It was late in the summer of 1986, we were at the
Madison Count Fairgrounds in Brookfield for the Wheel
Days race and Willie Wust was approaching us in the
pits. “Hey Dick!” his blue eyes were sparkling and he was
sporting a toothy, ****-eating grin. “I just saw Al Sanders
over in the pits, remember when he crashed at Syracuse
and had exhaust pipe in the rollcage? And the
floorboards were cardboard painted silver!
Bahahahahaha! What a crazy %$@!#!” I listened and
grinned, I figured ‘Suicide’ Al must’ve gotten his
nickname there, but I was mistaken.
Richard ‘Al’ Sanders was born in 1931 in East Orange,
New Jersey, the son of a banker and a librarian who had
high aspirations for their boy. Growing up, Richard Jr.
(called Al to avoid confusion with his father) developed an
appreciation for nature and bird watching, a hobby that
he continues to enjoy to this day. The family moved to
New Hartford in 1946 as Al was developing another
hobby, the quest for speed in which he found his
appetite to be insatiable.  Although his mother taught
him to drive, his father instilled him with the joy of
sliding, first on snow. He started with motorcycles,
tearing up the streets of New Hartford and Utica with his
flathead Indian. He also tore up the New Hartford High
School athletic field during the winters, doing figure 8’s
and doughnuts in the snow. Apparently he drew enough
attention to draw the ire of at least one Harley riding
policeman. The policeman was so bent on bringing in Al
that he often waited for him on Bleecker Street, and
toward the end of his Indian chasing career, even got a
head start in attempt to catch him. Al had it worked out
though, “I took the back streets and dirt roads home and
once I got there my sister would cover for me once the
cop made it to the front door. ‘No, it couldn’t have been
my brother, he’s out of town.’ Scraped alot of metal off
my footboards outrunning him. It’s funny but after he
retired, I bought his Harley.” Was it as fast as the Indian?
“No.” Do you still have it? “No, I sold it. The Indian is still
in the family though.” Apparently it wasn’t Al’s first, or
last, confrontation with the law, “we didn’t always see eye
to eye,” but at least they got to know each other well.
After following some buddies to the new stockcar races at
Vernon in 1949, Al got the bug and bought a car from
Burns & Wilson to enter into competition. “I figured I
liked to slide and thought I could do as well as anybody
else. I did basically what everybody else was doing at the
time. Chopped the fenders off, took out the interior, put
some kinda makeshift rollbar in it and went racing. I
think the car cost me $25 or $30, it was a ’37 ford tudor
sedan #46. Numbers were assigned back then. The
helmet almost cost as much, $19.95 and was one of the
biggest expenditures early on. It’s a Cromwell and the
one I used all through my career, still have it today.” Al’s
first race was at Vernon, which is now known as Vernon
Downs, in 1949. “We really didn’t know what we were
doing at the time, I think it was three weeks or so before I
knew enough to lock up the rearend.” One of the rules at
the time was that all drivers had to be at least 21 years of
age. Blonde haired, blue eyed and cocky, Al drew
attention immediately and was tossed at the last race of
the year, the track championship race, for being too
young. No problem though as his father, who also liked
to slide, substituted for him on this day although “he ran
about half the race, spun and crashed. He wasn’t too
impressed and it ended his racing career right there. He
always supported me though and liked to watch, he had
a bit of a wild streak in him too.” Al was able to procure a
phony draft card before his next venture to the track,
providing proof of his age to compete. “The joke at the
track was that I was ‘around 21’, but then one day one of
them said that I’d been around 21 for at least three
years, they didn’t bother me after that.” Al’s early racing
experiences included racing with pioneer drivers such as
the Kotary Brothers, ‘Cigar Smoking’ Bernie Ingersoll,
Frank ‘Rollover’ Westover and ‘Racin’ Greyson Smith.  As
in most cases, drivers were given nicknames by the track
announcer as a means of creating more interest in the
races. Brookfields’ colorful announcer, Mike Sandy, was
a pioneer in this practice in naming Nick Carter ‘Private
Eye’, ‘Rollover’ Westover, and of course ‘Suicide’ Al
Sanders. Al didn’t get his nickname due to his cars
construction (which, by the way, was always very light in
nature) rather he earned it with his hell bent for leather
driving style. As noted in an early 1950’s press release,
Al earned the presidents chair in the Bennett’s
Speedway ‘Fence Busting Club’, crashing through the
outer wall on two separate occasions.  When pressed Al
related “I guess Mike called me that in reference to my
driving style, it was a little rough and a little wild. It
sounded about right.” “My first race I was following the
dust and couldn’t see, I pulled to the inside to get a
better view but soon so was everyone else so I went to the
high side of the track. I was doing fine up there, passing
cars. I didn’t win but I didn’t crash and I qualified for the
feature so for the next 17 years I drove the high line.”
Which would explain his board splintering exploits.
The high line was the place to be at Brookfield as the
straights were dirt and the corners macadam. “If you kept
your wheels up high you were still in the dirt and could
slide right around.” Al’s most memorable race took place
at Brookfield in 1950 as he was sporting a newly
purchased ‘California job’ from Ray Brown Automotive. In
Richard Parry’s wonderful scrapbook there is a typed
letter from Ray Brown to Al detailing the engine’s
specification and cost, stroked an eighth and bored to 3
and 5 with full race Winfield cam, Laughton racing
pistons, filled and milled heads, chopped flywheel and
balanced, all for $245.92. Surely a lot of money at the
time but wouldn’t you like to buy one today for that?
(Gas was  $.25).  “In the early 50’s Brookfield had a flock
of very fine drivers, Jerry Bohling, Jim Luke, Bernie
Ingersoll, Bill Wimble, Steve Danish, The Kotary Boys,
The Gerows, Fred Sheppard and a bunch of others the
ran there regular. I had a very good motor from Ray
Brown, he was a Dry Lakes record holder (and also
became well know later for his work with Chrysler’s Fire
Power Hemi’s amongst others). Well, on the first lap there
was a little tangle on the first turn and I turned my car
sideways to keep from hitting anyone. The car fired right
up and away I went. Well, Brookfield is a long track and
the pack was disappearing around the third turn. I was
hoping for a yellow flag but that was not to be so I got
going. In less than a lap I was catching the back cars and
started going by, the car was working perfectly and I was
passing at a high rate. Rapidly running through a crowd
of very good cars, some of the best in Central NY and the
crowd was loving it. I was weaving in and out, every lap I
made I thought I might crash myself, I couldn’t believe it.
The car had plenty of power and was going anywhere I
wanted. On the 24th lap I passed Jerry Bohling and
Steve Danish who were running first and second for the
lead. With only two turns to go I may have slowed a bit to
make sure I made the last corner which allowed Paul
Korman to get close enough to dump me in the
Brookfield swamp. There’s real live frogs in there and no
way out except by the tow truck. To make matters worse,
afterward the race director came over and gave me hell
for driving too wild. So, I lost the race by 300 feet and was
told to never drive like that again, and I never did.”
Al’s night wasn’t a complete loss though, his penchant
for speed had caught many car owners eyes and he    
didn’t have difficulty in obtaining rides, many of which
he built for himself, as he “went through a lot of cars. I
usually built the cars with everything that bolted on.
That way I could just transfer it to the next car. Once the
tow car got a little shabby, it became the next race car,
we tore up a lot of them.” In 1952 Art Gillorian put Al in
his potent #58 and Al ripped off three straight at Sharon
Springs “Before the good competition caught wind of it.”
At Sharon one day Al was relating his traction problem to
his owner when a well meaning chap related he might
spin less down the back stretch were he to put the car in
high gear. “SIR, IT IS IN HIGH GEAR” was Al’s response.
The #58 was tough at Sharon. Always innovating to find
more speed and refining his skills throughout the year,
Al would head to Florida during the winters and race
against the southerners. He made the yearly trek to
Daytona and related how wild it was there. “The beach
course was tough, really no safety controls at all. We were
lined up three abreast and the cars covered half a mile,
there was no way a flagger could flag you off so we started
from a dead stop and they had an aerial bomb that went
off to signify the start. At that time, they didn’t stop a
race for a wreck, so long as a car could get through, they
kept racing. They had to because the tide was coming in
and that was half the course. And the fans, they’d run
right across the track, you couldn’t see to well from the
sand and here they are right in front of you. The main
road was just as treacherous, it was narrow and had sand
on either side, if you got in the sand you were in trouble.
At night they’d all be drinking, half of them were
rumrunners anyways, drag racing cars, partying, no cops
around, it was wild. The drags were really dangerous,
some would be coming up the beach and other going
down it, nobody knew which way they were going. The
next day they’d all be piling themselves into the cars and
racing. Don Garlits was down there once with a Lincoln  
V-12 in a Model A frame and he was drag racing
everybody, and beating them too. There was nothing to
Al took his experiences from the South and put them to
use in NY and proceeded to build some vary interesting,
and successful, stock cars. Although his innovations
weren’t only limited to the cars. He once mounted a
School Bus stoplight near his rear window and wired it to
a switch on the steering wheel. “I would give it a few
flashes when entering a turn to make the trailing driver
think I was hitting the brake and get them to back off. It
only worked for a few races though and they caught on.”
He built a hand held windshield wiper for Daytona, “we
got going so fast it blew over and wasn’t operable.” He
also rigged up an oil feed system for his flathead but “got
so caught up in the action, I forgot to dump the oil.”
Other innovations were more successful, especially the
‘Ghost Car’, that Willie Wust was referring to. Built in the
middle 1950’s, Al’s original idea was to move the heavy
radiator, a requirement of all flathead racecars, to the
rear of the car “to keep the mud out of it.” The radiator
still had to perform its main function though, which was
to cool the engine. So in order to get air through it, Al
took a holesaw to the car’s 1937 Ford body and
proceeded to punch holes everywhere. The result of
which looked somewhat like Charley Brown’s ghost
costume from the Peanut’s ‘Great Pumkin’ story. True to
form, it was very light, in no small way due to the
aforementioned exhaust tubing rollcage and cardboard
floorboards. “I liked using exhaust tubing, true it was
very light but I saw many cars that were welded up
waterpipe that disintegrated in rollovers. The welds would
hold but the pipe would come apart around the welds
and I didn’t want to get hit with any debris so I used the
exhaust tubing and brazed them up with small gussets at
critical points, they never came apart on me. They did
crush down at times but never broke. The cardboard
floorboards painted silver worked well too, until I hit a
puddle and then they would start to sag and I’d have to
replace them.” The car worked very well with George
Holland turning the wrenches and Al won consecutive
Brookfield Fair 50 lap Championships with it in 1956
and 1957, although he never did get the radiator to the
rear.  “I still have the tubing for the radiator in the attic.”
Always with an eye on the State Fair Championship, Al
built his ‘back seat driver’ car for the 1956 event. A ’34
Ford fordoor, his seat was basically on the rearend and
the car was meant for the fast Geddes mile. “It didn’t
work worth a darn on the half miles but did it handle at
Syracuse.” After winning the consi at Syracuse that day,
Brad Edwards of Clayville got the car up to fourth in the
feature (after starting last) when a head gasket let go
ending his chances for the elusive victory. “That was my
best chance at the Fair.” ‘Brad Edwards’ drove many a
race in Al’s cars as Al, and many of his fellow Nascar
competitors, weren’t allowed to run at ‘Outlaw’ tracks.
“Brad was a good friend and my early partner when we
were running at Columbia and Richfield Springs, I used
his name several times.” As did many others who ran the
outlaw circuit.  It was the first of many misfortunes at
Syracuse for Al, the following year the ‘Ghost Car’ got
involved in a major tangle that started one of the myths
about Sanders. “We were coming out of the corner and it
was nothing but dust. Some cars got tangled up in front
of me and I got caught up in it. My door got ripped off
and so I got out of there. I wasn’t going to stick around
and wait for the next batch to crash into us. So I get out
and run across to the infield, I was running so hard in
the dust I didn’t see the guardrail and ran right into it,
flipped me head over teakettle and everybody thought I’d
got hit by a car. The only thing I hit was that guardrail
with my shin.”
“And no, I never did hit Frank Trinkaus at Brookfield. It
has been widely rumored that one night there Frank was
running for his life in the pits with my car bearing down
on him. But it didn’t happen that way. It was a typical
Brookfield night. The track sits in a valley and the fog
rolls in, plus the track was dusty so you get the idea, can’
t see too well there. And it’s a big track, half mile with a
quarter mile inside the half. We’re in the feature and my
car is running badly and I’m going backwards.     I’m way
back and the fog is rolling in so I just sort of zipped off
across that short track turn and came out running with
the leaders. I really expected to get the black flag but
after several laps I was still out there, not running any
better and steadily going back in the pack. So I tried that
maneuver again and that’s how I met up with Frank
Trinkaus in the fog. I did get the black flag then and a
little talking to from Frank, but my car never hit him and
that’s the truth.” “Brookfield got so foggy at times, a car
would go off and they wouldn’t notice he was gone for
quite a few laps. The track there was dirt on the straights
and asphalt in the corners. But you could run it like dirt
if you got up high on them. Usually you’d get some mud
up on the asphalt and then it’d be like dirt anyways. And
there was a little dropoff at the end of the asphalt, just
wide enough to get tire into and that’s work like a groove
for your tire. Ahhhhh,… was a lot of fun.”
Now I know why Mike Sandy dubbed the young
wheelman ‘Suicide’ Al. He dared the berm at Brookfield,
and Sharon, and Richfield, Vernon, Bennets, Afton,
Morris, Fonda, Layfayette and “just about any that was
open”. And came through amazingly unscathed through
several fairly horrendous looking wrecks. We’re looking
through Al’s scrapbook, and his wife’s depictions, which
are quite interesting. ‘Should have called him Crash
Sanders’, ‘First Race, First Corner, First lap, First Crash.’
We come upon the L8, arguably Al’s best ride. “I
remember when he’d show up in that L8 and we knew it
was trouble, he was fast and he beat us” recall’s my
father. Owned by ‘L’ Truck  Stop proprietor, Joe
Cipharelli (sp?), the ’34 Ford 5-window was as pretty as it
was fast, often “fogging the troops” at Morris and
Brookfield. There’s a photo of the #62 that Al piloted for
Whitbeck’s machinist Bud Miller, Who relates “was a
crackerjack mechanic. His cars were always fast, he was
the one who told me about fogging the troops at Morris
by getting a wheel into the dust on the backstretch when
in the lead. Morris was awful dusty.” Another photo
depicts Al in the X21 which won a 50 lapper at Morris
drawing the ire of Kurzon ‘Moose’ Carey and his wife
Hanna who apparently didn’t like getting passed twice in
the same race. “I can’t remember the conversation exactly
but I got the idea he didn’t like getting lapped. His wife
didn’t like it too well either.” Suffice to say, Al and Brad
sat in many a racecar.
By the mid sixties the racing landscape had changed,
racing was getting more sophisticated, and expensive. Al,
who had raced for a living and picked up jobs here and
there as he needed them, was beginning to see the end
in sight. His last ride came from a phone call from Bob
Adams in 1966 while Al was in Florida. “Bob was a great
guy, he got hurt in an accident when he was young
which debilitated him badly. We were good friends early
on in the flathead days and had a lot of fun. He was so
into racing. At  Fonda one night I got by him on the last
lap of the consi to win it and couldn’t understand why,
his car was faster and there wasn’t any way I was going to
get him. Afterward I talked to him and he said his foot fell
off the gas pedal and he couldn’t get it back on. He had it
wired to the gas pedal, that’s how badly he wanted to
race.” In 1966 Bob was in the hospital with cancer so Al
came back from Florida to run his car but didn’t have
much success due to some mechanical problems, shortly
after, Bob passed away “and that was it. It wasn’t fun
anymore and when Bob died, I quit. I’d been chasing this
dream for 17 years and my wife had been very patient.
We were dirt poor and I had to get a job full time. We
never got rich racing but we never went hungry, but it
was time.” Al went on to work at Bo Laws speedshop in
Florida and was fortunate enough to learn tricks and rub
elbows with such legends as Smokey Yunick and Harvey
J. Crane. “We used to do dyno work with Crane, they’d
go upstairs and grind a cam, bring it down and we’d
install it then run it on the dyno. Back upstairs they’d go
and repeat the process. It was a lot of fun learning from
those guys.” Al learned the secrets of head porting in
those days, a trade he continues to apply at Bill    
DeJohn’s speedshop in Ilion and one he’s quite good at
as my brother Tom can attest to with the proof being the
502 HP Cleavor waiting to tear apart his Mustang.
Shaking   Al’s hand you can feel the strength coursing
through his big hands, he’s ported many a head and
turned many a wheel. Successful at many venues, he
lacked the backing to win the really big one but it wasn’t
for lack of trying an done could easily say he was one of
the most colorful drivers of his time. Mike Sandy got it
right, ‘Suicide’ Al was spot on and it was a pleasure to
talk with him about his racing exploits.
Flattech Dept: Took forever but I finally got ‘Red
Shredder’ together and this time it stayed that way I’m
happy to report. Cliff was right, take your time with the
rods, floaters are time consuming to fit. Must thank Dave
Richards at Rte. 38 Machine Shop for his help. The
engine promptly tore off the ring gear at Fonda and then
the front drive snub at Utica Rome, like I said, next one
will be named ‘ReLiAbLe’, after that though she gave no
trouble and ran great. Traveling with Midstate this
summer was fun, must thank the folks at Afton for
lending us a helmet, I’ll be sure to add a few items to  
Dad’s checklist in the future. Watching the balloons rise
over the Spedie Fest as we sat on the backstretch of Five –
Mile was quite a site, beautiful sky as they rose from the
valley. The racing was great too as was shooting the bull
with Mike Monnat as we prepped for the activities, the
guy is a walking encyclopedia of racing history. Must also
thank John Flach for his help with my fuel pump drive, a
beautiful job which I’m sure will help tame the shredder.
Mr. Green Beans Dept. Nikki had to ask as we were
looking over the chart. We were at the vet with Belvedere
having a lump in his throat looked at, luckily it was just a
cyst and has now evaporated. So she asked “Is our dog
grossly obese?” The response was expected ‘What, are
you kidding me?’ 180 lbs. said the scale, ‘feed him
greenbeans’ was the advice. Greenbeans? No way my
salivating meat chomping boy is gonna go for that, we
stopped and got some green beans, frozen, canned,
french style, I’m figuring I’m going to be eating a lot of
green beans. We tried them and all three boys stuck
there nose up in the air, Belvedere gave me a look like
‘are you kidding me?’ Try again. Nikki heated them up
with some butter and we made a big deal of how good
they were, Winston couldn’t resist at that point, neither
could Napolean and then finally, Belvedere. They now
love greenbeans and we can see his waistline again.  
Must’ve lost a least two pounds. I’m eating ‘em too.
Was great seeing my boyhood friend Rick Gross and wife
Karla recently. Over from the Philippine’s he stopped by
to shoot the bull and it was great to reminisce. Rick’s
father Burr has long been an avid race fan and used to
take us boys over to Midstate after Moose’s 88 was sold.
Ricky always rooted for ‘Socks’ Hulbert while I liked Bill
Salamacha, as I recall Dick Hanson and the boys from
Lebanon Valley were doing most of the winning at that
time although Salamacha did clean out the horse barn
on at least one occasion. ‘Cleaned Barn’ doesn’t sound
quite as right as ‘cleaned house’ though, he did both on
occasion. Happy to hear that Burr has recently been
given a clean bill of health after some complications,   
don’t know if I ever got to properly thank you for taking
me to those races, thank you Burr.
Lastly, I want to mention that the Central New York
Oldtimers convention and Hall of Fame Induction was
held this past Saturday the 11th at the VFW Post 2338 in
West Winfield. This years inductees included Bob Gibbs,
(Mitch’s father), Jerry Christian (Jamie’s father), Norm
‘The Bald Bandit’ Moyer, (Fonda’s first late model winner)
and Perennial All Time Card, Donnie Newell. Many a
retired wheelman showed up to honor them and share a
laugh, Kurzon ‘Moose’ Carey, Gene ‘Stud’ Cole, Jim and
Fred Gerow, Bill Newell, Otto Graham, ‘Suicide’Al
Sanders, Tommy Wilson, amongst others. Really made
my day when Roy and Cliff Kotary pulled in, was
wonderful to see Jim Gerow go up to shake Cliff’s hand
and get re-acquainted, all smiles after last battling nearly
50 years ago. Looked like a few of them could still wheel
one. Nicely restored cars on hand where trailered to the
event by Jon Button (#22 Sprinter), John Clark (#3X
Chevy), Jim Chase (Nye 150), Richard Ackerman (Pierce
P-13) and yours truly (Chuck Corey #15 from Penn Can),
OK, last two were only ‘Barn Fresh’ but drew lots of
onlookers. It really was a wonderful day under perfect
skies and good for the soul. Was saddened to hear that
Laverne “Vern’ Angel passed away on August 27th at age
92 at his home in Rome. Vern was a true racing pioneer
in central NY, fielding cars at Brookfield, Midstate,
Waterloo, The State Fair, Utica-Rome and Fonda. His
drivers included Jerry Shutlz, Moose Carey and Cliff
amongst many others and he was also a long time
Technical Inspector and Official for the Eastern Mutual
Racing club and at Midstate. Vern’s cars held many
checkers and he was also quite the early cameraman,
recording much of the events on his 8mm for posterity,
including some ‘in car’ shots, he may have been the first
to do so. He enjoyed a laugh as well as a checkered and
will be missed by many, our condolences to the Angel’s
on their loss, Godspeed Vern.   
OK, long winded as always, much more to blabber about
but it’ll keep. Jeff Ackerman, 6256 State Route 17C,
Endicott, NY 13760.  
~Al Sanders~
Article Published in Volume 39 #30, September 24, 2004 in the Gater Racing News
Al Sanders with his first car. Courtesy of Richard Parry.
Truly a 'Stock Car'. Courtesy of Richard Parry.
Dropping the green at Vernon. courtesy of Alan Weaver.
Vernon action, Burton's 9B in front. Courtesy of Alan Weaver.
Brookfield and Sharon Speedways boomed until Fonda opened.
Al cops a checkers at Sunbrook Speedway in Florida. Courtesy of Richard Parry.
The 'Ghost Car' or 'Swiss Cheese' if you like. Courtesy of Richard Parry.
'Back Seat Driver' was built with Syracuse in mind. Courtesy of Richard Parry.
'Brad Edwards' sure looked a lot like Suicide Al. Courtesy of Richard Parry.
His only injuries came after the crash when Al clobbered his shins getting away. Courtesy of Richard Parry.
He already had the nickname, crashes like this enhanced it. Courtesy of Richard  Parry.
'First race, first corner, first lap, first crash.' Al wanted Syracuse as bad as anyone but had little luck there. Courtesy of Mel Ogden.
Fred Gerow in the Arcone K-150. Courtesy of Alan Weaver.
Al in a publicity shot with the Gillorian 58. Courtesy of Richard Parry.
Al's first good ride, the Art Gillorian #58. Courtesy of Al Sanders.
Al poses in downtown New Hartford with the Gillorian 58 and friend. Courtesy of Richard Parry.
The Art Gillorian #58 in color, and on the hook. Courtesy of Richard Parry.
Al poses with his '40 coupe. Courtesy of Richard Parry.
Al wasn't bashful with the bodywork. Courtesy of Richard Parry.
 Caved in doors were fairly commonplace at the time, at least the 'safety latch' held. Courtesy of Richard Parry.
The idea was to put the radiator in the trunk. Courtesy of Richard Parry.
Vern Angel.
Fred Gerow in 1952, courtesy of Alan Weaver.
Arguably Al's best ride, the L8. Courtesy of Richard Parry.
Vernon action and dust, Bernie Miller in the #41. Courtesy of Alan Weaver.
Early Vernon start, courtesy of Alan Weaver.
Vernon's Pits were full of Modifieds. Courtesy of Alan Weaver.
Don Hendenberg with Dave McCredys S33 was tough competiton. Courtesy of Richard Parry.
Tommy Wilson, 1952. courtesy of Alan Weaver.
Al and some ugly guy displying his Cromwell and an early trophy. At least Shelby's pretty.
Al ripped off a 50 lap win at Midstate in 1958 in this car. Courtesy of Richard Parry.
'We hated to see him coming in that L8' recalls my father. Courtesy of Richard Parry.
Early 1950's ride at Syracuse. Courtesy of Richard Parry.
Another 1950's ride at Morris. Looks like this one's getting ready for a powder puff. Courtesy of Richard Parry.
August 9, 1952 Brookfield Program. Courtesy of Richard Parry.
Al was reminiscing this day about 'hotdogging' at Norwich in the 50's and scaring a photographer silly.
Al with the Mouseville Monster, Norwich 2006.