One of the few awful things that we have to contend with in the historic racing world is the relentless loss of our heroes. Sadly, every year brings news of more legends whose stories and experiences will be lost to us forever. Here at VRJ, more often than not, the task of summarizing one of these legends’ lives falls on me.
It’s a very strange and difficult thing to try and summarize a person’s entire life and accomplishments within a prescribed number of words. There always seems to be so much left unsaid and unrevealed. Such was the case this month with the passing of Porsche legend Milt Minter.
After doing some research on Milt’s racing career and talking with a number of the drivers who raced with him, I quickly came to the realization that there was so much more to the man than just the hard statistics of his life. Everyone I spoke with about him felt compelled to tell me a story, “Oh! I have to tell you about this one time at Daytona…” “You wouldn’t believe it, but one time Milt and I were at a party…” Though everyone was grieving at Milt’s passing, the spontaneous recollection of these stories seemed to create a lighthearted, positive energy within the teller that really said volumes about who Milt Minter was as a man.
Everyone I spoke with commented on Milt’s warmth, approachability and self-deprecating sense of humor. According to respected photographer Hal Crocker, who had known Minter for more than 30 years, “Milt made me laugh more and harder than any other driver. At times I am sure that I would start turning blue from lack of oxygen and would beg him to stop telling a story long enough for me to catch my breath. Afterwards, I would tell him not to tell that story to anyone else for it was just too painfully honest and embarrassing.”
So by the time I had gathered enough information to write the obituary that you’ll find on page 9, I also found myself with a wealth of revealing stories about the man—some funny, some serious and some downright crass. While there wasn’t room to include any of these tales in the news story, I thought it would be only fitting that his friends have an opportunity to honor/roast him. From what I now know about him, I think he’d have had a good laugh.
It was July of ’72, Milt and I were once again at Road Atlanta. I was at the bottom of the hill on the outside of the last turn for the start of the first practice session of the weekend for the Can-Am cars.
I had carefully selected my photo position with the perspective that I wanted. Several cars had passed and I was getting the feel for the shot when all of a sudden a white car came through under the bridge at the top of the hill all crossed up and out of control. I headed for cover, for I was expecting a big crash and I had no idea where he would end up. I was still on the move when the driver got it collected up and made the turn. I exhaled a sigh of relief as the white car sped down the front straight and through the right-hander. When it started up the hill I recognized that it was Minter.
I recomposed myself and made my way back to my previous position and was once again settling in when Milt came out from under the bridge. This time he was big time sideways and totally out of shape. I was faster this time and made it all the way past the corner worker’s station and several workers before he got it gathered up once again.
Now, running low on courage, I hold my present, somewhat safe, position and wait for him to come back around. Sure enough, once again sideways down the hill and into the turn. I re-evaluate my previous photo position and decide to go work the pits.
It was not long before Minter was in for an adjustment. Milt caught me out of the corner of his eye. “Hey”, he yelled, “was that you I saw running up the hill?” and he just broke up laughing. He always took pleasure in telling that story and I have a big grin on my face now as I tell it.
–Hal Crocker, photographer
At some point in the ’70s I visited Milt in Sanger, California, not long after he moved into the house on McCall Road Among the cars he had in his extensive “collection” was the 914/6 that the Porsche factory had given him as a part of the Pedro Rodriguez Award he’d won a year earlier.
You’ve got your carnival rides and your thrill rides, and then you’ve got a ride around Sanger with Milt Minter in a 914/6 on roads he knows like the back of his hand and that you don’t know from Adam. No ride held a candle to a ride with Milt when he wanted to “show you the sights.” It was probably the most scared I’d ever been in my life!! Even scarier than when one of my girlfriends told me the rabbit had died…
Oh to be able to take that ride again…
–Michael Keyser, co-driver
One year at Daytona Milt asked me, “Do you ever have to ‘go’ just before you get into the car?” I replied, “What do you mean?” Milt said, “You know. Do you ever piss your pants in the driver’s seat?” I, of course, repled “NO…and that reminds me, it’s a good reason never to co-drive with you!” We laughed a lot over that one, though I never did have the opportunity to sit in the driver’s seat after Milty was there!
–Tony Adamowicz, competitor
On one occasion, Milt was driving at Road Atlanta and his car broke way out on the circuit. Problem was that Milt had forgotten the cardinal rule of race drivers—always empty your bladder before starting the race. Milt hadn’t and not long after the start he began to feel an “urge to purge.” Finally, he couldn’t hold it. Every time he braked and his belts tightened, he said his teeth were floating…so he cut loose going down the long straight! Two laps later the car broke.
Milt climbed out, clambered over the guardrail and was immediately surrounded by rabid fans. They insisted that Milt accompany them to their motorhome and party with them. It was a hot day, there was no point going back to the pits until the race was over, so Milt went with the flow. He’d almost forgotten about his recent indiscretion in the Recaro seat.
The fans dragged Milt into a motorhome, sat him down in a comfortable easy chair and promptly served him a beer. However, it wasn’t long before he noticed people sniffing the air like dogs. Somebody even commented, “What’s that smell?” Suddenly, Milt realized he must have been the source, since he knew he didn’t smell like a rose. Not to be the odd man out he piped up, “Yeah, Jesus! What is that?” Knowing full well what it was. Fortunately, people got used to it and the party continued…
–Michael Keyser, co-driver
Milt and I didn’t race head to head very much except for 1968 in the SCCA C-production class. I had signed to drive for Shelby Racing in the new Toyota 2000 GT along with Scooter Patrick. Milt took the seat I had vacated in Vasek Polak’s venerable 911S. The main combatants in our Southern Pacific Division were Alan Johnson, the reigning C-production national champion in a Porsche 911S, Scooter, Milt, myself and wild card Bill Young in a Lotus Elan.
The first race of the season was at Willow Springs. Alan and Scooter led qualifying with Milt and I following with identical times for the next spot. At the start of the race, Milt and I had a perfect view in Turn 3 as Alan and Scooter came together in the braking area, sending Alan’s 911 crashing down the hill. At the restart, with Alan out of contention, Scooter took the lead with Milt in hot pursuit. They hammered on each other until the final lap, with Scooter leading into the final corner, Turn 9 and Milt going off course on the outside! Amazingly, Milt kept his foot on the gas and passed Scooter before getting back on course to take the checker! This was made even more amazing by the fact that Vasek [Polak] had told Milt before the race, “If you bring home fender in pocket…I not care if you win.”
This was Milt, usually an underdog but fighting till the bitter end. My friend Dan Parkinson put it best, “One of the good guys is gone!”
–Dave Jordan, competitor
I was at some race with Milt when we were driving together and the night before the event we were going out to dinner. I came down to Milt’s room, as I was dressed and ready to go, and he wasn’t—which was normal. He’d just gotten out of the shower and was getting dressed, so I sat down and was watching TV.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw when he put on his underwear, a piece of paper fell out. He picked it up and read it and kind of giggled. When he put on his undershirt, the same thing happened. The same with his socks and his shirt and his pants…
“What the hell are those things?” I asked him. “Oh, just little notes that Melissa [Milt’s wife] writes me,” he said. “Notes?” I asked. “What kind of notes?” “When Melissa packs my bag she puts notes in all my clothes with little messages on them.”
What kind of a lady takes care of you at home, cooks all your meals, does all your laundry, cuddles with you in bed and puts love notes in your underwear when you’re on the road?! A pretty special one…