The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

June 12, 2013

Mike Pound: Former race car driver still revved over sport

On Wednesday, I asked Phyllis Currey what it was that attracted her to auto racing in the mid-1990s.

“The speed,” Phyllis said.

I thought that was nice of Phyllis. When I asked what it was about racing that she found attractive, Phyllis would have been perfectly within reason to say: “The speed, you moron. What else would attract someone to racing? The scenery?”

But Phyllis didn’t do that. Instead, she politely said “the speed” and also mentioned that racing was in her blood.

Phyllis, who is 67 and lives at Spring River Christian Village, saw her first race at Joplin’s Ozark Speedway when she was 13 years old. She said that experience hooked her on the sport.

“I wanted to ride in one of the powder puff (women only) races, but I didn’t get the chance,” she said.

Years later, Phyllis’ brother, Ron, who was an established stock car driver, lent her his car so she could run in a powder puff race at the Joplin 66 Speedway. Again, once she got behind the wheel, Phyllis, who was then 49, was hooked.

That first ride was a bit disappointing when she found out how fast she was going. Or perhaps how fast she wasn’t going.

“I asked my brother how fast I had driven during the race,” she said. “He estimated about 35 mph.”

As she got more experienced, Phyllis, who wound up buying her own stock car, was running a bit faster. Average speeds during a typical powder puff race were about 50 to 55 mph on the straightaways and 40 to 45 mph on the curves. The dirt track she raced on was about a quarter of a mile long, and races were normally 10- to 15-lap events.

Phyllis vividly recalls a race in which she and friend Brenda Harmon were coming down the straightaway racing side by side. Brenda was driving Ron’s car.

“I wasn’t about to let Brenda beat me in my brother’s car,” she said. “I won the battle, and we both got out laughing.”

Phyllis continued racing for two years. She decided to end her racing career after her second wreck, in which a competing driver ran into her.

“She T-boned me,” Phyllis said. “You become a different person on the track. She did it on purpose.”

By the way, when Phyllis said racing was in her blood, she wasn’t kidding. Her great-great-uncle Louis Meyer was the first three-time winner of the Indianapolis 500, winning the first time as a rookie driver in 1928. After winning for the third time in 1936, Louis started the tradition of drinking a bottle of milk in Victory Lane.

In part because of her racing background and in part because she just likes cars, Phyllis said she is eager to attend the Spring River Christian Village Car Show. The event runs from 5 until 8 p.m. Friday at the center located behind Northpark Mall.

Susan Warden is the lifestyle coordinator at Spring River Christian Village. She said there is no entry fee to take part in the show, and that all participants who pre-register by noon Friday will be awarded dash plaques. To register, people may call 417-827-3555.

First-, second- and third-place awards will be given in two categories: 1950 and below model cars, and 1951 and above model cars. The people’s choice awards will be voted on by show participants and by spectators. Susan said a “secret judge” will award a best of show award.

Admission to the car show is free.

“Unless you decide to get something to eat, it won’t cost you a thing to come to the show,” Susan said.

Susan said the proceeds from the sale of home-cooked food will go into a fund to build a new Village Center.

“It would really make a great gift for a dad or a granddad,” she said. “Take them out to the car show and buy them a nice dinner.”

DO YOU HAVE AN IDEA for Mike Pound’s column? Call him at 417-623-3480, ext. 7259, or email him at mpound@joplinglobe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mikepoundglobe.

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