Larry W. Rotter
A Tribute To A Champion
by Chris Spehert
Larry Rotter was a funny guy. It might not always have been apparent – he came across as a quiet, unassuming guy – but he had wonderfully dry sense of humor that never failed to crack me up because I never expected it.
Here is a classic story about Larry. It takes place in November 2004 at Ned Wicker’s Lake County oval – a big, fast track. A car comes out of the slot on the front stretch and rather than pick the car up – the track marshal attempts to push the car back into the slot. Larry clips the stranded car and ends up on the floor. The immediate question was whether or not it was a valid DNF. I had a clear view of the incident so I was sequestered back behind Ned’s furnace with Phil – who was commissioner at the time – and asked to make a judgment call. I decided it was a valid DNF – though it did later lead to the creation of the “Rotter Rule” which stated that a poorly marshaled car could not cause another car to DNF.
At the next race – the Turkey Trot, which was being held at Jim Kaehny’s house for the final year – Larry handed me a pair of black gag glasses in reference to my “bad” call the race before. I thought that was really funny.
We have a lot of clowns in our group. Our series has always been as much about fun – as it has been about actual racing. The races at Larry’s house always brought out an extra dose of insanity – I think because he always had such wonderful props. For Dan Margetta and me, it was always like being set loose in a candy shop.
How many jokes did we make about the large – but empty (thankfully) – jar of Ma Baensch’s Pickled Herring that was always on the shelf? I recall we once did a whole skit based upon that jar: Charlie and the Pickled Herring Factory. There was even a “golden ticket” found inside the jar!
There was the segment we did on the large amount of electronic devices that Larry had out by his television – or the segments we did about the multiple boxes of dry pasta and tomato juice and bottle water that were stored in the basement – there was always some insane story to explain why he had so many dry grocery items stashed in his basement!
I’d be remiss to not mention the famed “Austin Incident” back in 2002! Larry did not drink – but he always had a nice selection of liquor for the rest of us. Dave Austin – who would occasionally have a “few” – was having a good time that night. I can’t remember the exact sequence of events – even though I was filming the entire thing – but somehow Dave ended up falling, crashing into a card table, knocking over a bottle of rum – which then slowly rolled across the table before crashing onto the floor. Dave received a nice cut on his nose from the broken glass.
On a side note – as I was looking at the box score from the race – I see that Mike Kristof completed one lap before crashing – in fact – I don’t think he even completed a lap – I think we “gave” him a lap because the notation next to his result mentions a “pity” lap!
It was always fun at Larry’s house. The food was always good, too. I think Larry won the best food award something like 5 years running. You always knew it was going to be some sort of baked spaghetti dish and that you were going to eat way too much!
I also want to talk about his tracks. Larry had the most beautiful tracks around. His tracks truly were like slot car tracks set into the middle of a model train layout. The attention to detail was amazing. I always felt bad when I’d wreck and knock down a tree or maybe a figurine of a fisherman who was fishing in Turtle Creek. Larry would always watch us with a wary – yet resigned – eye whenever we’d monkey with one of his tracks for our broadcast. I think maybe one reason I had so much fun at Larry’s was because I seldom did very well on his tracks. Raven used to give me massive headaches. I think I did well there once – my rookie year – when you actually still had to qualify to even make the heat races. It was one of two heat races I made that year. Turtle Creek always gave me fits – that damned bridge! On a humorous note – I think Raven had the only “nude” viewing area in slot car racing! It was funny little touches like that which I think shed some light on his fun personality.
How many races did he save? The power would go out or a lane would suddenly stop working and all eyes would turn towards Larry. He’d soon be down on his hands and knees – soldering gun in one hand – troubleshooting the problem – fixing it – and then getting the show back on the road. He was always generous with his time when it came to the building of new tracks – probably because he loved the hobby so much. I know he was over at my house numerous times because I kept changing my layout. I’d imagine that most tracks in the series have his handiwork on them somewhere.
Larry curtailed his level of participation over the past several years – but in his heyday – he was the man! When I started racing he was a mid-pack finisher – but then he took off and started winning race after race. It was like someone lit a fire underneath him. He went on to win three championships in five years, along with a boatload of race wins and pole positions. It got to the point where he won so often that we staged our “Who Shot LR?” skit at the close of the season. The gist of the plot was that someone was so tired of Larry winning all of the time that they attempted to shoot him – the cliffhanger being to find out if he’d live to race again. I got to be the disembodied hand that fired the starter’s pistol from behind a tree in Jim Kaehny’s backyard!
He also had two of the best nicknames in series history: Larry “Hot” Rotter in reference to his quickness on the track and “El Gato” – The Cat – because you could never count him out. He seemingly had nine lives like a cat.
I’m sure some of you remember the song “Rotter’s on the Pole” (set to the tune of “Rider’s on the Storm” by the Doors). Sing it in your head right now as you read this – or sing it out loud!
He was a good sport. As one of the “personalities” of our series – I had the chance to interview Larry before many a final. Our interviews are always off-the-wall – and Larry always rolled with the punches very well. For anybody who didn’t really know him – they might think he would be ill-at-ease on camera because he was quiet – but that was never the case. He always kept up with me and quite often delivered a classic line that would just crack me up.
There was a point late in his career when he went through a lengthy winless streak – and whenever he would make a final – we’d point out that fact. The length of his winless streak grew with each interview: 10 races, 20 races, 200 races, 1000 races and so on. I think I was almost a little sad when he finally broke the streak – though happy for Larry – because we could no longer use that gimmick in our interviews.
I guess when all is said and done – Larry was a guy I liked being around. He was a nice guy – a genuine guy. He loved racing toy cars with us – and I think it’s safe to say that we were all a little sad when he retired from full-time participation. It was always nice seeing him a couple times a year when we’d race at this track and it truly saddens me deeply that we’ll no longer be seeing him. I’ll never again take that right at the bottom of the stairs into Larry’s Laundry Room of Slot Car Racing – where his immaculate tracks were on full display, the mini fridge (which was located adjacent to the shelf that was always stuffed with 20 boxes of Rotini and a cases of diced peaches) was stocked with a cold bottle of Sprecher Root Beer, there was a bowl of Peanut M&M’s waiting to be consumed and a fun night of racing and camaraderie ahead.
God speed, Larry! Thank you for the memories and the friendship. We’ll miss you!
For more about Larry's Hall of Fame career please visit his HOF Page here at IndySlotCar.com
"Mr. Rotter was a class act and I have many fond memories of the time we spent together racing." - Phil Cianciola, founder IndySlotCar Series