Interrogation by Gary "Hammerdown" Costa
Flipping Through The Scrapbook With Johnny Anderson
San Jose Speedway 1968 (Courtesy Brenda Anderson)
Johnny Anderson how are we doing?
Johnny: Just great Gary nice to chat with you!
I've got the Bob Seger music going in the background for this one. Thank you so much, are you ready?
Johnny: Sure lets go!
What have you been up to these days?
Johnny: I have to do what most retired race drivers do and that is go to a 9 to 5 everyday.
Johnny at PIR (Courtesy Brenda Anderson)
I'm a big mean ugly looking dude, but I will admit, when we talked the other day, I had tears rolling off the cheeks. The inner child was reminiscing about those days gone by......
Johnny: Hey the inner child in us and is what makes life worth living!
I think I can say this for a lot of people out there, you were bad ass!
Johnny: I don't think I was. I just tried to go out and put on a good show for the fans.
Car owner Mike Sala, Norm Bogan and myself took in the races that Saturday after we talked. I of course was on cloud 9, so I asked them who were some of the best Sprint Car drivers they have seen, both these guys have been around a long time. Guess who's name pops up? That's right, yours........
Johnny: I'm flattered that people would remember me in that way..
Can you share with us how and when you got started in racing?
Johnny: Well when my dad came home from the auto auction with one Quarter Midget and four boys, it wasn't long until he was out buying a couple more. We traveled to Byron and to San Jose, did Little Wheels and Capitol Quarter Midgets out in Rio Linda. I moved up to Half Midgets and then to Micro Midgets. Then at 16 years old, I was running Hardtops at West Capital Raceway. Hardtops evolved into Super Modifieds. Then I moved into my real love, and that was Sprint Cars. My first one is the one I restored and have now, but I was only 17 and N.A.R.C. wouldn't let me run because their age to run was 21. So I towed it down to Ascot and ran there. N.A.R.C. changed the rules, so I was able to stay home and race.
Johnny's Dad, Andy Anderson was a father to four racing sons. This is Andy in 1970.
You were an Outlaw before the word "Outlaw" became a household name. A true Outlaw!
Johnny: I did join the Outlaws the first year they began and still visit every time they come to town. I like to see my old friends that I ran with.
I gotta say you look "tough" in those cowboy hats.......
Johnny: A white one means the good guy!
Johnny wearing his trademark cowboy hat (Courtesy Brenda Anderson)
A lot of people associate you with the Sprint Car, but you were great in a Midget too...
Johnny: I enjoyed running Midgets, but I was only 17. Again they had an age limit, so I stayed mostly in Sprint Cars. I liked the Midgets because they were quick for their size. After my accident, I returned to them just because they helped me to react quickly, and help get my reflexes back.
National and local wins on asphalt and dirt. Whether it was in a winged or non-winged car it didn't matter, you were a threat to win anytime and anywhere you showed up.....
Johnny: I just like to compete, I liked the challenge. I found out that smooth on pavement made you smooth on dry slick tracks, and smooth made you fast. I wanted to be the fastest!
Guys like yourself, Wayne Sue, Opp, LeRoy, Jimmy Boyd, Ron Horton, Gary Patterson, John Viel and all the other heroes from that era, provided me with some of my fondest memories in racing. I'm sure others out there would agree with me.......
Johnny: Me too, running against them! All of them you named I was racing against at one time or another. A lot of good memories........
Can you share something special from those days gone by?
Johnny: What comes to my mind right off is the Championship between Wayne Sue and myself in 1974 that I won. It took the last race, with one point ahead of him to win! Wayne and I still reminisce over that one. I ran a lot with Opperman at Vallejo in the Midgets, and Sprints at Calistoga and back East. The first time I drove DuWayne Starr's house car #18, it was at Calistoga. I remember Patterson and I banged wheels so much going for the lead, that it ground off a piece of metal from the rim that DuWayne kept all those years. And before he passed away he gave it to me. By the way I won that race! Leroy and I ran all over California whether pavement or dirt and he was an awful hard, but clean competitor. I liked racing against him.
You've won a lot of races Johnny. Can you share a couple more that are special to you.....
Johnny: The Calistoga Classic when I was running against Rick Ferkel, Bobby Allen, Doug Wolfgang, Steve Kinser, and Sammy Swindell in the Kenny Woodruff #21. These guys were the best in the United States, and by beating them I felt grrrrrreat! The second, I think would be the 1980 Gold Cup with DuWayne Starr. I really don't remember it, but have been told it was good. Right after that was my accident at Corona, and it wiped it out of my memory. I guess that one doesn't count!
Johnny at the 1980 Gold Cup
What drove you night after night to race so hard and never give up?
Johnny: Will power. Race to race, it was hard competition and I wanted to win. Nothing I would rather do than be in a race. Each race was a new challenge.
Which tracks did you really enjoy gettin' after it at and why?
Johnny: Calistoga because it taught me to respect a race car. No just kidding, what it really did was polished me to race the tracks back east like Knoxville, Springfield (IL), in Florida, and in Pennsylvania. They were a lot like Calistoga. I liked West Capital because it was a tacky and a hook 'em up track. It was a fast little bullring! Pavement tracks, I liked San Jose, and PIR in Phoenix. The Manzanita 1/2 Mile was fun too. Heck I liked them all!
Johnny drives the Snow's Speed Shop #15 inside of Gary Patterson and Rick Horton.
What were some of the things you enjoyed most about your racing days?
Johnny: Traveling all over the United States, and meeting people whether it was racers or fans. I won't lie I liked to win too. It was also an honor to be invited to race in Australia with Mel Kenyon, Bob Tattersal, and Larry Rice. That was a pretty big thing to do in those days.
A walk in the dark to settle things was a common occurrence back in those days.....
Johnny: I remember flipping Ken Nichols in a Midget once, and a fight where I was tackled in the infield at Chico by Orvile Whitson. So I guess I never took too many of those walks in the dark, we did it right out in the open. So much for the white hat!
Billy was super tough wasn't he, I mean he was a really good shoe!
Johnny: Yes he was. He was a 2 time N.A.R.C. Champion, and also won a Championship in Australia. He was smooth, and when I raced against him I had my hands full. His career ended in turn one at Calistoga, in a bad crash in the main event. We were in the trophy dash together that night.
Billy Anderson won Championships with NARC and at Calistoga Speedway. He ended up as the track record holder at West Capital's 1/2-mile which was used for special events.
Two other Anderson Brothers raced too, Wendell and Bob....
Johnny: Wendell owned all his cars he ran (Super Modifieds and Sprint Cars) with my brother Bob Anderson. Bob ran too, but soon found out that the mechanic end of racing was his fortay. He was, and still is an excellent engine builder. Wendell raced from 1973 to 1981.
How did you meet your #1 fan and wife Brenda? She really is a special lady ain't she Johnny....
Johnny: Yes she is special, and not only is she my wife, but my best friend. We went to C.K. McClatchy H.S. together in 1963. She always tells the story that she had a crush on me in school, but never knew where I hung out on Friday and Saturday nights. I wasn't cruising K Street like everyone else. I was at a race track somewhere. We met at our 25th High School Reunion. It took 25 years for us to get that first date, but it was a good one. I had a head injury and she was a Counselor with helping people like me. I think it was some kind of destiny that God put us together.
Johnny in the DuWayne Starr #18
You do realize it's just a matter of time before you get inducted into The National Sprint Car Hall Of Fame. I'll say it, it's long over do! But, when that day does come, what are some of the thoughts that might be going through the great Johnny Anderson's mind.
Johnny: I don't see myself as the Great Johnny Anderson. But through my mind, I guess I would think of what an honor it would be to be counted among that elite group that is already in the Knoxville Hall of Fame.
Bobby Gerould pops in my mind when I think of preserving our past in California. He is a nostalgic dude like myself, as are many others out there. Without guys like yourself banging it off the cush, we obviously would never re-live some of the greatest times and stories in our sport. In your opinion do you feel like the guys from the past are somewhat forgotten?
Johnny: Not forgotten in the fans minds, and actually that is where you want to be preserved. I think Bobby Gerould is awesome in his work in preserving the history of the past. Of course with Bobby up in the announcers booth at West Capital with his dad Gary Gerould, you would know he would grow up to be one of the best announcers around. But he turned out to be a great writer too, and a Champion of preserving this great racing history. We are so fortunate to have him doing this.
A familiar site to California Sprint Car fans. Bobby's Father Gary interviews Johnny after another win (Courtesy Brenda Anderson)
Speaking of Bobby, his website HammerdownUSA.com conducted a poll. The votes came from the media, fans, historians, mechanics and veteran NARC observers. Yourself as well as your brother Billy were chosen as 2 of the 40 bravest and exciting drivers in Northern Auto Racing Club history!
Johnny: Boy that was an honor for sure. I was really surprised to be counted with the 40 bravest. That was something, and to think that it was a group of people and not just one or two, makes it that much more special to me.
You still take a ride in a Sprint Car on occasion......
Johnny: All Brenda will let me play with now is my restored Sprint Car. Remember the one I talked about earlier when I was 17? She traced the history back to 1953 when Leon DeRock built it, and ran I.M.C.A. against legends like Bobby Grim, and Jud Larson. Johnny Pouelsen and Bill Hofelt owned it before I got it, and they won a ton of races. I took third, behind Jerry Blundy, at the old California State Fair Grounds in the 100 mile Open Comp show. Brother Bill won his first main event win in the car at the first N.A.R.C race at Chico. I raced it in the early days, and won in Reno, Carson City, Calistoga, Washington, Oregon, Capital Speedway and Champion Speedway. I also took it to Ascot, and Vallejo but never won with it there. Since I restored it, I take it to the Walt James gathering and race with it there. The first time I took the car out after restoring it, I was shaking it down. I mean all these parts on it are 35 years old, and I wanted to be gentle at first to see what was or was not going to hold together. Then along side of me comes this orange Sprint Car edging me...Oh I don't think so!, and I mash it a little and get past him, and whoa this guy mashes it a little bit harder, and gets ahead of me. So in turn 1, I go faster and the next thing you know we are throwing dirt and racing like it was a Friday night race! Later when we came in, I had to see who this nut was. To my surprise it was my old friend Jimmy Oskie. I hadn't seen him in years. We had a good laugh on that one. Now every time I go down there, I look for him to run against. I took it to Merced and raced with the W.R.A. and won there. Then took it to Oregon and raced against Golden Wheels and won there too. Feels like the good ol' days. I really enjoy taking it out and opening it up. I also like to do P.R. work with the Shriners Hospital for children. The kids sit in it, and get their picture taken. I enjoy seeing the race fans hearing it fire up. A few times I even led the Outlaws on their parade lap when they come out West. It is a lot of fun to strap in and open it up!
Johnny in the restored #3 (Kim Gerould photo)
Yourself and Brenda are actively involved in The West Capital Hall Of Fame....
Johnny: Yes. One night about 7 years ago we were returning home from a Yolo County Motorsports banquet, and Brenda said we should do something like this for West Capital Raceway and that is how it began. Our main goal is to preserve the history of West Capital Raceway, and bring together the old gang. The first year we had a banquet we sold out at 350, and more people were wanting to come. The next year we got a bigger place, and 550 people came, so we knew the need was there. Seeing all these old timers getting together after 35 plus years and then sharing the memories is an awesome sight to see. Legends of the past once again meet up with their fans. It is as if it was a Saturday night at the track. We have Crazy Wheels Wally Baker, Wayne Sue, Larry Burton, LeRoy Van Conett, The Tiners, Joe Hill, Mike Andreetta, John Viel, Art Boune, Jimmy Sills, Gene Welch, etc, etc, etc,. It is great getting together and bench racing. In 2003 the association erected a historical monument at the sight of the old West Capital Raceway. It is a fitting tribute to all. To Those who either raced there, car owners, pit crews, or fans, for the 33 years it was open. We send out a newsletter and keep everyone up on the happenings, and we have a Hall of Fame every year to honor all those elite people who made up West Capital Raceway. This year we are meeting at the All American Speedway in Roseville, July 16th.
Is their anything else you would like to share?
Johnny: Just thank you to all of the people who remember me.
Brenda Anderson: I would like to add that in 1960 Johnny was Rookie of The Year in Micros. In 1961 he was rookie of the year for C.S.R.A. hardtops. Also in 1961 he was Rookie of The Year in Modifieds at Capital Speedway. 1969 he finished third in N.A.R.C. points, and then was assigned a Champ Dirt car ride by Ernie Ruiz in the famous Travelon Trailer Offy later that year. Even though the car was 15 years old, Johnny qualified for the Golden State 100. Even after loosing his brakes on the 69th lap, he still placed eighth racing with Al Unser, Bobby Unser, Mario Andretti, A.J. Foyt, Johnny Rutherford, Gary Bettenhousen, etc. ...Johnny was soon picked up by the Leonard Faas/J.C. Agajanian team. He was teamed up with Billy Vukovich in an Indy Car. While driving steadily on the U.S.A.C. Championship circuit, Johnny earned a reputation as a lead foot driver. Johnny was the first one to introduce Sprint Car racing down under, as he was the first one to take a Sprint Car to Australia. 1974 brought him the West Capital Raceway Championship, and the Motor Sports Press Association Oval Track Driver of The Year award. That same year, he won the 1974 version of the Gold Cup (the last Super Modified to win a Gold Cup). 1976 Johnny was the N.A.R.C. Champion, Copper World Classic winner, Calistoga Champion, San Jose Cavalcade winner. He is also one of the original World Of Outlaw drivers. He was the 1980 Gold Cup Champion. In 2001 he was inducted into the West Capital Hall of Fame. He also was inducted into the B.C.R.A. Hall of Fame in 2004.
Johnny in the beautiful Brandy/Glaspey XX
Gary Costa notes: When I started uncovering this remarkable mans history, all I could think of was what a legend he really is. I could go on and on, not because I think so highly of him, but because there is so much history about him. He is a true gentleman with so many race fans. I have never heard anyone ever say a bad thing about Johnny, but how much they respect and admire him. No matter where he goes they remember him. I have a thousand and one questions for you, so I better stop myself. To be honest this interview would never end with all the questions I have for you Johnny. But I would like to take this time and thank you and Brenda. You both are great!
Johnny: It is a privilege for you to ask!
I wish you both the best and a healthy 2005.....
Johnny: Same to you Gary!
*A special thanks to Brenda Anderson, Cheryl Starr and The Anderson Brothers. I couldn't have done it without your help!
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