Garnett "Ghost Tracks" Holds Memories for Former Racer
They call places like Garnett, "ghost tracks."
Places that long ago used to reverberate with the excitement of thousands of auto racing spectators; the smell of hot oil and gasoline exhaust; the sounds of screaming engines straining for the next inch of ground to prove who was the best.
Now the echoes of the crowds have faded. Weeds have broken through the pavement of the old pit areas, and grass has crept in at the shoulders of the road to make the tracks even narrower than they were in the old days.
Ed Forest sometimes haunts the ghost tracks, remembering when, as a younger man, he tested his machine and his courage at Garnett and other makeshift raceways across the country.
Those were high times, he says.
"The one thing I remember the most about Garnett was downshifting to go across the dam," the 62 year-old Forest said recently after a trip through Garnett to tour the old track, which most people here know today as Lake Garnett Road. "You would hear the exhaust and you could feel the reverberations off those stone pillars."
Forest raced at Garnett in the track's final hurrah—the 1972 Sports Car Club of America series that included events in Oklahoma and Kansas—Afton, Ponca City and Garnett. The '72 race was Garnett's last as restrictions on the sport increased and commitments required from communities which hosted them became more and more and more demanding.
Garnett hosted the Lake Garnett Grand Prix Races as part of the SCCA series from 1959-1972. The race was Garnett's best-known public relations and advertising tool - race fans now in their 60s and 70s all over the country still remember heading to Garnett those weekends after the Fourth of July to join an estimated 60,000 fans who sometimes attended the events throughout the 1960s. The track became a classic battleground between the Ford Cobras and the Chevy Corvettes, each racing for bragging rights and the millions of dollars in marketing value a win could generate. It was a gigantic event for the town, and one whose impact both economically and promotionally has never since been equaled.
Forest lived in Tulsa in the early 1970s and got bit by the racing bug years before. He came up with a 1961 Austin Healy Sprite, and at the age of 28 brought the car to Garnett to put it to the test in what would be the final Grand Prix race at Garnett.
"I remember the hospitality of the community," Forest says. "Everybody was really happy that the races were in town."
The decline of the series came as the new breed of auto racing began to take its hold on the sport, Forest says.
"What began to happen at that time was closed tracks began to emerge, like at Wentzville, Mo., and then NASCAR tracks - the idea of a street race got outgrown. SCCA said it was more dangerous, and they moved on to other tracks."
"They were great times," Forest says. "Garnett was one of the most famous in SCCA history. For you to pull names like Carroll Shelby and his Cobras, you had to have something going there."
Forest says it's hard to get those old racing days out of one's blood. He now races along with his son in NASCAR class AMC Spirit. "It's my joy to make people driving Hondas and Mazdas miserable in a car that doesn't exist any more and that was made in America," he says. There's no money in it, of course. Like most other "farm team" racers Forest supports his habit with a full-time job as a consultant in telecommunications deployment of fiberoptic networks.
"It's just for the enjoyment," he says. "It's my bass boat."
Forest says he holds out hope that some of the racers from the 1960s or possibly collectors who have cars from that racing era might take an interest in exhibition races or shows at tracks like Garnett's.
"There's no doubt about it," Forest says, “it drew some interesting people."