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BILL’S BACK IN TIME
By Bill Ladabouche
DEBUNKING A FEW MYTHS WITH FRESH INFORMATION
Probably, I am the guilty one; but, I have been running my racing history work under a number of assumptions that information given to me by others is – in most cases – fairly accurate. No one can grow up in every area of the Northeast at once and no one can even, as an adult, attend racing in every one of these areas, in every single era. Hence, my research and my interviews are the lifeblood of this work. Every so often, you get either plain wrong info or you hook onto commonly – held myths. I have recently found four of these widely – held beliefs to be a little off.
Firstly, there is the nearly universal belief among northern Vermont race fans that , when young John Rosati came north in 1971 to try his hand at the newly – forming Northern NASCAR late model sportsman circuit, the Rosati operation came from big bucks. After all, they came in with two matching 1967 Ford Fairlanes that had been constructed by prestigious Massachusetts race mechanic Fred Rosner. Also, they team had one of the fancier [at that time] haulers and another tow vehicle as well.
Courtesy of Cho Lee
The Rosati bunch, almost in its entirety is seen in this celebratory photo for a pole qualification. Big John Rosati
is at right and Little John is in the center. Our source, Steve McKnight was too far to the right to get in the photo.
Below – The tandem of Rosati cars showed up and impressed everyone in 1971.
Not only did Rosner build the Rosati cars, but he seemed to be hired on to act as crew chief for the team, much of which were very young, talented fellows who had been recruited. Looking back in retrospect, the 36 team did not use a lot of fancy crew uniforms, and they didn't seem to throw money around as freely as some of the returning Canadians who had been away form Catamount Stadium since the track lost the modifieds in 1968. Nonetheless, we all assumed a number of things about this bunch from Agawam, Massachsusetts.
For those who don't know, Agawam was a serious center of racing. It was the home base for four – time NASCAR National Sportsman Champion, Rene Charland [who would, by the way being trying his luck on the new circuit, as well]. Agawam also was known for having Riverside Park Speedway, a small, paved track located on the grounds of an amusement park of the same name. A number of key racing teams called the place home. It was sort of assumed that Charland must have something to do with this new team because Rene used the talents of Rosner often, himself. Rosner was really making a name for himself, not only doing work for Charland, but also having broken into the dirt racing world, having built a car for young Fonda driver Dave Lape, of Canajoharie, NY.
Courtesy of Steve Pecor
This is what John looked like when he first arrived. That color scheme with the red and white numerals is far less common
in photos than the following year's gold and white. Below – the crew frantically changes engines in the pits [and made it].
Courtesy of Chris Companion
Then, too, there was the whole thing with an Italian trucking company operating in northern Massachusetts – gotta to be mob in there somewhere, right ? And, given the way money seemed to be being spent, John's Trucking must be a massive operation ! Wrong, wrong, and wrong … according to Steve McKnight, one of Rosati's teenaged wonder mechanics who came in that first year. Steve insists that, for one thing, John's Trucking had, in fact, only about six trucks, and was very popular and busy within a small sphere of operation around Agawam.
Secondly, while the mob was all over the area and tied into some of the racing, that didn't include the Rosatis. They had no bodies buried under their simple, cinder block garage beside their very modest, unassuming family home in Agawam. The fact they were a trucking firm helped them to write off much of the expense of that nice, state – of – the – art hauler; much of the rest of the considerable outlay to start the team came from money the family had carefully saved up for years. The Rosatis depended on support from admirers such as the small Swanton ,VT Ford dealer, E.J. Barrette, which sometimes stored the cars and gave help in any way they could.
Courtesy of Cho Lee
Another shot from the first season shows the Rosati teenage brain trust which includes Steve McKnight, at far right. Several crew members had to get parental consent to serve on the team and travel. Below - Tom Rosati, with his Oxford 250 – winning car [with my E. A. Grandfield ad on side :)]
Courtesy of Andy Boright
The Rosati Ford team basically used one car and usually kept the other in reserve, the one exception being a big race at Catamount where Steady Eddie Flemke drive the second car. The team ran for about three seasons, at one point selling one of the Fairlanes to the wild, unpredictable Robert E. “Bucky” Dragon, of Ripton, VT, who used it [as a battering ram most of the time] to run in a late model class at Devil's Bowl Speedway around 1975 or 6, whenever C. J. went back to dirt. The other car was eventually sold to Dale “Tubby” Hatch, a former Thunder Road flathead driver from Groton, VT.
One of the factors that made the young John Rosati such a hit was The Mod Squad. Made up of teenaged Robbie Crouch, fresh out of Florida, Sharon, Massachusetts' Joey Kourafas, and Rosati, the long – haired Mod Squad members drove the girls wild, and many young area boys wanted to be just like them. All three were good drivers right away; and – although Kourafas would go on to win the first Oxford 250 series race and Crouch would become the circuit's winningest driver – John Rosati was the first to be successful, winning the 1971 Rookie of the Year award. His top notch equipment made that early difference, in my opinion.
Courtesy of Cho Lee
The Mod Squad: John Rosati interviews with Peter B. Guibard while Crouch and Kourafas keep a wary eye out for attacking screaming girls.
Below – A favorite of mine shows the John Rosati's with young Tommy on the go kart.
The Rosatis would go on to support the racing efforts of the younger brother, Tommie Rosati, who campaigned a Pontiac Ventura with a very conservative budget later on the 1970's. Tom would go on to win one of the Oxford 250's [carrying an ad I had lettered for him for E.A. Grandfield Excavating] I believe it was the only Oxford 250 winner I ever had any sign work on. When John went back to Massachusetts and took up modified racing, he was on his own. The same with any further racing enterprises for the younger Rosati.
The Rosatis were friendly, popular additions to the racing scene up our way. Big John was a wonderful man, and so was Little John [if not a bit on the quiet side]. The more gregarious Tom had a big following for his brief stay with Northern NASCAR. Ford fans would still have the dynamic Dave Dion to root for; but the Rosatis had a certain flair of their own, riding the wave of Massachusetts invaders – mostly from Norwood Arena – in 1971 through 1975. They were sorely missed when all had returned to Agawam for good.
Shaney Lorenzet Photo
The last year of the Rosati northern experience. Below – The Rosati's Agawam neighbor needed no introduction when he arrived in 1972.
All Star League Program Photo
The second myth also centered around Agawam, MA. You had to be dead or no race fan at all if you didn't know who Rene Charland was by 1972. A Holyoke, MA native and an ex – Marine, Charland had won his first race at the old Brattleboro Speedway in West Brattleboro, VT in 1951. After a few more years of running in local races from northern Massachusetts, to southern Vermont, to the Keene, NH area, Charland had observed the way northern New Yorkers had won NASCAR National Sportsman championships and – allied with talented car builder Fred Rosner and ace mechanics like Godfrey Wenzel, he had set about to the 1962 title, himself. He ended up winning four in a row, often outdistancing his nearest competitor by hundreds of points.
Charland was, for whatever reason, no longer chasing national titles. It was, after all, an unbelievably grueling prospect, as Dick Nephew once told me. An incredible prankster with a past at Thunder Road, Charland was more welcomed back by some people than others. The high – banked quarter mile was never particularly kind to The Champ, once dumping him on his roof in a Milk Bowl in the George Hay 68, a flathead coupe he campaigned for NASCAR points in 1965. When the Northern NASCAR circuit for late model sportsman cars was designed in 1971, it drew a number of Bay State drivers. It surprised more than a few people that one of those drivers was Charland, who had never shown much propensity for late model cars.
Courtesy of 176 Racing.Com
Rene Charland's first brush with the Nation's Site of Excitement came in one of the Milk Bowls. He didn't win this one ,
but he apparently won a Governor's Cup. Below – Rene's first arrival with the yellow version of the Chevelle – the Jay-Lin car.
Naturally they pitted next to the Rosatis, Agawam neighbors.
In 1971, as Catamount was hosting its annual pre – season practice session, Charland showed up with a 1968 Chevelle, done up in the familiar yellow color scheme of Jay – Lin, under Jay Broderick's racing suppport. Broderick, recently deceased, supported cars for Charland, Don Wayman, others, and most notably his son, Jimmy. Charland, with a professionally – constructed late model and all of that experience, looked to be a shoo – in for big success on a circuit, the majority of whose participants lacked much of any seat time in a full – powered late model sportsman.
With Charland not necessarily being universally loved on the circuit and with his T Road curse the way it was, it surprised few people when he was photographed flying through the air, launched by that wicked, slanting retaining wall, landing on the lawn between the wall and the retaining fence. That ride, which didn't hurt Charland at all [or did too much to the Chevelle] was universally remembered and chuckled at by a lot of fans. It is not clear how he got launched up there – Stub Fadden was the closest car behind him, and Stubby was not known for a lot of roughness.
Free Press Photo Ladabouche Collection
Charland vaults the wall for the first time with the white Chevelle. Below - He appears to have a few choices words for
Bob Quinn as he leaves his car on the lawn above the flag stand. He could off the clown act just as fast as he turned it on.
Courtesy of Cho Lee
What many people don't know is that Charland [already distinguished in joining Ronnie Marvin and Rex Shattuck some of the as the only drivers to accomplish the lawn landing] went on to accomplish it all again that same season ! Most of us assumed all those shots were from one accident. Not so. A second, much less famous photo, shows him again flying up the widowmaker. The photo is very grainy, but it appears as though the car must have been in some stages of body repair as it seems to have no numbers on the door. There is a shot of Charland walking away from the first crash, giving an earful to starter Bob Quinn on the way back to the pits [which, no doubt, was full of guys some of whom were actually trying to hide their grins].
Rene Charland would run the Chevelle for two years – the first as the yellow 3MA, and the second with the car in white. It was in that second season, 1972, where he enjoyed the rides up the widowmaker. Rene had many more seasons left – most of which he ran on dirt. His most lasting ride seemed to be the Roehrig brothers' gold #99 Gremlin, out of Round Lake, NY. He returned to Catamount to run in the All Star Stock Car Racing League shows; as he was a loyal supporter of that series and very good at it. However, two trips up the wall at Thunder Road had largely satisfied any urge Da Champ had to run late models ever again.
Free Press Photo Courtesy of Wayne Bettis
Charland does an encore with that poor Chevelle later on in the season. Below – The Chevelle looks much
the worse for wear as it rolls into the pits at the hated Thunder Road.
Courtesy of Andy Boright
The third and next myth centers around the great Canadian driver, Jean – Paul Cabana, who was a principal rival of Charland's in those years in the 1960's when northeastern and Quebec teams led the way in chasing NASCAR national points. A young Jean – Paul first appeared in races near his home, knowing full well he was forbidden to race by his father. When he appeared in some post – race event on the track in front of the stands, who was in the front row ? None other than Pere Cabana. He would get the most early experience racing at the majestic old horse track, Bouvrette Speedway in St. Jerome.
Cabana began to gather a corps of dependable people around him, particularly mechanic [mecanicien] Claude Faniau, who stayed with Jean – Paul for decades. Cabana began to be prominent in the NASCAR sportsman ranks, racing locally at Riverside Speedway, Laval and other tracks such as Fury Speedway. He would begin to venture down into the states, even so far as Fonda Speedway. It was then that his trademark number, 5A, was beginning to be seen.
Courtesy of Cho Lee
Jean – Paul Cabana, with the sportsman coupe he ran at Thunder Road and Catamount in 1965.
Right - The first 5A of Leon Hayford Below – The 5B, another coupe of his, winning another T Road race.
Courtesy of Cho Lee
Cabana, as well as drivers in his team car, began to make regular appearances at Airborne Park Speedway in Plattsburgh, NY with other Quebec stars such as Andre Manny and Marcel Godard. When Catamount Stadium opened up in Milton, VT in 1965, Cabana won the first feature there; and he and Manny fairly well dominated the place. After a brief hiatus when Catamount went to exclusively hobby level Flying Tigers, Cabana and his team raced there almost constantly, winning the track's last race, too. By 1971, Cabana had set aside his coupes for a late model sportsman Chevelle.
Although a Thunder Road local driver named Leon Hayford had actually had the number 5A before Cabana, the legendary Canadian is the one most identified with that number. Stories began to circulate concerning how he arrived at that number. The most popular and widely – accepted theory was put forth by a young girl on some local broadcast when she explained that “5A” came from the fact that there are five A's in Jean – Paul Cabana. That was, more or less, the established explanation.
Courtesy of Cho Lee
Cabana could be quite a clown, here posing with Milton policeman and sometimes - Catamount flagger, Jack Paradee. Below –
The diminutive Cabana clowns around with Steve Poulin and Tiny Lund before a race.
Courtesy of Steve Poulin
In the summer of 2013, I was lucky enough to be invited to Dan Kearney's camp on Lake Champlain for a reception featuring Bobby and Judy Allison. One of the distinguished attendees there was Jean – Paul Cabana and his close friend, Michel Circe. With most of the attention focused on the Allisons, I got tons of quality time with JPC. One of the questions I asked him was about the five A's story. He laughed at the school girl story and thought it was creative; but he said it was nothing that exotic. According to Jean – Paul, as his racing team became more sophisticated [with a lot of help from Faniau] they were fielding more than one car. Especially at Plattsburgh, it was necessary for his car to be numbered 5A and the other to carry 5B, often using driver Paul Hamel. That's all there was to it.
Another popular [and often well – financed driver was Quebec City's Langis Caron. After showing up once at Catamount with a very unremarkable Chevelle in 1972, Caron would reappear, sponsored to the hilt in 1975 – supported by the huge LaBerge foundry near his home town. Caron's first blue and maroon LaBerge car was a Chevelle; but his best ride was a Nova, purchased down South and driven around 1977. It is with this car and the converted school bus hauler he used that our final myth arises.
Courtesy of Claudy Lessard
The impressive LaBerge – sponsored Langis Caron Nova sits in the Catamount pit area around 1977.
Below – The Caron hauler, with the nice roof modifications for doing whatever up there.
Courtesy of Pascal Cote's Website
It seems that, one particular hot, sticky Saturday night at Catamount, practice sessions were going on as always. I don't know if they cycled tires in those days like they do now, but many practice laps were being put down. That early evening, for some unknown reason, an inordinate number of cars were flying off turn one and spinning down the hill from its high banks. This was beginning to aggravate track management, as they were using that area for some posed photos. Finally, the never – particularly – calm Tom Curley bellowed over the track radios he wanted to know what the hell was going on. Was there oil on the track ?
Whoever went out on the safety truck soon discovered the problem. One of Caron's girlfriends was up on the roof of the hauler, sunbathing topless. According to legend, Caron was sent up to admonish the girl and get her the hell off the roof. When asked about this whole incident, Caron will deny all of it, somewhat hotly. If he were more nonchalant or detached, I would believe it more, but he gets pretty irate. So....maybe. At any rate, we never saw anyone else atop the Caron hauler unless they were very adequately clothed.
Christian Ti-Gaz Genest Photo
Cars including Langis fly off the track at Oxford. Wait, where's Caron's hauler ?
Since this blog was first written another story in racing lore needs to be corrected. This one's existence was mostly my doing. Anytone who has read the Fonda Speedway history book knows of how Lou Lazarro got started in racing – tied up with a bunch of Italian pals from Utica, NY. The book shows Louie, still too young to drive himself, with Junior Bianco [lifelong pal], Johnny Veletto, and Jan Manazzo alongside this maroon and white race car with a 4 involved in the number. All that bunch's cars were that color [for Proctor High School, Utica] and they all had some variation with a 4 in it.
I had a little shared chuckle with Lou once when I told him I also went to the maroon and white of Proctor High School [only it was tiny Proctor, VT]. The group raced some at places like Brookfield, Sharon, and other tracks they could reach. Lou Lazarro, the younger insists the cars were always Mopar coupes. I had come upon a photo of a winner from one of the first races at Rutland VT's Pico Raceway in 1951. Same colors, amn Italian looking driver, and a 4 in the number.
Peter Lazarro Collection via Fonda Book
The Utica bunch waits for the races at Brookfield, NY in the early 1950's. Check out the scheme on these cars.
Lou Lazarro is in the white shirt, on car 46. Below – This car was involved in a wreck at Beech Ridge in the early '50's
– very similar scheme.
Not long after, I found a photo of another, similarly colored and numbered coupe having had a wreck at Scarborough, ME's Beech Ridge Speedway that same year. I assumed the Utica boys must have decided to have a road trip. As it turns out, Lazarro the younger is extremely adamant that there was no way those two cars in New England were Utica cars, so I am officially backing off that theory. But, even Lou would have to agree, if he saw the shots, the cars' color scheme, number style, and build were eerily similar to the Utica cars [and the drivers both looked Italian]. Oh well, consider that story dead.
Courtesy of the Lazarro Family
Lou Lazarro [right] with his buddies in Utica around the first #4. Below - A very similar looking car wins
a heat at Pico Raceway's opening day in 1951. But I think this one is a Ford and Utica used Plymouths.
Rutland Herald Photo by Aldo Merusi
These little stories, true, false, or just embellished – are what make the sport what it used to be when it was zanier and more fun. Track announcers try hard to develop some new characters today; but, hell, the crowd at Thunder Road today doesn't even yell out drivers' names at the introductions any more. Can you imagine that at Catamount, in the fourth turn, in 1973 ?
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: email@example.com . For those who still don’t like computers - my regular address is: Bill Ladabouche, 23 York Street, Swanton, Vermont 05488.
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