LITTLE GUYS IN THE RACING WORLD
LITTLE GUYS IN THE RACING WORLD

They Showed Up and Supported Race Programs Without Much Fanfare

            FIRST CLASS OF INDUCTEES           


Wild Bill Stevens
         I first saw Wild Bill Stevens at the opening of C.J. Richards' Fairmont Speedway in May of 1962. Stevens, from West Sand Lake, NY., had been in Vermont to race once before - winning a heat race at Otter Creek Speedway near Vergennes  in 1961 [see photo at left]. Thanks to photos from his devoted daughter, Connie, I have been able to figure that Stevens began at tracks like the Pine Bowl and Empire Raceway, using the number 858. Then S29 became his signature number.


Photos Courtesy of Connie Sanders

Perley Densmore
Perley Densmore had his entire career run in anonymity to everyone in the racing world except for those in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont and in northwestern New Hampshire. Beginning - like most of that region - at the crude Webster Flats track near Lyndonville, Perley
raced at Northeastern Speedway in Lower Waterford, VT and at Thunder Road. Arguably,
the single event that is most known in connection with Perley is that time at Northeastern
when wife, Mabel, was  nearly killed driving in a powder puff race.


Photos Courtesy of Cho Lee and Paul Zampieri

Leo Howland
Leo Howland is another man I first saw at the opening of C.J. Richards' Fairmont Speedway in May of 1962. Howland, from Keene, NH., had raced a bit near home at the nearby Cheshire fairgrounds before doing most of his racing at Claremont Speedway. Howland, who surfaces on Google as a local kid who hung around Bill Haley before the Keene native became a famed rock artist. One of Howland's best cars was the Curt Dragon 31 coupe.


Photos Both By Ladabouche

Henry Jarvis
    Drivers like Henry Jarvis, of Morrisonville, NY formed the backbone of the storied Airborne Park Speedway, in northern New York. Jarvis was not without his share of success
at Airborne, especially with an overhead V8 coupe in the 1960's. A very unassuming, quiet man,
no one has ever been heard to say anything but nice things about Jarvis. He began his career supported by the local A&W, and ended with a good sponsorship from Bill Santa Chevrolet.


Bob Mackey Photos Courtesy of Mike Watts, Sr. and John Rock

Jim "Dizzy" Dalzell
I don't know much about Jimmy Dalzell except that he ran at tracks in the neighborhood of Claremont Speedway. Like so many others there, he may have began at tracks like Brattleboro Speedway, Safford Park [Cheshire Fairgrounds], or Rhythm Inn, Millers Falls, MA. This meant he rubbed fenders with some of the greats of Northeast racing in that era [such as Rene Charland and Ed Patnode]. Dizzy  appears to be at Brattleboro in the photo at left.


Photos Courtesy of the Davis Family

Honest John Knighton
Obviously, John Knighton was a colorful character when he raced. The moniker of Honest John and the car numbered as "One Lap Lena" attest to this. From what I can tell, he ran
at the Pine Bowl, in Snyders Corner near Troy and at the more - sophisticated Empire Raceway in Menands. I don't think Knighton ended up in too many halls of fame, but he was
very likely a crowd favorite. They chose him to pose with Miss WTRY [photo at left] -
not one of the hotter shoes.


Photos Courtesy of
Joe Grossetti and  Dan Ody
 
Jacques Lessard
Apparently, Jacques "Jack" Lessard began his Quebec driving career in 1960 - as that year is his first photo. Competing at ovals like Quebec Moderne Speedway and Autodromes Ste Therese,
Val - Belair, and Quebec - he ran his own cars. The fact that he was once tabbed to drive the prestigious #35 "Le Canadien" coupe of M. Paul LaBerge attests that he was a good driver.


Photos Courtesy of  Denis LaChance and Christian Genest

            SECOND CLASS OF INDUCTEES           


Art Visconti
        Art's last name hints of Italian royalty, but he struggled to afford racing in the 1960's. His signature orange and white 001's were often second hand rides from others, but he
got in there and raced - first at Ashland Park, Warrensburgh, NY. Later he ran Fairmont Speedway, Devil's Bowl and the Valley. The photo below shows him with loyal crewman George Cambrellis. The other photos shows son, Mike [rt], standing with his 2nd generation counterpart Tony Cambrellis. [That's pretty cool !]

                      
1st 2 Photos Courtesy of Visconti Family                        Ladabouche Photo

Milt Wright
Starting out around 1972 as "Milton Wright, the Streaking Street Comissioner from Hardwick", Milt graduated from the support class to drive his familiar little blue Nova fir several seasons in support of Tom Curley and his beer tours. Ever loyal, Milto converted to one of the plastic bnodied Camaros when the American - Canadian Tour was foun,ded in 1987 [someothing I doubt he could afford all that well]. Not rich in feature wins, Milt Wright represents all that goes with loyalty and racing cleanly and fairly. As shown at left, he was awarded with the highly - prestigious Don MacTavish award.


Both Photos Courtesy of Cho Lee
 
Harold "Bugs Bunny" Betts
In one of my first visits to Fonda,  heard announcer Mike Valchovic intone in usual nasal way "and  the 48, Bugs Bunny, of Cobleskill." Well, that was Harold Betts, who was mujch more a regular at MIdstate Speedway, at the Morris, NY fairgrounds: but, he did venture to Fonda at times. Many of Fonda's NASCAR drivers had racing names because NASCAR didn't want them racing at the then - unsanctioned Victoria track in Dunnsville. As cute as some of the other pseudonyms were, it was Betts' moniker that stuck. The last time I  think he spent much time at Fonda was when he and pal Bob Deming had a '54 Chevy in the new late model class.


Left Photo by Otto Graham; Right - Cavalcade of Auto Racing
 
Skip Cahill
Skip Cahill is at least as well - known in Maine for his tire stores as for his racing. He arrived on the scene during the era of Tom Curley's beer tours, always driving a Ford late model sportsman. Skip never lit the world on fire, but he was always there, usually making the fields in those highly - competitive races. He always reminded me a little bit of Jerry Cook. It took strong commitment to haul down from Bath, Maine every week to some farflung NASCAR North race location.


Left Photo from Andy Boright; Right - from Rich Palmer
 
Speedy Williamson
Speedy Williamson was basically a 50's [and maybe early '60's] racer who particiapated at tracks kin his area like South Seneca, NY and later, Watertown, NY. There was also a Clarence Williamson who raced at places like Flemington and other NJ venues - but  they are not the same people. I like the photo of Speedy with that old Hudson from Watertown. Does anyoine elsae think these 2 photos might be different guys ? There are nearly ten years difference in the two shots.


Left - Timeline Photos; Right - Midstate Club

Don Drown
Like so many others from his home track, Donnie Drown was doing just fine at Devil's Bowl [thank you very much] when management decided to hook up with that NASCAR outfit up North, at Catamount and Thunder Road. Ans, like so many others, he felt forced to try late model sportsman cars or just not race at all. Using Mopars exclusively, he tried with two different bodies [maybe different cars] without much luck. When he returned to the Bowl later, the Salisbury, VT driver did find some success with Cliff Dragon's 44.


Left Photo via Andy Boright; Right via Mike LaDuc

Paul Donahue
Paul Donahue came from  Graniteville, just about in the shadow of Thunder Road. He emerged in racing at the time when Northern NASCAR introduced the six cylinder Grand American division, and he always raced a Mopar. The first Valiant gave way to more exciting - looking cars: first, either a Barracuda or a Challeger; then, a stunning Volare. The longer he raced and the better thecars got, the more success Paul had. But, perhaps his greatest accomplishment is lineage: Son, John is a superstar in the Thunder Road late models, and grandson, Stephen, just won the Road Tiger Sportsman crown this year.


Left Photo by Ladabouche; Right - by Earl Vierling

 

            THIRD CLASS OF INDUCTEES           

 
Steady Tony Provencher
In the first racing I ever got to watch, we had something to really cheer for. Our neighbor
[and a really nice man}, Tony Provencher, was there - at Pico Raceway - with a car. He soon developed the nickname Steady Tony because, well, he didn't usually go too fast. But, when he started racing at nearby Fairmont Park Motor Speedway in Fair Haven, he was faster. He did better but ended up wrecking the red and white Chevy coupe there.


Photos Courtesy of  D
ebora Danforth

The Grand Old Man of Racing, Albert Luleck
 Although son, John appeared as a racer first, his father, Albert Luleck became
a fan favorite at Devil's Bowl Speedway - a few years later. An incredible physical
speciman for his age, Albert became an instant folk hero despite not necessarily
posting superstar results. Using numbers 197, 97, and 77, Al raced in the
late model division at the track for many years.


Photos Courtesy of Marty Kelly, Jr.

 Skip Roots
The son of a central New York racing pioneer, Skip Roots started appearing at
Fonda Speedway with a car number his father, Herb, had used with driver
Doc Blanchard in the late '50's. The tall, lanky Roots had a three window coupe
popular with the kids because it was painted up to resemble a skunk. While
an accasional heat winner, Skip never won a feature in his brief career.


Russ Bergh Photo  Ladabouche Collection

Bob Rushford 
I saw Bob around Catamolunt before I ever saw him perform as one of the
loyal supporters of Bear Ridge Speedway. Around Bob Curtiss's potent LMS
Chevelle, we called him "Bradford Bob" because he was always talking about
the backwoods track he frequented. When I visited the track around 1980, I was
surpised to see the generous - sized Rushford squeezing into one of the track's
tradmark flat heat coupes. They thought the world of him over there. [So did we].


Courtesy of Cho Lee
 
Curt "Metal Man" Giventer 
Seen in the photo at left, grinning broadly out of his restored sedan, Weissglass Stadium veteran and current Airborne Speedway Renegade driver Curt Giventer gets his nickname from two angles: he has a salvage yard [to go with a towing business] and he claims half his skeleton is held together with assorted hardward from assorted injuries. He seldom finishes much better than second to last, but his attitude is that every day you wake up alive -- is a good day !


Weissglass Stadium Photo  Giventer Collection
 
Art LaBelle
Art and his faithful crewman were a couple of 'ol boys who moved up to Rutland, VT from Bethel,
Connecticut. Apparently having raced down there, LaBelle soon fielded a 1937 Chevy at
Fairmont Speedway. He had his ups and downs, but gave it a go for a couple of seasons.
I think he may have moved. There was no evidence of car work at his place by 1965.

 
LaBelle Collection
 
Vern Hall
Bomoseen, VT's Vern Hall was a man who would drive about anything, anywhere to
race. I recall him first at Fairmont Speedway, driving a 1941 Ford coupe, cigar sticking
out through the two missing front teeth. Then he ran the Blackmer brothers' 777 late model
and was actually quite a forc in the hobby class. His final effrot seemed to be in a
#57 Ford in the earliest days of Devil's Bowl. He made the most out of what he had to drive.


Ladabouche Photo

            FOURTH CLASS OF INDUCTEES           


Bob "Little Hoffer" Hoffer
         Like so many others, I first saw Bob Hoffer at the opening of C.J. Richards' Fairmont Speedway in May of 1962. The Argyle Racing Team appeared to be a big item, given the hauler with matching color and the signs announcing the existence of an actual racing team. Bob Hoffer had been around, racing off the family farm since 1950. He produced a lot of cars [including the above car that ended up with Art Visconti], but he never had much of a budget. His career was tragically cut short by a traffic accident in Canada. He is at right in the color photo.


Ladabouche Photo [Lefthand Photo Courtesy of
Ron Hoffer]


William "Willie" Chest
When you went to Fonda Speedway, you would notice right away tha one of the largest ovations given at that aptly - named Track of Champions went to one WIllie Chest, from nearby
Canajoharie. Willie generally finished at the rear of his races and didn't get into many features in a season; but, that was okay with him. He just loved coaxing that old Chevy around the inside of the track - being a part of it all. There was just him his brother, Raymond. They would work on the car outside WIllie's home, which also housed a TV repair shop [when they still bothered to fix the things]. We lost WIllie too early, the victim of a crash on the NY Thruway.


Courtesy of John Chest


Ernest "Ernie" Turner
Arguably, any of the Turner brothers from Milton, VT could qualify as little guys [certainly not in physique], but Ernie raced with less of a budget than brother, Don, Sr. and accomplished more than his huge brother, Ira. At first , all three brothers ran basic cars with silver paint, but Ernie departed both by driving  a Ford [against their Chevies] and running a #58 instead of a
number in the mid teens. Ernie drove the battered "58 Ford [hence the number], spelled only a couple of times by wife, Margaret in powder puffs. He did win a few qualifiers before Catamount upgraded the Flying Tiger class and he didn't want to handle the costs.


Turner Family Photos via Dave Turner, Jr.


 "Red" Knoblauch

The name Knoblauch was firmly pasted on the sports world by the Minnesote Twins' star player, Chuck Knoblauch, but around Fonda SPeedway, more people would have know of popular Johnstown driver Red Knoblauch, driver of the #13. Apparently a man with a great sense of humor, he once consented to be driven around the track in a wheelbarrow after winning a qualifier and thus winning a bet with track officials. He also once did up one of his cars to look exactly like a Mott #3 of Pete Corey [to fool the fans as they sat in the stands and watched for their heroes to tow into Fonda off the NY Thruway]. Red had a circle of friends such as mechanic Tony Achzet who were an integral part of the 1950's Fonda scene [and so we he, in every sense of the word].


Photos from Lynch and A. Achzet LaTaif
The Knoblauch "Corey" car with the Corey car in the insert [it was the same exact color, too].


Henry Jarvis

Henry Jarvis plied his trade, at northern New York tracks like Airborne Park Speedway  and Saranac Lake Speedway from the mid 1950's through a lot of the '60s. Often sporting the brown and orange colors of his faithful A&W sponsor, he ran through the hobbies and later into the sportman cars. Henry was definitely not without some accomplishments in his career bvut he certainly qualifies for the "littel guy" status, in the shadow of fellow runners like Dick Nephew,"
bo Bruno. and Bill Wimble. He's a likeable man who appreciates it when anyone remembers that he raced.


Bob Mackey Photos via Mike Watts, Sr. and John Rock


Herman "The Turtle" Beam

Largely, Johnson CIty, TN's Herman Beam made a living in the NASCAR Grand Nationals
circling the tracks almost on the apron on the inside while the Pettys and Yarboroughs flew past. Obviously, he had to coax his #19's to go fast enough to qualify, then it was about conserving. Once, a young Cale Yarborough took Beam's car and set the fastest pace it had ever seen until the poor thing expired. Herman made more of a splash fielding cars for the hulking Julian Taylor "JT" Putney for a while. After a fashion Beam apparently tired of the grind that came with NASCAR seasons and moved on to something else.


Jack Walker Collection and Legends of NASCAR.com
The Yarborough edition at left and the Putney car at right.


Harry Coonradt
The first time I ever caught a ride to go see that new Albany - Saratoga Speedway in Malta,NY
we were coming into town, off Interstate. As we waited for a traffic light, a car breezed through pulling a stock car by a chain, with a guy inside driving. That was Harry Coonradt's "hauler". [Musta lived nearbyu, eh?] The name Coonradt is found all through that part of New York with small - time racers and a couple of very well - known engine builders. After the orange semi late model car [left] that entered on a chain, he built a slick '53 Chevy - bodied sportsman. After he sold that to a guy whom I watched run it at Devil's Bowl, i never heard much about Harry again.


Likely a John Grady Photo Courtesy of the Conoradt Family

 

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