Leader Blues

Friday, August 18, 2006

SPORTS >> Veteran flagger readies for 100

IN SHORT: Beebe resident Chris Ellis will be on the flagstand for the 14th annual Comp Cams Topless 100 feature race tonight.

Leader sports writer

Being a racing flagman is not for the faint at heart. Being suspended above speeding racecars on a small open platform is only half the danger. Add angry drivers, wives and crewmembers that feel like their team has been unduly penalized to the mix, and you start to get a clear assessment of the stress involved.

Beebe resident Chris Ellis has endured the stresses and dangers of flagging for over 20 years now. He started in the late ‘80’s at the now-defunct B and M Speedway in Pocahontas. The story of how he became a flagman itself is a prime example of the volatility of the flagger title.

“I was there with a friend of mine helping with his racecar, and the flagger quit at the intermission,” Ellis said. “The promoter, a guy named Gibb Burgess, started going around the pits looking for someone who could flag. Someone told him that I knew how to flag, so he got me to do it, and that’s how I got started.”

After flagging full-time at Pocahontas for two seasons, Ellis then flagged at Harrisburg Speedway, before making the big jump to Batesville Speedway in 1993 for promoter Mooney Starr. He also did a stint at the Nashville track while working at DeQueen High School as a basketball and football coach.

After moving to Beebe to be head basketball coach for the Badgers high school boys team, Ellis became the flagman at Beebe Speedway under promoter Terry Butler. He eventually was promoted to track manager, and also spent his Saturday nights flagging at Southwest Arkansas Speedway in Texarkana.

He gave both of those tracks up this year to return to Batesville. After 20 years, Ellis says he can feel the burnout sometimes, but working at one of the top dirt-track facilities in the country helps alleviate much of the doldrums.
“I think it’s just the number of years I’ve been doing it,” Ellis said. “When you’re young, you can stay out until two or three in the morning without any problem. But when you’ve spent several years with the grind of having to be there every week, it starts to get old.

“The only reason I’m flagging this year is because I had the chance to work at Batesville again. I wanted to flag the World of Outlaws race, and the Modified Madness and the Topless 100. I got to flag the WOO race and the big modified show, now I’m excited to be flagging the Topless 100.”

The Topless is one of the biggest dirt late-model races in the country. Top drivers from nearly every state descend upon Locust Grove every year for the $45,000- to-win-event.

Ellis’ flagging mentor Duane Johnson has held the honor of flagging the Topless for the past several years, but this year, the torch will be passed.

“It’s pretty neat to be involved with a show of this magnitude,” Ellis said. “Those guys are the show, and they are who everyone came to see, but being able to get up close and go up and shake hands with these guys is fun deal. You get a lot more access in a position like this than you would as a fan, so that’s one of the things I enjoy the most.”