BILL'S BACK IN TIME COLUMN PAGE
Copies of my column in Mark Thomas' "Racin' Paper"
Column #33 from Column 46
BILL’S BACK IN TIME
By Bill Ladabouche
SAVING IT WHILE WE CAN
There have always been historical groups and preservation committees, but they usually had something to do with the saving the Pinkerly Mansion or preserving Civil War battle sites and the like. Only in relatively recent times, has anyone really begun to try and save our stock car racing past. While historical work had been being done for other arenas of auto racing in places like museums, only since the 1980’s, have I begun to see groups [and later websites] which were, in some way, doing what they could to collect photos, interview vintage participants, restore race cars, and – in any other way – make sure that those post WWII days were not lost forever.
Ed LaFrenniere’s car,
sitting at the old Northfield, Vermont track in 1961, typifies the
vintage racing we need to preserve. [Courtesy of Mike Gilbert]
I have to admit that, while I did some nostalgia writing in the late ‘70’s and early ‘80’s when I had the column in the now-defunct Speedway Scene paper, I wasn’t very systematic and I didn’t do a good job of archiving anything. Of course, computers were then were the realm of the few. I kept a dead race tracks lists, which by the way, got me more letters and positive responses than twice that amount of “current” topics I wrote about. I knew then that there was a large population of people out there, for whom the racing past was very compelling.
Columnists like Phil Smith, whose column packed each offering with lots of past racing results, continued for decades to keep vintage information flowing to the racing community; but, I disappeared from the scene for 18 years, only resurfacing in 2005. It makes me cringe to think how many racing documents were lost and how many vintage race participants died during that time. It’s a good thing people like Phil, for example, did remain in the field.
Diminutive race driver and race car mechanic Al Romano poses at his father’s track, Pico Raceway, in 1952. Romano regrets that he had thrown all family records of the track away three years before I approached him about information in 2005. [Courtesy of Romano and Ed Fabian]
Then, too, are the wonderful groups such as New England Antique Racers and more – restoring stock cars for frequent display, offering names for racing halls of fame, having periodic meetings which call in people whose interest in the racing days of their youth had almost died, and generally just keeping vintage stock cars out there in the consciousness of today’s race community. Some merely display the cars, and some actually race the cars fairly often in a summer. We shouldn’t also forget that, down South, groups like the Living Legends of Auto Racing do this year around.
Today, there are more and more encouraging signs that the effort to preserve our stock car racing heritage is becoming larger, much more organized, and embraced by the more established historical entities like historical societies and museums, to name a couple. Since I came back on the scene in mid 2005, I have already been called to the NEAR meetings to receive recognition for my website, I have had article written about me in newspapers that roundly ignore their local race track, attended a lost race tracks conference at the Saratoga Auto Museum, sat on a round table discussion about a lost track at the Rutland [Vt.] Historical Society, and I have had contact with almost a hundred people of all ages offering larger and small contributions to a rapidly-growing body of material from the stock car racing past.
1955 Whites Beach
Speedway champion Ernie Martin. He [and his track] has been featured at the
Automobile Museum. [Irv Conron Photo]
I have to doff my cap to people like the Barre Boys – Cho Lee of Barre and Lloyd Hutchins of East Barre, who – between them – have compiled thousands of old photos and restored six stock cars. Cho and Lloyd travel around, offering Lloyd’s cars and Cho’s albums for displays at all kinds of gatherings. Lloyd has now used his own funds to refurbish an old step van as a rolling race museum in honor of deceased photographer Bob Doyle. Cho and Lloyd are only two of hundreds of people who quietly work to preserve the sport.
All of a sudden now, I am hearing three or four different ideas for comprehensive efforts to establish local or regional stock car museums. Some of these are still dreams and one is largely a dependable rumor, but they are indicators of a real growth in the desire of the racing community to preserve a past that is rapidly disappearing. Take the region around Airborne Speedway in Plattsburgh, New York: in the last few months, alone, the following things all happened while I could hear or observe.
The Gaylord Rowe T800,
driven to a track title by future national champion Bill Wimble.
[Ladabouche Photo, Courtesy of Eugene Bushey]
Bill Wimble’s 1955 Airborne track championship car was re-discovered, somewhat intact, at a small salvage yard near Ellenburgh Depot, New York. Now the owner has been inspired to acquire a car with the same year body and construct a replica, because the original is too far gone; rumor has it the new owner of a race track in the area would like to construct a sort of museum building on the grounds of his track; a group of men and myself had planned to hold a round table discussion of sorts near Mooers Forks, NY – only to have one of the most important members of the talk drop dead at his home a few weeks before we could do it; and a local vintage driver brought me a bagful of what he hoped were good photos of the old days at Airborne, only to find most were moisture-damaged.
This shot of Airborne
regular Bernie Griffith, [left] and a crewman was one of the badly-damaged
I was able to revive, at least a little. [Courtesy of Jim 12 Port LeClaire]
All this happened after the middle of July was gone. Good news, bad news. The point is it was all highly-significant, in terms of race history preservation, and it points to how easily information and material can be lost. I guess my point with this whole thing is that we need more people to step up and help in this effort to preserve the stock racing past. Beside the museums and the societies, beside the webmasters and columnists, you have people like Neal Davis and his brother, who build models. You have the people like, for example, John Rock and Chris Companion who came into large numbers of other peoples’ racing pictures – and share them. You have the families, like the Busheys and Owens, who dug out their photos and allow them to be scanned. And then there are all the people restoring stock cars. It is a lot of fun and you meet neat people like historian John Nelson, who came all the way out here from Illinois to help. I heartily recommend it.
I apologize for disappearing for so long a time from this paper. Schoolwork has made weekly contribution nearly impossible. I wanted to show this photo, an Aldo Merrusi shot from the Rutland Herald. If anyone recognizes any of the cars in the picture, from Pico Raceway, please let me know. The Rutland Historical Society and I would appreciate it.
A field of cars parades by
the stands at Pico Raceway in1951, before the cement wall was added.
Do you know any of these cars ? [Aldo Merusi – Rutland Herald]
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