Al "Suicide" Sanders

Courtesy of Otto Graham

       Described by one man who knew him as "a good - looking kid, but always a little nuts", Al seemed to get his nickname from many of his less - than - safe race cars he would field - particularly in the '50's. He probably would have made rollcages out of drinking straws if he could have gotten away with it. He raced from Fonda, to Morris, to even Syracuse. While many of the rivals who tried to be more careful with their safety are long gone, Al was still around in 2020, to the best of my knowledge. Quite a guy !

Courtesy of Otto Graham
Supposedly his first car.

Courtesy of Otto Graham
Arguably his most outrageous car. Sat on the rear end and had components like juice cans.

Courtesy of Otto Graham
This former Bobby Adams car didn't quite make it to Midstate.

Courtesy of the Starin Family
This perforated beauty ended up like many of Al's Syracuse cars.

Courtesy of Sanders Collection
A former Clark brothers' car, with typical Sanders body modifications.
Courtesy of Rick Parry
Another Sanders car.
John Grady Photo
One of his Fonda cars.
Courtesy of Otto Graham
Al [rt] with Bernie Miller at a track reunion.
Courtesy of Otto Graham
Young Al at Daytona, when he lived down there for a bit.


Rene "Da Champ" Charland

John Grady Photo

      I chose this particular photo for the four - time NASCAR National Sportsman champion because I'm not sure what he was prouder of, winning all those titles or belonging to the All Star Stock Car Racing League. The former Marine started racing around northern Massachusetts and vicinity in the late '40's and had a very lengthy, successful career. He was a tireless practical joker [some would say pain in the ass] and sadly he did not recall even who he was at the end. A great racer !

Courtesy of
Supposedly his first car.

Courtesy of Cho Lee
Supposedly he got his first win at Brattleboro, VT with this Leo Matte car.

Courtesy of Cormie Family
Easily his strangest car - this airplane motor - powered Rhythm Inn Speedway car.

Russ Bergh Photo
He had some fine cars when he won his national titles.

Ladabouche Photo
Trying to run late models on the Northern NASCAR circuit was not successful.
Source Unknown
His years in the All Star League were a source of pride. Note the sign on the car.
John Grady Photo
He drove many great cars in his modified career, like Russ Betz' 59 CT .
Courtesy of Ed Fuez Collection
Had the occasion big league ride; it wasn't a preference but offered big points.
Source Unknown
A retired Rene has just broken up Hamilton and Stevens at the autograph table.




Chet  "Chester T" Wood

Norman McIver Portrait
Courtesy of Cho Lee
       Ken Squier dubbed Wood as Chester T [for Tops}, but the low budget driver from Orange, VT didn't have T. for an initial. Running of a combination garage and home with no floor, he drove cars that would terrify other drivers. Wood could fly in his rattletraps that featured baling wire, tractor seats, and sometimes no floorboards. His last hurrah was a Mopar in the increasingly - pricey Northern NASCAR circuit, and he succeeded admirably on a shoestring budget.

Courtesy of Cho Lee
A win at Northeastern Speedway in an early coupe.

Courtesy of Otto Graham
Chet runs to help another driver.

Courtesy of Otto Graham
This former Bobby Adams car didn't quite make it to Midstate.

Courtesy of Cho Lee
Wood gets attention after this trip off the high
banks at T Road.

Courtesy of Cho Lee
Chet took a beating from the massive Ron Marvin after this wreck at T Road.
Courtesy of Cho Lee
Classic Chet - homemade haircut and borrowed suit at an awards banquet with Ken Squier.
Courtesy of Rich Palmer
The low buck Plymouth
in Northern NASCAR.
Courtesy of Steve Pecor
One professionally - lettered item on the car and the sponsor paid for it.
Ladabouche Photo
His last car looked nice;
so naturally it didn't perform up to his standards.

Willie Chest

ebay Photo

      The pride of Canajoharie, Willie Chest was one of the several slow, steady runners who mixed in at Fonda Speedway with some of the greatest drivers ever. Enormously popular, Willie once told some who could have made the 54b faster that he was going as fast as he wanted to go. We lost Willie too early to an accident on the NY Thruway. Willie ran Fonda and Victoria Speedways. Later, son, Bob raced a late model with considerable success.

Courtesy of Darlene Chest
A very young Willie.

Russ Bergh Photo
Willie, with his earlier car.

Courtesy of John Chest
A nice color photo of the earlier car.

From Dan Ody's 8MM
Old Speedways DVD's
Running in the track at
Fonda in the 1950's.

Russ Bergh Photo
Via Fonda Book
1956 pose with the old car.
Russ Bergh Photo
via Scott Belknap
Willie must have been tickled to share a promotional novelty race with Corey and Herbert.
Russ Bergh Photo
via John Chest
Kiddie rides with the newer [and last] car .

Courtesy of Dan Ody
Willie, with a trophy
at Fonda.
Via Otto Graham
Willie, in pretty hot company at Victoria in
the late 1950's.




Curtis  "Metalman" Giventer

Karl Fredickson Portrait

       Curt Giventer says his nickname of "Metalman" comes from the amount of metal in his body due to bone repairs; but it could fit his salvage and towing business, as well. Having grown up running at Weisglass Speedway, Staten Island, he finally got back into racing with an old Renegade class car at Airborne Speedway in the 2000's. Bothered by a number of problems like a bad shoulder, he still motors around Airborne in the old yellow and red car, occasionally having a good finish. He just loves the sport.

Courtesy of C. Giventer
A win at Weissglass
in his first car.

Courtesy of C. Giventer
A later, higher division Weissglass car.

Courtesy of C. Giventer
A third place finish at Airborne with the
Renegade car.

Courtesy of C.Giventer
Grinning like the Cheshire cat as usual, Curt leads a modified feature as pace car with a replica of a Weissglass car his mentor had built in the 1960's.

Source Unknown
Yours truly by Curt's
replica car holding an
article I wrote on him.

Source Unknown
Curt, in a classic stock car lineup at Airborne.

Albert "The Grand Old Man of Racing" Luleck

Courtesy of Marty Kelly, Jr.

      Although son, John was the first to take to a stock car track, Albert Luleck began running the late model class at Devil's Bowl by the late 1960's. A welder by trade, the tough old bird survived wrecks and kept on pushing around the dirt oval - even enjoying a few good finishes. A man less rugged than Luleck could not have driven a stock car on a bumpy dirt track as long as Al did it. I think he finally turned the car over to a younger man towards the end. The fans loved him.

Bob Frazier Photo
If not his first car - close to it. This one eventually took a bad hit on the wall.

Neal DavisPhoto
Al on the D Bowl track,
with his earlier car.

Courtesy of Mike Cranston
The later car arriving
for Spring practice.

Courtesy of John Fleres
All hell breaks loose as
Albert got hit and walled somebody else.

Courtesy of John Fleres
All hell continues to break loose as John Fleres goes to the infield to avoid Albert.

 via Bushee Family
John, Albert Dan Bushee
and Billy Bushee, apparently continuing the race effort.

Courtesy of Marty Kelly, Jr
The Rutland Herald did a great piece on Albert.




Lester "The Molester" Dieterle

Courtesy of Mike Cranston

       The hugely popular Lester Dieterle was taken from us way too young, at age 55. A consummater player to the crowd, the talented native of Cooperstown, NY had ample opportunity to amp up a crowd in Victory Lane as he won very often. Antics such as the finishing lap fist pump, outlandish interview comments, and ripping off his hood in front of the stands to reveal something like another sponsor were some of what made Lester one of the most popular drivers to ever race in that region that included Fonda and Malta. While I recall him as a street stock driver, he did spend some time running a dirt modified, as well. Despite the fact I have few Diterle photos, Lester MUST be included in this gallery.

Courtesy of Fred Garceau
One the track at Malta with the only car I recall him driving.

Courtesy of Mike Cranston
The most familiar shot of Lester - Vic Lane at Malta.

Courtesy of Mike Budka Jr
A win with a carI never saw race [or at least that

Courtesy of Airborne
Speedway Facebook Page

The modified, at Airborne.

Dick Britain Photo
Racing Mike Romano somewhere.

Al "The Animal" Simoneau

Courtesy of Mark Austin

      Alan Simoneau returned from serving his country in Viet Nam, probably a little off center like every other guy who had that awful experience. His rep at parties was epic. Friends talked him into joining the new Catamount Stadium street stock class - a collection of some of the strangest characters you'd ever want to meet. Al, who embellished his nickname with a stuffed Tasmanian Devil affixed to his big Chevy, did little to discourage the notoriety. He was a pretty darn good driver, too.

Source Unknown
The Animal.
Norman Morley Photo
Losing it a little in Catamount's 4th turn chasing Dickie Strobridge.

Courtesy of Mark Austin
Al on the D Bowl track,
with his earlier car.

Courtesy of Mark Austin
The Tasmanian Devil dances on the roof as Al gets on it.

 via Dragon Family
Trading paint with Steve Blow.




Gaston Desmarais

Bob Mackey Photo Courtesy of John Rock

       Track announcers used to often refer to Gaston Desmarais as a logger from Tupper Lake, NY. A man with a wry way of putting you off, his insistence he never logged a day in his life might have been just one of his many smoke screens. His stange number, 6-50, came [according to him] from buying some equipment from Dick Nephew [6] and some from Bud Besor [50]. Gaston had a green light on the roof of his car which would be turned on if he thought he had the race in hand. He also promoted Airborne park Speedway in 1964, renaming it Adirondack Raceway.

Russ Bergh Photo
Pictured here as an[unwelcome I would say] invader of Fonda from the North Country. Most guys from up North  were resented at Fonda.

John Grady Photo
This shot, maybe at Malta
would be another venture
into enemy territory.

Bob Mackey Photo
Courtesy of John Rock

This later car 50NY had
a strange saying on the side.

Bob Mackey Photo
Courtesy of Mike Watts, Sr.

Gaston at Airborne as
promtoer. Sorry about
screwing up the screen shot.

Bob Mackey Photo
Courtesy of John Rock

My favorite shot - Gaston, with that quizzical look he always had and a beautiful family.
Via Edward B. Brown III
Later pavement mod.

Clement "Desperate" Despault

Courtesy of Cho Lee

      Clem Despault likes to relate how Ken Squier, the new owner of Thunder Road International Speedbowl saw something in Clem and furnished him with a mid '50's Studebaker to make into a B Class car [the forerunner of the famed 1960's Flying Tiger class]. That was around 1961; Clem was still running a Tiger Sportsman as recently as 2019 - however briefly. Clem was quite a character in the pits, often whirling around borrowing jacks and other stuff from competitors. His most famous car, 1955 Chevy, was built with help from people who had the ear of the Pettys. He did manage track championships with that car, a high water mark.

Via Cho Lee
The Studebaker.
Source Unknown
His first actual Flying Tiger.

Courtesy of Rich Palmer
The famed Chevy, on
the grid at Catamount.

Courtesy of Al Ward
Probably the same

Source Unknown
The Chevy starts a bad crash in 1970, which ended its run.

Source Unknown
Clem tried trappoing into the prevailing Mopar craze in the the early 1970's without much luck.
Via Chris Companion
He did get the occasional qualifier win with the Mopars.
Via Andy Boright
he had a second successful stint in the New Flying Tigers. here he poses with son, Topo.
Via Clem Despault
His final Tiger Sportsman. He won a few qualifiers with this car in his '70's.




Harold "Bugs Bunny" Betts

Russ Bergh Photo Courtesy of Otto Graham

       Fonda Track announcer Mike Valchovic had a certain nasal, sing-song way he introduced the drivers. One of the first nights I got to go to Fonda, he got my attention by intoning "Number 40, Bugs Bunny ! from Cobleskill". I didn't know then about how NASCAR drivers were using racing names to race at tracks like Victoria and at Betts' home oval, MIdstate Speedway. Usually hooked up with pal, Bob Deming, Harold Betts raced in that area for several years. Unlike most of the other drivers who had the racing names, Betts held onto his when he no longer had to use it. For many fans - there was just Bugs Bunny - no Harold Betts.

Russ Bergh Photo
via Otto Graham

Pictured here at at Fonda, this also went by.......

Via Rick Parry
...another number. I don't know which was first, but I suspect the 40 was.

Via Rick Parry
The car 40NY with a much thinner Betts and a crewman who could have been Bob Deming.

Via Rick Parry
Harold in the 40 hits
big Don Henderberg in Dave McCredy's S33 at Fonda.

Mel Ogden Photo
A good - looking later 40
at Midstate.
Via The Bullfather
More of that same car.
Via Cavalcade of Racing
and Bob with an earlier car at Midstate.
Via Cavalcade of Racing
 Bob with the '54 Chevy late model they shared at Fonda and at Midstate.

Via MIdstate Club
Same car at Midstate.

"Tiger Tom" Kotary

Courtesy of Howard Benway

      One of the three racing Kotary brothers from Rome, NY., Tom came back from World War II with a few issues. However, they didn't keep him from becoming a very good race driver and a successful business owner in Rome. Racing in the shadow of his older brother, Cliff, he and Robbie forged their way sometimes with Kotary family equipment and often with other peoples' cars. Tom was my favorite driver for a long time at Fonda - he was always nice if you went to the car after the show. One popular story about Tiger Tom says the Fonda promoter once paid him a few bucks to stir up some excitement, so he supposedly climbed over the huge catch fence and started a fight with some guy. He was definitely not your run of the mill chauffeur in his time.

Russ Bergh Photo
Tom, with a Kotary
family car at Fonda.
Ed Feuz Collection
Russ Bergh Photo

Tom got to driver for Henry Caputo's team; no small feat.

Courtesy of Otto Graham
Tom spent some time driving for Theron Morre before wadding the car up.

Courtesy of Jo Towns
via Otto Graham
Tom was one of the elite drivers to run the Hal Kempeny cars.

Russ Bergh Photo

Tom's run in Joe Romano's 97 was one of his best - known.

Via Nick Javarone
Don't know if this one was Moore's or a Kotary car.
Via Rick Parry
Running this car at
Utica - Rome, he still had his Caputo racing jacket.
Source Unknown
Tiger Tom also must have run Victoria.
Romano Family Collection
Via Otto Graham

Tom was around when young Andy Romano began running the car he once had.



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