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 September 17, 2012


                                                 BILL'S BACK IN TIME                                  



            We have some pretty bad wrecks in modern day stock car racing. You can’t even bring up the subject without thinking of the innocuous – looking Dale Earnhardt wreck that ended his life, bringing about the HANS device era. That’s just it. Guys till wreck hard. Oftentimes, they are going faster than they ever used to in the old days; but there is that factor of safer barriers, HANS, and all the other great advancements that make the sport safer and so much more +&$$#! more expensive.

            However, wrecks probably not only seemed worse in the earlier days of racing – they were worse. You might see legs lost; guys flying out of their cars, much worse fires, and any number of other disasters you, fortunately, so much less of today. Ken Meahl would be the first to agree with you, most likely.


A small field of local roadsters prepare for the main event at Seneca Falls Speedway. The Meahl roadster is likely in the foreground. This is old 8MM, hence the lack of quality. [Courtesy of David DeLange.


            Meahl still is living – out in western New York – at a fairly ripe old age and that, in itself, is a miracle – given the spills he took in his racing career. There almost couldn’t be a much more harrowing and dangerous form of racing than those post – WWII roadsters which briefly proliferated in a few states including the Empire State. That is where a young Kenny Meahl got his start – racing a roadster at the old Seneca Falls Speedway.

            Merely coming out of that era of racing in one piece is an accomplishment in itself. The state finally became hyper – aware of just how dangerous and foolish it all was and put an end to the Seneca Falls Speedway, the track in Perth, the Champlain Speedway up in Ticonderoga, and all the other places where the roofless, cageless [and sometimes seat beltless] car raced. Many roadster drivers never drove again; Kenny Meahl went on to the class of racing that would define a hall of fame career.


Meahl went on to a [relatively] safer class of racing. Here, he has his own “Meahl Special” at the old Stoney Creek Speedway. [DIRT Hall of Fame Photo]


            For whatever reasons, the drivers coming out of the more western reaches of New York often had faster, more powerful stock cars than most of their competitors from even such storied places as Fonda Speedway and Lebanon Valley Speedway. I like to think that there were a few early engine builders who paved the way for the almost – total use of professional engine builders in today’s sport. Outfits like B&M made engines that kept guys like Ed Ortiz, Cam Gagliardi, and Meahl one up on the competition for a period of years.

            At any rate, Meahl would go on to driver for his friend, Jack Bentley, then for a too – young – to drive Jerry Cook, and later for Rochester car owner Red Snediker. In that very successful career [as well as other cars which I am not aware of] Ken Meahl got more that his share of wins; he also had a couple of epic spills. And – considering the lack of most of today’s safety features in those cars, it is a winder he is still around to tell about it.


Ken with one of the earlier Jack Bentley cars. [Bentley Collection via David DeLange]


            One thing to make absolutely clear is that Meahl’s rides were not subpar junkers. They had – most probably – any and all of the safety features in place in sportsman  and modified coupes of  that era. It’s just that the speeds these cars were reaching had far outstripped the efforts to keep the driver in one piece.

            The first real good spill was with Bentley’s car – at Syracuse. The “big races’ at the longer tracks like Syracuse, Langhorne, Trenton, and the rest resulted in some of the sport’s worst wrecks because the cars were intended for use on one – third to half – mile local tracks – not something that was a mile in length ,or close thereof. Meahl had the red Bentley #38 in close contention at the flathead portion of the big  Syracuse show when he ran up over a wheel on the A3 of Wee Willie Allen, “The Irish Leprechaun” from Weedsport, NY.



What is left of the Bentley 38 after the Syracuse wreck. Doncha love the wreckers ?
[Bentley Collection via David DeLange]

           What resulted was best described by David DeLange, who was there : “Kenny got up over Wee Willie Allen' rear tire and violently flipped coming out of turn #4. 
The car was destroyed and fortunately Kenny escaped with only a badly lacerated arm which happened when he was pulled from the wreck. All Kenny remembers is seeing blue
            sky and then waking up in a nearby hospital! That's a wreck I'll never forget.”
             The Bentley 38 crew of Jack Bentley, Dutch Gardner, and Bob Maida were horrified, thinking their driver[and friend] had surely been killed in that spectacle. Meahl would 
            have been only somewhat restrained by whatever form of aircraft harness they were using in 1963. The cages were only lightly padded with foam rubber and electrical tape; and it is 
            doubtful the old coupe even had a window net.

         The Bentley crew: [left] Dutch Gardner, Bob Maida, Ken Meahl, and Jack Bentley. 
[Bentley Collection via David DeLange]
	        After that, Meahl went to driving more for Jerry Cook. Now Cook had the overhead V8 NASCAR sportsman car, and that may be all there was to that: drive flathead for 
            Bentley and V8’s for Cook. However, I suppose it is also possible that Bentley had had enough after that wreck. I can’t say. Meahl would drive for Cook, until Jerry was 16. The 
            pair had some real successes, including an upset win over Wimble and Ken Shoemaker at the rustic and little – known track in Vermont – Otter Creek Speedway. Meahl drove Cook’s 
            gray primered coupe to a win, and none of us had any idea who Ken was [or certainly that his car builder was only as old as we were]. According to the Fonda history book, Meahl  
           managed to have a pretty spectacular wreck with Cook’s red and white #38 at Fonda in 1962.

Meahl and Cook had a ton of success in their short time together. [Courtesy of Jo Towns via Otto Graham] Below -
Below – Leaving Otter Creek after the big upset win. Ken still fondly recalls this race. [Ladabouche Photo]

             Then Meahl went over to Walter “Red” Snediker’s potent #28 sportsman, out of Rochester. Whenever the car would make an appearance at Fonda, he would run like the wind. 
            This was the golden age at Fonda, and the locals were none too happy to be out – powered by the likes of Meahl and Ed Ortiz. The young Cook, while not terribly experienced yet, was 
             also right up there in the running.
             When Fonda decided to have one of its first big extra distance races on August 24, 1963. It was quite the spectacle. Shoemaker’s car  decided to catch fire, and the race was actually won 
            by veteran Steve Danish, in his potent six cylinder sportsman. Danish, towards the end of a legendary career, obviously had the craft and experience to win the race; but, he may have also
            had better mileage. He, however, was not the story that evening – it was Ken Meahl.

           Ken poses, unsuspecting, before the fateful Fonda race. Fellow western NY rocket Ed Ortiz’s 0 is visible in the 
background. [Courtesy of Bill Fifield]
           When the rich race was announced, Meahl and Snediker were quick to submit an entry. The powerful white coupe stood a good chance of winning, although I have to wonder if the 
            thundering V8 might have run out of gas like several of the others did. Reaching very good speeds during the feature, Meahl’s car got wide, coming out of the tricky turn four and hit the fence. 
            That started a series of rolls while the car reached such a height, it is said he took the wires down which stretch from the roof of the old covered grandstands to the announcer’s stand in the
            Meahl was photographed, with a dazed, goofy expression on his face, being helped to walk away from the crash scene. To his credit, he continued to race for a number of seasons 
             after that. Again, however, it is doubtful there was much for what today would be standard safety features in Snediker’s car. Most of the pundits around Fonda said they had only seen 
             one car, ever, reach the heights that Meahl did – and that was Ken, himself, in Cook’s car.

           “Gawd,  them birdies sing pretty here at where ever the hell I am !” A very dazed Meahl is led away from the crash by 
          officials and by Chuck Mahoney [to his left], a former Grand National driver who drove like that all the time. [Ed Feuz Collection]
            I recall that this was the only time my uncle and I ever talked to my aunt into going with us, from our home near Rutland, Vermont. Between the Shoemaker fire, the Meahl 
            spectacle, the hysterical people in front of us shrieking and moaning that their friend was dead, and our arrival back home at 4 A.M., Aunt Kaarin didn’t speak to us for a while and never 
            went to another race. Probably, if Ken Meahl had an aunt, that was about it for her, too.
            Safety just wasn’t there in the 1960’s. Fonda would, a season or so later, suffer through a year in which two drivers were killed there – totaling 67% percent of the track’s fatalities
            to date. Both were somewhat freakish – like the Earnhardt wreck – but the popular Pepper Eastman and the newcomer, Lou Smith were just as dead. It is a wonder that guys like Meahl, 
           my friend Jackie Peterson, or any of the other frequent crashers are still alive today, let alone still get around at their age.

       Ken, in happier days, with a highly sophisticated safety device called a sprayer mask.
[Dave Dykes Site Photo]
	          They were just made of different stuff in those days.

                                      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.