Wednesday, May 6, 2015

1963 - Ernie Derr Reverts to Old Set-Up

Cedar Rapids, Iowa (May 6, 1963) - The biggest news in Midwest stock car racing circles is that Ernie Derr, five-time International Motor Contest Association (IMCA) champion, has gone back to his old system of preparing his car for races.

In case you have missed a few chapters in stock car history, Ernie is one of the racing breed from Keokuk. That city probably produces more stock car drivers per capita than any middlesex, village or farm in the U.S.

Let’s see, theirs Derr and his brother-in-law, Don White. The latter used to run neck-and-neck with Ernie in the IMCA, but now he's making money like a mint while racing with USAC (U.S. Auto Club) on Eastern tracks.

Then there's Dick Hutcherson. He’s the hottest of the Keokuk Clique this spring, as he topped the IMCA field at both Shreveport, La., and Freeport, Ill., the last two weekends.

Hutcherson and Ramo Stott, another Keokuker, will be racing with Derr in the May 19 Hawkeye 250-lap race at Hawkeye Downs. So will two other Keokuk drivers, Jim Washburn and Mickey McMahan.

Derr has been the most successful of all. He has won five IMCA season championships - the last four in succession. Last year he drove in 51 races. He won 28 of them, finished second in 10 others.

You'd think a record like that would let ol’ Ernie sit back and enjoy his weekly drives to the bank. But he got restless during the winter lay-off and finally decided to invest $6,000 with the hope of winning them all in 1963.

He hired a company of experts to “set up” his 1963 Pontiac for greater racing performance. We don't know much more about a car than the gas pedal, brakes, steering wheel and luggage trunk, but the guys who do tell us this includes strengthening the wheels, hubs, suspension and other parts that take punishment in long races.

The company altered his radiator to keep it cooler on race days. They changed the car’s rear end. We understand mechanics are permitted to do this under the IMCA stock car rules provided they don't replace the original gear housing.

Well, you can imagine how fearful the other drivers were two weeks ago when he entered his newly “set up” Pontiac at Shreveport. Beating Ernie was tough enough when he and his own crew did the motor surgery.

But when the dust cleared at Shreveport, Ernie was limping-home fifth. Last Sunday he was entered at Freeport, Ill. This time he managed to finish second behind Hutcherson, but he still was far from satisfied with the car's performance.

Ernie has raced his new mount in two other races - in the MARC circuit in Texas. He finished far down in the money list there.

So this week he reached a decision; to heck with the six thousand clams. From now on he'll go back to his old way of setting up a car. He and his mechanics went back to work.

Actually, the firm he hired is a good one. But Ernie believes their system works best on the Eastern tracks, most of which are longer (1 mile or more) and paved. In this circuit he runs mostly on half-mile dirt ovals.

So if you watch Ernie Derr race at Hawkeye Downs May 19, you'll be seeing the "old Ernie" - or, rather, Ernie with his successful old system. He'll need that old touch if he hopes to repeat as Hawkeye 250-lap champion ahead of all those other Keokuk speed demons.

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