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 July 1, 2012


                                        BILL'S BACK IN TIME                                    

The Schenectady Gazette:


            Back in the 1950’s in the time period of the newspaper archives I have recently been scanning through, the newspaper will still the most vital source of information in the country. For those of you too young to comprehend this, there were almost no computers [certainly not personal ones]. When I would go to the local pharmacy to pick up the weekly issue of The Sporting News, it was primarily for baseball results.

            In walking there, I would walk by the main office building of the Vermont Marble Company, the world’s center of the marble business then. Unlike almost any other place in the immediate area that office had a COMPUTER ! This would have been the IBM Univac, taking up the entirety of a medium – sized room, requiring constant air conditioning for the dozens of vacuum tubes, and capable only of sorting scores of cards with strategic holes punched in them.


The Gazette was the place to go to have the activities at your Capital District  stock car track covered. [From Joe Grossetti]


            My point is, nobody, but nobody had their own computer, and the internet was at least twenty years away from inception. Very few sports other than baseball were regularly aired on television, and a lot of people I knew still didn’t own one anyway. There were a few, hard – to – get racing papers like Illustrated Speed Sport News, and news about local racing depended completely on the local newspaper.

            So it was the Schenectady Gazette found itself handling anywhere from two to five local race track articles at a time, more than weekly The Capital District was an unbelievably rich area of post – World War II racing, starting with the dangerous roadsters and giving over to the burgeoning stock cars.


The Gazette gave primitive tracks like Burden Lake Speedway, with its up and downhill track surface,
coverage in the beginning of the decade of the fifties. [Courtesy of Ken Gypson]


The Gazette was reasonably in coverage range of: Burden Lake Speedway, Poestenkill; Route 66 [also known as Hollywood Bowl] Speedway, near Averill Park; the Pine Bowl Speedway in Snyders Corners; Empire Raceways, Menands; the MacGreagor track in Wilton; Whites Beach Speedway, in Ballston Lake; Stateline Speedway, in North Bennington VT; Lebanon Valley Speedway, West Lebanon; Fonda Speedway in Fonda; and the roadster tracks near Perth, NY.

This does not even get into tracks somewhat nearby – such as Arlington Speedway in Poughkeepsie, Greenport Speedway, Greenport; Champlain Speedway, Ticonderoga; Trout Lake Speedway, Bolton’s Landing; Mettawee Speedway, North Granville; Fairmont Park Motor Speedway, Fair Haven, VT, and many others.


Destined to be a huge player on the scene by the 1960’s, Lebanon Valley distributed this staged shot to local media in the 1950’s. Schenectady area and Whites Beach driver Ernie Martin is the late model car in the rear of the photo. [Courtesy of Andy Boright]



The 1950’s was a decade of rapid growth of local stock car tracks, and also – at the same time – a time when dozens of tracks died. The writers at the Gazette, most of whose styles suggested they had no familiarity or feeling for the rough and tumble new motor sport, also had to contend with tracks whose names would change with alarming regularity. Promoters also moved around, changed tracks, or built new ones with great frequency.

With the success of the Burden Lake Speedway, promoter Harold Garstang, having had a falling out with a partner over the beer concessions, moved a small distance away and built the Route 66 Speedway, which soon was called the Hollywood Bowl after the drive – in across the road. The roadster racing promotion trio of Emden, Hernacle, and Duemler raced at three separate venues, two of which were less than two miles apart.

Whites Beach, sometimes just known as White Beach, ended up, at one point with the name Playa Blanca Speedway [same name, just in Spanish].


Schenectady’s Ted Lott, shown here at Lebanon Valley was the
quintessential Capital District runner from the 1950’s. Before the
Valley, he was a big force at the small Whites Beach oval.
[Courtesy of Russ Blake]


            So, the 1950’s Schenectady Gazette papers are full of stories of local tracks, especially if they involved the plentiful corps of Schenectadians who raced in that era. Schenectady drivers ranged from the lower – budget guys who ran at places like Whites Beach and the Pine Bowl – to the higher echelon bunch who ended up at the NASCAR – sanctioned Fonda Speedway. Ted Lott was one good example. He was one of the men to beat at Whites Beach, until Lebanon Valley [a major Fonda rival] became a big venue. Lott then shows up in early Valley photos, however not as successfully.


Jeep Herbert was the poster boy for Schenectady stock car success in the 1950’s. Here,
 he is shown in  the Sam Kittler / Gibby Wolfe 37 at Altamont, NY. [From CJ Richards]


            One particular cadre of drivers from the Schenectady area [in which you might as well include Albany – for racing’s sake] made huge splashes in the heady world of NSACAR sportsman racing in those days. Two – time New York State champion Howard “Jeep” Herbert, variously from Schenectady or Rotterdam, was perhaps the early banner carrier for this group. Herbert ranged from as far east as Pico Raceway, Rutland, VT to as far west as tracks near Utica in his early days, driving for such great owners as Bob Mott, Gibby Wolf and Sam Kittler, Frank Trinkhaus, and J.R. Earl.

            Other absolute superstars in the Herbert circle who mainly stuck with NASCAR [some of who eventually eclipsed the diminutive driver’s accomplishments] included Kenny Shoemaker, who ended up in Westmere, NY; Pete Corey, from Cohoes at that time; George Welch, who died while flagging at Empire Raceway; and Paul Marshall.


Capital District drivers tended to stick together, with the possible exception of the hard-nosed Shoemaker. These two photos show the the close friendship between the diminutive Jeep Herbert and the fiery Pete Corey. [Herbert Family Collection]


            There was a host of non – non – NASCAR teams and drivers, many of whom simply did not have the budget to race with the more expensive sportsman cars at Fonda. Schenectady’s Link Pettit was such an example. His exploits at the Pine Bowl Speedway, nearby and at the larger Lebanon Valley Speedway, near Massachusetts and Vermont were carefully followed by the Gazette. Pettit drove for car owners, particularly from northern Massachusetts; but it is certain he could have done just as well, with competitive Fonda equipment.


Link Pettit, shown here with his own car, emerged as a star at Lebanon Valley Speedway by the early 1960’s. But he raced in the Schenectady area for years before. [Pettit Family Collection]



            Schenectady driver Herb Dunleavy was among the first drivers to chauffeur for Joe Romano, out of Johnstown. Dunleavy also performed at Whites Beach and at the Pine Bowl. Romano used Dunleavy Dutch Reed, and Tiger Tom Kotary before a legendary run with his son, Andy, which lasted decades. George Gowey, from DeFreestville; Lou Hacker, of Castleton; and popular Fred Searing, of Oak Hill were all examples of area drivers who drove at smaller tracks like Whites Beach, Burden Lake, Route 66, and the Pine Bowl before going on to bigger careers at Lebanon Valley.

            Searing, in particular, was not only a notable driver in his own right, but he was responsible for bringing along the careers of stars such as Mert Hulbert, Stan Wetmore, Johnny Flach, and others. The Gazette frequently mentioned the more limited exploits of locals like Elnora’s Orlando Pappa, Gloversville’s Doc Blanchard, Lew Martin, the Dwyers – Paul and Charles, and former roadster driver Herb Root.


Driver and promoter, Ken DeLong poses at Fonda with the DeLong family car, the “Picker Six”. DeLong once had to rjush into the town of Ballston Spa and explain how he knocked out power to the area, working on lights at Whites Beach Speedway. Courtesy of Jo Towns via Otto Graham]


            One particularly interesting character who was chronicled in the newspaper’s pages was Ken DeLong. Part – time driver and part – time promoter of Whites Beach Speedway, DeLong managed to run, in the early years at such far – flung venues as Fonda, Pico Raceway in Vermont, Fairmont Speedway in Vermont, Stateline Speedway, on the NY / VT border, Ashland Park, Warrensburgh, and his own Whites Beach track. The familiar blue and white #18 was seen all over the northeast until son, Lynn put it out if its misery at Fonda.

            Another interesting and frequent subject in the Gazette was Howie Westervelt, described as being from Coxsackie. Later being described as from Ravena, Westervelt drove mostly Fords and – mostly for legendary owner/builder Cliff Wright. Usually sponsored by Tollgate Ice Cream of Slingerlands, NY, Westervelt was a top runner both at Lebanon Valley and Fonda, after having started at tracks like Coxsackie and Pine Bowl.


Howie Westervelt was a hard, veteran competitor – all over the area  covered by the Gazette.
Don’t let the ethereal expression fool ya. [Ladabouche Collection]


            The Gazette had the sad duty of covering the elaborate plans for the George Welch benefit night of racing at Fonda, after the enormously popular Schenectady driver was killed while doing his second job in the sport – flagging, at Empire Raceway, in Menands. The plans put forth in the Gazette article fell short of expectations a bit, if one compares the Gazette article to the section describing this special Tuesday night event in the Fonda history book. However, a good amount of money was raised and handed over to the Welch family after the special event was hosted by promoter Ed Fuez.

            The Schenectady Gazette gave its largest space to the events at Fonda – and justifiably so. The golden era of racing at Fonda was arguably one of the greatest in the history of short track racing in the Northeast. The earlier to late 1950’s Gazette coverage does pick up when The Track of Champions was just beginning, and some of the stars mentioned in these articles were gone by the mid 1960’s. Some of the great names behind the scenes are documented in the newspaper pages” legendary car builder and future Fonda official Bob Whitbeck appears, as does his main rival, Bob Mott, whose cars would go through unbelievable win streaks.


The controversial and legendary Bob Mott 3, driven by the controversial and legendary Pete Corey, was so good one year at Fonda, NASCAR outlawed the car. [Ladabouche Collection]


            Some of  the significant Fonda stars who were nearly gone by the time I got to Fonda in 1963 included Saratoga’s George Baumgardner, a former open wheel driver from the 1940’s; Chuck Mahoney, an aggressive Rochester, NY driver who ran for a year in the NASCAR Grand Nationals; Spence Parkhurst, also of Saratoga; Carl Fink, from Albany, another Pine Bowl veteran; tall and lean Jim Luke, from Utica; and Westmere’s Jollie Ollie Palmer, who had launched his career at the Pine Bowl connected with Troy car owner Jim Brush.

            The Gazette dutifully reported every track’s weekly announcement of racing, often when the releases were painfully similar to the last four they had released before. It  was clear that one or two of the staff writers went out [happily or not] to cover these races when they clearly did not have the feel for the sport. Often, the rough and tumble drivers were made to sound more like horse jockeys or thrill show drivers than the workaday, down – to – Earth people most of them were.


It was the sad duty of the Gazette to report the fatal accident of one of its favorites,
George Welch, around the end of the decade. [Source Unknown]


            Perhaps like a daily newspaper lodged somewhere in that corner of New Hampshire, Vermont, and Massachusetts, the Schenectady Gazette just happened to be in the right place, at the right time, to capture the raw essence of the sport of local stock car racing when it was talking wing, in the 1950’s. The paper would go on to gain experience covering racing and would have fewer and fewer tracks to cover, as time went on.
              Please email me at 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.

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