It was almost 50 years ago that Fred McKinney joined the NC Region, but he was involved even before then, autocrossing and working races at VIR, Roebling Road, Upper Marlboro, MD, and anywhere else he could manage. Always a busy guy, he joined the Club in 1966, the same year he graduated from NC State, and he got inducted into the Navy for a tour in Vietnam. But before going overseas, he worked as a paddock marshal at VIR (a member of the “goon squad” whose job it was to keep drunk college kids from getting out on the track) and as a corner worker.
It was a very different time. Fred says that the “flags” at VIR were really painted pieces of plywood and that a “waving yellow” was very tiring! And the communications system was an old military com wire with surplus US Navy headsets. If a car spun through the station, the communicator had to rip off the head set and “run like hell”. There were no barriers to protect the workers in those days. And there was absolutely no barrier between the track and pit road. The Starter back then was Tommy Edwards. He had no start stand, but stood beside the track with no protection at all. “He was interesting”, Fred recalled, “because he jumped a little when he waved the checker.”
Fred said candidly, “I am proud that we all lived through the events in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s; some of the things we did were, well, dangerous!” But he also had a great time with many cool memories. Fred recalls that he was on station 4 when “NASCAR Bend” (turn 3) got its name because none of the big-bore racers could negotiate it without spinning off!
But the best story he has from those early days is the one about his autocross victory at Charlotte Motor Speedway, which was host to an NCR Region event, around Thanksgiving in 1966. Fred raced a “special”, a stripped-down, body-less VW bug, belonging to his good friend in the Region, Lewis Gunter. The special was fast with Fred at the wheel. He was first in class and second overall. But the trophies were late and Fred was already serving in Vietnam when they finally arrived. So in the true spirit of SCCA competition, Lewis, Roger Blanchard, and Fred’s other buddies in the Club, made sure he was able to see them. They got his parents to send him a picture of them!
Before shipping out, Fred found himself stationed in Gulfport, Mississippi, where he joined the local sports car club, the Gulf Area Sports Car Association, so he could autocross there. After Vietnam, he found himself back in Gulfport, and he purchased his first “real” sports car, a 1968 Austin Healy Sprite. He and his buddy Rex Franklin from the nearby Air Force base at Biloxi, removed the rear bumper so they could attach a trailer hitch. Then they used his Sprite as a tow vehicle for the Rex’s Lotus Super 7 and went to autocrosses together, campaigning both cars from Baton Rouge, Louisiana to Pensacola, Florida. Rex, by the way, is still autocrossing with the Club in upstate New York .
Fred continued volunteering at big races in those days as well s autocrossing. He worked as a pit steward for the 24 Hours of Daytona for several years as well as for the 12 hours of Sebring. Of course he met many famous drivers back then, such as Roger Penske, Sam Posey, Bob Tulius, and the popular Jim Fitzgerald. Separated from the military in 1969, Fred returned to North Carolina and continued working races at VIR and Roebling through the early 70’s. He was even grid worker of the year a time or two before VIR closed down in 1974. But then, the requirements of his job became too burdensome to travel to races out of state, and Fred’s participation dwindled. But he always knew he’d be back as soon as he could, when his career would permit it, so he kept his SCCA membership active all the way up to 2000, when VIR finally re-opened.
Now he’s back in it again. A familiar fixture on the grid for the last 15 years, Fred has been our Chief there for several years, until back problems forced him to step down. So he’s picked up being a Pace Car Communicator. He still works Grid when he can, and this year alone (2015) he has worked on either on the Grid or as the Pace Car Communicator: all over the Southeast, at VIR, Roebling Road, Kershaw, Charlotte, Barber, Sebring, and Daytona.
Here’s Fred (above, left) splitting the field as the cars roll off the grid at Charlotte.
Thanks for your service, Fred! We’re proud to have you as a member!
Below: Fred Mckinney driving Lewis Gunter’s “special” at an autocross at VIR in 1966. Note that the fuel tank on the special was a metal gas tank duct taped to the chassis! He has a lap belt, but there is no provision for a shoulder belt. And he’s not even wearing socks!
photo courtesy of Fred McKinney
Below: This photo was taken at VIR from an area where the new Start stand would be behind the photographer, looking down pit road and counter-race down the track. The autocross start was in the VIR pit, where one had to negotiate some traffic cones, and then abruptly turn around and go counter-race on the front straight, past station 17, and on up the hill, still counter-race to the finish line at the end of the back straight past staion 14. To get back to the Start area, drivers continued counter-race all around the rest of the track back to where the start stand is now. And nobody obeyed any speed limit!