they tore the Track completely out. Cedar Rapids built an asphalt track but they don’t get many cars and many people. This is dirt country. Everybody says they should tear the asphalt out and go back to dirt but they’ll never do that. Dubuque, I’ve never gone there…think I may have run there one time the whole time I raced down here.

Webpage: What do you do with your time now?

Verlin: I got a bad habit, I go to the casino to much (Laughs)