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Local racing legend’s car on display at Briggs Library

IRONTON — The red and black paint is a little faded now, and there’s a little dent or two on the back where the gasoline tank is, but the memories that little car evoked were still vivid after all these years and served up with a twinkling eye.

“He used to pick us up, I was about 14 or 15 and he’d take us to Portsmouth,” Ralph Roach, of Ironton recalled. “We’d put water in it, shine it, change the tires.”

“He” was Gene Comstock, a Chesapeake man who for years lived many a man’s fantasy: He was a race car driver.

Comstock was the only Lawrence Countian to race in the National Association of Stock Car Racers (NASCAR). There is some question about when he first raced his red and black Midget, with some saying it was as early as 1937 and others thinking maybe not until the ‘40s.

After Comstock’s death the red and black Midget was in his widow’s care until Ironton native Aaron Fry persuaded her to part with it a year ago. He plans to fix it up and someday have it running.

Saturday he took his treasure to the Briggs Lawrence County Public Library in Ironton to show his new find to men who instantly knew and understood the significance of that little car.

Rich Spencer, who covered drag racing for The Ironton Tribune from 1960- 1967, was one of those who gazed.

“There is a lot of history in these cars,” he said. He bent down to wiggle an odd lever with a big metal knob sticking out of the side of the car. “You know what this is?” he asked with a smile. “That’s the brake.”

Poodle Ellis remembered Comstock and remembered glory days of the race world in his youth. The area had several race strips.

“He had a garage right below the fairgrounds and he’d drive it (his race car) up 7 to the locks and then back down Beulah,” Ellis recalled.

It is those memories Fry wants to keep alive in his quest to preserve that car.

He recalled on his first day of school at Whitwell Elementary, each child had to stand up and introduce himself or herself and say what they wanted to be someday when they were grown.

“Other kids were saying things like, ‘I want to be an astronaut’ or ‘I want to be president’ and I thought, ‘yeah, sure.’ When it came my turn I said, ‘I want to be a race car driver,” Fry said. “As long as I can remember, I wanted to be around racing.”