THE BILL'S BACK IN TIME COLUMN PAGE
Copies of my column in Mark Thomas' "Racin' Paper"
Column #23 from Column 35
BILLíS BACK IN TIME
By Bill Ladabouche
YOU FIND FONDA STARS IN THE DARNEDEST PLACES
Airborne Speedway, in Plattsburgh, New York is located pretty much on beautiful Lake Champlain - in one of the Easternmost parts of the Empire State. Promoter [and DIRT driver] Mike Perrotte has produced a show from a most unlikely source - dirt mods running on a paved track. It has been experimented with in recent years; but, Mike has now been doing it for three years. And, except for the fact a lot of his field is very inexperienced and thus pretty hairy at times, the concept has worked well.
To bolster interest in the track, its new owner Steve Fuller, and the whole Airborne experience, Mike brought in some antique midgets and sprint cars for the June 2 show. Despite severe weather all around them and some very threatening skies, he got the show in - which included a run by the old open cars.
Among those showing up with a restored vintage was Shaftsbury, Vermont's Bruce Carmen. Bruce's driving career was not the stuff of legends, but he was a very successful car builder. Usually, Bruce's number was 23; and his most pronounced successes were when his 23's were driven by Mert "Socks" Hulbert, now a member of the Hall of Fame. Hulbert was a champion at Morris, if I am correct.
Bruceís first car, one which he drove himself, was all
but forgotten with all those great cars he fielded later.
Carmen, whom I had the pleasure of presenting with the only known photo of his very first race car [which he raced a bit at the old Fairmont Speedway in Fair Haven, Vermont] is active in the vintage race car circuit, making appearances at shows like Swanzey, NH. He recently had the honor of putting some of his work, a restored #77 driven at the Valley by Ernie Marshall, into the Saratoga Automobile Museum.
In a completely unexpected stroke of good fortune, I happened to be looking at some of the other vintage racers when my eyes fell upon some writing on one of them: Driver: Carl Fink. Carl Fink? Can't be the same Carl Fink who raced in New York; but then, how many guys could possibly be named Carl Fink ? It turned out that this was, in fact, the guy featured in the Fonda Speedway history book as probably having the highest - flying wreck [at least on the backstretch] in the track's history.
I was aware of Carl Fink before the Fonda book ever came out. I have one particular photo of him in a beautiful #72 [apparently owned by cousin Bob Zimmerman]. The car was spotless and beautiful - apparently not run yet that year], It took me another thirty plus years to figure out what the sign on the hood "3 B's and an A" stood for. They were the first names of the crew: Bob Zimmerman [owner], Buck Godfrey, Bud Froelich, and Al Weber [a fomer1950ís Grand National driver].
This photo of Fink shows the beautiful Zimmerman 72.
A tall, unassuming man, Fink was surprised and very grateful to be recognized and to talk about the good old days of racing in Eastern New York. He enjoyed seeing an album full of old Fonda era photos and that loosened up some memories for him. It turns out that Carl was racing well before his participation in the Golden Era of Fonda. He even had brief experience at Burden Lake, Harold Garstangís track late 1940ís track that was so old, they practically had to shoo dinosaurs off it before they started watering it for the day.
Most people think of the 62Jr. with Kenny Goodermotte, but Carl drove it first.
Carl first drove a Hudson Hornet, the Lazy 4 for Johnny Alexander. He moved on to tracks like Rhinebeck, NY and the Pine Bowl, driving the famous 62Jr for John Harvey Ė before it ended up in the hands of Kenny Goodermotte. This is why Carlís restored midget is numbered 62Jr. He also had a turn with the incredibly homely Hudson coupe, #3 and 1/7, owned by Al Green. I remember seeing this car visit Fairmont Speedway, then being driven by Joe Messina. This was the day Messina was leading the feature, threw the enormous right front slick and I watched the wheel clear the flimsy retaining fence, bounce next to an occupied baby carriage, and go over the spectators, never harming a one. I can only imagination the young promoter, C.J. Richards, must have had his [racing] life flash before him during that little incident.
Courtesy of Norm Vadnais
The Al Green car wasnít much to look at, but it flew. Here, Joe Messina is at the wheel at Fairmont Speedway.
Fink then went on to run Victoria and Fonda. In a Howard Herbert family collection picture made popular on the Otto Graham website, the Ed Newell #333 is seen taking the green in a heat race, and it is said to be driven by Ron Quakenbush. Carl Fink insists that, if it is Victoria, HE is the driver of the 333. Of course, he also drove for cousin Bob Zimmerman, who fielded #72ís and #172ís. He even briefly drove the 83 for Cliff Wright, when Howie Westervelt or Donny Wayman could not make a show.
Russ Bergh Photo Ladabouche Collection
Carl sat in for the Cliff Wright /Don Zautner 83 once when either
Howie Westervelt [shown here] or Don Wayman was unavailable.
Carl now enjoys a weekly breakfast with some of the surviving figures from that great time in New York racing. He meets at Watervliet with Cliff Wright, old partner Don Zautner [of Toll Gate Ice Cream fame], photographers Les King and John Grady, Bruce Doestal, and Link Pettit Ė to name a few. He extended me an open invitation to meet them some week. And, despite the three + hour trip that would entail, I am going to try and do that.
Carlís saddest story involves Zimmermanís last attempt at field a sportsman coupe for Fonda Ė a 1937 Ford numbered 72. Fink said he tried to get the car to handle and could not; so, he stepped out of the seat for what turned out to be his last time, apparently. In steeped Pepper Eastman, an immensely popular driver from Madison, New York who had the number 181ís now made famous by Lew Boyd with Coastal 181 publishing firm. Pepper was driving the ill-handling beast at Fonda when he rolled, struck some part of himself against the steering wheel, and later died.
The Bob Zimmerman #72 car enters Fonda on a summer evening in 1964. Pepper Eastman had begun driving by this time.
Guys like Carl Fink are out there, and they are our racing history, in person. We have to talk to them and appreciate them while we can. We are losing them, left and right. Most of the figures from the Golden Era of Fonda are gone now: Danish, Shoemaker, Corey, Lazzaro, Herbert, Pieniazek, and others will never again be able to tell us stories about that time in stock car racing. We still have Wimble, Palmer, and others, but the Kotarys are all gone, as is Maynard Forrette. More regions need to sponsor Homecomings, Vintage meets, reunions, and area Halls of Fame. This era today of plastic cars whose only differences are the decals and what month they bought the crate motors will never, ever be what the 1950ís and Ď60ís were to racing.
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