IT WAS A SMALL
WORLD: THE TIGHT - KNIT GLENS FALLS RACING COMMUNITY OF THE ‘50’s AND ‘60’s
Stock car racing has spent the entirety of
its existence operating ion different levels and castes. There have always
been the backwoods tracks and the bigger, more famous and technically –
advanced tracks. Back in the late 1950’s and the early 1960’s was no
The area that I refer to as the Glens Falls
racing community actually took in a number of eastern New York towns and
hamlets in that vicinity. While the higher - profile Fonda Speedways and
Lebanon Valleys ran on, the area also had numerous smaller tracks at which
drivers who could not afford the Fondas, the Victorias, the Airbornes, and the
Valleys could fit in and compete.
Beach Speedway, in Ballston Lake, was always a big player among the lower
level Eastern New York tracks. [Irv Conron Photo]
In addition to the Glens Falls communities
[Glens Falls, West Glens Falls, and South Glens Falls], the immediate area
could arguably have included Argyle, Hudson Falls, Hartford, Corinth,
Whitehall, Granville, Ballston Spa, and others. Added to this, in a satellite
sort of way, were areas of Vermont, as well as the area from Lake George north
to Warrensburg. In essence, there were plenty of East Podunks from which to
draw low buck racing teams.
At one time or another, there were some
informal little circuits operating. The Whites Beach Speedway, near Ballston
Lake, could dip into the competitor – rich Poestenkill / West Sand Lake /
Averill Park area, as well as from its partner, Ashland Park Speedway, in
Warrensburg. There was also an Adirondack Speedway, in West Glens Falls. Later
on, towards the end of the Whites Beach lifetime, it shared competitors with
the re – opened Fairmont Speedway of C.J. Richards.
shown here in 1964, had seen racing only few years before. Many Glens Falls
area drivers tried it out. [Historic Aerials.Com Photo]
By the time Richards opened the Fair Haven
track [which served to save the careers of many of the area’s under-financed
teams that couldn’t even dream of competing at Fonda], he could already draw
upon a fairly established base of good teams from across the border into New
York. Smartly, Richards also drew dozens of New Hampshire teams whose flathead
coupes were more than enough competition for the Yorkers; but, he always
strove to keep a tie to the heritage of the New York contingent.
Special attention was given to some mostly –
retired drivers, all of whom either raced in New York or concentrated mostly
in that area: Manchester, VT drivers Dave Brooks [33 and 1/3] and Gene
Tetrault ; legendary Glens Falls runner Wally LaBelle, who had success
from Stateline Speedway near Bennington all the way into Quebec; Spencer
Parkhurst, who had driven Fairmont in its previous, 1950’s era; and the Bakers
, from Athol, NY, who had run Ashland Park, Whites Beach, the old Fairmont,
and even West Glens Falls.
characteristic closed –engine car performs on a New York around 1955.
[Ladabouche Collection] [Below] – Wally LaBelle’s 6 PAC Hudson sits in a pit
lineup, with a man sitting on he roof, at Ashland Park around 1958. The Hoffer
X9 and the KC of Frank Hoard, Sr. are also visible. [Courtesy of Hackel
Oftentimes, teams fro the Glens Falls racing
community would swap cars, mechanics, and drivers among themselves. There was
the famous 1939 Ford sedan, the first car to drive out, onto C.J. Richard’s
Fairmont oval in 1962. This car had changed hands more times than a dollar
bill. Originally put together by someone for Wally LaBelle to drive at Ashland
Park, the car had ended up as one of Johnny Jones’ #JJ cars. By 1961, it had
made its way down to Glens Falls, painted black and white, numbered 7, and was
driven by the old veteran Earl “Little Joe” Spellburg, who had seen action at
Whites Beach, Otter Creek, Fonda, and Ashland Park, at least.
Another of LaBelle’s old cars, the Vern Baker
Hudson #6 PAC, had distinguished itself at venues like Stateline Speedway,
against the likes of Fonda competition and some of Vermont’s better teams,
would re – appear at Fairmont in 1962 with Athol building materials salesman
Eddy Baker at the controls. There would be a smattering of other entires from
the then – closed Ashland Park track: Wilbur Baker’s ME2, Dick Pennock’s
SUPER38, Red Smith’s 33 and 1/3 [ a 6PAC clone], and Tom Bennett’s 19. Coming
along with the Warrensburg contingent were cars from nearby Pottersville, like
Jack McClure and Doug Potter.
Ralph Palmer’s 444 had a background with Ashland Park Speedway, as well as the
Glens Falls area,
before it ended up at Fairmont Speedway in 1963. [Ladabouche Photo]
Some of the cars from the immediate Glens
Falls area had passed through a number of hands by the end of their lives.
Rapid Ralph Palmer’s 444, a product of NASCAR star Earl Maille, had seen
action all around eastern New York before making it to Fairmont in 1963.
Argyle’s X9, a product of Whites Beach, Ashland Park, and Schuylerville
veteran Bob Hoffer, went through himself, Ed Kelley, Vince Quenneville, Sr.,
and Art Visconti – lasting longer than its builder, who died tragically in a
Quebec traffic accident in 1964.
Greenfield Center’s Foster Wendell [who would
experience a career rebirth at Malta in the 1960’s in the late models] had a
car #9N which did not appear in Vermont much, but which had quite a run at the
New York tracks. The car evidentally had serious power. At one time or
another, the 9N [likely named for the NY route] was driven by Wendell, Orlando
Papa, Ray Sutliffe, and Ray Harris. Papa, himself had a number of #1NY cars
driven by himself and Sutliffe.
Foster Wendell’s 9N,
during a rare visit to Fairmont, in 1963.
The powerful engine from the 9N ended up in a
car of Bill Threw. The West Glens Falls – based Threw family had been driving
since the beginning of the 1960’s, at least, probably having started at the
home town Adirondack track. A tough, sturdy bunch, they had two entries – the
7A of Bill Threw, and A7 of Richard Threw. Bill and his Wendell engine, made a
little mark in history for themselves winning Fairmont’s second – ever
feature, in an atmosphere where it appeared the lightweight New Hampshire
coupes would dominate the track and the season. Threw’s clean, white 1934
Ford, with its characteristic deep – throated thundering power plant – left
everyone else behind.
Bill Threw, with his
thundering 7A. [Courtesy of Norm Vadnais] Below -The day he
had to be talked into loading up and leaving. [Ladabouche Photo]
We never saw Richard Threw, although his name
was on the original Fairmont program, and Bill would appear sporadically
during that 1962 season before more or less disappearing from the scene. What
many fans recall is the afternoon, in mid season, when Threw became enraged by
an official’s decision about his placement in the feature and the track had to
bring his wife into the infield to talk him down and get him to load up. No
one was going to mess with Billy Threw.
The 7A ironically re- appeared in 1965, in
the hands of that same Hoffer family whose own X9 had gone through so many
hands in the three prior years. With one of the Hoffer sons at the controls of
the re-numbered X9, the white coupe did not do much against the prevailing new
class of overhead V-8 sportsman cars; and it was not seen again. By this time,
a different group of Glens Falls area drivers were entering the mix – former
Fonda and Valley teams.
The former Threw 7A,
now as X9, is barely seen above the hood of Bill Fowler’s 27Jr., at Fairmont,
in 1965. [Ladabouche Photo]
The small tracks in New York totally disappeared, and Fairmont became Devil’s
Bowl. The Glens Falls presence has always remained, even as the track was sold
and paved. With Pottersville youngster Jessey Meuller listed as one of the
tracks headliners for 2012, it is likely that eastern New York will continue
to play a role, even if that tight little racing community has gone the way of
so many other great aspects of the racing of a past era.
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