By Bill Ladabouche

The Experiences of Early Drivers Under the Autocratic Rule of NASCAR


There was recently a well – received advertising campaign in which assorted idiotic – acting, twenty – something men would chance upon the Bigfoot creature somewhere in the Northwestern wilds, and proceed to torment the huge, powerful animal until it finally loses patience and ends up usually tossing them harmlessly somewhere. The whole “messin’ with Sasquatch theme seemed to pose the rhetoric question of why anyone would want to incur the wrath of something much bigger and more powerful than they [when there was not a really good reason].

Even if one is not a serious fan of sports, let alone racing, one is likely to be familiar with the name and business of the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, better known as NASCAR. The 2012 version of this sanctioning body is light years wealthier, larger, and more widely – known than it was in its formative years – the 1950’s. However, whether it was necessary or not, the early organization was more autocratic and heavy – handed with its subjects than Ivan the Terrible; so, inevitably, the sort of free spirited guys who raced in those years would find ways to mess with the sasquatch that was Bill France’s early NASCAR.

Source Unknown
The earliest NASCAR logo was the symbol of authority in the 1950’s.


NASCAR had some really strong ideas on what its members should be allowed to do – and that could be succinctly described as “damned little”. The best – known edict from the Tsar in Florida was that no NASCAR member driver or team was to perform in any non – NASCAR – sanctioned program or at any “outlaw” track. I suppose this was an attempt on Big Bill’s part to squeeze out the competition or drive them to join his empire; but it served mostly to generate some rather creative ways of fighting back at the evil empire. The most common way was through “racing names”.

Courtesy of Dan Ody
NASCAR, through its Fonda sanction, had a strong influence in that entire region of New York State in the 1950’s.


Particularly in eastern and central New York, where NASCAR was ensconced at the prominent Fonda Speedway, at the Montgomery County fairgrounds, NASCAR was one of – it not the – biggest fish in the pond. Eventually, the big organization also got in at some venues in Long Island, as well as at Airborne Speedway in the Northeast, at Plattsburgh. With Airborne’s location NASCAR, coke could [and did] make inroads into southern Quebec and northern Vermont [arguably the most established racing venue in the North Country in the 1950’s.

But, in the heart of New York, it was Fonda that carried the most prestige. The big competitor to Fonda was Lebanon Valley, a high – banked half mile in that corner of New York that is shared with Vermont and Massachusetts. No way, was the Valley ever going to go with NASCAR. As a matter of fact, when a driver or team got mad enough at Fonda management, they’d almost always start running at Lebanon Valley.

Courtesy of Andy Boright
This is an early shot of Lebanon Valley cars. It was probably posed.


Fonda had a number of smaller, more bush league tracks in its immediate region, because that area of New York had been absolutely loaded with early stock car and roadster  tracks in the earliest part of the ‘50’s. One such track was State Line Speedway, not terribly far from Lebanon Valley in the towns of North Bennington, VT and Cambridge, NY [hence, the name State Line]. The second [and much closer] track was a paper – clip – shaped horse track in Dunnsville, NY named Victoria Speedway. This track became a popular attraction to both Fonda and Valley teams.

Courtesy of  Roger Liller
State Line Speedway, shown here a year before Fonda opened, featured many of Fonda’s future stars like Steve Danish, inside pole; and Jeep Herbert, outside pole. Others, like Charlie Morse, inside 2nd row, went to the Valley.


Attending Victoria was no problem for the drivers from the New Lebanon, NY track; but, for those from Fonda, it was high treason, punishable with fines, loss of all accrued points, and probably being hung by ones thumbs in Bill France’s garage basement. Therefore, there was the birth of the racing pseudonym. If a team, or just a driver, was to compete at Dunnsville, they could not have their usual name; in some cases, the car was disguised.

Source Unknown
The flat, sharp – turned Victoria track was not only a popular destination on Friday nights, but a problem until it went with NASCAR. Below – Victoria racing pins from two drivers: Dick Nephew, a NASCAR national champion, and George Baumgardner, who raced at NASCAR and outlaw tracks.

From an ebay Site Auction


Of course, nobody was fooling anyone; but, apparently, the different names kept NASCAR from legally proving any malfeasance. So, Ken Shoemaker became Yogi Bear; Howie Westervelt [a man who vacillated between Fonda and Valley membership] was Cliff Wright; Louie Lazzaro was Peter Bianco; Airborne regular, Bob Bruno was Bud Smith; and Harold Betts almost permanently became Bugs Bunny. The King of the ridiculous racing names was likeable and diminutive Howard “Jeep” Herbert, of Rotterdam. Hebert was known by such names as Flex Hose and Bob Alou, among others.

Ladabouche Collection
Jeep “Bob Alou” Herbert, in Victoria’s victory lane, with a disguised Frank Trinkhaus #62. Below – Harold “Bugs Bunny” Betts [40] leads a field of NASCAR and outlaw cars at Victoria: 74, Wayne Coon, outlaw; 13, Johnny Perry, NASCAR; and Richard Welch’s 77, NASCAR.

Ladabouche Collection

New Berlin, NY’s venerable car owner Floyd “Pop” Wilcox – a man who would end up at the Valley not long after Victoria got going – would actually change his car number from 32 to 62. Driver Jerry Townley would go as Jay Tee. Prominent Fonda car owner Frank Trinkhaus, from the hamlet of Fly Creek, NY, would change his trademark #62 to X. Ironically, the NASCAR flag man, Chet Hames, served at Fonda with no grief from Florida, and very high profile drivers like Steve Danish may not have attempted any cover up at all. Danish would have his own, different problems with NASCAR.

Steve Danish was older than a lot of the drivers in those golden days of stock racing in New York. He was an innovator or many things we take for granted today, such as uniformed crew, a car whose appearance is freshened every week, tear – off windshield protection, publicity appearances, and effective use of a real sponsor. All this was done in the mid 1950’s, when the sport was still in neanderthal stages. Danish’s cars were so effective that he would, once in a while, he would place another driver in one of the Danish Chevrolet cars for a race at a non – NASCAR track such as Langhorne.

NE Vintage Mod Site Photo
Hully Bunn, one of the few men to be trusted with a Danish entry. Below – The legendary Steve Danish, at Fonda.

Danish Family Photo

When Langhorne held its first big stock car race, in the early 1950’s, he put the highly – esteemed Raymond “Hully” Bunn of Connecticut in one of his 61’s. Despite needing a relief driver, Bunn was credited with not only a win that year, but also with a pole position. As Danish’s son, John describes it :”We “sold” the car to Bob Duffey, who was Hully's car owner, for $1. [We]Painted it primer grey, put an  X on it and ran Langhorne. I have the nasty letter from Nascar, taking away the points for a couple of years cause they felt dad should at least have painted the numbers with a different color and changed the tow car from one with "Pleasant Valley Garage" on it. Of course being on the outside pole next to Al Tasnady would give it away also.”
It amazes me that Danish put up with this, as he was not only a  brilliant innovator, but he could be one hard – headed son of a gun, as well. Maybe that is why he refused to give Florida the satisfaction of using pseudonyms. Danish was one of the New Yorkers who gave NASCAR a lot of support in the 1950’s actually towing one of his immaculate, cream – colored coupes to Daytona to race on the beach on at least one occasion.

Danish Family Photo

Steve Danish [far left], and the gang, at Daytona.


    NASCAR had to know about most of these hijinks. After all, their four – time National Sportsman Champion, Rene Charland, made no bones about his “alter ego”, Nutsy Fagan, who raced wherever he damn felt like. I personally recall seeing the somewhat prominent Connecticut driver, Chet Hunt, a regular at Stafford Springs Speedway with the Hammond and Strong #56, showing up at my local track, Fairmont Speedway, as Jim Mitchell.


Ladabouche Photo
Chet Hunt, AKA Jim Mitchell, at Fairmont, in 1965.


Eventually, a few things changed. Victoria died after years of bad luck with the weather, NASCAR began to have bigger things to worry about than keeping someone like Harold Betts from driving at a track not run by them. Some of their big guns like Danish and Pete Corey never even bothered to hide their identity. Perhaps it occurred to someone in Florida that these extra sojourns were just good exposure of their stars to other venues. Who knows ? Today, NASCAR drivers have more trouble with their sponsors than they do with the France organization. I recall Richard Petty visiting Catamount Stadium in the 1970’s and not being allowed to anything much with a car – by STP, not NASCAR.
         Situations like the Valley and Fonda drivers locking horns at a Friday night track like Victoria, or stars with silly nicknames were just examples of how stock car racing used to be a lot more freewheeling and fun then, than now. I look at the young drivers in my area today and feel sad that – unless their grandpa went to the races in the ‘50’s and early ‘60’s, they have no idea how cool the whole thing was then.

From the HAMB Website
Ken Squier interviews Richard Petty at Islip around
1967. Later, Petty would visit Squier’s track in the 1970’s.

        Situations like the Valley and Fonda drivers locking horns at a Friday night track like Victoria, or stars with silly nicknames were just examples of how stock car racing used to be a lot more freewheeling and fun then, than now. I look at the young drivers in my area today and feel sad that – unless their grandpa went to the races in the ‘50’s and early ‘60’s, they have no idea how cool the whole thing was then.

Please email me 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. Email is: . For those who still don’t like computers - my regular address is: Bill Ladabouche, 23 York Street, Swanton, Vermont 05488.


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