Historic Memoir by George Thompson
I was a friend of Dean Dungan Jr. and spent time hanging around with him and his dad and going to midget races at Lakeside Speedway. There was one evening when we had gotten into the pits when we much too young but we were there anyway. Somebody had left a push truck, running, but nobody was driving it. So I jumped in with Dean and started pushing race cars. I never did know who that truck belonged to but it was sitting there every Wednesday night just waiting for me. That went on for a while and then I started working on the Harry Conklin crew with Jimmy Lamanna driving the #1 car. Dean Sr then bought the 96 car, an old single tube frame, with a single leaf spring for and aft for suspension and we built a Chevy II, de-stroked 4 banger for the power plant. Frank Vandersarl was around for all of that. Dean Jr. got married to a great lady from Philadelphia and moved there so it pretty much got down to Dean Sr., Gene Pastor and me.
In 1968 I was going through the head of the engine and asked Dean what the dimension was for the length of the outer valve spring and I think his finger slipped down on the Isky chart because the dimension was way too tight. Of course we didn’t know that so we went ahead and set the car up for dirt and headed to Pueblo which was a disaster. The springs were too tight so we were bending push rods and kicking rocker arms to the side. But we persevered and took the car to El Paso. I could have fixed it if we got something to pressurize the cylinder but Dean said no and we had the same problems.
On Monday my wife Lynn and I took the car back to Denver while Dean stayed in El Paso to supervise an air conditioning installation. On Tuesday night I put the car back in the garage, I was 23 at the time, pulled the head and went through it. The next night was Wednesday and it was the USAC Midget Series run at Lakeside.
Gene took the car out and was hot-lapping when he pulled into the pits and said that the car was pushing so I did what little I could to change the chassis set-up. I also reset the mag timing. Well Gene got back in the car and was running hot laps and I thought he was going really fast. I got out my stop watch and he was going really fast. He pulled into the pits and his eyes through the goggles were huge. He took me by my collars and said: “Don’t touch it! It’s the fastest thing I’ve ever driven!”
He qualified with quick time that night: one- one thousandth of a second off the track record. My memory was that the fastest four were Gene, Bobby Unser, Al Unser and National Midget Champ Bobby Grimm and with the inverted start, Gene finished the A dash in fourth place. The result was pretty much the same with the A heat. The main event had 60 cars on that little fifth/mile oval and when the flag came down Gene put that car up against the wall and rode it into the first corner with the hammer down. It is my memory that he came off the second turn in second place and came off the fourth corner in first place with Bobby Unser chasing him. He got chased by some the best in the world for 50 laps but he was not to be denied and he won it.
Gene was thrilled as was I. It was just him and me and I’d been in the guts of that engine the night before. I still remember seeing my two daughters and my wife cheering from the stands.
Over the winter Gene and Dean with a little help from me built a new car for Gene and as a result Dean needed a new driver. He picked Ody Fellows and there were a number of nights that it was just Ody and me. That was tough. He and I were not on the same page and his wife didn’t think he was trying unless he ended up upside down.
I didn’t like the situation I was in but I unloaded the car one evening at Englewood and Ody took it out to warm up and do some hot laps. He was out early so was warm when a bunch of cars were just getting warm but he came down the front straight with the hammer down and finally realized there was a whole bunch of slow cars in front of him. He hit the brakes and took the car into the wall and destroyed it, before we even got to qualify. With both axles torn loose from the frame it was a real problem just getting it back on the trailer but for me that was the end. I quit. I never so much as watched a midget race after that day.