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BILL’S BACK IN TIME

By Bill Ladabouche

THE AMAZIN' CAMARO'S OF DEVIL'S BOWL


         Devil's Bowl has been through a number of eras, as most people know. Started as a dirt track, with which C.J. Richards could continue his Champlain Valley Racing Association out from under the grumpy town fathers of Fair Haven, VT, the track enjoyed some of the best clay to grace a dirt racing track anywhere in the U.S. He ran it as a dirt track from 1967 to 1970.

        After a few years of experimentation as a paved track – both within and outside of NASCAR, he returned it to dirt for a number of reasons around 1976 or 77. That dirt era continued along until 2011, when it was again paved. Even as the second pavement era continues, the track has seen a change in administration and another go with NASCAR.


Courtesy of Shawn Byrne

C.J. Started out with a nice dirt track in 1967, and as far as the locals were concerned, he should have left it that way.
Below – The dominant Cagle sedan was another of the many stories of Devil's Bow,l – Dirt Phase II.
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From Devil's Bowl Program


        But, during the earlier years of that second clay era, the track saw some really interesting sub plots to the usual struggle of any track to survive as a viable business: the dominant Will Cagle [Bob Rossell – built] sedan that almost drove the opposition into submission; the ascending of Vince Quenneville as arguably the best dirt driver to ever come from Vermont; the dramatic decision to forego the big blocks and run only 358's; and many other little stories.

        However, my favorite little inside story during this era [much of which I missed out on due to my job in Milton and heavy involvement in Catamount Stadium racing] was that of some remarkable Camaro's that ran on the dirt some in the late 70's, but, particularly in the 1980's. Whereas there were already a few Camaros joining modified ranks as the later model bodies began to supplant the traditional coupes and sedans, these Camaros were from Devil's Bowl support division.


Bob Frazier Photo Courtesy of Mike Richards
This car of future track promoter Tom Perry was typical of earlier Devil's Bowl late model entries. Below – 1969 Bowl champ Jim Ogle was one of the many Lebanon Valley late models who came in to run early Devil's Bowl dirt.


Bob Frazier Photo Courtesy of the LaFond Family

        Devil's Bowl started out with a late model division in 1967 that had arisen from Fairmont Speedway's hobby class that was established by C. J. Richards in 1963. Realizing that the CVRA needed a class to develop new drivers, he started the hobby class as a sort of semi late late, almost – totally – stock division. Primarily a place for new drivers, the class did see a few recognizable names such as Vern Hall, Hank Schmidt, and Richards' brother, Ray.

        By the time Fairmont was closing its gates at the end of the 1966 season, the class had morphed from a collection of very rudimentary jalopies to some fairly refined late model cars. With Schmidt and Richards having set the tone early on, other well – built cars were later fielded by Dexter Dorr, Lennie Wood [and owner John Maguire], Ralph Soulia, Graham Trudo, and others. By the time the 1967 season [and Devil's Bowl] came about, the field was bolstered by a number of cars from a similar class at Lebanon Valley Speedway.


Ladabouche Photo
Jim Blackmer [right, with father] was arguably the first hobby car built in 1963. He improved towards the end of the season but didn't return. Below- Former 1950's star hank Schmidt brought in the first really well – constructed hobby car in 1963, setting the stage for others to come.


Ladabouche Photo

 

        By the 1980's, the cars of the Bowl's second division were even more refined into racing machines. With Such as Dorr, Baker, Charlie Laduc, and several others having risen to the modified ranks, the division still featured some top quality Vermont teams and a whole bunch of good, New York teams. From that quality Vermont assortment would come some of the most beloved and fascinating late models to ever set a wheel onto the Devil's Bowl surface.

        Almost from the inception of stock car racing, the Rogers family of Castleton, VT had been a force to reckon with. Patriarch George Rogers had begun racing in such places as Fairmont Park Motor Speedway [the 1950s version of the later track which had been named after the old fairgrounds track] and at Pico Race way in Rutland, Ashland Park in Warrensburgh, NY, and as far south as Stateline Speedway near Bennington.

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Bob Frazier Photo Courtesy of Chris Companion
George Rogers' second car was so competitively built that he could keep pace with overhead V-8's running a six cylinder GMC motor. Later he would use an overhead, which carried over to the Devil's Bowl late model '56 Chevy.


From Dan Ody's 8MM Old Speedways DVDs

        George Rogers had come back when C.J. Richards re-opened the Fairmont track in 1962 and had been a highly – competitive, winning entry as late as the first season at Devil's Bowl before being felled by a rare disaease. Rogers [and by the time of his illness] son, Butch, were known for their considerable welding skills. Having never raced in the late model class before, George, which help from Butch, fashioned a 1956 Chevy to race at Devil's Bowl in the 1967 season. Despite not feeling well, Rogers was almost unstoppable in the short time he raced the car, eschewing his customary number “UP2” for the number 20.

        In fact, the Rogers car was built so well that it remained on the highest tier of competitiveness in the late model class in the hands of an inexperienced Ray Nutting, a Rutland used car magnate who won a number of features with the Rogers car over the next couple of years. As the track would back away from dirt and began running unfamiliar asphalt cars, Butch would make a name for himself in the racing world with excellent racing wheels available to the discerning race team. When Beaver Dragon's Country Dollar Chevelle team went on a tear at the beginning of the 1973 season, the car was riding on Rogers wheels.


Bob Frazier Photo Courtesy of Mike Richards
Ray Nutting, with the former Rogers Chevy. Note that Ray kept Rogers' name on the car in honor of the recently departed car builder. Below- The highly innovative Dexter Dorr hobby class Chevy at Fairmont Speedway in 1964. Dorr would sell the car to Bob Ames and build an equally – impressive sportsman coupe.


Bob Frazier Photo – Ladabouche Collection

 

        Butch would race, himself, when the track was still paved, starting out with a 1957 Chevy. The car would have had to be in the Charger class, an automatic transmission class hat had started at the Albany – Saratoga Speedway in Malta, NY. A similar class, the Hurricanes, had begun at Catamount Stadium to the North, and the two tracks supplied many fo Devil's Bowl's first cars. Locals like Butch and neighbor, Jay Brown ran their cars on pavement, keeping things as closed to the old dirt days as possible. Brown's Chevelle late model sportsman actually had central seating like a dirt car.

        Butch always used his trademark #2 and orange paint scheme. But he had always recalled a car with which he was very interested back in 1964 – the purple #29 of Manchester's Dexter Dorr. Arguably the best car ever built for the Fairmont hobby class, Dorr had installed a central seat and used chain – driven steering in the 1955 Chevy. Butch would used that idea in his creation that was soon to come.

Rogers Family Photo via Tim Rogers
Butch, posing on the track with the pavement Chevy. The Rogers racing wheels are in evidenc


        Butch went through a few seasons with 1957 Chevy entries, always as one of the class's top runners. Always working closely with neighbors Bruce Milo and Charlie Brown, Rogers began to put together his idea of what a dirt late model should look like and act like. The result was a late sixties Camaro, with the center, chain steering and what seemed to be the ideal wheel base. An article about Butch quipped that you tell one of his cars from the central seating location and the steering wheel that say parallel to the floor.


From Charlie Brown's Collection Courtesy of Tim Rogers
This inadequately small photo shows the famous first Camaro, well along in construction, in the Winter of 1977 at the Rogers home. Below – What I believe to be the finished first Camaro at Devil's Bowl.


From Charlie Brown's Collection Courtesy of Tim Rogers

 

           From this point on I refrain from getting any further into the tech aspect because there are some field mice running around the field outside the Devil's Bowl backstretch that know more about mechanics than I do. An article in a local publication said that Butch chose to begin working with Bruce Milo on a Camaro after the wear and tear on his back from racing and welding made him decide to get out of active driving, himself.


Ladabouche Collection
Butch Rogers with what I believe to be the original Camaro at Devil's Bowl around 1982. This one would become the Charlie Brown car. Below- The car, when owned and driven by Brown. Check out the brake lever sticking up here.


Courtesy of Marty Kelly Jr.

        Rogers came to the track in what I think was 1983 with this Camaro and made an immediate impact. Some time after, Charlie Brown, who I think graduated from the Dare Devil division and Bruce Milo had their own Camaros, with huge support from Butch. Brown, in particular, has the greatest respect for George, Butch's father, calling him only “Mr. Rogers”; and Charlie [a nearby dairy farmer] had grown up in Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood.

        While the Rogers Camaro was solid orange and simple of graphic scheme, Brown's was red and white. Charlie had sought out sign painter Mal Brown [I doubt they were closely related] and had the #17's and other lettering done professionally. I recall Milo's car as mostly yellow and had a number like 18 maybe. The cars were the class and spirit of the division, but I hesitate to say they dominated it. Let's say they more than held their own.
Charlie Brown points out that himself, Rogers, and a number of other guys in that close – knit Devil's Bowl group in that era started out together at Fair Haven High School. Probably not the best behaved bunch in the world, Brown, in particular, had to walk a fine line with FHHS administrator Tom LaPlaca [also a Devil's Bowl official] because if he had actually had to serve detention for LaPlaca and arrived home at the farm late for chores, he would have been “killed” [as Charlie puts it].


Bob Frazier Photo via Cavalcade of Auto Racing
Above – Mr. Rogers. Below – An early Butch car.


Courtesy of Tim Rogers

 

        It is now fairly certain that Rogers would sell that first Camaro and – according to Butch's son, Tim and Brown both, that became the Charlie Brown car. The car was absolutely fascinating. In addition to that center driver placement and steering connected by a chain system, the brakes were controlled by a tall lever beside the driver that stuck up so high it was visible out the side windows. There may have been some cars with more money tied up in them, but few could manage the heavy Devil's Bowl track as could the Camaros.

        Milo, a rapidly – improving and tech savvy type, soon decided to fabricate himself a modified and went along up into that, joining the likes of former late model guys like Tim Baker, Bob Gaskill, and Charlie Laduc. Somewhere along in this story, more Camaros enter the scene. No one seems to know what happened to the Milo Camaro; but, the Rogers family says that Reggie Lussier built a Camaro that was as much like the Rogers cars as he could manage. However, Charlie Brown insists the Milo Camaro was sold to Reggie [who still has it]. 


Ladabouche Photo
Bruce Milo's #18 modified, parked next to Butch's Camaro at Devil's Bowl around 1983. Below- Butch with his second Camaro, that became Lee Nutting's 51.


Courtesy of Tim Rogers


        I recall the Lussier car being brown, and – for some reason – he left the car's antenna on the rear fender when he built the car. His car performed fairly well as I recall. The Charlie Brown continued on, and Butch Rogers then built another car. Again, Butch raced in the class with that second car – performing as well as he had in the first one. The class went on with the three cars for the better part of that 1983 season. The second Rogers car was very unique – looking, as Butch had fabricated a good portion of the body, himself, this time.

        Eventually, the second Rogers car [notable for its bobbed – off body] would be sold to Ray Nutting's son, Lee, who had his appetite whetted when his father ran the George Rogers – built 1956 Chevy with great success. Apparently, there was good standing between the Rogers and Nutting families; and that may be why Butch passed the car on to Lee. I have fond memories of Ray Nutting in that Rogers car. A man of fairly generous size at the time, Ray once gleefully pointed out to us at the Checkmate snack bar in Hydeville that he managed to crack his racing seat racing around the somewhat bumpy Devil's Bowl track that night.


Eastern Race Chatter Photo Source
Late model stars like Jay Bleser [above and below], Tim Baker, and Gene Munger left the class to go up to modifieds. If they were going to be in with modified – type cars, they might as well be driving one themselves.


Eastern Race Chatter Photo Source

        Eventually, the s--- had hit the fan with the division. The late models were run together with the 320 modifieds. It was a strain for even the Camaros to compete. Racing writer and historian Marty kelly, Jr says it well: “Charlie rolled this car over hard at the end on the 1983 season. The Late Models were racing with the 320 Modifieds at the end of the season and he jumped a wheel of Rick Miller's 99 going into turn 1. Pretty sure the driveshaft wound up catapulting the car. I know Butch Rogers last car went to Lee Nutting, The end of the Late Model class was a shame-it was a great class with really good racing. “

        The first Rogers – built Camaro sits somewhere on the Charlie Brown farm with a tree growing up through it. Tim Rogers feels strongly it is restorable, and I hope someone. But the welding Rogers bunch is already involved in the restoration of grandpa George's 1937 Chevy UP2 coupe – a huge undertaking given it has sat in a gully for decades. Nutting retired his Camaro and moved up to modifieds, as had Gene Munger, Tim Baker, and many others before him. Bruce Milo was already up there. It is simply not known where his Camaro went. [Reggie's ended up being saved somewhere].


Ladabouche Photo
George Proctor is the other George in these stories today. Above – His dominant sedan, as it stood the Fairmont Speedway competition on their ears in 1964. Below - John Proctor's Narrow Camaro, as it sat in the Devil's Bowl pits on one mid '80's program.


Ladabouche Photo

 

        The Rogers cars notwithstanding, there was another remarkable “Camaro” that ran with this class in those earlier years of the 1980's. The Proctor family, originating from the Waterford/ Crescent, NY area, had first appeared with C.J. Richards' tracks in 1964 when George, Sr. brought a yellow Plymouth sedan with I believe was a Hudson engine to Fairmont and proceeded to blow the competition away. The way George's coach was geared, he could run well at longer, flatter tracks like Fairmont and Victoria; but when he ran at the short Pine Bowl oval, he would start up front and go backwards. He laughs about it today.

        Around the end of the '70's or beginning of the '80's, the next generation of Proctors showed up – first, at Malta. George's son, Ron was joined by cousin, John. In honor of George, they ran the numbers 252 and 352. After a while, John showed up to run in the late model class with what they family called “The Narrow Camaro”. A low – slung and yes – very narrow blue and yellow car, this version of the 352 had appearances of being a Camaro. John was very effective with this car.


Courtesy of Marty Kelly Jr.
With the angle provided of Proctor's Narrow Camaro, at speed and Canestrari's Corvair at rest – is there any question of the car's origin ? Second Below – The former Proctor Camaro as it had been converted by Kenn Van Wert.


Courtesy of Dan Wood


From Kenn Van Wert

        As it has recently come to light, the Narrow Camaro turns out to have been a Ken Canstrari pavement modified; and – to further complicate things – it was a Corvair body. The Proctors added a Camaro nose onto to this pavement and you had the latest asphalt car to work well on the dirt, joining the likes of Don Stumpf's Wall Stadium sedan and Rene Charland's Czepiel 888. Actually, in the earlier days of Devil's Bowl, such greats as Vince Quenneville and Steady Eddie Allen ran well with former pavement cars.

        Eventually, Proctor's success with the “Camaro” encouraged John to go up to modifieds, which he did very well. By 1986, he was one of the big iron at Devil's Bowl. The Narrow Camaro sat in a junk yard somewhere near the Proctors until driver/ racing columnist Kenn Van Wert got it and made it into a pro stock. Van Wert says it worked well enough to where track officials found a way to get rid of the car, calling it “too modern” for the class. Really ? There is no “stock” in pro stock.

        This closed the chapter on a really fun era in the history of Devil's Bowl. Fun cars, good drivers and builders, variety, and local involvement to the max. With today's emphasis on everything being cookie cutter, we are not likely to see anything like that again. The Camaros are still a popular point of conversation among us old guys and some not so old guys at most any Devil's Bowl gathering.


Ladabouche Photo
Catamount played with Camaros before Devil's Bowl did. Sonny Gover's six banger ran in the Grand American division, and was possibly the favorite lettering job I ever did on a race car. Stayed up all night to do it before the races and got $50. Ah, the old days !

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: wladabou@comcast.net . For those who still don’t like computers - my regular address is: Bill Ladabouche, 23 York Street, Swanton, Vermont 05488.

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www.catamountstadium.com

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