WEEKLY COLUMN/BLOG PAGE
BILL’S BACK IN TIME
By Bill Ladabouche
EVERY PICTURE GOT A STORY TO IT
That title comprised the hook line to a 1970’s pop song by some singer of that era [possibly Joe Tex]. In the case of wreck photos, this is even more true. I can look at most post – wreck photos and pretty much compose, in my mind, what the situation was behind that picture. Fortunately, most of the shots in this column are ones whose background stories I know.
Coastal 181 Publishing Photo
Pete Corey, in Victory Lane, with a rolled over 3 NY Mott entry.
Pete Corey was having a monstrous year at Fonda in 1956 when his season was interrupted by NASCAR’s controversial banning of his previous Mott ride from that year. NASCAR having seen enough of drivers being ejected through the roofs of the pre – 1936 car bodies [which had a center portion that was not steel], had derailed an unbelievably dominant year for Corey and Bob Mott.
Mott’s little yellow 3 had ruled the roost at Stateline Speedway in previous seasons with Jeep Herbert at the wheel. So, the team had come to Fonda with an appropriate body, mad as hell. Corey was out, gunning the new car for all it was worth to show those damned bureaucrats they couldn’t slow him down. Losing it on the backstretch, he rolled completely off the track, nearly went into the Mohawk Canal, and came back to win in this new Mott car.
A nine year – old future hall of famer, David Lape, witnessed Corey flip over a fence, land back on his wheels, re – enter the track on a side road, and go on to win the race. It served as one of Lape’s inspirations. The temperamental Corey probably had a few words for any official within earshot as he got his trophy. A little later, he would switch over to the A.C. Caprara team, in whose car #37 he would lose his leg. [Didn’t slow him down for long].
Bob Doyle Photo via Cavalcade of Auto Racing
Bill White tastes the wall at Thunder Road, with future hall of famer Stub Fadden in the #6 and George Horn in the 95.
When Barre, Vermont’s Thunder Road International Speedbowl began operations in 1960, a majority of the entrants and much of the format was a spin – off from Northeastern Speedway, in Lower Waterford, Vermont. T Road co – owner, the soon – to – be legendary announcer Ken Squier had announced at Northeastern and was moved to start his track [which is now in its 52nd year of operation] after seeing what a well – run track could do.
Northeastern had those flathead Ford coupes that defined Thunder Road in its formative years. The older track also had started a sort of late model hobby division called the B Class, which also spilled over to Squier’s track and which developed a number of legendary late model drivers. It also featured a large number of equally – determined but less accomplished runners; and one of these was Bill White.
Courtesy of Cho Lee via Andy Boright
The B Class cars were quite adept at providing wreck action. Dickie Southworth certainly
has the attention of Larry Demar in the 171 at Thunder Road.
White had a big old Studebaker B Class car which he began running over at Thunder Road. Even the most loyal Northeastern drivers were well aware of the deleterious effect that the new track was having on Northeastern; so, they figured they’d better get in on the ground floor at T Road. The B Class included Harmon “Beaver” Dragon, George Horn, Stub Fadden, Dickie Southworth, Freddie Mills, and numerous others, some of whom would go on to achieve the NEAR Hall of Fame for achievement and longevity.
On one particular evening at Thunder Road, White was finishing a feature ahead of fellow Northeastern Speedway vets Fadden and Horn when he got crossed up, rammed the substantial front stretch wall, and had his big white Studebaker demolished. Although unhurt, White took one look at his frantic wife and kids, and retired from racing on the spot. Today, he is an official at Bear Ridge Speedway, in Bradford, Vermont.
Courtesy of Chris Companion
The profoundly twisted Norm Cyr Chevelle, one starry night at Catamount. Norm saw more stars than we spectators.
Norm Cyr has been in and out of racing most of his life – never staying in the game for a very long period at a time. He has won a few, himself, and he has fielded some equipment for other drivers who did very well in his stuff. Norn is perhaps best known as the father of multi - time ACT champion Jean – Paul Cyr; and, maybe less willingly, one of his other biggest claims to fame is one particular wreck at Catamount Stadium.
I had known Norm since helping him with his infamous Hurricane division Thunderbird, with which he won almost every race at Catamount in 1970. I knew of his ownership of some #6 and #9 coupes that guys like Bucky Dragon and Rex Shattuck had driven, and I was vaguely aware that a car he sold to Beaver Dragon had won a legendary victory in the early years at Catamount before I moved up to Milton.
Bob Frazier Photo Courtesy of Ed Fabian Dragon Family Photo
Norm Cyr was no stranger to building race cars. His sportsman coupe [left] ended up being the car Beaver Dragon drove to his
legendary upset win against the modifieds at Catamount around 1966.
So, it didn’t surprise me all that much when he showed up, around 1974, with a 1966 Chevelle late model sportsman, still in primer, and sporting the 9 VT number. Cyr apparently had way too much gear in the car and a pretty good motor. In practice and in one heat, he plummeted around the track, engine wound out, sliding around like a hog on ice. Before he took out to the consi, a few people advised he sit that show out and come back with the car set up better for the track.
Norm had never been known as an easily moldable man. He insisted he would be just fine and headed out for some more skating. Careening around in front of a wary consolation field of late models, Norm came out of turn four, did an ass end dipsy doodle, and plowed directly into the wall. I never saw anything hit that hard. He got out of the car, shrugged his shoulders at the carnage, and parked the car for good. His boys would do the racing in years to come.
Vogel Family Photo
Ken Shoemaker’s 95NY lies, crumpled on the track at Fonda. Ken recalls being more
injured in that wreck than most of the other numerous spills he took in a long career.
In his autobiography They Called Me “The Shoe”, the tempestuous Kenny Shoemaker chronicles a long litany of wrecks and fights, on the way through a very successful and enviable career. Always a hired driver for someone else, one of Shoemaker’s favorite all – time gigs was with the popular Granville, NY owner Ted Vogel, Sr. Early in his career and living in Whitehall, NY [very near Granville] Shoemaker would race well – prepared Vogel cars at the local Mettawee Speedway, as well as other regional tracks.
Always one to bounce around, the pugnacious Shoe who had been with Vogel, left to run a former Vogel car with big – spending Lake George car dealer J.R. Earl. When Earl tired of replacing cars and of the sport, in general, Ken returned to run a race at Fonda in Vogel’s newly – built coupe. Vogel had had enormous success with the flat back sedan he had sold to Earl, running at Fonda, Stateline, Mettawee, and other venues with Shoemaker or George Baumgardner at the wheel.
On this particular night in 1957, chasing Jeep Herbert in the potent, hemi – powered Henry Caputo #11 Plymouth coupe, Shoemaker encountered a situation his bravado could not solve. Whoever Herbert was following blew an engine and wretched oil all over the turn. Herbert’s high – sitting coupe shielded Kenny from any view or warning of what had happened ahead. The out – of – control #95NY rolled all the way to midway through the backstretch.
The roll was not the worst of it. Shoemaker, not a particularly svelte man, broke the seat belts and was propelled out one of the coupe windows. He was saved from being squashed by his own car only by the huge 312 C.I. engine, on which the car struck and flew just over the prone driver. Shoemaker was hospitalized for quite some time. I think Vogel called it a career as an owner and went to serving as a track official later.
From the HAMB Website
Either curious onlookers or sad owners examine this wrecked stock car from the 1950’s. Looks like the cage absorbed the shock before expiring, but what crappy welding !
The car in the above photo is not familiar to me, nor is the location. What is obvious is the story behind it. The pre – 1936 body and flathead engine certainly would give some clue to the era. It looks like the driver lived, perhaps because the cage, before breaking, absorbed most of the energy of the crash. The lousy cage, a door that opens, inadequate belts, etc. bear witness to the death traps some guys drove in the 1950’s and earlier ‘60’s.
It brings to mind a particularly unpleasant experience I had at Fairmont Speedway, a track run by C.J. Richards, in 1963. Many of Richards’ competitors were coming over from very – nearby New York, and they were often refugees from some of the many lower – echelon tracks that were closing down and dying out in the eastern part of the state at that time. Many of these stock cars were unsafe heaps. When James Van Guilder arrived with a white #39 coupe, one afternoon, it was just another low budget [probably short – lived] racing operation at Fairmont.
During one of the races that afternoon, something got Van Guilder out of shape on the front straightaway; and he did a series of barrel rolls in front of a horrified crowd. The worst of it was that, as parts and metal were flying off the rolling cars and other competitors were doing their best to dodge it, the driver came flying out from the car like a rag doll and landed on the track. Local star George Rogers, luckily driving a car that sat high off the ground, slewed sideways and went over Van Guilder, not striking him.
Bob Frazier Photo via Cavalcade of Auto Racing
Luckily George Rogers drove with a lot of ground clearance.
Van Guilder would die soon after. A sickened and traumatized George Rogers swore he was done racing. Like the proverbial barn door closing after the horse escaped, CVRA officials spent a few weeks banging all the cars’ welding with sledge hammers to check for strength; and it occurred to them to make sure no one else’s cage was welded to the floor instead of the frame. C.J. would go on to suffer through another driver losing his leg that year [which was entirely the driver’s fault]. But, just like his predecessor could not get over the death of a man hiding in the woods to watch free and getting struck by a wheel, Richards was bothered by the Van Guilder incident as long as he promoted races.
Gordon Reinig Photo, Hal Lawrence Collection, via Lancaster History Book
Lancaster Speedway crews steady the flagger’s tower so that Bruce Fleishman and
Hal Lawrence could escape the damaged structure after the first ramp crash.
If an uninitiated onlooker examines the photo above, it is difficult to see what is going on – except that it involves a metal cage structure and men who apparently working for “Lancaster National”. Oh, the story behind this one ! Wes Moody has taken several sittings to tell me about his involvement in the events of May 20, 1972 at Lancaster National Speedway, near Buffalo, NY. These events warranted his inclusion in the official Lancaster track history book.
It seems that the area has a number of fine technical colleges, and that one of these [Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory] was partnered with a nationally - prominent engineer [Raymond McHenry] to produce a ramp device that would allow a car to jump, twist in the air, and land back on its wheels on the other ramp. This stunt would then be used in one of the 1970’s James Bond movies with stunt driver Chick Galiano. The structure was just outside the Lancaster front straightaway, behind a wall, very near the elevated starter’s cage that suspended over the track.
If chief starter Bruce Fleishman and assistant, Hal Lawrence, had known what the evening was to be like, they would have chosen to flag on the track [where it was safer]. In the first instance, during a late model race, local driver Terry Goerss rolled his ’64 Chevrolet, got airborne, and struck the flaggers’ cage before vaulting the wall, and partially landing on the McHenry ramp device. The terrified officials escaped the cage only after every available track worker held it stable long enough for them to be rescued.
It took 25 minutes of repairs to fix the James Bond ramps. Then came a modified consolation for a very important feature. Moody, in a brand new modified coupe [and racing for a living], made a move for a hole at the same time as local regular Roger Treichler. The resulting scrum sent the Moody car over the same wall, reducing the ramp device to toothpicks while destroying the brand new #63NY. Moody, sitting now only in the cage of the car, sat stunned as an enraged McHenry charged over and began screaming at him.
Moody, never a particularly calm or civilized man, exited the wreckage of his lost meal ticket, booted a retreating McHenry in the butt, and the chase proceeded down the front stretch in front of a crowd that probably thought this was all part of the show [and a damned good show, at that]. Galiano would have to jump another night, and Moody an absolutely exasperated Moody had another memorable scrape at a NY Thruway gas stop on the way home with his destroyed car. NO ONE went home happy that night.
Courtesy of Art Visconti, via Mike Visconti
Most early racing wreck photos have a good story behind them. This was Art Visconti's
first try at racing, at Warrensburg Speedway / Ashland Park Speedway.
I have more of these wreck photos for another column, another time. Action racing shots are often fun to look at, but highly predictable in their story [if they even have one]. The same cannot be said for most of the post – wreck photos of the earlier days of racing.
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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