Monday, January 9, 2012

Eddie's Big Crash

I have to tell this story on new Nashville Fairgrounds Hall of Fame inductee Eddie Mitchell.

Eddie started his career in quarter midgets in the early fifties, running at tracks around the Nashville area, even racing up in Bowling Green.

He then moved into cars, as a regular at both the Legion Bowl and Old Hickory Speedway. Out of 17 races at Old Hickory in 1959, Eddie finished either first or second 9 times, along with 4 other documented top 5 finishes, and that’s just from the available results. The paper didn’t even list the top 5 finishers every week, so it’s impossible to know just how good a season he had. But I think most drivers would be happy if “all” the results showed were 13 top fives in 17 races!

This story involves a wicked looking crash Eddie had in his familiar “Poor Four” Modified Special during one of the races held on the half-mile in 1963.

As luck would have it, both J.T. Phillips (the Tennessean photographer) and Bobby Johnson (photographer for the Banner) were both between turns 3 and 4 and both captured the accident on film.

Malcolm Brady blew an engine heading into turn 3, dumping oil on the track. Of course his rear wheels got in the oil and he lost control, spinning and slamming into the outside wall, the impact so hard that both rear wheels left the ground. As Brady was spinning, Mitchell was the next car storming into turn 3 and also hit the oil, and with the track slick from the oil, had minimal control. He was trying to tiptoe around the bottom of the banking, hoping to get under Brady’s spinning car. But Brady came off the wall right in front of Mitchell. Mitchell’s right front ran up over Brady’s left front, and that sent the black #4 flipping.

The car did a couple of violent flips and spins in the air, knocking both front wheel and hub assemblies off in the process. After all of that, the car landed upright and was pointed in the right direction on the track, only missing most of the front end of the car.

The crowd held it’s breath as Eddie unbuckled his seat belts. Most of the Modified Specials ran with either no windshield or a partial windshield. After getting the belts off, Eddie just stood up through where the windshield would be. An audible sigh of relief could be heard from the crowd. Then from the stands it looked like Eddie slumped back down into his seat.

Eddie’s wife Hilda had been through a roller coaster of emotions in just under a minute. From watching her husband crash, worrying if he was alright, the relief of seeing him stand up, then the panic when he apparently collapsed back into the seat.

Eddie stands up briefly right after the car stopped tumbling

It wasn’t until after the races were finished and she was able to get to the pits was she assured that he was all in one piece. But what about the post-crash collapse? Did he get the wind knocked out of him?

Eddie replied that no, he was fine. When he stood up, he was checking to see if all his body parts were still in the right place and noticed his wallet was missing. It had slipped out of his pants pocket in the crash and he looked down and saw it in the seat. He had to sit back down in the driver’s seat to retrieve it! 

Wallet retrieved, Eddie scampers from the car

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