BALLSTON SPA, N.Y. — As we while away the hours in relative isolation from the world, we got to thinking about some more signs that you might be an old timer, a topic we’ve enjoyed looking at before.
You might be an old timer if you remember when Dick Berggren, Bruce Cohen and Lew Boyd organized the first Spring Sizzler at Stafford Springs, Conn., in an effort to finance their own racing efforts out of something besides their regular paychecks.
They worked exceptionally hard, with one or more of the trio personally calling everyone in the Northeast who had a modified to assure a huge field while using creative ads to attract a full grandstand. The event is now run by Stafford’s Arute family and remains a highlight of every season, but the inaugural event has become legendary and big races are no longer just for the end of the season.
Speaking of Cohen, you’re definitely an old timer if you recall mechanical genius Lenny Boehler’s huge collection of used garage shirts, each with a different name on them, purchased from Cohen’s Boston business by the pound. Boehler’s coupes may have looked well used when brand new, but with Freddy DeSarro and Bugs Stevens driving, they won countless features and a handful of NASCAR national modified championships. Boehler spent his money on what made his cars fast, not beautiful, a lesson some of today’s racer’s might heed.
You might be an old timer if you remember when four-time National Sportsman champion Rene Charland’s Smith and Sons Jewelers coupe was towed on an open trailer behind a new pickup with a Reading utility box. The truck’s cabinets were crammed with spare parts, a really impressive arrangement at a time when everyone else pulled their trailers with sedans and had their parts jammed in the trunk or had open pickups with the bed filled with parts and tools.
Ramp trucks, then enclosed trailers and today’s huge stacker trailers and toter homes would follow, but we still miss the days of running up and down the New York Thruway with our ’59 DeSoto and dual axle trailer with the tire big rack.
On a related note, I’ll never forget riding to a race at Canandaigua in the Cadillac limousine used to tow two-time NASCAR National Sportsman champion Bill Wimble’s No. 33 all over the East Coast during his championship seasons.
Owner Dave McCredy generally wheeled the massive Caddy at speeds well above the speed limit while ace mechanic Freddy DeCarr and his assistant, Doug Rundel, relaxed or slept in the back. That day, Wimble was unavailable so Dutch Hoag subbed for him, a move akin to having Ted Williams pinch hit for Stan Musial.
DeCarr was known for drinking his beer warm, a habit developed by sticking a cold six-pack in the Caddy’s armrest on the way to the races and then consuming it, warm by then, on the way home afterwards. For years, he would come into our shop, take a beer out of the fridge and put it in a furnace pipe for a while to get up to temp.
You might be an old timer if you remember when Freddy Rosner would build customers a new car in a week, an unheard of time frame before factory built chassis’ came on the scene and most teams built one new car over the winter off-season.
If you had a Chevy frame clean and ready to go and a coupe body stripped off the original car when he arrived, Rosner would bend the tubing and weld it together along with all the needed brackets, bumpers, nerf bars, Flemke front end, etc., and put it all together to be ready to race the following weekend. A veteran of the Riverside Park bullring and years with Charland, Rosner’s cars were a few hundred pounds lighter than what teams were building themselves and were immediate winners.
New York modified hero Dave Lape still talks of helping Rosner build him a car, with the New Englander sleeping a few hours each night in a four poster bed in a bedroom decorated for his sister. If memory serves, a car cost $1,000. A related memory is watching the Wimble team finishing up a Rosner car so fast that the radiator was bolted in before anyone realized that crewman Jim Kelly, working on something else, had a leg pinned and couldn’t get out until the radiator was removed.
You might be an old timer if you remember when each speedway had a track welder who collected a few dollars from each car coming through the pit gate and then spent the night going from car to car as needed to repair minor crash damage or weld cracks and broken parts. Perhaps the most amazing thing we’ve ever seen in that vein was the welder at Martinsville, who arc welded with no face mask at all, forget the customary dark lens.
Finally, you might be an old timer if you remember NASCAR’s Northern Tour, with the Grand Nationals hitting Oxford Plains, Fonda, Albany-Saratoga, Islip and Trenton. Grandstands were full to see Richard Petty, Bobby Allison, Tiny Lund, Pete Hamilton, David Pearson and other notables of the day. And we can recall one extremely low dollar racer filling out the field at Albany-Saratoga who would go on to a notable career.
His name was Richard Childress.