~Don Diffendorf~
Article Published in Volume 41 #1, January 13, 2006 in the Gater Racing News
  The 201 flyover is finally open,
re-connecting Johnson City to
Vestal over the Susquehanna
River, and took a lot of men many
long hours. The project went on
for over a year and is quite an
improvement, maybe too good. I
asked one of the more
experienced workers what he
thought of the rash of accidents
that have already occurred.
“People drive too fast.” This comes
from a guy who knows something
about going fast.  
Don Diffendorf was born on
February 9th, 1929 in
Binghamton, NY. His family of 6
soon moved to Colesville and Don
was raised on the hill. He
attended school at Acre Place in
Kirkwood and enjoyed playing
ball and sledding with Fred Hoyt
sleds, which apparently was the
hot ticket. Don’s father worked in
construction with trucks and
once Don finished eighth grade,
he went to work at age 15. “And I’
ve been working ever since.”
When the rumor of the stock cars
reached the southern tier, it only
made sense that the mechanics
and young men would be drawn
to it. Stock car racing was
something new and exciting,
most young men interested in
cars and competition couldn’t
help but be curious.  Don was no
different. His friend Gene Heath
got a stock car and they flat
towed to Ovid in 1950 for their
first race. “It was a plowed field.
Not much better. They just
plowed it and floated it and we
could get around on it but, god. It
was pretty interesting and we did
pretty good. I remember we had
to unhook the car on the way
home to get the tow car over the
hill.” It was the beginning of a
long friendship as well as
enjoyable vocation for both.
Don started in earnest at Five
Mile Point in 1951, the first year
the track was open and drove a
1938 Ford flathead coupe #73
owned by John Gorman. It was
the coupe in which he recorded
his first victory at Five Mile and
the pair was soon heading to
Susquehanna as well. Don cut
his teeth on the tough quarter
mile bullrings against the likes
of  Ken ‘Monk” Rauch, Irish Joe
Donahue, Dave Kneisal, Bobby
Quick, Bobby Brutcher, tough
bunch. Mike Monnat put it best
one day, “you know how they said
Donahue was dirty right? Well,
he learned everything he knew
from Monk Rauch.” The
competitiveness was to Don’s
liking and he learned his trade
well. In the mid-50’s Don paired
with Ken King in the #98,
another ’38 Ford flathead
powered coupe that again found
success with both at the wheel.
The car was typical of the time,
big radiator lifting the hood a bit,
a rugged front bumper protecting
it, simple nerf bars, a roll bar, a
Cromwell, and a fearless buck
with a heavy right foot was all you
needed to go racing.
By 1958 Don’s ability was
apparent and Don Beagle Jr.
approached him to inquire about
his services for a trip to Syracuse.
“He had a ’36 Chevy coupe #15
with a GMC 6 in it. I told him that
if it couldn’t run 100 in a mile,
there wasn’t any use in going to
Syracuse. ‘So how we gonna test
it?’ he asked me. I had this brand
new Edsel and it would do 100
easy. I knew the superintendent
that was working on the I-81
project, it wasn’t open yet, so I
asked if we could try it out there.
He said ‘ok’ so we moved the
barricades out of the way and
Red Harrington, Junior (Don)
Beagle, and Eddie Gates got in
my Edsel and I got in the race
car. And we’re going up 81
southbound, side by side and
they’re waving their arms and
said ‘YUP, YA DID IT!’ So we
figured we had a pretty good race
car, we did. So we went up to
Syracuse and we’re doing really
good. Then probably about half
way through the race the
driveshaft blew out of it… we didn’
t have the driveshaft balanced
and it broke and came up and hit
me in the arm.” “One thing about
Syracuse I learned was that you
didn’t get off the hub. If I caught
someone going into one, I didn’t
try it on the outside, I just waited
to it cleared out.” How was the
dust going into one? “Well, it
wasn’t too bad, (smile) when you
were in front.” Don was to put
this early experience to good use.
By the end of the fifties, Don had
earned the reputation of
possessing a heavy right foot and
was landing good rides. He was
driving the Heinz Oil car out of
Montrose when he then landed
his best ride to date, re-uniting
with John Gorman in the cockpit
of the #23, which he campaigned
at Glen Aubrey, Five Mile and
Susquehanna. A neat ’34 Ford
three window, the latest Gorman
coupe garnered Don many more
wins and was the first car in
which Don started experimenting
with weight distribution. “We
generally added a spring to the
right front and right rear to keep
the car from laying over too
much. We didn’t have any jacking
bolts or anything like that. With
the Gorman coupe we started
using sandbags.” It must’ve
worked, Don’s pictures of the 23
all include a flag and he earned a
guaranteed starting spot at
Langhorne by winning the
qualifier at Five Mile in 1961. At
Langhorne Don finished off the
pace in  29th after charging up
through the field twice, reaching
12th (from 37th starting spot in
the 61 car field) until a stuck
throttle forced him to pit. He re-
entered but a broken fan belt
forced him back to the pits
again.  Despite his poor luck, he
gushed in the Oct 10, 1961 Sun-
Bulletin article by writer Joe
Krupinsky ; “the drivers respect
one another, there’s no dirty
work whatsoever,…you can just
concentrate on driving, because
of that I felt good right from the
start. I figure I could have
finished in the top five without all
that trouble, the car was running
real nice…It’s a beautiful track,
and a beautiful race to be in, I’m
really anxious to get back there
next year.” The picture
accompanying the article is one
of a rugged, cocksure young man
donned in his Cromwell, goggles
and t-shirt, he was getting a taste
for the bigger races and bigger
places, and reveling in it.
It was also in 1961 that Don and
many other local teams made an
attempt to race at the defunct
Shangri-La Speed plant in
Owego. “We went there with our
flathead cars but it wasn’t very
successful, we couldn’t get
anyone in the stands.” However,
it did bring the subject of racing
at the track back to the forefront
and the idea flourished. “John  
Manny and I were the first two to
approach Bub Winnie about re-
opening the track. A lot of things
started happening then, Fran
Gitchell, Mike Spak, Manny,
things started clicking. They
bought a rodeo out and Joe
(Donahue) was down in New
Jersey disassembling the
grandstands so we all went down
and started hauling them back. It
was quite a deal. Mike Strubel set
up the stands and footers, built
new restrooms. I worked for a
contractor at the time and had
access to graders so we reworked
everything and re-paved it. A lot
of people don’t know what went
into that re-opening, it wasn’t
just open the gates.” The work
paid off though and the ‘Garden
Spot of Racing in the Southern
Tier’, where you could wear your
Sunday suit, was reborn for the ’
62 season.   
That year (1962) Don took the
seat recently vacated by Irish Joe
in the John Manny stable.
Manny’s ‘Tear Drop’ #49 coupe
cockpit had become available
when Donahue bolted for the
equally potent Wes German #04
and it turned out to be good
moves for all. The Manny mount
now had a small block Chevy
displacing the flathead, dual rear
wheels, a #9 on the side and a
new name on the door. ‘Dif’ had
arrived and he ripped off nine
straight victories in the car at Five
Mile. When he won his tenth in a
row the car got a new number
(10) and he finished off the
season in dominating style,
having won 13 of 16 features and
the points title. He was now more
than just a good driver, he was
becoming a force to be reckoned
with.
“I remember going down into
Pennsylvania, where was it,
Evergreen. John says we’ll go
down there and mop up, make
some money. He figured it was
easy pickin’s. I say’s ‘ok’ so off we
go. And we get down there in the
pits and there’s Malzahn, and  
Cagle… brother! (Don rolls his
eyes to the heavens). There weren’
t too many fans in the stands and
the promoter comes over to us
and says he’ll pay but to just take
it easy and put on a show. In the
feature I’m chasing Will, right on
his bumper, and he wins it. So I
ask him afterward if he was
mashing the gas and he say’s, ‘If I
was standing on it, you’d need a
road map to find me.’ Were you
running hard? “Yeah, I was giving
it all I had, I wanted to beat him.
So the next week we go down
again and this time, I beat him.
So I’m out of the car after the
race and I can’t help it, I holler
over to Will, ‘HEY, WHERE’S
YOUR ROAD MAP?”
By 1963 Manny got interested in
the Supers that were running at
Oswego and now Shangri-La.
John sent his son Sonny and
Don to Ohio to find a suitable
super on a tip but once Don got
there and saw it, he wasn’t
impressed. “It was laid out in the
field with growth coming up
through it.” Undeterred, Manny
instructed them to get to
Sandusky where they took in the
show and later found one worth
buying. The car was whisked
back to Binghamton, fitted with a
486 stroked Buick nailhead and
repainted as the #10.
Unfortunately, “it was a real sled”
and took Don on one of the
wildest rides of his career at
Shangri-La. “Jack Nichols had a
hand brake on his car and when
he hit it, it would shoot the car
up the track, that’s how Nellie
Ward got into it with him. Two
weeks later he got me.” Towards
the end of the 1963 season, when
coming down the front-stretch his
throttle stuck and he caught a
wheel of the aforementioned
Nichols super. Don promptly
stuffed his rocket into the first
turn wall. “We could never get the
thing to handle. That day before
the race at Shangri-La I put a
second return spring on it, lo and
behold, someone took that spring
off. Well it was so under-powered,
or gears were wrong, I can’t
remember what the hell was
wrong with it, I had to hold it
down right to the last second.
Well, it (the throttle) was down
and didn’t come back. And I went
out between 1 and 2, right
through that steel fence just like
snapping a toothpick. Kids are
over there in those trees and they
dropped like apples.”  Don’s
season was over as was his
adventures in the #10. The super
was rebuilt and soon sold to Stan
Sheilds who re-numbered it the
Colt 45 and hired Red Barnhart
as his driver launching his
successful career at Oswego.
In the spring of 1964 Don and
John Manny were taking in a
show at Oswego, walking through
the pits and John had the super
bug bad. “He said, pick out the
one you like. So I picked Dave
Pauls and he bought it. It was an
awesome car.” Indeed, Don chose
Dave Paul’s ’63 classic winner
and John was able to purchase it.
They fitted the car with the 486
Buick stroker, banged out the
valve covers to clear the Isky
Rollers and re-numbered it the
10-10. “We brought it home, took
the engine out of it, put in the
Buick. First time at Oswego (June
5, 1964) we won the heat, semi
and I was leading the feature
coming down for the flag and
Norm Mackareth caught me
behind a lap car and I finished
third as I had to follow them… It
weighed probably 1400-1500
pounds and the car handled
beautiful. Right on the outside
and stay right there.” Don was
developing his asphalt style,
which would work well for him in
the future. “We did good with it at
Shangri-La too but the
competition was something else.
That’s when Swifty was
dominating, and Shampine,
Bennet, Ward…” Even with this
stiff competition, Don was able to
record one supermodified feature
win at the Owego speed plant.  “I
didn’t get to race it as much at
Oswego as I would have liked
‘cause Richard (Manny) wrecked
it. Young kid, had to take it out
for warm-ups, you know..”
Apparently Richard tested the
‘Steel Palace’ wall and the wall
won. Once repaired Don was back
at the tiller of the super and later
that season tangled with Nichols
again, this time off the
backstretch at Shangri-La.
“Coming out of two and he come
up a bit and we catch wheels.
Next thing I know I’m flipping
down the backstretch, it took the
sheetmetal all off and I ‘bout lost
my foot on that one. Banged up
my eye. It took until turn three
until I got stopped.” In the
accident, Don got pretty banged
up with three severed tendons
above his foot and facial injuries
from a liberated brake shoe.  Did
he ever consider quitting? “No.”
As he put it, “We were tough
guys, here today, gone tomorrow.
I never though about quitting, I
figured I hadn’t caused those
accidents so why quit.” He was
however, done in the supers after
the second wreck, and once
healed concentrated on the
modifieds from that point
forward. Nichols continued to
have poor luck in the supers and
ultimately a few years later, was
involved in an accident that took
his own life.
Late in 1964, a new turquoise
colored ’36 Chevy coupe made it’s
first appearance at Shangri-La.
Driven by an IBM salesman
named Glenn Scott, it was
numbered S/360 after the
computer that was his pride and
joy. It didn’t do much as far as
results that year, but better days
were on the horizon for both the
car and Don.
At the beginning of 1965 at
Shangri-La, Scott was still at the
controls of the S/360  but was
unable to make the car
competitive. Don was ready to
leave the Manny stable as John’s
refusal to have his engine tore
down cost him some wins and a
championship race to friend Don
Yeingst. “It was an all night deal
back then you know and John
didn’t want to do it.” Apparently,
John ‘occasionally’ took a liberal
view of the rulebook, or at least
was accused of it. Gene Heath
stepped in and introduced Don to
Scotty. With the addition of Don’s
brother Bill and the Mooney
brothers John and Pete, the
S/360 team was born. Repainted
Vermillion Orange, the car was
immediately competitive with Don
behind the wheel as they took on
the best in asphalt modified
racing at Shangri-La. Fitted with
a small block Chevy, the car “did
Ok” as Don put it for the
remainder of the ’65 season. ‘OK’
being relative of course as Don
finished the season second in
points to Dutch Hoag. Hoag first
came to the track in 1964 to
claim the bounty offered to stop
the dominating Mike Zopp in the
Wes German #04 coupe. It was a
fortuitous move, not only for Hoag
but also for the Shangri-La
faithful who would be witness to
the battles of Hoag and Diffendorf
over the next decade plus. The ’
66 season was a season of travel
and learning, the team moved out
of their back yard and visited
Fulton, Lancaster and Spencers
for the first time. Don learned the
other asphalt tracks and clicked
off a couple of feature wins at
Shangri-La but ‘Bullet’ Bill
Strosahl claimed the track
championship in the McClure
#15. The team finished the year
with a fine running in the initial
Daniel Boone 200 at the Reading
Fairgrounds. Don recalled “We
were leading that one after 20 or
30 laps and going away. Later in
the race Gene could see the
canvas on the right front and
wanted to pull me in. Glen said
‘no’ and the thing started
plowing. Stan Ploski got by me on
the 198th lap. We had a
carburetor with our small block
and they all had fuel injection.
Well, we got second anyways.” No
small feat as an invader with what
was primarily an asphalt car.
Changes took place over the
winter of ’66 – ’67. Gene Heath
moved on and the car underwent
a major rework. At Tony’s Amoco
Station on the corner of Main and
Endwell in Johnson City, Doug
Wheaton reconfigured the car.
“We could never really make it
work right before that” Don
related, “He moved this, offset
that.” While Doug was burning
the midnight oil, Don was buying
a Rolls Royce, or so he thought.
“Jerry Hotchkiss and I went out
to Rochester to John Depew’s
Chevrolet to look at a Rolls Royce.
And we get there and he tells us
it’s sold. I was pretty
disappointed, I had my heart set
on it. He says ‘come on out back
here, I’ve got something you
might be interested in.’ So, we go
out back and there’s this big
crate on the floor, all covered up.
He takes the cover off and there’s
this big engine. I asked him what
it was and he says ‘it’s an L88,
aluminum heads and intake.’ So I
called Scotty up and tell him
about it, and he doesn’t know
what an L88 is either, but I tell
him I think it’s something we can
use. So he says ‘If you think we
can win with it, buy it’ and we did
for $1100.00.”  “Monster motor” is
how Monnat described it. The
team wasn’t done there. “We had
a hydraulic pump that went right
to the spring, that got us in
trouble a few times.” Between
Wheaton’s work and the new
powerplant, the S/360 was
transformed into the most
successful, and favorite car of Don’
s career. It also became the
scourge of the asphalt, and for
that matter, clay circuits, in the ’
67 season.
The start of the ’67 season found
the S/360 visiting victory lane
often at Shangri-La, winning the
40 lap Spring Championship in a
close race over ‘Bullet’ Bill. He
soon claimed a 100 lap ‘Open’
Sunday show at Lebanon Valley
(against some of the toughest
competition ever seen on clay,
Schneider, Corey, Lazzaro just to
name a few) on June 4th, then
added a 100 lapper on the
asphalt at Fulton on June 11th.
July started just as well as he
won the ‘Firecracker 50’ on July
1st at Shangri-La over Strosahl
again as their points battle
heated up. And as with any
winning car, the racing world
started taking notice of the
Vermillion Orange and White
coupe, not all liked what they
saw. “Jerry Fried, he owned
Nazareth, he invited us to come
down. We were winning a lot up
here so he wanted us. He had a
big ramp you had to come up on
and they had a rope across for
height. Your roof had to hit it. So,
we get up on there and they said
‘you’re not hitting it.’ So I’m
pumping it up to make height
and we’re almost there and it
blew the hose. Well, they couldn’t
inspect us then so back to the pit
and get a hammer out to start
beating the roof up. Frankie
Schneider was the favorite down
there, so anyways, they wouldn’t
re-inspect us… Well, we had a lot
of fans that followed us down
there and they were booing and
bahhing. So Jerry called me over
and said ‘Don, I can’t let you run
because there’s too many
problems with our local boys but I’
ll take care of you on the travel’
which was decent.” It wasn’t the
only time the ‘variable jacking
device’ caused a stir. “One night
at Lebanon Valley, Will Cagle
came over and had this young
guy with him, kinda a fanatic. He
hadn’t seen our car before and he’
s talkin’ and Will says ‘don’t
make fun of it, this is our
competition tonight.’ Yeah.” On
September 3rd Diffendorf backed
up Will’s advice and he won
another 100 lapper on the high
banks, his second of the year in
the open shows at Lebanon
Valley.
As photographer John Grady
recalls “Don was real popular”
and as the 1967 season
progressed a fan club was
organized. On the track his
battles at Shangri-La were
becoming legendary with
Strosahl, Hayes, and Hoag. And
that’s all they were, battles on
the track, no feuds. In fact, in
listening and talking with Don
there was nothing but mutual
respect amongst the combatants.
“One night Dutch’s car, I think
that was the Turner Brother’s
coupe, had konked out, his
ignition went bad. We had an
extra magneto with us so we lent
it to him, and I finished second
that night, he won.” Don shrugs,
“Watcha gonna do?” Hoag was
equally respectful. “At Shangri-La
one night Dutch and I were
running neck and neck and I slid
up a little and just touched. And
it was just enough to put him
out. Either he or I would have
won it, we were that far ahead. So
I win and get down to the flag and
they say I didn’t win it. And
Dutch came down and said it was
just a racing accident you know.
He really knew his stuff.” No
doubt, so did Don as illustrated
by this comment from long time
modified historian Mike Monnat,
“You don’t start deep in the pack
and make three wide passes on
the outside through the corners
at Shangri-La without having
your collective $#!t together. Don
in that S/360 was something to
see.”  The points battle in 1967 at
Shangri-La came down to
Strosahl and Diffendorf. In the
last points race of the season, Diff
was leading with Bullet Bill in
third when the McClure Ford
blew and Don went on to record
his fifth victory of the season at
the half mile, and with it the
points title. In doing so he joined
Strosahl in owning track
championships at both
Binghamton area tracks, 5-Mile
Point and Shangri-La, dirt and
asphalt respectively. No small
feat. With the title wrapped up it
was back on the road, and after
the Labor Day event at the
Geddes Mile (winners share
pocketed by Hoag in the Turner
#18), it was off to Fulton for a 100
lapper. The S/360 was leading
when on lap 30 Billy Blum was
involved in what those who
witnessed described only as ‘one
of the scariest wrecks seen’,
flipping off of turn four with his
car bursting into flames. Hoag
jumped to action with a fire
extinguisher “and we all kept
running our cars back and forth
trying to keep the gas away from
the car” Don recalled, “that was
really something of Dutch.” Blum
was saved and recovered from the
accident, he may not have if it
wasn’t for the quick action of
Hoag and all of the other
competitors there that night who
helped in any way they could.
Back to the race, minus Hoag
who was overcome by burns and
exhaustion, Dif continued to lead
until developing a push allowing
Lee Osborne and Jerry Hayes by,
getting out of there with a 3rd
that night was probably a good
deal. After winning the
aforementioned 100 lap open
show at the Valley on Sept. 2nd,
it was off to Ed Serwacki’s
Lancaster Speedway for the STP
200 on Sept 17th. Don proved
the season to be no fluke.  The
caption written in black magic
marker on the back of the picture
tells the story best. ‘2nd Turn,
134th lap, Bill Strosahl #15
tangles with lapped car Charley
Trombley 5 7/8. Don Diffendorf
S/360 takes lead. Goes on for
richest victory in Diffendorf’s
Career.’ Serwacki paid big
dollars, $5,000.00 to win and
dinner was on Don that night. It
also earned him a new nickname.
Long known for his hard
charging, high groove style, Don
was learning to pace himself and
strike at the end of the races,
hence the ‘Old Grey Fox’ was
born.
Don capped off the 1967 season
by winning the ‘Press Driver of
the Year Award’, presented to
him by Shangri-La promoter Fran
Gitchell on Sept 30. The award
vote was as close as the points
battle at Shangri-La and Don
nipped Strosahl again. It was, in
all, a magical year for the S/360
team.
The 1968 season started out even
better as Don won the first four
events in the state that season. A
100 lap event at Lancaster on
April 21st, another 100 lapper at
Fulton on May 10th as well as the
opening two shows at Shangri-La.
Don’s luck continued as he
reeled off wins in five of the first
seven races at Shangri-La. It
seemed that the only thing that
could stop him from pulling into
victory lane early that season was
mechanical problems. Even then,
he jumped in Bob Green’s #10
Limited and topped perennial top
dog Jim Zacharias when the
S/360 couldn’t make the call. Not
that he didn’t have competition,
Hoag, Strosahl and Hayes were
running up front too and took
advantage of every slip, or
absence, the S/360 crew
committed. Don
wasn’t chasing points so much as
he was the bigger paying events
by this time, and often passed on
a regular show for a more
lucrative payday offered
elsewhere. “We’d leave on
Wednesday and wouldn’t get
back to late Sunday or Monday
sometimes,” He recalled. His
traveling took him to Capital City
in Ottawa for yet another victory
over Ray Makison and Jim
Shampine. “Those Canadian fans
were something else, the just
loved racing and were rabid about
it. They treated us real good up
there.” On June 8th he returned
to Shangri-La to do battle with
Hoag, Hayes and Strosahl again.
The June 10th Binghamton Press
article by Bill Dowd headlines
with ‘4,500 agree Dif – Dutch
Duel a Caution Free Affair’
Shangri-La 100-Lapper A Late
Hubcap-to Hubcap. Owego – No
drag strip match has anything on
the battle veterans Don
Diffendorf of Kirkwood and Dutch
Hoag of Bath have put on at
Shangri-La Speedway the last two
races. Saturday night Hoag, the
former sportsman-modified
champion here, got past
defending champ Diffendorf on
the 19th  lap when Dif was tied
up by slower traffic. Yesterday’s
first STP International was just
the opposite except for the payoff
- $1,000 for Diff’s win, $500 for
Hoags the night before….Twenty-
one of the 100 laps were run
under the caution flag but
Diffendorf and Hoag made up for
the overall slow time by a 114 m.
p.h. duel on the straight-aways
from lap 90 until 95 when the
forth pileup of the race forced a
slowdown. Under the special
rules, no caution laps counted
once 95 laps had been
completed. Diffendorf had taken
the lead on the 87th lap, Hoag
getting stuck behind a lapped car
and lightly bumped by Diff. “I’ve
got no complaints” Hoag said
later. “There was no dirty driving
on Don’s part as far as I’m
concerned. He got past me in
lapped traffic and that’s just the
way I beat him last night.” On two
different occasions after
Diffendorf got the lead, it
appeared that Hoag, who has
been in the top finishers as
Spencerport’s Speedway the last
three weeks, would regain the top
spot. But, Diffendorf’s success of
the last two years is no accident.
Anyone who can outdrive Hoag,
one of the East Coast’s best, on
the turns deserves the win. Hoag
inched in front going into the No.
1 turn on the 98th lap but
coming out of No. 2 Diffendorf
had him by two lengths and at
the finish it was Diffendorf by
three lengths. After Strosahl went
out, it was strictly a two car race.
Bentley Warren, the West
Gloucester (Mass.) flash was
about 250 yards back in third....’  
I love reading those old articles
and Bill Dowd was good so I hope
you don’t mind me sharing it. By
mid-July Don had recorded 100
lap wins at Lebanon Valley,
Lancaster, Shangri-La and
Fulton, and had totaled thirteen
wins in all. His points lead at
Shangri-La was comfortable and
he looked tough to beat.
Off to Lancaster in late July for
the Ron Lux memorial, the
S/360 team was riding high.
However, hopes for victory that
day were derailed in an instant.
Don recalls “Jerry and Lee
Osborne got tangled up (Jerry
spun), and Jerry's car was still
running. I was running the
outside groove and Jerry’s car
kept backing up, and I had no
place to go. I veered up and tried
to miss him, but couldn’t and hit
him in the door and nerf bar. I
went over his tire and SMACK
(Don slaps his hands together
vigorously), went right over the
bank.” The moment in time is
captured vividly on page 22 of the
1969 Gater yearbook. (You can
also see the ‘before’ and ‘after’
pictures in John Bisci’s
wonderful new book, ‘Lancaster
Hero’s’, available from Lew Boyd
@ Coastal181.com). It turned out
to be unfortunate for both racers,
who were friends. “It screwed his
leg up’ Don recalled, “he was on
crutches for a long time.” As
Monnat related “It effectively
ended two careers, Jerry was
never quite the same and neither
was the S/360.” The S/360 took
two weeks to rebuild, and the
team wasn’t able to continue
their earlier successes.
Meanwhile Hayes soldiered on,
gaining in points at Shangri-La in
Don’s absence early in the
season, he continued to do so
hurt. When the S/360 team did
make it back their points lead
had dwindled. And the car wasn’t
right. Late in the season, with the
points now nearly tied, Don
showed up to defend his title.
“My car broke and Jerry’s leg was
still bad. He couldn’t drive it and I
was out so they came over and
asked me to drive it for them.
They had to put a block on the
brake or clutch, Jerry was a big
boy you know. The got it rigged
up so I could reach the pedals
and boy were they happy when I
won. And I was happy for them.”
At the time, the points went with
the car so Don’s win effectively
sealed the track championship,
for Jerry. Hayes joined Strosahl
and Diffendorf as the only three
documented (Irish Joe Donahue
may have done it as well) drivers
to win championships at 5-Mile
and Shangri-La.         
When the car was right again,
Don won a August 3 race at
Spencer to qualify for the STP
World Series of Auto Racing to be
held in Daytona the following
February. He also won another
100 lap Open at Lebanon Valley
but it was to be the last for the
team. Langhorne proved
disappointing again, carburetor
and engine troubles forced a
scratch. The team headed to
Martinsville but had no luck and
was finished. “Scotty was a
salesman for IBM, the S/360
computer was his baby, it made
him a lot of money.” How about
the car? “The car didn’t do to bad
either. Then Scotty kept moving
further and further away so we
packaged up the stuff and sold
it….” Don’s voice trail off, “It was
definitely my favorite car.”
Don’s success of 1968 earned
him the “Press Driver of the Year”
for the second year in a row, this
time in a landslide. His presenter
was Dutch Hoag and capped a
second outstanding season in a
row for the S/360 team. Now with
the car sold Don was looking for a
ride, but not for long. Bill
Sandman had the seat of his pair
of #12 cars available as Merv
Triechler was starting to build his
own cars. With a coupe at his
disposal for the asphalt shows
and a coach for the dirt, ‘The Old
Grey Fox’ was ready for the 1969
season.
Monnat remembers “The cars
were always lightning fast and
Don lead a lot of races, but he
didn’t finish many. The cars
always broke, seemed to have a
lot of trouble with axles..” Don
was by this time a devoted Outlaw
racer, running where the money
was best. His season started
poorly but he came on strong at
the end and was able to cop five
Shangri-La features including a
Schaefer 50 in August. It wasn’t
enough though and he settled for
a close second in points to Dutch
at his home track. His brightest
moment in ’69 came on a hot
Labor Day at the Geddes Mile
when he topped Bentley Warren
and Al Tasnady for the NYS Fair
Championship in the Sandman
coach. A ninth place finish at
Martinsville ended the season
and laid groundwork for 1970 as
he found and purchased a
southern coupe modified to
campaign the following season.
Reworked and repainted #26 for
1970, the coupe never worked
and the Sandman cars continued
to break.  A mid season rift with
officials at Shangri-La sent Don
on the road. Frustrated, he
headed to Lancaster in July and
with sponsorship from Jim
Carter, started campaigning the
#26 coach, a ’37 Ford slantback
with a 427 Chevy. Don
remembers, “That was an
awesome car.” The former Bentley
Warren #44 was a lightweight,
but only on the scales and almost
immediately put Don back in the
winners circle. Late in the
season, Bill Slater invited Don to
Stafford and Mike Monnat joined
him on the trip for an All-Star
event. “I don’t know if Mike could’
ve even changed a tire for me,
luckily I didn’t need one.” Dif
showed his stuff leading the race
for 65 laps until a restart caught
him off guard. “I thought we were
starting out of four and halfway
down the backstretch Bugsy got
the jump on me and I couldn’t
get him back.” I’ll bet he drove
the wheels off trying, luckily for
Mike they stayed on.
Undeterred by, what was at that
point for Don, an ‘off’ season, the
team debuted a sharp Corvair
#S/360 for 1971. And promptly
crunched it twice at Shangri-La.
Walt Stevens stepped in and
purchased the #26 sedan for Don
to wheel and the team didn’t miss
a beat. Repainted red, white and
blue in a stars and stripes motif,
the car was immediately
competitive again. At the
Nazareth mile “We put this on (a
wing from a GTO Judge) after
time trials and had fast time until
Frankie Schneider went out. He
was the last one to trial and a
local boy..well, you know how
that goes..”  No matter, the car
was fast and with the wing in
place, the ‘Flying Cockroach’ was
born. It wasn’t the only ‘addition’
made to the car at the track, “We
went to Dover with NASCAR and
the banking was so high there I
couldn’t see the track so we
loosened the roof and put some
beer cans under it to raise it up.”  
Wonder if NASCAR would let that
go today? He finished the ’71
season in fine style. Pat Buck
reported in the Sept 11 Sun-
Bulletin ‘Don Diffendorf won his
second New York State Fair
modified stock car race last
Monday afternoon and the first
thing he had to say about it was,
“I’m real grateful for all the
support the fans gave me up
here.” When the feature event
started he was in 13th starting
spot. In four laps, when the race
was stopped for the first time, he
was running in sixth place. By
the 11th lap, when the race was
stopped again, he was leading the
event, a lead he held until the
checkered flag. As for the
numerous yellow and red flags,
allowing the field to bunch up
behind him, he said, “I felt I could
sit there all day long. The more
the track dried, the better I could
run. My pit crew, Doug Wheaton,
Frankie the Fireman (Frank
Krivitch), Jabber and Jiggs, did a
tremendous job in preparing the
car. I love this track. I look
forward to it every year, ever since
the old championship cars ran
there. We used to run up there
and watch them and then rush
back here so we could run Five
Mile Point that night.” Don
related that at Syracuse that day,
“This fellow comes up to me and
says he’s going to put a picture of
my car on this magazine, I didn’t
know who he was and didn’t
think much of it. But then, there
it was.” Dick Berggren wasn’t
kidding and Don’s S/360 was on
the cover of Stock Car Racing
Magazine in January 1972, the
first Modified to receive the
honor. At Shangri-La, Mike
Loescher edged out Sonney
Seamon, Dutch and Don for the
points title, one of the closest
ever with only 16 points
separating the pack going into
the last night.
For 1972 the team rebuilt the
Corvair and also another ’37
Chevy ‘Stars and Stripes’ coupe
which proved unsuccessful and
was sold. He won what was to be
his last (recorded) feature at
Shangri-La on May 13th and
continued to swap cars for each
surface. On Labor Day he chased
Buzzie Reutimann in the Flying
Cockroach until his engine
expired late in the race, it was his
last run in the car. At the Trenton
ROC that year, possibly stirred by
his new-found notoriety, he was
approached by Bobby Allison. “He
asked me ‘What’s the set-up
here?’ So I helped him out with
tire stagger and gear. I thought
that was pretty cool.” And Don
looked pretty cool in those days,
decked out in Stars and Stripes
slacks and shirt, he’d have given
Evel Kneivel a run for his style
money. For 1973 the team
continued to use the Corvair as
needed but Don found a more
consistent ride in the Bob Page
orange S/360 coach. A
stunningly pretty car, it had
previously done battle as the #81
of Lee Osborne.  And it was still
competitive garnering Don many
top five finishes and second spot
in the points (to Ed Pieniazek) as
well the Permatex award for the
best appearing modified at
Shangri-La. At Trenton Don
wheeled Al Schutt’s #40 Vega to a
fourth in the Race of Champions.
He felt he should have had one
more spot, “At the drivers
meeting they told us we could
only take gas in the pits. Well,
Bugsy took gas on the
backstretch, Ace Lane
photographed it (and
subsequently posted it in the
local racing news). I get to the
payout and they gave Bugsy a
spot ahead of me, Bob O’Rourke
(NASCAR Official) didn’t like to
see us Yankees beat their
NASCAR guys. So, we talked to
him about Bugsy taking on gas
and he said “You guys better
shuddup, you could finish a lot
worse.’ Well, he just made it
miserable for us. Anyways, we got
fourth.”
For 1974, Don drove the Schutt
#40 to a second place points
finish at Shangri-La while teamed
with Mike Loescher in the #88.
By now the young lions had
broken through the gate at
Shangri-La. Hayes and Strosahl
were long gone, Dutch and Dif
remained, still competitive but
not finding the success of their
past.  Guys like Evans, Seamon,
and Bodine had arrived and were
providing tough competition. By
Mid 1975 Loescher, after a rift
with the Owego’s track
management, took over control of
the team and traveled to
Lancaster on Saturday leaving Dif
without a ride. Don soon found
one in the Autosport by Jiri
(Nechleba) #78, a ride Dutch left
within weeks of Dif’s departure
from the Schutt #40. Don
finished out the season in the
#78 and picked up an occasional
ride in the Joe Evanko owned #71
as well, his former Page owned
S/360.
For 1976 Don joined the Art
Bradley #37 team and finished
his career with the car.
Competitive to the end, he was
still looking for that last win or
championship. In 1978 he led the
points race heading into the final
weeks but a couple of DNF’s  put
him out of contention as George
Kent won his first of many
championships. As reported by
Dave Henderson in the Sun-
Bulletin on August 8, 1978 Don
is quoted, “When I took this ride I
was sure I hadn’t lost my ability,
and it looked like these guys
were hard workers and serious
about the whole thing, so I wasn’t
surprised when we did so well
this year. You gotta give a lot of
credit to the guys who work on
that car – Art, John Mooney,
Frankie the Fireman…it looked
like a good bunch to finish up
with.”  He finished up with “…I’m
gonna miss it here. There’s a lot
of memories. A lot of fans, that’s
why I wanted that points title.”
He was contemplating retirement
and drove his last race at Oswego
in the Bud classic, still running
in the top five when his car broke.
It was 1978 but he talks as if it
was yesterday, “I got myself ready
to go to this party down at St.
Paul’s Church, and I thought I
was going to my father’s birthday
party. And then I get there and
there’s all these cars. They walk
me in and whoa! Everybody’s
there, Dave Kneisal, Jerry Hayes,
they’re all there. I didn’t know I
was going to my retirement party.
But, what are you gonna do after
they got all these people there
and you go through the whole
schmeel..”
In looking back on his career, one
in which he won over 100 feature
events, against the best of his
time, I wanted to know who he
felt were toughest amongst his
contemporaries. “Well, uhh, how
many do you want?…Dutch
Hoag, number one, Bill Strosahl
on asphalt. Let’s see, I don’t know
how many you want here, Jerry
Hayes was good on asphalt,
Donnie Yiengst was good too.
Then the Rochester boys,
Maynard,  Triechler’s. Early on it
was George Knight, Bobby Quick,
Bobby Brutcher, they were all
good… You know they said
Donahue was rough, ‘Dirty Joe’
and all that, but I never had any
problem with him.”  He looks
upon those days fondly, “The old
days were the Golden Days of
Racing. I liked it when you built
your own stuff, it’s not like that
anymore. You just call the shop
and buy it.”  One regret, “I’d liked
a chance at Daytona. Dutch and
Richie got to try and I would’ve
liked to as well.” He lists his most
memorable race as the ’67 STP
200 at Lancaster “We won a
puppy, a Hungarian Vizsla,
$5000.00 and all the
contingencies..” Isn’t it
interesting that he lists the
puppy first.
It wasn’t just about the money
with Don, the usual 40% didn’t
hurt matters but he loved the
sport. It shows in his scrap books,
he loved the fans as much as any
racer which is why he was so
popular. In these books his
sentimental side comes out, there’
s a nicely painted picture of his
Sandman Coupe done by a young
Mark Terry. Also included is a
story done by Pauline Search
relating Don’s relationship with a
young fan, Robbie Bennett, who
was struck by a car. When Robbie
didn’t get to compete during the
bowling season due to the
accident, and hence didn’t
receive a trophy, Don gave him
one of his. Then there’s this,
which any racer will surely
understand and put into
perspective. It comes from some
handwritten notes for an
acceptance speech Don was to
give ‘..I bitch always but I get so
involved.’ And there it is, like any
of us involved in racing, any type,
it doesn’t matter because that
holds true for all of us.
Mike Monnat probably puts it
best, “Dif was feisty, competitive.
He was always looking for a better
mousetrap. He was a top shoe on
Dirt or Asphalt and was never
looking for a ride, they were
looking for him because he made
everything he drove competitive.”  
True to form, as I’m leaving Don
grabs my hand and says, “You
know, if it wasn’t for that
retirement party, I’d still be
racing.”
Don wanted to mention “Jerry
Hotchkiss, Frankie the Fireman
(Krivitch), and the S/360 crew,
they were just a great bunch of
guys and we had a lot of good
times.” Good times and good
people were the theme during
the entire interview, which was a
real treat for me. I want to thank
Don and his wife Shirley for
giving me this privilege, it was
wonderful to meet them and take
time from their busy schedules.
Don continues to work at his
Windsor trucking business daily
and enjoys it. It’s a theme
common to people cut of his cloth.
Credit where due Dept.: To the
Sun-Bulletin writers, Bill Dowd,
Pat Buck and Dave Henderson
whose material was noted
throughout this column. Also,
thanks to Gary Gitchell and Greg
Holland for the great photo’s. You
can view more of Greg’s work
@vsrnonline.com, click on the
‘Good Old Days” and check out
1962 at the Point. As long as you’
re on the Web, checkout Bill
Ladabouche’s site,
Catamountstadium.com, Bill’s
done some excellent work in
recording Vermont racing and his
site continues to grow. Lastly, I
want to thank Mike Monnat for
all his help with this article. Mike
did more than just fill in the
gaps, he lived it. It was as much
fun talking with him as Don.
I hate to depart on a sad note but
long time Southern Tier
Photographer Fred Smith passed
away on Dec. 20, 2005. He had
suffered with bad health the past
few years but when I talked to
him last year he was still
working. He stormed the tracks
across the East Coast and
captured nearly everyone who
was in a racecar on film for all of
us to enjoy forever. His legacy is
quite a contribution to racing as
every one is worth 1000 words. I
wish to offer condolences to the
Smith family; he will be missed
but not forgotten.
‘Til next time, we’ll be making
‘snow angles’ with the Saints. It’s
summertime in Campville as far
as they’re concerned. And I do
hope that Santa brought you that
nice camshaft you wanted. Jeff
Ackerman, 6256 State Route
17C, Endicott, NY 13760.  
Don Diffendorf - first car.
Gorman Coupe.
Don also won a championship at Glen Aubrey.
Five Mile Point Pits.
Brother Bill and the manny 49X.
Win # 11..
Buckling up for win # 10.
With John and Richie Manny.
John Manny.
The former Dave Paul Super.
Oswego.
Semi Win at Oswego.
The Teardrop.
Langhorne Qualifiers - 1961.
A win in Don Yeingst's coupe.
Don with Don Yeingst.
Glenn Scott's S360
Fulton.
Fulton.
With the big block.
Lancaster 200, Strosahl spins, Diff wins.
100 lap win.
Fulton 100 lapper.
Chasing Dutch and Bullit Bill at Shangri-La.
Dif wins, for Jerry.
Bob Green's #10.
Crash with Jerry Hayes at Lancaster.
John Mooney, Doug Wheaton, John Manny, Dif.
John Mooney, Bill, Don and Doug Wheaton.
Don and Dutch.
Sandman coupe.
Syracuse  - NYS Fair win, 1969.
Pretty car.
The Jim Carter Sedan.
The Corvair was ill fated.
The CockRoach.
At Twin Valley trying the dirt.
With Al Schutt.
Bob Page Sedan.
Business card.
Last Ride.
Retirement party at Shangri-La 1978.
The Bradley 37.
Royal Motors 21.
NYS Fair 1969.
Lancaster 1967.