SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Longtime Stock Car Racing Magazine and Speedway Illustrated Magazine editor and Fox TV broadcaster Dick Berggren will partner with writer and “racing lawyer” Andy Fusco for a presentation at the Saratoga Automobile Museum’s annual “Lost Speedways” program in November.
Berggren and Fusco, who will recall the era when New Yorkers dominated the Stafford Springs, Conn., half-mile before it was paved, will be joined by a diverse cast of presenters for the Nov. 30 event, always the biggest day of the year at SAM.
“We’ll start with Kenn Van Wert showing a selection of vintage racing slides from the PJ West collection,” said event organizer Ron Hedger. “Then we’ll have Roger Liller discussing the old Rhinebeck Speedway and Mark Supley’s look at motorcycle ice racing. The final presentation before intermission will be Brian Ross and myself interviewing modified hero Wes Moody.
“Part two will kick off with historian Bill Ladabouche recalling the glory days of the Stateline Speedway, followed by Ken Parotte’s look at the All-Star League, especially an event at the nearby Albany-Saratoga Speedway. Then Dick and Andy will close out the day with their talk on Stafford.”
Attendees are encouraged to bring memorabilia to share, beginning at 11:30 am, with the first talk set for 12:30. All events are included in the normal museum admission price with members, as always, admitted free.
The event will mark Berggren’s first-ever “Lost Speedways” appearance and Fusco’s third. Berggren was raised in Manchester, Conn., just 15 miles from Stafford, and as a teenager was a regular grandstand attendee for the Friday night NASCAR sportsman/modified races at the half-mile dirt oval. It was there that his life-long love affair with racing was born—a love affair which would springboard him to a 40-plus year career as one of America’s most popular motorsports print journalists and television broadcasters.
“I was there when Pete Corey won Stafford’s first weekly NASCAR race in 1959,” said Berggren. “I was there when Corey won Stafford’s last dirt race in 1966. And I was there for many of the shows in between.”
Driver appearances by Upstate New Yorkers at Stafford were a rarity in the speedway’s early years, and only two (Corey in ’59 and Bill Wimble in ‘60) resulted in feature wins. It was New Englanders like Ernie Gahan, George Janoski, Ron Narducci, Don Rounds, Rene Charland, and Bill Slater who were collecting most of Stafford’s hardware. All that changed in 1963 when Chris Drellos’ team cars of No. 111 Kenny Shoemaker and No. 11 Pete Corey invaded and cleaned house. Soon thereafter a wave of New Yorkers like Wimble, Jeep Herbert, Kenny Meahl, Don Wayman, and Irv Taylor descended weekly upon the Central Connecticut oval, and all of them visited victory lane.
“The statistics don’t lie: Before 1963, Empire Staters almost never won at Stafford,” said Fusco. “After 1963, New Yorkers won three-quarters of the dirt track’s features.”
And Berggren was witness to it all.
“When the New Yorkers came to Stafford and figured out how to run the place, they kicked ass,” he recalls. “They took the money and the trophies, and crossed back over the border, smirking as they left.”
Shortly after Stafford was paved in 1967, Berggren went from race fan to race driver. He fielded a 1957 Chevy late model hobby stock No. 49 Jr., and actually won a blacktop feature at Stafford on May 17, 1968. From there, he went onto greater things as a college professor, sprint car driver, and award-winning writer and announcer. His 32-year tenure as a NASCAR Cup pit announcer for ESPN, TNN, TBS, and Fox and his appearance in the classic “Talladega Nights” movie made Dick a household name.
Fusco has spoken at the “Lost Speedways” conclave twice previously, discussing roadster racing at the old Perth, New York tracks five years ago, and documenting the previously unknown 1914 Fonda Speedway season last November.
“I began the Stafford project by interviewing sources like Bill Wimble, Sonny Koszela, Irv Taylor, and Dick Berggren,” summed up Fusco. “And I soon realized that Bergie is a treasure trove when it comes to the dirt years at Stafford. He’s also acquired the photo collection of Shany Lorenzet, the speedway’s track photographer at the time. We’ll display much of Lorenzet’s work at SAM, some of which hasn’t been seen in fifty years.”