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Nearly 70, Potter still going strong

Jeff Birchfield • Jun 23, 2019 at 4:34 PM

Mike Potter shows no signs of slowing down.

The Johnson City racing veteran, who will turn 70 on July 4, leads the Super Cup Stock Car Series Southern Division point standings. Racing the steel-bodied stock cars that resemble former NASCAR Cup Series cars, Potter finished second in Friday night’s 50-lap feature at Kingsport Speedway.

Before a late-race caution, Potter was running down eventual race winner Ben Ebeling and appeared to have a good chance to win the race.

It shouldn’t be a complete surprise that Potter would find success in the heavier cars. He made 60 NASCAR Cup Series starts over his racing career, including nine at Bristol and one start in the Daytona 500.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to run Winston Cup (now Monster Cup) and Xfinity Series,” Potter said. “My first race at Bristol, I finished sixth in the Late Model Sportsman division and my first start in a Cup car was (Dale) Earnhardt (Sr.’s) first win.”

Potter finished 16th in that historic 1979 Southeastern 500. Earnhardt was driving the No. 2 Chevrolet for California businessman Rod Osterlund, while Potter was in a family-owned machine.

He and his father, Jess, used parts like the seat out of a bus, an engine block from a Pepsi truck and drum brakes on the No. 76 Chevrolet. Remarkably, it was one of 20 cars running at the end of the race and Potter finished ahead of four other drivers still on the track.

Potter’s father was a noted car owner, fielding cars for several local drivers including Brownie King, Paul Lewis, Bill Morton, Layman Utsman and Sgt. George Green in the Cup Series. NASCAR legend Buddy Baker even drove seven races for Jess Potter in 1960.

Mike and his brother, Gary, both tried their hands at driving. Mike, who served in the Marines in Vietnam, said the courage and toughness from the military background helped his racing career. That courage was needed after his first time in a race car. His first effort at Johnson City’s former dirt track, Sportsman Speedway, ended in spectacular fashion.

“I flipped the car five times my first race,” he recalled. “I think I had a concussion and didn’t know it. I couldn’t remember what number the car was. I got in the truck after we loaded the car and didn’t know my girlfriend. She wasn’t too happy about that.”

Potter is noted for his sense of humor as much as his ability as a talented racer. When asked how much fun he is having racing at his age, he replied, “All that you can stand.”

It’s been that way for a long time as Potter’s racing career includes a second-place finish in an ARCA Series race at Talladega, and other top-five finishes at Michigan and Atlanta.

He even raced two exhibition NASCAR Cup Series races in Australia. Potter’s last major NASCAR race came in 2008, driving in the Nationwide (now Xfinity) Series for independent car owner Johnny Davis. Tony Stewart won that race in New Hampshire, while Potter finished one spot ahead of former Daytona 500 winner Derrike Cope.

Now back at the short tracks, Potter is enjoying the Super Cup Series, which is more like the stock car racing he grew up with.

“It’s too regulated in NASCAR. There’s too many rules where people can’t keep up financially,” he said. “The little guys who ain’t got no money can’t go to the Xfinity or Truck races. They can’t afford it.”

Potter can afford the Super Cup Series, and he’s having success at an age when most of his contemporaries have hung up their helmets. As to when he might quit driving, Potter indicated he’s having too much fun with the response, “Retire, what’s that?”

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