formerly "The View From Up Here"

Formerly titled "The View From Up Here" this column began in the Liberty Gazette June 26, 2007.

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Thursday, May 13, 2010

April 28, 2009 Bob Harkey and our Easter weekend trip

The Liberty Gazette
April 28, 2009

The View From Up Here
By Mike Ely and Linda Street Ely

Mike:
Over Easter weekend Linda and I had the opportunity to get away to Indiana where we visited her oldest daughter and got to dote on the fourth (and newest) grandson. Weather was a challenge to our trip; small airplanes, like small boats, can get tossed around in rough weather. We went around much of it, extending the trip some, but even with the extra flying time to get around the storms, we still managed to do it for less than riding on the airlines and on our own schedule, flying into airports closer to our destination; thus, once again proving the utility of a general aviation aircraft and why so many businesses choose to invest in them, and why a city airport, if run properly, is a tremendous economic generator.

Linda: While in Indianapolis, we met up with life-long family friend, former crop-dusting pilot, and auto racing legend, Bob Harkey.

Bob “held court” and kept us rolling with laughter at his exploits. At age 13 he joined the Civil Air Patrol and learned to fly a Boeing Stearman, and soloed at age 17 in an Aeronca Champ. But the Charlotte, North Carolina youngster was quite familiar with tactics of successful boot-legging, the real roots of NASCAR.

“I wanted to race open wheel but there was none in the Carolinas so I started racing stock cars. I was a young kid with a ’34 chopped-top hot rod with a BT-13 seat. I saw this ad that said anybody could race before the feature event, so I took my car and entered. There were two other guys there, one with a midget and one with a modified. At first the officials weren’t going to let us race, but the announcer asked the crowd, ‘Who wants to see the kid in the hot rod race?’ There was this Chuck Berry song about a kid in a ’34 chopped-top and he used those lyrics.” The crowd went wild, and 10 laps later, Bob took home the win - $15. “That was when I decided I was going to be a race driver – and a millionaire,” he laughs.

Still drawn to open wheel racing, Bob went up to the north east to race midgets, working his way up the way real race drivers did in those days: the road to Indy was through midgets, sprints and dirt cars. Six Indianapolis 500 races to his credit, including 8th place in 1964 and 1974, Bob was the guy any car owner would turn to when no one else could qualify their car for the race. His racing skill got him noticed by Hollywood, too.

Robert Mitchum and his son approached him after a midget race, asking if he had ever worked in movies. After watching them try stunts Hollywood-style, Bob shook his head and chuckled, “Oh it’s much simpler than that. You just air up your rear tires, lock up brakes, throw it in second gear as you spin, put on your hi-beams and go.” Bob’s racing expertise won him praise as a consultant and stunt driver for movies such as “Thunder Road” and “Winning.”

We’ll have to get back with you on his story about how a “NO PARKING” signed ended up on the bottom of a swimming pool in Phoenix. ‘Til then, blue skies.

Mike and Linda can be reached at Texasavi8r@aol.com.

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