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BILL’S BACK IN TIME
By Bill Ladabouche
Site Column #81 from My
A CHANCE ENCOUNTER WITH A RACING PIXIE
Ed Sanseverino Photo
Usually, if I am doing any writing about Tiger Tom – it is about Fonda’s unpredictable Tom Kotary. The past 27th of August, at John Casey’s Old Timers’ party at Thunder Road, I had the fortune of meeting another Tiger Tom – former Grand National driver Tiger Tom Pistone. With everyone at that event [and there were legions of notables, I was most determined to get a photo with Pistone.
I grabbed a photo op with Tiger Tom before he disappeared again to help Ragan.
The diminutive Chicago native happened to be at the track not because of Casey’s great party, but because he accompanied his friend , Ken Ragan, another former big league driver, to Vermont to watch David Ragan drive. I have always been fascinated with Pistone ever since I used to receive Stock Car Racing magazine at a time when the Grand National division was far less interesting – being dominated bv a few factory teams. For a period of time, the low – budget independents were just along to be field fillers. But not Tiger Tom Pistone.
Several article chronicled his races with #59, in which he and Bobby Johns would lead Grand National races, having passed those factory teams in the process. Naturally, something usually broke because they were not running the same quality equipment as the Pettys, the Pearsons, the Yarboroughs, and the others.
Tom was a capable, but low-budget Grand National operation. [Pistone Site]
The meeting of Pistone was fortuitous because, not long ago, I had done the Paul Connors interviews, and that double column had just been re-run, in the Rutland area shoppers’ paper Sam’s Good News. I had felt Rutland County should know about the single best race driver that ever left their midst – and no one knew him at all. Pistone was absolutely familiar with Paul and he agreed with everything I was saying about Paul’s driving accomplishments, which included being one of the best late model sportsman drivers ever in the Southeast, being hired to drive for Buck Baker, and developing the first AMC Javelin in the Grand Touring division.
Pistone started out in his native Chicago, driving at venues like Soldier Field, the same stadium the Chicago Bears play in. He speaks of the promotional skills of the Granatelli brothers, Andy and Vince, who staged those races and added in a number of their men in each field, who were out there to make sure someone rolled over. Pistone tells how some of the staff seemed to be helpful in helping Tom chain down the suspension on his car, when – in fact – it just made it easier for one of them to flip him over.
Tom won five championships in his native Chicago. [Legends of NASCAR site]
Competing against some Chicago – area legend like Gene Marmor and Sal Tovella, Pistone captured five Championships with Granatelli at the Soldier Field races, which prompted support for Tom to try his hand at Grand National racing. He is particularly proud of his 1958 Ford Thunderbird car. I find photos of a model of the car delightful because the car is the same model, the same year, and the same colors as the Hurricane car Norm Cyr drove at Catamount in 1971. I served on that crew and the graphics were the first lettering job in what would become a ten – year career in the sign business.
The similarity between the Pistone T Bird [left] and the Cyr car is uncanny. Both were yellow, with red and black
numbers. The difference was in many, many dollars. [Pistone Web Site and Gilbert Family Photo]
Pistone’s 1964 Ford Galaxy is., most likely, the car mentioned in the Stock Car Racing magazine when Tiger Tom was quoted as being delighted because he loved to pass “that factory iron”. I never forgot him, standing a full head shorter than the others in the drivers’ meeting, a bandana wrapped around his head. Connors was fond of telling how Tiny Lund, a mountain of a man and close friend of both Paul and Tom, took regular pleasure in hoisting Pistone above his head by the ankles and shaking him until everything fell out of the pockets of his driver’s suit. Ken Ragan attests to that, adding how amazing it was that Lund could so easily lift Tom above his own head.
The Tiny Lund story turned out to be completely based in fact. [Legends of NASCAR site]
Tom Pistone had great days in the Chicagoland racing world and he was know to drive a few Grand National races, but he made his living racing in the same late model divisions that produced so many of the South’s great drivers, such as the Allisons, Wendell Scott, Lund, Connnors, Jody Ridley, Randy Tissot, Bobby Brack, Sam Ard, and so many more. That racing was not easy, it was almost every night somewhere, and it is what made so many of the big stars as good as they were. Grand National and Winston Cup were child’s play after that existence.
He loved passing factory iron with his independent Grand National cars. [Legends of NASCAR Site]
Today, Pistone is a businessman, a father, and a good friend to people like Ragan. I do believe he could probably sell sand to camel-herding nomads. He has an endearing way about him and he is genuinely fond of everyone he meets. Tom hit 80 years this year. I hope we have him around for many more years to come. I wish family the best, as Mrs. Pistone is ill at the present time. If you are ever anywhere that Tiger Tom is appearing, meeting him will make your day.
Several prominent vintage racing stars called Tiny Lund friend, and Pistone was one of his best friends.
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