Earl Ness was one of the leaders during the early days of local stock car racing
By Bert Lehman
Editor, Full Throttle Magazine
Earl Ness was an early pioneer of local stock car racing, winning championships at several dirt tracks in the early days. That’s quite an accomplishment considering he didn’t have any intentions of racing stock cars.
He says his cousin’s dad owned a garage in Green Bay as well as a race car. Ness’ cousin raced the car. Ness doesn’t remember the exact reason why, but his cousin couldn’t race the car one night at the now defunct dirt track in De Pere. They asked Ness if he wanted to race the car.
“I took his place,” Ness recalls. “The next thing you know I’m the steady driver.”
When asked if he had any interest in racing cars prior to that, he responded, “No.”
So why did Ness race the car when asked?
“I wanted to drive it. We were good friends. I was young, and I had all kinds of friends that went to the races,” Ness says. “I did good, and that’s why they made the car fit me. They talked me into racing it the next week again.”
He says he started winning races and his racing career was launched.
“I was doing good. Then we started going around and next thing you know we had better cars,” Ness says. “We wound up getting Late Model cars at the end and then we traveled a little bit. Down to Cedar Rapids, Iowa a couple of times for the fair. We went to Minneapolis a couple of times. [I raced] every week in De Pere, Seymour, Luxemburg and Shawano.”
Ness then shared the story about how he decided on the No. 0 for his race cars.
“They were racing already and people already had numbers,” Ness says. “I couldn’t get numbers from 1 to 100. They were all taken. That’s why I wound up with zero. I picked zero because I didn’t want 101.”
During his racing career, Ness says in addition to the local dirt tracks, he did race occasionally at the asphalt track in Kaukauna.
“I didn’t race there too much because it was paved. If we did race someplace like that we had to borrow a set of tires because we had dirt track tires. That was too much work,” he says with a laugh.
He says he didn’t have a favorite track. It depended how he got along with people at the track.
It was at this point in the interview that Ness offered to show me some of the trophies he won during his career.
Of course I agreed without hesitation, so off to the basement we went. For being 92 years old, Ness still gets around very well.
In the basement, there was only a sampling of the trophies he had won during his career. He says he won more than 100 trophies during his career. Some are in his basement, some at his cottage up north and relatives have others. Many of the trophies in the basement were from the 1960s.
After showing the trophies Ness paged through two binders that contained newspaper clippings and photos from his racing career. While paging through the binders Ness talked about his racing days and also commented on how the results stories were written.
With a chuckle, Ness said according to the stories, he never won a feature. Instead he “snared” or “copped” a feature.
“I get a kick out of the words that they use,” Ness says.
With the turning of each page Ness remembered drivers he raced against. He recalls racing against Roger Paul. He says Paul was a clean driver.
He also remembers racing against M.J. McBride.
Dick Trickle is another driver he says he remembers racing against. He says Trickle was also a clean driver.
One name that kept appearing in the headlines in the newspaper clippings was Ted Peters. Ness says Peters was his toughest competition.
“He was the top guy until I came along,” Ness says.
They were also good friends off the track, Ness says.
“I respected him,” Ness says. “He was a good racer. He wasn’t a bumper. The top guys never really bothered one another, really. I mean you respected them for being where they are. He was the top guy that I had to beat.”
Tucked in one of the albums was a letter he received from someone who was in attendance when Ness was inducted the Luxemburg Speedway Hall of Fame. The person who wrote the letter expressed how it was a pleasure to watch Ness during his racing days.
Ness came to a page where there was an old race car on its side with a driver sitting on the car.
I asked Ness if that was him.
“Yeah, it most likely is. I had a few rollovers,” he responds.
He recalls one rollover at Luxemburg Speedway in which he rolled over four times.
“I hit Bobby Marquis and he was leading the race,” Ness recalls. “It knocked him out and I won the race. I rolled over and I was on that side of the finish line.”
While paging through those clippings and photos, it was easy to see that many memories were flooding back to Ness.
“Every now and then something comes to my mind I remember, but it’s hard to keep track of that stuff,” Ness says.
According to the bio used when Ness was inducted into the Luxemburg Speedway Hall of Fame, Ness won the championships at Luxemburg, Shawano, Seymour and De Pere his last year racing. Winning the championships at Shawano, Seymour and De Pere played a role in him retiring from the sport.
“I won the championship at all three tracks and then I quit. I pulled the pin,” Ness says. “Because of that, and my age. I raced 30-40 years and I was older than them guys to begin with.”
(This article first appeared in the June 2014 issue of Full Throttle Magazine)