Bill Bollinger has been involved in auto racing in one way or another since he was a youngster. Now, after being retired since the 1970s, the Westminster resident is back behind the wheel again racing Classic Cars.
Bollinger, 52, started in racing helping Tim Harvey of Glenn Falls, then later worked with Kenny Slaybaugh who raced sprints and late models in the '50s and '60s at Lincoln Speedway in Hanover, Pa.
In the '60s, Bollinger started driving his own car and found his niche in Figure-8 racing at the now defunct Dorsey Speedway in Howard County. Bollinger became one of the top drivers in the dangerous but thrilling style of racing and competed at the national championship at Islip Speedway in New York.
"I had a couple good years," admitted Bollinger reluctantly. "I won five features one year. Back then I made more money racing one night than I made working for a full week. It was the cheapest form of racing but it was a tough game. I didn't start Figure-8 racing by choice but it was all that I could afford."
Bollinger raced until 1972, then continued to attend local tracks regularly. For the past 12 years, he stayed involved by supporting many of the local Carroll County drivers who race at area tracks. It is not uncommon to see his business, Northwest Radiator, on the side of several race cars.
"I know how hard it is to keep a car going," said Bollinger, who has supported more drivers than he can keep track of. "I'd rather sell them a new radiator at my cost and fix it for free than to have them use a junk one that could give them trouble later on."
For the past five years, he supported the efforts of his son, Bill Bollinger Jr., in sprint car racing. Then, Bollinger realized he still had the urge to race, but knew he didn't have the time to maintain a car.
During this time, Dizzy Dean Renfro of Westminster began talking to him about racing a Classic Car, a fairly new division that is geared to the person who wants to race without spending loads of money.
Renfro kept on Bollinger to try racing again until he agreed to take a test spin late in 1996 at Potomac Speedway in Budds Creek.
"The first night out I couldn't do anything right," recalled Bollinger. "The next night at Saluda [Mid-Bay Raceway] in Virginia, I won my heat."
It was all the veteran driver needed to get his competitive fire burning again. He was ready to return to the oval track wars. So during the off-season, Bollinger purchased a 1937 Ford Classic Car, race ready for under $8,000.
"It is the cheapest way to go racing. When you drive one, you are sold on it," Bollinger said. "They are a lot of fun to drive. You really don't have to work on the car unless you have a bad wreck. If you don't wreck it, you don't have to work on it. I raced eight races at one time this season and didn't take the car off the trailer during the week, that was a real pleasure. All I did was check the oil. With my own business I don't have the time.
"It's a good class where it doesn't take all of your time," he said. "Unlike other racing, you can race and still have a social life."
If you get the idea that Classic Car racing is for a bunch of old guys who want to relive their glory years and cruise around the track, think again. There is real racing with everyone competing on a level playing field. No matter how much money a car owner may have, strict rules prevents anyone from spending it to go faster.
The drivers come from all walks of life with different levels of experience.
Driving a Classic Car isn't as easy as it looks. All the cars have the same chassis, engine and tires. It's up to the driver to drive the car.
"It is something you don't hit right off," said Bollinger. "You get a lot of help from the other guys and the car teaches you what you need. It is the guy that hits the right set-up for the night who is usually the fastest. But you don't have to know a lot to make this car work."
It didn't take Bollinger long to catch on. Last month he was crowned the Classic Car champion at the awards banquet. Bollinger had three feature wins and finished second 10 times.
"It has been a lot of fun. I don't have a pit crew, just my wife and me," said Bollinger. "We get to spend time together driving to and from the races and we have made a lot of new friends and renewed acquaintances with old ones."
Bollinger is already looking forward to next year. With an expanded schedule that will take the circuit to new tracks, he will have his hands full defending his Classic Car championship.
Pub Date: 12/07/97