By Bill Ladabouche


      It seemed a case of “turnabout is fair play” when New York state sportsman drivers invaded the Stafford Springs, Connecticut speedway and dominated the place for a period of time in the 1960’s. After all, the history of tracks like Rhinebeck Speedway, Rhinebeck, NY: the Pine Bowl Speedway, Snyders Corners, NY; and Empire Raceway, Menands, NY all came with stories of southern New Englanders coming in and going home with more than their shares of the purses.

Dick Hansen Collection via Otto Graham
Connecticut’s Russ Truelove often ruled the roost at Rhinebeck when he wasn’t running in NASCAR’s
Grand National Short Track division. Below – Buddy Krebs was another New England hot shoe. This
was supposedly his first ride, which may have belonged to Frank Blum.

Courtesy of Ron Wetzler

     Stafford Springs had a fairgrounds, complete with an oval track, for many years. From 1959 to 1966, that track was dirt; then, it became paved and became much more prominent in the asphalt – dominated southern New England scene. In the very first dirt years, many of the competitors running at Stafford were running the unique New England type of race called a “cutdown”. Similar to the cars at the pioneering Quebec track, Bouvrette Speedway in St. Jerome, QC, these cars had radically modified bodies, were very low, and were often so lighted – up that they were death traps.

Shany Lorenzet Photo via Dave Dykes
Whitey Brainerd sits at Stafford in this consummate example of a cutdown. Below - This unidentified driver just won a race at St. Jerome, Quebec majestic old horse track, Bouvrette Speedway. This looks a lot like many New England cutdowns.

Courtesy of Andre Chauss

      With no one in New York running cutdowns, New Englanders like Whitey Brainerd and Art Rousseau were typical of the dominating drivers at the Connecticut half mile. In the years of the Stafford Springs dirt era, New York drivers won only 7% of the features there. Apparently, most of that 7% belonged to Crescent, NY’s Pete Corey. The well –travelled body man had already logged laps at tracks far from home such as New Jersey’s Alcyon Speedway. He captured the first flag for New Yorkers with the Harold Smith – owned, Bob Whitbeck – built 22NY, with its distinctive flaming numbers. Corey ended up losing the 22 to a garage fire and switched over to driving A.C. Caprara’s 37NY, a team which had recently been purchased from Sam Kittler and Gibby Wolfe. The car appeared at Stafford with Ken Shoemaker at the wheel.

Shany Lorenzet Photo via Andy Fusco
Pete Corey sits in the Smith 22 at Rochester, NY’s Monroe County Speedway. Below- Shoemaker, another early NY invader, is seen in the A.C. Caprara 37.
Don't blame Shany for the odd angle of these shots - I was trying to get them off a projector screen from the side.

Shany Lorenzet Photo via Dick Berggren


      However, invaders and cutdowns notwithstanding, the 1959 track champions were both fairly local. The modified winner was Stafford’s own George Janoski, who had used a highly – potent Mercury – powered Ford coupe to win the title before deciding to run the Chevy coupe we all identify with him from then on. The sportsman champ was Rhode Island’s burly, no nonsense Don Rounds, with his distinctive blue and white ’37 Ford #101 with the pirate flag. Actually, both champions were associated with flying banners off their cars – Janoski always flew a rebel flag over the 40CONN in honor of meeting his wife down South.

Shany Lorenzet Photo via Andy Fusco
The Stafford Springs Speedway champs for 1959 join Bob Sall in Victory Lane for recognition. Janoski [2nd from left]
stands in front of the Merc – powered Ford while Rounds is 2
nd from right, by Sall.


Big changes were coming to the facility. First, in 1957, portions of the grandstands burned. NASCAR entered the scene by the end of the decade [1959], and that signaled the end for the dangerous cutdowns, which moved on to venues like Keene, NH and the like. By 1963, the New York invasion was in full swing. Their curiosity may have been stimulated by having their own native Fonda Speedway invaded by the likes of George Janoski, a Stafford Springs resident, and by four – time NASCAR National Sportsman Champion Rene Charland.

Stafford ran Friday nights, and it competition for Empire Staters came from the struggling Victoria Speedway, in Dunnsville [not far from Fonda] and from Utica – Rome Speedway, in Vernon, much further west. There, too was the new track Saranac Lake Speedway in the winter Olympics region of northern New York; but, that was a pretty long tow to reach a pretty rustic facility. So, the rather stately Stafford Springs was a very viable alternative for a number of teams.

Courtesy of Dan Ody
Victoria Speedway, a struggling, paper clip – shaped horse track west of Fonda, could have used the competitors who chose to run Stafford. In the case of the prominent Drellos stable, they just couldn’t get along with the track management. Below- the Drellos cars line up in the Fonda pits. Chris would drop the troublesome 111A in favor of a new coupe, #11 for Corey.

Ladabouche Collection


In 1963, when Ken Shoemaker and Corey brought in the Drellos Racing cars #111 and 11, the doo doo really hit the fan for the locals at Stafford. Unable to get along with Victoria promoter Lou D’Amico, Drellos sent his cars to Connecticut. The team pulled down most of the features they finished in. Others who were showing up at Stafford on a Friday night included 1960 and 1961 NASCAR National Sportsman Champion Bill Wimble, with Dave McCready’s #33. Wimble, still a dairy farmer from far-off Lisbon, NY at that time, would race and skedaddle out for home, still having to do chores. This gave Stafford fans the misguided impression that Wimble was aloof.

Corey would end up driving for Drellos until the team was dissolved around 1964 when Chris Drellos discovered he had cancer. Corey would drive the famous Falcon, the Studebaker, and various coupes in Connecticut, all with good success. He also would have bad wrecks with most of those cars. Wimble had a wreck there in 1964 which he described as the closest to being killed he ever got. Other effective New York teams included George Baumgardner, with Richard Welch’s 77; Irv Taylor, who drove for several owners, Jim Luke, in Godfrey Wentzel’s 00 sedan; and Ernie Gahan, a New Hampshirite who did most of his racing in New York.

Shany Lorenzet Photo via Andy Fusco
The fast Stafford track claimed its share of New York iron. Above – Wimble came close to being impaled on a fence rail, like Corey had been at Fonda a few years before. Below- Corey managed to dump the Studebaker at Stafford, something Fonda fans never got to see.

Shaney Lorenzent Photo via Andy Fusco

Gahan would soon team up with Rhode Island car owner Sonny Koszella and would truck the log mill owners two well – used coupes all over in search of money and NASCAR points. Donny Wayman of Cobleskill, NY – the ultimate driver for hire, would run Stafford for a number of owners including Wentzel, Cliff Wright, and Russ Betz. It is an interesting argument as to whether Gahan should have been considered a homey at Stafford, coming from New England or whether his predominantly New York racing schedule made him an invader. Fonda was famous for its rough treatment of drivers they considered outsiders. Gahan, whether he drove in with his own 50NH or whether he had one of Sonny’s cars, always fit in.

Stafford regulars always managed to return the favor, and make trips up to Fonda as often as they could. Fonda didn’t mess much with Gahan or the tough – as nails Janoski. They were less thrilled to see visits from the vociferous, annoying Charland; but he frequently managed to get the better of them – particularly when the Rosner – built, pavement oriented Riverside cars began to dominate there. Curiously, the northern New York teams, such as Dick Nephew, Wes Moody, and Bob Bruno received much harsher treatment – as did western New Yorkers like Ed Ortiz.

Three Wide Picture Vault
George Janoski, with his familiar coupe. Note the trademark rebel flag on the roof. Below – Janoski leads a field of Stafford cars trying to beat out the outside invaders. The 51 is the Glens Falls, NY – based Allie Swears car.

Source Unidentified – From Internet


The Stafford local contingent began to be able to field a fairly formidable force to compete with the New York teams by the end of 1964. In addition to Gahan, Janoski, and occasional forays from Charland, Connecticut drivers like the tall, mercurial Jim Koehler, from Coventry; Roy Messick, with his M3; 1950’s veteran Lionel Arel, from Northhampton, MA; Russ Betz, driver and car owner extraordinaire; Wild Bill Slater, with the Vivari V8; and Chet Hunt became strong runners.

Koehler, a likeable blonde guy, made many trips to the Rutland County, Vermont area, running various cars at both Fairmont Speedway and later, Devil’s Bowl. At one point, with his mechanic who went by the name “Orchid”, Koehler actually settled down in Rutland for a while and worked with the McMahon family on his car and theirs. The familiar brown #31 sportsman coupe ended up being campaigned at Devil’s Bowl by David McMahon. Koehler once brought the #-0 Bob Oliver car with the assumed name of Bill Hodges. He and other Stafford drivers had to use pseudonyms when running at non – NASCAR tracks.

Ladabouche Collection
Jim Koehler, with his familiar brown 31, at Victoria. Below – the Roy Messick car, under caution at Stafford.

Source Unidentified – From Internet

Early in the 1960’s, another New England team would take wing on its way to legendary status. Fred “Sharkey” Gaudiosi would field competitive cars for decades, hiring a “who’s who” of famous drivers over those years. Sharkey would put Ted Stack onto the Stafford dirt track for his first race. More fond of pavement by far, Sharkey would tolerate running on dirt for a few years. Actually he would leave a pavement setup in the car for Stafford and driver Ron Narducci said he would exit the car after the races, all black and blue from the bouncing he took.

Gaudiosi appeared to listen to Narducci and let him “soften” the car up a bit for the upcoming Stafford program. Narducci relates how, when the car arrived at Stafford that night, he could already tell from the way it was riding on the hauler that Gaudiosi had put the old setup back in. Though they were in the midst of a four race win, Narducci quit that night. Sharkey would go on to several good years at Lebanon Valley, only to quit dirt for good when his car was demolished one time too many.

Shany Lorenzet Photo via Dick Berggren
Eddie Flemke, one of the best drivers to ever sit in a Gaudiosi sedan, poses for Shaney Lorenzent on the Stafford front stretch. Below – When Sharkey had brought enough sedans home in a basket, he swore off dirt racing for the rest of his career as a car owner. In this wreck, Gene Bergin’s life was saved by Sharkey’s pioneering the center – cab seat.

Shany Lorenzet Photo via Andy Fusco


Stafford Springs Speedway has made its name as a big, fast, asphalt track; but, the racing there from 1959 to 1966 was as good as anywhere in New York. The track really received the biggest New York invasion after Victoria Speedway moved to Wednesdays. It was surely the track of the famous – Charland, Corey, Slater, Flemke, Wimble, etc. It’s where the original Bobby Santos got his start. But, more importantly, it was also the place for the Jim Koehlers, the Lionel Arels, the Tommie Finlays [a NJ driver], and the Hector Comeaus. I recall Hector’s photo – and that of Henry Houle in the Cavalcade of Auto Racing magazine that Oilzum lubricants put out. They sat there, along with Eddie Flemke.

Those not – so – fast Staffordians probably raced against some of the not – so –fast New York cars such as a beginning Lou Smith, from Munnsville and the venerable, diminutive Saratoga, George “Baumie” Baumgardner. The drivers from Stafford felt comfortable looking over at the covered grandstands at Fonda, and – for the New Yorkers – the same held true in Connecticut. Arguably, the New Yorkers ended up winning a bit more than their fair share during the dirt era at Stafford; after the paving, it was every man for himself [and still is].

Ladabouche Photo
Stafford regular Chet Hunt [calling himself Jim Mitchell] waits to go out for a heat race at Fairmont Speedway, in Fair Haven, VT, in 1965.
Below – Jim Koehler ran the Bob Oliver 0 at Fairmont as Bill Hodges, from Avon, CT.

Ladabouche Photo

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


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