Master of the Dirt
By J.T. LeFever
Floyd Gilbert is one of if not the most revered and successful drivers in the history of modern
Dirt Late Model racing as we know it.
An intense competitor from Lockland, Ohio, Gilbert won the third edition of the World 100 in
1973. But that was just one of the countless wins on his resume. During the 1972 season, Gilbert
drove Morgan Chandler’s Late Model to 42 feature wins and another 7 feature wins in other
According to former crewman Mike Roland,, to his mind, Gilbert was “one of the most intelligent
drivers out there.”
Unlike many drivers today, Gilbert was a student of psychology as well as mudslinging. “It took
a lot to know Floyd, even just a little bit,” Roland recalled. “Floyd was kind of to himself. He was
the type driver that would psych himself up before a race. He would get to the track early in the
day. It didn’t matter where it was at, Floyd was there early.
“Floyd was so concentrated on his racing. I’ve seen him just walk around the race track and
study it. He would psych himself up saying, “I am the greatest, I know this track, I’m going to
win.” That’s an old story from Billy Teegarden about Floyd, but I saw him do that. Floyd was
very hard nosed. He wanted to win. I would say probably that out of all the race car drivers I
ever became acquainted with, Floyd was a race car driver the whole day long. Not just when he
got on the track.”
Also unlike many of the stars today, Gilbert was a master of using interviews and the press to
cultivate a love-him-or-hate-him persona. In a 1975 article, Gilbert told author Carroll Hamilton,
“ if the fans aren’t booing or cheering, I’m not doing anything. Whether they like me or hate me,
they buy a ticket to watch me.”
When Bill Redwine opened Tri-County Speedway, a big half-mile dirt oval near Gilbert’s
Cincinnati home, in 1968, Gilbert won a slew of features that first season, although he saw the
track title go to Chuck McWilliams. The next year Gilbert suffered the loss of his good
friend/car owner Bob Busener in the pits at Tri-County on opening day.
In 1970, Gilbert gave up his union standing and took to the area bullrings full time. Becoming
what he called a “professional bum, meaning I got paid for it.” Gilbert withstood the ups and
downs entailed in racing for a living. During the winter months, he headed south to Georgia and
Florida in an effort to keep food on the family’s table (Floyd and his wife Dee have four children)
and the landlord from the door. The 1971 racing season was highlighted by a string of 21
consecutive victories (seven in a row at three different tracks). Between 1970 and 1975, Gilbert
racked up an amazing 16 track championships in three states including an amazing 5 track titles
in 1972 alone. Gilbert was named the Mid-American Racing News Driver of the Year in 1973,
the year he won the World 100 (then an afternoon race, Gilbert quickly packed up and headed
back south to Glen Este Speedway where he sealed his fourth straight championship with a
victory that night).
One of the early stars of a rough-and-tumble era of dirt racing, Gilbert was known as one of the
roughest tumblers in the bunch. As a longtime friend of Flyin’ Floyd I recorded the following
interview with the retired driver about his beginnings in the sport, starting out in a 1937 Plymouth
at the old Glen Este Speedway near Cincinnati, Ohio, in the early 1950s.
JT LeFever: Floyd, when I was a little kid I was playing at Northern Kentucky Speedway, and
you walked by on your way to the pits. I can remember tugging on your uniform as you passed
by. I’ll never forget you stopping and talking to me just like I was a big person and taking time
out for me.
Floyd Gilbert: I learned early on to take care of the kids. They’ll bring momma and papa back.
That’s not smart thinking, but it was wise. I was signing autographs in Whitewater Valley
Speedway’s grandstands, and they were lining up the race. They were yelling ‘Come on, Floyd,
get in the car.’ I said, “Now, wait a minute, these kids are first. I signed about a dozen more and
went and got in the car and beat Pat Patrick by about a half a car that night.
JT: Something else I remember and I think my Dad (Vern) got this from you. You were always
first to the track. Dad would be second leaving Deer Park, Ohio at noon (laughs).
Gilbert: Well, generally I had kind of a set thing that I did. I would leave at noon even to Clay
City (KY) and in 2 or 3 hours I would be down there, just taking my time. Very calm, very
relaxed. Many times, well not many times, but at least 2 that I forgot to get me a beer and it was
on the other side of the bus. So, I would set the old bus aimed dead straight and I would get up
and get me a beer and get back before I crashed. Another time, you know the turn off of I-75
onto I-64 going east. It’s kind of a tight turn. I made that twice doing 70 miles an hour with that
bus, hauling that race car. I had Don Campbell a hanging on. Did you know Don Campbell?
JT: That name sounds familiar, but I just can’t place him.
Gilbert: He was from there in Reading, Ohio. He was a friend of Bill Redwine. Bill fined me once
for $20 for some reason or another, I blew up at him or something. He said you going to race
here I’m going to fine you $20. So he took out the $20 and I never went back. So, Don. I always
said years later I would go back when Bill gave me the $20 back. So, one day Don hands me $20
and I stuck it in my pocket and I didn’t go back to Tri-County, I went somewhere else. Don came
up here a couple years ago when he was alive and we talked about who’s $20 it was. He said it
wasn’t Bill’s, I said yeah I had a big time on that $20, but I knew it wasn’t Bill’s (laughs).
JT: Tell me about Floyd as a kid.
Gilbert: We was raised in California, Ohio there by the golf course there by the hill. And hell we
would go up there at night time with a worsh bucket and get in the reservoir and feel with our
feet. And sometimes we would come out with 100-200 and maybe even 300 golf balls. The
reservoir was right in line with the tee and they would probably drop a dozen of the in the water
everyday. We would get them with our feet, we would get 10 cents a piece for them. We got a
bucket full one night and some guy took them and sold them and I never seen him since (laughs).
That’s the way it works down here, but I didn’t think he was skip on us. They said they get 10
cents a piece at the driving range. Well you take them and sell them and come back to the bar
here and we’ll split the money. I ain’t seen the money or him since (laughs). But it was a great
time living out in California, Ohio. It was a great place to be raised. We lived right there at Five
Mile, Four Mile, Three Mile. Outside the city limits for most my young life. Then Mom moved
us down into California, Ohio.
JT: How did you end up in your first race car?
Gilbert: Charlie, our landlord, said they got a race at Glen Este Speedway. He said they got a
demolition. He said, “I got a 1937 Plymouth here, we ought take it up and try to win it.” Couple
Hundred dollars to win. So the demolition derby would have been the first thing I got into in 1952.
In the fall, second to last race of the year.
JT: So that car you only ran twice?
Gilbert: Well we ran it in the demo. Generally, in demo, there isn’t anything left. I even got
rolled. I think I would have won it if I hadn’t got it rolled. We took it home and beat it out, put
some roll bars in it and raced it the next Sunday in a regular race. And we did real well, if we
hadn’t lost a wheel. We hadn’t thought about plating the wheels at that time. Anyway, the car
wasn’t really fast, I had a six cylinder, and off come the right rear wheel leading the consi, and
that was the end of the day and the year.
JT: Did you run that same car the next year?
Gilbert: I ended up getting a Hudson Teraplane.
JT: Did you run that car all of 1953?
Gilbert: Back then you only ran a car as long as the damn thing would run, which was not very
JT: Do you recall if the car made it the whole year?
Gilbert: Teraplane looked like a ’37 Plymouth. They had unusually strong motors. We never had
to do nothing, but knock the fenders off and put in some make-believe roll bars and a seat belt,
and it made a pretty good race car.
Gilbert: The only thing bad about them is they had dippers for oiling, rod dippers. I stayed with
Hudson 12 years. Hudson came out with the Big Six in 1948. You could only use an engine that
was no newer than ten years. I spent two or three days grinding the serial number off the block.
We put that motor in and started making a few bucks. Matter of fact, I got a trophy back then
from Lawrenceburg Speedway – Third place driver of the year.
JT: What years did you drive Bob Busener 195?
Gilbert: 1965, ’66, ’67 around in that time. I do remember Busener dying and that was a shock.
Opening day at Tri-County
JT: Then after Bob passed you drove the Ruth Motors 29?
Gilbert: No, after Bob died I bought the cars and equipment from Bob’s wife. Later on I would
always carry one around as a backup. Like if Chandler’s car didn’t make it, then I would drive
the feature in my car. A lot of times I could fall on the tail of the feature and still make money. It
was insurance. I was driving for Chandler, and I didn’t have a driver for my car at Clay City. And
Butterball (Woolridge) said, ‘Let me drive that.’ Hey yeah, I didn’t tell him that you better run
second. Chandler and them got mad because Butterball went out and won the race (laughs). I run
second. Chandler and them got madder than hell. They said you don’t bring that car to anywhere
we are racing again. Butterball passed us all. He took the low groove and buried that gas pedal
and I don’t think he let it up until the checkered flag dropped. But I had a hell of a motor in it. At
that time I had already learn a lot about engines from Bob Busener and the main thing is where
to get the work done. We had all our machine work done up there at the music store there in
Blue Ash, Ohio. Whatever name they went under.
Gilbert: StereoPack yeah. They put a car together for the Indy 500 one year I think.
JT: I remember the car you carried around with you in the 70s. White #1 Chevelle. I think it had
Stroh’s on it?
Gilbert: Oh yeah, I was getting 10 cases of beer a month from them. I brought 72 twelve packs
down here to Florida and went back home empty (laughs).
JT: Do you recall your first championship?
Gilbert: I don’t think they kept records until later in the years. If anything at all, it seems to me
they didn’t start any of that until Fran Rapp took over Glen Este Speedway in maybe 1959 or
around then. I won the Championship in 1971, ’72, and ’73. I think 1970 also. I was driving the
Ruth Motors number 29.
JT: Do you recall how many races you won in that car?
Gilbert: Twenty-one in a row one year. Billy Teegarden ran second in 18. Then they opened up
the engine for some reason or the other they took the heads off and put them back on. That was
the beginning of the end. Went back to Glen Estes or the 22nd try, and I ran second. Then went
to Clay City and won eight more.
Then I got a call from Morgan Chandler. That car handled. I mean it was just like driving a
Cadillac. They built a new car in 1972, then in 1973 they built a new Camaro. I drove it and won
with it. But I said it don’t handle and I didn’t want to drive it. So they put Billy Teegarden in it.
We run first and second over at Northern Kentucky (Florence Speedway). So they want Billy,
they want someone to drive the Camaro. They ended up selling the Chevelle after they fired me.
JT: Driving for Morgan Chandler in 1972 you won 49 features. Tell me about that.
Gilbert: It was 42 for Chandler, and 7 more in three different race cars. Second in wins that year
to Dick Trickle. But I had a better win percentage, Trickle had run almost a hundred races and
won 61 I think. I won 49 features in 61 starts.
JT: That’s incredible.
Gilbert: ah, no its not. I had my beer and I had Gene Petro following me around at the tracks and
beating him was a great lot of fun (laughs). Anybody I thought could beat me, I wouldn’t put a
little more effort into trying to beat them.
JT: Did you only run for Morgan that one year 1972?
Gilbert: No, part of 1971 and all of 1972. It was is the middle of 1971 when I got out of the Ruth
Motors 29 and fell right into the Morgan Chandler 28 and won a lot of them. But then the
opening day at Tri-County(OH) I destroyed it thanks to Don Lamb. He kinda nosed his nose in
between me and the wall and I couldn’t move out because there was a car on the outside of me.
Then a guy on the inside of me moved out, I moved out. I hit Don Lamb’s bumper, front end hit
the guardrail, I went as far as the wheel fence and landed upside down. Really I guess it wasn't
Don's fault, The car beside me left me with no choice. That was opening day at Tri-County
Speedway in what? What year did they open?
Gilbert: But it wasn’t the year they opened. The opening year I drove for what’s his name there,
Shell station in….
JT: Jim Stahl
Gilbert: Jim Stahl
JT: Didn’t Don Lamb drive for him too?
Gilbert: Maybe after I left there, I’m not sure just what happened.
JT: Was that number #37? (Actually is was #7 when Floyd drove it)
Gilbert: I don’t remember
JT: I guess the car numbers were never on your mind?
Gilbert: Well I remember some of them, I don’t try to remember the car unless the car beats me
all the time, then I remember. (Laughs)
Then after Chandler I got in Duncan’s car and I got so tired of driving down to Lexington all the
time and then further on west. I did like going to Clay City, Morehead, Richmond, and that little
track over there at Danville.
Gilbert: Yeah Ponderosa, but I just wanted to kinda run at home. But hey, I respected the things
that Logan and Charlie (Grider) did. I made a good living driving that car, hell everywhere we
would go we would win if we didn’t break. About the same as (Chandler’s) 28, But I think 59
would actually outrun 28.
JT: Seemed to me like the 59 was a little better equipment.
Gilbert: Well, they had good equipment. There is one thing though they had that scared the hell
out of me. I hit the guardrail once and I almost lost the race at the Johnny Appleseed. They
always carried a lot of wedge on the left rear. Heavyweight on the left rear. You get a hard black
slick track, you let off the gas and that thing would just zoom right out from under you. I lost it
one time up at the World 100, but I caught it by the time I got off the track, there was no inside
guardrail then. I still caught enough to stay in the lead.
But I’ll never forget when I got the call to drive for Duncan. I got a surprise, I was at home and I
got a call from Logan (Grider) he said do you want to drive for us? I said oh yeah, ain’t many
times anybody beat 59 when Butterball (Woolridge) was driving it. So I stepped into that, I didn’t
even have a ride. Then I said anytime you can bring 28 here I’ll run rings around it. But I felt
that because it was a lot better car.
After Duncan I went with Earl Rogers in the Rueben Brothers number 22. It wasn’t no mistake,
in other words financially, it was a mistake. But as far as the guys, I enjoyed them. They were a
lot of fun, and they had a lot of beer. They kept that Blue Ribbon in the refrigerator all the time.
I would go down there about every night when they were working on the car. And I would drink
their beer. That was my rights. I had beer rights. I don’t know if I was worth anything to anybody
to set down and discuss an unusual person with an unusual life. I’m serious about that. I mean we
didn’t hardly have bread in the house. If it hadn’t been for (Floyd’s wife) Dee making $40 a
week, I wouldn’t have been able to do it. I have to give her credit.
JT: I read a Mid-American article from June 1972 and it said Floyd Gilbert made it three in a
row. Fast qualifier and started 6th and led all 40 laps. When the green flag dropped he went high
and charged to the lead. You passed every car into the first corner? (laughs)
Gilbert: That happened exactly that way at the Johnny Appleseed in 1973 too. We had two 75 lap
races back to back with an hour in between. Well I was drunk the night before and I started 20th.
Tiny Lund and me had been very drunk that night before. Tiny was real drunk, I was just
drinking (laughs). And I was so hung over, I never had a hangover like that before. So, the other
four cars pass me and I’m running dead last, but at least I’m running. And the longer we go and
the heat I got to feeling better and I ended up 6th. Tiny’s car broke and they were loading up and
leaving immediately. We raced Friday night and he had some money coming and I said, ‘Hey I’ll
take it to Tiny, I’m going down to Mansfield and take it to him’. But he was right up there in
front when he broke. I couldn’t of beat him. Fact is, I couldn’t beat him up in Michigan either. He
won the race up there and I ran second. But back to the Appleseed. I was on the third row
outside for the second 75 laps. So I go up to the old bus and I drank two beers straight down. By
the time I walked back down into the infield I was feeling pretty good. I done come alive. They
got the car ready to go, we lined up. Sixth place third row outside and they threw that green flag.
That beer must have had some kind of Jet propulsion in it because I was leading down the back
straightaway (laughs) and led the whole 75 laps.
JT: Where did you race in Michigan?
Gilbert: Well we raced up there twice that I remember. One was at Clarksville and another one
they had a big battle with somebody and they moved it to another track. A flat horse track.
Which it was paying $10,000 to win, and hell I was running second which paid $5000. But they
had heat races. I qualified my car and Duncan’s 59 and Duncan’s had fast time until they gave a
nascar driver fast time. And see I wasn’t allowed to bitch about that, it was in the show. They
would give fast time to one of the nascar drivers because it puts on a big write-up show. I forget
now who they gave it to, but there was no way in hell and him qualifying after I did and the track
had already got hard, black, and slick. No way anybody could have beat my time that night, I had
fast time. Well I ended up second and I ended up making $100 with my car in one of the heats
and Second in Duncan’s car. So I start outside pole and one of these guys that has since won the
World 100 was inside. Guy from down in Kentucky. He took the lead and I’m running second. I’
m happy, hell I’m running second, that $5000. That’s when the fuel pump broke off the block, just
broke off. And I pulled it in and I didn’t say nothing. Anyway I lost $6800 in breakdowns that
year. That’s when I just about decided I was going to quit Duncan.
JT: Was that driver from Kentucky Jack Boggs maybe?
Gilbert: Yeah that was him. I don’t know why they let that car run. Damn that thing only weighed
2500 lbs and everybody else weighed 3000 or better. I know Duncan’s car wasn’t a
featherweight. But we ran at two different tracks up there. One of them Cale Yarbourgh was
invited to come and at 5:00 p.m. he was still at his shop in South Carolina and at 7:00 p.m. he was
there. They got him there and they had a couple people in a trailer there and they invited me in. I
had a drink and I said, no I’m not gonna go in here a drink while my crew sits outside. I drank 5
bottles of strawberry Cold Duck or somekind of drink mixed with 7UP. Damn that’s a good drink
(laughs) I’m going to have to try some of that again someday. See I wanted to drink, but I didn’t
want to be sucking up beer. Beer made me pee a whole lot, so I settled for Cold Duck and 7UP
50/50. Cold Duck was only 6 or 8 percent anyway. So you couldn’t get drunk, there wasn’t
enough alcohol there to get you drunk, but it would make you feel good. And I drank 5 bottles of
it that weekend up there, I don’t know how many 7UP’s (laughs).
I remember one time at Eldora we were lined up, not in the cars but standing out there to be
introduced. Somehow or another I relaxed and I had to pee. Before we even got lined up I had to
pee every 15 minutes. So we lined up their introducing us standing in front of the grandstand
there and I got to pee. I just said to hell with it I’m going to go pee, I’m not going to pee my
drawers although I did that once (laughs).
JT: Do you want me to stop the recorder? (laugh)
Gilbert: No, hell over there at Northern one night I had to pee so bad that I had to stop the car.
There was a yellow flag or a red flag and I stopped over in 3 and 4 and went over the hill and
took a pee. And another time there I didn’t have that opportunity I just pee’d my drawers.
(laughs) anyway I’ve had my ups and down (laughs). Been a lot of ups and a lot of downs. I went
down the drain as much as anybody’s had a chance at going down the drain, but yet I was strong
enough to pull myself back out of it. And been a few times in life I just sit and balled cause thing
just haven’t went right.
JT: Did she (Dee, Floyd’s wife of 54 years) just call you a cry baby?
Gilbert: Yeah, she just don’t understand (laughs). I actually, probably 75% of my racing, I never
took it serious. It was just a fun game, although you know when I got real broke I took it serious.
No I didn’t, really. I had my motorhome I got in it and I drank my beer and never worried about
whether someone was going to beat me or if I’m going to beat them. My words were I didn’t
come to the track to run second, and that’s the way I felt.
Talking about that lightweight Car. That’s the one thing that caused me to quit. Taking them
gosh dang 2500lb cars and all the rest of us guys have cars weighing over 3000lbs. That’s the
one thing that got me, and still irritates me is that Earl Baltes let that little old doodle bug run
against us. He just went down on the bottom, passed us and ran off and left us.
JT: Charlie Hughes?
Gilbert: Yes, I just said hey this is what I’m going to have to race against them I’m going to quit.
So - That happened up at Oglethorpe, they had one light car, small block that run up there all the
time. He was competitive but, I could usually beat him by the end of feature time. Knowledge I
know of the small block is that you rebuild them and there a very powerful motor, but every race
you run them they get weaker. To the point you have to rebuild them again. In fact, I would say
you would have to rebuild them every 2 or 3 months. My big block I rebuilt maybe once a year, I
never had much trouble with motors.
JT: I often wondered out of all the famous cars you drove like the Duncan Delight 59, Chandler’
s 28, Ruth Motors’ 29, Busener’s 195, and Earl Roger’s 22. What was your favorite car, and
Gilbert: A Hudson, because you could turn it sideways and wasn’t nothing getting by. And the
engines were very powerful for a flat head six. You could take a 232 cubic inch head and put it on
a 308 and the twin H power, which was two single throat carbs, and you got a race engine for
$100. Hell they would run with flat head V8s. The old Hudson handled great, you didn’t have to
do hardly anything to them. They were way ahead of their time.
JT: I’ve heard stories about tracks you visited that did not let you race when you got there.
Gilbert: That happened to me twice. Once down in Florida they wouldn’t let me race. They said
we don’t allow any professionals. Then it happened another time down in Kentucky, when I drove
for old man Clary out of Louisville. They had a drivers meeting and said we don’t want to let him
run. So guess what happened? It rained and I laughed all the way home. First I laughed at them,
then I laughed all the way home.
JT: I can remember going to Florida and staying a week with you, and you had a green number
13 Nova. I often wondered why you ran a green number 13 when you went to Florida?
Gilbert: That was Vern that got me into that paint job and number. Somehow or another, John
Holmes ended up with this Howe Chassis. What he knew about a Chassis I don’t know, but it
handled as good as any car I ever drove. But John gave me the car and I worked on it for about
a month. I figured I would take it with me to Florida. It was in the winter. So, in comes Vern, and
he said, ‘What color are you going to paint it?’ I said, ‘Hell I don’t know.’ Vern said, ‘How about
green?’ I said, ‘You go get the paint and we’ll paint it green. That saved me a gallon of paint. I
didn’t have much money back in the winter time. So he went and got the paint and we painted it
green. So then Vern says, ‘What number you going to put on it?’ I said, ‘Hell, I don’t know.’
Vern said, ‘How about 13?’ I said, ‘You go get the paint and put it on there.’ I brought it out to
Florida. Pecan Park out here, and they said you’ll never make no money with this car. They
dumped beer in it and peanut shells and everything else. It took a while after I got rid of the 454
engines and went to the 427 until I really got it hooked up. There was nothing down there that
handled like it. It felt good driving out in the fluff, passing.
JT: When you went to Florida, was it easy for you there?
Gilbert: No, because we weren’t winning and we had to run a windshield. I’m the one that got
them to change to where we could run a screen instead of a windshield. They used oil on those
old sand tracks to hold them together and sometimes you couldn’t see. They had a yellow (flag),
you would unbuckle and get out, sit on the door and wipe the windshield.
JT: How long did you run windshields before you changed to screen?
Gilbert: A couple seasons down here, of course would only come down a couple times a year at
first. We carried a windshield with us ands we carried a screen with us. Until one day I went out
with a screen and we ran. And the old man seemed to kinda like it. But I cut a hole in mine cause
the screen looked like 15 screens to me. But, it turned out though that that helped hell of a lot
cutting the hole. It hurt me a couple times though cause I got hit in the eye once. I guess I got hit
in the eye twice.
JT: I always remember you running an open face shield
Gilbert: I ran a flip up shield, I bought them from California, fact is, I set myself up selling them
with the kit to put them on your helmet. If it hadn’t been for that when I got hit in the nose at
Whitewater, it would have probably took my nose and head off. That rock was a pound and three
quarter. It hit the screen, the steering wheel and hit my nose. I had to catch myself, I started to
falling over. I had one more lap to go and made it. I won the race and pulled in the infield. It was
a special race paying a few bucks more. So I want to go to the hospital, blood just pouring out my
nose. They said here wipe off we have to take these pictures first (laughs). So we took the
pictures then they took me to the hospital. But it didn’t break my nose. The time at Northern I
got hit in the eye, I couldn’t see for about three or four days. Left eye. Don Bagley won the race
in Busener’s car and I ran second. We got to the checkered flag and the rock come out from his
wheel and hit me right in the damn eye. I took a trip to the hospital.
JT: Was there any other bad accidents you recall having?
Gilbert: Oh yeah, Lawrenceburg one night, real bad. Back in 1952 or ’53. I had a good reputation
I could take a drive anything. So come feature time the old car I towed down there broke. We
used to tow them with a chain. So this guy with an old ‘37 Plymouth said, ‘Here Floyd take mine.’
And later on he furnished me figure 8 cars but I had to start on the tail and guarantee I’m gonna
get me some of this money. We went in the number 1 turn and they didn’t have the wheels plated
and the right rear wheel come off, it dug in the ground, I did a barrel roll, seat belt broke and I
did not turn loose of that steering wheel. I had a death grip on it. Fact is, damn good thing I did.
So I ended up upside down, I had to let myself down out of it. It pulled my shoulder out of place,
which I still have trouble with it.
JT: Did you ever run adjustable front-to-rear or side-to-side brakes?
Gilbert: No, on short little tiny tracks we took the right front brake line loose and out a head of a
nail in it and put the line back together. So I ran three wheel brake a little back then.
JT: That pretty ingenious.
Gilbert: Well I was. (Laughs) We ran three wheel brakes like that at a tiny little track down here
in Florida. They would start you on the tail, and then each week you ran there they would move
you up a little further. After we ran there about three times, we were on the pole. They only paid
$150, but we didn’t have any money. We were broke and there wasn’t any racing for another
week and we were willing to run just about anything. I was using a credit card. So what happened
was that nail we put in there, and this little track probably wasn’t any more than 2/10-mile, very
small thing. But I won it, so we got $150. Boy that was like gold. So we went on to Deland. Guy
had a little track there, and we were helping him out and didn’t have to pay to get in. But we didn’
t do too well. They ran about for nights during the Speedweeks, and damn it, the night that we
worked our way to the front and passing everybody, the transmission went out. I was so damn
tired and disgusted that I just told (Floyd’s son) David to pack everything up. We were broke,
hungry, and tired. We packed up and the next morning headed back to Cincinnati. That was one
of our most disappointing trips.
JT: What was it like to win the World 100?
Gilbert: Probably not as much as other drivers that have won it. Because I had one thing in mind
and that was to get out of there and head to Glen Este Speedway to win the points championship
for the fourth year in a row. Which I also won the feature that night at Glen Este.
JT: So that fourth championship at Glen Este meant as much to you as winning the World 100?
Gilbert: I think it meant more, and I didn’t really have time to consider what I had done at
Eldora. I just got my $2200 cut, and away we headed to Glen Este. There was no drinking of a
glass of wine or anything. Fact is, we counted the money out in the parking lot. There was no big
hullabaloo or anything. Common situation. Nothing thrilling, no big deal about it. I had more fun
that night at the bar there right near Johnny Mugavin. When we won and left Glen Este, we went
there and threw $100 down and I said drink it up, everybody! An we drank it up. I had $2200
from Eldora and $300 from Glen Este. No, wait a minute, I gave $150 back to Ron Baker. I gave
him half of it because I hit him and spun him. But his car didn’t finish anyway, so I probably
should have saved the money.
JT: When you left Eldora after winning the World 100 and drove to Glen Este to won the feature
there, did you drive or did someone else drive you there?
Gilbert: John Miller drove me back in an El Camino, and we didn’t waste no time. We got there
at 8:25 p.m. and my son, David, had my car running and the gear changed and ready to go and
we went racing.
JT: Did you miss qualifying?
Gilbert: No, qualifying ended at 8:30 p.m. I also had fast time. At that point, there wasn’t nothing
going to slow me down that day.
JT: What do you think was your greatest strength as a race car driver?
Gilbert: One word: determination. I was determined that I was going to get as good as anyone
could get. I would really shy away from all the hullabaloo stuff. I didn’t want anyone to think my
head was as big as a watermelon. I always said if you can make a car turn 20 seconds then I can
do it in 19 seconds, whether or not I did. That was my mindset. I think when I first started, I was
driving greedy the first ten years or so. A greedy driver is a good driver if you don’t crash out
your equipment. And at first I crashed a lot of race cars (at) Lawrenceburg, Glen Este and
everywhere. Until finally one day I woke up and said I’m not making any money at this. So I
started easing up and running halfway back. Not qualifying hard, even starting on the tail. Found
out you can win from those positions. They would throw the green flag, and I would ease up off
the gas and let them go, just sit there and coast for a while. Then start picking them off one at a
time. I used that system until the time I quit. Never any hurry – It didn’t pay anything until you
got to the checkered flag.
JT: Do you think there was a weakest link with you?
Gilbert: No. When I went to the track, and they would ask me who is going to win tonight? I
would say ‘I didn’t come here to run second.’ After a while I had the confidence. This is why I
would shy away from a lot. Fact is, most of the time when I won a race, I would get my money
then leave. I just tried not to make anybody think my head was big by bragging after the win.
Another strength I had. Take Pat Patrick, he was always tough to beat. But if I beat him once or
twice, then he was easy to beat the rest of the year. I played that. If I beat you two or three
times, you’re going to be easy to beat the rest of the year. I think Pat actually let me win a
couple of races. One of them that comes to mind was at Whitewater Valley Speedway. He had
this damn race locked up and coming in for the checker flag, I passed him. And I couldn’t pass
him ten laps before. Final ten laps I couldn’t pass him. I think he liked me.
Me and Pat got along pretty good. I really think he let me beat him that night. He didn’t need the
money. The guy that owned his car didn’t need the money. I was battling for whatever I could
get. And I still say if I ever talk to him again, I’m pretty sure he let me win that race.
Pat was one of the better drivers that I was never afraid to be around in a race car. Pat knew dirt
pretty well. Fact is, I had two cars, and I let Pat drive one for a while. I put Billy Teegarden in a
car too, and guaranteed him $100 a week. And I payed off on that a few times when it rained.
The cars I had were never really anything that handled. Back in the early 60s, I never really ran
good. I really struggled - $100 on the weekend, and you thought you was rich on Monday. But
you paid your gas bill. That’s the first thing you would do. Cause you damn sure knew you were
going to need some more Friday. I worked up a good credit, I guess I raced on credit. To let this
get around probably wouldn’t matter either way, but I was the greatest feather foot there ever
was. I could just about always pick where I wanted to turn and I would always be a little slower
than everyone else. But boy when it was time to go, my engine lit up.
I learned early on coming up in racing to be very uh, Don’t get up tight. You know be very calm,
no matter what very calm. And that worked, I found after I learned how to do that, racing was
easy. If your going to be uptight driving a race car your going to screw up. I hit the wall many
times (laughs). Hit the inside wall, outside wall, I’ve rolled over, and had as much fun as anybody
JT: What was your biggest or most memorable win?
Gilbert: Eldora, because the track went on and became a pretty famous track. To be a part ofit is
nice. But to get to race with Tiny Lund and win the Johnny Appleseed, that was big. I never
really got anything out of the Eldora win except the money. I made more money in one day then I
ever made in one day racing. I also won the Southern 100 in Portsmouth. I got a taste of all of
There is one race that was very memorable at Richmond, Ky. I was leading with a few to go and
Billy Teegarden hit me. They call it a bump and run. He bumped me and put me in the fluff and
ran. So I caught back up with him on the last lap and I bumped him and I ran. He pulled through
the infield and waited on me. He wasn’t going to let me get to the flag. So I kinda tricked him. I
made him think I was going to the front of him. I had just enough time to cut it and duck behind
him and get to the flag. Then there was a big hullabaloo. I pulled into his pit and got out. I asked
who wants it first? Somebody grabbed me from behind and the next thing I know Billy was hitting
me. I didn’t think that was too kosher because I wanted to knock his head off. (laughs) It was all
in the game. The way I felt about racing was if you were going to screw me around, I was going to
give it right back to you.
JT: Do you have a favorite track?
Gilbert: Small tracks, I like Glen Este. I liked Northern Kentucky, Clay City, Morehead.
Richmond, especially when I drove for Duncan. That car really handled well there. I liked ‘the
little Daytona’ in Danville. I always called it Danville cause I could never think of the name of
Gilbert: Ponderosa, they didn’t think of a very good name for the track anyway.
Gilbert: Are they open again?
Gilbert: What are they calling it now?
JT: The Legendary Ponderosa
Gilbert: Mainly my favorite tracks were in Kentucky. The people treated me well.
Like John Mugavin told me, I was a legend in my own time in Kentucky. I liked Whitewater
Valley Speedway in Indiana, too. It was a tight little track. Take a breath and you were in the
There wasn’t many tracks I didn’t like. If I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t go. And if they wouldn’t let
me drink my beer, I wouldn’t stay. Me and (Gene) Petro, we liked to drink our beer. Never
caused trouble, never drank it out in the open. Generally went to the motorhome. Hardly ever
watched another race I wasn’t in. I might watch a little bit to see how the track was and how the
cars were handling. As many years as I was in it kind of helped, having a photographic mind. I
did in a sense. I could look at a track and tell by the color what the car would do on it. One thing
about it I knew dirt and I knew it by its color. You start out in the early evening the track is dark.
It was wet and damp. So I would wait and qualify when the track was a certain color. Over at
Northern Kentucky, they got to where nobody would qualify until after I did. I sat in the infield
one night. The track was wet and nobody would go out. So I went out in the infield thinking I
might drag some of them out. But nobody came out. And someone at the track there got mad at
me. I told them you give me another lap later and I’ll go on. He said, ‘I can’t do that.’ I said,
‘Well then, I’m going to sit here until that track gets the color I want it.’ And I did.
Thinking back, though, there were some really fast cars back then and that made for one hell of
a fast car dash when you got four of those monsters out there that were that even.
Me and Pat had a little game going. Not to see who could out qualify one another, to see who
could feather foot it the best and get on the pole for the fast car dash.
JT: So you wanted to be third?
Gilbert: Third or fourth, I got kinda hung up on that a couple times. I made fifth, especially down
there when they were toying with the times
JT: What does it mean to you to be inducted into the National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame?
Gilbert: Nothing, I’ll be point blank about because when they started it I wasn’t worthy of it. And
same way with down here. Of course only winning 25 races doesn’t make you famous. Now if
they took what I did up North and combined it with the 25 or so I won down here, then you might
have something. But after about ten years of it a guy said I’m going to get you in the
Jacksonville Hall of Fame and I said forget it. I don’t want it, and I never took it. But when you
put active drivers in it means nothing.
JT: I’ve heard rumors of Eldora being sold for 20 years, maybe more. What kind of rumors can
you remember back when you were driving there?
Gilbert: Earl came down here when I was still driving and looked over Pecan Park. At the time it
wasn’t doing very good and he could have got it really cheap. But that’s stretching quite a long
ways from Eldora. But I saw him there and he said he was kinda looking it over, but he didn’t buy
JT: How long ago was that?
Gilbert: I guess that was before they had that big thing in Daytona about him going to pay a
million dollars. That had to be in the late 70s. The way I got it was that he made up his mind in
Daytona, that he was going to have a million dollar race. But I saw him there at Pecan Park and I
asked him why he would be interested in that? I think he was going down to buy Daytona, but he
hadn’t made that much money yet (laughs). Anyway Earl’s always treated me good and the way
he got me hooked into coming there was one Sunday we said lets go up to Eldora. And after the
race Earl started feeding me beer. Me and him drank beer until 4:00 a.m. and I finally got drunk
enough to say yes.
JT: He found a way to your heart didn’t he?
Gilbert: Yeah, Hudepohl (laughs).