Potomac Speedway officials are still reeling after a bizarre incident last weekend that resulted in the three-eighths-mile, dirt oval's first fatality since opening its gates in 1973.

Vernon Harris, 48, was running third at the halfway point of the 100-lap Midsummer Championship late model stock car race Saturday night when a piece of body tubing, discarded from another car, ripped up through the floor of his vehicle and severed the main artery in his left leg.

Harris, suffering tremendous blood loss, maintained control of the car, rolled to a stop and began to remove his helmet. Cornermen, suspecting engine trouble and unaware of the injury, reached Harris within "30 or 60 seconds," according to track promoter Pete Cameron. The on-site ambulance rushed Harris to St. Mary's Hospital from where he was transported to the Washington Hospital Center's trauma center. He died about 3 1/2 hours later.

"The whole racing world has never heard of anything like that before and will probably never hear about anything like that again," said a still-shaken Cameron on Thursday. "Everybody is in shock right now."

Harris, the track's defending late model champion, had not missed a race at Potomac since 1976, won his first late model championship in 1987. Ironically, after last season's title, Harris decided to run a limited schedule this year and hired Rodney Franklin of Winchester, Va., as his primary driver.

Harris, who is survived by a wife and two sons, will be remembered each year as the speedway plans to hold a memorial race in his honor. "He didn't have any enemies," said Cameron. "Everybody seems to have some enemies along the line, but he didn't. That's the type of guy he was."

No Holds Barred Race

The Maryland International Raceway, Potomac Speedway's next door neighbor in Budd's Creek, will host a unique, no-rules event Aug. 8 when the Mountain Motor Nationals comes to town with a Pro Stock drag racing event. Limits on engine size and vehicle weight are discarded and speeds approaching 200 mph are expected.

A crowd of about 10,000 is expected; gates open at 4 p.m and elimination heats begin at 8.

Around the Track

McLean native John Tanner remains the leading American driver in the Barber Saab Pro Series despite a 15th-place finish in the circuit's last race at Sears Point International Raceway, July 15. Tanner, who posted the fourth-fastest time in qualifying, struggled with electrical problems all day but is fourth in the season points standings. Tanner will try to improve his standing in the series' next race in Portland, Ore., on July 29. . . .

Hagerstown (Md.) Speedway is hosting the ninth running of the Conococheague 100. The two-day event began last night with time trials and qualifying and will conclude tonight.