I never had the privilege of racing against the legends of the Northwest.
Guys like Art Pollard, Bob Gregg and Palmer Crowell were finished by the time I started racing…but I did get to compete against one of their contemporaries. I remember meeting Earl Veeder Jr. (and his son David) in the pits at Sunset Speedway around 2000. They’d stroll up mid-sentence, offer unsolicited advice, critique your set up, etc. Man, could they talk! I remember thinking, “Who the hell are these guys?” Earl says, “Well, I’ll be out in a couple weeks…” I’m thinking these guys are all talk but a couple weeks later they show up with this clean ‘ol Tognotti sprinter and away we went. Neither of us were front runners so we ended up racing each other a lot. There were a couple of incidents on the track and Earl stormed my pit afterward. If I were one to throw a punch, I’m sure he would have returned fire! Mostly we just exchanged threats. Then in 2003, Earl showed up with a new Wolverine chassis and became a contender. On July 10th (on “Back to the Fifties Night” appropriately enough) Earl captured the fast car Trophy Dash. At season’s end he won the track’s Hard Charger award.
When I raced with Earl he was just beginning phase two of his driving career, a career that began in the late fifties. Earl’s first laps were taken in a family owned midget but he soon became a veritable gun for hire. Guys would show up at the track with their midget, big car, hard top or roadster and there was Earl with his gear. He might strap into two or three different cars before choosing the fastest one to qualify. If he could win a heat race and muster a top five in the main, he and the car owner made money. The purses were decent in those days and the split was typically right down the middle. The best rides had assigned drivers of course, so many of the cars Earl raced were of questionable pedigree. It was a dangerous vocation to be sure, in an era that placed little emphasis on safety. Earl had a reputation for getting the most out of mediocre equipment and survived to tell about it.
In the early sixties Earl bought a midget of his own—a sweet little Eddie Kuzma creation. He painted it canary yellow and numbered it “25”. Earl couldn’t afford a state-of-the -art Offenhauser so instead he installed a Triumph TR-2 sports car engine. The chassis was a proven winner but the English power plant gave him nothing but grief.
Earl soldiered on until reaching a crossroads in 1968. Just as he was preparing to follow his dream back east, his young wife passed away. Twenty five year old Carole Veeder collapsed while spectating with her husband at the now defunct Salem Speedway. A valiant effort was made to revive her but it was all in vain. Now Earl was left with an astronomical medical bill and two children to raise on his own. He was forced to abort his racing plans and get a regular job.
For the following decade Earl raced sporadically for other people until another change came to pass. By the late seventies, car owners were expecting their drivers to help with expenses. At that point Earl threw up his hands. “I couldn’t see paying for something I used to get paid to do,” he told Bill (Scoop) Poehler in an interview. With few exceptions, Earl didn’t race again until he could field his own entry. It took him over twenty years.
After a dispute with the promoter, Earl parked his sprint car and returned to his first love- midget racing. He was driving a sharp little Chevy II powered car for owner Bob Farwell. On February 3rd 2007, under yellow flag conditions, Earl made contact with the crash wall at the Salem Indoors. EMT’s worked on him for twenty minutes before taking him to Salem Hospital where he was later pronounced dead. Earl had crashed approximately one mile from where his first wife Carole had collapsed forty years earlier. He was seventy years old.
I don’t like clichés but whoever coined the expression: “He died doing what he loved”, must have been referring to someone like Earl. Since his demise a memorial race has been held each year in his honor.