BILL'S BACK IN TIME COLUMN PAGE
Copies of my column in Mark Thomas' "Racin' Paper"
Column #19 from Column 31
BILL’S BACK IN TIME
By Bill Ladabouche
A PICTURE CAN BE WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS
The saying is old and hackneyed, but true. After having studied over a Rutland Herald newspaper photo of a pileup at the Vermont State Fairgrounds in Rutland, I have not gotten much further in trying to determine many of the competitors trapped therein. But, one thing is true – the photo tells a long and intertwined story of Vermont area racing in the first half of the 1960’s.
This 1960’s photo shows the painfully inadequate race track and the
effect its configuration
has on speedy race cars in close proximity to one another.. [Rutland Herald Photo]
Several efforts to hold racing had been made at the old fairgrounds horse track since the successful days of midget and sprint car racing at the fair in previous decades. Before the afternoon of the race program which spawned this photo, a 1958 race had been held with sports car / stock car hybrids which had been racing in the Bennington, Vermont area. Later, the United Racing Club and Harvey Tattersall tried a race with their NASCAR Grand National copy, the Grand Americans. A race was staged by the management of Lebanon Valley Speedway, and C.J. Richards promoted there, as well. It was one of his shows that resulted in the pileup.
Dick Dixon was the class of the Grand Americans, but Roy Halquist
won the URC feature in Rutland. [Photographer Unknown]
The pileup photo, for the longest time, showed only one competitor I could recognize. But, now, I have come to recognize that the picture shows that C.J. ‘s race attracted an eclectic array of teams from all over the area. The #33, sideways near the front of the pack, was Art Cody, from Claremont Speedway [and probably Cheshire Fairgrounds]. Cody, a multi-feature winner, ran that Henry Merrill coupe for years and years before retiring and winning the Megabucks in his retirement years. The coupe has been restored, since, and is occasionally displayed at vintage meets.
The restored Art Cody five window coupe. [Ken Paulsen Photo]
The car #10 seen to the inside of Cody’s car looked familiar to me for the longest time. Turns out, it was the former Timmer Macheski / Henry Abbott #44 out of Londonderry, Vermont. Abbott went through a brief period in 1962 or 63 when he was red hot at Fairmont Speedway, before the pair sold the car to Leo Howland and it disappeared into oblivion. Apparently, Howland unloaded the car to Weston, Vermont’s Harry Hale who had not gotten much experience in the car before turning it sideways in front of a snarling field of stock cars on a crowded horse track. Hale wasn’t seen much after that. Who could blame him ?
This grainy old photo of Henry Abbot [right] and car owner Joe Macheski
featured them as big stars at Fairmont Speedway in the early 1960’s.
The most prominent car in the photo, the big old Hudson Terraplane, remained unidentified until this year’s Diamond Run Mall show for Devil’s Bowl. There, I was told about a car that used to run at the old Otter Creek Speedway near Vergennes, Vermont. I had been looking at the car as the number 58b. It turns out the terrible graphics job belied the fact that it was actually supposed to be #586. The car came from outside Vergennes, and was owned by Lee and Fred Bull, who ran an Amoco station there. The driver, at the time, was none other than Bob Bushey, the famous driver of the Ralph Bushey “Spud 19” car at Malletts Bay Speedway. Bushey, a NASCAR driver, was doing an outlaw stint in the 586 that day and had turned or been turned in front of the whole feature field.
There were accidents waiting to happen lurking in that photo. The Checkmate car, another big old Hudson, would later send Art Rivers’ About 5 careening off the track and through a delicate little picket fence on the inside of the track. Vermont State Champion, George Rogers’ UP2 is seen, sitting several rows from the front, on the inside rail. Later that year, Rogers would slew his big white Chevy coupe, but not fast enough to avoid hitting James Van Guilder, who had been ejected from his poorly-built stock car at Fairmont and was about to be killed. Rogers nearly retired then and there.
George Roger’s big 1937 Chevy coupe sits in his backyard, early in 1962,
the year of the Van Guilder fatality which was no fault of Rogers.[Courtesy of Neal Davis]
That race was the last time stock cars were allowed at the Fairgrounds, except for a 2001 exhibition of vintage racers at low speed. There have been attempts to re-introduce stock cars to the track, but they have been met with strong resistance from the neighbors to the fairgrounds. Noise, dust, traffic, added to all the mishaps from the 1960’s races, have probably combined to ensure racing will never return.
Diamond Run Mall show generated several great stories and conversations about
races of the past. One interesting character I met was Frank Stratton, who used
to ply his trade around tracks like Fairmont as Flip the Clown. Stratton
featured one of those cars which had been modified so that both the front and
back were front ends of a 1950 Chevrolet. Stratton, who even hauled the
two-faced car to Airborne Speedway, would hard to entertain the kids during the
long intermissions of those days when track programs were anything but fast or
Another good yarn involved one of the best – known teams in the history of the old Fairmont Speedway – the F30 of owner Johnny Maguire and his driver “The Unbeatable Lennie Wood”. Wood had put together a fourteen – win streak in Fairmont’s hobby division, with his red and cream 1955 Chevrolet. Numerous teams, including Catamount’s legendary Beaver Dragon [who wasn’t a legend yet] had tried and failed to unseat Wood, whose Chevrolet sported bullhorns on the roof.
Finally, up from Lebanon Valley, came Chuck Ely and his Casper the Ghost #5, a car which had a clear technological advantage over Wood’s hobby. Ely ended up beating Woods, although not by much. A bounty had been placed on Wood’s head by Champlain Valley Racing Association promoter Charles J. Richards. According to the version I heard at the mall show, Ely was told by track officials that he wasn’t getting any bonus because the race was an “open”, and therefore the bonus did not apply.
The F30 of the Unbeatable Lennie Wood is towed into Fairmont near the
beginning of the team’s
impressive win streak. Few hobby cars had the quality that this one did, at that time. [LadabouchePhoto]
F30 owner Maguire was incensed, and proceeded to argue with officials on behalf of the man who had broken their streak. So heated did the argument become, that Maguire was banned from CVRA tracks forever [and those feelings haven’t changed forty years later]. The F30 was promptly sold to one Carlton Morey, father of current driver Todd Morey, and repainted as the Flying A. John Steele became the new driver, but the magic with the car was gone [and technology had changed].
I attended the first-ever Lost Race Tracks conference at the Saratoga Automobile Museum on April 15. I got to drive home in that Nor’Easter the same day and night, but it was worth it. Presenters talked about tracks like Empire, Menands, NY; Whites Beach, Ballston Lake, NY; Saranac Lake Speedway, in Saranac Lake, NY [big surprise]; Victoria Speedway, near Duanesburg, NY, and many more. Brian Ross, local race figure made good, was a very interesting guy to talk to. I made a lot of new acquaintances, including venerable tracl photographer Les King, formerly of Fort Edward, NY, who turns out the be the track photographer of Pico Raceway, among other early tracks I attended as a kid. I highly recommend attending the followup conference at the museum in November. It is run by Ron Hedger, a journalist from the Capital District area.
Brian Ross talks to one of the many conference attendees at the Saratoga
His is living proof that success doesn’t spoil everyone. [Blurry Photo by Ladabouche :( ]
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