Racing in Retrospect
By Jeff Ackerman
~ John McArdell ~
Article Published in Volume 41 #2, February 10, 2006 in the Gater Racing News
  “I’m leading the feature at
Waterloo heading into the
third turn and bang! I get hit
right in the a$$ and there
goes Willie by me. Couple of
laps later I catch him going
into three and bang! I hit him
back. And that’s where it
started for us, we spent the
next twenty years beating the
hell out of each other on the
track and then laughing about
in the clubhouse afterward…”
      John McArdell was born
on October 28, 1934 and
spent his formative years
working on his fathers’ garden
farm on 7 North (now Henry
Clay Blvd.) in Liverpool,  NY.
Born into a working family of
eight during the depression
he related, “We didn’t have
much,” but there was plenty
of work on the farm. “It was
tough times during the
depression. We’d get home
from school and go out in the
fields to pick vegetables and
take them to market.” By age
13 John had become
interested in cars and found
one abandoned in a lot. “They
had to get it out of there so I
gave them $5 for it, that’s all I
had. It ran good and I towed it
home and took one lot out
back and made a race-track. I’
d run that car until it ran out
of gas and then get some more
the next day. You know, back
then you could get 5 gallons
for $1.10.”
      “My brother Jim was in
the Marines at that time and
he came home on leave. I was
out back running that car
around the track and I see
him coming in his uniform. He’
s coming down to the lot with
my father and I thought I’ll
show them what this thing
will do. Come off the turn and
at the end of the straight is
this rock that stood out of the
ground about 4 foot. I was
coming so fast that I couldn’t
make the turn and hit that
rock and the car goes right up
in the air and then landed,
BANG! It’s funny, the next day
I go to school and when I get
home the car’s gone. My
father called the junk dealer
and sold it. He says ‘Here’s
you money back, you aren’t
going to kill yourself in that
car.’ BAHAHAHA It’s funny ya
know, he never said a word,
just got rid of it. I never forgot
that.” Undeterred, John
continued to buy and drive
cars, but never again on the
‘back forty’.
      By 1948 John was
attending races with his father
and brothers at the new
asphalt track in Brewerton,
NY. “There was a lot of good
drivers there, Rod and Dick
Turcott, the Reynolds, Art and
Doug, Charlie Barry, Crash
Gilbert and Dutt Yanni, it was
pretty interesting.” By 1950
John was getting the itch and
entered his first competitive
event, “It was a destruction
derby at Brewerton and I won
it. I got the thing to move
about 8 feet once it was over
so I was the last one running.”
It was just the beginning of a
long and illustrious career but
destruction derbies weren’t in
his future.
      Married in 1951 and
starting a family, John worked
as a truck driver and later at
Crucible Steel. When older
brother Gale came back from
the service that year he had
the same itch John was
getting and found a stock car
in Cicero. John related that
Gale said ‘It’s all set to run, all
we need is $500.00.’ And yes
that was quite a bit of money
at the time but it was a good
car, a 1937 Ford coupe #30.
Gale wasn’t much of a
mechanic but he loved to drive
the damn things. We went in
as partners and my first race
was at Lafayette in 1952. We
didn’t know much about gears
or anything but later found it
had a 9:34 rearend which was
way too high a gear for
Brewerton even running in
second. At Lafayette though it
ran good and I got up to
second in my first race before
the fuel line broke. It had a
barrel for a gas tank and it
shifted. It was easy to get
hooked on (racing). Every
week we repainted the names
on it. One week it would be
‘Gale and John’ then I’d paint
over that and it’d be ‘John
and Gale’, it got to be a big
joke in the pits. We took turns
driving it. When Weedsport
opened (1955) I took my own
car there and Gale picked up
rides wherever he could. He
was a real hard driver, if you
told him not to let off, he
wouldn’t. Later I went to
Waterloo and found out how
far behind we were. Actually
the first time I ran good was at
Brewerton when Bill Dudley
loaned me an engine and I
ran in the top 5. I asked him
afterward if it was legal and he
said ‘Oh Yeah!’.. I don’t think
it was legal.”
       By the mid-50’s John
was showing promise as a
driver and was building his
own cars. As was the case with
most aspiring racers, “We didn’
t have any money” and the
lack of good equipment was a
limiting factor. However, when
he did pick up a good ride, he
made the most of it and won
his first feature at Waterloo in
1957 in “Wayne Pittiford’s
brother in laws car, #100, I
can’t remember his name. It
had a Otis Dunham (Willie
Allen’s car owner) engine in it
and was a good one.” Despite
these successes John was still
struggling to get a better ride
which were still snatched up
by ‘the hot shoes.’ “We ran
stock engines mostly, 85, 90
and 100 horse Flatheads,
when they broke we went and
got another for $20. We’d start
it up in the car, if it ran we
raced it. The best ones
pumped oil bad, they were so
loose they’d run good. One
year we had 12 engines piled
up in the back yard. Finally, I
went up to Ken Thompson’s to
get a crank done so I could
put together a good engine.
Ken said to me ‘John, there’s
one sitting right there. It’s got
a cracked block that I’ve tried
to fix, why don’t you run it
and see if it holds up.’ We
took it to Weedsport and come
in second with the damn
thing. Then we went to
Waterloo and got third in the
feature which was good at that
time.” The use of that cracked
flathead was a good break for
John, it finally got him
      “So then Tony Vitti asked
if I’d try the 99. That was a
good car you know. So I went
out, won the heat, took right
off, won the semi, first night
out with it ya know(at
Waterloo). I don’t know if it
was Willie or someone else,
some real hot dog, got up
front in the feature and I got
hit right in the ass. I got
madder than hell and I’m
going into the first turn and
Johnny Forgione (Vitti’s
engine man) said ‘Johnny,
you never let off for that turn’,
and I hit the wall. I hit some
guy in the ass at the same
time I hit the wall. I was hot
headed and I shouldn’t be
that way.” Johnny’s hot
headedness and obvious
talent kept him in the Vitti
ride though 1958 and things
were looking up for his racing
career when tragedy struck
his household.
On April 2, 1959 while John
was at work at Crucible, the
kerosene heater at his house
caught the home on fire. His
wife Marie went next door to
his fathers house for help and
when they got back outside
the house was engulfed. “My
father told me that she went
right in through the flames to
get the children, my brother
Walt did too and got burned
pretty badly.” The children all
survived the fire due to the
efforts of their Mother and
Uncle, but Marie perished in
the fire. “It was tough. It’s
something that you never get
over, here it is all these years
later and it still bothers me.”
That’s more than
understandable, it’s hard to
fathom such a tragedy. John
found his solace at the track
and continued to run well
with his own car. His efforts
were rewarded in 1959 as he
was honored at Weedsport
with the Speedway
Sportsmanship Award, the
first of many awards he was to
obtain. At the end on the ’59
season he got the break he
needed to further his career.
“Dick Turcott was driving the
11. The 11 had the right front
wedged way up in the air. In
the fall (of 1959) Dominic
(Tantalo) asked if I wanted to
try it. I said ‘Yeah, it’s one of
the best cars around’, ya
know. So he say’s ‘OK, we’re
going to try you next year.’ So,
the first race the next year
(1960) we’re getting lined up
for the feature, I think  I won
the heat, and Dominic is
talking to me. You know, take
it easy, get used to the car.
And he says ‘There’s Glenn
Reiners, he’s always in the top
three so if you can follow him
you can learn a lot. Just see if
you can stay with him.’ Glenn
was as hot as anything there
at the time, high point man
several years. So I get out in
the race and I’m all nerved up
from Dominic and it turned
out to be the damndest race
you ever seen. He talked to
me so much and had me so
nervous, I pass Glenn Reiners
on the first or second lap. And
the race was on. Now Willies
leading and Willie was the
hottest thing going at that
time, we had a restart and I’m
right with Willie. And going
down the backstretch on the
restart I just give him a little
tap in the bumper. He goes
into three too hard and I go by
him, about three laps later I
get a little tap in the rearend
and there goes Willie. And
that started it, I mean this
went on for years after,
feature and Willie come in
second and my gawd was
Dominick ever proud of me. I
think Turcott had won one
feature the year before and
here I win my first feature in
the car. They parked the car
on the track back then and
got a case of beer and started
celebrating. Dominic said to
me ‘oh you did a great job’,
this and that you know. And I
said to him, ‘now Dominic,
don’t ever tell me how to drive
a car’ and for the next eight
years, he never did. I just did
what I wanted to on the track
from then on. Whatever I
wanted they gave it to me.
They were awful good people
to run for.”
“The following week, we went
up there and we broke a
shock link (dogbone) and
nobody has one except Wee
Willie. We went up to him and
asked and he said ‘I don’t
know, I’ll look.’ Well, I said,
nobody else has one. A little
later he comes over and says,
‘You’ve probably got the only
car here that can beat me,
here’s your shock link.’ I
never forgot that.” Did you
beat him? “No, finished
second, right on his bumper,
AHHAHAH, usually works the
other way around.” It was
during this time that the
Tantalo 11 coupe got its
Leanin’ 11 name. “It wasn’t
because of the way the
numbers were on the side of
the car. Bob Rogers was
announcing at Waterloo and
the car had so much wedge
put into the right front that it
always looked like it was
leaning. I was leading a race
out of four and Rogers
announced ‘Here comes
Johnny McArdell in the
Leanin’ 11’ and it stuck.”
McArdell enjoyed many
successes at the Waterloo
Speed plant that summer and
copped his first track
championship against the
likes of Allen, Reakes and
Kotary just to name a few.
Waterloo’s bragging about
being the ‘Fastest One Half
Mile Dirt Track in New York
State’ wasn’t idle gossip, at
least for the Flathead powered
cars. These same cars
dominated at Syracuse in the
Fall and nearly everywhere
else they ventured. A track
championship there during
this time was a major
      The Tantalo team
continued to run their 1937
Ford coupes, 11 and 11Jr.
through out the early 60’s at
Waterloo, Canandaigua, and
Weedsport. Owner Dominic
provided the funds while his
brother Frank and Elmer
Mumford twirled wrenches.
They employed a few secrets,
one which was quite
innovative and well ahead of
any valve proportioning that is
commonplace today. “When I’d
go into a corner and hit the
brake, the car would shoot up
the track. Dominic told me he’
d fix that and he did. I didn’t
know it until later but he took
one brake shoe and welded it
solid on the right front so only
half the brake was working.
After that, it handled great.”
The Tantalo’s always placed
their emphasis on a good
handling car, and it paid off
with another Championship at
Canandaigua in 1961. 1962
though was another tough
year for the McArdell family as
Gale lost his life in a racing
accident at Waterloo on July
7th  in the Pittiford #100.
John’s father wanted his boys
out of racing and brother Jim
obliged his father’s wishes.
“Gale and I were pretty close,
he borrowed a car from me
once and I didn’t see him for
two months. Then he pulls in
one day and says ‘John, we go
to fix that battery.’ So I fix the
battery and off he goes again.
He was a good guy, do
anything for you. And he
always stuck for me. Hot
headed though. I went to the
track the following week and
Dominic brought the 11. He
said to me ‘John, nobody’s
gonna drive that car until you’
re ready.’ A couple of weeks
later I decided to get back in
          John persevered and
won another championship
the following year (1963) at
Weedsport. “At one point at
Weedsport I won six features
in a row, in three different
cars. We were winning
regularly everywhere and after
our third win in a row at
Weedsport, Dominic came to
the car and said ‘John Davis
and Sammy are having us
torn down.’ So I said to Dom
‘We’re all right aren’t we?’ and
Dom goes like this” as John
holds his hand out and
rotates it back and forth.
‘Bahahaha, it’s kinda funny
now although it wasn’t then. I’
ll never forget when Dom did
that. Willies father (‘Pop’) was
the guy checking the engines
and when he was done he
said ‘Dom, you’re 277, you’re
over.’ Dom says ‘The rules say
270 plus 10, so we’re OK.’
‘No’, Willies dad says, ‘that’s
0.010 for wear, not 10 cubic
inches.’ So we’re disqualified.
Waterloo’s rules were 280
cubic inches at the time,
Weedsport was 270. We ran
the Sedan at Waterloo with
the 280 and the 11Jr. coupe
at Weedsport. So, we’re out for
two weeks at Weedsport. The
following week I get a call from
one of (Don) Narigan’s crew
asking if I want to drive this
car (#6) that Don built an
engine for. I said let me call
Stan (Dudzinski, Weedsport’s
Track Operator), Stan says
‘The car’s banned, not you.’
So I run that car and win two
more, and we got tore down
both weeks but the engine’s
legal. The following weekend
after that we won at Waterloo
and partied all night
afterward, you know, got the
trophy, had to celebrate. We’
ve been talking about what we’
re going to do to get a legal
engine in for Weedsport since
our ban is over and John
Forgione of Vitti’s crew has
offered us use of the engine in
the 99. So that’s the talk in
the pits for two weeks, that we’
re going to put Fargione’s
engine in the 11Jr. and go
back to Weedsport. Well, it’s
Sunday at Dominic’s garage
and Rollie comes over with a
case of beer. It’s afternoon
now and Frank shows up,
then Dominic. Dominic gets a
call that his dump down in
Geneva is on fire and he has
to go down to take care of it.
He gets down there and calls
up Frank to get down there as
well to run a bulldozer and
put the thing out. So Frank
leaves and says ‘Johnny, lock
up when you’re finished.’ So
we’re sitting there in the
garage in Waterloo, and Rollie
Velte, this is all his fault.
Rollie says ‘Johnny, the 11’s
got Offenhauser heads on it’
and I says yeah, he says ‘so’s
the 99. Everybody knows we’
re going to switch engines. If
we took the center
carburetion off the 99 and I’ll
paint the engine black,
nobody will know the
difference.’ So Rollie’s
painting the engine and this
kid is putting the manifold
from the 99 on the 11. John
Forgione shows up with his
station wagon and a trailer
and says ‘Let’s load her up!’ I
said ‘I can’t take this car, it’s
not mine, it’s Dominic’s car.’
John said ‘let’s put it on the
trailer and we’ll wait for
Dominic.’ It’s getting later and
later and Dominic isn’t back. I
don’t want to take his car but
Jack convinces me we’ll meet
him at the track. So we get
there and I ask to be put in
the last heat, hoping Dominic
will show up in time. Last heat
and no Dominic, John say’s
‘Take her out and run it.’ With
the different carburetor on it
the car was skipping in the
corners but we still won the
heat. I go down to take the
flag around, go a little ways
and there’s Dominic and
Frank at the end of pit road
with their arms crossed, “just
whattya think you’re doing?’
he says. I start explaining it
and he says ‘I don’t want to
know nothing.’ And he heads
over to the beer tent. Frank
then says, ‘You’re skipping,
let me take car of that’ but
Jack butt’s in and says ‘No, I’ll
take care of it’ since we’re
acting like this is his engine
in there. I go out and win the
feature, our sixth in a row and
afterward we’re in the beer
tent when Dominic asks Stan
how long after the feature
does everyone have to lodge a
protest. Stan says ’20
minutes’ Dom then asks how
long it’s been since the
feature was flagged. ’25
minutes’ says Stan. So now
Dominic asks Stan, ‘So, we
can’t be protested, right?’
‘That’s right’ says Stan, ‘times
up.’ And Sammy’s there
across the bar and I’ll never
forget Dominic ‘YOU
Which certainly lends
credence to the old racing
adage, ‘It ain’t cheatin’ unless
you get caught.’
      In 1964 the Tantalo team
built what was to be their
most successful, and most
famous car, the ‘Leanin’ 11’
sedan. Powder blue with a
white top and wing on the
side, the 1934 Ford was also
John’s most successful ride to
date. “We won 27 features in
1964 at Weedsport, Waterloo
and Canandaigua. 1964 was
just an amazing year” As I’m
looking through my old
clippings from my high school
shop teacher, Dave Allen, the
writings of Ted Brown, Norm
Patrick and Bob Hunter bear
this out. The headlines read
‘McArdell Takes Weedsport
Feature’, ‘McArdell Wins
Waterloo Feature’ McArdell
Takes Larry Nye and Maple
Grove Cash’ Waterloo Feature
Dominated by McArdell.’ You
get the picture, this was a
familiar sight.
      For all of there successes
though, the one race that all
competitors looked towards at
that time was the NYS Fair
Championship held at the
Geddes Mile on Labor Day.
Dominic wanted to win it
badly and in 1964 they had as
good of a chance as anybody.  
John won the third heat on
that Labor Day in a time of 7:
11.5 for 10 laps, an average
speed of 83.5 miles per hour
to set fast time and take the
pole. “You had to know how
Dominic set the car up for the
Fair, it wouldn’t take off but
once it got going it would just
keep on winding. I start on
the pole and put it in high
and they go by me shwoosh,
four of them get by and I’m
fifth going into turn one. So
then it gets going and I pick
off one, pick off one. And then
I‘m on Kotary’s a$$. Down the
chute, swhoosh and he’s
gone, into the corner and I
catch him. I wouldn’t let off
until I had to, he pulled me off
the corner but going into one
he slipped and I got under
him. Coming out of two I
looked up in the mirror and
just as I saw him dive down I
pulled down and when we got
to the third corner I opened it
up on him. Down the chute he’
d fly but in the corners I was
handling better. Then I come
up on the first lap car, Don
Bushbacher in a late model
and he tapped my wheel going
into three and it spun me to
the fence. Kotary was right on
me then and was gone. They
never threw the caution. I got
it started back up and took off,
caught the pack and got back
to fourth. I caught a lot of
them but I had a long way
back.” The team didn’t let the
disappointment of the Fair
linger for long. “In the fall, two
weeks after the Fair we had
the most amazing weekend. At
Canandaigua I won a 75
lapper on Friday (Sept 18). I’m
leading out of turn four on the
last lap when my axle broke,
come right out of the car, tire
and all and spun across the
line to win it. They fixed it
that night and the next day
we had 100 lap Open
Invitational Race at Waterloo. I’
m leading that race when the
rear spring breaks, you know,
those old Ford single springs
and one side is broke. And
who’s in second but Wee
Willie Allen, and now I gotta
go 30-40 laps with the frame
hitting the axle, SLAP, SLAP,
SLAP. Willie got up beside me
a coupe of times but I stay
right on the inside. Once I hit
the chute I was all right. So
we won the 100 lapper and
the following day they put in a
new spring and we went to the
Fair. They had a special
NASCAR race there and also
one for the Flathead cars (The
Salt City 25). Now like I said,
the 11 wouldn’t take off but
we get going and I’ve got a
great lead and then the
caution comes out. And on the
restart, the 11 didn’t take off.
So Willie pulls out with a
bunch of other and takes the
lead. Now, unbeknownst to
me, NASCAR disqualifies
Willie (for jumping the start). I
get going  and start picking
them off and get behind
Willie. I pull out in two and
pass Willie, off of four and
Willie passes me. That’s the
first time I felt the draft. And
we go like this for several laps.
Then the last lap I pull up
behind Willie going into one
and I said ‘wait a minute’ and
follow him down the
backstretch. Then coming out
of four I pass him. Beat him
by this much……So I knew I
won it. Willie come down in
the pits and said to his crew
‘2nd ain't bad’ then they tell
him he’s disqualified,
AHAHAHA. I really don’t think
it was Willies fault, the 11
wouldn’t take off.”
      For 1965 the Tantalo
team added a second car, or
so most thought. “The Coupe
was the same car as the
Sedan, just a different body
that we switched onto it.” As
sharp as the Sedan, the coupe
body took McArdell too many
more wins including a 50 lap
Championship race at
Waterloo. He was also
‘Honored’ as the President of
the Waterloo Stock Car Racing
Association, a title he held for
one year only. “You know who
gave me the toughest time?
Rollie Velte. He was always
asking questions and then he’
d just reword the same
question. Drove me wild.” The
State Fair race that year
netted John his best finish in
the Labor Day event, as the
coupe came in third behind
Kotary and Mike Miller. 1966
was more of the same, wins at
Canandaigua and Waterloo
and then a late season run
down to 5-Mile Point for a 100
lapper. “Dominic calls me up
at work, this is during the
week, and says ‘Come on,
there’s a 100 lapper down in
Binghamton, can you get off?’
I said ‘No, I gotta work.’ So he
wants to talk to my boss and
my boss lets me off to go
racing. We went down with
Sammy Reakes and Fireball
Roberts and we get down
there and they’re all
overheads. We go the only
Flatheads there. I said ‘My god
Dom, we don’t have a chance’
and Dom said ‘We’ll be all
right.’ So we watch Sammy in
the first heat and he doesn’t
qualify. Then Fireball’s in the
second heat and he doesn’t
qualify. We’re in the third
heat, on the pole and Bill
Wimble is on the outside. This
car owner comes up to Dom
and asks if we wouldn’t pull
out of the way so we don’t
hold them up. Dom says ‘We
ain’t pulling over.” So we got
out there and Wimble takes
off and gets the lead and I’m
second. I’m getting through
the corners better and four
laps into it I get back by him
and I hold them off for the
heat win. So Dom’s going
through the pits afterward to
the car owner who asked us to
pull over and says ‘WE DIDN’T
DID WE?’ they didn’t even
qualify. We get out for the
feature and we’re the only
Flathead out there. It took me
about 20 laps to get the lead
and I led it until lap 80 until
there’s a caution. I hit the
throttle down the backstretch
and felt the rear, damn if we
didn’t snap an axle. So I pull
into the pits and we’re under
caution so they aren’t
counting the laps. I told Dom
we broke an axle and the
whole crew, Sammy’s and
Fireball’s, are over there and
they pick the 11 up, no jack
or nothing. I’m sitting in the
car and Fireball gets the axle
out and gets another one in.
Sammy’s on the running
board and he’s saying ‘Pull
right up to the front’ I said
they won’t let me do that, he
says ‘Try it anyway, if they don’
t let you go up there then
every two or three laps, spin
somebody out and get back up
there.’ AHAHAHAH, so I pull
up to the front and the starter
wags his finger at me and puts
me last. We had 15 laps or so
and I got back up to third. It
was unbelievable, I didn’t have
a fast car but it handled so
good through those turns and
on that little track it worked
good. You had to know
Dominic, he always had a wad
of cash, $1000.00 in a wad.
He went over to the winner
and he had the trophy on his
car and Dominic says
‘$1000.00 bucks says you can’
t beat that Flathead.’ The
owner put his arm around
Dominic and says ‘I know we
can’t beat that Flathead.’
AHAHAHAHAHA I didn’t think
we even had a chance to
qualify there but on that short
track we did pretty good. It
was amazing.” “We really
worked on the handling of
those cars. Every week I was
down to Tantolo’s garage in
Waterloo and Dom would
nudge me, “There’s that kid
again.’ This kid would come
down on his bike and watch
us work on those cars, He was
13 or so, nice kid. Really
In 1967 the team continued to
run the ‘Leanin’ 11’ as well as
the 60X purchased from Carl
Rice that Kotary had driven to
success. “Was that car ever
light, it had glider tubing for a
cage you know.” Fitted with an
overhead, the car met its
demise at Waterloo, ending up
in the wall with a bent frame.
As the transition to overheads
was taking place at Waterloo
and Weedsport, the team’s
success, and interest dropped
off. “Dominic offered to build
me an overhead car but by
then I had already committed
to another team out of Cicero,
it was a mistake.” The other
ride vanished as they decided
to go with their friend Sammy
Reakes instead and John
scrambled to get his own car
together for the 1968 season.
“It was my own coupe in 1968,
I still kept the same paint
scheme on it. Howard Conkey
turned wrenches on the car
while Frank Tantalo tinkered
on it a bit too. We won the
Weedsport Championship
with the car in ’68, it’s the
only time I won a
championship with my own
car.” In 1969 he teamed with
friend John ‘Fireball’ Roberts
on the same car, “I put the ‘5’
on it for him (John’s # was
513) and kept the ‘1’ for
myself so it was the # 51. We
did real well with the car. We
won features at 5-Mile,
Skyline, and Rolling Wheels.
We only entered it eight times
and won six of them, but we
couldn’t get along. If I wanted
it done one way, he wanted it
done another.” The
partnership broke up and
John returned to the Vitti
stable to finish out the ’69
At the dawn of the 70’s John
was racing his own # 11, a red
Chevy coupe when “I could get
them together” and also
picked up a ride in the John
Fisher #98 out of Rochester. It
was the same Sedan (#451)
that Reakes had piloted
starting in ’68.  “We won quite
a few features with that car” at
Canandaigua and Rolling
Wheels, often getting more
out of them than he should’ve.
Although he wasn’t as
dominant as he was in the
early 1960’s, the talent was
still there, all he lacked was
the equipment.
In 1973 he got a few rides in
the Jim Sincerbaux #0 that
Jim Winks usually piloted and
he had found the ride he
needed to run up front once
again. “At first, Howard (Jim’s
father) and I didn’t get along.
Then the second year we’re
together he called me over in
the pits and said ‘Now look, we’
ve got to get along. Now,
where do you want the
power?’ So I told him I wanted
it going into the corner. He
said ‘That’s not where  Sammy
likes it, he wants it coming
out.’ Well, I wanted it going in
so he said ‘OK’ and I don’t
know what he did to it that
week. Changed camshaft or
gears or what but my god, the
next week it was something
else.” The partnership had
been struck and was
immediately successful. John
rolled off to wins again at
Canandaigua and Rolling
Wheels, winning the ‘Driver of
the Year Award’ for 1974 at
the Wheels and getting named
on the ‘All Pro’ team. 1975
provided even more success.
“We had won two in a row at
Rolling Wheels and I’m
leading the feature when
WHAM! I get socked in the
rear by Kneisal. Spun me out,
spun him out too. And I was
mad. It takes a lot to get me
mad but boy was I mad that
night. So we both go to the
rear and Howard tells Jim,
‘Wave him in, we’ve only got
15 laps left and we don’t need
to burn up a set of tires.’ So I
see Jim come out on the track
and he’s waving me in with
one arm that his Dad can see
and waving me on with the
other. AHAHAHA, Funny now
but I was so mad then I wasn’t
coming in. Kneisal gets the
jump on me on the restart
and we’re coming up through
the pack, picking them off  
and we catch the leaders
when there’s another caution
and I’m right on his bumper.
Down the backstretch under
caution I pull up beside him
to give him a long stare, and
then I pull back behind him.
Next thing I see is his arm out
the window, waving me by.
Jack Johnson was running
third and I got him going into
three, Jimmy Shampine was
running 2nd and I got him on
the outside. Ron Narducci’s
leading and I get up to him
but can’t get by. Finally on
the last lap going into three I
put my left front against his
right rear and keep it right
there coming around four.
Jim told me later that I hit the
wall four times        out of four
and I got Ron by this much…I
was pushing it as hard as I
could. Howard come up to me
afterward and said ‘I’m gonna
slap you before every race if
that’s what it takes to get you
to drive like that!’ Ron told me
later ‘That was the best race I
ever run and then I see this
blue hood coming on the
“Howard was really amazing,
one time he called me up and
said ‘John, the blocks cracked
all the way down the cylinder
and we haven’t got another
block, we’ll have to miss this
week.’ I said ok and then he
says to come over. I get there
and he’s drilling little holes all
the way down the crack and
putting screws in them. Then
they honed it out and put it
together and we won at
Canandaigua that night. Jim
saved that block and they
used it in the car that went
into the HOF.” John, Jim and
Howard’s’ #0 crew were
rewarded well for their efforts
during the 1975 season as
they won Track
Championships at both
Rolling Wheels and Skyline.
They always say to go out on
top and John McArdell did.
That winter Howard passed
away ad John decided it was
time to hang up his helmet.
He drove the car a few times
in 1976 until Chuck Ciprich
was ready to take the ride and
his career was complete. John
is the only Central NY driver
on record as winning
Championships at the ‘Big
Four’ Tracks (Waterloo,
Weedsport, Canandaigua &
Rolling Wheels).during his
career he won well over 100
features although it’s difficult
at best to know just how many
as records are sketchy.
Regardless, it can be safely
said that John was a threat to
win anywhere, in nearly any
equipment, which is a
testament to any racer.
      OK, so for my own
indulgence I want to take a
lap around Waterloo. “Well,
the track was always tacky
and smooth. I went into the
first turn, and the way we had
the car set up with that brake
shoe welded, only half would
work and so you touch the
brake and it pulled the car
down to the left. Come off one
and go right up to the fence.
And when you hit two, there
was a little rut down there and
I’d put my left front in that. If
you did that you never had to
let off once you got out of one.
Now you get down the
backstretch and you’re flying
about 6-10 inches off the wall.
You don’t pull it down, leave it
up there. Come into three,
stay low then come up in four,
not into the loose stuff. Turn
the wheel  just a little bit to
the right toward the wall and
stay up against the wall down
the front stretch.” And that’s
the fast way around Waterloo I’
m sure.
I always have to know Dept.:
Who was your toughest
competitor? “Willie. We fought
for years. We always had good
times after the races but drove
the wheels off the cars trying
to beat each other.”
For his accomplishments on
the track, John was honored
with Induction into the DIRT
Motorsports Hall of Fame in
1995. And he has another
honor forthcoming, nominated
by Tom Davis (who co-
sponsored the NYS Fair
Schaefer 100 in 1975 with
Davis Ford) John has been
elected into The Living
Legends of Auto Racing and
will receive their ‘Saturday
Night Hero Award’ on
February 15, 2006 at the
Plaza Resort and Spa in
Daytona Beach. It’s really
wonderful to honor your hero’
s while they’re still around to
enjoy it, John and his wife
Martha are looking forward to
the event with great
anticipation and pride, as they
well should. Other inductees
this year include; Cotton
Owens, Bobby Johns, Gary
Nelson, Jim Foster, Vicki
Wood, Olin Hopes and Ray
These days John still
participates in bowling, which
he’s quite good at as the ‘299
game’ plaque attests to. Which
pin? “Seven pin didn’t go
down.” He also enjoys bass
fishing and playing pool. I
begged off on the pool game, I
know better than to take on a
guy on his home court,
besides, I’m lousy at it. It was
a real pleasure talking with
John and I hope you enjoyed
the interview as much as I did.
And now it’s time to get ready
for some of the upcoming
events on our club’s schedule,
which, good weather and
health permitting, will include
fellows like John. We’re in the
formative stages of setting up
another autograph session at
the Carquest Motorsports
Expo to be held at Cargill Hall
on the NYS Fairgrounds
March 10-12. Plans call for
sessions every day of the event
to provide fans the
opportunity to meet these
heroes and shoot the bull with
them. Good deal, even better
for us as the sessions are to
take place at The Midstate
Antique Stock Car Club’s
display, so you’ll get to look
over some good old iron as
well. We’ll also have a club
display at the Southern Tier
Speedworld event held at the
Oakdale Mall in Johnson City,
NY on March 3-5, come and
check us out and we’ll be able
to show you some nice, early
modified equipment. ‘Flathead’
s Forever’ was the rally cry in
the 50’s and it still applies
today. Even my boy Belvedere
knows what I’m talking about
at this point, after all, he
listens to be blabber
incessantly every night during
our walk. Can you imagine?
‘Til next time, remember to
keep the shiny side up. Jeff
Ackerman, 6256 State Route
17C, Endicott, N, 13760.
Nearly Forgot Dept: ‘That Kid
on the Bike’ that Dom nudged
John about turned out to be
Mike ‘Magic Shoes’
McLaughlin who may have
learned a thing or two about
race-car handling at the
Tantalo garage. Wherever he
learned it, he sure has put it
to good use, on his own
successful cars, on Greg
Biffles’ successful cars and
now for Joe Gibbs Racing and
Tony Stewart. Mike counts
John as idol #1 and hasn’t
forgotten his Waterloo roots or
those beautiful ‘Leanin’ 11’
cars. Thanks to Belvedere for
reminding me this morning,
thank god I let him proof read
this stuff…Have fun in Florida