top of page
  • Writer's pictureTracy Jones

The Unfinished Lap: Freedom Came First

The Passion Left Behind

The Spark

My father’s attraction to mechanics and racing was more than likely part genetic and part influence, as my grandfather was a life-long mechanic who worked at Skyline Ford in Salem, Oregon and encouraged his young sons’ interest. However, it was in the early 1960’s in a South Salem High School shop class where a project sparked his passion. The project was to build a small, motorized vehicle called a Doodle Bug, a kart-like gas-powered contraption that was described to me as looking like a monkey screwing a football when ridden. I tried to do some research on what exactly they were building in 1960’s shop classes, but the Google search for a Doodle Bug brought back too many results to determine, and I wasn’t about to search the keywords “looks like a monkey screwing a football”. But this project led to my father’s first attempt to build something similar in his own garage.

It was a rudimentary and basic design which was described to me as a lawn mower engine with an old lawn chair on top. I wish they had thought to snap a picture of it, because I cannot even begin to imagine what it looked like. My grandpa let my dad and a friend build this on their own, but wisely insisted that he was present before they started it. My dad must have been messing around with the fuel mixture, because when they cranked the engine, it exploded and shot the lawn chair 10ft straight into the air! Fortunately, no one was on the chair at the time, and no one was injured, just a little short-term tinnitus

Seventeen and a Finance Plan

By the day of my father’s 17th birthday, now serious about karting and competing, he purchased a used kart on contract from Eyerly Motors with his savings and birthday money. Quite the hustler, he worked several part time jobs to fund his new obsession. He worked at Kilgore Blackman’s, the neighborhood lumber yard, he helped clear and excavate what would become Battle Creek Golf Course, and had a good connection with a few area farmers shooting varmints and selling their pelts to Salem Glove Co.

Within a few months, his kart was paid for in full, he’d joined the local kart association, paid his track dues and was ready to compete.

Racing, Wrenching and a Nemesis

By the beginning of 1965, my father had his kart and engine squared away, and was racing competitively with the Mid-Columbia Go Kart Association. Meticulously calculating every detail of his kart from engine modifications, fuel mixtures and various other adjustments, he quickly found a way to come in first most of the time. From what I’ve been able to determine, he’d placed in the top 3 in 20 out of the 21 races he ran. Seeing his talent behind the wheel and his talent with an engine, it didn’t take long for him to earn a reputation around the track as being a top-notch mechanic and ended up working on other drivers’ engines along with his own.

As friendly and congenial as he was known to be, I found it interesting to learn that he had a track nemesis. I do not know his name specifically, as stories passed down often lose a detail or two, but he went by the nickname Blacky which was a shortened version of his last name Blacketier (approx. name/spelling). Apparently, this fellow was a talented racer as well and often was neck-in-neck with my father. I don’t think they hated one another, but they weren’t friends.

Hanging Out with Serious Racers

As time progressed, my father started spending less time with the karting crowd and more time with semi-professional and professional race car drivers. Close friends with the Eyerly’s of Eyerly Motors (founded by pioneer pilot and racer Harry Eyerly), he would often use their shop, and assist Mike Eyerly, who was in his early years as a professional driver.

Rumor has it that prior to the 1967 Portland Rose Cup, he and Mike took Mike’s Porsche 904 out for a little spin around South Salem. Mike was behind the wheel when they left, and my dad was behind the wheel with an ear-to-ear grin when they returned. He was at this turning point in his passion with motorsports when the draft for Vietnam came around to him. Everything was put on hold, the karts were garaged, the journal and receipts set to the side, and he was off to serve our Country in the U.S. Navy’s brown-water force as a Black Beret.

Unfinished Laps

Tragically, my father would never return to what he loved, my mom, me, and motorsports. His karts were parted and sold, leaving only trophies, the journal, and larger-than-life stories as the only reminders of his life and time spent in the sport. But, where there was a reminder, I found a story and a way to connect with a part of history and myself.

Unfortunately, by the time I had the idea to research this story, everyone I could think of talking to had passed. I’d still be interested in seeing an actual Doodle Bug built in a 1960’s shop class. You’d think someone around the Salem area would have one in a garage covered under a dusty tarp. I’d also love to interview anyone who was involved in the Mid-Columbia Go Kart Association between 1964-1967 and see if they knew of my father, or his nemesis Blacky. Hopefully one day someone with an inside perspective will run across my blog/forum and shed some light on some of these questions.

But for now, this is my connection to what was left unfinished, a father’s passion that he would have undoubtedly shared. While there is no way of knowing whether my father would have gone on to race professionally on the open-wheeled circuit like he’d dreamed, there isn't a doubt in my mind that he would have found a way to get as close to it as possible. In my mind, he is up in heaven with Mike and all the other speed junkies, tearing up the track, and flying low and fast.

Use this space to tell readers what they should do next. Invite readers to leave a comment, or add a button with your main call-to-action, e.g., Buy Now or Subscribe.

26 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page