By Shawn Wood
For The Daily Item
From his seat in the lawn-chair section in the first turn at Selinsgrove Speedway, Bob Fetter is still thinking about sprint car setups.
Twenty-six years after his famed orange No. 77 Ford engine sprint car circled the half-mile, Fetter, now 70, still has a passion for racing.
His career as a car owner spanned from 1982-1988 and among his drivers were Frankie Kerr, Barry Camp, Jerry Stone, T.J. Giddings, Scotty Haus and Lenny Krautheim III.
Fetter bought his first sprint car at a flea market for $850.
“I always said that if I was going to get into racing, it was going to be in a sprint car, because that’s what I liked,” he said.
“I spent a million dollars in seven years of racing,” he continued. “People asked me why I did that and I told them there’s no shopping center when you die. I can’t spend it up there. When my mother was on her death bed, she said, ‘If I had to do all over again,’ and that’s when I said I am never going to do that.”
Fetter, a 1962 Sunbury High School graduate, saw his first race at Port Royal Speedway.
Today, Fetter is a life member of several area volunteer fire departments and is a pool player.
“I had to quit in 1988 after losing $600,000 a year of income in the poker machines due to a state ruling,” he noted. “I told them that if they ever take the gambling machines, we are done. If I can’t do it right, I am not doing it at all.”
Fetter was an avid hunter and that is how he lost the services of Oklahoma racer Jerry Stone.
“I hired Jerry near the end of the year and he called me in early December and he asked me if I was ready to start working on the car,” Fetter said. “I told him it was hunting season and as soon as hunting season was over, we are going to start working on the car. He didn’t want to hear that.”
At the time, Kerr and his car owner were not getting along and Stone went down to see Kerr’s car owner and they hired him.
“I got Frankie’s number from the speedway and I called him and I told him that I needed a driver,” Fetter said. “He came up to see the shop and he brought with him a crew chief from a NASCAR team. After getting a tour of the shop, the crew chief told Frankie to go with me.”
Kerr and Fetter did a lot of traveling in their time together, racing from Florida to Texas with stops at Knoxville (Iowa) and Eldora Speedway (Ohio).
“Frankie and I clicked,” Fetter said. “If you don’t click with the driver and crew chief, you are not going anywhere.”
Today, Kerr, a 16-time winner at Selinsgrove, is the crew chief for NASCAR driver David Gilliand.
A flat tire on the last lap of the last race of the 1988 season cost Kerr and Fetter a Selinsgrove Speedway title. Jimmy Nace went on to win it that year.
In another instance, Fetter and Kerr were close to winning the famed Kings Royal at Eldora.
“We were leading with about five laps to go and the red came out,” Fetter said. “We came into the pits and we were running McCreary tires. The tire man from McCreary said that our tires looked good, so, they siphoned them for us. Steve Kinser put on two new Goodyear tires and he drove right around us for the win. After that I never siphoned my tires again. That cost me $50,000.”
Fetter said it’s not tough being a former car owner and sitting in the stands.
“I was down there for years in the pits helping guys set up their cars,” he said.
One of his drivers, Barry Camp, of Beavertown, was a real rim-rider.
“If you had that car set up just right, wow, look out,” Fetter said of Camp’s driving style. “To this day I have a lot of respect for that man. His guys thought that I fired him, but, I wasn’t learning anything and we were doing the same thing and I had to do something different to get better.”
Fetter was one of the few car owners than ran a Ford engine back in the days. His passing for being first on race day still burns bright.