Back in the “Good Old Days” there was no one better, on dirt or asphalt. Gary “Hot Shoe’ Balough was living a life as a short track legend in the 1980’s. He won just about everything he got into and was set to take a shot at the next level when his world came crashing down.
Shortly after winning his 1986 All Pro championship, Balough went to jail for drug trafficking charges. It would not be the first time either. Several trips to correctional facilities cost him a career, a marriage, lots of respect and much more then we will ever know.
However, it didn’t cost him his fans.
A few weeks back, Balough showed up at the Super Dirt Car Weekend in Syracuse, New York for an autograph session. Many fans turned out to see a man who helped change the Dirt Modified world in the late 70’s. The response was amazing.
“To me it’s really incredible,” said Balough. “The response was great when we got to Syracuse. We went back and we had the “Batmobile” in there and without exaggeration there were three or four thousand people who wanted to see the car and talk with myself. The response from the press, the drivers, owners and the fans it was just unbelievable. It was like seeing old family.”
The “Batmobile” is one of the most famous, or infamous, cars ever in short track racing. Running the car was one of the many stories that Balough was synonymous with. It the late 70’s Balough drove a black car that look much like it should have been in Gotham City and not on the mile at Syracuse. The legendary car designed by Kenny Weld helped Balough win four times on the mile a record that has only been passed by Brett Hearn.
“That was a lot of effort from a lot of really good people,” said Balough about his dirt days. “Now I am working on another dirt project car. We’re things get changed up a little bit because all the cars look the same.”
While Balough looks to the dirt world he also has an eye on the southern Super Late Model world. He absolutely dominated it for several years in the 80’s before he went to prison. Somewhere along the way he was tagged with the name “Hot Shoe”. Fans who recall the days of his heyday say simple there was no one better the Balough.
“I really liked the nickname and I took to that pretty well,” joked Balough. “I was called lots of things back in those days, but “Hot Shoe” was one of the nicer ones. It stuck and it was really neat. We had a lot of good things going on back from a V6 program with Chevy to aero testing and lots of key people.”
Stories of his fame circled around the Snowball Derby, where he was an absolute machine. His 1980 qualifying run is still the unofficial track record at 16.330 seconds. In those days, he would come to pit road for fresh tires every chance during the caution periods.
“We did a lot of tires testing for Goodyear back in those days and we helped with their Cup programs all the time,” said Balough. “I had a Goodyear deal with Penske up in the Northeast. I worked real hard with the engineers to make the tires go. We really helped to get the Goodyear deal rolling up there. Pensacola was just worn out and you need to have good a tire under you and that’s what we did. We just had the right people behind us.”
Maybe he was being modest, but in a six-year span, he won both the Snowball Derby and the All American 400…twice. On top of that, he won the World Crown 300 in 1984 and the All Pro Championship in 1986. From there, it would have been onto NASCAR’s Winston Cup Series with Harry Ranier and the number 28 ride, but as quickly as things come together they can come apart.
“Our biggest downfall was that we raced out of Ft. Lauderdale and it was a good drive to where ever we raced. We had a lot time lost by just being on the road,” said Balough. “We won the national championship and celebrated on Saturday night, but we had to check in for incarceration on Monday morning in Texas. We had a deal with Domino’s Pizza that basically fell apart because I had to do what I had to do.”
That was the first time. Since then, it’s been in and out with some brief racing here and there. Balough won two NASCAR Southeast All Pro events in 1991 before returning to prison shortly after.
During his incarceration he missed several things, but one was the 2007 Snowball Derby. If you don’t recall, Augie Grill won the race that year with his white number 112. Grill’s racing career started thanks to Gary Balough who was driving for Augie’s father, Frankie Grill at the time.
“Frankie Grill, Butch (Lindley) and I were all close friends,” said Balough. “We all drove for Frankie at some point and Augie was just a little guy back then. He was always at the track with my oldest son Brian and it was a family atmosphere. Augie wanted to get to racing and I helped him with some go-karts and he ended up putting 112 on his car. That’s how it all came about. It was cool to hear that he won the Derby that weekend.”
Balough was a few miles away in a minimum security prison in 2007, waiting to get out in 2010. He learned something in that time.
“What I have learned is you don’t want to play with the federal government,” said Balough. “They will beat you. It’s not like chess where you can move and they can move. They will beat you. If you get yourself caught up in something you need to be involved with you can count on them slamming the door.”
Balough is now working on several projects including in the top three series of NASCAR. He said he has had talks with RCR, Kyle Busch and Rusty Wallace about some plans for the near future. There is also a good chance that he will be at the Snowball Derby. Maybe there is a chance he will be behind the wheel.
Gary Balough’s Accomplishments
1980, 1986 Snowball Derby Winner
1984 World Crown 300 Winner
1984, 1986 All American 400 Winner
1968 Florida’s Governor’s Cup 200 Winner
1976, 1977, 1978, 1980 Syracuse 200 Winner
1986 All Pro Champion
Over 20 All Pro Wins