The OL’ NERF took a seven-hundred mile round trip jaunt last weekend to New York’s Southern Tier and into North Central Pennsylvania.
Friday Afternoon I arrived at Penn-Can Speedway just outside the small hill community of Susquehanna, PA., which is only a handful of miles south of the New York state line.
Penn-Can is leased by the Susquehanna County Stock Car Club from track owner L.C. Beaven. The S.C.S.C.C. is an owner and drivers club much like the Claremont Owners and Drivers Association which governs the racing at Claremont [NH] Speedway or the Southern New York Racing Association who heads up the program at the Danbury [CT] Fair Racearena.
Like C.O.D.A. and S.N.Y.R.A. the S.C.S.C.C. handles the operations of their 3/8-mile semi-banked clay oval. They do everything from the maintenance of the facility to running of the races to operation of the food concessions. They determine the payoff for the four-classes that run every Friday night including the Modified Sportsman, Strictly Street Stock, Tiger Division and the new Amateur Pure Stock Class which is a claiming division.
Jim Randall, a New York State Trooper, serves as the Club’s President, while 1979 Strictly Street Stock Champion, Butch Dibble, handles the Vice President’s chores, and John Ames is the Secretary-Treasurer.
The S.C.S.C.C. is struggling to keep Penn-Can operating and if determination is the name of the game, then the club should win their battle, especially if all it’s members pull together.
My arrival at approximately 4pm at Penn-Can was under clear blue skies, but a half hour later the same skies erupted in a half-hour long downpour like I’ve never seen before. The skies then cleared somewhat, but still continued to cast an intermittent drizzle. About 6:30pm the rains stopped and the club sent all the vehicles it could find onto the track to work it in. After an hour of this, a driver’s meeting was held and, it was decided that the track was unrace-able, so the night’s racing program was cancelled.
Saturday, it was on to Dale Campfield’s Shangri-La Speedway for the “I Love New York ’80”, which included twin 40-lappers for the Supermodifieds and Modifieds.
There were 25 Supers and 42 Mods in the pits at the Owego, NY 1/2-mile asphalt oval. It was a good show with Bob Stelter in his flip-flop winged roadster besting the field of Supers while George Kent made a shambles of the Modified segment.
Campfield, along with his army of workers and volunteers, have made Shangri-La a beautiful racing facility. They’ve installed red and white canvas across the back of the grandstand to act as a wind breaker. The spectator area is enhanced by a well kept grassy surface and many flowers, while the infield shows the same landscaping complete with a flower garden.
The personable Campfield has brought the the Owego track back from obscurity and the proof of this is he’s drawn two capacity crowds in three starts to date, with the other event not too far from a sellout.
After the Shangri-La race I headed south down Interstate 81 for the tiny town of St. Johns, PA, where New Evergreen Speedway is located.
The 1/3-mile oval, one of only three asphalt tracks in Pennsylvania, the others being Pocono International Raceway and Dorney Park Speedway, is operated by Charles Spencer, who rules over race day proceedings from the front seat of his car due to the loss of his left leg.
New Evergreen, in it’s fourth year of operation under Spencer after being closed for several years, runs three divisions, including Modified Sportsman, Late Models and Street Stocks.
The crowd at New Evergreen was great on Sunday afternoon, and the field of cars were excellent with two Troyer Engineering machines among the thirty Mods in attendance, along with Brett Bodine who’s brother won Pocono a couple of years ago. The track has a good looking Late Model class and newly started Street Stock division, which still is in need of some cars.
New Evergreen is a family run facility. Other Spencers in management capacities besides owner Charles are Ed, who’s the Chief Official, Leroy, who handles the Head Starter’s job, Larry, who’s the Handicapper, and Sy, who takes care of the Souvenir Stand.
The racing action was close with Tony Hirschman in his Troyer mount winning the Mod event, while popular Tom Lushi, Jr. took the Late Model feature and the Street Stock race went to Curt Kromis.
The crowd was good enough and the field of Mods including five Wall Stadium cars, was sufficient to warrant a purse increase by management. The winner of the Mod event will pocket $600 starting this week instead of the $400 they were paying for first spot. Racing action moves to Friday nights beginning this week at New Evergreen.
At the conclusion of Sunday’s racing program, the Ol’ Nerf headed home and on the way back up Interstate 84, I thought I was entering heaven passing through such places as Greentown, Promised Land and finally Lord’s Valley. Maybe someone was trying to tell me something, huh?
NERF’ERS NIBBLETS… Bill Alsup, who finished seventh at Ontario [CA] Motor Speedway in the first Indy car event of 1980, is working the bugs out of his new PC-7 Penske/Cosworth machine at Indianapolis [IN] Motor Speedway. The 31-year-old Alsup will be competing for rookie honors if he makes the 33 car Memorial Day “Indy 500 Classic” field… Send a get well card or letter to Harvey Tattersall, promoter of Waterford Speedbowl, who is recovering from eye surgery at home [address withheld]… Stan Meserve’s late Model Sportsman carries a sponsor with the name Rice Hill. I wonder if they call it Paddy Wagon?… Congratulations to Mike Rowe who made it two in a row at Oxford Plains Speedway. he once again beat several of the NASCAR North high dollar cars and a couple of ASA style Late Models. He’s gaining the name of “Rapid Rowe”, as this was his third win in three outings for his Saturday Night Oxford legal car… Word has it that Jeff Stevens lost his big buck Ray Baker engine in the garage on Saturday preceding Oxford. The motor was in his beautiful #44 Howe chassis Camaro… Perry [NY] Speedway will begin it’s season on Sunday, May 25th, with a regular including Limited Late Model Sportsman, Pure Stocks, Three-Quarter Midgets and Spectator Races. The facility is under the first year promotion of Rick Faulks… The We-Go Racing Fan Club is looking for new members. The club supports auto racing in various ways, including fan appreciation night at several speedways, by presenting awards to both dirt and asphalt racing people, holding their own summer picnic and an annual winter banquet. The club runs Souvenir Stands at both Shangri-La Speedway and Five Mile Point Speedway. If you want to join, send $1 Initiation Fee plus $5 Yearly Dues to: We-Go Racing Fan Club [address withheld]. This all entitles you to a Membership Card, Club Picnic and discounts on Banquet tickets… By the way, We-Go Racing Fan Club President, Ann Stevens and husband Don along with a friend, tried to get the Ol’ Nerf lost after the Shangri-La race by taking me for a ride along the “Denny Wheeler Expressway” outside of Owego. For shame, for shame…
Don’t forget to listen to WTSV AM 1230 or WECM-FM 106 out of Claremont, NH this Saturday at Noon. You’ll get to hear me and show host Dave Kolenda… Till next time, “Watch for one of Speedway Scene’s Promotional Team Members at your favorite track!”
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Any racing fan growing up in the ’70’s and ’80’s knows the dreadful months of April and May were our enemies as kids, especially if there was an event far from home that required leaving in the morning or early afternoon on Friday. Sometimes our parents gave us the nod allowing us to miss school, while other times we got the dreaded news, “no travel for you!”
This was one of those weekends where I was still able to attend Stafford with friends and Riverside Park with family and friends, but without the NERF. However, on many occasions I had the opportunity to meet and spend time with Dale Campfield. The gentleman was every bit the personable individual my father described. He had all the right qualities for a speedway promoter and more so. Dale was always upbeat, said hello with a smile to every fan he ran into. He always showed appreciation to anyone who visited and attended Shangri-La, driver, team, fan, sponsor or media alike. He and the NERF hit it off very easy. Both were great promoters and people persons. Outside of his Shangri-La SpeedwayDale Campfield was always willing to help with other racing events and was big supporter of the Racearama when it came to be in 1981. He even penned a column now and again for Speedway Scene.
Ann and Don Stevens.. What do you say about two of the sweetest people one could ever meet. That weekend was the first time the NERF met Ann, Don and members of the We-Go Racing Fan Club, but just like Dale Campfield, it certainly wasn’t the last. We stayed at Ann and Don’s repeatedly when we were in the area. It didn’t matter if we were or were not attending a track they were at on any particular night. If we were around the area we stayed with them. They went so far as to give my father a key to their place should we show up early or late. They wouldn’t have it any other way.
When our family started venturing religiously to the local speedways, from 1974 to 1978, I was a complete sponge soaking up the environment of each facility and gaining knowledge of the cars and their pilots, specifically the Modifieds. I studied each and every Coupe, Pinto, Bobcat, Vega, Astre, Gremlin, Chevette, Monza, etc. that came out of the pit gate and onto the speedway. I studied the bumpers, the cage, the way the bodies set, how the safety nets were positioned, the way the drivers sat and their posture behind the wheel, the way each held the steering wheel and the helmets they wore. I was all about identification because in order to get the full understanding of the racing I was about to take in and enjoy it, I HAD to make sure I knew WHO was piloting WHAT car. Pretty soon I was a wiz at which driver was in which Modified and would argue with anyone who challenged otherwise.
One Saturday just before practice at Riverside Park, Eddie Flemke (Sr.) made a brief rare appearance in the grandstands. He came up from the pit area to speak with my father. -I’m not positive, but believe it was in regards to Fred Felton’s Radical Racer and Park officials refusing to let it run- The conversation between the two led to my father making a quick dash into the pit area and left Eddie in the Grandstands to keep an eye on me. Eddie sat down in my father’s seat and immediately started to quiz me. It wound up being something that he’d do when we stopped by his shop, among other places, and saw Eddie. -“Where did you go? Who was running good? What was he driving?”-.
By the time my father came back and thanked Eddie for keeping me company Eddie was calling me the “Racing Dictionary” and that nickname stuck for quite a few years within the press boxes and press sections at the local stomping grounds of Riverside, Stafford, Plainville, Monadnock, Thompson and Westboro. Those Flemke quizzes I fondly remember with big smiles and was just fine with the nickname. When a guy like Eddie gives you a nickname, you wear it proudly like a badge of honor.
In 1979 our family’s racing intake went on a major diet and for a kid who grew accustom to the flavor of frequenting many of the great New England racing venues, it was an extremely painful cold turkey. My father took on the challenge of his first promoter and race director job with Claremont Speedway and C.O.D.A. (Claremont Owners and Drivers Association) in Claremont, New Hampshire. A track who’s opening night in 1979 was the first race I had ever attended there. I knew no one, but that changed over the season with the Jarvis, Albro, Bodreau, and Bibens clans along with others treating us like family. It turned into a great experience for our family and one we have never forgotten.
After Claremont Speedway and C.O.D.A.’s successful season concluded, all the joys of being the son of the NERF and the perks of being the son of a track promoter increased a hundred fold. Val LeSieur offered him the Promotional Director position at Speedway Scene (cue the chorus of angels singing).
If I tried to name every track we attended at least once in those Speedway Scene days from late ’79 to the close of the ’84 season, I know for sure I would miss a few. It was simply a bull-rush of racing for over 5 seasons. We turned up at every major race from Martinsville, Virginia to Nelles Corners, Ontario. Dirt or asphalt didn’t matter, all the Oswego Classics, Thompson 300’s, Race of Champions, Super Dirt Weeks, Oxford 250’s, over 100 plus races a season, we were there and I was living the dream.
Along the way we met all kinds of racing personalities. THAT is indeed the part I have always cherished while looking back over those years. Taking in all the racing events and meeting all of these fantastic racing personalities (fans, crews, drivers, owners, track owners, promoters, officials, sponsors and those in the press) was like learning the meaning of life for a nine to fourteen year old auto racing junkie of an equally addicted father. It was as if being handed the keys to the gates of Northeast Auto Racing Heaven (again.. cue the chorus of angels singing).
The interesting thing was coming back home and being asked by friends and their parents, where we had been. I’d go down the list of the past weekend’s fun and would be met most times with disbelief. “Stayed at Jerry Cook’s house? Sure.” .. “Steve Kinser told you and your father that? Yeah right!” .. “Sat in every car at Troyer Engineering last Thursday? Whatever.” And oh boy did the eyes roll when I came back after Labor Day in 1981 and told them we had camped out in Richie’s shop prior to Oswego Classic Weekend.
That leads me to Richie. In those years on the road we ran into Richie Evans and his crew numerous times each season; Stafford, Spencer, New Egypt, Riverside Park, Shangri-La, Oswego, Thompson, Monadnock, Seekonk, Pocono, Trenton, Islip, Holland.. I loved every time we did and looked forward to the ribbing I’d receive, well, most of it anyway.
Richie was something. Great racer? The best! Great champion? Without a doubt! Great guy with the fans? Abso-friggin’-lutely, no question about it!
Reminiscing over the years about Richie and starting up this site in memory of my father has led me to finally sit down and write about some of the many personal stories I am very fortunate to have involving Richie. I admit that it’s taken quite a while for me to buckle down and get it written. It wasn’t the easiest thing to do. Writing about personal run-ins as a kid with a guy who was and always will be the king of the division we know as Asphalt Modifieds can be a bit intimidating. It carries a certain amount of pressure to get it right. More so, talking about Richie can become a tough and emotional subject involving laughter, tears and more laughter.
During an email exchange, over a year ago, with a former co-worker and friend of my father’s, who was “chasing deadlines”, I mentioned the struggle I was having approaching how to write these memories down for this very column. Do I tell it this way or that way? In what style? His response was a short lighthearted one that I expected, “Yeah, it’s work!”
Another friend of my father’s gave some interesting advice that got the gears turning, “You lived it up with your father and met all kinds as a kid. Tell it like you’re telling stories around the campfire with friends, but write it through the eyes and ears of the kid who experienced it, not the adult you are today. Keep the innocent views of the kid you were. That’s how you should tell it.”
Alright then, so here it is. I gave it my best shot.
A quick note.. Some of the wording in conversations I’ve placed in quotes may not be exact. Thirty years of dust collected in my personal vault “upstairs” is indeed the reason. However, as others have shared their own personal memories of racing days gone by and interaction with racing personalities along the way, their wording more than likely isn’t exact as well.
I do assure you no falsehoods exists in these personal memories. I share them as a fellow fan who was extremely lucky to have a father involved in the media side of our sport which allowed me to experience many things others hadn’t. Lucky that Val hired my father to help grow his racing publication’s coverage area and also create the Racearama during a great period in Northeast auto racing history. Lucky to ride shotgun with my father all those years and have great memories of unbelievable people involved in our sport back in the day. Of course the subject at hand, lucky enough to get ribbed by Richie every time we ran into him.
I hope you enjoy these personal Richie stories written as best as I remember them as the kid who was very fortunate to experience them.
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Filling That Tank..
Richie Evans’ stats speak for themselves. A nine time NASCAR National Modified Champion, over 65 track championships and 600 plus feature wins at numerous tracks up and down the east coast, to which are still being discovered. Those stats are only the tip of the iceberg in regards to who Richie Evans was to the auto racing community and why he meant so much to the fans, media and fellow competitors all the way up to the track owners, promoters and sanctioning body heads.
As a youngster in the mid ’70’s and early ’80’s and a die-hard Bob Polverari fan, I thought Richie was special. It wasn’t because of his wins or championships, but the way he was towards me every time we ran into him – well, except the first time, but you’ll soon know that story-. Only as I grew older did I truly realize he was that way with damn near everybody. He was special.
Anyone who met him and had the chance just to be around him, even for a brief moment in the pits, before or after a race, walked away feeling as if they knew him and had made a friend.
To the young fans the most important thing is wanting to feel like you matter. Just a few minutes of one on one conversational interaction between a youngster and a driver lasts forever and makes a fan for life. When drivers or racing personalities, people they look up to, gives someone that time and attention it filled that tank. It works the opposite as well. A driver has a bad day and isn’t up for interaction or conversation, blowing someone off, it leaves a lasting negative impression. As for kids, it’s that ever important first impression to which they draw their conclusions. As a young fan, THAT impression is EXACTLY why it never dawned on me until I got a bit older that Richie was indeed great with everyone.
Richie proverbially filled that tank. He took time and even shared some laughs with fans of all ages. If Richie had an off night, a very rare wreck or even lost a close one to a heated competitor, he still had time to talk, joke, laugh and always met you with a smile. For that very reason he was a champion of the fans and not just with HIS fans..
But, that’s not how it started between Richie and this kid..
The Park and.. Child Labor?
My father would occasionally share this particular story with friends in racing, especially when around Richie or when his name was brought up after Richie’s untimely passing. It took place at a time my father was writing the “NERF’ers Corner” for what was then known as New England Speedway Scene.
At Riverside Park Speedway in 1978, most nights for those in attendance ended with the drop of the checkered flag on the Figure 8’s feature. Some fans wound up at Riverside Park’s Beer Gardens to enjoy corn on the cob, hot German potato salad, a beer or three and great conversation.
If you were a child of one of those Park’s Beer Garden attendees, you were either on the rides in the amusement park or out in the parking lot looking at the Modifieds strapped to their ramp trucks and trailers. If you were real lucky, you were given the prestigious job most of us kids referred to as a Car Watcher –“Hey kid, if you watch our car, there’s a hat in it for you”-. The Car Watcher was indeed an honor bestowed by the team while they mingled at the Park’s Beer Gardens.
Car Watcher (kär wŏch′ər) *kid’s definition:A job consisting of keeping watch over the hauler and the car strapped to it. See to it that no one messed around with anything in the car or the tool compartments.A very important job that pays off in t-shirts, jackets, hats, or stickers (a racing fan’s gold).
Car Watcher (kär wŏch′ər) *Parental definition: An utter sham. A tactic used by quite a few of us to allow ourselves time to laugh it up at the beer gardens and talk racing or shoot the breeze with the drivers, crews and fellow fans while our kids amused themselves among other kids by any particular hauler. A way to make sure we don’t have to walk through the entire damn amusement park to hunt them down.
The most memorable time I recall this story being told was at the breakfast table in the Thompson Speedway Clubhouse on Thompson 300 weekend (’80 or ’81). We were sitting at the table with Val LeSieur, Richie and a few other Northeast racing personalities. Richie started giving me crap about how I was holding my spoon and I smarted off to him with a smile. Richie reacted by knocking my hat off and saying, “What’s the matter with you? Hold your spoon right AND why can’t you keep your hat on your head?“
As I’m picking up my hat, one of the others at the table said I should be nice to Richie. Richie answered, “Don’t worry about Lil’ Echo. He’s been a press brat since I first met him.“
The gentleman asked how long that had been and after some words from Richie and my father, they started in with the story..
My father started off, “We’re in the beer gardens at the Park and I’m shooting the s**t with Richie (throwing a thumb to the very person sitting to his left. I was sitting to Richie’s left.). He starts telling me about how he couldn’t get over all the kids out in the parking running around the haulers and says..“
Richie interrupts and takes over, “They were like a mob of pint sized Keystone Cops out there.. So I’m telling him how we pulled up and parked by Bobby’s (Polverari) hauler. There’s this little long blond haired kid sitting on the hauler with a serious look on his face. I walk up to him and ask what he’s doing. He says he’s watching his favorite driver’s car. I ask him if he could watch ours too. He says, ‘I could, but Bob’s is number one.’ So I says, ‘There’s a t-shirt in it for you’. The kid ain’t budging, doesn’t even answer! So I ask him, ‘Does Bobby give you shirts?’ He says, ‘My parents got me a bunch of Bob’s shirts.’ So I says, ‘You’re parents bought you those shirts. I’m going to GIVE you one! So how about it? You wanna’ watch my car?’ You know what the kid says to me? He says, ‘Sorry, you’re not Bob Polverari.’ Then he points behind me and says, ‘He’ll watch your car for you.’ I turn around and it’s a four year old wearing half the ice cream he’s eating and walking around with only one shoe on!“
Everyone at the table starts chuckling. My father takes over the story, “Then it dawns on me and I ask Rich, (again pointing a thumb to the very person sitting to his left), ‘This blond haired kid, did he have hair down to here?’ (putting his hand at shoulder length). Rich says, ‘Uh-huh.’ ‘And was he wearing a blue jacket with a Cardinal 500 patch on it?’ Richie says, ‘Yeah! That’s the kid! You know the little bastard?’“
Richie takes over, “He says, ‘Yeah, I know him.’ So I ask Bob, ‘Who’s friggin’ kid is it? Point ’em out. I’m going to give his parents a bunch of s**t.’ Bob loses his smile and says, ‘That’s my youngest son, Jared’ (Richie turns to his left and lightly back-hands me on the shoulder and also knocks the hat off my head again). I look at Bob and says, ‘Chip off the old, NERF!“
The table erupted with laughter as I picked up my hat and ate my breakfast while my face slowly turned a shade of Armstrong red.
After the ’81 SIZZLER..
More often than not Richie would start a race from wherever in the field and be holding the winning trophy by the end, wearing that trademark smile of his, surrounded by his crew and fans. Stafford Motor Speedway’s 1981 version of the Spring Sizzler was not one of those moments, but you couldn’t tell with Richie’s ear to ear smile when it was all said and done.
As I had mentioned, I’ve been a Bob Polverari fan since first taking in an event at Riverside Park Speedway in 1975. At Riverside Bob was a champion who was always one of the drivers with a great chance at being a victor. At Stafford however, he had yet to taste victory albeit his performances in the Spring Sizzler, of all races, is where he had opened some eyes and shined in the past.
In 1981 Bob and team showed up with a new car and body style and an unfamiliar black and gold paint scheme. His performance that Sunday in the Sizzler was nothing short of spectacular. The battle between he and Richie over the remaining laps is the stuff of legends. In the end Bob beat Richie by about a foot, if that.
Us Polverari fans were out of our ever-loving minds and that is NOT an over exaggeration by any means. Matter of fact most everyone on the speedway grounds were celebrating the spectacular finish.
What added to the moment was the scoreboard, which first read “71-61-44” when they took the checkers. A few seconds later it changed to “61-71-44”. The decibel level coming from grandstands was up there with a rock concert and when the scoreboard changed back moments later to “71-61-44” the decibel level red-lined and broke the proverbial needle. Ask anyone who was there, they can testify. It was the largest “pop” I have ever heard at Stafford.
If one missed the finish and the end result –oh, you poor soul- one might have mistaken Richie being the winner or even Reggie Ruggiero for that matter.
Reggie and Mario Fiore showed up with a year old Evans shop built chassis, Pinto bodied Modified by way of Midwest Late Model Star, Mark “Captain Sizzle” Malcuit. Their performance that weekend culminating with a third place finish was a victory in of itself. So the 44’s driver, owner, crew and fan’s celebration added to the celebration by Bob Polverari’s crew and fans as well as Richie’s crew and fans. It made it one electrifying podium.
After the event’s post race interviews and celebrations I sought out Richie, who was by his car with one foot up on the front right tire leaning an elbow on his knee and smoking a cigarette. It was one of the few times I can recall seeing him by himself at any racetrack, if just for a moment. I approached him and told him, “That was the best race I have ever seen. You were charging hard after that pit stop, Richie.“
He smiled, knowing Bob was my favorite driver and said, “I bet it was, Lil’ Echo. It was a good one from where I was sitting too.“
Now at the age of 11, the belief that my driver could beat Richie at Riverside Park was indeed very real. I had seen it and cheered it a few times, but it was a little hard, even after seeing it for myself first hand, that it could happen at Stafford. Ah, the mindset of an 11 year old. So I hesitated a bit in front of Richie, looked around, kicked up some dirt and turned to say something that an 11 year old might, just for assurance as what I had just witnessed was the real deal, “Richie, thanks for let..“
Before I could finish, Richie gave a quiet chuckle, stood up abruptly, took a step closer, and while placing a hand on my shoulder said, “Jarret, I didn’t let him win, if that’s what you were going say. Bobby beat me and that’s all there is to it. Your driver won and I’m about as happy for him as you are.“
He pulled my hat down over my eyes, turned me around by the shoulders, kicked me in the seat of the pants and said “Now go enjoy it.“
I did as instructed.
“So am I your favorite yet?” ..
I’m not very sure when this ongoing exchange got started between myself and Richie. It happened so frequently through the years that I haven’t a clue as to when it began. It would start off after a win that night or the day after waiting for the gates to open or when we stopped by the shop. Richie would say to me, “I bet I’m your favorite now.” Or, “Who’s your favorite driver now, Lil’ Echo? It’s me, isn’t it?” or “So am I your favorite yet?”
“No, Bob Polverari is my favorite.“ Richie, “So I’m your second favorite then.“ “No, that’s Jim Shampine.“ Richie, “Third?“ “No, Merv Treichler is.“ Richie, “What? Merv? He’s a bum! Pavement, not dirt. So I’m third in pavement.“ “No, Dave Bibens is.“ Richie, “Dave who? Never heard of him.“ “He races Late Models at Claremont Speedway.“ Richie, “Okay, so where am I on the list? Top 5?“ “Top 10.“ Richie, “TOP TEN? Awe what do you know, little Echo! You’re just a press brat.”..
Camping at 608 Calvert Street..
The week leading up to the 1981 Oswego Speedway Classic, my father decided he and I were going to make it a week long camping trip. The plan was to stay with Oswego Speedway PR couple Dick O’Brien and then wife, Linda at their home for a day. We were to stay the night, then head out to a campground on Lake Ontario for a few days. Come Thursday morning we would tear down at the campground and set up the camper on the hilltop by the speedway.
We hit the road from Massachusetts Monday morning. Around Syracuse we stopped for gas and while fueling up dad noticed the frame by the camper hitch had cracked. So as I finished fueling the van he went into the gas station to use their phone. He paid for gas, got back into the van and as we were driving away I noticed we were headed in a different direction. Before I could ask, he declared, “Change of plans. We’re going to Richie’s to get this thing welded.“
When we arrived I walked quickly past my father to the door and then walked in acting as if I was calm and cool. Richie was bent over the engine on one of the Modifieds that was slightly raised on the lift. He glanced over at me coming through the door and somewhat yelled, “Hey, it’s Lil’ Echo and the Nerf!”
Dad asked Richie where he should park the camper. Richie told him to wait a minute, he needed to ask Billy (Nacewicz) when he’d be able to get to it. Richie wiped his hands off with a rag and walked to the west bay and disappeared into the back room.
We overheard Billy going over everything he needed to get done and Billy got louder as both he and Richie appeared walking back towards us. We overheard Billy ending the the conversation with, “..before I can even look at Bob’s camper!“
As Billy walked by us he said hello and walked out the front door, to which he went to look at the camper, Richie comes back and says, “We’ll get it done for you, Bob.“
Dad says, “Thanks Rich. What are we talking about? Later this evening? Tomorrow morning?“
“No. More like Wednesday night or Thursday morning.” and from the expression on my father’s face Richie busted up laughing. “It’ll be a couple days before he can get to it. Big weekend coming. We have some extra work to be done. Don’t worry about it, you and Lil’ Echo can stay with us.“
My Dad expressed his appreciation for the offer to stay with him, but said he preferred not to intrude on Richie’s home life. Richie looked at him for a minute a tad puzzled and maybe even a slight bit offended.
“Okay, if that’s how you want to be. Set the camper up over there just inside the door (the west bay) and camp out here for all I care.” Then a grin came over his face and he lightly back handed me on the chest saying, “Lil’ Echo can be our guard dog.. Woof.“
The next couple of days I spent mostly following Richie around the shop. It was a trip for me. I got to see a slightly different side of him I hadn’t seen before. If I was a pain in the ass, well, Richie never let me in on it.
I inquired a few times as to the color photo of him and -whom I later found to be Linda Vaughn- tacked to the wall by the phone.The answer I received from Richie was, “That’s my favorite picture.“
“Why’s that?” I asked.
A moment of silence.. “Hmm.. Uh.. Because it was from our second win at Daytona.“
“It’s only you and that lady. No crew or friends, just you and her and it’s your favorite?“
I then asked, “What’re you looking at?“
“I was looking at a photographer.“, Richie says.
“That camera guy must’ve been laying on his belly taking photos.” I remarked completely oblivious.
“Enough about the picture, get over here and hold this for me..“
We had a conversation about how he got his number. He told me that he started off in Modifieds with the number 6. To which I inquired why he changed it. He replied that he ran against Maynard Troyer and Maynard had the number first and was known for it so he changed his to 61.
Since he had mentioned Maynard, I started talking about how Maynard’s cars were always good looking and shiny. I asked him about his paint job, not the color per say, but why he didn’t have chrome like Maynard. He stood up from being hunched over the engine. He wiped his forehead with the back of his hand, which was holding a screw driver, and said to me with a smile, “Because, pretty doesn’t make it go fast.“
I giggled and replied, “Well it sure seems to work for Maynard!“
His smile left and he looked at me quick, “Why don’t you go get me some rags or go outside and play in traffic.“
Off I went to fetch some rags. Playing in traffic didn’t seem very appealing at the time.
I held his rags, stuffed in my back pockets, his tools while he worked and I ran to the tool box to get him things. -Heck, I was so preoccupied, I can’t recall where my father was all that time until everyone went home or I went to bed- I even answered the phone a couple times with specific orders regarding answering, “Sales people hang up on the third ring, so don’t answer it until after the third ring!“
The few times I did answer the shop phone it really threw the callers off, “Uh…? I’m sorry, I must have the wrong number.“
Richie got a kick out of it. I’d answer back, “No, this is Richie’s shop. Who do ya’ want to talk to?“
Of course being the youngster that I was, I had been eyeballing his Mod in the east bay, just inside the front door, and itching to sit in it since we arrived. Periodically I would mosey on over to the window, just lean into the window or start sliding my leg over the door and Billy, who had to either be clairvoyant or one of just good timing would catch me and say; “No sitting in the cars!” and again, “Not now, maybe later!” and again, “They’re not toys, Echo!“.. as he would walk by to retrieve something for his current task at hand without even looking in my direction.
Well, later Tuesday morning, while Billy was in the other bay behind the wall welding, another gentleman was out back, and Richie was hunched over the other Modified, I strolled slowly over to the east bay and slipped into the Pinto bodied Modified. About the time I got comfortable and reached up to put my hands on the wheel..
“WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING IN THAT CAR?!?! Get out of there! No one said you could do that! How many times have I told you?“, Billy screamed as I scrambled from the cockpit so much so that my feet were hanging on the door and my hands were on the shop floor, “They’re not toys!”
As soon as I was completely out of the car I went the opposite direction of where Billy was coming from and made a “B” line straight to the camper.
Of course I knew I had done wrong, but in my 11 year old thick cranium I couldn’t understand why I could sit in Polverari’s car, Mario’s car, had free reign in every car at Troyer’s huge airplane hanger of a shop, along with so many other race shops, but not Richie’s.
At that moment in my eyes, no matter how nice he had been to me in the past, Billy was now ‘the bad guy’.
Early afternoon Richie started yelling for me. I opened the door to the camper and looked out. Richie asked if I wanted to take a ride and off we went. -trying to remember where we went I’m drawing a blank, but I remember the conversation very well- After a little silence Richie says, “You know, Billy’s a real good guy, right? He’s joked with you before at the track.”
I answered, “Yeah, but now he doesn’t like me very much.”
Richie says, “He didn’t say that. He’s just doing his job. He’s protecting his work. Racing’s what feeds our families just as selling subscriptions and going to all these tracks you visit with your Dad puts clothes on your back and food on your family’s table. He works hard on the cars. We all do. Billy is protecting our work.“
“But he really screamed at me. He was pissed.“
Richie says; “Your dad doesn’t let you talk like that so don’t start now. Billy’s reminded you how many times not to get in the cars? But you still did, didn’t you?” I nodded in silent agreement. “Just listen to Billy and respect what he says, okay? You do that and everything will be fine.“
I nodded again..
On the way back to the shop he asked if I wanted a job cleaning his office and of course I said yes.
We walked into the shop, took a left as we got in the door and arrived at a door located by the front of the shop. He opened the door and there are all these trophies from wall to wall. Some piled in the east corner. Some piled in the west corner and some sitting upright on the floor. All a mess. I stood there like a deer in the headlights. During that time I failed to notice he had walked away and brought back some rags to which he lifted the back of my shirt and shoved them into both of my back pockets along with a half spray bottle of glass cleaner. “Dust them off, clean them and straighten it up the best you can. After that, maybe, just maybe you can get in one of the cars by the end of the day.“
As I grew older and recalled that memory I realized Richie was just trying to keep me out of his hair for a while, -much like watching haulers in the Riverside Park parking lot- but at the time I thought cleaning up that “office” was something of major importance on 608 Calvert.
A couple hours later the door opened and in walks Richie. He looks around and says, “Hey look’it there! (pointing down) I can see the floor! How’d that get there? .. Looks good.“
He stepped in and said; “Okay, Jarrett, pick out a trophy to bring home until I need it back.“
I stood there in shock. I didn’t believe what I just heard so I looked at him and, “Huh?“
“Pick out a trophy. Any of ’em.“
I looked all over the room and while I scanned I was thinking I didn’t want to grab anything huge like the enormous Oswego trophy. I decided to go small and pick a Riverside Park regular fifty lap feature winning trophy.
“All that silver and gold and you pick that? C’mon, pick a good one.”
I put it back and scanned the room over and over long enough that Richie said, “Hurry it up. We got work to do.“
I walked over and picked up a pretty nice trophy that was a big cup on a wood base. I turned around and held it up by the handles for Richie’s approval. “This one?“
“Sure. It’s yours.” Richie said and backed up to let me walk out of the room. “You earned it. When I need it I’ll know where to find it, but take good care of it. That’s a good one. Put it in the back of your van where it won’t get wrecked.“
I went and put it in the back of the black Speedway Scene van. While doing so I thought about earlier when I didn’t listen to Billy and what Richie told me in the ride earlier. As soon as I shut the doors to the van I sought Billy out. I walked up to him in the back of the east bay and said, “Billy?I’m sorry for not listening to you. I promise I’ll listen to you from now on.“
Billy told me, “The best kind of helper listens to what they’re told and if you didn’t hear it right the first time you should ask again. Okay?“
“Okay. Now go do something useful will ya?.. Except DON’T get in the cars! (pointing a finger at me and smiling) Got it?“
That next day, mid morning, I was in the camper when Billy knocked on the small half-door while heading for the back room behind the west bay, “Richie wants your help.“
I came out of the camper, walked up to Richie who was in the east bay and announced my presence. Richie points to the driver side door while rummaging through a box and says, “Now’s your chance, get in.“
I looked at him as if he was trying to trick me into getting yelled at. I scanned around as if I was being pranked or set up. “What the heck are you doing?You heard me, get in. You’re not scared of heights are you, because I’m putting you up on the lift?“
Uh, yeah I’m REALLY SCARED of heights, “No. I’m okay.“
Richie. “When I say so, I want you to pump the brakes. Okay?“
“Okay.” I got in the car. The lift goes up and.. And.. And.. “Hello?“
“I’m here, I had to grab something.” Richie yells from what sounds like behind the car. His voice got closer and then, “Okay, Start pumping the breaks until I say so.“
“Okay!” I started pumping the brakes.
“Stop.” After a moment or two, “Alright, press the breaks as hard as you can.. Are you pressing them hard?“
Struggling, with a grunt, “Yes!“
“Press harder. Use both feet, Jarret!“
At this particular moment in time I had my left hand on the cage by the door, my right hand pulling on the steering wheel, my shoulders against the driver’s seat and both feet on the brake pressing with all my might.. “Keep pressing.. Keep press-“
– BAM!!! –
The brake peddle slammed straight to the floor board and at this moment in time there were two things occupying my thoughts..
1. I just broke Richie’s car and he’s going to kill me.
B. Worse yet. When Richie is done with me there’s Billy. And Billy is going to say, “That’s why I said to stay out of the cars!” and then HE was going to kill me!
The car starts lowering in silence and my stomach was filled with butterflies so much so that if I opened my mouth it wouldn’t have surprised me if a few Monarchs flew out. I was frozen in the same ‘hand on the cage, hand on the wheel, and both feet on the pedal’ position… And I am going to die..
As the car is lowering I see the top of Richie’s head then a splat of fluid on his forehead above his brow, a bit on his nose and the right side of his face. His chin had a bit dripping off too.. He is just staring at me with a straight face. –Yeah, I’m a dead kid–
He stopped the lift to where the window opening by the door is at his chest and wipes the fluid off of his face with a rag..
“I broke your car. I’m really sorry.” is all I could manage to quietly whisper.
Richie steps closer, places both hands on the door, peers in and then grinned , “You did good.“
-What??? I did good?- “But I broke your car.“
Richie smiles and says; “You broke the car, but it’s better than it happening at the track.“
-Huh? What?- “I broke the brakes and that’s good?”
“That could’ve happened this weekend at the races. You did good.. But now I’m going to tell Billy.” Richie screams across the shop to Billy; “Billy, Lil’ Echo got into the car and broke it.“
A couple minutes later Billy yells something from behind the wall and comes over –while I’m still sitting in the car TRAPPED and awaiting my execution-. He and Richie discuss something briefly and then Billy walks over to the window. -Here it comes-
“I told you to stay outta’ the cars, didn’t I?” Smiling as he said it. While walking away he says out loud, “See? You are good for something, Echo!“
Thursday morning, just as Richie had said, Billy welded and repaired the camper. We were ready to roll. That is until my father opened the back of the van to throw some things in and.. “WHAT THE HELL IS THIS, JARED?!?!“
He comes out holding the trophy, “Did he give this to you?“
My father looks the trophy over and says, “I highly doubt that! You take this back and apologize right now!“
“Dad, he gave me it to hold onto. I cleaned..” But my father wasn’t listening and just walked past me with trophy in hand. I followed him as he walked up to Richie.
My father held up the trophy, but before he could speak Richie says, “He cleaned my trophy room and I let him pick out a trophy. That was the deal. It’s his to hold onto.“
My father looked at the trophy, looked at me, looked back at Richie, looked at the trophy again then back at Richie and said, “I’m sorry, but this year you’ve given him 3 shirts, a jacket and a hat. You fixed the camper. That’s more than enough. Besides..
He hands the trophy out to Richie, “If you’ve ever seen his room, there’s just no way in hell you would be letting my son take home your Race of Champions trophy.“
-All these years later, after seeing numerous photos, I believe my father spoke of the wrong trophy or I recall the wrong name being said. Not sure, but I remember how the trophy looked and felt in my hands. I believe I had actually picked out one of the Martinsville Speedway trophies. I also remember my father’s reaction left Richie standing there with his mouth open.
Pebbles at Stafford..
One night at Stafford the track management allowed me to accompany my father into the pits in order to assist him handing flyers out for Racearama ’82 or something to that effect. Quite frankly, my father had so much going on with promotional ideas and such, it could’ve been for anything.. So we arrived at Polverari’s hauler and I was checking out the car from a distance as the crew worked on it. While standing there at a distance I get hit in the back by something small and heard whatever it was click off the ground. I turned and looked around. Nothing. I look across the packed pit area. Nothing.
I went back to watching the crew work on the car only to get hit again as a pebble bounced off me and landed by my right foot. I spun around quick, scanned the pits close by. Across the pits I spot Richie by George Kent’s hauler in what looked like a deep conversation. I even scanned the crowd to see if Val was around because he was quite the prankster as well, but came up empty again. So I went back to admiring my favorite driver’s car.
Not long after came another pebble. I spun around fast and saw Richie, still by Kent, but he was scanning the sky and.. whistling? Kent, however is looking at Richie and laughing. At the same time I see Richie drop a handful of pebbles. Richie then turns and looks at me with a big grin. I pointed at Richie who immediately gestures “shame-shame” with an index finger pointed up waving side to side and then yells with his right hand cupped by the side of his face, pointing back at me with his left hand, “It’s not polite to point!“
All the while he has that trademark grin on his face. I laughed and followed it up by sticking my tongue out at him, “Ththththth!“
I turned back to Polverari’s hauler. A minute or two passes and I get hit with a bunch of pebbles. This time, before I have the chance to spin around, the back of my Polverari shirt gets pulled out of my pants and over my head, hockey style and I’m being grabbed by the arms. I start yelling; “Hey, Stop it! Leave my shirt alone!“
The familiar voice of Richie grunts; “Get that no good shirt off. Where’s the one’s I gave you?“
While struggling to stop him from removing my shirt in front of everyone in the pit area I screamed, “I don’t wear your shirts where Bob races! LET ME GO!”
He let me go, but not before he got my 711 shirt off and everyone around us laughing.
The T-Shirt Game..
Between 1978 and 1984 I accumulated a couple dozen Richie shirts (or so I thought). It really picked up when we started traveling to Spencer, Shangri-La, New Egypt and Oswego more often. If we were at any facility that ran asphalt Modifieds, twenty percent of the time I was wearing a Speedway Scene shirt and the other eighty percent, I was wearing a Bob Polverari shirt proudly, but that would usually end before practice even began, only if it wasn’t one of Polverari’s home tracks..
It was always the same. We would get to the track and pull the Speedway Scene Firebird (’80-mid ’81) or Van (mid ’81 to ’84) into the main gates behind the grand stand. After setting up early my father would head to the pit area. Upon his return he would have an orange shirt with him and when he got close enough to me he would more often than not throw the shirt at me underhanded and say; “Richie said Bob doesn’t race here. Put it on.“
When we saw him after the races the ribbing would commence, “See! You’re wearing my shirt, so I AM your favorite.” (-ding- And the typical questioning and ribbing would start over again!)
Then came one race at New Egypt Speedway. Polverari was chasing the NASCAR Budweiser Northeast Regional Points in 1982. I was unaware because it was early in the season, we were hitting much more dirt races and we had been away from Stafford, the Park and Thompson more often.
We arrived at the track, set up inside the gates and my father moseyed on into the pit area. A while later, right when practice was about to roll out I was sitting in the stands with my “Black Magic 711” shirt on. My father arrives with no shirt in his hands. He sits down beside without looking at me and without expression.
I was puzzled and quite disappointed, to be honest. Is the little joke between Richie and I over? Where’s the shirt? I know Richie’s here. Heck they blew past us on the interstate’s breakdown lane a few miles before the exit! The roar of the engines filled the air. My father looks at me straight faced.
“What?” I put my hands up gesturing ‘What gives?’
No answer. The the first group of Modifieds start up and begin rolling onto the track. That’s when my father stands up, glances over the fence by the pit exit and leans over, “Richie says you’re awful lucky tonight.“
My Dad points to New Egypt’s pit gate as Bob Polverari in his black Modified with the familiar yellow 711 numbers rolled out onto the racing surface. I sat stunned as my father busted up laughing at my expression and walked back to the Speedway Scene booth.
At the beginning of this part I wrote, “or so I thought” because..
In 1992 while my father and I were heading to Sugar Hill Speedway to work (he as the promoter and announcer, me as the chief starter) we were reminiscing about the 80’s which led to the subject of Richie. After a couple good laughs I brought up, “I remember all the shirts he gave me in those years. I had to have a few dozen by the time it was all said and done.“
“You didn’t have as many as you thought.” my father answered with a chuckle.
“Are you kidding? I had a butt-load of Richie’s shirts!” I fired back as if my father had lost his mind.
“No. No you didn’t.” He said smiling and looking out the passenger window. “After you accumulated about a dozen shirts I told Richie that from now on I’ll bring some of what you already have because you already had way too many. So I started grabbing the recent ones out of your drawer before we hit the road and if we saw him before he hit the pit area I’d hand him one of them for later. If we didn’t catch him I’d bring it to the pits with me, tucked into the back of my belt. So, when I returned with his message, I’d give you a shirt. Oh, he was in on it, you just didn’t have as many as you thought.“
“Huh? Are you serious?” There was silence in the car. I thought back and came to the conclusion he was b-s-ing me. Then a thought hit me. I had him now.., “What about when we were at Spencer then Shangri-La or New Egypt then Oswego? How do you explain that?“
“I took two shirts out of your drawer after you were all packed and did the same thing.” my father answered with a huge belly deep laugh.
“You son of a…“
I thought, seven years since Richie’s been gone and he’s still pulling one over on me.
Well played, Richie. Well played.
The Last Time I Saw Richie..
In 1985 my father reluctantly stepped down from his position with Speedway Scene and accepted a second stint as Promoter and Race Director for Claremont Speedway and C.O.D.A..
Through his travels with Speedway Scene he had made many friends. One of which was Jerry Cook who had since retired from racing and whom in 1985 was given the reigns to the new NASCAR Modified Tour. That connection helped my father get a NASCAR Modified Tour date for the non-NASCAR sanctioned Claremont Speedway which was quite the feat for any promoter at the time and a BIG DEAL for Claremont Speedway and their great region of racing fans.
The Tour stop was the very last time I would ever see Richie compete or talk to. That day started off with seeing him at the pit booth when they pulled onto the speedway grounds. I had just brought more sign-in sheets to the booth when they must’ve pulled in. While speaking with some of the folks at the booth and unaware of their arrival, I hear from behind me, “Hey-hey! It’s not so little Echo!“
Recognizing the voice I turned around and Richie was right there with that trademark smile, “Hey Richie. How are you?“
He put out his right hand and I shook it, “You know I should’ve brought the trophy along to give it to you in front of your father after the race, just to see the look on his face. I thought about it after we left the shop.”
We both laughed about it. Things like him remembering the trophy from a few years prior just made my day. He asked where my dad was. I told him he was doing his typical race day, chicken-with-its-head-cut-off-routine, “I’m sure he’ll be by your hauler before practice starts.“
They signed in. I wished him and the guys a good race and off they rode into the pit area.
After the event was over, won by the man himself, I walked into the pit area to his hauler. There he was greeting, shaking hands, saying thank you’s to the many congratulations he was receiving from the fans who made their way to see him.
I waited until a few finished their conversation before I walked up and shared my congratulations as well. I told him he ran a great race and looked like he had the field handled. I asked him how he liked the track, being that it was his first time there, “It’s a neat place. Fun to drive. Going to have to talk with your dad to get with Cookie and get us back here next year. Fun place. Too bad about the weather though. That kept a lot of the fans away.“
We talked a few more minutes and said our goodbyes until the next time. But there wouldn’t be a next time..
When Richie passed Bones wrote what I personally consider the most perfect tribute piece for any driver that I have ever read. Quite honestly, I don’t think anyone else could have captured the emotions we all felt. It bled off the pages. Rightly titled, “The Day The Music Died” couldn’t have been more accurate regarding the feelings of Richie’s fans, friends, family and the Modified community as a whole.
If you were around back in those days, you remember where you were, what you were doing, who you were with, the shock and the sinking feeling of dread that came once the news of Richie’s passing settled in.
I still tear up regarding the memory of first finding out about Richie’s passing, it was my father who broke it to me.
We were still living in Claremont, New Hampshire and I was attending a friend’s high school girls soccer game. I heard my name being called from behind me. I turned and was surprised to see it was my father as the tone sounded nothing like what I was used to. As he drew closer I could see why his voice was unrecognizable. He was trying to scream my name while all choked up in tears. His face was red and eyes were bloodshot.
Seeing the expression on his face, my immediate thought was that something had happened to my older brother or our Mother. I walked a few fast steps towards him and asked, “What’s wrong, Dad? What’s going on? Are mom and Shane okay? What’s the matter?“
“No. No. ..” He let out a long winded sigh and looked up at the clouds, “No, Jared, it’s Richie…“
He could see my bewilderment. -Richie? Who the hell is Richie? The only Richie I know is..-
“Richie’s gone.” he said, “I got a few calls earlier and made a couple myself to be sure.. Richie was killed in a practice crash at Martinsville. He’s gone, Jared. Richie’s g-…“
My father couldn’t hold back the tears as his face contorted in a failed attempt to keep a cry at bay. He embraced me and started to sob, bowing his head. I hugged him, still somewhat confused. I stood there with my arms around him looking over his shoulder in absolute disbelief. My thoughts were of all those years watching him race, I had never seen him get in a bell-ringer or bad wreck.. Richie was invincible. “No. That can’t be right. Are they sure it was Richie? Are you positive it was him?“
In between the sobs I heard lightly, “It was Richie. It was Richie, Jared. He’s gone. We’ve all lost Richie.”
He tried to get me to go back to the car and ride home with him. I passed, still in shock, and told him, “I think I need to walk home. I’ll see you in a little bit, Dad.“
Without another word said, he just gave a nod, bowed his head as tears continued to roll off his cheeks and turned to walk away. I stood and watched him with his head down only stopping before walking through the gate and briefly looking up to the clouds again. I’ll never forget that memory of him pausing and looking to the overcast skies. Not many times does a child see his father in a terribly emotional state. That pause and gaze to the heavens still breaks my heart thinking about it.
After watching him drive away, I walked home the long way. It really hit me as I crossed the street from the park. I struggled to see through the burning tears to make sure I didn’t trip over the curb when reaching the sidewalk on the other side. There were a lot of tears shed that night in the Echo household just as was the case around the Northeast racing community as word continued to spread. We ALL had lost Richie.
I thought of his family, his girls and young son, his crew, a band of guys who seemed the tightest of friends, the folks we knew in racing that would be most effected by this terrible, terrible news. I also thought of Val and how he was dealing with it. It was nothing short of dreadful to think about how many this was effecting. My father even tried contacting Val for the first time since leaving Speedway Scene, but couldn’t get through.
The next day was my Freshman football game. My number was 78 (only a die hard race fan could figure out how I chose that number; 711, 61, 8.. Polverari, Evans, Shampine..). That morning in school I spoke to my coaches and asked if I could switch my jersey to 61. When I struggled through tears telling them why, the answer came by way of one of my freshman coaches placing the 61 jersey on my shoulder and a pat on the back.
That afternoon, as I sat by my locker fully dressed for the game, I bowed my head in my hands and said these words as my eyes weld up, “Richie, no matter what I ever said to you before, no matter how much we joked around, YOU have ALWAYS been and will FOREVER be a favorite.. Thank you for the memories and giving me some of your time. Rest in peace Richie. I’ll miss you. I’ll NEVER, forget you.”
Yes.. Richie was, is and always will be the King of the Modifieds. Yes.. He was and still is in my and many others eyes, the greatest Modified driver ever. Yes.. He was the “Racer’s Voice” of the division, the name that to this day represents the division.. But most of all, to many of us that grew up watching him and were fortunate enough to be around him periodically, he was more than that. He was Richie, who knew you by name and made you feel like you were important. A driver that could cater to the fans like no other. In my honest opinion, ALL of those things mixed together are indeed the reason why he was loved, admired and respected by so many. To me, THAT along with his kids are what makes up his legacy.
Folks talk about his NASCAR National Championships, his track titles, his big race wins, his stats, the hi-jinx and partying after the races, but with all that said his greatest attribute, in my opinion, was Richie’s dedication to the fans.
Through all the time and effort, long hours at his shop and on the road, his valuable time doing interviews for radio, newspapers and racing papers to help promote the sport of Modified racing and promote certain events for promoters, it’s the memories he gave us fans that made him the King of the Modifieds.
As I said in the beginning, Richie always had time for not only HIS fans, but ALL fans. If you had a chance to meet him you walked away thinking you knew him. A rare DNF, wreck, incident on the track or any other deal that would put any competitor in a sour mood never made him unapproachable. THAT is what makes Richie THEE champion of the Modifieds to this very day.
I always wondered how a driver of his caliber, who could strike up a conversation with any stranger at the race track, sharing his time and some laughs, yet look so vulnerable when a mic was shoved in his face.
It used to make me laugh while at the track or the Racerama and someone walks up with a mic or worse yet, mic and camera, and starts asking questions. Instantly Richie would (hide the cigarette if he was smoking) start looking around his surroundings, glancing down at the ground, and ending every answer with a “uh-huh” or “so..”, an up-nod of the head or any combination of the three. Even in victory lane he seemed shy during interviews. But not a minute after the particular media turned the mic, recorder or camera off he was back to his same old self.
This is where he always seemed so damned comfortable.. with the fans. His people. THIS, in my opinion, is what defined Richie Evans on the track and off.
For certain two things I would ask if granted wishes would be to ride shotgun one more time with my father and take in one last race with him. The other would be to travel to a race where Richie was competing. Walk up to Richie and wait for him to say, “So am I your favorite yet?” Just once.. But that’ll have to wait until my days are up and I see my father again. Hopefully that time will come, but a long time from now.
As is the case with quite a few of the Forewords and Post Scripts I’ve added to my father’s republished NERF’ers Corner columns as well as many of my own penned RELOADED’s, this piece was my way of sharing some, but not all of the personal experiences, memories and interactions I was fortunate enough to have had. I hope you enjoyed them as much as I did sharing them.
In return, I’d like to encourage anyone who may have a Richie Evans story, to share it by either leaving it in the comment section with this column or on the Richie Evans – Nine Time NASCAR Modified Champion – Tribute Facebook page where young, old and everyone in between, including Richie’s family and friends, have been enjoying reading and sharing some fantastic memories and photos of Richie.
Again, I have my father to thank for these great memories and letting me be his sidekick up and down the roads from racetrack to racetrack, spring through fall for many years.
With this I bid you all a reluctant adieu. As of this moment in time this is the final RELOADED column. A good one to bookend with, I think. Rest assured, the NERF’ers Corners from days gone by will continue to be republished in memory of Robert “Bob” Echo and those of days gone by.
All the best to you my fellow racing fans. Be sure to SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHORT TRACKS! That’s where the real life stars of our sport compete each and every week and the real racing is.
Thank you for stopping by and as my father always said, “Till next time, Keep on trackin’.”
It’s once again time for auto racing’s answer to the Oscar, Emmy and Toni Awards. Yes, it’s time for the NERF’ers “2nd Annual Seymour Awards Ceremony.“
So, Racin’ Person! When I call your name, please come forward and pick up your Seymour! Notice how the Ole’ Nerf said ‘PERSON’ so he wouldn’t get into trouble. Well, now on to the presentations.
The first Seymour goes to “Driver of the Year” for 1979 and as Geoff Bodine dominated with 54 wins last year in the Big Red Machine, our winner this season is a 52-time victor in Big Orange. Semour #1 goes to Richie Evans who captured his second straight NASCAR National Modified Championship this year.
A Seymour for the Most Improved Driver goes to the gentleman who captured the track championship at Thompson Speedway this year. Mr. 1X himself, Joe Howard.
For the second year in a row, the Rookie of the Year Seymour goes to a Westboro Speedway driver, this year’s track champ at that facility, young Jeff Fuller.
The Comeback of the Year Seymour is awarded to the fellow who seems to get younger with age, Mario “Fats” Caruso.
We’ll give two Seymours in the next category because of a tie in the voting. Best Looking Car Seymours go to Ed St. [Michael] Angelo for his 19jr plus one to Dan Mason and his #04 as both were super looking Modifieds and could run too.
The Mechanic of the Year Seymour for 1979 is being awarded to the super crew chief of the Big Orange, the man who kept it running like a fine tuned piano, Billy Nacewicz.
A driver from Maine competing at Star Speedway gets the Good Guy Seymour because that’s just what Pete Madden is, a good guy.
The Best Looking T-Shirt Seymour once again comes from Fred Potito’s Oval Track Design. It’s a new look shirt for Reggie Ruggeiro designed by Potito with car drawing by super artist Bruce Roll.
A gentleman who drove every week from Mattydale, NY to Owego, NY to see the racing programs at Shangri-La Speedway has been selected as the recipient of the Fan of the Year Seymour. Earl Watchorn drove 120 miles (240 round trip) in his first year as an auto racing fan.
Last year, the Tire Changing Seymour went to my old buddy Chuck “Tire Iron” Jeffries. The honors were returned this season as Dave Kolenda and yours truly received the award for our much less than spectacular performance during the Claremont Speedway Pit Crew Competition in July.
Our Bonehead Seymour for this season has to go to the individual or individuals, whoever they may be, that decided to ban the rear engine SuperModifieds at Oswego Speedway for 1980.
Track champion for the last two years at Plainville Stadium in his Rock Age chassied Fred Flintstone-mobile, Ronnie Rocco get the Little Guy Seymour as a definite low-buck operator with great results.
The Hard Luck Seymour goes to last years Little Guy winner. He tried everything possible to make his Modified run like it had in years past, but never got it up to par. So to the Travelin’ Man, Pete Fiandaca, goes this Seymour.
The 1979 ‘CAM2 Race of Champions’ at Pocono International Raceway gets the Blown Motor Seymour by a landslide as more than twenty were lost during the 300-mile event and somewhere near forty went up in smoke during the entire weekend’s activities.
The Sneaky Pete Seymour goes to the Unknown Political who raised havoc with a certain clown during his campaign for re-election as Mayor of Stafford Motor Speedway. Our Unknown friend is still unknown, hiding under his brown paper bag. Some are still askin’ if that was his lunch or his head under the bag, but hiding inside a sack is really sneaky.
Next comes the Ding Bat of the Year Seymour and this award goes to the fellow who told a certain group of car owners and drivers that he didn’t need them and then found out it was tough to run a show with a few cars and low turnout of fans. Wherever you now may be, it’s all yours.
Our Clown of the Year Seymour belongs to Speedway Scene’s Fat Rat for his outstanding performance during the “Busch 250” at Westboro Speedway in his stove-pipe hat and special ‘Omar the Tent-maker’ made suit. Eat yer heart out, Butch!
The Best Starter Seymour this year goes to the man who handles the flags for the D.I.R.T. of Central New York organization and does one heck of a job at it. The man is Bobby Watson.
Opposite of the aforementioned award is the Worst Starter Seymour and this goes to the man who took over for the late Ken Small at Star Speedway. He’s so bad I don’t even know his name, but the award is all his.
The Fiasco of the Year Seymour goes to Ernie Hastings as anytime he takes to the track it’s certainly a fiasco.
Next comes the Owner of the Year and this Seymour goes to the man with the bucks behind the Big Orange, Mr. Gene DeWitt.
Our Race of the Year Seymour goes to the Schaefer 200 during SUPER DIRT WEEK at the New York State Fairgrounds. The race, won by Jack Johnson, was definitely all it was billed to be.. Super….
Last years Best Fan Club Seymour went to Bugs Stevens Fan Club. Once again it’s a Stevens Fan Club, but this time it’s Dick Stevens. Although not nearly as large as da Bugman’s club, this little group of people are still big in heart and support for their driver so this season’s award is theirs.
The Best Up and Coming Driver Seymour goes to a young man who captured the Stafford Motor Speedway Limited Sportsman Championship in ’79 and also doubles as a pretty fair Modified driver. Mike Stefanik gets this award for he is definitely an up and comer. Watch him in the future.
Following are new Seymour Awards instituted this year:
The Promoter of the Year Seymour goes not to a track promoter, but to an owner-driver who led a certain group of race cars to a banner season. Dan Meservey gets this award for his leadership of N.E.M.M.A. (New England Mini Modified Association) who had their most successful year ever.
Next is the Racing Media Person of the Year which will encompass writers, photographers, announcers, public relations, television and radio people. This Seymour goes to Ole Baldy hisself, Paul Tremaine, for his dedication to the sport of auto racing via his phone lines for the Checkered Flag Announcer.
The Toy-Let Seymour for this year goes to a fellow who was voted this honor unanimously by Claremont Speedway Tech Man, Howard Bowie and if you knew how big Howard is you’d know why I said, ‘unanimously’. The award goes to Lee Emery and his #71 Toilet…. I mean Modified….
The Racing Organization of the Year Seymour goes C.O.D.A. (Claremont Owners & Drivers Association) who did a super job at their track against all odds.
Our final presentation was given to Ollie Silva last year and this season that same award, the Outstanding Personality Seymour goes to another fantastic driver, one who has more fans than people in Massachusetts and also a super personality, da Bugman – “Bugs Stevens“….
This wraps up another night of Seymours, named after that refugee from Dr. Frankenstein’s Funny Farm, Seymour the Racing Clown. He shows dedication to the sport of auto racing through his humor by making thousands laugh at speedways throughout the northeast.
Till next week; “If you’ve never seen the SPEEDWAY SCENE then you should never be seen again without the SPEEDWAY SCENE, or you just may never be seen again!”
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A few things from this 1979 column by “the Ole’ Nerf”..
The Bonehead Seymour awarded to Oswego Speedway for banning the rear engine SuperModifieds did create an uproar and major criticism, but in hindsight it was a step in the right direction that saved SuperModified racing. The newer rear engined machines being built were fast and very competitive, but also quite a bit more expensive to build. So, yes, it wasn’t the first time the Ole’ Nerf was wrong and certainly wasn’t the last.
“Fiasco of the Year Seymour goes to Ernie Hastings” and “Toy-Let Semour” to “Lee Emery”, were not rude shots, but ribbing between friends. Both recipients were friends of the Ole’ Nerf. They were a part of C.O.D.A. and the friendly racing community at Claremont Speedway in Claremont, New Hampshire.
The “Best Looking Car Seymour“? Ed St. [Michael] Angelo, as the Ole’ Nerf put it, and Racin’ DannyMason, both had a couple of beautiful Modifieds. The only reason I can think of as to why he neglected the amazing Bobby Vee, Busch Beer, #2 Arrow bodied Modified, is because Vee’s Modified debuted in 1978. Personally, I still would have given Mr. Vee’s machine the nod, but if I confronted the Ole’ Nerf about it as he wrote this particular column back in late November of 1979, there was the possibility I might have landed in my room, grounded.
All the best to you! And as the Ole’ Nerf said many a time, Keep on Trackin’!
Racing Action at Thompson Speedway was once again at a stand still last Sunday as the impasse continues between track owner Don Hoenig and the New England Drivers & Owners Club.
The popular Connecticut 5/8th-mile asphalt oval was closed on June 1st when NEDOC members boycotted the Olympic Challenge Series Silver 100.
Who was hurt most by this boycott?… Not the owners or drivers, as they probably made more money by leaving their cars home!… Not Don Hoenig, as he doesn’t really have to open the speedway since he has another business located adjacent to the track, which I’m sure would pay the taxes on all property so he could leave the racing complex idle!… The racing fan is the who that got hurt by the boycott!
The 3,000 or so fans who turned out at Thompson on June 1st to see the 100-lap race were the ones who got hurt by NEDOC’s action against the track.
How many gallons of $1.15 per gallon or better, gas was used to get to Thompson and back home by those fans who attended the event on what is now known as Boycott Sunday. Add to this the travel time that was wasted by those same 3,000 or so fans, plus the general disappointment by all who didn’t get to see the Silver 100.
The original negotiations included NEDOC’s wanting a purse increase and free admittance for both the owner and driver of all Modifieds.
Hoenig increased the purse and offered a compromise on letting in both owners and drivers plus three crew members per Modified at a reduced pit admission.
NEDOC accepted the purse increase, but turned down Hoenig’s reduced pit admission plan, bringing about the boycott.
A six hour meeting on Thursday night, June 5th, between officials of both Thompson and NEDOC failed to resolve anything, leaving Hoenig no alternative but to leave the padlock on the speedway gates.
Let’s get serious now!… We all know Mr. Hoenig is making money, but isn’t that what it’s all about? How many of you fans who were at Thompson for the Silver 100 are in business not to make money?
The NEDOC organization has silenced Thompson and for what?… Well, between what Hoenig has offered and what NEDOC wants, it amounts to about $15 per Modified. It doesn’t make much sense to me to strike for a measly fifteen or so bucks per event when the same people involved in the boycott will go out and buy anywhere from one to four tires to run that same race. The cost of a tire is between $130 to $150, depending on where you buy them. These same car owners will spend anywhere from $7,000 to $12,000 for an engine… Why not boycott the tire makers, performance parts manufacturers and motor builders?
I’m not really in favor of the people who put on the show paying their way in, but I’m not in favor of the competitors closing a speedway.
The adage being used is that pro basketball, baseball and football don’t pay to play, but those same people are contracted to one team and if they don’t show up, they’re fired. We all know that racing competitors are here one week, and there next week. Also, what about the competitors who file pre-race entries, which give the promoter the right to advertise their being at his track, only to have them fail to show? This leaves the promoter in an awkward position, trying to explain to the irate racing fan that it’s not his fault. Ask Shangri-La Speedway promoter Dale Campfield what he feels about this practice and he’ll let you know in no uncertain terms.
Getting back to Thompson, how much more is Mr. Hoenig supposed to take before he says, “To hell with it!” First, his speedway is raked over the coals in what is now known as the biggest track safety scandal in racing history. Secondly, Thompson hosted a benefit for the late Fred DeSarro, only to have many racing media and fans accuse Hoenig and associates of not turning over all the money to Fred’s wife, Linda, as Big T officials stated they did. Thirdly, Hoenig adopts a stock head rule to help lower cost for competitors, which brings about a lack of cars and fans, forcing him to go back to open competition rules, and now the boycott.
Hoenig could do what Wall Stadium promoter, Mrs. Jennie Nicol did recently when drivers and owners hit her track with a strike. She ran lower division cars, drawing smaller crowds, but still made money as her payoffs were much less than the posted purse she paid the Modified Sportsman and Modern Stocks. Hoenig could run the NEMMAMini-Modifieds, NEMAMidgets and he could also use the speedway area to enlarge his golf course, plus there are a number of other things the track could be used for.
Come on NEDOC!… Is this strike necessary?… Is this just a show of power since NEDOC has been laughed at for so long as a do nothing organization?
I’ve talked with some of NEDOC’s low buck runners and they’re not really in favor of all that’s happening as they just want to go racing. One member-owner stated, “We’re not making money now, we’re never going to make money, so why hassle Thompson over fifteen bucks or so and take the chance of forcing Hoenig to close the gates for good.”
Another member-owner stated, “We don’t need another speedway closed in New England, and if the Club continues to hound Hoenig, he’s going to do just that.”
We don’t need to lose Thompson Speedway over a few bucks as we already have two or three other tracks in serious trouble. Everytime we lose another racing facility, we lose fans and cars. This is going to destroy racing in the long run.
By the time you read this column, Thompson may be back in operation and I surely hope so.
So NEDOC!… Boycott the Olympics and not racing!”… We want to see Thompson operating, not closed.
NERF’ers Nibblets… Harry Gant finished 9th in last weekend’s Warner Hodgdon 400 at Riverside, California. He now rides eighth in NASCAR Grand National points…
Has Pete Fiandaca picked up Maxwell House as a big buck sponsor for his Skid Row ExpressLate Model? Why else would he have a Maxwell House coffee can on the hood of the #135?… If ya’ travel down to New Evergreen Speedway some Friday night, ya’ can watch the Two-Tony Show with plenty of Gusto. That’s Tony Siscone and Tony Hirschman and Gus Lewis. Great racin’!… Hey Chuck Jeffries! Please return our people!… Big show this Friday at Lincoln County. It’s the Down East Open for NASCAR type Late Models paying $1,000 to win. It’s Lincoln’s Grand Opening and will include a full card of racing…. For readers in the Claremont, New Hampshire area, dirt runner Dick Skillen ran the Winston 500Grand National race at Talladega, finishing 28th in D.K. Ulrick’s Buick… While at Oswego Speedway a few weeks ago, the Ol’ Nerf was invited up to the Ivory Tower by Linda O’Brien, wife of promoter Dick O’Brien. Speedway Scene’s Fat Rat nicknamed the announcer and scorer’s booth because of it being filled with all the Caruso’s, owners of Oswego Speedway, and O’Briens. Linda told me that I’m one of the select few. Wow! But oh, those 52 steps to the Ivory Tower… It was sad to hear of the death of Freeport Speedway promoter, Don Campi. He’d climed into a Freeport Late Model recently under the name of Tony Basil and had started racing under his own name the Saturday night prior to his death. My sympathy to his family, friends, and fans… My heart felt sympathy also goes out to Fred Rosner and family on the recent loss of Rick, 23.
Fred is a well known car builder in Agawam, Mass and another son, Wes, recently injured in an industrial accident, is an up and coming late model driver.
NASCAR North runner, Pete Silva, finished 5th in the Winston 200 at Hickory (N.C.) Speedway last weekend… Till next time, “Don’t forget Bob O’Rourke’s Dog Leg 200 at Trenton on Sunday, June 29th!”
Took a trip to New Joysey last week for the Winston 100 at New Eqypt Speedway plus regular shows at East Windsor Speedway and Islip Speedway. A strong threat of rain in the Philadelphia-Trenton area made me change my itinerary from East Windsor to New Evergreen Speedway on Friday and then after hustling from South Jersey to Islip on Long Island, only to find out that Saturday night’s race had been cancelled because of severe afternoon thunder shower, I headed to Wall Stadium so as not to lose a days racing action.
New Egypt promoter, Jim Grbac should be renamed “Charlie Hustle” as he’s everywhere on the quarter mile asphalt facility at once. I watched young Grbac go from the office to the pits to the press box to the track and I’m sure he did this at least a couple dozen times.
During the most serious accident of the night, which eliminated both race leader Jerry Cook and Wayne Anderson, Grbac was right there working along with his clean up crew spreading speedy dry and sweeping up.
The big let down for the evening was that only fifteen Modifieds turned out to run for the hard-working Grbac who posted a $6,200 purse with a thousand to win for the high powered machines, so you can’t blame the promoter for the shortage of cars. Even with the small field of Mods it was still a super race with John Blewett Jr. taking the checkered flag in his “Spirit of 76” Pinto.
Only fourteen cars started the 100 lap feature as Frank Biddle was eliminated during warmups when the automatic transmission in his Gremlin bodied #69 exploded sending several fragments through the floorboard into the rear of his thigh doing severe damage to the muscles and tendons of his right leg. He was removed to the hospital by ambulance where he will remain for 10 to 14 days and he’ll face some therapy before returning to racing action.
I stopped by to see Frank on my way to Islip and found him to be in good spirits even though he was in some pain. He told the Ol’ Nerf that he’s rather be racing than laying flat on his back…. I’m with you Frank!
While at the hospital, I gave Frank a few recent issues of Speedway Scene plus one of those bright orange and white caps carrying the Scene’s logo.
Frank could use your get well cards and letters while recuperating, Address them to Frank Biddle, c/o Freehold Hospital (address omitted).
A little side note on Biddle, is that he qualified a 6 cylinder Street Stock for the forty-car field at last year’s DogLeg 200 Modified race run at Trenton International Speedway. He also won recent Street Stock titles at both New Egypt and Wall before moving up to the Modifieds this year.
The Winston 100 at New Egypt brought with it some controversy of sorts with Jerry Cook and Richie Evans somewhat upset about a certain Long Island hot shoe who they felt failed to heed Dutch “Guess Who” Miller’s passing flag.
The Rapid Roman, in speaking of the individual in question, stated, “The guy never races until you start to lap him.”
Evans then added, “If he raced as hard as he does when you try to go around him, he’d win a whole lot more.”
I talked to the accused party and he refused to comment other than he thought he was correct in his driving tactics.
Evans, who finished fifth after leading most of the show, was involved in the crash which eliminated the Cookie Monster and Wayne Anderson on the 87th lap. I’ve never seen Evans as mad as he was when he pulled up to the start-finish line at the conclusion of the event to give flagman Miller a piece of his mind.
In questioning several fans and bystandards about the accident as to who or what caused it, I found the pros and cons to be pretty even as to who was right or wrong. So it’ll all be chalked up to just another racing accident as the show goes on.
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John Lyons of Hammonton, NJ is being referred to as the Ron Hutter of South Jersey. Lyons puts together his “Lyon Killer Small Blocks” for the Lakewood, NJ duo of Dick Barney and Hoyt Morrison, co-owners of the #14 Pinto built at Eddie Flemke’s Race Works which is driven by red hot Tony Siscone. The car is sponsored by Hagman’s Machine of Wall Township, NJ, builder of the #14’s big blocks, and Welsh Dairy Farms of Lakewood.
Siscone has won better than twenty-five features with the “Lyon Killer” motors in the different cars he’s driven. He’s off to a super start in 1980 with three wins at Wall and a second at New Egypt with Jim Hagaman’s big block in the car while he has a second and three straight wins in his last four starts at New Evergreen in Billy “The Whale” Graham’s #28 Pinto. Siscone is now being tagged with the nickname Tony Sis-zle-cone.
NERF’ers Nibblets…… Lone Star J.R., Johnny Rutherford collected a cool $318,020 for his “Indy 500” victory. In comparison, that’s $98,260 more than Dale Earnhardt has earned in thirteen NASCAR Grand National events (now Cup). Earnhardt is the current G.N. point and money leader….. The Atlantic City Speedway in Pleasantville, NJ is all but gone as the only thing remaining at the track located outside of New Jersey’s Casino town is the half mile oval of asphalt. The once popular speedway will be replaced by either a tramway to the nearby casinos or a coplex of condominiums. Losing a speedway is like losing a driver, gone but never forgotten….. Bill “The Whale” Graham, owner of the #28 Pinto driven by Tony Sis-zle-cone, really loves oysters. The only problem is, everytime he eats them his family expands by one. Hey Whale! Why not try ice cream and dill pickles….. Rumor has it that someone’s purchased the old Stock Car racetrack at the Acto [NJ] International Raceway. The facility, containing a drag strip, is known for drag racing under the sanction of the National Hot Rod Association. Maybe South Jersey will have a speedway to replace the defunct Atlantic City….. New Egypt Speedway is planning a season benefit for the Mathany School for Crippled Children in Peapack, NJ. It sounds like a super benefit, so watch for more details in this column and in future Speedway Scene issues….. Harry Gant continues to roll along in the NASCAR Grand National top ten with an 8th place finish in the Texas 400 mile race which ran without a caution flag over the entire distance. Jack Beebe, owner of Gant’s Race Hill Farm cars, should be commended along with crew chief Bob Johnson and Super Crewman, Stevie Bird and the rest of the Race Hill Farms team on the fantastic job they’ve done in preparing the machines for Gant who’s handled the wheel like a pro….. If you are a Bugs Stevens fan, don’t forget to join the new look Bugs Stevens Fan Club (address omitted)….. The DogLeg 200 is only three weeks away, so plan on making the trip to Trenton on June 29th. You can get tickets from promoter Bob O’Rourke in the Long Island, New Jersey area, Mary Toal in upstate New York or from the Ol’ Nerf in New England or wherever you might see me….. Till next time – Don’t forget to send Frank Biddle a get well card or message.
WILL THE REAL PROMOTER OF THE YEAR PLEASE STAND UP?
The November 23rd issue of SPEEDWAY SCENE carried an article entitled; “Nominees Selected As Voting Begins For Promoter of the Year,” which ran beneath the photos of the ten men who’d been nominated by their constituents.
Selected as candidates for the award to be presented during Daytona Speed Week ’80 in February are Earl Baltes and George Eisenhart of Ohio, Hugh Deery of Illinois, Bob Barkhimer of California, Jack Gunn of Maryland, John Marcum of Michigan, Roger Holdeman of Indiana, Don Martin of Pennsylvania plus Glenn Donnelly and Dick O’Brien of New York.
RPM (Racing Promotion Monthly), a newsletter printed each month for oval track and drag strip promoters and businessmen, is the publication behind the award which is presented annually by the Thermo King Corporation.
The honoring of a promoter each year is a great idea as these are the people who work long hours week in and week out during the on and off season to keep their little part of the racing industry in operation.
Joe Fan, who the promoters work so hard to entice to his or her speedway each week, has no idea how many hours these people work at their job. They only see them on race day and then in most instances its in the infield observing the show.
In many cases the promoter is the general manager, public relations person, racing director and at one time or another can be found doing a dozen or so other odd jobs as they come up.
Many competitors and fans alike have the feeling that promoters show up to unlock the gates, turn on the lights and for doing this they get to see the show for free. Most promoters wished it was that easy. Very few competitors work as hard as a dedicated promoter. Oh yeah! There’s always the exception to the rule like in anything such as the “dud” that almost put Thunder Road International Speedbowl into total oblivion a year and a half ago or the one who decided to bail out at Monadnock Speedway this past season after making numerous enemies amongst both competitors and fans alike.
That’s the way I feel a promoter who does a super job in his or her field should definitely be honored for what they’ve accomplished.
RPM’s idea of paying tribute to a promoter is a great one, but a lot of people, including myself, do take exception to some of the qualifications and criteria established for nominating and voting for a “Promoter of the Year.”
There are four qualifications set forth by the publication, so let’s look at each one individually.
1. Success and longevity of his operation …. Personally, I feel a promoter should also be considered for the accomplishments of the immediate year. If a promoter takes over a speedway or a racing related organization on the down hill slide and in one year has great success in pumping life back into the facility, then he or she should be eligible for “Promoter of the Year” honors. They shouldn’t be penalized for being a new promoter or for how long they’ve been involved with a certain speedway. How many times has a “Driver of the Year” been selected because he’s driven ten or fifteen years? Never! He’s given the honor for his accomplishments of the immediate year. Would they give Carl Yastrzemsky “Player of the Year” honors in the American League just because he’s had a great career with the Red Sox? Of course not! They’d give it to a man who’s had an outstanding season for that specific year.
2. Image of his operation …. If the promoter’s speedway has had a successful season then the facility will in all likelyhood have a most favorable image.
3. Personal reputation and character …. I don’t totally agree with this item as who cares if the promoter is a jerk or a crook or an …hole. If the speedway this person is involved with has had a very successful season then who cares as to whether the promoter is a good guy or a bad guy. I don’t as I feel his accomplishments are on trial not his reputation or character.
4. His concern with betterment of the industry …. This qualification I’m in total agreement with as I believe a promoter has to have consideration for the sport, fans, competitors, other speedways and his contemporaries.
Personally, I feel that several people have been overlooked for this year’s RPM award and it has really bothered me with such names as Dick Williams, Dale Campfield, and Tom Curley not even being mentioned.
Williams has had an outstanding year with Westboro Speedway increasing both attendance and purse structure while Campfield took over at Shangri-La Speedway and proceeded to have the best season in many a year. Curley took a floundering Northern NASCAR and turned it into a super successful NASCAR North Tour in just one year.
Others in the Northeast who could be considered for nomination are N.E.M.M.A. (New England Mini Modified Association) president Dan Messervey who had a heck of a season promoting the organization and C.J. Richards who has put Albany-Saratoga Speedway back on the map. What about C.O.D.A. (Claremont Owners & Drivers Association) and myself who doubled the attendance at Claremont Speedway in 1979 and at the same time brought about an increase purse and a substantial point fund. There’s Charlie Elliott at Hudson Speedway.
As far as that goes, what about a couple of fellows outside of the Northeast? Ted Johnson who has had a tremendous success in promoting his World of Outlaws series for sprint cars and N.D.R.A. (National Dirt Racing Association) promoter Robert Smawley who success with his dirt stock car travelling show is now well known across the country. There’s probably plenty of other promoters around the U.S. who are deserving of the award but these are the only I know of outside the Northeast.
The ten individuals selected may all be deserving, especially Glenn Donnelly who is probably overdue for the award after seeing hist Dirt of Central New York operation in motion at Super Dirt Week in Syracuse. I do know O’Brien but having not made it to Oswego Speedway yet I can’t give an opinion. Baltes ripped up the asphalt at his New Breman Speedway returning the facility to dirt and then played to standing room only crowds for the remainder of the season. He did what he had to do to make his track a winner and that’s what it takes to be an outstanding promoter.
The thing I’d like to see RPM do is break the United States into ten regions, therefor presenting regional “Promoter of the Year” awards. The ten nominees would then be eligible for National honors. A map accompanying this column shows by shaded area the over emphasis to one area of the U.S.. What about the Western, Midwestern, Central, South and Southeastern part of the country that are not even represented? There has to be a promoter in all these areas that is equal to any of the ten finalists.
The map shows ten regions in bold outline with the approximate number of speedways and drag strips located in each state. Alaska and Hawaii are included with the Far West Region.
It’s definitely got to be a tough job to select ten, let alone one outstanding promoter of the more than 900 tracks and drag strips across the USA. I feel the Minnesota based RPM has the right idea in honoring a promoter each year, but again there has to be a fairer way to go about it.
Let’s honor each region individually giving a better overall picture of the American Auto Racing promoter, then maybe people like Williams, Campfield, Curley and others mentioned before might have a fair chance at the honor. Of course, they may not even get recognized then, but it would seem to be a better way of picking outstanding promoters on a more regional basis.
This is the fourth year of RPM’s promoter award and in that time there has only been eighteen different nominees. A couple questions I’d like to ask are how can six of this years candidates be four year repeaters including 1976 winner Deery. One of the men has been selected for the third straight year. J.C. Agajanian, 1977 winner, promotes Ascot Park Speedway in Gardena, California just outside Los Angeles and plays to packed 10,000 seat audiences. Hell! Mickey Mouse could promote a track just outside a city the size L.A.. I’m still trying to figure out how last year’s winner got the award after what Williams accomplished at the Waterford-New London Speedbowl. I guess it’s who you know, but it shouldn’t be this way.
My idea may not be the right one, but RPM has to take a serious look at the system it presently uses in selecting the “Thermo King Auto Racing Promoter of the Year.“
Until this happens; “Will the real Promoter of the Year please stand up!“
Till next time; “Don’t forget the FASSR and also give a friend a Christmas present, get him or her a subscription to SPEEDWAY SCENE!“
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– FRIDAY, DECEMBER 28TH, 1979 – PAGE 3 –
“RACING PROMOTION MONTHLY” EDITOR STRIKES BACK AT ECHO
Mr. Val LeSieur, Editor & Publisher SPEEDWAY SCENE Northeaston, Mass. 02356
Since you devoted the better part of two pages in the 12/14 issue of SPEEDWAY SCENE to Robert Echo’s critique of the Promoter of the Year awards program, I can only assume that you are in agreement with what he wrote. I find that regrettable, but can’t argue with your right to give space to whom you choose — even to the occasionally rabidly-prejudiced views of Dean Nardi.
I don’t know much about Echo or his background in racing. I’ve read his stuff since his “NERF’ers Corner” column appeared in NESS. My most notable recollection of his writings is that he once suggested that fans should start a non-fan club and demonstrate against a certain driver he didn’t like. Echo may have some qualifications beyond that of an unpaid “hobby columnist,” but his views of the ARPY program are so flawed and tainted with naive regional prejudices that I feel compelled to comment.
First, the ARPY voting is conducted (via Racing Promotion Monthly) among our 1,800-plus readers — who include virtually every promoter, track and drag strip owner/operator, racing association officials and members of the racing press. On the first nominating ballot, they can name any ten individuals they wish as nominees. There are no restrictions, regional or otherwise, although we do suggest the minimal criteria he mentioned.The ten promoters who receive the highest number of nominating votes become the nominees for each year’s award. They are listed on a final ballot in another issue of RPM, on which the same 1,800-odd people can vote for one of the ten nominees as their choice for Promoter of the Year.
Regarding Echo’s evaluation of the nominating criteria: (1) Success and longevity of the operation. He feels more weight should be given to success in the current year. While that should certainly be taken into consideration, we feel that continued successful operation is a much more logical measure of the ability of a promoter. The ARPY awards seek to honor individuals who are making continuing contributions to our sport, not just those who have had a successful first year or a great season.
(2) Image of his operation. This means simply what people think of that promoter’s operation — its continuing reputation as a credit to the sport — again, not just on the basis of a given or current season, although those factors should be considered.
(3) Personal reputation and character. Here Echo is dead wrong. We feel strongly that the personal character of a nominee is of prime importance, in that when he is nominated he becomes, in effect, a representative of the sport and of his contemporaries. Those in Echo’s categories of “jerks, crooks or …holes” are seldom nominated, and we are perfectly happy with that.
(4) His concern with the betterment of the industry. Echo says he is in total agreement with this qualification — and he is thereby hoist by his own petard. First because he is in conflict with his statements on #3 (jerks and crooks seldom contribute anything to the sport), and secondly and more importantly, because This criterion is key to why most promoters are nominated: BECAUSE THEY ARE VISIBLE AND ACTIVE IN THE INDUSTRY. Not just at their own tracks or in one area, but in addressing matters of concern to all track operators; in attending meetings of their contemporaries and taking part in discussions and actions effecting the general well being of racing. In doing so, a promoter becomes more visible, and becomes known among his fellows.
Echo names several promoters he thinks should have been among the nominees for Promoter of the Year. By strange coincidence, they are all from the northeast. We’ll forgive him this regional chauvinism, but point out that those promoters were not necessarily forgotten in the voting. As an example, Dale Campfield got a substantial number of nominating votes; not enough to become one of the top ten in the country, but knowing Dale, I’d guess he would be the first to say he doesn’t feel he should be one of the top ten promoters in the country based on a successful first season.
In any voting conducted among their fellow promoters, visibility in the industry is going to be a highly significant factor in the outcome. Of the eight promoters Echo said he thought should have been nominees, three, to our knowledge, have attended national meetings of promoters, where they gather to share problems and solutions, get to know each other, and become known by others in the trade (incidentally, two of the promoters he thought should have been considered did get some votes, but their operations got more bad press than good during this year — which makes one wonder where Echo has been hiding).
As for his query about how, “last year’s winner got the award after what (Dick) Williams accomplished at (his track), the answer is very simple; he got more votes. With all due respect to Williams and what he did at the Waterford Speedbowl, does Echo really think more people across the country are aware of Williams and his operation than of a D. Anthony Venditti? As for Echo’s remark, “I guess it’s who you know,” that is stupid and insulting. More accurately, it is who knows YOU.
Finally, Echo reveals his lack of knowledge of today’s race promotion with the asinine remark that “Micky Mouse could promote a track outside the city of L.A..” (Suggesting that J.C. Agajanian shouldn’t be a ARPY nominee because he has an easy promotion at Ascot). For Echo’s information, the difficulty in promoting successfully increases in proportion to the population factor, for many reasons; costs of all phases of the operation (advertising in particular), plus the hundreds of things competing for the entertainment dollar in major markets. In California in particular, there are not only more professional sports and attractions, but the huge, year round outdoor recreation industry (more cycles and off road vehicles than all other states combined). Echo’s suggestion that a track in any major metro area should be an automatic success is 100% out of phase with what’s happening.
The method of voting for the Thermo King Promoter of the Year awards was established for the initial five-year period of the program. Because the permanent awarding by the voting in each of the five years, the methodology cannot be changed during that period. Like any such program of voting, it probably has its short comings, but we believe it has provided outstanding nominees and, to date, three most worthy Promoters of the Year in Hugh Deery, J.C. Agajanian and D. Anthony Venditti. At least the program is an honest attempt to offer long-overdue recognition to people whose hard work in racing is largely unrecognized.
Very truly yours, Racing promotion Monthly STEW REAMER Editor-Publisher
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Directly under the RPM Editor-Publisher’s letter in SPEEDWAY SCENE was the following reply by SPEEDWAY SCENE’s Editor-Publisher Val LeSieur.
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– FRIDAY, JANUARY 4TH, 1980 – PAGE 4 –
More Accurately, It Is The WHO Knows YOU Popularity Contest
After reading Stew Reamer’s reply to my column of December 14th entitled, “Will the Real Promoter of the Year Please Stand Up.”, I see no alternative, but to counter some of the things this editor-publisher of Racing Promotion Monthly had to say.
In the opening paragraph of his letter to SPEEDWAY SCENE’s Editor-Publisher Val LeSieur last week, Reamer said something about the rabidly prejudice views of Dean Nardi. What I can’t understand is how the name of Mr. Nardi got into the subject. Nardi has been gone from this publication for at least six months, in fact no one has seen or heard from him in all this time and the last I knew he was in France or somewhere in that general vicinity. Personally, I think Mr. Reamer has been waiting for his chance to get a shot at Nardi and picked this as the inappropriate time…..for shame!
Mr. Reamer should talk about rabidly-prejudice views for it is he who did a three part assassination attempt in RPM on Mike Adaskaveg and the Journal Inquirer after their controversial award winning articles on safety at Thompson Speedway.
Mr. Reamer stated that my views of the ARPYprogram are so flawed and tainted with naive regional prejudices that he felt compelled to comment. He later stated, and I quote, “..we’ll forgive him (me) this regional chauvinism..”, unquote ….. Well, Mr. Reamer …. Don’t! If you’d have read my column closely you’d have realized that I’m primarily a Northeastern racing enthusiast and I’m interested in the readership within SPEEDWAY SCENE’s coverage area which just so happens to be the Northeast by coincidence, but I also stated in the column, and I quote, “There’s probably plenty of other promoters around the U.S. who are deserving of the award.”, unquote… yes, you could say I’m prejudice to the Northeast since my column is entitled, “NERF’ers Corner” which, just by chance, stands for, “North East Auto Racing Fans Corner.”
You shouldn’t guess as to what a person might say if he was to be confronted with the questions as to whether he thinks he’s deserving of the award. I asked the person in question and the answer I got might surprise even you Mr. Reamer. One of the men listed in your final top ten feels the same as the editor of this publication, that being that your award is only a “popularity contest.” You stated it yourself in your reply, and I quote, “More accurately, it is WHO KNOWS YOU!” unquote…. Need I say more?
As far as the two promoters I mentioned in my column who got more bad press than good during the year…. Well, are we looking at the end result which is in the number of cars in the pits and people throughout the gates or are you more interested in bad press about three of the individuals listed in your final ten nominees for 1979? If you’re interested in bad press then you’d better drop these three people from the voting, in fact you might think about withdrawing RPM from the ARPYprogram because you’ve got some bad press lately.
One promoter told me after reading your reply, that your remark about it being tougher to promote a track in a high population area than it is in a less populated region is totally asinine.
I’ll say it once again, the sport of auto racing needs a “Promoter of the Year” award, but I think RPM and Stew Reamer could find a better way of selecting the ARPY winner like the regional method I pictured in the map which accompanied my earlier column. I also feel Mr. Reamer has to take a serious look at the criteria for selecting the ARPY Award winner each year… Year?
Remember, RPM has titled the award, “Auto Racing Promoter of the Year” not of the twenty years or thirty-two years or one hundred years, but “..of the Year!“….. You did say “of the Year” didn’t you Mr. Reamer?
Till next time, Introduce a friend to SPEEDWAY SCENE….
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This was the first time I had the privilege of reading “Will the Real Promoter of the Year Please Stand Up”, the RPM Editor-Publisher Stew Reamer’s response, Val LeSieur’s response to Mr. Reamer’s letter, and the rebuttal to Stew Reamer’s response by the NERF, “More Accurately, It Is The WHO Knows YOU Popularity Contest”. Boy the nominee announcement kicked off plenty of a buzz.
Looking through the the old SPEEDWAY SCENE editions I have, it should be noted that Robert Echo was only one of many who questioned certain promoters being passed over. Among the numerous columnists of the times who commented on it was Bones Bourcier who mentions in his Modified Madness column from December 14th, “Can’t figure out how those who nominated this year’s “Promoter of the Year” candidates overlooked Dick Williams for the job he did at Westboro, Dale Campfield of Shangri-La, Tom Curley of NASCAR North, Danny Meservey of NEMMA (New England Mini Modified Assoc.) and several other folks who deserved at least a nomination…”
Another note.. “Personally, I think Mr. Reamer has been waiting for his chance to get a shot at Nardi and picked this as the inappropriate time….” This line struck a familiar chord due to a present time issue with an mad blogger out of Connecticut who’s first verbal attack on yours truly and used his chance to take a shot at a few other media folks with whom, at the time, I was only somewhat familiar with. Inappropriate perfectly describes it when the shots the angry one took should have only involved myself. How do you describe someone who is clearly searching for drama by throwing others into the fire in an issue where only one individual is involved?
The NERF took on this subject because it was indeed one close to him. He had just finished a successful season promoting at Claremont Speedway in New Hampshire and his new Public Relations position with SPEEDWAY SCENE was essentially the promoter’s position for the publication.
Let it never be said that SPEEDWAY SCENE and it’s Editor-Publisher, Val LeSieur didn’t give his writers a platform that allowed them to freely speak their peace whether he agreed or disagreed with what they wrote. It was a publication by the fans for the fans and most certainly The Racer’s Voice by Choice.
*All photos in these republished works were taken were published with the original pieces in SPEEDWAY SCENE.
Whether at home or in your car, as you move the needle across the dial of your radio you’ll pass stations broadcasting everything from music to news to talk shows and if you live in the area of Nashua, N.H. or happen to be in and around that vicinity between the hours of six and eight some Tuesday evening, dial in FM106 and you’ll hear the very popular SPEEDLINE auto racing talk show originating from the studios of WOTW Radio in Nashua.
The show was born on February 20th of last year out of the dream of two dedicated racing individuals, Bob Watson and John Spence.
Watson, the Racing Director at Lee Speedway, and Spence, P.R. Man and Announcer at the same track, had been thinking about some type of racing program for some time. When WOTW changed hands, these two gentlemen contacted the powers to be at the station about their idea and after some three weeks of negotiations SPEEDLINE went on the air.
The first program was an hour long and featured a guest considered by many to be the most popular driver in New England. That individual was none other than the “Travelin’ Man”, Pete Fiandaca.
SPEEDLINE expanded to an hour and a half two weeks later and with the show rapidly growing inpopularity the following week it moved to its present two hour format.
The thing that’s unusual about this racing talk show in comparison to other programs of its type is that this particular show has run continuously through the winter months with the exception of Christmas and New Year’s week.
Many well-known racing people have graced the SPEEDLINE studio including such individuals as Ron and Ken Bouchard, Geoff Bodine, Carl Merrill, Dave Thomas, Ed Yerrington, Larry Record, Lee Allard, Stevie Bird, Ken Smith, Paul Mathews, Smokey Boutwell, Lee Smith, Bob Bonser, Dave Kane, Dick Williams, John McMullin, Phil Miller, Don MacLaren, Dave Kolenda, Russ Conway, Ross Niciewsky, Mike Dawalga and yours truly has been a guest on two occasions. You have to add one more name, probably the most popular of all, to the long list of guests who have been on the show, that being Seymour the Clown who reeked havoc with Watson and Spence the time he visited.
Some people who are expected to be on the show in the months to come are Indy Champ Car owner and driver Bill Alsup along with his motor builder Robbie Patterson, Tom Curley, Director of NASCAR North: Oxford Plains Speedway Promotional Director, Tom Elliman; Lou Modestino, Oxford Public Relations Director; Dick Stevens and Lee Emery, Claremont Speedway modified driver/owners and Speedway Scene columnists “Bones” Bourcier and the Ol’ Nerf.
Gerry Hervieux joined the show in May of last year as the NASCAR-Winston Cup Grand National correspondent. Hervieux’s insight into Grand National racing adds a special dimension to the program and through him a half hour phone call was set up with G.N. Star Neil Bonnett.
When asked why he wanted to put together a program such as this, Spence replied: “Watson and I love racing and we’ve always worked well together in the past at both Lee and Hudson Speedway and we felt the area needed a show of this type.”
Evidently the area did need a program such as this and even though the show face a short period of turmoil during the late summer, canceling operations for one week, it still has been a tremendous success.
When asked what they thought of the show, nearly all of the drivers, owners and fans contacted replied that they felt the show is professionally done and is a definite plus for the sport of auto racing.
To emphasize the shows popularity, one car owner living in the outlying reaches of WOTW drives downtown parking the right side of the car on the side walk so he can hear the show. He said the only problem is when the traffic light on the corner turns yellow he gets a lot of static. Another owner drives twenty-miles to a shopping center so he can listen to the program.
Tuesday night, following the Daytona 500, SPEEDLINE will celebrate one year on the air. Let’s hope this is the first of many years for the Watson and Spence produced show as auto racing needs ’em. “Happy Anniversary” to SPEEDLINE…..
NERF’ers Niblets….. Attended the Albany-Saratoga Speedway Awards Banquet last weekend and what a night. Had a long conversation with track champion Jack Johnson who was wearing his 1979 Schaefer Championship Ring exemplifying his victory in the modified segment of the prestigious race. Also spoke in length with A-S and Lebanon Valley Speedway Sportsman Champion Don Ackner who will move up to run full time with the modifieds in 1980. A-S PromoterC.J.Richards has posted a $25,000 point fund for ’80 with $7,000 going to this year’s mod champ. Not bad!… Sat with JoAnn and Don Davies, writers of the New York Modified column, plus Diane and Kenn Van Wert, who pen Just Stompin’ Thru both in Speedway Scene, at the A-S Banquet. We all received a mug from A-S management and I won’t say who, but we had a candle thief at our table, right JoAnn…. Ooops! ….. Rumor has it that CART (Championship Auto Racing Teams) and USAC (United States Auto Club) will be getting back together soon with CART as the driving force. Evidently USAC has seen the writing on the wall as this year’s Indianapolis 500 has been billed as an open competition Indy Champ Car race. Who says owner-driver run organizations can’t work…. Word has it that 1979 Winston West Grand National Rookie of the Year, Tim Williamson, who succumbed to injuries suffered during the running of the Stock Car Products 300 three weeks ago, was to try his hand at the Winston Cup Grand National trail this season competing ten events. He is also featured in the new Stock Car Racing Magazine Poster Book… USAC has announced a ten-race series for their Indy Champ Car division and fifteen-event tour for stock cars. The Texas World Speedway in College Station, Texas, will be the sight for the opener in both divisions as the Stockers compete there on March 9th and the Indy cars on April 26th… CART PPO AutomotiveIndy Car Series opens at Phoenix International Raceway in Phoenix, Arizona on March 2nd. We’re only 49-days away from the Northeastern auto racing opener that being ICE BREAKER ’80 at Thompson Speedway. The two-day show, running March 29th and 30th, will feature late models, midgets and street stocks on Saturday while the modifieds, mini-modifieds and super modifieds compete Sunday. It’s always a super duper show but bundle up as the events name generally holds true. Other big openers shortly after includes the Spring Sizzler on April 12th and 13th at Stafford Motor Speedway, the first Oxford Plains Speedway Late Model Open on April 20th and NASCAR North’s Spring Green at Catamount Stadium on the same day…. Stafford is running three 100-lap events during the regular season including the Nutmeg 100 on May 30th, the Ferrara 100 on July 4th and the Winston 100 on August 8th. The Annual 200 at Stafford will run on Friday night, August 29th instead of Labor Day Monday. The 2nd Annual Fall Final for late models and modifieds will get off the mark on September 29th and 30th… Thompson has planned three 100 lap champion shows for mods on May 4th, June 1st and August 3rd plus two Wednesday events on July 23rd and August 13th. The Thompson 300 is set for September 12th, 13th, and 14th while the World Series will run October 4th and 5th… Oxford has scheduled six other open shows, besides their opener, including May 5th and 25th, June 15th, August 10th and 31st and September 28th plus the prestigious Oxford 250 on July 13th… Really John Spence! Best man at who’s wedding? Ya gotta be kiddin! Who’d marry ‘im!… Super Star Series Round 1 will open the season at Star Speedway on April 26th and 27th while Lee Raceway will open the Sunday before with the first leg of the five race Pepsi Cola Series. Til’ next time, “Keep the Rat Fat, subscribe today!..”
** All photos were taken directly from the original published column **