MADE THOSE BODIES TOUGH IN THE THIRTIES
[ I apologize if I have covered this topic
before. I can’t find any record of it; but I have this haunting feeling it may
have been written. I have no record of my first few columns in this paper. ]
This past summer, after the 700th time of telling my
granddaughters’ idiot playmate to stop riding her rusty piece – of – crap bike
near our cars, she brushed against my brand new pickup and, not only left a
scratch all the way through the primer, but actually managed to dent the
metal. After attempting to kill her before she escaped across the road [where
she was almost killed by her mother who had been yelling the same thing to the
kids repeatedly], I got to thinking, jeez what a tough, rugged way they make
our trucks now !
Can you imagine what kind of an impact it took to twist this
old tank like that ? Try that with one today.
[Courtesy of Mike Watts, Sr.]
Contrast this with those old
bodies they put on almost all of my favorite stock cars in the 1950’s, 60’s,
and even into the next decade. Guys literally drove these cars through walls
and managed to return – maybe weeks later – but often with the same body. Wits
and wags often refer to these early stock cars as “throwaway cars” because, in
those days, many teams had anywhere from one to three cars they went through
in a year. That’s not a fair name because a strong percentage of teams [many
some of the best in the sport] used the same body for years and years.
Some of my favorite examples of
this include Art Cody’s 1932 Ford coupe, out of Keene, NH; Dexter Dorr’s
original sportsman, the Super 29, which went through three or four owners and
a Devil’s Bowl championship; George Janoski’s copper – colored 40 CT; the
hurricane division 1957 Chevy built by Larry Warren which went through six
owners including future NASCAR Busch Grand National North Champion Jamie Aube;
Buddy Bardwell’s Hudson; and the scores of others at whose I probably never
got to attend.
Art Cody, exhausted, walks away from his ageless, durable 33
coupe as the crew prepares it to be stiff
hitched all the way home from Fairmont Speedway to Keene, NH. [Ladabouche
Well, this one’s more about the
body than the entire car [although, the original entire package lasted a
really long time intact]. When I first got to go to races at the legendary
Fonda Speedway, of which I had heard glowing stories for years, I had already
seen a few of their cars at the old Otter Creek Speedway, way up near
Vergennes, Vermont. So, I had distinct impressions and expectations of what
would unfold before my eyes when we would see out first program. Well, as I
have mentioned before, the sheer speeds they reached, and the full broadslides
into the turns were nothing I had seen before.
Jim Luke leads a snarling group of NASCAR sportsman coupes
into One and Two at Fonda during the Glory Years.
That’s the legend, Steve Danish, in 3rd.
[Courtesy of D. Dykes Site]
When the first cars were to
enter the racing surface that night for fast warmups, I didn’t get to see any
of the cars I knew; I got to see Dick Bennett’s Bernie’s Liquor Shop #71, with
Lee Millington aboard, come chugging out first. Out cars at home didn’t chug –
they had neither the cam or the gear to do that. The other big surprise was
with the favorite I chose: not Danish, Herbert, or any other the others we had
seen before. But, rather, it was A tall farmer out of Gloversville named Skip
Roots. This is not about Skip – it about the car.
Roots’ H2, a three – window
Chevy coupe – was painted up to the look like a skunk, with strategically –
placed stripes and the black and white color scheme. According to Bill Kollar,
Skip [apparently Herbert Roots, Jr] had numbered the car in deference to his
father’s number. I always assumed it stood for Herb II. The odd thing about
Skip and his father, a former roadster driver and one of Fonda’s original
drivers, is that the father used no “s” on the end of his last name.
Skip Roots, with his “skunk car” around 1964. It appears to
me as if he may have lowered the
car after the previous season. [Courtesy of Jo Towns, via Otto Graham]
Anyway, Skip ran that car for
what I believe to be about two or three seasons. He began in 1963;, and he
managed to often remain in the top ten in Fonda points through enough speed
and sheer consistency. I recall him running in mid – pack, with sparks flying
off the car as the big wheels elbowed their way past in the features.
“Get outta the way Roots”, I remember one
leather – lunged fan yelling at Skip’s skunky car one night. I recall
thinking, at that young age, Roots was running fast enough to deserve to be
where he was. But that was typical Fonda thinking, lie down and let the
Shoemakers and Coreys go right by you. Roots didn’t have the budget to compete
with the high – powered top echelon of Fonda sportsman cars – many of which
were regularly in the top twenty nationally in NASCAR points.
Dale “Rebel Ross” Horton with the Roots – constructed car in
1965. [Courtesy of Steve Judd]
The H2 car was more suited for a
track like Whites Beach Speedway, near Saratoga, and that is where it ended
up. Many Whites Beach drivers were , on and off – peripheral drivers at Fonda;
others never went near The Track Of Champions. One who did was a Broadalbin
driver named Dale Horton, who went by the racing pseudonym of Rebel Ross. Ross
appears in the Fonda program in 1965, with enough points to show he could
qualify for features; he probably couldn’t afford a whole season there.
Someone in Gloversville had
bought the Roots H2 for Horton to drive at Whites Beach. Ross may have even
run it at Fonda once; but he was surely no regular. The car was re-numbered as
H1, the way I was when Ross appeared in the Fonda points. The Ross version of
the car did appear infrequently at Fonda, and probably made it to Victoria
Speedway, as well. According to an email I received from a guy who simply
identified himself as Mike, the Ross car went to a guy from Fort Johnson named
George Bassett in at least parto f the 1968 season.
Russ Bergh Photo Ladabouche Collection
This faint image in the background of a Ray
Sitterly photo shows the car as George Bassett's 309.
After Ross was out
of the car, it ended up in the hands of an ESSO gas station operator named Jim
Niznik, in Gloversville. Now with a fixed – up body and painted red, Niznik
had the number 57B on it. There is evidence in a Fonda program for a 107 – lap
NASCAR National Championship race that Niznik was running the car as a
sportsman at the track where the modified was beginning to take over. It
would, from the choice of numbers, appear as though Johnstown's Bruce Dostal,
who was in the process of building a speed shop business, was instrumental in
the car's preparation for Niznik.
Bob Emsminger, who would serve the car more effectively as
car owner to Bruce Dostal in his exceptional
1968 season, sits in the car at Malta. [Courtesy of John Grady]
The car was always around a
strong community of stock car people in Gloversville, most of whom never
achieved much notoriety outside the Gloversville / Johnstown / Amsterdam
region. Besides Niznik, there was the established circle around Dick Bennett
and his Bernie’s Liquor Shop 71. Then, the son of a Bennett crewman, Bill
Kollar, was fielding his K71, an obvious tribute to the Bennett car number.
Add to this the likes of Johnstown’s young technician Bruce Dostal, old car
owner Bill King [90A NY], and others – and you had quite an underdog support
system in the shadow of the showier area teams like the Romanos. Only
Gloversville’s Doc Blanchard had managed much of appoints total for the lower
– buck area sportsman teams. The Romanos were into the modifieds, full tilt.
Niznik does not appear to have
the car for long. It is then sold to another man from that area named Bob
Emsminger. The cigar – chomping Emsminger tried the car at Fonda and also on
the pavement at Albany _ Saratoga Speedway. Dostal, fielding his own #69, was
already showing strong promise at Albany – Saratoga. For whatever reason,
Emsminger soon had Dostal in the car. The 1968 Fonda points totals show Dostal
scoring an amazing ninth place finish in the modified points. Although some of
the Fonda legends were gone by then to retirement or to Lebanon Valley, this
was still a great accomplishment.
In 1968, Dostal and owner,
Emsminger would faced the likes of track champion and future national champion
Jerry Cook; Ron Narducci; Ed Pieniazek, driving Corey equipment for Pete Corey
[who had departed to the Valley]; Lou Lazzaro, who was in his absolute prime;
Fonda’s faithful Amsterdam native Ray Sitterly, who had improved by leaps and
bounds; Romano; Munnsville’s Dick Clark, and Rene Charland, in Russ Betz’s
potent 59CT. Bill Kollar managed a few points, as did the up and coming
nephew, Johnny Kollar. Blanchard, perhaps in his Valiant by then, was in the
Although Kollar doesn’t mention it, the Dick Bennett team was
closely associated with other teams in the area.
This version of the 71, with
then - driver Lew Boyd, sure looks like the Roots rig. [Courtesy of Gerry Lavallee]
After this year of 1968 –
perhaps the high water mark for the old car - things become a little
blurrier. Someone named Frank Bird appeared once in a 57B in 1969. Bill Kollar,
Jr. says Emsminger sold the car to Bob Weaver, who put Kollar in the car which
was now numbered as 7R after driving it himself for a while.
Kollar drove Bob's 7R at a few different tracks, including Albany – Saratoga,
in Malta; Devils Bowl, in Vermont; Lebanon Valley; and Mid State Speedway, at
the fairgrounds in Morris, NY.
Kollar says that Bob Weaver eventually stripped out the running gear and built
a Valiant bodied car. It is very possible that this might have turned out to
be the Valiant that Blanchard drove and which appeared on the comver of Stock
Car Racing magazine, racing with Don Diffendorf. He sold the Chevy body to
Larry Orcutt in Gloversville and he has no idea what happened to it after
that. Kollar does make a vague reference to the three – window coupe body
being used as a number 100. About this time, a #100 appears at Airborne
Speedway with local star Harry Provost . It was a three –window and it looked
pretty well used. You never know – it could be.
“The Head” Provost, a gigantic Airborne Speedway regular, came out with this
car 100 about the time the three window was disappearing from the Fonda
region. However, I doubt it is the same body. Plattsburg had plenty of its own
junkyards. [Bob Mackey Photo Courtesy of John Rock]
any rate, that was stock car racing’s version of reusing one’s resources and
conservation. It is too bad more of that was not down. Many teams built a new
car ever year and crushed perfectly good bodies an frames in the process. Now
we are reduced to scanning the countrysides and the salvage yards for the few
surviving pre – WWII stock car bodies still left. What a shame.
This incredibly –
long – lived speedway Pontiac went through the Grand Nationals, Permatex,
Catamount, Otter Creek dirt, and the pre – NHIS Bryar road course [above] before being
unceremoniously crushed before anyone could prevent it. [Topaz Photo]
Please email me at
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