WEEKLY COLUMN/BLOG PAGE
BILL’S BACK IN TIME
By Bill Ladabouche
AT THE WRONG END OF THE SHOE
The chosen title references the fact that Kenny “The Shoe” Shoemaker, from the Albany, NY region, often was literally or figuratively booting someone in the doopaw. Shoemaker was from that era of storied legends that included Steve “The Cropseyville Courier” Danish, Howie Westervelt, Spence Parkhurst, Roy “Pappy” Forsyth, George Janoski, Rene Charland, and dozens more. Many, such as Danish, were already mature men before they took up that new, post - WWII sport of stock car racing. When one thinks of that time, there is a small cadre of NASCAR sportsman stars who tend to be lumped together in peoples’ memories: Danish, Kenny Shoemaker, Pete Corey, Howard “Jeep” Herbert, Lou Lazzaro, and a few others.
Bob McDowell Photo Ladabouche Collection
When you thought of mature men, dominating their territories in 1950’s stock car racing –
the names of Steve Danish [above] and Roy “Pappy” Forsyth [far right] came to mind.
Les King Photo
Of this group, Corey and Shoemaker were a smidge younger – almost too young to enlist in the military for WWII. Ken Shoemaker was born in September of 1929; so, by 1941, he was only 12. His close buddy, Corey, was apparently older and did serve. I recall seeing the likes of New York invaders like Danish, Herbert, Parkhurst, Ollie Palmer, and Corey at my first race track, Pico Raceway near Rutland, VT in 1951and 1952. Pico, Mettawee Speedway [Granville, NY], and Fairmont Park Motor Speedway were a sort of circuit, along with Stateline Speedway in those days. Shoemaker had traveled, at first to early tracks such as the one in Warrensburgh, NY and the Fairmont track in Fair Haven, VT with his fire car owner, Cliff LaRose. LaRose’s peculiar car, the “Fire 1” was not particularly competitive.
Shoemaker Family Collection
Ken and Cliff, with the earliest Shoe ride, the Fire 1. [Below] Ken sits and
entertains the youngest daughter of second car owner, Ted Vogel.
Vogel Family Photo
However, by 1955, while hearing stories about the exploits of many of these drivers at the new Fonda Speedway, the name of Shoemaker began being interspersed into the exploits being brought back to us by the men lucky enough to travel over and see that action at the Montgomery County fairgrounds in Fonda. He had appeared at Pico; but didn’t make much of a dent, apparently. He was driving, at that time, for Ted Vogel, Sr. of Granville – who was about to have better luck at Stateline Speedway with George Baumgardner at the wheel..
More often than not, anything referenced to Shoemaker included some controversy. Ken, as a very young man, had settled down in the Whitehall, NY area. Making a living driving taxis and trailer trucks, he began hiring out as driver for local men, the most prominent of which was Granville, NY’s Ted Vogel, Sr. Vogel, who had been hooked up with the Loomis family of Granville, a trucking family, had been very instrumental at the Mettawee Speedway on the Wilson farm in North Granville, while fielding cars for himself numbered LVJr [for Loomis / Vogel].
Vogel Family Photo via Otto Graham
Ken was finally getting into competitive equipment with Vogel until he demolished a
Vogel coupe at Fonda [Below] and Ted turned the wheel over to Baumgardner.
Vogel Family Photo
Shoemaker had started out with small – time owners like one of his Whitehall, NY neighbors, Cliff LaRose, before attracting the attention of the more well – funded Vogel. When young Kenny became involved, Vogel was being forced by sanctioning bodies to lose the LV moniker; so, he changed to #95. Ken and Ted were very successful at Mettawee, Fairmont Speedway in Vermont, at the former roadster track near Perth, NY, Pine Bowl Speedway, and a few others. By 1953, Fonda was opening up and reaching out to local teams to fill its fields. Shoemaker ran the Vogel coupes, as well as a few odd entries like the 13 of Red Knoblauch, from Johnstown.
Courtesy of Dan Ody
The Red Knoblauch car had never felt itself run like it did when Kenny replaced Red at the wheel.
The competition, particularly at Fonda, was becoming tighter and faster – paced as technology improved rapidly both in New York and Detroit. Kenny was becoming known as a fearless charger, who would even race a car with only three remaining wheels. He was running with a number of familiar drivers from the old Mettawee and Pico days, as well as some less familiar runners like the veteran, Howie Westervelt; the teenager from Utica, Lou Lazarro; veteran George Baumgardner; and George Welch. Finally, in 1956, Kenny [through no fault of his own] demolished a new Vogel #95 at Fonda, injuring himself considerably.
The 1956 crash discouraged Vogel, and Shoemaker would be looking around for cars to run at Fonda. He was already somewhat known as being pugnacious. He and western New Yorker Bill Blum did not play too nice together at Fonda. In the Shoemaker autobiography book, Lew Boyd relates Shoemaker’s story of how he took after the huge Blum after one particular scrape, yelling to the men clutching onto him “Hold me ! Hold me ! If I ever get loose he’s going to kill me !”
Don Kranz Photo via Joe Oleyourryk
Big Bill Blum, in 1 1960 Victory Lane. Onwer Joe Migari was not small – Billy was just big, and Ken knew it. [Below] A photo with A.C. Caprara’s 37NY. Al had just bought out Sam Kittler and Gibby Wolfe – and kept the number.
Courtesy of Jo Towns via Otto Graham
Following the Vogel era, one that was very dear in his memory, Shoemaker would embark on a career – long tour of competitive cars such as the A.C. Caprara #37, lasting all the way to his retirement from racing in 1978. His “The Shoe Never Lifts” reputation was already well in place by 1963, when my uncle and I began going to a few Fonda race programs. He had gotten one of his best rides in the late 1950’s in the red and white Henry Caputo #111, running out of the Glens Falls / Hudson Falls area. The team won a slew of races before Caputo got himself in a scrape and had to sell out the team to Glens Falls’ Chris Drellos.
John Grady Photo via Dave Dykes
Ken, with Henry Caputo’s brand new 111, one of the three best cars he had in his career – particularly when Caputo sold out and Chris Drellos had “Shortstroke” Wright working on the engines. [Below] The same car, in the Drellos era. You get a good look at the crap Henry had installed on the roof of the car – the flap, the antenna, and the brake light.
When with Caputo, Shoemaker had effective team mates such as Jeep Herbert, Earl Maille, and George Baumgardner; but it appears that he was always in the primary car. There is an amusing anecdote in his autobiography wherein he tells that the often – cranky Caputo was complaining at the Monroe County speedway near Rochester that Ken was hitting the brake too soon in the turns. Caputo ordered lights to be installed on the roof of the 111 so as to indicate when Shoemaker was braking. Kenny told Henry he’d go along with that after Henry took a few laps with him in the car at speed. That was the end of the brake lights, but that same 1936 coupe had the remains of those lights on the roof through at least 1964.
Shoemaker, with the Caputo / Drellos 111 won numerous features at Fonda, as well as at tracks like Otter Creek Speedway, near Vergennes, VT, where I got to see him. I recall arriving at Fonda one late Saturday afternoon and hearing that Shoemaker had been banned for fighting or rough riding. Probably the whole thing was the inventions of Fonda promoter Ed Fuez, who loved to keep up fan interest with controversy. [Actually, it is whispered that, one fairly humdrum Saturday night, he slipped $25 to the tempestuous and unpredictable Tiger Tom Kotary to rush across the front straightway, scale the tall chain fence, and start something with some big guy in the stands. Kotary almost didn’t have to be paid to do that –and he did !].
John Grady Photo
Only Tiger Tom Kotary would show up to drive a a challenging sportsman at Fonda with a wife beater under shirt on. Even Kenny left him alone. [Below] Ken in one of Frank Trinkhaus’s 62NY coupes.
Frank Simek Photo
According to scuttlebutt in the pre-race stands, negotiations were concluded and, soon, the chubby Shoemaker was seen going through a gate in front of the grandstands [what a coincidence !] and run carefully across the well – watered Fonda clay to his waiting #111. This car was arguably his best ride ever, but Drellos contracted cancer. The Shoemaker 111 was sold to Frank Trinkhaus and the backup car was first acquired by Ernie Gahan, and later ended up with Cliff Barcomb – for Buck Holliday to drive.
After a brief turn with Trinkhaus in his old car as the 62NY, Shoemaker ended up with what many feel was his greatest ride. The brilliant combo of Cliff Wright and Slingerlands Ice Cream mogul Don Zautner had been fielding effective cars for the likes of Howie Westervelt, Schooch Schoonmaker, and Donnie Wayman for years. They had been mostly at Lebanon Valley, and had done particularly well especially with Westervelt. But, they had been developing a better car, using Wayman at Fonda, and were not satisfied with how things were going. Shoemaker fell into the opportunity that would keep him in superb cars for a number of seasons to come. 1964 would bring a number of wins at Fonda with a car bearing the name of “Fighting Kenny” Shoemaker on the roof.
Off the Internet - No Photographer Named
This version of the Cliff Wright car, taken over from Donny Wayman, even had “Fightin’ Kenny Shoemaker on the roof. I wonder if that get old for Wright and Zautner after a fashion. [Below] The more familiar graphic scheme of the car.
Racesongs Site Photo
Wes “Slugger” Moody, himself a highly – controversial driver and willing fighter, tells the story of finding himself stalled and crosswise in the second turn at Fonda around the mid 1960’s. Wes goes on to say, “I look up and here comes Shoemaker, full bore, in that white car. The f------ was fat enough to begin with, and the wind is billowing through this bright yellow driving suit he has on. He looks eight feet wide and he’s not lettin’ up. Crash ! Right into my car, pushing the cage all the way over onto me. The Shoe never lifts ! I can’t imagine that made his owners too awful happy because it absolutely trashed the front of that fast 24 he had.”
The #24 team would excel on dirt and – eventually – they began to concentrate on asphalt tracks. They would run at least two Chevy coupes at Fonda and other top dirt tracks, while creating machinery that was on the leading edge of area racing tech. By the late 1960’s Fonda was actually running two classes of cars together in one feature – with separate points: the traditional, smaller motored sportsman cars, and the bigger – block, fuel – injected modifieds.
John Grady Photo
This was another, even more potent Wright creation – good on both surfaces. I think this was his All Star League car. Below – The rivalry with Charland heated up a bit at Catamount Stadium around 1966.
Shoemaker Family Photo
As the cars were lowered and bigger power plants were added, Wright and Zautner were spending more time at paved tracks like Albany – Saratoga Speedway, in Malta. Ken would manage to drive effectively on this less – familiar racing surface while also finding time to punch out a few rivals such as Rene Charland, up at that new Vermont track called Catamount Stadium. The 24 team was well aware of the developments in asphalt racing in the Northeast. Ed Flemke, Denny Zimmerman, Rene Charland, and Red Foote, known as “The Eastern Bandits” had traveled to the South with their improved mod coupes and had actually shown the rebels how it was done on their own turf.
At Malta, Shoemaker’s team would frequently rub wheels with some of these storied bandits [particularly Flemke], and they learned a great deal. Shoemaker, Wright, and Zautner were now running at tracks like Catamount, Airborne Park Speedway in Plattsburgh, and Albany – Saratoga. The pavement had now, arguably, replaced dirt as the place where the legends were running. Names like Flemke, Guy Chartrand, Don MacTavish, Leo Cleary, Marcel Godard, Jerry Cook, and Richie Evans were getting the status the old Fonda gang used to enjoy.
From the HAMB Message Board Site
Charland turned the Fonda Speedway world upside down with this Rosner pavement creation late in the 1960’s.
As a matter of fact, at Fonda, Charland had returned with the Czepiel 888, a car more asphalt setup than dirt, and had proceeded to dominate competition. Soon, several other pavement setups were appearing. The track might have seen this coming in the mid 1960’s when Saranac Lake’s Jimmy Hoyt, driving an asphalt setup inspired by Oswego ace Eddie Bellinger, had shown considerable flash despite Hoyt’s total unfamiliarity with the track. Had Hoyt not been unintentionally wrecked by George Janoski, in one of the most spectacular wrecks ever seen at Fonda, it is likely he would have placed very high in one of the old track’s first long – distance races.
Shoemaker finally parted ways with the 24 team around 1968 and was replaced by Don MacTavish, who was going great guns in the car before being killed at Daytona in the following February. Shoemaker landed with various teams from that day forward. He ran the backup car at Fonda for Joe and Andy Romano, as Andy was preferring pavement; he drove the 29MA car on pavement; he had a successful stint at Fonda with Bobby Judkins #2X at Fonda before the Connecticut owner built his famous Pinto and stayed on pavement; he ran races for familiar owners like Tony Villano; and he ran a car for a friend from Romano’s team, Jeff McWalker, as well.
Courtesy of Dave Roode
Shoemaker landed briefly in Bob Judkins’ 2X, another top rate ride. Below – Ken won a race or two in Joe Romano’s backup car, a coupe. [Andy was running the sedan at the time].
Courtesy Jo Towns via Otto Graham
Kenny Shoemaker never shook the hard – nosed image; and, frankly, he didn’t want to. He would not only keep the reputation of hard driver, but he still could win on a consistent basis. He would still take a poke at someone who pushed his buttons, as well; but, more importantly, he was becoming respected as someone who absolutely knew how to set up a car for someone or analyze why a car wasn’t performing. Shoe was trusted by people of the stature of Will Cagle to drive their equipment. He had a final really effective ride in the person of Joe Leto, a flamboyant and free – spending car owner.
Courtesy of Arnie Ainsworth
The third of Ken’s other most famous rides was with flamboyant Joe Leto’s 50 team. His shot was at Lebanon Valley. Below – Ken had a stint, during his asphalt period, with Bill Fowler’s 27Jr.. This is at Airborne Park Speedway.
Bob Mackey Photo Courtesy of Mike Watts
Ken Shoemaker would also take a stab at running a race track when he, with help from legendary flag man Tex Enright and others, built and tried running Cairo Speedway, with partner Matty Cirillo. The track ran into legal problems and didn’t last very long. After that, there one more period of running as hired gun for a number of car owners, the last of which was apparently Henry Natale. Ken was still sought out for setting cars up; but he was beginning to suffer health problems which, at first, slowed him down and caused him to gain a lot of weight. Sadly, he would finally succumb to these problems.
Courtesy of Dan Ody
Ken’s ill – fated promotion at the track in Cairo, NY. Below – In one of the happier moments, Ken stands in Victory Lane with legend, Raymond “Hully” Bunn after the long – retired driver won a special race in a car owned by Lew Boyd.
Courtesy of Lew Boyd
When the Shoemaker legacy is discussed by crusty old guys hanging around at race tracks in the Northeast, two things are always brought up: hard – charging success, with many wins earned at the expense of roughed up equipment; and, flying fists. I will always think of him in that red and white #111, which - during that era – was owned by two entirely different men. I have seen him completely dominate a track, week after week, and I have seen him barely escaped that same car, fully involved in flame. One thing Kenny Shoemaker never did, was anything halfway.
Please email me 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. Email is: firstname.lastname@example.org . For those who still don’t like computers - my regular address is: Bill Ladabouche, 23 York Street, Swanton, Vermont 05488.
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