BILL'S BACK IN TIME COLUMN PAGE
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Column #11 from Column 24
BILL’S BACK IN TIME
By Bill Ladabouche
TRYING THE RACES AT THE RUTLAND FAIRGROUNDS
Until C.J. Richards re-opened his version of the Fairmont Speedway around 1962, racing was damned scarce around my region in the sixties. If you couldn’t get a ride either over to Claremont, New Hampshire, down to Stateline Speedway near Bennington, or all the way to Fonda or Lebanon Valley, the only choices were north, to Malletts Bay or all the way to Northeastern Speedway or the new Thunder Road. So, when they would occasionally try a few races staged at the Vermont State Fairgrounds in Rutland, Vermont, I managed to get there – even if I had to beg for the ride.
It is not clear to me how many times the stock cars drove there – I clearly remember the day in 1960 when someone promoted a race with the Lebanon Valley cars. Another time, Harvey Tattersall brought in the United Racing Club late models, including a few which were almost the equal of a NASCAR Grand National car. Another time – in 1957- someone promoted “hot rod” races with cars which were, as far as I can remember, not stock cars or sports cars. They were kind of hot rods, of which some guy named Jay Jacobs was the class of the field.
Bill Ladabouche Photo Collection.
Jelley, shown here at Fairmont in 1962, insists the 1960 fairgrounds
show was a pre-arranged deal designed to give the locals a good,
but safe show.
Ever the promoter, C.J. Richards knew that he could only introduce his sport to the unfamiliar folks somewhere other than his little half mile in Fair Haven, Vermont; so, at least twice, he promoted races at the fair, himself. Richards was benefiting from the Lebanon Valley show of 1960, which was run with the utmost caution, given the ridiculously unsafe racing conditions. Butch Jelley insists the drivers and the sanctioning group got together before the race and agreed how the finish was to happen – to avoid any serious accidents. Don Rounds is annoyed by this story and disagrees strongly, saying there was no such deal. Even with questionable agreement notwithstanding, the Valley boys managed to stuff Claremont regular Sonny Rabideau into the first turn wall, barely missing the propane tanks of Roxie’s French Fry stand.
Photo Source Unknown
Dick Dixon drove this car, one place ahead of Devine,
when the big URC disaster occurred
The fairgounds are again the subject of debate because a group wants to bring racing back there again. Back in the 1950’s and 1960’s, no one was proposing the races be regular weekly events, and no one gave much protest when car would appear during fair week. We fans, unaware of any arrangement, thought the Valley cars were pretty cool, loud, and fast. Jelley has told me who won that race, but I don’t remember and it is immaterial to the discussion. The Valley show went off without a hitch; then, all hell broke loose.
I would guess that the United Racing Club ran there around 1963, because Tattersall’s frontrunner, Roy Halquist, had a 1963 Ford just like the ones we were seeing in NASCAR Grand National photos. The race went most of the afternoon with three cars running well ahead of the others – Halquist winning, Dick Dixon of Warehouse Point, Connecticut in second with a ’60 Ford, and Bob Devine, in a 1961 Chevy third. There were some other big names scattered in the pack, like Danny Gallulo. Les Ley, and Bill Greco, but a lot of the URC field that day was made up of crap cars he dug up from somewhere to fill out the places.
Courtesy of Tony Morodino, Jr. Site
Bob Devine with an early car. Little did he know what would happen
in Vermont years later.
Towards the end of the race, Devine lost it and went through the flimsy wooden fence off turn two. He pinned a woman against her car, shearing off her leg against a trailer hitch. The horrified fair council was not favorable disposed to any more racing there; but C.J. talked them into it about a year later. The Champlain Valley Racing Association ended up having two shows at the fair. One went OK, and one was a disaster. If I remember correctly, Ed Baker, of Warrensburg, New York – one of C.J. ‘s better teams – threw a wheel in turn three, and the wheel went out, onto U.S. Route 7 and struck a man right between the legs. That had to leave a mark. After that, I don’t think we saw any more shows at the fairgrounds.
Otto Graham Website Photo
The CVRA boys were no match for Jerry Townley and Tom Chewins
with their well-used orange sportsman car.
In the second Richards show, Jerry Townley of Catskill, New York won the race driving the orange #108 for Tom Chewins. The team was a regular at Fonda; and I don’t know why they were allowed to run with the Fairmont boys. But, the locals didn’t seem to be in the same league with Townley, who – at that time – was little more that a backmarker at Fonda. The race might have been the highlight of Chewins’ car-owning career because Townley went on to drive the 32 for Pop Wilcox and Tom disappeared from the scene.
The fairgrounds races had to some beauteous crashes, and the inadequate fencing couldn’t contain it all. One photo from the Devils Bowl program shows a shot from C.J’s 1962 show, in which Art Rivers is tumbling over a tiny, flimsy picket fence, scaring the hell out of some fair officials looking on from the old announcer’s tower in the infield. Another of C.J.’s photos shows a massive pileup in turn one – very near to where Rabideau had been stuffed two years before. With fences on either side, it took a while to sort cars out and clear out the disabled racers. I would wish those who are pushing for races at the Rutland fairgrounds; but, I do not believe there is any way in hell they’ll get it.
Photos from Devils Bowl Program, Courtesy of Ed Fabian
This pileup shows 33, Art Cody, one of the CVRA’s best drivers. The building directly above the 58b and 10 is Roxie’s French Fry, with the propane tanks Rabideau narrowly avoided in 1960.
I was brought to remember the year [or maybe two] when the Dragon boys exiled themselves from Northern NASCAR, in 1970 and 1971. For so many fans in the northern Vermont region, this was a very dark event. The circuit went on to have a great points battle without them in 1970, with Winooski’s Ron Barcomb narrowly edging out Maurice “Little Mo” Dubois of Hinesburg for the state title. This period also saw the return of the hated Canadians and the entry of the big buck racing operation, in the form of the John Rosati team out of Agawam, Massachusetts. Then, too, we saw the advent of the Mopar in the circuit, as several teams blossomed out with Dodge or Plymouth. Before that, the only real Chrysler product was Larry Parson’s not-too-successful #11.
Courtesy of Dan Nolin
Chester T. Woods was clearly the pride of Orange County, judging from all the local ads on his car; but he, without a doubt, the most distressingly ugly car many competitors at Catamount had ever seen. They shouldn’t have let looks fool them.
As you look back at 1970 and 1971, there was a lot that did happen so that, when Bobby [and later Beaver] returned, they returned to a little more variety and drama than before they left. Former Thunder Road character [and very popular figure] Chester T. Woods of Orange had returned with a horrendous – looking Plymouth and was very successful. Several Massachusetts teams would follow the Rosatis up to Vermont, as well as a few other names from New Hampshire who had slipped from the scene with when the fatheads were phased out in 1965.
Catamount Program Photo
Ron Barcomb and Chief Pit Steward Archie Blackadar lean in to talk to Bobby Dragon as he straps in his modified at the special Catamount modified show around 1970. You can see that none of them were too happy to see Dragon as an outsider at his own hometown track.
Nonetheless, there was always a lingering sort of “downer” feeling that , with all that going on, the Dragons were not there to battle Cabana and Manny’s well-funded teams from Montreal, to fend off the big – buck Rosati juggernaut from the South, and to add fuel to the already – potent points race that would be shaping up as Barcomb brought in a striking 1968 Ford Torino with which to defend his title. When the modifieds were invited to return to Catamount for a show, Bobby did show up with his 454 C.I. modified that he was now running on pavement at Devils Bowl and Airborne.
In time, Bobby tired of the CVRA, built a 1964 Chevelle and returned to have the best season he ever enjoyed. Beaver came back later and,. After wandering around without a ride for a while, began the wonderful years with those yellow #75’s. The fans in the fourth turn at Catamount could again scream back and forth at the Canadians, waving money in the air and calling out “Cabana!” or “Dragon !” The Exile, was not much fun for anyone, except those who had found they suddenly had a better chance to grab a feature win or two without Beaver and Bobby around.
Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any photos to lend me or information and corrections I could benefit from. Please do not submit anything you are not willing to allow me to use on my website - and thanks. For those who still don’t like computers - my regular address is: Bill Ladabouche, 23 York Street, Swanton, Vermont 05488.
AS ALWAYS, DON’T FORGET TO CHECK OUT MY WEBSITE: www.catamountstadium.com
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