Remembering Jud Larson
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Jim Chini of Palm Springs, California posted the following on the Yahoo History Group's forum. I found it an informative and interesting piece on Jud Larson and thought I would re-publish here.
Jud Larson was probably the most perfect rendition of a "real race cardriver" that this country has ever known. Lazy beyond even people like me,he did what came easiest to him to provide money for food, girls, fancy carsand booze, (not necessarily in that order), which was drive race cars. Thecatch-phrase "natural talent" is bandied about without much thought, but itdefinitly applied to Larson---he could drive anything, anywhere, againstanyone, on any surface and, if he were hungry enough, be in contention forthe win. He only held 3 or 4 "real" jobs in his lifetime and those werealways short lived. He was the closest copy of Jack Kerouac's legendaryfriend Neal Cassidy that I ever knew.
When he first came to USAC in 1956, (he tried the AAA for a couple seasonsaround 1952), he was running at the top of the IMCA points and was hired byhis friend John Zink, Jr. to fill in for the injured Pat Flaherty. A.J.Watson was operating Zink's cars and John told him by telephone that therewould be a "guy from Kansas City named Jud Larson" at the Indiana StateFairgrounds to drive in the Hoosier Hundred. Watson was from the West Coastand had never heard of Larson but went along with whatever Zink wanted. Onrace day at the Hoosier, Watson signed in and asked if there was someonefrom K.C there to drive his car (he had forgotten Jud's name)! He was toldno, and went to the pits, unloaded the car and began to get it ready for hotlaps having no idea what the driver's name was or what he looked like.
Later on, while A.J. was under the car making a gear change, he saw a pair ofdirty white slip-on tennis shoes slide up beside the car and this huge, deepvoice drawl, "Hi, I think that I'm supposed' to drive this shit-box today,"Watson slid out from under the car to see a six+ foot 180 pound blonde witha snaggle front tooth and a grin as wide as the Grand Canyon! He wore a pairof white pants, a white T-shirt and under his arm was a well used Cromwellhelmet and a pair of goggles---but nothing else.
When the formalities were out of the way, Watson asked Jud where the rest of his equipment was andLarson replied, "This is all I brought". A.J. asked where his cover lenseswere and Jud said, "Aw hell. where I'm gonna' be runnin' I won't need any!"When asked if he brought a jacket, the answer was, "No, but I hear you get areal nice one for winning this thing." . Short side of a very long story isthat Jud sat on the pole (for which he got a jacket) and ran away from thefield until he realized that this race was for 100 miles, not 20 laps likean IMCA sprint car race. He fell out of the seat, lost the race and createda legend which endures to this day.
He strengthened that legend when everyone realized that Jud arrived that day in a brand new Cadillacconvertible, accompanied by very probably the most stunningly beautifulwoman to ever grace a USAC pit---his gorgeous and very high maintainenceblonde wife Valerie.
Fast forward through the years to Springfield in August of 1959 and Jud'ssupposed "heart attack" in the pits which was nothing more than a mild heatstroke due to a large hangover! He spent 4 years trying to be "legit" withno positive results, (the beautiful Valerie moved on after Jud ran out ofmoney and became abusive), and finally went to a doctor to find out how muchlonger he had to live. The doctor told him that there was not, and never hadbeen, any problem with his heart and that he had been mis-diagnosed atSpringfield. In September of 1963 Jud returned to the drivers seat in anIMCA program at Topeka, Kansas, and the next year he was back in USAC.
Much has been made of Jud's supposed inability to function on pavement butthe fact is that it was nothing more than his laziness which kept him fromdoing better on asphalt. Pavement driving took a lot of finese andconcentration---atributes which Jud lacked and had no real desire todevelop. In 1965 and early 1966 he was a terror on the hills of Winchester,primarilly because he needed the money and was motivated to win. If you lookat his annual records from IMCA and USAC, you will find that he always ranup front at the beginning of the year, again at mid-season and at the end ofthe year. He was very much like a Native American in that he would run hardto line his wallet, spend it all and then run hard again and so on.
In spite of the devil-may-care image he portrayed, Jud was very much awareof his mortality and the fact that he couldn't drive race cars forever---sooner or later he was going to have to find some other means ofsupport. He was already into his 40's and the advent of the rear engine carsjust made his situation harder. He was physically too big for the cars,which made him very uncomfortable and of course, they handled differentlyfrom a rodaster or dirt car. Any chance he may have had at making a "bigscore" at the Speedway was pretty much over with when the Michners hired himas a team mate for Larry Dickson in 1966.
Jud won the 1966 season opener for sprints at Reading driving the Watson carwhich he had so much success in the year previous. Watson had other fish tofry in May and parked the sprint car to try and get his Indianapolisobligations taken care of. Jud was not pleased with this and got a ride withDr. Ward Dunseth. The Michner deal proved to be a disaster. They put all oftheir effort behind Dickson and left Jud to his own devices. Neither car wasworth a damn and the Michners had no idea what they were doing. Dicksonbarely made the show at 32nd starting position and Jud missed it by a mile.The day prior ot the 500, Jud won another sprint program at Winchester, thistime driving for Dunseth. The melt-down that caused Juds death was about tobegin.
On the evening after the 500, the Michner clan hosted a party in adouble-wide just off the corner of Georgetown Road and 16th Street---thesame trailer park that Crocky Wright lived in. Although not formallyinvited, Jud decided to go (after a few drinks at the White Front) and tryto get the money he had been promised for driving their car in the month ofMay. The Michners were a large two-generation family which, except for Walt,I always had trouble identifying. When Jud showed up he was in one of his"drunk-but-a-teddy-bear" personas and with that huge guffaw laugh of hisasked one of the second generation Michner's (Andy?) for the money due himfor "---trying to put that shit-box in the program".
He was answered with a tirade about why should they pay some over-the-hill,no-talent drunk for taking up their time and money, etc., etc. To this day,I think it was the "no-talent" remark that tipped Jud over. He picked up theMichner kid (who had a really piss-poor attitude anyway), by his shirt frontand threw him like a sack of flour through the big picture window on the endof the trailer! It was a toss of roughly 15 feet, plus another 15 to wherethe kid landed. Jud just smiled and walked out the door.
The following wekend Larson was without a ride for Milwaukee and the nextwekend he was at Reading driving for Dunseth. The racing community has nosecrets and within 24 hours of his "Michner toss" everyone in the businessknew of it and the snide comments began to flow. "Of course he's over thehill, he's in his mid 40's.", "He couldn't drive pavement if his lifedepended on it.", "He'd probably be a lot better if he didn't drink somuch.", and on and on. Jud heard all of this and that night at Reading heseemed to be obsessed with showing everyone that he hadn't lost a step andwas not to be fucked with. Like Bob Sweikert, Jud let his ego get the betterof him and killed himself and Red Regiel in the process. So very, very sad.