BILL'S WEEKLY COLUMN/BLOG PAGE
BILL’S BACK IN TIME
By Bill Ladabouche
ART CODY, A QUIET STAR LEAVES A VOID IN
LOCAL STOCK CAR HISTORY
We received word and the usual emails with obituaries when it was learned that Keene, NH native, Art Cody had passed away. Of course, this meant we had lost another of our treasured racing heroes from the earlier years of the sport. The obit contained this sentence: “As time went on he found himself singing karaoke and stock car racing in Claremont, Fairhaven and Keene. For his racing passion he has been listed as one of New Hampshire’s stock car legends.” It’s a nice tribute, but it doesn’t give the casual reader much of an idea how good Art was, in his day.
Cavalcade of Auto Racing Photo Ladabouche Collection
This is what I think of when I recall Art Cody – a pleasant, red --headed guy with a
well – used – looking yellow Ford coupe.
Cody, unlike contemporary New Hampshire rivals like Ted Brown, Buddy Bardwell, and Sonny Rabideau, did not push his career much beyond the early 1960’s. Driving primarily in a yellow 1932 Ford coupe owned by Henry Merrill, Cody confined most of his racing to the southern New Hampshire area and to southern Vermont – particularly Fair Haven.
The first time I encountered Cody was around 1958. My area of Vermont had not enjoyed racing in over six years when a big championship race was advertised by the Malletts Bay Raceway, in the northern Vermont community of Colchester. The track, either named as mentioned or perhaps – by that time – was going by the name of Colchester – Bayview Speedway – was banking on attracting competitors from southern Vermont and New Hampshire, eastern New York, as well as northern Vermont and New Hampshire, as well.
Bob Mackey Photo Courtesy of Mike Watts, Sr.
The race track at Malletts Bay, probably being paved by 1958, may not have been the
ideal racing surface for Cody, who was used to the sandy surface of Claremont.
As my uncle and I rode up US Route 7 towards the Chittenden County track, we were followed by a car stiff – hitching a small yellow #33 stock car. I first surmised this must have been one of the former Pico Raceway cars we had seen back in 1952. I never knew until four years later that this was Cody and Merrill, joining a few other New Hampshire flathead teams in challenging the northern teams which included several overhead V-8 sportsman – type cars.
Cody apparently did not do anything spectacular that Sunday afternoon. I vaguely recall a car with a number like 100 or X100 running away fro the field so badly that is was almost as if it was an entirely higher form of race car. I would not see Cody again until one instance at the bucolic Otter Creek Speedway, in 1961. Cody was to become a consistent and effective performer in 1962 when the opening of C.J. Richards’ Fairmont Speedway attracted a number of Claremont Speedway teams [which, by the way, dominated the track in its early years].
Courtesy of Cho Lee
The Merrill 33, in a 1954 lineup at Safford Park, the Cheshire County Fairgrounds,
under the guidance of George Schnyer, Sr.
The little yellow coupe that Cody drove to multiple victories and championships actually predates Art, himself. It began at the Cheshire Fairgrounds near Keene, being driven by George Schnyer, a hulking 1950’s era driver. Schnyer won a number of titles in the 1950’s – particularly at Cheshire, but it unclear how many [if any] were with that particular coupe. The 33, like its New York counterpart, the # 6PACK Hudson out of Athol, NY, had only two drivers. Like the Vern Baker – owned 6PACK, whose only drivers were the legendary Glens Falls native Wally LaBelle and then the Athol, NY star, Ed Baker – the 33 had only the successful Schnyer and then the hall of fame caliber Cody as pilots. And, in both cases, the exact same car survived for nearly two decades and kept the same owners.
Courtesy of the Bob Hackel Family
Wally LaBelle lines up the 6PACK at Warrensburgh, NY’s Ashland Park Speedway in the mid 1950’s. Below – Same car, with owner Vern Baker nearby. This was the early ‘60’s and Ed Baker was now the driver.
Even in that first year at Fairmont, the Cody 33 was one of the leading entries at the track, along with fellow Granite Staters Buddy Bardwell, Ted Brown, Cecil Bosworth [Mass. Driver with NH car owner] and Sonny Rabideau [a Brattleboro man with a NH car owner]. With the passing of C.J. Richards, little is known about where any records of point standings from those early years have gone; it is a certainty that Cody and Merrill were among the leaders in points for each of the first three years of Richards’ promotions. Qualifying heats were always run according to handicap, and Cody was always placed in the third, or high handicap, heat.
This photo of a 1962 Fairmont high handicap heat serves two purposes. 1.) it shows Cody [foreground] in his accustomed heat. 2.) The fabled 6 PACK of Ed Baker sits outside the 33 of Cody. Red Smith’s 33and1/3 is in front of Cody and the balck and white #7 sedan of Joe Spellburg is in front of Baker. Bardwell is behind Cody, to the far left.
During the 1962 and 1963 seasons, Richards also had a hand in running the Otter Creek Speedway, near Vergennes, VT. Most of the Fairmont regulars frequented that long, bumpy, dusty pasture track to get some extra money. I do not believe they were required to run there for CVRA points. Art Cody always ran very consistently at Otter Creek, picking up a few wins along the way. He had even appeared there at least once or twice in the track’s inaugural year of 1961, as he was mentioned on the 1962 track program as a competitor from the previous year.
In the fading light of a Vermont Fall afternoon, Cody pauses before returning to the Otter Creek pits to start or resume a race. At that track, to have welding done, a competitor had to drive up the hill from the pits, into the spectator area, to Hi Monroe’s construction barn. Russ Shaw, soon to be a driver himself, is in the white sweatshirt.
By 1965, as Richards and Fairmont were getting into the overhead valve sportsman revolution, the flathead – powered New Hampshire cars began to fade away, concentrating mainly on the Claremont track. Many of the once – dominant New Hampshire teams would occasionally re-appear in Vermont – at the last hurrah of Fairmont and at the new Devil’s Bowl facility; but, most of them had converted to overheads [either in sportsman cars or in their old flathead cars]. Rabideau hung on the longest with a flathead, still able to battle the overheads often before blowing up; Bardwell was using a six cylinder Hudson to compete.
Norman McIver Portrait Courtesy of Cho Lee
Mike Cody raced enough in the north to rate a portrait photo by Norman McIver.
Below – A car Mike once ran at Fairmont, against his brother.
While Rabideau, Ted Brown, Walt Brown, Howard Stevens, and Bosworth all went overheads, and while Bardwell concentrated on a huge Hudson six banger, Art Cody just hung in with the the old flathead coupe, eventually choosing to disappear altogether. His brother, Mike had run somewhat extensively at the paved Thunder Road International Speedbowl, started by Ken Squier in Barre, VT; but Art soon was not heard from any more.
Henry Merrill and another man prepare the car to be flat – towed home, as an exhausted Cody walks away, perhaps towards family members. Below – A familiar sight in early Fairmont days – Art and starter Danny Rumpf in Victory Lane.
Bob Frazier Photo Ladabouche Collection
For the longest time, little was known of the whereabouts of the little yellow coupe. The Arthur Codys made brief news coverage when they won some sort of Megabucks – type lottery, fixing them for life. Eventually, the Merrill 33 was recovered and restored – pretty much as it had always looked. Art added Coke bottle decals on the car, although he did not have that sponsorship when he ran in Vermont. News of Art’s passing spread quietly among those of us who remembered and enjoyed seeing him race; as more and more of his kind are lost to us, the nature of early stockcar racing will be harder and harder to preserve.
Courtesy of Ken Paulsen
The restored Cody/ Merrill ccar, complete with familiar dents and
wrinkles, sits at the Swanzey, NH vintage racing meet around 2005.
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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