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by Tom Carnegie

Perhaps one of the most contentious issues of the Montana 500 is teardowns. I talked to Ray Habel who came in second in 1961, which was when the first run was held. He says that they tore his car down and also the first place car of Evan Lingle. At that time there was significant prize money given, so teardowns were considered essential. Throughout the years teardowns were continued even as the prize money diminished. Rick Carnegie was present in 1971 when they tore down Norm Eberhardt's car. Rick tells the story of the teardown taking place on a sandlot baseball diamond. Apparently they tore Norm's rearend apart right in the sand on home plate.

My first experience with a teardown was in 1977. The top three cars drove to someone's place with a big garage. The three top cars were then torn down by the owners of said cars. The inspectors, of which there were five, checked the motors, including removed pistons, manifolds and valves. They also checked the flywheel with mirrors and the rearend ratio by cranking the car by hand in gear. After a meeting the three cars were declared legal and the owners reassembled them with gaskets supplied by the club. At that time the five inspectors had the final say on whether a car was disqualified or not. There were times though when the inspectors would turn the vote over to the drivers. In is not clear by reading the rules of the times how the inspectors were chosen. As a driver I don't remember ever voting for inspectors, so they must have been picked by someone. In 1986 the teardown became optional. Ray Habel won that year and was not torn down. To Ray it was ironic that he was torn down several times when he came in second but not when he won.

Rich Armstrong won several times in the cast-iron division. He says that some years he was torn down and other years not. Apparently they weren't as concerned with the cast iron cars. This is how it went from 1986 until 1999. That is, teardowns were only performed when the drivers voted to do so. In 1988 the rules were clarified to say that the directors picked the inspectors. During this time teardowns were rarely performed. The only teardown I know that was performed during that time was 1987 which resulted in the disqualification of Nick Nicholas. During this time I kept my ear to the ground and heard rumblings from the participants that virtually everyone was cheating. To me this seemed silly that you could vote to not tear down someone's car, then turn around and call them a cheater.

I decided that if I were to participate I would lobby real heavy to make teardowns mandatory. Most people saw things my way and teardowns were reinstituted in 2000. The drivers were to have the final say now instead of the five inspectors. Even then no cars were torn down that year. The directors did not have a place planned for a teardown. This meant the teardown would have had to have been done in the parking lot. This was too much for the drivers, so no teardowns were performed. The exact same situation presented itself in 2001. Again no cars were torn down. Again rumblings of cheating drivers were heard.

In 2002 we had a place lined up for the teardown and one took place. One has taken place every year since then. I think the teardowns have done much to quiet the accusations of cheating and have been welcomed by most of the drivers. You might think that teardowns would discourage drivers from entering the race. This does not seem to be the case. From my point of view I think that teardowns are great. I love to see what is inside the top cars. This is coming from the guy that is perhaps the most torn down driver in the history of the Montana 500. My cars have been torn down six times!


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