BILL'S SOMEWHAT WEEKLY BLOG
Since I seem to have lost my forum, Mark Thomas' "Racin' Paper", I will apparently enter the 21st Century and start doing my column as a
blog. In certain times of the year, this may not be weekly; but I promise to keep it regular. Many of the site regulars have only been able to
get my columns via this site, anyway, and representing the very newspaper that was given out at Thunder Road gave me no press courtesies.
So, I might as well do it this way and reach some different readers. Let me know what you think. -Bill
Week of August 26, 2012
BILL'S BACK IN TIME
A MUCH – TRAVELED LOCAL PRO
Early local stock car racing had many more drivers whom you could consider to be professionals than is possible today. In this period of racing, where many, many of the best young prospects come from considerable family wealth and in which the costs of pursuing far exceed the economic rewards for all but the highest – echelon participants – traveling around primarily racing for a living is just not possible in local racing any more.
When I think of early drivers who made a living racing stock cars on the local level, I am reminded of such as Ernie Gahan, the Dover, NH modified champion, and Frankie Schneider, who travelled all over the Northeast seeking the best paying races when not operating in his familiar New Jersey/ New York/ Pennsylvania stomping grounds. Wily Will Cagle may have been the consummate local level pro.
Ernie Gahan may have been the quintessential professional local track driver. He would leave his wife every cent he could, take off for a week of racing alone, having to make money to survive, and come home every week to do it all again. [Ladabouche Collection]
Slightly away from the time and area of these men, another man came very close to being a complete professional driver in the region of northern Massachusetts, most of New Hampshire, most of Vermont, and several other occasional venues in the Northeast, as well. That man was Roy “Pappy” Forsyth, an amicable driver who apparently earned the nickname by both great maturity and by actually being older than many of his competitors.
A native of the Keene, NH area, a hotbed of the early flathead Ford racing, Forysth spent the 1950’s usually driving his own car #80 at tracks ranging from the Rhythm Inn Speedway, in Millers Falls, MA; to the Safford Park track at the Cheshire County fairgrounds near Keene; to the short – lived but highly competitive Pico Raceway in Rutland, VT; to the Brattleboro Speedway in West Brattleboro, VT; and many one – time invasions of other tracks in those states.
Roy “Pappy” Forsyth throws his first #80 around the Rhythm Inn track in pursuit of
future superstar Rene Charland, in the #3. [Courtesy of Chip Cormie]
In running the four tracks of the Triangle Racing Association, as well as Pico, possibly Fairmont Motor Park Speedway in Fair Haven, VT, and – most likely – a number of the obscure New Hampshire ovals such as Franklin Motordrome and the like, Forsyth rubbed fenders with a number of future superstars of NASCAR and a few future outlaw stars, as well. NASCAR held very little sway in New Hampshire and Vermont, at the time of the #80 car; but, these future NASCAR stars were not yet hitting the bigger – name NASCAR tracks such as Stafford Springs, Fonda, and the like in the early to mid 1950’s.
The Bradford Auto Supply team yuks it up in Victory Lane at Stafford. That’s
Pappy at far right and George in the middle. [Les King Photo]
Just in the Triangle tracks, alone [Rhythm Inn, Brattleboro, Cheshire, and Claremont] he would race against the likes of future four – time NASCAR National Sportsman Champion, Rene Charland; future 1965 NASCAR National Modified Champion, Ernie Gahan; future southern New England stars like Buddy Krebs, Gene Bergin, and more; and he would regularly compete against future flathead superstars of the early 1960’s such as Sonny Rabideau, Art Cody, Ted Brown, Buddy Bardwell, Art Rousseau, and dozens more.
Forsyth took his career up a notch when he assumed the presidency of the Monadnock Stock Car Racing Association that sanctioned the Cheshire fairgrounds tracks for a time. Forsyth would run against the competition, all season long, and then stand on the podium at the banquets and hand out the trophies and awards to guys like George Schnyer, Charland, George Janoski, and Lionel Arel. During the #80 era, he ran at least two different styles of cars, as evidenced by several Safford Park Speedway photos [Cheshire fairgrounds] in something like a 1932 or 1934 Ford coupe. He was also snapped in action at Rhythm Inn and Pico with what looks like a 1935 Ford.
Sorry about the graininess of this old Keene Sentinel photo. It shows Forsyth, as
MSCRA President, awarding a trophy to George Schnyer. [Teator Photo]
Forsyth’s already – distinguished career took a huge jump when an obscure, but highly – effective auto parts dealer out of the tiny town of Bradford, Vermont lost his young driver to the latter’s promise to his newly – married wife to put himself in less risky pursuits. George Barber, of Bradford Auto Supply, sought out Forsyth to take over his unbelievably fast [and quite wrecky – looking #46 Ford coupe. A young Stub Piper had driven the car well enough, but there wasn’t much of the car he hadn’t wrinkled by the time Forsyth climbed aboard.
Barber and Forsyth were to become legend at Ken Squier’s Thunder Road International Speedbowl; but, before that track’s opening in 1960, they raised some hell all over the region. One photo I have shows the great Steve Danish vainly chasing Forsyth’s ugly, dented little car around Stateline Speedway, on the NY / Vermont border near Bennington. Another photo shows Pappy, George, and the crew wryly posing with Coke bottles in Victory Lane at Stafford Springs, CT; they just been told not to come back unless they did something with the way “that thing” looked.
The infamous board fence protects cars on NY Rte 67 from Stateline Speedway
dust as Steve Danish chases the Barber car. [Danish Family Photo]
That first Barber is seen at tracks as widely ranging as the totally rustic Ge – Jo – Clin Speedway in Boltonville, VT to the somewhat sophisticated Malletts Bay Raceway, in Colchester. At least in one season, Barber and Forsyth took the Malletts Bay points title, against the stiff competition of such as Jackie Peterson, Ernie Barcomb, Ronnie Farnsworth, Gordy Owen, Frank Hart, Wayne Chandler, Harold “Cannonball” Baker, and literally dozens more top runners. That season, the track was called Colchester- Bayview Speedway and was NASACAR sanctioned.
It is almost certain they took wins at Northfield, Northeastern, and almost anywhere else you can think of. But, by 1960, the Barber team moved in [with a much more well – kept car] to Thunder Road, where Forsyth took much more than his share of the spoils, So successful was the #46 program, that Barber fielded a second car [the #47] with Leland Ingerson. The Barber team was one of the very top acts in the show for Thunder Roads first two seasons. Eventually Forsyth would retire, leaving the #46 to drivers like Larry Granger and Junior Coffin; but there was never quite the magic that the charismatic Forsyth could bring.
Forsyth, as points champion at Malletts Bay, is flanked by track regulars [from right] Ernie Barcomb, Jackie Peterson, Pappy, Henry LeClaire, and Frank Hart. The trophy Roy is holding was being kept by my late friend, Cho Lee, at home after George Barber had given him a lot of memorablilia. [FE Hart Family Collection]
Courtesy of Cho Lee
Not much was heard of Pappy Forsyth after his retirement. Barber would again rise to some prominence when, upset by the flathead cars having been booted out of most local tracks by 1966, he acquired land in his hometown Bradford and built Bear Ridge Speedway, up on top of a mountain, at the end of an interminable back road. The Home of the Coupes would be the place all those abandoned and stored flathead coupes could return and run without censure or having to run against overhead V-8’s. I always wondered if Forsyth ever saw races at George’s bucolic little track.
Forsyth, in a less familiar 80, powers down the track at the opening of Pico Raceway in 1951. He would win a feature there, either in the 80 or Barber’s 46. [Aldo Merusi Photo via Rutland Historical Society]
Please email me at email@example.com 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. For those who still don’t like computers - my regular address is: Bill Ladabouche, 23 York Street, Swanton, Vermont 05488.
AS ALWAYS, DON’T FORGET TO CHECK OUT MY WEBSITE: www.catamountstadium.com
Return to the Main Page
Return to the Main News Page
Return to the All Links Page
Return to the Weekly Blog Links Page