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NW Racing Legends
By Jeff Butcher on March 18, 2013

Admiration of legends captivates participants that aspire to achieve a fraction of the greatness displayed by the leaders of any game.

Arnold Palmer continues to amaze, and his contribution is backed by the striking power of his loyal army of fans. Arnie’s Army lives on as his living legend continues to grow. Golf is his game—he made it so.

Games ask us to perform at our highest level in the face of the best competition. Putting the white ball in the cup is surprisingly similar to being given a cup after winning a race.

When our leaders move beyond the playing limits of their respective sport, the true legends continue to excel for the duration of the career of life. Learning from their wisdom is what motivates mortals and stirs the passion of people that aspire to feel a fraction of the greatness that legends display. The playing days of greats stretches into the grandeur of eternity.

Arnold Palmer is the pro that continues to lead. He continues to teach, lead and inspire by simply being himself. His mere presence produces the awe of greatness that has been hand woven from the fabric of royalty. Luckily, the legend that is Arnold Palmer is able to feel the reward of appreciation, as his legend is still etching itself in time.

Arnold Palmer played with style—his own style. The perspiration of his legendary swing is replaced by the brilliance of sustained inspiration. Arnold was the spectacle, and now he is the pinnacle. Years of wisdom sets a bar that is the envy of peers and casual fans alike. Those he touches feel important, and that is why he is firmly established in the lore of historical prominence.

Arnold represents a playing era which places an indelible stamp in time. In all sport, it is natural to compare the era of today to that of the past. The debates that competition in the past was fiercer than that of today will rage on until the sun swallows the earth. The gravity of time has allowed the grains of sand to transfer poetically from Palmer’s hourglass of life. The remaining grains on top of his hourglass may be less in quantity, but every grain is packed with history. The spark of Palmer’s playing days is now the embers of history. We can appreciate the legend that provokes positive emotion.

Racing has many eras. Many a racing bench has heard the argument that racing was better in years past. The endless debate is what keeps the green one waving and the checkered one falling. Thinking back to the past reminds racing elders of days when racing was better. Rivalries were stronger and competition was fierce. Grandstands were packed and fans were filled with passion demonstrated by alcohol-enhanced fist fights of the day.

Competitors of today will insist that it is harder than ever to win. Technology and higher expenses make winning a real achievement. When I think back to the leaders of the past I can think of those that committed to getting the most. At the time, pure focus on winning didn’t allow me to appreciate the contributions of so many that sacrificed so I could compete. Winning was the only thought, and it blinded me from noticing all those that did the selfless work of putting on the show.

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Racing in the Northwest is still filled with great racers, but the competition and events are more fragmented. Fans still come, but the grandstands are dotted with too much empty space, and squeezing together to make room for more butts on the bleachers has yet to return. Car counts in the past were strong, and my series had full fields. A top five finish was hard fought every night out.

I wish I could go back and see my leaders in the way that I admire Arnold Palmer. The Northwest racing scene has many definable eras. In my day I could count on Melinda Moulaison to have her Northwest Racing Enterprises parts trailer at every event. Melinda knew what parts to stock, and she carried inventory that serviced the NW Tour series.

Making money was secondary to ensuring that every car was ready for the green flag. Melinda worked hard and ran her business with the passion of a race team. More than once, Melinda supplied parts on a handshake so that all teams could make the starting lineup. Melinda was vital to the series and her participation was about passion—financial stuff was secondary. She prepared her parts trailer as if it were going to line up on the starting grid. I wish I could have been more vocal in relating to what Melinda did for the Northwest racing scene, as she did a lot. So did Doug Jefferies, Dave Fuge and many more.

The peers of my racing era worked hard, and as time goes on some of the people I battled at the track found that health issues placed too few grains of sand in their hourglass. John King was a tough racer and prominent Northwest crew chief. He was also a good family man, and his wife Beth was with him every step of the way. Winning and losing made zero difference to Beth—pride in her family was her definition of winning. John did the things to make her proud often.

John King won his share of races as a NW crew chief. John worked with many, including NW legend Ron Eaton. King was knowledgeable about every bolt on a race car. While battling health issues, John moved out of the crew chief role and took on officiating at South Sound Speedway. He bent all the rules as a competitor, and his knowledge served the South Sound tech line well.

Just a few months ago I had a discussion with South Sound promoter Nick Behn. We chatted about how John went about the business of tech. Nick talked about how there was a balance in applying the rules so that competition was fair, but applying the rules rigidly sent too many cars home.  John, like all tech officials, was underappreciated and had to battle teams relating to the application of rules—he had to battle the promoter, too, that searched for the balance of fairness and full fields. King was tough, but being fair came from his core.

King’s toughness helped him battle cancer publically for a long time. I am not sure which battle was tougher. Enforcing rules is extremely hard; battling health is something John just did—fanfare not required. John King was a racer, and he made decisions based on his unwavering support for the sport he lived. Recently, cancer shortened his time, but the tenacity he displayed gave him the resolve to officiate in the style he believed in. John King left his mark, and wife Beth knows the health battle was hard.

Often, dealing with racers in the tech line was harder for John, as he refused to let health dictate his actions. Racers took their toll, but cancer took a NW legend before his peers could truly recognize the great contribution he made in racing. I wish we took notice of legends while they could enjoy a few accolades. Wife Beth knows and can always be proud of the legend that lived in her home. King John lives on, and his family can take at least one accolade from me.

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The NW Tour, known as “The Tour,” was a NASCAR sanctioned series, and Daytona provided the framework back in the late eighties. NW competitors put on a show and traveled 20 times a year, bringing big-time Stock Car racing to small West Coast towns. The yearly Northwest vs. Southwest clash in Phoenix was the Super Bowl, pitting the NW against the California-dominated SW Tour.

Daytona is a long way from the Northwest, and their rules simply didn’t consider the needs and limitations faced by West Coast racing. The sands of “The Beach” drifted differently than the dunes of the West.

I often found myself debating the color of grey when it came to getting my cars through the NW tech line. Cheating the rules was never my style, and I always prepared cars between the lines of the unwritten rules. Admittedly, I pushed the limits to keep up with the competition that had more money in their tow rigs than my teams had in their entire operations. Burnt green money colored the trees of California. Finding green on rain-painted Washington trees was easy. Finding NW green on numbered paper was elusive.

I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but Northwest Tour Series Director Gib Repass was the unsung legend of my era in NW racing. His faithful army came to battle and could be counted on week after week and year after year. Daytona considered anything west of the Rockies to be California, creating language barriers that left much up to interpretation.

Washington, Oregon, and California were just one big state from the view of the world headquarters of Stock Car racing. As the rule book traveled across country, something was lost in its implementation as it landed in the NW hands of Gib Repass.  

More than once I found myself “discussing” the definition of legal. Apparently I pushed the window, but always made it through the tech line with flying colors, or maybe with colorful metaphors flying—I can’t remember! Gib often saw things in black and white while I painted my shades of grey at least 50 ways.

The Gib Repass-led “Tour” used Arnold Palmer like wisdom to contain the personalities of a variety of race teams. Gib was an old-school guy and a good man. Repass understood how to blend the needs of well-funded teams and skillfully hand-tailored rules for teams with fewer resources, giving them a fair chance to compete.

Gib understood the needs of the hard-working lower buck teams, as he was a former driver and car owner that scrapped and scrimped so that he could race his blue #40. He knew racing from all sides. His driving and car owner knowledge allowed him to view the work and expenses all too well. Gib gave the benefit of the doubt often and left it behind. Never once did he use a break given in the past to support a call in the present. What was done was done, and each week was new.

More than once I battled Repass, as I would fight for my vision of the rules. Gib was sneaky smart, and he applied rules in a fashion that created more than full fields. “B” mains were common, and his choices made sure the playing field was level. Even when he helped out a low buck team, he balanced the field with amazing dexterity, making sure that one-eye-closed calls didn’t affect race day outcomes.

Today, the A mains in the NW are half full. B mains are yet to return, even though fields are beginning to grow. The passion and rivalries of yesteryear are on the mend, but something is missing in comparison. This era is still searching for its stamp.

Gib lived the small-town life and ran a big-time series. He had the unwavering support of his loving wife Jean. Jean Repass would manage the “Tour” finances and checked teams in the back gate with the stability and consistency that allowed Gib to focus on his Tour Director demands. Her devotion and quiet demeanor made it easy to see how they had a life-long marriage.

Gib assembled a loyal tech team that was part of his entourage, and it seemed his tech team was together forever. Roy Selby, Jim Michelson, Norm and GB were mainstays on the Repass officiating crew—there were many more, but these guys are the ones I liked to pick on.

Behind the scenes the NW tech guys had their wives contributing. Much unseen work is required to put on a traveling circus each week—year-end banquets were bonus material for added work. All of the invisible work was done for the pure joy of it, as getting paid any real money was outside of what Daytona passed to the Repass-led team. The better halves of these guys did so much thankless work without the true recognition that they deserved. I do wish I could go back and thank the tech team and their partners in life.

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I remember being a thorn in the side of the NW tech team on more than one occasion. Ok, it was a lot of occasions. Working 10-hour days at a day job and then going to the race shop every night until well past midnight created a strong opinion come Saturday night. I am afraid to admit that the thorn from me would be described by the officiating team as a “royal pain in the arse.”

I am certain that more than one NW race team misses the days that Gib Repass and team led the NW Racing scene—they were a devoted team.

When the NW Tour came to town, it was an event. Many races were in small towns, and when NASCAR came to compete, the regional stars had plenty of devoted local fans. Gib and Jean Repass did a ton to hold it all together. Plenty of us complained about officiating, as the heat of the moment blinded us to the commitment that Repass and team brought to our era.

Looking back I can see the legend, and it is easy to say that the Gib Repass-led officiating crew made an impact on the NW Racing scene. Sure, we have tons of people that belong in the NW Hall of Fame. Racing had full fields and full grandstands with Gib at the helm. A fair man worked hard to manage each race team based on their merits. His wisdom bound a group together. Our group just did not realize how good they had it.

Looking back, we can all see it now. Gib, Jean, Roy, GB, Jim, Norm and many more led racing and put their stamp on a time and created an era. Gib was taken from us far too soon, and his leadership becomes more recognized each and every day—I am sure he runs a clean tech line upstairs and smiles upon us kids that have the grey hair we gave to him.

The team he assembled worked hard, and were there every week doing the thankless work while pulling out the thorns put in their sides by me and many others.

Gib has moved on to a better place and is survived by wife Jean. The life of a Series Director is tough. The job is filled with management of many personalities. Egos must be herded forward in an environment where emotions are elevated to the highest levels.

Gib Repass stamped an era that is captured in time. The photos of the past are merely a reflection of the impression he made. I wish I could have known that one day I would view Gib Repass just as I appreciate the living legend that is Arnold Palmer. The two men are the same, but inspire from completely different worlds.

Truth be told, I wish I would have told Gib he was great back then, as I sure know it now. I didn’t know how then, but can easily do it now. So Gib, thanks man—the next Arnold Palmer is on me.

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Jeff Butcher

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Jeff Butcher is a veteran of the racing industry based in the Pacific Northwest.
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