HE’S JUST DAVE TO US
Most of the best writers in this neck of the
woods have taken their shot at writing about Dynamite Dave Dion, the
remarkable Hudson, NH driver who has, forever, etched his name into the annals
of racing in the East. Dave Moody wrote a great book, and Lew Boyd did a
memorable tearoffs column on Dion. I just wanted to put in my two cents’
worth, because I consider the man a friend – not just a topic opportunity.
Nobody needs me to recount all the Dion
stories or the exploits, so I will limit this to personal reflections and
stories. Around 1972, Catamount Stadium [and Northern NASCAR] was attracting a
legion of new competitors for its burgeoning late model sportsman ranks. The
local drivers, while having run a lower level of late model for years, were
still getting used to having the better equipment to run.
Courtesy of Cho Lee
brought up the first Norwood Torino to Catamount.
Norwood Arena was experiencing a similar
upgrade in its late model ranks, and a lot of the Arena competitors were
inspired to try their luck, much further to the north, to that track that had
long had been known for having some of the top modified competition in the
past. Some of the Massachusetts invaders included Little John Rosati, whose
John’s Trucking #36 team had arrived in 1971 with one of the best – financed,
most professional – looking operations ever seen at the track.
Soon, thereafter, Catamount fans began to see
the Bay Staters filter in on the Saturday night late model race programs: Dave
Lind, the tire dealer; Bobby Healey; Skip May, with his brother - in – law’s
orange Chevelles; Joey Kourafas, with former Norwood car owner Bob Curtiss;
Jerry Driscoll; and many others. Catamount, at that time, was a magical mix
of those Massachusetts cars, New York teams trying to make the conversion from
coupes, returning Canadian stars who had run in the 1960’s, the local drivers;
and many Granite State teams, as well.
Courtesy of Chris Companion
Dave Lind and car owner
Virgil Rendel were just some of the many Massachusetts area
invaders to hit Northern NASCAR in the early 1970’s.
Into this atmosphere, one early summer
evening, came a bunch with a big, red Ford Torino. We had already seen Ron
Barcomb’s immaculate, fast Nordic Ford/Coca-Cola Torino all that season, and
Dan Mostrianni had come up once with another red Torino [the # 6PACK], as
well. So, no one thought that much about the new arrival. I wandered over to
take a curious gander as they found one of the few unoccupied pit spaces.
The first of the crew [probably Roger and the
other brothers] came out, looking a bit annoyed that people were pressed in to
inspect their operation. After a bit, the door to the school bus popped open
and out stepped this less – menacing – looking guy with a Sonny Bono haircut.
He looked at me, said, “How ya doin’ partner ?”, and set off working with the
others. I would like the man from then on.
Courtesy of Ed Fabian
The Torino, in 1973,
just before the Stewart sponsorship.
Of course, Dave Dion and his brothers went on
to gain a fantastic local sponsor in Stewart Ford, from tiny Cuttingsville,
Vermont, and would proceed to have one of the most remarkable records of
success seen in the annals of the NASCAR [and later ACT] racing in the region.
But that’s not what makes Dave what he is. For example, Cuttingsville is
particularly susceptible to flooding due to its downhill location next to a
river. [It got hammered by Hurricane Irene in 2011]
There was some serious flooding in that part
of Vermont around 1975 or 7; and, as always, Cuttingsville was in the path of
flood waters. According to more that one person, Dave and some of the others
from the team heard about this and rushed to help C.J. Stewart and his staff
to get their auto inventory and other materials to higher ground. I believe
it; that’s something Dave would do.
Courtesy of The LaFond Family
C. J. Stewart, seen
here behind the hood working on Chet Doaner’s Devil’s Bowl modified,
appreciated the Dions and was appreciated in return. Eventually the John C.
sponsorship changed to Green Mountain Ford Dealers, but the special individual
bond with Stewart endured.
Dave always maintained ties to the village of
Milton, VT, where his girlfriend and their daughter lived. Because of this, I
ended up having both of the Dion girls. In the course of having Michelle, the
younger girl, I had parent conferences which included Dave. We became well
acquainted, and he never forgot who I was. I married my wife, Roxanne soon
Rox and I were on our honeymoon to Maine in
1987. I was in that period of my life from 1987 to 2005 when I didn’t really
go to the races because we were doing antiques, and the auctions were at the
same time as the races. We happened to be on state route 26, and passing by
Oxford Plains Speedway when I noticed they were going to have a race. We
decided it would be a great change of pace to attend the races. No longer
having credible press connections, we located ourselves in the grandstands and
watched a NASCAR Busch Grand National North series race, which Dion happened
typical Dion show piece
sits on the start/finish line at Catamount during practice for the
New England 33. That is Stewart behind the car in the black shirt and hat.
Roxanne had heard quite enough of how I had
written for Speedway Scene, about how many guys I knew, and all the
rest; so, she listened politely to how I knew the guy winning this prominent
race and how we were friends earlier. When the race was over, we wandered over
into the infield as post – race festivities were winding down. Dave was still
on one of those infamous sand mounds in the OPA infield, taking questions
about his win.
Dave happened to look out, onto the assembled
crowd, as he was finishing one of his interviews when he spotted us standing
there. I waved, not expecting that he even remembered who the hell I was or
wanted to be interrupted.
“Bill !”, he yelled, and climbed down off the
sand pile. He came over and gave us both a hug. We spoke briefly because I
knew he was holding up a number of guys who had deadlines to make. I could see
the look on my wife’s face. Maybe I wasn’t completely full of sh—after all.
Courtesy of L.A. West
stares, the Dion gang works feverishly on the Green Mountain Ford Dealers
Ford at Richmond in 1979.
I think the versions of Dion’s brief forays
into the Deep South to try his hand at the NASCAR Grand National series [now
Sprint Cup] are so typical of the Dions and how they operated. The old school
bus with the bad exhaust, having trouble gaining admission to the Grand
National pits; the skeptical and sometimes demeaning way they were received by
the regulars; the fantastic times he ran and the high qualifying spot; and
even the crappy way NASCAR handling him with the tire availability – they all
show what that group could manage with fewer resources than most.
Dave Dion never wasted much worry on fielding
a show car. Along with Louie Lazarro, he had some of homeliest cars ever seen.
And – just like Louie – he had some of the highest achievement, in a sport
that now seems to be as much a race to spend money as it does to just go fast,
for long periods of time. Dave, who always looked younger than he was and
Lazarro, who not only always looked older but probably felt it – as well –
would have liked each for what they had accomplished. Vicarious Dave was a
contrast to the somewhat shy Lou.
Courtesy of Bill Fifield, via Otto Graham
Despite the strong
difference in their personalities, Dave Dion and Lou
Lazarro would have liked and admired each other.
It is not fair to say they don’t have any
more Dave Dions out there; but, you will not see them – still operating in
that manner – running with much success in any of the higher echelons of
NASCAR, ACT, or much of anywhere else. I will always be proud to tell people
that Dave Dion and I consider ourselves to be friends. The last time I ran
into him was when he and Dave Moody were signing his books at Thunder Road,
around 2007. Without looking up, he asked what name he was to address in his
signing. When he heard it, he stopped, looked up, and said “Hey ! Bill “ How
are ya ?”
Dave converses with one
of his principal [but friendly] rivals,
Bobby Dragon, of Milton, VT, whose territory he had invaded.
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