WEEKLY COLUMN/BLOG PAGE
BILL’S BACK IN TIME
By Bill Ladabouche
SOME OF THIS STUFF COULD ONLY HAPPEN IN THE OLD DAYS – PART 2
There are a lot of little anecdotal stories you hear about racing in the 1950’s and early 1960’s. For instance, there was the 3 Sr. of Wayne Chandler’s. For a while teaming with Red Dooley’s 3 Jr., the Chandler Hudson raced at Airborne, in New York, as well as his native Vermont tracks. In a previous column I told the story of Chandler’s strange fuel and how one of his official buddies helped him hide it from the suspicious opposition.
Wayne looks innocent enough here, but ……
Unless you are really knowledgeable in the history of the sport and the old days, you are only familiar with the overwhelming efforts to keep parity in the racing, the strangling technical scrutiny, and the cookie – cutter, pre – manufactured nature of most of today’s stock cars. But, there was a time when everyone either made their own cars or bought somebody else’s used equipment, and much of the tech and safety scrutiny was not yet in existence.
Today, it is very unlikely that Chandler could have had a pool of illegal fuel under his car in the pits and not be discovered immediately. But he wasn’t the only guy, by far, to run something other than the track’s SUNOCO racing gas. Legendary Beaver Dragon tells of how his first car, a very unimpressive – looking early forties Buick coupe, was fortified with some substance also used in rock blasting. He jokes how the car never stopped running – they had to stall it in the pits. I imagine the smell was interesting, as well.
Courtesy of the Bourgeois Family
Beaver’s first car looked harmless enough. Just don’t try to turn it off.
Then there is Chester T. Wood, from Orange, Vermont, a man whose very existence in racing today would probably not be possible. When one thinks of a Wood car, one thinks – “chicken wire”. The late Henry Montandon, racing’s “Frozen Logger”, liked to tell the story of how the relatively – organized and forward – thinking Northeastern Speedway in Lower Waterford, Vermont decided, one night to be very techy and collect gas samples from the top three finishers.
Montandon, a diminutive man, chuckled softly as he described how he and brother – in – law / car owner Lloyd Hutchins, Jr. were waiting in somewhat fiendish delight for officials to get to Wood’s car because he was always doing something on the liberal side of rules interpretation. Most of the pit gang knew Chet had this “special gas” stored in some auxiliary container in the car, nowhere near the gas tank.
Courtesy of Cho Lee
Chester T. Wood in what is likely the exact car with the “special tank”.
Officials and rivals never did a chance to figure out what Chester T. Wood was running in that # X-1 rattletrap he was driving. Whatever he had in there was so strong, the remaining liquid had eaten a hole in the plastic one gallon gas can he had suspended under the car and there was not one drop left. Apparently the residual odor was interesting; but not enough to convict the quirky backwoods flyer.
Cho Lee, the late racing historian from Barre, liked to tell the story of when he – as a child – liked to help Joey LaQuerre and his father, Armand, with their Thunder Road cars. One night Joey and Cho managed to sneak a cat into the pit area using a cleverly – placed [and harmless – looking] tarp in the bed of the pickup. How did they know enough to accomplish this covert action It is the same way they used to sneak Cho, himself, past pit official Lana Wilder before Cho could manage to look old enough to try lying about his age.
Courtesy of Cho Lee
Johnny Gammell, the LaQuerre driver of the time, poses with his wife as a young Cho
Lee peeks out from behind them, back beyond Mrs. Gammell’s shoulder.
Otter Creek Speedway, near Vergennes, VT, was an entire experience, in and of itself. Hacked out of one of Hiram Monroe’s cow pastures, the only thing the track seemed to manage to do normally was get what was then  the state’s only NASCAR sanction. The track was over a half mile of long and incredibly dusty dirt surface. Plagued by constant suspension and wheel damage, cars would go flying up the hill from the pits, past the bleachers and announcer’s tower, to Hi Monroe’s barn [then a construction headquarters] for welding and bracing.
The Royce Tucker 14VT sportsman arrives in front of Hi Monroe’s barn, used as emergency welding headquarters at Otter Creek Speedway. Royce Tucker [2nd from left] was brother to Monroe’s partner, Lee Tucker.
Monroe had chosen the spot for his track because of the availability of water for the track. Boy ! Did he have water ! The infield had a pond, and there was an active spring in the birm just outside of the entrance to turn four. Water would run across the track constantly [that means when overhead V-8 NASCAR sportsman cars were standing on the gas, coming off turn four]. Most of the time, all this meant was that was the only section of the oval that wasn’t impossibly dusty. However, in at least one case, the water rose caused a bigger result.
In 1961, the red and white #111 and 11 out of the Glens Falls, NY area were still owned by Henry Caputo, of Hudson Falls. He was using veteran driver George Baumgardner, of Saratoga, to drive the #11 1936 Plymouth coupe. Baumie, a man who was known to enjoy some liquid refreshment before climbing aboard, was just a hammering the car when he got a bit too high into the spring runoff. The 11 managed to get its nose dug into and Baumgarder treated the sparse crowd a a series of barrel rolls that pretty put the Mopar out of its misery. When Caputo was forced to sell out, that wreck was sold to young Jim Hoyt, son of a Saranac Lake Chrysler dealer; but the poor old Plymouth was irreparable.
Bob Mackey Photo Courtesy of John Rock
George Baumgardner and the ill – fated Caputo Plymouth.
Cars at Otter Creek parked on a fairly steeply – inclined upper pasture, on either side of the small bleachers that overlooked the race track from some distance away. Ed Charbonneau, one of the many characters from the earliest days of car racing in Chittenden County, tells of parking his dad’s automatic transmission family car somewhere among the other cars on the south end of the spectator area. When his father asked Ed where he had parked the car, Ed suddenly had an odd feeling. He wheeled about to see no car sitting where he had left it. The car had rolled slowly, missing everyone else’s car, and had ended up almost out on the track. Races were paused while the track’s only wrecker [from the long – closed Pontiac dealer outside Vergennes] pulled the car back to a safer spot.
Courtesy of the Owen Family
A heat starts at Ivanhoe Smith’s Colchester Raceway around 1952. Gordy Owen is on the inside pole and Jackie Peterson is at far right in the unnumbered Ford.
Otter Creek was not the only screwy track in northern Vermont. The Colchester Raceway, of Winooski’s flamboyant used car dealer Ivanhoe Smith Had several moments in its two – year life span. The track, almost in Essex, was making the mistake of paying drivers to appear, but not perform. His pits were always half full of junkers that could hardly make a lap. Smitty, himself, fielded around six cars to keep his fields filled. One of his drivers, Bud Poirier, was apt to “hit almost everything on the track if they got in his way”, according to Ed Charbonneau.
Another Smith associate and employee, Ron “Rollover” Farnsworth, had become so adept at harmless rolling his Hudson #13 that Smitty took to telling him not to even show up for work on Monday if he hadn’t staged at least one accident during a Colchester Raceway program. Smith should have been careful what he wished for. One week , Farnsworth and his friend Frank E. Hart, got locked up and veered off the track, through the inadequate catch fence, and struck three spectators. The accident caused an uproar, culminating in Vermont’s attention – craving States Attorney Lawrence Deshaw involving archaic Sunday Blue Laws to stop stock car racing in the state on Sundays.
Courtesy of the Owen Family
Above- Smitty’s improved fencing can be seen in the background of this Gordy Owen photo.
Smith made improvements to his fencing over that next week, hired more police [for the fans to ignore] to keep fans off the fence area, and convinced six of his drivers to defy the ban. These drivers, which included Jackie Peterson, Farnsworth, some “scared college kid” [as Peterson describes it], and three others were jailed and had to bailed out by the boisterous Smith. Add this to the presence of Viola Trayah, sister of two of Smith’s drivers, punching any man she wanted to in the grandstands, and you had a racing environment that could not be duplicated today.
You could go on to the Canadian race tracks, often doubling as active pari – mutual horse racing venues, that ran betting on their stock car results, and you had some more unbelievable material. Peterson and other American drivers were a big draw in Canada, at venues like Bouvrette Speedway, in St. Jerome, QC; Lansdowne Park near Ottawa; and Richelieu Park in the Montreal area. Monsieur Gustave Bouvrette liked to start his car races with the same movable – gated Jeep pickup that he started the horses with. Peterson says that came to a halt when he accidentally shoved the car in front of him under the gate and a crane to be brought in to lift the whole mess up to be untangled.
Courtesy of Andre Chausse
Monsieur Gustave Bouvrette [center] and his “starter” truck.
When some older guy stands by the pit fence, or sits in front of you at some track like Thunder Road, Fonda, or Airborne, and he says how the sport is just not like it used to be – he is not kidding, people !
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: firstname.lastname@example.org . For those who still don’t like computers - my regular address is: Bill Ladabouche, 23 York Street, Swanton, Vermont 05488.
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