Ken Squier sat at Thunder Road, around 2008 and was regaling those of us in his audience with stories from the old days of Vermont stock car racing. He had already drawn ooh's and aah's from the assemblage when he pronounced that, in 1951, there were at least 22 stock car tracks operating simultaneously in the state. [He failed to add that all but a couple were gone by 1954].


UVM Collection

A harness team works out at the winter – quiet fairgrounds
track at Barton, VT in the early twentieth century. Either
that horse was very fast or all those cars lined up to see
just him.


             Ken mentioned that he had managed to talk the management of the Orleans County fair, at Barton, to let him promote a race there in 1951. Ken had access to at least some of the drivers and teams from such as Colchester Raceway, Dog River Speedway, Bayview Speedway, Central Vermont Speedway [East Montpelier], and more. Stock car racing was a burgeoning sport at that time with tracks srpinging up not only at many fairgrounds but also at various local pastures.

             Convincing the taciturn fair mangement group up there in Barton to stage a stock car race was not as easy as it might have sounded. 1950 had seen a big flap over racing safety, resulting in Attorney General Clifton Parker and States Attorneys Lawrence Desahw and John Kissane flexing their legal muscle using archaic Sunday Blue Laws from the past century to outlaw racing on Sundays entirely; and that had resulted in a high profile defiance of that law by Colchester Raceway's flamboyant Ivanhoe Smith that made papers all over the Northeast.

Rutland Daily Herald
After a tumultuos end to the 1950 season brought on by
the Sunday Blue Laws flap, State Attorneys like DeShaw
and Kissane were at direct loggerheads with a young
Ken Squier [seen below at another track in that era].

Ladabouche Collection

              Hestitant and skeptical fair mangement was assured by the young Squier that no harm would come to their beloved [and ancient] horse track in the process. The track, which sounds as though it was somewhat above some of the sections of the fairgrounds nearby, of course had woefully indequate wooden fencing [all that was needed to keep horses and sulkies inside]. But restraining a speeding Hudson Terraplane coupe might be another story.

            The race was okayed and was fairly well advertised in advance by local papers and by some of northern Vermont's other more race – friendly papers as well. I aam sure the Squier radio station, WDEV, did its part to stir up interest as well [if it reached up north that far]. The early September event would take place during the fair already taking place at the Roaring Brook Fairgrounds in Barton. The race was said to be promoted and run by the Northern Vermont Stock Car Racing Association. Ayup, twas gonna be a real bahn burnah !

Owens Family Collection via Cliff Owens
Squier envisioned an orderly program such as this scene at
the Colchester Raceway which features Barton participants
Gordy Owens [31 in front row] and Jackie Peterson [back row].
The Orleans County locals envisioned the kind of mayhem seen
at local tracks like Veterans' Park.

Courtesy of Al Hauver

              Anyone familiar with the more local racing such as a Newport or Lyndonville would expect something akin to motorized roller derby action, with drivers striking each other on purpose and races being puncuated mostly by rollovers and crashes. It would be easy to see how many could fear for the well – being of the horse track. The Veterans' Park track in Newport would not let the stock cars race on their horse track; the stockers struggled and banged around another oval inside of the horse track.

              Perhaps for this reason, Squier had made the connection with the NVSCRA to fill the field that September 6 afternoon, but it meant that he only brought 24 entries with him. Some of the names were very familiar to the race fans in areas such as Chittenden County and in the Washington County area near Barre, Montpelier, East Montpelier, and especially Northfield. Names such as Jackie Peterson, South Burlington; Bob Bushey of Burlington; the racing Cooley brothers from Barre; Gordy Owen of Williston; at least one of Ivanhoe Smith's sons Don “Crash” Smith from Winooski; Ronnie “Rollover” Farnsworth also from Winooksi; the pugnacious “Fightin Trayah brothers” from Burlington; and Harold “Cannonball” Baker of Richford were among these.

Peterson Collection
Jackie Peterson sits in the same V1 he would have run at
Barton. Crewman Ernie Haskins looks on. Below – Gordy
Owens, in an older 31 that most likely would have been the
one he drove at Barton, races Red Dooley – who likely
would have been there, too.

Dooley Family Collection

              Results articles also list prominent drivers Rex Shattuck of Burlington, Malletts Bay standout Ernie Barcomb and Barre's muscular granite cutter Norm Chaloux as having run that day. Add to them lesser knowns like Ray Hatford, Bud Poirier [ A Buffalo, NY native], Eddie Reynolds, a local non – association driver named Red White, and Gil Hofschild [supposedly from Wisconsin. Clarence Rock of Winooksi in another Smith entry was also mentioned, bringing the total known to 19.

             Squier brought with him a team of officials to run the program, which turned out to be cursed with inclement weather before the event began. Henry LeClaire, sometimes a flagger was the judge; Bill Graham and Charles Levee were associate judges; Ira Farnsworth [twin brother to Rollover Ron] was the flagger; Squier would announce; and Dick Ashley would be the timer. [In those days and for many years after, these races were timed].

Courtesy of Linda Hedelund
Ira Farnsworth [left], flagger at Barton is seen here with
twin brother Myron [Rollover Ronnie] with one of
Ron's less fortunate cars. Below – Henry LeClaire
seen in a Bayview Speedway photo at 2
nd from left
was elevated from a flagger to head judge. Frank
Hart, at far left, could also have been in the Barton race.
Jackie Peterson [2nd from right] was in the race and
Ernie Barcomb [far right] was likely there.

Hart Family Collection via Arnie Hill

              The rains had left the fair track, which did have some good clay, very slippery and greasy. Most of the stock car teams were not particularly used to a heavy track, as their races were mostly in the afternoon and the sun usually took car of whatever watering the track workers had managed. This was going to make for some interesting races.

              Jackie Peterson, perhaps the most advertised and featured of the drivers that day, told of that day – back in 1951 at Barton. While being at least 94 at the time, he still had a razor sharp memory and loved to tell stories of the old days in a career he actually began in 1949 with a partly homemade sprint car. The almost totally deaf South Burlington driver who would tune his engines by “feeling of them”, related how Squier had made assurances that day that went out the window with the condition of the track.

Bushey Family Photo via Jack Anderson

Rex Shattuck, creator of the first barrier hole at Barton, is seen
here pushing Gordy Owens' car into the track at Colchester
Raceway also in 1951. Below – Peterson [center] with Eddie
Reynolds and another man in 1950 after the combo won
the state championship with that car.

Peterson Collection

               Peterson said [somewhat gleefully] how no one was supposed to damage any of the ancient track wooden rails. He said Rex Shattuck first lost it and went out through the rails at one of the more elevated sections of the oval, Jackie clains that, not much later, he himself lost control and went through the exact same spot. At least they were careful not damage more rail. In all three cars would go off that north end and another would crash into the barriers on the south end.

              The slick track, which was not getting much help from the sun that day – along with the windshields quickly being mud spattered made for very difficult racing. By feature time, only 11 cars could even answer the bell and only five managed to complete the race. Bob Bushey won the feature with Ralph Bushey's potent car #SPUD19. Ralph [no relation to his driver] got the strange number from the fact he was a wholesale potato dealer. Gordy Owen apparently had recorded the fast qualifying time for the day but did not have luck in the feature.

Bushey Family Photo via Jack Anderson
Bob Bushey [far right] with the SPUD 19 car. In the background is
Carl Trayah's car. Driver Junior Graves leans on the hood. Below -
A 1950s photo shows both the Farnsworth twins [right] and
the Fightin' Trayah brothers.

Courtesy of Jodie Trayah via Steve Jangraw

              In those days, they would often have a “free for all” race [known in some regions as a “rat race”. Owens had more luck in the free for all, finishing behind winner Peterson and in front of Jeffersonville's Eddie Reynolds [who had furnished the car in which Peterson won the 1950 Vermont State Championship at Northfield the year before]. The fair had their stock car race, concessionaires enjoyed the extra attendees, the crowd had been treated to the race clown, Bozo [Bob Wilkens], and the event had gone off without anyone getting killed.

             While there is no written proof of it, the Orleans County Fair apparently decided [what with fence repairs and all] that they could do just fine without any further stock car racing. There was never another event there that anyone knows about. The September 6, 1951 Barton race was quite well covered in the newspapers, but that would be the end of it. And, while remaining hugely involved with stock car racing well into the 2000's, Squier would not do much more promoting until he opened Thunder Road in 1960.

Newport Daily Express
Here is the followup article in the Newport, VT newspaper.
Sorry it's not clearer. Below – Very likely the car 99 Herb
 Trayah drove that day. I think Herb is in the center with his hand
on the car while Norm Chaloux sits on a car at right with his muscular arms

Courtesy of Jodie Trayah via Steve Jangraw

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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