CORBIN — By Bobbie Poynter / Features Editor
“You can take the boy out of the racetrack, but you can’t . . .”
Well, you get the picture.
And that’s been the life for John Potts ever since he was nine years old. The young man began his love for racing selling papers and programs at the Jeffersonville Sportsdrome, just north of Louisville, until he graduated high school in 1956.
After a four-year stint with Uncle Sam’s Air Force, Potts returned to the Louisville area and helped build the Fairgrounds Motor Speedway on the Kentucky State Fairgrounds. There he worked his way up from a general laborer to the starter flagman and stayed with the speedway until it closed in 1980.
During the same time frame, as the editor of a newspaper in Scottsburg, Ind., Potts honed his skills as a writer and put those skills to use writing the stories of the track for the newspaper.
And so was the life of John Potts throughout the next 20 years. Skip to September 2000 and Potts is forced to retire from the Indianapolis Raceway Park.
“Retirement didn’t agree with me,” said Potts. “Even though I was collecting a retirement check, I continued to do part-time work with the raceway.”
In 2002, Potts answered an ad in the “National Speed Sport News.” They were in need of someone to help run the Corbin Speedway.
“When I was kid, we did a lot of traveling throughout this area,” said Potts. “Then as an adult, I had the privilege of returning to the beautiful hills and mountains of Kentucky as a flagman and public relations representative for the American Speed Association. I couldn’t wait to move down here and get started.”
Potts settled into his new position as director of news and administrative services at the Corbin Speedway, and his wife, Joyce, finally joined him in London in 2005, and here they’ve been ever since.
“The Corbin Speedway is just like a big family,” said Potts. “The competitors get out there on the track and try to tear each other’s wheels off, but when there’s a serious accident, every driver wants to help. We tell them to stay in their cars, but you can’t stop them from running over to help their buddies.”
Potts says after he moves back to Indiana, he’ll miss the people of Appalachia most of all.
“I love the people here,” said Potts. “They’re honest and they’re loving. Unlike other parts of the nation, when someone here calls you Sweety, they really mean it. And I like that.”
The hours working at a racetrack haven’t always been the greatest, but Potts’ wife has always taken it in stride as she knows racing is her husband’s passion.
“Joyce doesn’t go to the race track,” he explained. “ She can take it or leave it. So, there’s really no downside to working at the track, ‘cause if there is, it always turns around.”
But, like all good things, even John Potts’ time at the Corbin Speedway must come to an end. And although the Potts have loved their time here, they’re glad to be moving to Indianapolis and closer to their children.
“My wife wants to spend her ‘golden years’ closer to our kids and grandkids,” Potts said. “Throughout 45 years of marriage, she’s followed me wherever I wanted to go, and it’s time for payback.”
So, John and Joyce Potts will soon be happily reunited with their children Matthew, 44, and Maria, 39, and their grandchildren in Indianapolis.
However, at 75, Potts is still not ready to give up on racing.
“I hope to catch on with a track in the Indianapolis area, possibly even help the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. One of my former interns at Indianapolis Raceway Park is now the president of IMS. I call him “Probie.” (Thanks for that, Anthony DiNozzo.)
And although Potts will be 300 miles away, he is also not ready to give up on the Corbin Speedway.
“I’m not letting this little race track get away from me after investing 10 plus years in it,” he said. “I’m also not giving up on motorsports. I’ve been involved for nearly 66 years now, and I can’t shake it. It’s a disease for which there is no cure. Everything good that has happened to me is because of the racetrack.”
So John Potts says goodbye to Corbin, to London, to the people of Appalachia.
“I’ll surely miss everybody, and I want to thank everyone for making this part of Joyce and my lives so enjoyable. Being close to the people has been the best part of living in Appalachia. The fans, the drivers and the staff here at the Corbin Speedway know I’ve always been right out there with them and always will be, even if it’s in spirit.”