Friday, September 16, 2016

WBTV Website Story Includes Wrestling and Racing Memory

by Dick Bourne
Mid-Atlantic Gateway

Mike Cline, longtime friend of the Gateway and publisher of the terrific Mid-Atlantic Grapplin' Greats website, forwarded to us a link to an article on the WBTV-3 TV website. The article is ostensibly about a current WBTV reporter, David Whisenant (author of the article) reconnecting with Charlotte area radio broadcasting legend Larry Bruton. After not having been in contact with each other for many years, David had received a letter and a package from Bruton. The package contained a gift for David, a 1960s 16mm Bell & Howell movie camera that was used to record silent film footage of local news events that would be used on the local WBTV TV newscasts. It was a memento from Bruton's career that he wanted David to have.

Larry Bruton in the mid-1960s (
Reporter Notebook: Two broadcasters reconnect over a period of forty years
By David Whisenant,

The letter, however, also contained a nice little Charlotte-wrestling memory Bruton had from the 1960s that related directly to the 16mm silent film camera.

Here is an excerpt (emphasis mine) from Whisenant's article that relates to Bruton's wrestling/auto racing story involving legendary pro wrestling manager Homer O'Dell.

Manager Homer O'Dell with
Bronko Lubich and Aldo Bogni
(Mid-Atlantic Grapplin' Greats website)
This type of camera has a pretty interesting history, both with WBTV, and in the world of televised sports.  Larry recalled one of the first times that a TV news camera was placed inside of a race car actually running on the track at Charlotte Motor Speedway

"I shot film with this camera from a race car at speed at the Charlotte Motor Speedway that was broadcast on WBTV in 1966," Bruton wrote.  "We taped Bill Ward's Championship Wrestling show on Wednesday nights for rebroadcast on Saturdays, and one of the wrestling managers was named Homer O'Dell.  I think Homer was one of the first "bad guy" wrestling managers who shouted and threw chairs and such.  He was best known later for the tag teams of Brute Bernard and Scull Murphy, and Rip Hawk and Swede Hansen, but in 1966 he had two nasty wrestlers named Bronko Lubich and Aldo Bogni, a couple of real knuckledraggers."

Bruton said that at the time, O'Dell realized the value of a cross promotion between wrestling and racing.

"To promote his wrestlers, he had bought a patched up 1964 Ford race car, hired a driver, and officially entered the 600," Bruton recalled.  "During race week Homer came into the studio to tape the wrestling matches and began showing around pictures of the car.  I asked him if I could come to the speedway the next morning and try to shoot some film from inside the car while it was on the track for practice.  Homer was all for it, and they said they would rig up some kind of seat for me on the passenger side.  When I got to the track, the 'seat' was an upside-down wire milk crate sitting unattached to the shoulder harness or seatbelt.  And nobody seemed to question any of this.  These are the kinds of things you do when you are young and stupid.  Anyway, I locked an arm around a roll bar support to steady the camera and off we go around the track at full speed.  I held the camera braced against my chest pointing it out the windshield and the side windows, and we used the film on the 6pm newscast, so I'd say WBTV scooped the network in-car cameras by about 13 years."

Bruton says the race cars actual performance on the track wasn't as exciting.

"In the big race, the car blew up after only twenty laps or so, and the Homer O'Dell Wrestling #96 Ford finished dead last," Bruton added.  "I think he gave up race car ownership shortly after that an d went back to fulltime chair throwing."

(Editor note: The car didn't actually finish dead last, but it was close.  The Homer O'Dell Ford finished 38th out of 44 cars.  Driver Sonny Lamphear retired with drive shaft troubles on lap 29.)  (Read complete article.)

It's nice to come across even the smallest recollection from an era in pro-wrestling that is now largely forgotten or ignored. It's part of what Mike Cline does on his Grapplin' Greats website and what we strive to do here on the Gateway. It's nice to know Larry Bruton has some of those wrestling memories tucked away, too, and was able to share them with David Whisenant in his letter.

The Bell & Howell camera may have been the gift to Whisenant, but the wrestling memories are gifts to all of of us.