|Famed drag racer at Delavan's Cars Time Forgot show|
|Written by Todd MIshler/Walworth County Sunday|
|Thursday, 05 July 2012 08:44|
Submitted photos courtesy of Arnie Beswick and Dean Fait
Arnie “The Farmer” Beswick stands with his 1958 Chieftain, his first Pontiac, at Cordova Dragway Park in Cordova, Ill., in the early 1960s. Bestwick will attend the Cars Time Forgot show in Delavan.
DELAVAN -- Family and friends know where Arnie Beswick will be if he isn’t at home — somewhere amid the fumes, noise and grease monkeys at a drag racing track in the Midwest.
(Scroll down for Cars Time Forgot schedule)
However, most people would be surprised to learn that the Illinois native doesn’t sit in the stands these days — the 81-year-old still gets behind the wheel almost every weekend, pushing his and his car’s limits at nearly 200 mph.
(Read the complete July 1, 2012 edition HERE.)
“I used to race about five days a week and would travel from coast to coast,” Beswick said. “I don’t travel nearly as far these days because of the expense. I don’t have the finances to pay full-time help or to have somebody take time off from their jobs, and I don’t have the latest, greatest equipment to haul my stuff around. But I’m at some track pretty much every weekend.”
(More on the Cars Time Forgot HERE.)
Beswick recently visited one of his favorite venues, Cordova Dragway Park, which is located near the Mississippi River not too far from his Morrison, Ill.-area farm.
“I was in a feature match race,” Beswick said of the quarter-mile track events he usually competes in. “And even though he had all of the bells and whistles and money for qualifying help, I still managed to beat him.”
Beswick will be taking next weekend off to renew acquaintances with friends and fans from Walworth County and southeastern Wisconsin when he and his famous “Tiger II” Pontiac will be first-time guests at the ninth annual Cars Time Forgot gathering.
He will be signing autographs Sunday, July 8 beginning at 10 a.m. Beswick also is expected to attend Saturday evening's BBQ dinner.
“I used to race a lot over at Great Lakes Dragaway in Union Grove, and was over there a couple of weeks ago,” he said. “A close friend told me that I would be a good complement to the show. I got to know a lot of people in that area, including Delavan, so it’ll be nice to catch up with them.”
This year’s Cars Time Forgot show has expanded from a four-hour event on a Sunday to a three-day celebration — July 6 through July 8. And it’s moved from downtown Delavan to the more spacious Lake Lawn Resort (see accompanying graphic).
Several thousand racing enthusiasts will get glimpses of custom, drag and stock cars, trucks and motorcycles that roll into town — and perhaps learn a little history along the way, especially if they get a chance to visit with Beswick, one of the racing world’s true pioneers, albeit an unsung hero in many ways.
His racing career started in 1951, and Beswick eventually competed in the stock, S/S, AF/X and Funny car ranks through the early ’70s, and most of the time without major sponsorship deals.
He switched to Pontiac in 1958 and stayed loyal to that brand ever since. Beswick gained recognition from the beginning for his mechanical, driving and showmanship talents, and his dominance in a stock car included winning his class at the first World Series of Drag Racing, a streak that reached a record 10 straight years.
Beswick rebuilt his ’63 LeMans coupe to maintain his edge in the late ’60s, altering the wheelbase and painting it orange with black tiger stripes to coincide with the GTO theme. The “Tameless Tiger” was born.
However, his life and career changed dramatically in April 1972, when a newly built structure on the Beswick property burned, destroying or damaging his entire racing operation and much of his farm equipment.
But Beswick was back in the spotlight during a drag racing reunion in Florida in 1986, and he’s been recognized several times since: He was the first driver to be inducted into the Super Stock & Drag Illustrated Hall of Fame in 1995, and in January 2006, Beswick received the Legends of Motorsports Guild’s Lifetime Achievement Award in Chicago.
That honor came three years after another catastrophic ordeal. In August 2003, fire ripped through the interior of his car as the parachutes deployed. His ride was destroyed, and Beswick suffered severe burns to his hands and face. But his passion for life and racing didn’t keep him down.
Beswick returned to the track in 2005 and was back at Cordova in the summer of 2006, and he hasn’t slowed down much.
He doesn’t own the nearly 1,000 head of beef cattle and rents out most of the land and feedlots on the 160 acres left of the family farm, a way of life that also earned him — against his early objections — his nickname, “The Farmer.”
“The radio and track announcers always tried to come up with these great handles for drivers to promote their events,” Beswick said. “I didn’t like it at all at first because in those early days people looked down at farmers as sort of second-class citizens.”
But the name helped create the legend and grow the sport, and the father of four daughters, two of them in the military, has accepted it. And it hasn’t prevented him from performing among the best in a sport that has been a hobby most of his life.
“I always was into racing and mechanical things and messing around with cars, but it kinda started with working on tractors on the farm,” Beswick said. “I always was trying to get more horsepower out of things. And then anytime somebody challenged me to a race, I was gullible enough to do it, and most of the time I held my own. But that’s what we did out here in the boonies.”
He’s still a boy of the boonies, and Beswick will share those stories and times at Cars Time Forgot.
As for racing — and its seven-second thrill rides — well, he’s not ready to quit.
“I haven’t figured out how to say no to the tracks yet,” Beswick said. “As long as I’m in decent health and have enough money to keep the car running and a truck and trailer to haul it, I’ll keep racing.”
Highlights of the Cars Time Forgot celebration at Lake Lawn Resort:
July 6: Get acquainted party in the Lookout bar featuring live music.
July 7: Participants must preregister for road tours, which feature trips to a winery and craft brewery in Lake Mills. Watersport rentals; evening lakeside barbecue.
July 8: Ninth annual Cars Time Forgot car show and model car show, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Raymond F. Smerz said:
|Last Updated on Thursday, 05 July 2012 10:57|