The following is an excerpt from Hard Luck Lloyd: The Complete Story of Slow-Talking, Fast-Driving Texan Lloyd Ruby. The book was written by More Front Wing contributor John Lingle and features more than 280 color and black and white photographs interspersed with interviews from racing greats like Mario Andretti, Al and Bobby Unser, Johnny Rutherford, Parnelli Jones, and Dan Gurney. Hard Luck Lloyd is available for order now from Racemaker Press and Coastal181.com.
DON’T MESS WITH LLOYD
Ruby looked back very fondly on this part of his racing career and the financial comfort that it brought him. “In 1948 I was making one thousand, fifteen hundred dollars a week, and that sure beat working,” said Ruby. “After the war everybody had a little money, and they were looking for amusement, entertainment. And for a lot of them, racing was it.”
During this time Lloyd made an impression on a young kid from Texas who would go on to become one of his best friends and staunchest competitors. “We lived in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and my dad was in the Air Force and we were stationed there; he was in the Oklahoma Air National Guard,” Johnny Rutherford recalled. “Tulsa was one of the hotbeds of midget racing right after the war. I can remember my dad taking me to the midget races in Tulsa on Saturday nights and the announcer saying, ‘And now that young sensation from Wichita Falls, Texas, 19-year-old Lloyd Ruby.’ That was my first-ever contact with Lloyd, and he was a very good race driver.”
As 1949 dawned Ruby and Nowicke began an exclusive partnership, concentrating the majority of their efforts in the Midwest, particularly Nowicke’s home ground of Chicago. Ruby’s reputation as a rising star in the midget ranks preceded him as the Chicago Tribune announced his arrival to compete at Chicago Raceway Park in its May 14 daily. Ruby did his best to back up the hype, taking a feature win at Raceway Park, another at Farmer City Fairgrounds, and yet another victory in nearby Champaign, Illinois, prior to the July 30 Mid-Summer Championship, a 50-lapper.
While the Tribune and area fans took to Ruby’s driving success, track stalwart and local racer Bud Koehler obviously wasn’t as enamored with losing to Lloyd. Koehler had a well-earned reputation for “tough” driving, and he seemed intent on cementing that reputation with Lloyd. Koehler was unable to power by Ruby, so he took to running up against him and bumping his tires, trying to spin Lloyd out, a move that was easy to pull off on the hard, slick surface at Chicago. “A lot of times a guy behind you, he’ll bump you maybe once or twice,” explained Ruby. “Like if he’s really trying to get me out of the way, he’ll catch me in the middle of a turn or coming out of a turn …. If a guys does that, you know it’s intentional … Usually, after a guy does that so many times, especially back when we were running the midgets down here in Texas, that’s when a fight would start, or you would tangle on the track.”
Ruby, while never one quick to anger, obviously had had his fill over the course of this race. Ruby led Koehler home in a 1–2 finish and then promptly threw his hand brake, causing his and Koehler’s cars to collide. Koehler’s surprise at the first move probably was exacerbated by the second, as the normally calm-natured Ruby jumped out of his car and proceeded to attempt to separate Koehler from consciousness with his fists. Both pit crews became involved and the ruckus eventually was broken up before serious damage had occurred, but well after the message had been delivered, as Ruby had most assuredly hammered his point home. Ruby recalled the incident in an interview with Ted Buss. “He [Koehler] was a good, tough driver, but I questioned his methods. I was going pretty good at the time and he kept after me that night, trying to knock me out. I’d finally had enough,” said Ruby. “After we wrecked on the final lap, I pulled him out of his car and we went at it. Cars were flying by us. It’s a wonder we didn’t get run over. But he never bothered me any more after that.”
Fights were a rarity as far as Ol’ Rube was concerned, but several Midwest-area drivers found out the hard way that the laconic Texan was not to be trifled with. “You learn to protect yourself running midgets,” was how Ruby summed it up.