Latest Update

July 3 - We now have the latest blog - Weekly Blog July 3, 2014 - on holey cars. Not cars blessed b y God; cars full of holes.

July 8 - I was sad to learn of the passing of Vermont State Champion, Johnny Gammell, of St. Johnsbury Center. Besides being a great driver, he was instrumental in many advancements in the stock car racing business and - most importantly - he was one of the nicest men I ever met. I will miss seeing Johnny at the Milk Bowl this year.

Norman McIver Portrait Courtesy of Cho Lee

July 9 -  I put up the latest blog a little sooner because of the subject matter: WeeklyBlog.July92014 is on the upcoming Governor's Cup. I did my level best to get all the info correct, but it is hard without Cho Lee to fill in deatils.

July 10 -  I was informed by Ron Lamell Sr. that part of my piece on Larry Demar was inaccurate, in that LD - according to RL - never drove one of his cars. Not growing up in Northern Vermont, I have to write on the assumption that information people are providing me via interview or otherwise is at least mostly correct. I can't doublecheck most of it as the people being discussed are, more often than not, dead or living far away. Also, it would just be too time consuming given the volume of information I deal with. Hopefully, this explains how everything in every article may not be 100% accurate. It's never done knowingly.

July 11 -  For those people who told me they couldn't find an obituary on Johnny Gammell, here's a nice writeup by Big Bigelow:

John Gammell, Long-time Racer, Dies at 86

By Big Bigelow

J.O. Gammell, as my Dad Jerry used to call him, lost his seven-year battle with cancer on July 4. When I heard we lost him on the 4th of July I couldn’t help but think abut how many of his July 4ths were spent at a race track. For us racing people, July 4 is better than Christmas.

J.O. and my Dad were great friends. They were very active members of VFW Post 793 of St. Johnsbury and both started racing in 1949 at Webster’s Flat, just north of Lyndonville.

Think about that for a second, 1949, that was the year NASCAR was founded. At the same time, up in the small state of Vermont, guys were getting together and carving out dirt tracks in farmers’ fields to race around in circles. It’s not like they got an e-mail, fax, tweet or saw it on Sports Center that a group in Daytona were saying this is what we’re thinking of doing and you should give it a try.

And then, 10 short years later, the Northeastern Speedway Driver’s Association was born. Johnny was elected President while Dad was the Secretary/Treasurer. Keep in mind France threatened to close his track before he let the Teamsters union anywhere near his drivers.

I guess you can say Johnny had known me my whole life. It wasn’t long after my first Strap In column was printed in April of 1998 that he stopped by the house to ask about the column. He wanted to know if it was going to be a weekly column or what. At the time I wasn’t sure how long it would last. I’ll never forget how surprised I was that day when, as he was leaving, he thanked me for writing a racing column. The few hundred times I saw him after that, not once did he not thank me for writing a column.

He was also very appreciative the winter we ran a few dozen of Norm MacIver photos from Northeastern in Waterford and he just loved the Spring Racing Guides.

I’m not sure any one person could list every one of Johnny’s racing accomplishments, but I will hit on some I know of, and in no particular order. First off, I’m a big Thunder Road fan so his 1969 Milk Bowl comes to mind when I think of Johnny. The car, numbered Hawaii 5-0 was owned by Joey Laquerre. He finished fourth in the first Milk Bowl ever run in 1962, won by his lifelong buddy Harold Hanaford. He was fifth in 1963, fourth in both ’64 and ’65. He retired from racing in 1972. Still today, his five top 5s in the Milk Bowl has him tied for 10th with four other drivers in that category.

In 1971, John won the prestigious Don MacTavish Award, voted on by sportscasters and writers. When his name was added to the trophy the only other winner at that time was “Big” Bill France, the founding father of NASCAR.

In 1963, his fellow drivers at Northeastern named him winner of the Rice Memorial Good Sportsmanship Award. Interestingly enough, my Dad shared that award with Glen Gadapee in 1961, making my Dad (1966) and J.O. (1959) the only Track Champions to win the Rice Trophy. Dad, Skip Easter and J.O. were the only drivers to win features in both divisions at Waterford.

In 2008, he was voted into New England Auto Racers (NEAR) Hall of Fame. The following was taken from the NEAR website site (www.near1.com/HALL-OF-FAME/index.htm).

“In 1959, he won the first of his two Vermont State Championships, winning five of 12 features run at the Northeastern Speedway, in Charlie Ely’s No. 88. He won the first feature ever run at Northeastern in 1959, and repeated the feat in 1964, winning the first feature ever run at Riverside. A flat tire late in the race kept him from winning Thunder Road’s first feature in 1960.

Johnny’s second Vermont State Championship came in 1964, driving the W.G. Fitzgerald No 32. Harold “Hard Luck” Hanaford competed against Johnny several years. “Johnny was a quiet, shy kind of guy”, Hanaford remembers. “But when he strapped in that car, everything changed. He became a fierce competitor. Given equal cars, there’s nobody I raced with that I’d have a harder time getting by. He’d never hit anybody to get around ’em. He’d just race you hard and clean.”

• I don’t believe anyone in the world enjoyed or looked forward to the yearly Milk Bowl reunions more than Johnny. But now that I reread that, I guess that could be said about any racing get together anywhere, anytime.

• Paul Bellefeuille’s restoring the Northeastern Speedway in time to hold a 50th reunion there may have been one of Johnny’s greatest days in his racing career.

• I’m going to miss seeing him wearing his bright red pants at Thunder Road.

• At his request, there was no formal funeral service. Instead, if you wish, do something you really enjoy in his memory or just close your eyes a moment and take a ride with him, as he surely is racing or driving something somewhere – DRIVE ON!

• A whole bunch of Johnny’s friends will be at the Northeastern Speedway Club fifth Annual Vintage Racing Festival, July 12, at the Waterford School. Legendary cars will be on display and you’ll be able to chat with some of the drivers who ran at Northeastern.

The event will go from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tickets are $5 with children under 12 Free.

July 12 -  I have added a page on the Waterbury, VT driver Clem "Desperate" Despault. I you have some photos of Clem that I don't have, I'd love to have you email them to me or see me at Thunder Road.

July 16 -  I have added a lot of old Burlington Free Press clippings from Wayne Bettis to the page called Old Newspaper Racing Articles. Thanks Wayne. At some point, I will find a place to display the programs he let me copy, as well.  I also added a ton more photos to the Bridges Family racing page.

July 22 -  I have added photos to the It's What's in the Background page. I also put up a new blog : Weeklyblog.July222014 on Glenn Andrews, a Maine driver who ran at Northeastern and Thunder Road.

July 23 -  Happy Birthday to my oldest son, Justin. Without him, I wouldn't have gotten the site's domain name. Today, I added more photos and sections to the Vintage Lineups page.

July 25 -  Added a page on racing at the Eastern States Exposition in West Springfield, MA. I never saw one of those races, but I bet they were great. Also, check ou this gem that showed at Thunder Road last night. I told the guy I thought the original car had a stock grill but it never did. My apologies. Great car.

Ladabouche Photos

July 30 -  I added a page on Joe Tinty's Plainville Stadium . It's a little out of my usual territory, but I have always read such glowing praise about it, I thought I would try to getas much Plainville stuff in one place as I could. I will do more another time.

July 31 -  I added some photos to the Hurricane Competitors page.



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