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BILL’S BACK IN TIME
By Bill Ladabouche
Site Column #80 from My
RAY LASNIER: ONE FUSSY BODY MAN
The biggest hubbub before the 1971 racing season and Catamount and Thunder Road centered around the gorgeous Ford Torino that 1970 Vermont State Champion Ron Barcomb was fielding. Barcomb;s car was displayed in front of Nordic Ford, one of the two big sponsors he had landed, and he could heard on radio talk shows, assuring people that he would be reaching speeds in excess of 100 MPH on the straightaways at Catamount that season.
Proudly standing to the far left is Ray “LaJeuniere”, better known to the world as Ray Lasnier. [Lasnier Collection]
The man most responsible for the gorgeousness of that Torino [and for a lot of the lookers Barcomb would start out the season with] was not getting the same notoriety. In fact, in the best photo that the local Burlington Free Press had put out that year, the body man’s name was not even spelled right on the caption. A man named Ray LaJeunniere was given credit for the breath-taking Torino, which – in actuality – a man named Ray Lasnier had done the work.
Lasnier, working from an immaculate body shop near the Colchester / Essex Junction town lines, was capable of fabricating some very outstanding race car bodies. Ray would move on, from just working with Barcomb, to help Tom Tiller, the so-called Kentucky Colonel from Rush, Kentucky, to build an experimental Dodge Dart late model sportsman for the Northern NASCAR circuit. The Dart had some very distinctive body contouring to accommodate the large racing slicks allowed by 1973. Again, that contouring was Lasnier’s.
Ray poses with Tom Tiller [left] and Bob Thompson. Check out the body work around those wheel wells. [Lasnier Collection]
Ray always had the bug to race, himself. When Catamount and Thunder Road came out, in 1971, with their new support division, the Hurricanes, he eventually decided he had to drive one of those heavy, automatic transmission behemoths that lurched and squealed around the two banked tracks at not – very – alarming speeds. Ray noted that the going vehicle was becoming the early “60’s Oldsmobile, so he built one.
Ray, with the #60 Olds with starter Paul Demers. 60 might be 09
upside down, but Ray never flipped the big cruiser. [Lasnier Collection]
Encouraged by the Barcomb clan, he put the number 60 on the side so that – as
Ron put it – it would say 09 when Ray flipped it. Unlike most of the Hurricanes
of the day, Lasnier’s was an immaculate body job. After a fashion, someone would
rain on his parade and claim that they had already signed on for the number 60,
so – inspired by Parnelli Jones and J.C. Agajanian, he took the number 98
Changing the numeral didn’t slow Ray down a bit. Here he shares Victory Lane with the late Jack Paradee. Really
Jack, a necktie ? The rug on the roof of the car was his trophy for the night, courtesy of Carpet World. [Lasnier Collection]
Ray won a few with the Hurricane before moving up to a late model sportsman by 1973. He didn’t have a highly – competitive car in that year with the five – track schedule and the massive number of late models scratching for the few qualifying spots, but he had one of the sharper - looking cars. The orange and blue #98 scheme would later also be used by friend and fellow Tiller crewmen, Bob Thompson. Ray did not stick with the late model for long; his growing business was too demanding.
When the circuit phased out the greatly – improved Hurricane cars, later in the 1970’s, they replaced them with six cylinder Grand American cars – like Camaros and Mustangs. Ray fielded a Pontiac Firebird, sponsored by Rusty Jones, then one of the leading rust protection businesses in the country. The car was not only one of the best-looking Grand Americans to ever hit the track, but it also enjoyed an atypically – long life – going through at least five owners and three different racing divisions.
The Lasnier late model sportsman awaits tinkering in the Catamount pit area. [Ladabouche Photo]
Characteristically, Ray did not compete for very long, always feeling outside pressures to leave the racing to others and get back to work. He sold the car to Joe Myers, whose own career had barely begun when the Hurricanes were phased out. Myers, using the Friends Disco as a sponsor, ran the car successfully with help from friend and crew chief Randy Chapin. Later, in one of the strangest transactions ever at Catamount, the Myers six cylinder and the Norm Andrews eight cylinder late model traded owners.
Andrews, a hard – driving veteran of the hurricanes , enjoyed particular success with the Firebird while Myers struggled with his LMS, an original Darrell Owens car. Eventually, as Andrews found a ride in the New Flying Tigers with the Lanphears. Out of Morrisville, the Firebird ended up in New Hampshire. Finally the Lasnier creation made it back to Vermont when Joey LaQuerre, Sr. bought it and used it as a New Flying Tiger, around 1986.
Ray heads out with the Firebird for the maiden voyage. [Bob Doyle Photo]
Today, Ray can occasionally be found around the Thunder Road pits. An enthusiastic supporter of racing, he has generously donated personal photo collections to be used on the Catamount Stadium website and in other vintage racing preservation efforts. Ray can recall the earliest racing in the Colchester area, and he can also intelligently discuss the modern race cars and their setups. But – in this day of cookie cutter cars and crate motors, there is no longer room for the creativity and body – molding excellence of a Ray Lasnier. Too much uniformity – and that uniform doesn’t fit well on Ray.
The Firebird was still running successfully by 1986. Note the maroon #16 of Joey LaQuerre
running behind the 31 of Paul Donahue. [Lasnier Photo]
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