Carol’s Corner: Race Track Ghost Stories
John Burns Possum
By Yaj Rengaw
Reprinted from June 1985 Steeringwheel
Many of you have heard the story of Brian Redman’s cat and how he longed to break Brian’s lap record at Mid-Ohio. He struck a deer, at speed, in the dark. The deer survived. The cat’s body was found the next morning by a corner worker getting ready for that day’s event. He now haunts race tracks all over the country appearing only after dark, in the vicinity of beer parties. I have personally seen him at Charlotte, Rockingham, Roebling and Road Atlanta. I have proof in the form of a skull found on driver’s left between 9 and 10 at Atlanta. I can only guess that he was practicing there and blew a paw. Not having corner workers to help, he lost another of his nine lives.
This brings me to “The Possum”. The possum lived at Road Atlanta in the bushes across from start/finish. He wanted badly to be like John Burns. He used to watch John from the bushes and dream of someday standing on the starters stand, watching cars roar by, wearing one radio on his belt and one in each hand, all tuned to a different frequency. He knew he could chew out offending drivers who ignored meatball flags, and passed under yellow, and claimed they didn’t see the black flag, just as good as John could. And he hoped the EV crew would shout insults and tell him how ugly he was but still save him a beer for after shutdown, just like John. But most of all, he wanted to drive the pace car. To be in front of a pack of GTP cars scrubbing their tires and blowing out all of the crud and carbon from their engines, threatening to race right up the exhaust if he didn’t squeeze another eighty or ninety miles per hour out of the pace car. He wanted to take visiting Boy Scouts and sponsor’s daughters for rides, and to try to play the stern father when the Course Marshall and the Race Chairman get in the pace car and turn on the air conditioner in August.
The Possum had made up his mind, if he was ever going to do it, it had to be now or never. On May 25, 1985 at 11:22 p.m., he made his dash. Unfortunately, at about that time, what was left of the field of the Playboy/Escort endurance race was making their twelfth hour dash. As Corvettes sort of fly low and Possums sort of waddle, he didn’t make it. He was caught broadside by one of the Morrison-Cook Corvettes which didn’t even miss a beat but the whole mess had to be covered by Debris Flags from turns 12 through 2.
I am certain we will see him many times in the future, always after beer parties, of course, and always with that silly grin he was wearing when he was hit. And if I were John, I wouldn’t leave the keys in the pace car at night.