By BILL FOLEY
There it was…The Batmobile… leading the Super DIRTcar Series Modifieds to the starting line for the final race of the ’18 DIRTcar Nationals at Volusia Raceway Park.
Behind the wheel of “The Batmobile” was none other than Gary Balough, the “Hot Shoe” with “A Checkered Past.”
Balough is a tough individual and noted, “I had a hernia operation two weeks ago and it is tough moving around. I just hope I can get in that car tonight to pace the field.” He did.
Earlier on Saturday night the historic dirt Modified was on display in the midway area at Volusia and there was Gary waiting for fans to stop by. He graciously signed autograph cards which promoted his new book.
To each fan Gary would turn over the card, point and remind fans that his book would be available in April. The book entitled “Host Show! A Checkered Past: My Story” was a collaborative effort with Bone Bourcier and will be available at Garybalough.com.
Balough remains in racing today as part of the Hallmar International Team with Stewart Friesen.
Sitting and talking with him is more than interesting. His recall is phenomenal.
He said, “I started in 1965 when I was 14-years-old at Hialeah in the Tornado class. I had a ’57 Chevy coupe. I had been a clean up person at the track and my buddy Pee Week Griffin helped me with the chassis and rear suspension. It was a good hot rod and I won my first night. I went on to win 37 features, but had to lie about my age to race.”
In the early 70’s he found himself drifting up north and noted, “I was running the dirt tracks of West Pennsylvania and was winning and then we moved over to Nazareth and Flemington. I remember the first night Stan Ploski hit me and tore me up pretty good. The next night we were second at Flemington and then won a 100 lapper at Nazareth. I needed the money to race.”
Gary talked about why the Florida drivers who headed north to compete were so competitive night in and night out. He said, “We build all our own control arms and chassis, but I think it is about seat time. In Florida we could race 12 months a year and that made us better compared to six months or so up North. I think that is what made it hard to beat us.”
He proved to be successful after spending his formative years in Florida.
Gary thought, “I think I had a lot of success as I started racing on flat tracks. Running with the Allison, Pee Wee Griffin, Rags Carter and others helped me. It was all about rhythm. I ran Hollywood, Bentley, Palm Beach and Hialeah.”
Rivalries are part of racing and in Florida it was East versus West with the left coast sporting names like Buzzie and Wayne Reutimann, Dave Scarborough and Wil Cagle.
Then along came Kenny Weld. Gary explained, “Kenny wanted to build a race car for me. I saw the blue prints and was excited. However, while racing a Late Model at New Smyrna I broke my neck in a crash.”
However, that didn’t end it as Balough said, “Kenny agreed to build the car. He could have put Doug Wolfgang or a lot of other good racers in the car, but he chose me. I had gotten well and had won races at Charlotte and Nashville.”
Continuing he said, “We started building the car in February and finished it in October just before Super DIRT Week. It was a lot of fun. The frame was like a Champ Car or Sprint; it had a high cage with panels on the roof which acted as an inverted wing. There were side post and like Indy cars there were louvers that opened up. It was all about aero. It was a four bar with a Hutter motor.”
Of the appearance of “The Batmobile” at Syracuse in 1980, Balough noted, “There were 30,000 people booing us. The car had maybe 15 practice laps, two laps of qualifying and the 200 laps in the main-event.”
Before his career was over he had won four Syracuse 200’s
The stories, both on and off the track that Gary Balough has to tell are in his soon to be released book.
However, the racing legend continues to have a major presence around Modified racing.