[Somewhat] WEEKLY COLUMN/BLOG PAGE
BILL’S BACK IN TIME
By Bill Ladabouche
[not really] GRAY – BEARDED
GUEST DRIVERS OF FAIRMONT SPEEDWAY
When a very young Charles J. “Chuck” Richards opened up his dream track, just beyond the New York sate border in Fair Haven, Vermont in 1962, he named the place Fairmont Speedway. Some say he did so because it stood for the fact that is was an old fair ground and that it was in Vermont. More likely, it was because, eleven years before, the same venue had been open for stock car racing as Fairmont Park Motor Speedway.
Richards’ predecessor, Hugh Young, the landowner, had hosted races there, running into eventual competition from the newer, flashier, Pico Raceway, some fifteen miles down US Route 4, near Rutland, VT. But, when young was realizing his better programs at Fairmont Park, he was hosting several of the great names in the sport, in that particular region. A number of these early 1950’s were already in their thirties and forties when the sport was born; most of them tended to be fading out by the time Richards opened up.
Courtesy of Mark LeFrancois
Local driver George Pritchard smiles by his #37. In the background, is the Troy, NY – based
RU21 car, both at Fairmont Park Motor Speedway.
Richards’ track had been opened only a short while when he saw his first “guest driver” [ie., an older star from the ‘50’s hopping into one of the track regulars’ cars for a one – week joy ride]. The team of Julius Mestyan, based only a few hundred feet from the track, had been struggling along with Mestyan’s very young stepson, Kenny Martin. One week, Mestyan happened upon former Fairmont and Pico driver Gene Tetrault, a Manchester Depot, VT driver who occasionally was still running some races at Stateline Speedway, to the south.
Courtesy of Norm Vadnais
Gene Tetrault [above] got the checkers with the Mestyan 6. Below - Kenny Martin got a new
car 6 after Tetrault wadded up his first car.
Courtesy of Mike Richards
Tetrault, a man of similar stature to Martin, would hop in the 1940 Ford coupe [very likely very inferior in handling and power to his own cars] and would put together a string of fairly good runs with the car at Fairmont and at the Otter Creek Speedway in Vergennes before spilling it, end for end, and deciding to walk away. Mestyan would build a number of other cars, none of which amounted to much. Tetrault, bitten by the bug, would bring out his old #91 and commence to have a second career that lasted until around 1970.
The very first car I ever saw drive onto the newly – reopened Fairmont oval on Memorial Day, 1962 was a shiny, fresh – painted 1940 Ford sedan with a catchy Roadrunner cartoon on the side. I recall clearly that the roof of the car which was described as driven by Earl Spellburg of Glens Falls, NY would quaver as the car bumped along the lumpy clay oval. Spellburg, as it turned out, had been racing at the Whites Beach race track for a few years and had acquired the car from a competitor.
The shiny Spellburg Ford had been through a few wars by this late August photo.
Below – This blurry 8MM frame shows the 7 – early in the season
lining up behind Buddy Bardwell, in a rare Ford entry.
From Dan Ody’s 8MM DVD
Little did I know until last year, that this was a repainted used car. I figured the shiny car had to be brand new. As it turns out, the car had been plying the secondary tracks at Whites Beach Speedway, Ballston Lake, NY and Ashland Park Speedway, Warrensburg, NY with veteran Johnny Jones at the wheel. Furthermore, the car, now painted as Spellburg’s 7, appears in a 1961 8 MM film of racing at Otter Creek Speedway, near Vergennes, VT.
From Dan Ody’s 8MM DVD
This very blurry frame shows the Spellburg car [with whomever as driver] at Otter Creek Speedway in 1961. Below – The car, numbered as 1F, in the hands of Johnny Jones, in action at Whites Beach around 1960.
Courtesy of the Starin Family
Spellburg, sometimes referred to as “Little Joe”, was a consistent regular at Fairmont that whole 1962 season. However, on one particular afternoon, when I was sitting in a bleacher location that lent well to a good look into the cars coming down the front straightaway, I thought not only was the car racing differently; but, the smiling driver behind the goggles in the #7 just didn’t look at all like Spellburg.
“That looks like George Baumgardner !”, I said to my uncle.
I still prize my Baumie button. Don’t you love the Cromwell helmet ?
I don’t remember if I was really that good or whether I was just dropping names to impress people around me. When the track announcer, Bill Barsalow, Sr. explained that the 7 was being driven by “Fonda driver, Georgie Baumgardner”, my uncle just giggled that little laugh he had when I did something that amazed him. Baumgardner went on to win that heat; however, I don’t recall how he did in the feature [or if he even drove it]. Even with the heat win, he had outshone what Spellburg had accomplished all season.
Courtesy of Mike Russo
George Baumgardner once finished a feature at Otter Creek backwards in this, the Young / Vine 75 sportmsan.
That did little to reduce the legend of his fortified driving style. He was a really nice guy, though. His close friends, the Starins, swear he did not drink. Who knows ?
I had seen Baumie at Otter Creek, the year before; but, fans sat so far away from the actual racing surface that I had no idea what he looked like until I bought one of those favorite driver racing buttons at Fonda in 1962. Always rumored to drive after having several good snorts, George ran a little longer. However, Baumie was already getting kind of long in the tooth – for a race driver – and he disappeared soon after the 1964 season.
From Bob Hackel, Sr. Courtesy of Bob Hackel, Jr.
The Vern Baker SUPER 6 [later the 6 PACK] is seen lining up in the pits at venerable Ashland Park. Below - The SUPER 6 at Vern Baker's garage.
Courtesy of the Warrensburgh Historical Society
Again, in the first year of the C.J. Richards promotion of Fairmont, there was a substitute driver of some note. As was true with Tetrault and Baumgardner, Glens Falls native Wally LaBelle, who had made a big reputation for himself all the way from Massachusetts to Quebec, was in the pits one Sunday afternoon. One of the best rides LaBelle enjoyed was a yellow Hudson coupe, owned by Vern Baker and numbered as “Super 6”. LaBelle is seen with the car anywhere from Warrensburg – to Whites Beach – to the old Fairmont operation – to even as far south as Stateline Speedway.
From Dan Ody’s 8MM DVD
Two old 8MM movie frames: Whites Beach Speedway action with the 6PACK on the inside. Below – LaBelle and the car in full opposite lock at Stateline.
From Dan Ody's 8MM DVD
Little did most of us know that the yellow 6 PACK of popular and successful Athol, NY driver Eddy Baker was that exact same car – with the same owner. So, it stood to reason, that LaBelle might be offered a chance to drive the Hudson – having arrived after Baker had already won a heat. Ed never said how thrilled he was to relinquish the car to LaBelle. He and Baker [no relation] were often at odds because of Baker’s tightwad scrimping on maintenance of the aging Hudson.
Vern Baker fusses around the 6 PACK before a special stock car at the Vermont State Fair, Rutland, in 1962. Below – Ed Baker and the car - with fenders and hood added at Fairmont late in the day in the 1963 season. His wife and mother are nearby.
At any rate, at feature time, a thrilled Barsalow was extolling over the microphone that the 6 PACK was being driven by Wally – and that was that. At that time, LaBelle had not driven a race car in quite a few years. But, you would have never known this as he pulled out ahead of the feature field and won the race. It is not fair to say he outdrove Eddy Baker; but he certainly did just as well. Wally was not familiar to me at the time, but my uncle pulled the name out of his memory because, as an adult, he had gotten a lot more out of the 1950’s races than I did as a primary schooler.
Courtesy of Ted Vogel
This full view of a feature start at Pico Raceway shows the Brooks car just entering the picture at far right. Below – Dave, in action, at an unknown track in New York. Note the hood side panels.
Fairmont’s final guest driver came from the same era; but, he had to wait until the 1964 season to hop into his temporary ride. And, he was no stranger to the track- as he had starred there in its first era. The hobby division at Fairmont, having begun in 1963 as a collection of rather wrecky late models, was beginning to evolve into much more professional – looking cars. A new driver had arrived from Manchester, Vermont in the person of one Dexter Dorr. Dorr’s 1955 Chevy was a thing of beauty, with center steering, a great – looking body, and well – thought – out suspension.
Courtesy of Mark LeFrancois
A very rare shot of the older Brooks car, without its side hood panels, on the old Fairmont Park Motor Speedway. Below – A prior Brooks car, complete with side panels, was photographed at Stateline Speedway.
Paul Connors Photo
Dorr would have a great season going, on his way to more years at C.J. Richards’ tracks before becoming a star at Lebanon Valley Speedway and a highly – regarded race car builder. Some time during that first season for Dorr, one of his Manchester neighbors [and probably one of his idols], Dave Brooks came up with the team. Brooks had driven solely in the 1950’s. His cars were secretive and unusually powerful. Brooks could be seen running at such tracks as Pico Raceway, the old Fairmont track, Stateline, Mettawee Speedway, and more.
The air of secrecy surrounding Brooks car probably came from the power and the fact that his cars almost invariably had side panels on the engine compartment, keeping anyone from checking out the engines. Brook’s # 33 1/3 cars were not extensively photographed, and I bought one photo from a knowledgeable dealer who had no idea who was in the photo. I must admit, it took me three years, myself, to solve the mystery. [Just the way Dave would like it].
From Dan Ody’s 8MM DVD
Dave Brooks poses with an unidentified woman in old 8MM footage from the Stateline Speedway in the earlier 1950’s. Below – The impressive Dexter Dorr #29 Fairmont hobby class car.
Bob Frazier Photo Ladabouche Collection
On that particular Sunday afternoon, Brooks would climb into the gorgeous wine – colored Dorr #29 for the hobby class feature. Not everyone saw this as the coupe feature was done and some people had left the stands. Brooks, apparently not having lost any of his touch during his long retirement, moved the purple Chevy to the front of the field [which contained some good runners like Charlie Towsley, Timmy Baker, Lennie Woods, and Charlie Laduc]. He won the feature handily and was never seen in action again, unlike his fellow Manchester resident and ‘50’s star Gene Tetrault.
In each case, a 1950’s stock car star was invited to stand in for a Fairmont Speedway regular; and – in every case – that driver of the past showed why he was a star in his time. Tetrault was about to begin career phase #2; Baumgardner was in the twilight of his long career that began oin the late 1940’s; and – for Brooks and LaBelle, it was one final, star – studded fling. I feel lucky that I clearly remember these comebacks because I was just too young to remember much about any of them in the 1950’s.
Vogel Family Photo
Ted Vogel, Sr., shown here winning a race at Pico Raceway, not only raced against all four of the abovementioned guest stars, but he owned a successful car for George Baumgardner and was a CVRA official when Tetrault was still running.
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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