My sports editor had given me permission to write a weekly column on racing. Mostly, it dealt with drag racing in the East Central Ohio area, which I was familiar with, and with NASCAR/USAC which I had only read about.
A husband and wife school teachers who read column called and suggested I expand my horizons; come with us to Mid-Ohio, they said. We'll camp there for the weekend and watch some great racing. You'll love it.
Love what?, I thought. What's sports car racing?
But being 22 years old and willing to learn, my girlfriend and I followed them to Mid-Ohio. Eight of us slept in a Tent in the trees on the east side of the property, drank some good beer, ate well, sang at night by our camp fire, and had a wonderful time.
The names of the drivers were all foreign to my limited knowledge - Chuck Dietrich, Tom Yeager, Bob Johnson, Don Yenko - but they put on great races and I was hooked. When Johnson won his race in a Shelby Cobra, a car I was vaguely familiar with, his crew held out a chalkboard with "Next stop, Le Mans" scrawled on it. I'd heard of that race, too.
Mid-Ohio began to dominate my column, and that December, I received a call from the sports editor of Mansfield's News Journal, a the sister paper to The Daily Reporter. He'd been reading my copy, too, had canned his racing writer, and offered me a massive raise to move to Mansfield.
"Massive" meant $75 a week, instead of $70. I jumped at the chance.
By the time the 1966 season started, I had met Les Griebling, and two members of the track's board of directors, Clark Townsend and Sid Yellen. Clark and Sid took me beneath their wing, and offered me my first freelance writing job -- $25 @ race to write some pre-race press releases. Yikes!
It was an enjoyable era in road racing, often filled with intrigue.
One day in early 1968 I got a call that Roger Penske and Mark Donohue were testing their Trans-Am series Camaro there, and even though the gates were locked for privacy, here's where there is a hole in the fence.
Aided by another sports desk reporter, we snuck in, and immediately encountered the late Vince Piggins, who, at that time, headed what Chevrolet called Product Promotion-Engineering. That was 1960s-speak for what is now known as GM Motorsports.
We asked Vince a few simple questions, and his straight faced reply was always, "You realize you're talking to somebody who is not here."
Later, we found an unmarked Chevrolet van in the campground down by Clear Fork Reservoir, receiving the data telemetry from the Camaros.
In 1969, Les knew the track needed more visibility from a full-time staff. There needed to be more than one part-time secretary/advertising sales person. They made me an offer to leave the newspaper and come to work for them. Again ... no hesitation.
I worked for Les until he sold the track in 1982, took a year off, and then one final season under Jim Trueman's ownership.
Was it hectic? Absolutely. Was it ever dull? Not a chance.
Les was only a part-time manager; he still had his British car dealership, Suburbanite Motors, to manage. But there was never a doubt of his presence, visible or not.
Les was a farmer by heritage, an Eastern European farmer to be specific, and that is an important fact to remember.
Immigrant farmers to the U.S. brought with them a desire to keep their property clean. They would spend money to paint barns and to whitewash fences even when there was little money to spend, because maintenance and a clean appearance was the right thing to do.
Les ran Mid-Ohio the same way. I would be hard-pressed to look at anything he built at Mid-Ohio, or anything he improved, and find a single dollar that he wasted. With the 2003 edition of the facility, I could easily point to $1 million unnecessarily blown, but the past and present owners were different. Neither one better, neither one worse, neither one right, neither one wrong. Just different. And diffe