NERF'ers Corner by Robert Echo

A Bunch of Hicks and a Couple of Flatlanders

September-19-1979–  FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 19TH, 1979  –

Well! Long time no see or maybe I should say long time no write as it’s been a couple months since I last penned a NERF’ers Corner.

I found it too tough to write this weekly column while doing the Public Relations and Promotional Director duties at Claremont Speedway. Add to this the announcing chores and the putting together of the speedway’s program, the “Checkered Review“, and you have a pretty full week’s work. Well, guess what? That’s not all I had to do every week. I also held down a full time job as a salesman for Wholesale Sundries Company in Springfield, Mass.

I’ll let you know that I’ve resigned my position with Claremont Speedway as of the last regular season racing date and have also left the Springfield, Mass firm moving into a full time position within auto racing. I won’t get into my new job as you can read that story elsewhere within the pages of SPEEDWAY SCENE.

Taken from the July 13, 1979 Speedway Scene.
Taken from the July 13, 1979 SPEEDWAY SCENE.

What I’ve encountered this past season only happens once in a lifetime and I wish that every person who reads this column could have been part of this experience.

I’ve met and become friends with the people of the North over the last nine months. They refer to us who live below the Northern Massachusetts border as “Flatlanders” and we have a tendency to call them “Hicks” or “Country Folk“, but no matter what you call them they have dedication, desire and above all an undying pride.

Track owner E.L. “Sonny” Fleury turned over the track to the owners and drivers to operate after the 1978 season had been completed. It was at this time that the Claremont Owners & Drivers Association was born. The organization is better known as C.O.D.A., a name that in 1979 has been on the lips of the northeastern racing fans more than any other racing group.

C.O.D.A. then took me aboard as their Public Relations and Promotional Director, plus Track Announcer.

Prior to the 1979 season, I told many people I was going to work at Claremont Speedway in hopes of rekindling interest in the New Hampshire speed plant. Well, the reply I got in most instances was of the negative type. Many stated an owner and driver run speedway wouldn’t work, couldn’t work, can’t work, never had worked in the past; in other words those “Hicks” up in Claremont were idiots to think they could do what nobody else had ever done before. Some people even went so far as to give me their condolences upon hearing of my going to Claremont.

Well! The season has been completed and all of it under the C.O.D.A. banner. 1979 is considered to be the most successful year in many. Eighteen racing dates were cut to sixteen with only two rainouts and the total fan turnout for the season was near the 40,000 mark including the pits making an average turnout per date somewhere around 2,500, a huge increase over the last year. Claremont seats an estimated 4,300 and on July 25th there was a standing room only crowd of better than 4,700 fans for a regular racing program and “Super Demo ’79-Shoot Out No. 3“.

Taken from the August 17th Speedway Scene.
Taken from the August 17th SPEEDWAY SCENE.

All in all, it was a great season at the little speedway located at the end of the Modified world to the north.

There’s a lot of people that should be thanked for volunteering their time in keeping Claremont running each and every week. The list is much too long to print in this column but there are some who definitely have to be given credit. The first would have to be Sonny Fleury who had the confidence to turn the track over to the owners and drivers. One man who stands tall among the others is Dave Kolenda who handled the secretarial duties for C.O.D.A. in 1979 plus the Head Flagman’s job. He did everything from figuring the weekly payoffs to writing letters to running the racing program each week. His average time spent on C.O.D.A. and Claremont Speedway related work each week was between fifty and sixty hours and all of it for no pay. One more person who has to be thanked is Nate Bly who did everything from pulling weeds to painting and cleaning the restrooms which he also did for nothing. Ninety-nine percent of the people who worked at Claremont in ’79 including the Technical Staff, Wreckers, Infield Crew, Scorers, Starters, Photographers, Ticket Sellers and Takers, Rule Committee and C.O.D.A. Officers received no pay. They should all be praised and thanked for their contribution to Claremont Speedway this year.

All of the businesses who sponsored races, special events, bought billboards, furnished pace cars or products should be thanked for giving their total support to C.O.D.A. and Claremont Speedway in 1979.

The fans who turned out to support the track this past year should be thanked, for without them none of this would have worked.

Yes, it has been a great year, a fun year. New friends have been made. There’s a totally different outlook on auto racing at Claremont now.

No one really knows what’ll happen in the future years at Claremont, but we all know it was a “Super ’79” up north.

We did it!!! A bunch of “Hicks” and a couple of “Flatlanders“.

NERF’ers Nibblets . . . . Don’t forget the “Thompson 300” this weekend. Super weekend, super cars, super show, super stars, Don’t miss it. . . . It’s also the weekend for the “New England 300” at Catamount Stadium. A NASCAR North Tour Championship event. . . . New Monadnock Raceway owner Bill Davis is as fine a gentleman as you’d want to meet, but he’s got a tough road to hoe in trying to undo what the former owner did. NASCAR sure hasn’t helped the facility and C.O.D.A. has voted to keep the sixty-mile radius rule for 1980 once again leaving Monadnock in a bad situation. . . . Dave Grantz has a good looking #79 Pinto-bodied Modified for sale. If you’re interested, get a hold of him by calling Westford, Mass. info. . . . Brian Ross has got to be the most humble gentleman in auto racing when it comes to victory or defeat. He’s really good for the sport as he always gives credit where credit is due. . . . Next Weekend is the “CAM-2 Race of Champions” at Pocono International Raceway. Take the beautiful ride through the Pocono Mountains to see the biggie at Pocono. . . . Don’t forget the “Fall Final” at Stafford on September 29th and 30th. Twin events including a 100-lap NASCAR National Championship Modified race and a 100-lap NASCAR North Tour Late Model feature – don’t miss it. . . . October 6th is a special benefit race at Claremont Speedway with all the proceeds going to the Easter Seals program in the area. . . . The “Italian Connection#44 Racing Team had their problems last Sunday. They blew a head gasket and lost a clutch in their hauler on the way to Monadnock and the NERF towed them in with the Fred Felton hauler and then the Reggie Ruggiero got caught up in the wrong place while leading and crashed. No more reverse victory laps Reg. . . . Claremont Late Model Champion Jim Boniface finished third at Monadnock on ten inch tires while winner Jerry Marquis and runner-up Allen Darrah were on 15’s. . . . Allen Whipple and Marty Radewick finished second and third to Ross at Monadnock. Both were in Claremont cars as Gary Caron finished fifth in his 292c.i. coupe. . . . Till next week – “NERF’ers do it at the Speedway!

In 1980 Bob Echo received a phone call about this and teared up. It was an honor he remembered for the rest of his life. (Click photo to view article)
In 1980 Bob Echo received a phone call about this and teared up. It was an honor he remembered for the rest of his life. (Left click the photo to see enlarged version and read the article)

A few things.. 

For one.. The “Hicks” and “Flatlander” thing was a running joke. Before the 1979 season started my father had told Dave and the C.O.D.A. officers about some of the negative comments he’d gotten when he informed folks that he had taken on the position at Claremont Speedway. If I remember correctly, it was Dave Kolenda who answered jokingly, “We had the same reaction when we told everyone we’d hired a Flatlandah!”

Secondly.. My father, who was one heck of a salesman and always put 110% into everything he ever ventured into in life, took on his first speedway promotional position with a dedication his family and friends had never seen before.

For the 1979 Claremont Speedway season, he lived up to every aspect of the phrase, “working his ass off”. From promotional writing to press releases; seeking sponsors to meeting with those sponsors over and over to land the deal; writing advertising spots for radio to doing radio shows; putting together the weekly speedway program to laying out the speedway advertisements for the newspapers and racing publications; designing and ordering trophies to making phone calls to his friends in C.O.D.A.; picking up the trophies and the freshly printed “Checkered Review” on top of it all he worked full time job to put food on the table. He also designed the original C.O.D.A. logo. We made the 120 mile trip every weekend on Friday late afternoon and headed home Sunday afternoon. Where all of the aforementioned hit the proverbial “reset button” and started over each and every week. He never stopped looking for that extra sponsorship dollar right up until the last weekend of the season. The work he put in that year taught my brother and myself more about our father’s work ethic, drive and love for the sport than ever before.

The caption from the "Checkered Review" program the week following Claremont Speedway's 1980 season opener reads, "Big Bad Bob was the Grand Marshal for the opener." Sean Bodreau collection.
The caption from the “Checkered Review” program the week following Claremont Speedway’s 1980 season opener reads, “Big Bad Bob was the Grand Marshal for the opener.” Until yesterday none of his family had seen this photo before. Thank you to Sean Bodreau and his collection.

His family life took a back seat in 1979, but we didn’t mind. It was his rookie venture into speedway promotion and making it a successful one was extremely important to him. It was the happiest we’d ever seen him to that point and that made us all just as happy for him.

When each weekend came, culminating a week-full of hard labor, he wanted his family with him. I can say, and most anyone who was around him in those days will testify, unlike many in his roll who could sometimes be shaking bags of nerves on race day, he was the most relaxed every race night. Although most of his friends and peers at Claremont in 1979 may have never realized it, I believe he was relaxed because those he worked with on the race weekends and he befriended helped him be that way.

Robert Echo enjoyed giving awards out, but never felt comfortable receiving awards or praise. When CODA named him Grand Marshall for a night he couldn't help giving out an award to his good friend, Dave Kolenda.
Robert Echo enjoyed giving awards out, but never felt comfortable receiving awards or praise. When CODA named him Grand Marshall for a night he couldn’t help giving out an award to his good friend, Dave Kolenda.

Dave Kolenda, Ronnie Bodge, the Bodreau family, the Stevens clan, the Bibens gang,  the Albro family, the Labrie family, the Ayer family, the Bly family, the Jarvis family, the Batchelder family, the Girard family, the Caron family, the Whipple family, “he Boniface Gang and the list goes on and on. So many people who he may only have heard of prior to that season or spoken to briefly were now considered friends. By the end of the ’79 season ALL THOSE FRIENDS were the very reason it was such a tough decision to leave when Val offered him the position with Speedway Scene.

When he settled on what he wanted to do he let everyone know and was so relieved to see that the new friends he had made north within the 9 months greeted him with well wishes, praise and many thanks. It was the boost from that praise and those well wishes by his beloved “Hicks” that made one “Flatlander” even more confident heading into yet another new venture at the offices in Northeaston, Mass..

Lastly, Lake Chargoggagoggmanchaoggagoggchaubunaguhgamaugg was where our family camped on Thompson 300 weekend. I remember my brother and I spent all weekend trying to pronounce the name correctly without busting into laughter. We never could and simply settled on what they said the meaning of the name was, “You fish on your side, I’ll fish on my side and nobody fishes in the middle.”

We showed up to the campground on Thursday. Our neighbors at the campgrounds? None other than Punky Caron and family. When we started to get the camper up a hellacious storm with strong winds rolled in and in all the mayhem Punky came to the rescue, running over and jumping into action to helping us set up. Like I mentioned in a previous story, Punky may have been viewed as a hardass behind the wheel, but he was a true blue guy outside of the car, at least that’s how he always was around us.

That was the 300 that Geoff Bodine showed up with the Modified he and Chassis Dynamics had just built for Claremont Speedway competitor, Allen Whipple. A Mustang bodied Modified entry that to no one’s surprise, like every Modified Geoff had raced before, wound up in victory lane that Sunday.

– Jared

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