1/28/2015 I'm sorry to report that racer and club member Jon Button has passed. He was well known and well liked by all of us and we wish to offer our condolences to his family. Rest in Peace Jon.
12/26/2104 Belated Happy 90th birthday to Smoky Joe Norton of Sidney NY.
12/10/2014 Easton book revists area stock car racing in the 1950s Ron Levanduski, firstname.lastname@example.org | @SGRLevanduski8:29 p.m. EST November 26, 2014 Ford Easton's book revisits area stock car racing drivers and tracks of the 1950s
Billy Schroth great driver from Elmira
Ford Easton's interest in stock car racing grew as a young boy, intrigued by the race car that stood out in front of the gas station across the street from his Friendship, N.Y., home in 1947.
At 14, he attended his first race at the newly opened quarter-mile Cuba Lake Raceway in 1954. He was hooked from then on and became a lifelong fan.
Now living in St. Petersburg, Fla., Easton, at 75, has published a wonderful book that chronicles that pioneering age of stock car racing.
Titled "Stock Car Racing in the '50s: Pictures and Memories From Western New York and Northwestern Pennsylvania," Easton's book is filled with pictures of racers competing during that era, with some singled out in driver biographies.
"It's a legacy for the many people that were part of that golden age of stock car racing in the 1950s, especially the drivers," Easton said.
The 230-page, 8.5-by-11-inch book covers 48 regional race tracks that existed during that time. Among them are Chemung Speedrome and the defunct tracks of Airport Speedway in Big Flats, Southport Speedway/Glider City Sports Arena, and Corning Stadium.
Easton's book also includes sections on the various racing associations, track officials during the time, racing before the 1950s, and a brief history of Dirt Modifieds.
"The book is terrific, those were good years," said former 1950s racer Jim Leonard of Erin. "It brings back some good memories."
Easton explained that after World War II, stock car racing replaced midgets and other forms of open-cockpit racing as fan favorites.
"A big draw for fans was that they could recognize the car bodies that the racers drove," Easton said.
Many of those cars, called modifieds, were Ford Coupes built around mid to late 1930s with enhanced flathead V-8 engines. Racers could buy a junkyard car and engine for less than $100 and be competitive.
Billy Schroth, a native of Breesport who lives in Elmira, was among those early pioneers of stock car racing.
"My first car was a beat up old piece of junk that somebody wanted to get out of their yard," Schroth said Monday.
The 1937 Ford Coupe with a flathead V-8 engine didn't cost the 16-year-old Schroth a dime. The paint was pretty cheap too, after a stop to the general store in Breesport to buy various cans of old stock paint.
"We mixed 'em all up and it came out pink," he said. "It was an ugly pink too, but I was proud of my car."
Schroth's first race was in 1951 at South Seneca Speedway in Ovid. Because of his age, he had to have his parents sign a release with a notary public. Schroth, who had a good road car to drive, said he worked out a deal with his parents, Carl and Betty Schroth.
"My mom and dad didn't want me to get tickets or crash, so the deal was that if I didn't have any problems on the highway they would sign the release for me to race," he said.
Schroth was so dedicated to his racing that he even skipped his junior prom at Horseheads High to race at Airport Speedway.
"It was a pretty important dance at school, but I wanted to race that night," he said.
The quarter-mile dirt oval was located near where the original National Warplane Museum site at the Elmira-Corning Regional Airport. It had a short existence, holding its first race in September 1952 and closing after the 1953 season.
Corning Stadium was one of the earliest area stock car tracks. Built sometime in 1948 or '49, a promoter converted the existing baseball field inside Corning War Memorial Stadium into a quarter-mile dirt track. It was raced on for just a handful of seasons.
One popular 1950s area track still in use today is Chemung Speedrome. Built in the spring of 1950, Eli Bodine Sr. turned a cornfield on his Chemung farm into a quarter-mile dirt oval. The track was eventually enlarged into a third-mile dirt track in 1958.
The first race, on May 15, 1950, was won by Dutch Hoag of Penn Yan. The admission, shown on one promo card in Easton's book, was $1.15.
One of the legendary area drivers of the time was Troy, Pa., native Jackie Soper. Soper, who lived in Elmira, won his first Modified feature at Ithaca/Dryden Speedway, earning $1,200, which would be more than $10,000 today.
In 1958, Soper won five track titles in two states and claimed more than 50 victories.
"It is hard to explain to anyone today, his superstar status," said Candy Dolin of Seagrove, N.C. in a forum post on the website www.raceny.com. "Kids used to wait at gas stations just to catch a glimpse of Jackie's car and rig."
Dolin's parents fielded cars for many drivers in the 1950s, including those for Soper and Schroth.
One of Soper's titles in 1958 was at a new facility located in Southport called Glider City Sports Arena. Fans and competitors had to cross Seeley Creek to get to the one-third-mile banked track operated by local businessman Howard Tidd.
Schroth remembers Tidd used seats from the Capital Theater in Elmira for bleachers. He also said Tidd took bowling lanes from the nearby Rec Center on State Street and used them for a bridge for cars to cross over the creek to the track, which is now the parking lot of the Southport Correctional Facility.
"It was a lot of fun back then," said Schroth, who today attends race events at tracks like Woodhull Raceway. "There were a lot more cars running then than there are today for a weekly show ... If you didn't have your stuff together, you weren't going to make the show."
Easton released his book at the Cuba Lake Raceway Reunion in July. He organized the reunion in 2003 and was encouraged to write the book at the time.
Signed copies can be purchased directly from Easton for $15 each, plus shipping. Shipping is $4 for one, $6 for two, and $8 for three to 10 books for each order. Checks or money orders can be sent to Ford Easton, 5200 28th St. N., #651, St. Petersburg, Fla., 33714. His email address is email@example.com.
Easton's book is a great trip down memory lane, and it would make a great present this holiday season. .Kindle version is available too for Kindle readers on their web site.
Ron Levanduski is a sports writer. He can be reached by email at rlevanduski@stargazette. com and followed on Twitter @SGRLevanduski.
11/23/2014 For Immediate Release Contact: John Keegan at 607-965-8994 SIX ELECTED TO NYSSCA HALL OF FAME Albany, NY Four outstanding drivers and two highly respected promoters will comprise the 2015 Hall of Fame class of the New York State Stock Car Association. Dirt track heroes Pete Bicknell and Kenny Brightbill will be joined by the late asphalt star Charlie Jarzombek and Wes Moody, who was equally adept on dirt or asphalt, on the driver’ s side. On the non-competitor side, Marcia Wetmore and Howard Commander were elected for their accomplishments in speedway management and promotion. Induction is set for January 24, 2015, with an 11 am ceremony at the Saratoga Automobile Museum, site of the association’s permanent Hall of Fame display. That event will be followed by an evening awards banquet at the Polish Community Center on Washington Avenue Ext. in Albany, NY, with a 4 pm cocktail hour to be followed by the Hall of Fame induction at 5:15. While a Canadian citizen, Bicknell has long been the dominant factor in western New York small block modified racing, notching 13 titles at Ransomville to go with his nine Humberstone championships and 23 season titles at Merrittville. Known as “Mister Small Block” through his illustrious career, Bicknell has claimed some 19 Super DIRTcar 358 Series wins along with series championships in 1991, ’94 and 2008, registering five Syracuse Super DIRT Week wins along the way. With over 400 career wins, Bicknell continues to compete on the Niagara Frontier while overseeing his families’ Merrittville Speedway promotions and a wildly successful chassis and race parts manufacturing facility. His NYSSCA induction will mark his third such experience, as he is already a member of the Canadian Motorsports and DIRT Motorsports Halls of Fame. Many associate the name Kenny Brightbill with Pennsylvania’s Reading Fairgrounds, and rightfully so, as Brightbill won some 135 features and four championships there before the historic speedway property became a shopping center. But many of his 450- plus wins came in the Empire State, including the State Fair race in 1972 and the Super DIRT Week finale in 1988. He has also visited Victory Lane in the Eastern States 200, Fonda 200, Weedsport 200 and claimed Lebanon Valley’s Mr. Dirt Track USA classic in 1989. Other notable New York triumphs on the “Shillington Slingshot’s” resume include two wins in the Albany-Saratoga Super Shootout, the Northeast Showdown at Rolling Wheels, the Victoria 200 at Fulton and Five Mile Point’s Southern Tier 100, showing his talent on tracks of all sizes and type of racing surface. NASCAR star Jarzombek, who perished in a 1987 crash at Virginia’s Martinsville Speedway, was arguably the greatest talent to come out of the ultra-competitive Long Island bullrings. He was the Islip Speedway champion in 1972, ’78 and ’80, garnered three straight titles at the Freeport Speedway and was a six-time champion at the Riverhead Raceway, the only one of the three tracks still in existence. Further afield, he claimed the 1985 Stafford Speedway championship over a bevy of other superstars, was the New Smyrna, FL. World Series co-champion in 1976 and notched some 16 career wins in NASCAR events at Martinsville, Stafford Springs, Thompson and Orange County, NC. Fans and competitors are reminded of Wes Moody’s ability in the big block coupes of his era each time an announcer or writer refers to Syracuse as the “Moody Mile,” a name spawned by the North Country star being the first to average over 100 mph on the New York State Fairgrounds mile. Moody learned his trade at the old Saranac Lake Speedway, but he soon burst on the regional scene, where his flat out style made him an instant star as he competed on some four dozen different speedways. When Jimmy Shampine built up a five race win streak at Rolling Wheels, “Slugger” appeared the next week and won in his first ever appearance there. Equally quick on asphalt, Moody ran fourth in the Race of Champions at Langhorne after winning the Devils Bowl qualifier, had a winning streak at Shangri-La and was named the Gater New “Best All-Around Dirt and Asphalt Driver” in 1971. He would wind down his career back in the North Country, staging epic mud-slinging battles with the equally popular CD Coville at the Airborne Speedway in Plattsburgh. Marcia Wetmore, who quickly became a true racer after marrying into the Wetmore family, learned the office and promotion side of the sport from mentors Hertha Beberwyck and Annette Lutz and a healthy dose of on-the-job training with Bub Benway at the Fulton Raceway. Life as a racer’s wife travelling with husband Donnie had brought her both an intimate knowledge of the sport and friendships with countless racers and insiders, attributes she combined with a winning personality to become a success first at Fulton, then in Tennessee with Robin Manus and Richard Childress and finally, back in New York with up and coming promoter Alex Friesen. Shortly after Friesen’s untimely passing, Wetmore moved on to other things but she has long been remembered for her fair treatment of racers, whether they were raw beginners or superstars, and her winning personality. Howard Commander would be a Hall of Fame promoter on the strength of his very successful Lebanon Valley Speedway and Dragstrip operation alone, but he has also had a major influence on the sport through his “behind the scenes” involvement with DIRT Motorsports when fellow Hall of Famer Glenn Donnelly was in charge. Commander, who is also a partner in a number of promotional ventures in the mid-west and deep south, has been voted the RPM Promoter of the Year by his peers and is well known throughout the industry for his financial skills and long range vision. At an age when most businessman of his stature are slowing down and planning their retirement, Commander is still adding to his empire and recently purchased the Albany-Saratoga Speedway, which he had been leasing from the Richards family since the passing of patriarch CJ Richards.
10/9/2014 Hi Jeff........I was reading about Super Dirt Week qualifying....what kind of lap times did the flatheads turn back in the early sixties. Talked to Dave DeLange today..... Dave and his wife keep an eye on Ken Meahl, he is 83 and is presently building a Ford 427 side oiler ! I am planning on going to see him soon with Dave. Back in the day guys like him were our heroes. Thanks. Bill
12/26/2014 Bill - Sorry it's taken so long to get back to you - the best I can do on lap times is in 1963 at the Fair they gave out times for the heats, Cliff won in 7 min. 24.6 seconds, which equates to 44.4 seconds per lap, an average speed just over 90 MPH. So they were well over 100 on the straights. Just as a comparison, when I won with the B29 at the Fair in 1998 there was a trooper in the infield and he caught me in his juggs machine at 128 mph going in to turn one. The corners are sharp at Syracuse and slow you down considerably... Good to hear that Ken is going strong. thanks - Jeff