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Column #21 from Column 33

AN UNEXPECTED TREASURE TROVE
An Update on a Piece Put Out Years Ago.

 

I  found myself standing around the pits at Thunder Road on the Saturday before the season opener – virtually by myself. As is the tradition, the cars were almost all down in Barre, at a car show. I remembered they would then be driven – through the streets of Barre City – up Quarry Hill, to the track…. and that had not begun yet. I had just about concluded that going straight to the track was a mistake when I happened upon a small group of guys near the huge Busch Series - style hauler of Brian Hoar.

I recognized my old friend Ed Companion, a former Hurricane division competitor at Catamount and a fellow public school teacher. Ed had with him a cousin, Chris who let me know right off that he had a “box of pictures “ for me – when he’d remember to bring them to the track. I was interested, as usual, but figured I might be lucky if I saw them that summer. But Chris was determined, and he called his wife, right then, arranging to have them unearthed for the following morning. That day was practice, and I was certain to be coming the next day for the actual race, so this was great !


Steve Pecor Photo
The final version of the Catamount tower, with luxury boxes, before being burned by the huns. That was
a considerable upgrade from the original tower, shown below under construction.


Source Unknown

Sure enough, when I strolled over the hauler of the eventual first-time winner, Scott Payea, there were the boys with the pictures ! I took them out back, on the tailgate of one of the trucks with a somewhat-interested Jim Payea looking on. It was then that I lost touch with where I was and with the thousands of people in close proximity with me. Definitely Twilight Zone time ! Not only was I older than them, but I had worked for the Catamount program and worked with many of these photos.

What was coming out of that beat-up photo box, which had been rescued from the tower at Catamount the afternoon the Milton Fire Department got to use the structure for hose practice, was an unbelievable mixture of photos from not only Catamount, but of tracks from the early 1950’s, on up ! Chris [and father, Randy] had no idea what they had lent me. There were better copies of photos I had struggled to scan from stained old track programs; there were shots of tracks like Fairmont Speedway and Stateline, which may have never been seen before; and there were scads of Catamount pictures – from the early 1970’s.

 

     
Photos Courtesy of Chris Companion
Rene LaBerge [adult furthest right] and Linda LaBerge used photos like those in the box every week in the Catamount program.


I theorized this was a bunch that Rene LaBerge, Sr. must have used in a number of program productions, stashed them in the press section of the tower for future retrieval, and forgotten them there. But how early Lebanon Valley and possibly Whites Beach photos got put in with pictures of Hurricane driver Perry Poquette and one-year late model driver Fast Eddy Ruggieri made no sense to me then – and still does not. When I had finally gone through the impressive stack once, and turned, now alone, and realized I was at a busy place with hundreds of other people ! This collection was that good.

My hope is to get some of the unknown photos out in columns like this and hope that someone will help me identify some of the people or cars. I realize a lot of this stuff would do better in a paper that reached more of New York, but I’ll give it a try with this one. My first photo [by Irv Conron] is one of a rough and ready – looking group of drivers who, almost certainly, ran at the long – closed Whites Beach Speedway near Saratoga, New York. The guy in the middle with the well-coordinated jacket, the cigar, and big smile was Jollie Ollie Palmer, from the Albany area of New York. I wonder if the guy on the far left might Still be a mystery; I have down as Howie Westervelt but I doubt it actually is.

 


Irv Conron Photo     Courtesy of Chris Companion

This is the drivers’ group shot from what appears to be the late 1950’s, possibly at Lebanon Valley.
From left: Howie Westervelt, Lee Palmer, Ollie Palmer, Lou Hacker, Bob Kudlate, and Henry Bouchard.
Below - This rural-looking crew somehow just doesn’t look like they spent all day walking around with a piece of hay in their
mouth. It is Lebanon Valley stalwart Dee Goodermotte and crew, pulling a spoof. From left : Henry Tanner, Dee, Jack
Sweeney, and Nelson Tanner. According to Joe Grossetti, they may have brought a chicken as a prop, too.


Courtesy of Chris Companion

 

The next shot that fascinates me is the Ray Williams photo taken of a late model car at Lebanon Valley Speedway – around the same time as the Whites Beach shot. A bunch of guys, mostly hamming it up as straw hat – wearing farmers, pose in front of a car whose numeral is hidden. Now, I am not a Valley expert, but the guy in the middle who is not wearing a getup looks a lot like Dee Goodermotte – and I have been filled in on the others since the original column was written.There are few shots from the Fairmont era that I ever got to see because I took a lot of my own pictures and I didn’t have the dough to buy from the photographers’ stands in those days. Four of the photos in the box were professional shots I had never seen before. I recognized ones like Chet Doaner and Vince Quenneville, Sr.

But, there was this #15 which I am not particularly familiar with. It turns out to be Ray Richards, brother of CVRA founder and then-track promoter C.J. Richards. I know a car of similar body with the number 15 did pass through his hands on the way to the late Jimmy Spaulding. But, I don’t know if this odd – looking rig is Ray's or not. I have since learned this is the car Ray spruced up a bit and painted white for himself and Spaulding to drive in 1965.


Bob Frazier Photo    Courtesy of Chris Companion

Ray Richards, brother of the Fairmont promoter, with one of his cars - at Fairmont. Below - that same car, looking
a little better, being worked on the pits at Fairmont in 1965. Spaulding is far left, with Tom Perry and Ray
Richards fussing with the car. Leon Richards, father to Ray and CJ, looks on at right.



Ladabouche Photo

 

The oldest photographs for this set are from Stateline Speedway, in North Bennington, Vt. Of that, I am sure. They are from the earlier era, when the bleachers did not have the roof over them. I would guess mid to late 1950’s. In both shots there is a #27 which very well might be the late George Welch, a New York driver who was killed while serving as a flagger at a New York track. One car is the #99 of Doug Garrison, and one is clearly the mighty Steve Danish. The rest, I don’t recognize. Email me or write me if you have ANY information on any of these photographs.


Courtesy of Chris Companion.

A heat comes down the frontstretch four abreast at Stateline. Not the safest track ever, note the buildings practically on the racing surface.
Steve Danish [outside], George Welch, and Doug Garrison. Car inside unknown. [Courtesy of Chris Companion]
      

                  
                Courtesy of Chris Companion

                 A field of cars takes the green from Chet Hames at Stateline.
           27, George Welch and 99, Doug Garrison.

 

There are few professional shots from the Fairmont era that I ever got to see because I took a lot of my own pictures and I didn’t have the dough to buy from the photographers’ stands in those days. Four of the photos in the box were professional shots I had never seen before. I recognized ones like Chet Doaner and Vince Quenneville, Sr. But, the Quennevilles and the Doaners [along with many of the Northern NASCAR late model stars] had plenty of photos of them by professional photographers; it is the seldom - photographed guys I am more interested in.

There are photos of modified cars I didn't get to see because the cream of Northeast modified racing ran at Catamount up to 1968, having been discontinued scant weeks before I arrived to start teaching in Milton that year. I had signed my contract mostly because I was going to be able to go to Catamount and see the likes of Bugs Stevens, Don MacTavish, Jerry Cook, Bill Slater, Hop Harrington, Billy Harmon, Jean - Paul Cabana, Andre Manny, Dick Nephew, Gene Bergin, and dozens more. They were gone by the I got to my first Saturday night race there in August.


Courtesy of Chris Companion
Marty Bezema's Flying Dutchman modified sits in the Catamount pits around 1967. It took me
a few years to determine who this was; I never saw him race. Below- Hop Harrington's beautiful
M2, snapped also at Catamount around the same time.


Courtesy of Chris Companion

 

Another beautiful thing about this pile of old photos was a peek back into some situations some of us remember that were not particularly well documented. One such instance was the night local car builder Norm Cyr, a veteran of already having run the track in a flathead coupe, a Flying Tiger, and  the track's first Hurricane class champion, showed up with a primered 1967 Chevelle. Once out for some of the practice, it became immediately obvious to everyone [except Norm] that the car - while fiendishly fast, handled like a pig on ice. Norm ignored all cautions, went out and planted the new car into the wall so bad it bent everything. He was lucky he wasn't seriously injured.


Courtesy of Chris Companion
The Cyr Chevelle sits, unbelievably bent ,beside Roger Paquette's station wagon which sometimes served as an ambulance [symbolic].

Something that leads me to think the box of photos had been sitting up in that tower a long time is the fact that its contents seem to only go up to around 1974. There are  a lot of shots of the earliest Hurricanes - something very valuable for the history of that division that ended in the mid '70's with a conversion to the six cylinder Grand American class. Some seldom - seen entries from the first year or so of the Hurricanes such as Wild Bill Moulton and his Powers Piano Tuning 1958 Chevy. Bev Stearns, the de facto pioneer in female support division drivers, is featured in a few shots, as well as [ironically] Paul Begins, whose mother was a well - known powder puff driver at Colchester tracks in the 1950's.


Courtesy of Chris Companion
Hey, I think I can do this ! Bev Stearns [70's style panrts and all] checks out Ed LaFountain's Hurricane T Bird at Catamount.
Move over Linda Alexander and BJ Willard, Stearns' 1960 Chevy was out there before you. Below - Stearns is the #73, and
that is Paul Begins in the crashing 86 {[Jm Duell is avoiding the wreck].

There are also a few shots of the obscure but fascinating Paul Norton / Art Newell 04 Ford Fairlane 500 that ran out of Hancock, VT with various drivers. The great Johnny Gammell, the at the end of a wonderful career, patiently tried to drive the car to no avail, Others who either did [or reportedly did] drive the car included Beaver Dragon, Clem Despault, and Larry Demar. No dice with any. The car was a good looker, and it had a Holman - Moody powerplant; but, unfortunately Paul had made himself a tank and it was too heavy to be competitive. When they finally gave up, parts of it went into a car built by Del Thompson and Lennie Stockwell - according to Del. For such an unseccessful car, it is well remembered.


Courtesy of Chris Companion
After suffering through two previous undrivable 04's, we all thought ol' Johnny Gammell might have
had his hands on a winner here. Below - At least the third driver tries to compete with the
sharp looking but heavy 04. It's likely Larry Demar.

Courtesy of Chris Companion 

        I want to take a chance to once again give Chris Companion a public and well-documented “thank you” for this favor that he has done me and all the racing historians in the area. Cho Lee and Paul Zampieri were salivating over them before I took them home. We knew how significant this kind of discovery is, and we realized how much it did to help preserve the history of racing in the Vermont region in lieu of their being lost forever.

 

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