WEEKLY COLUMN/BLOG PAGE
BILL’S BACK IN TIME
By Bill Ladabouche
The Kind of Guy Early Racing Needed More of
Oftentimes, when we are sitting around interviewing, of just talking to, the old fellows who are survivors of the early days of stock car racing, they seem like a sweet and charming bunch. More than once, I have heard some female onlooker refer to one of the vintage guys as “A cute little old man”. He might be little, he might be old, but there was seldom anything cute about most of these guys.
Courtesy of Cho Lee
I don’t care how old Ronnie Marvin might have gotten, he was NEVER going to be a lovable little old man.
Because of the nature of the activity, most of the early stock car drivers were a nasty bunch – they had to be. Other drivers and teams were ready to knock them off the track; fans could come charging in from anywhere; the cars were ornery and unsafe; and promoters often cheated everyone and had the gall to come back next week and do it again. Most stories you hear about the very early days of racing are punctuated with punches, tire irons, and worse.
It was almost requisite for a man to have art least one or two hard asses on his crew, and it didn’t hurt if he was one, also. Harold Hanaford had – at different times – the Hennetts and the Havelocks to protect his interests. The Gigantic Ronnie Marvin had himself, enough said. Mackie Miller had the rambunctious Roland Trombley, ready to fight at the drop of a hat. Many of the Canadians who came down to race were mafia, or had some with them.
Courtesy of Cho Lee
The trophy presenter of the night hands a trophy to Harold Hanaford as
a herd of Havelock brothers stand by. No pressure there.
So it was, particularly in the ornery atmosphere of northern New Hampshire and Vermont racing, that there was a fairly even – tempered guy named Pete Racine. Pete started out at the old Webster Flats track, described by him as a “hell driver deal”. No fences, no stands, and very crude race cars was the order of the day on some land owned by the nearby farming Webster family. Pete’s 1930’s Plymouth #77 was the first car ever on the track at Webster Flats.
Racine had been attracted to the track by the promotional efforts of Ray and Charlie Nadeau. In fact, there is recent evidence that the track near Lyndonville, on Webster Flats, that everyone thought was unnamed was probably referred to as Ray Nadeau’s Speedway. Today, Pete admits: “I knew nothing about stock car racing. I had this Plymouth sedan and I knocked out all the windows, and stripped the car. The first race, I got hit all over with stones, and I had to not only put a windshield back in - but I added a screen over it.”
Courtesy of Scott Haskell
I had this Plymouth sedan and …..
Around this same time, Racine venture to other nearby tracks. One such track was near Concord, “on the Marko land”, as Pete puts it. This track, like Webster Flats, had no infrastructure; the crowd sat on a bank. One man claims it was once called Devil’s Bowl. Racine says it wasn’t much of a track. There was so much sand on the racing surface your car would bog down in the turns.
In those early days, Pete’s competition was such as Nedx Lemieux [P-13], Perley Densmore, Jerry Bigelow, and – occasionally some guys from further north like the infamous Albert Kincaid. Charlie Nadeau, brother of the Webster Flats promoter, had raced at Newport and likely mixed it up a bit with Racine and the gang, as well.
Courtesy of Paul Zampieri
Perley Densmore and one of his earlier cars, likely, at Webster Flats. Below – A ticket from Ray Nadeau’s Speedway.
Courtesy of Pete Racine
As racing became a bit more organized, and the United Racing Club formed in St. Johnsbury to establish Northeastern Speedway, most of the bucolic little hole – in – the – wall tracks died, along with promoters like Howard Connelly and Nadeau. Pete threw in with the new little Northeastern track in Lower Waterford, Vermont and ran there during most of its early seasons. This involvement with the Northeastern drivers even brought him to try a few runs at the even – newer Thunder Road International Speedbowl in 1960.
Courtesy of Pete Racine
Dunie Berube, one of Pete’s loyal supporters, at Webster Flats. Below – Rollo “Ripper” Lowe
would compete against Pete at Webster Flats and then later promote for Pete at Northeastern.
Courtesy of Pete Racine via Paul Zampieri
A lot of the Northeastern guys like Racine, and his supporters such as Pee Wee Berube and son, Dunie, soon realized that not only was the bigger – time Thunder Road operation going to force Northeastern out of business, but that the pace of racing at T Road was too much for his limited budget. By the mid 1960’s, Pete’s last car #69 had passed to brother, Ernie Racine, and – eventually to Cuffy Cuthbertson, who would run it at Bear Ridge.
Courtesy of Mark Austin
Pete finds himself looking down the barrel of a speeding heat race pack at Northeastern Speedway.
Today, Pete – who is just as nice an older man as he was a younger man – is very active with Paul Bellefeuille in the preservation of the Northeastern Speedway site. Pete was in from the very beginning of Bellefeuille’s clearing the overgrown land and refurbishing much of the largely - intact raceway. Racine, Bellefeuille, and others have gone off on forays to claim forgotten old stock cars, sitting somewhere neglected for decades, and have brought them back for possible restoration to go with the track.
Pete Racine was certainly
one of the most popular celebrities at the 2009 Northeastern Speedway reunion.
Here, he is interviewed. Note the restored speedway venue in the background.
On June 15, the State of Vermont will take the unprecedented step of placing one of those heavy iron historical highway markers by Route 18, just off the grounds of Northeastern Speedway. The track is now much easier to spot than it was in 1978, when I stopped by there with my family and trudged into the property to find it – hidden but so intact that someone had had to pour a dumpload of fill in the middle of it to keep the hooligans from racing upon it.
From Northeastern Speedway Site
Pete is photographed at the dedication for Northeastern Speedway during which a historical
marker [seen behind] was unveiled. Below - Pete poses with Cuffy Cuthbertson, one of his rivals during his career.
They were rescuing an abandoned vintage race car which now sits at the Northeastern Speedway site.
Courtesy of Paul Bellefeuille
Both Ken Squier and Lt. Governor Phil Scott will speak at this event, and Pete Racine’s eyes will probably well up with tears. It means that much to him. Pete is living proof that everybody who was involved in the old stock car racing was not a hard ass.
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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