In Their Words is a weekly feature appearing Sundays in The Blade s sports section. Blade sports writer Matt Markey talked with Mildred Gram Marcum, a fixture at Toledo Speedway for more than 50 years.
In 1953, John Marcum and his wife Mildred founded the Toledo-based Midwest Association for Race Cars (MARC) and staged a series of 20 races. Marcum was a former race car driver and an official with the fledgling NASCAR organization that had been started by his close friend, Bill France Sr.
John Marcum was a colorful, free-wheeling, barnstorming, P.T. Barnum-type of race promoter. But somebody had to be back there at the office in Toledo, making sure things got done, paperwork got organized, and the bills got paid. While John Marcum was cutting the deals, Mildred was covering the administration side.
In 1964, the MARC name was dropped in favor of ARCA the Automobile Racing Club of America since the new title more accurately reflected the way the circuit had spread to tracks in 17 states. In that same year, Bill France Sr., Bill France Jr. and Marcum staged ARCA s first superspeedway race, the Daytona ARCA 250, as a part of the February Speedweeks. ARCA continued to grow and expand its presence in stock car racing.
John Marcum died in 1981, and the future of ARCA was in doubt, but only momentarily. At the urging of his closest associates in racing, Mildred and daughter Suzie Drager decided to continue the operation. Today, Marcum s grandson, Ron Drager, is ARCA s president, but Drager s 91-year-old grandmother still comes to work every day at the company s modest headquarters just north of the Ohio line in Temperance.
Mildred Marcum had the option, 25 years ago, to cash out and walk away from stock car racing. When her husband passed away, it was not an especially good time in motor sports, and the ARCA venture could have gone belly up and left her with little. But she stayed, and she is still there today, helping organize races, selling tickets and promoting racing.
As one racing fan put it: you can read about the history of ARCA, or you can just talk with Gram Marcum, because she has lived every minute of it.
BACK IN THE 40s my husband and I would get Jeeps from the plant here in Toledo, and then drive them to places around the country, to different dealers, to deliver them. We were taking new cars, mostly to the South. We met Bill France and his wife while we were doing that.
During the war I had worked at an airplane plant, over on Alexis Road. My husband and I had both worked in factories he worked at the Jeep Willys Overland plant but we knew we wanted something different.
John raced with Bill France back then, mostly on tracks in Indiana, but after we got to where we knew him real well, we both started working with NASCAR. I sold tickets on the beach in Daytona when they staged races there, before the track was built. I walked around with strings of tickets hanging around my neck, and had an apron on to hold the money.
When we went down to Florida and worked for the Frances, we didn t have any money and no place to stay, and he was just starting out, too, so we just stayed at his house.
AFTER THE FRANCES started with these new tracks they were building, I would work with Bill s wife, Annie, in the office. I remember the ticket booths were all concrete, the tracks were brand new, and we had just a little bitty building with a dirt floor, and that was our office. It is amazing to think how things can get to where they are now.
When we started out with our own racing organization, my husband and I did everything. Our office was in the basement of our home on Glenwood Avenue. We d come home from a race on a Sunday night, then Monday we d do all of our paper work, do the yard work, the laundry and everything, and then start back again racing on Tuesday night, and we d race every night, then come back again on Sunday. That was just local racing, at places like Sportsman Park in Cleveland, in Canfield, Strausburg, Akron and Lorain in Ohio, and then over the years it changed to tracks in Jackson, Michigan, Mount Clemens, Michigan, and Fort Wayne.
WHEN WE USED to go put on a race, we just drove our own car and hoped it would make it. We loaded everything in the car, threw it in the trunk. These were weekly sanctioned tracks, and we d drive to them, put the race on, stay overnight, then drive to the next track. We d just keep loading the trunk up, and we d come home once a week.
The drivers would race each other real hard and get mad out on the track, but when we left the track to go to the next one, they d all stop at the same steak joint together. They were competitive, but they knew they had to work together.
There were very few people committing themselves to racing full-time back then. But even when times were really tough, we never thought about getting out, or doing something more regular or stable. We just kept plugging along.
THIS RACING HAS really gotten big. When we first started out, we had no idea it would ever get to where it is now. My husband had a keen interest in racing and just wanted to be around it. And he figured out a way.
What happened up here was smaller than what Bill and Ann France were doing in Florida, but it was a similar operation. They were great friends, and everything between us and the Frances was always sealed with just a handshake. And we kept that handshake relationship with them for all of those years.
Once my husband passed away, we had some good help that stepped right in and took over and they have done a wonderful job with this organization. It makes you feel great to think that people care so much that they would come in and work as hard as they did. A lot of them are family, and the family part of it is still important.
RACE NIGHT IS still very exciting, and it is getting bigger and better. The first race I ever saw, I didn t know much about racing, was just after the war, I think it was at Fort Miami, a track just south of Toledo at the fairgrounds, and it was a midget race. Now stock car racing is so big everywhere, and it s on television all of the time.
You would never have thought that the small little racing organization we started in the basement of our home in Toledo would grow into this. ARCA has all of this equipment, all these people, and we re putting on races all over the country now.
Some of these kids who are racing today were not even born 20 years ago, so they probably don t know any of the history. But racing gets in your blood I guess. I m 91, and I was excited about coming to work today, and I ll be here again tomorrow.