Now here's a problem, right up front – a racing technology dummy talking about racing technology. I've come to realize that a big chunk of the people I know who are interested in the racing from the past and who might read some of my ramblings are enough younger that they may not have actually seen much of the racing from the '50's or even early '60's – or had much contact with cars that age. My having been a teacher and a sign painter, I surely wasn't allowed anywhere near the mechanical end of cars I did help out with; but I was witness, first hand, to some of the ideas they tried.
          That being said, here goes. A lot of the setup stuff I see on today's race cars is just taken for granted as most of it has been around now for decades, or at least years. But remember, back there in the late 1940's and early '50's – the sport was named “stock” cars; and they were largely that for quite some time. Then, somebody wanted to get the upper hand – can you imagine that ? But, for a lot of reasons, they couldn't just throw money at it like today.

Courtesy of Bill Fifield
Steve Danish was a fussy man who drove immaculate, top drawer
equipment in 1960. He probably had less in his car than young
star Stewart Friesen [44 below] has in his wheels and tires today.
Here Friesen races a Flach, grandson to one of Danish's rivals. Photo


          So we begin what was a long journey of guys taking ingenuity and a little sweat and elbow grease and starting to do stuff to make their “jalopies” or hot rods [or whatever they called them] go a little faster or perhaps handle a little better. These simpler ideas were often for guys with thin wallets to try and keep up with the better – heeled competition. Such is likely the case of Saratoga Springs, NY driver George Baumgardner when he drove for Ray Vine.

          The Vine 75NY was one of the first New York sportsman coupes I ever saw. When my uncle and I discovered the rustic, bumpy, and dusty Otter Creek Speedway late in the season in 1961, Baumie was one of the faster cars there. Otter Creek, for all its crudeness, was a NASCAR – sanctioned track and three kinds of sportsman teams went there to bound around on the very long track: top teams looking for easy national points in that most competitive season in the NASCAR sportsman division; local teams; and low dollar New York teams who really couldn't compete at the high stakes Fonda track or at the Victoria Speedway that attracted top Fonda and Lebanon Valley teams.

Bob Mackey Photo Courtesy of John Rock
Action in 1962 at Otter Creek mixes the local hobby cars with
some NASCAR sportsman teams seeking easy points. Note 111 Ken
Shoemaker in the back, along with 95 Doc Blanchard and Bob Bruno's
all white 66 limited sportsman coupe. Below - Corinth, NY driver
Leon Shaw, a former 1940's motorcycle racer, had another low buck
innovation. This 14 coupe sometimes had dual wheels on each side
in the rear to make up for wider racing tires.

Ladabouche Photo

          Baumgardner turned out to be one of the third type. I noticed the pale blue and white '36 Chevy right away because it was so much faster than many of the local hobby – style cars that only ran flatheads or six bangers against the overhead V-8's of the sportsman cars. The sportsman cars would wind right out going down the long backstretch; it was a good thing they didn't have rev limiters then. I don't think much brake was needed as the cars had long reached their max rpm's. The gear needed for Otter Creek must have been a lot different than the cranky Fonda oval.

          Anyway, Baumie and Owner Ray Vine still occasionally would take on Fonda, even if the track was in its golden age and the competition was unbelievable. The 75 team did not have the gear or the motor to really compete at Fonda so they did what many other teams did at that time to try and keep up for fewer bucks. The 75 would arrive high off the ground, looking like it was going to compete in a mud blog run rather than a race on a well – groomed track. Compared to Danish, Lazzaro, Corey, Shoemaker, and the rest – the Baumgardner wheels were very large in diameter.

Courtesy of Mike Russo
George Baumgardner, with the Ray Vine 75 at Fonda
during a high moment. Look at those wheel s ! Below-
The Allie Swears 51, another lower budget NASCAR sportsman,
seemed to get along with normal size wheels.

Courtesy of Gary Nephew

          From what I have been told, these larger wheels made up for some of the gear that the 75 didn't have. It is likely the under-funded team may not have had a quick change in the car and had no other way to make up the gap. I remember seeing Baumie there and I certainly the car and the name from those few precious races we go to see in Vermont the previous year. I don't recall how he did. I doubt he set the world on fire because this was some of the finest NASCAR sportsman talent concentrated in any one place anywhere in the country. But according to my friends, the Starins who were close with Vine, Baumgardner, and the team – it did at least give them a fighting chance.

          Next – undoubtedly you have at one point or another commented on the size of the steering wheels in earlier stock cars. You see photos of drivers as they have been captured sitting in their race cars with this seemingly ridiculously large steering wheel in front of them and you may [like I did] have wondered why the hell anyone would want to contend with that when trying to drive one of those ornery early stock cars around an oval track. Well, I am told it was actually to help them out.

John Grady Photo
Bob Emsminger took a few turns in Bruce Dostal's coupe. Check
out the steering wheel on that baby. Below – Rene Charland's dominant
Czepiel 888 was also a three window coupe with a large wheel.

Ladabouche Collection

          Today, I don't think any young driver would even know what to do without power steering – no matter what class they're in. After the early trepidation that power steering would rob too many horsepower from the car, it became as much a staple of race cars as safety nets and modern harnesses. But this was not the case back in the 1950's or even most of the next decade – and the cars were damnably hard to wrench around. The rapid movements needed especially in dirt racing were almost impossible because you would have to turn the steering wheel back and forth a number of revolutions on every turn [and probably more than once]. Strong as those guys were – it was close to undoable.

          According to the old hands I have gotten to know, the bigger the steering wheel, the less you had to actually crank it to get the steering assembly to turn. Most of those early drivers had arms that looked like Popeye's after spinach because – even with the larger steering wheels, it was still a chore – particularly on the dirt. To watch cars set up for, and negotiate turn one at Fonda was a show within itself. And when one considers those front wheels were flipping back and forth three or four times in every turn, it was even more amazing. With normal steering wheels, they simply could not have cornered that fast.

Frank Simek Photo
Frank Simek captured Buck Holliday, in the car Cliff Barcomb
bought from the Chris Drellos team, in opposite lock. Check
out the position of Holliday's arms. Below – Skip Roots, whose|car had
no small wheel, cranks on it, vainly trying to save a spin.

Frank Simek Photo

            Speaking of impressions of the first turn at Fonda, the first pre – race practice session I ever beheld there was easily one of the most startling, exciting, and amazing things I have ever seen in my life. I recall the Tony Villano 37 flashing by, and then seeing Pete Corey lean so far to the left that his yellow Cromwell helmet stuck right out the driver's window like someone looking ahead to ascertain the cause of a traffic jam. Yee haw ! Never saw anything like that at our tracks.

            Whether Fonda in the 1960's or Catamount Stadium later on, it was readily apparent from watching the drivers leaning into the turns that the centrifugal force on them with immense – given that cars were going faster and faster. Dirt ? Asphalt ? It didn't seem to matter. I can't recall what the late models at Catamount did, although seats with support on the right came in fairly soon as speeds increased. But, earlier dirt cars – at almost any place where I could get a peek inside the car, seemed to have the same solution.

Russ Bergh Photo Ladabouche Collection
Pete Corey, yellow Cromwell helmet and all, poses with that
Tony Villano car he stuck his head out of so often. Below – The
steering wheel, barely visible at an angle inside the Ray Sitterly
C88, betrays the fact that at least IT was set sideways.

John Grady Photo

          If you see an accurately restored old stock car or maybe someone has an unaltered original, the driver's seat is, most likely, set in to the car at an angle. Often, the steering wheel was also cocked to the left, as was the seat. The driver might be looking a little sideways at the track when going straight, but the help with the forces trying to yank him out of the seat in the corners was considerable. This odd – looking arrangement went on for years until newer, safer, and more comfortable racing seats began to enter the market. Even then, you'd still see the sideways seats in lower dollar cars or cars in support classes.

          Anyone observing preparations in the pits today at a stock car track [especially on pavement] better be willing to watch hours of fussing over “stagger”. You can see where each wheel on a modern race car is slightly different to help set up for the car to go around with as little looseness and tightness as possible; but it didn't used to be so involved and complicated. Often, in the older days, all the wheels on the car were about the same except for the one on the inside front. That one was anywhere from a little to profoundly smaller than the rest. This would counteract the car's tendency to roll the weight over to the outside and cause it to not corner worth a poop.

Courtesy of Wes Moody
This Royce Tucker – built sportsman coupe, run at this
time by Bernie Kentile, shows the wheel size setup of the day.
Below – George Kaufman shows the Weissglass setup for
the 1950's.

Courtesy of Cliff Besett

          The most extreme arrangement I ever witnessed was on cars at Weissglass Stadium speedway, in Port Richmond, Staten Island, NY. Racing was held on a tight fifth mile there, inside an old Depression Era sports stadium. Many of the coupes ther, in particular, had such tiny inside fronts, they must have come off from camper trailers. Most of my local tracks [most of which were dirt] had an inside wheel that was more like around 15% smaller than the rest. A few of the faster cars might have also had a slightly larger than normal outside front – for the same reason.

          Another good illustration of this idea came with the introduction of the Catamount Stadium support class, the Flying Tigers, in 1965. Mostly former B Class late model hobby cars from the Northeastern and Thunder Road tracks, these cars had been running at relatively slower speeds on the fifth mile former track and the quarter mile latter track. Catamount, being banked track of at least a third mile, was to prove to be a little more than the technology on the Tigers could deal with. So, Ken Squier and track management came up with the idea of putting one racing slick on the outside front. Once they got past the rear end wanting to go around in circles on the turns, and past the broken suspension and so forth, the setup worked for a number of years until the class graduated to better handling late model sportsman cars.

Courtesy of Cho Lee
Flying Tiger field in the first season of Catamount Stadium. Notice how the cars all lean to the inside
with the big slick on the outside front. That's future hall of famer Beaver Dragon laying down the smoke screen.


          If one watches dirt races today, the track always looks like there are clear candy wrappers flying all over. We all know these are the tear-offs drivers have been using for years to keep the face shields clean. Pretty soon, there will be new technology developed for this. But what did they do before tear - offs ? Photos of cars – particularly from the late '50's and early '60's show what looked like a lid of sorts, affixed by a hinge, and hitched to a rope that hung down by the driver's window.

          I don't know who invented the flipup [my name for it], but it came in handy early in dirt shows when much of the heavy track ended up on the driver's windshield. The guy would tolerate the mud caking on for several laps until seeing was impossible; then he would reach out, pull down on the rope, and the flipup would get catch the wind and flip up, remaining above a temporarily cleaner windshield. I think they were mostly for heats because the track was usually settled in by feature time.

Ladabouche Collection
Don Rounds sits in a lineup with the flipup device in the up
position on his famous 101. Below – This closeup of Rene Charland
at Fonda shows the rope he would grab to pull up the flipup.

Russ Bergh Photo Cavalcade of Auto Racing


          Those early windshield, protected or not tended often to be broken. Many teams [I recall particularly Lebanon Valley cars] came up with a suspended windshield of sorts inside the car, closer to the driver. The original window would be removed. These windows could be flipped over if needed. Warrensburgh car owner Vern Baker had a device on his #6PACK Hudson wherein the windshield slid over, like the window at a snack bar.

          The great Steve Danish, a fussy and fastidious car owner, came up with the early version of the tear – off windshield. He had been experimenting with the manual windshield wiper on his 61NY; but he was not satisfied. He actually came up with a way to affix something like Saran wrap onto the windshield of his car which he could somehow tear off when it became badly caked with clay. Nothing worked that well. I wonder what any of these guys would have thought of helmets which have hands- free tearoffs

Bob Frazier Photo Ladabouche Collection
The last Vern Baker Hudson, this Terraplane, clearly shows
his unique sliding windshield arrangement for driver Ed Baker.
Below – This shot shots shows the Steve Danish car after
he has removed the Saran wrap. I have no shot of it on the car.

Danish Family Collection

          Apparently, early race car engines could always be depended upon to overheat. I suppose it was a combination of extra stress on the motor and the radiators often becoming caked with dirt. The better the clay surface, the worse the problem was. The solution for most was to put one or a series of screens in front of the radiator to go along with the elaborate pipe protectors already in place. As far as the overheating, the other solution was for some cars to have oversized radiators – some so large that I honestly don't know how the driver saw past them. I recall some of the cars that used to come to my home track, Fairmont Speedway in the early '60's from the Claremont [NH] Speedway. Being smaller pre- 1935 cars to begin with, the huge radiators looked even more out of place.

Ladabouche Photo
This Wilfred Gerard – owned car from Claremont Speedway
is a good example of the oversized radiator. Below – The Norm Burl
Studebakers had need for big radiators, which had to protrude
out through the hood.

Bob Mackey Photo via John Rock

          What about cooling off the driver ? I still recall being at races in mid Summer with Beaver Dragon, and having him exit the car only to collapse on the ground from heat exhaustion and dehydration. Many of today's drivers have [necessarily] so much extra equipment on them that they really need the air conditioned helmets and such that are available now. But, in the early 1970's, in those encloised late model cars, the big solution was to take dry vent hose and attach it to the door, particularly on the driver's side. This hose would channel in some air from outside – hopefully onto the driver. Trouble was, the worst time was under caution and they weren't moving fast enough then to have the rig do much good.

Courtesy of Andy Boright
Alvin Gover slides his Hurricane Division Chrysler in front of Jay Yantz's Ford at Catamount.
The dryer vent hose can be seen on the Gover car.
Below - Massachusetts star Bob Karvonen
has the same deal, with black hose - around the same time everyone else was trying to get more air on

Ladabouche Collection


          Today, with tech rules striving for uniformity and even competitive conditions, making weight is ever more critical to either being allowed to race or passing a post race inspection. Back in the day, with many of the bodies being used on cars being very heavy, weight could be a real problem. Some places, like in southern New England, this was addressed by creating the cutdown a vastly modified, reduced body on what was otherwise a frame like most others. Short on body, these rigs, many times, did not have very much for cages either. NASCAR and other organizations took steps to have these phases out after a fashion.

          The other solution was to drill holes all over the body of the car, to remove as much excess metal weight as possible [and it may have offered some more places to get air in, as well]. A few of the 1950's cars looked like Swiss cheese. Mid New York driver Al Sanders was way into this method, and the T-800 Ford that came from Ellenburg Depot, NY was another prime example. E'burg is that New York border town whose immediate environs brought you Maynard Forrette, Billy Taylor, and 1961 NASCAR National Sportsman Co- Champion Dick Nephew.

Bob Mackey Photo Bill Wimble Collection
Everyone thought Gaylord Rowe's T800, driven by a
young Bill Wimble was the poster child for Swiss cheese cars
until [Below] Al Sanders bought and drilled the
Clark brothers #45 Ford coupe.

Al Sanders Collection

          I even recall hole drilling going on well into the late model sportsman era in Northern NASCAR. One particular crew chief [who shall remain anonymous because he is still active] had so many holes drilled all over one particular Le Mans on the circuit, that people marveled that it didn't just collapse under its onw torque when under way. Today, as much as lightness is tolerated, a fat wallet can buy it. Used to handling a mounted race wheel in the '70's, I grabbed one of wheels for an Airborne Speedway modified a few years ago and almost threw it over my head. I couldn't get over how little the tire and wheel weighed. The Swiss cheese guys didn't have that luxury back in the day.

          Whether you're looking at weight, handling, safety, and convenience, there are not as many guys around tracks today who can appreciate what earlier teams used to come up with to try and rig up what comes standard on today's modified or late model car. Gentlemen [and ladies] close up the junk yard and open up your wallets !

Please email me at if you have any photos to lend me or information and corrections I could benefit from. Please do not submit anything you are not willing to allow me to use on my website - and thanks. For those who still don’t like computers - my regular address is: Bill Ladabouche, 23 York Street, Swanton, Vermont 05488.


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