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GREASE! Hosted By:  Cemetery Jim

January 12th, 2006

50 years ago

Racing in 1956

Yes, I was around in 1956, and I'm still somewhat alive. 1956 was a great year for Modified racing in the N.J., Pa. area. Since you could run 3 or 4 nights a week, top drivers could make a nice living just racing. The racing was highly competitive and exciting.

N.J. tracks were paying high purses, including some $1,000.00 to win, and so attracted drivers from N.Y. to Florida, and especially pa. Delaware, and Maryland. "These were the days my friend, we thought they'd never end", as Mary Hopkin sang.

 

THE YEAR BEGINS

As usual, the year started at Daytona Beach, but at that time, there was no Daytona Speedway. One straightaway was the paved route A1A, and the other was on the sand of the beach itself. The 125 mile Modified/Sportsman race was interesting for some of our local guys, especially considering 73 cars started the race.

The wining driver was Tim Flock, (not Local), BUT he was driving a 39 Chevy coupe, powered by a fuel injected Olds motor, set back 26 inches, owned by Joe Wolf, of Reading, Pa.

Melvin Joseph of Georgetown Delaware had his car in the race as well. It was the same car that Mel had won with in 1955 with Banjo Mathews at the helm. It was driven in 1956 by Curtis Turner, but caught fire, and was totaled. Another victim of fire in the race was Spud Murphy, who later came up north and raced here for a number of years. He still finished 6th, DonStumpf was 14th, and Bob Wiesenmeyer, 15th. Meanwhile, still in Florida, Al Tasnady won the 30 lap feature at Medley Speedway, in Miami, on Feb 10th.

 

A STAR IS BORN

In the meantime, a 22 year old kid named Jackie McLaughlin, from Therofare NJ and a veteran USAC driver named Dick Rathman were battling it out for the lead in USAC Big Cars at Williams Grove until rain won out, and the rest of the feature had to be postponed. McLaughlin, who was driving a Dodge powered car against the Indy car drivers in their Offies and Drakes was the absolute star, and amazed everyone. Later, McLaughlin would go on to win multiple track championships at Flemington and Alcyon, and hundreds of races even though he was killed in a wreck at Nazareth at the age of 31.

In those days, USAC sanctioned the Indy 500 as well as the big cars,(Like today's Silver Crown Cars), sprints and midgets. The Indy car drivers drove USAC midgets, sprints, and big cars all over the country between the Indy car races.

On April 29th, Jackie was back in the USAC Dodge powered car, this time at Reading. According to the May 2nd edition of the National Speed Sport News "Jackie McLaughlin in his Dodge Red Ram amazed the throng by winning the concie from his 5th starting spot. He bested 4 Offies in the process. McLaughlin just simply ran away from the field, and at the finish appeared to be stroking. The crowd was greatly impressed by the youthful driver and his commercial powered mount."

AND THEN OUR SEASON OPENED !

 

Before we start, I want to dedicate this month's column to Bill Skinner. Bill has spent many, many hours, and many miles on the road to research stock car racing in this area in the 50's. Out of the goodness of his heart, he also spent a lot of time making copies of all his many volumes of accumulated data and giving it to me.

 

THANK YOU BILL !

Then came the local openers. In those days Modifieds and Sportsmen ran together, not separate races. They were identical except the engines were slightly more restricted in the sportsmen.

April 21st weekend Bill Wilson won at Vineland Speedway, Tas topped the field in the 25 lapper at Nazareth, and Tommie Elliot won at Old Bridge.

The Flemington opener in mid May, found the soon to be a legend, Jackie McLaughlin, in a modified again. When the dust settled, McLaughlin finished 2nd in his heat, and won the feature. Jackie had 1st place locked up, but second was up for grabs till lap 24 of the 25 lapper as Sammy Malach took the position and held off hard charging Hoop Schaible, and Freddy Mears to the final lap.That same weekend, Tasnady won Atco, and Vineland, and Jimmy Marks copped the feature at Nazareth. At Alcyon, in an accident fest, Don Stumpf took the feature with Pete Corey of NY second, and Jackie McLaughlin third.

The following week, Tommie Elliott took the Old Bridge opener, and Flemington was rained out.

At Alcyon, Otto Harwi, in the famous, super powerful Sonny Dornberger #999 car won, breaking a speed record that had stood since 1951 as the 5000 fans in attendance watched bundled up from the cold weather.

Sonny Dornberger was a real anomaly in the sport, in that he could build the best car, build the fastest engine, set a car up perfectly for whatever track, under whatever track conditions, AND explain to his driver exactly how to drive the track.

He had already contributed a great deal to one of his other drivers, Mike Magill, in reaching the then undisputed pinnacle of becoming a full time Indy car driver, and who knows where Otto might have wound up if he hadn't been killed a few years later.

Near the end of May, Frankie Schneider returned from Florida where he had been winning so many races on the local tracks down there they had put a bounty on his head... A bonus for anyone who could beat him. Most of the time he was battling with Buzzie Reuitimann's Dad, or uncle, Emeril Reuitimann, in his 00.

Finally, in early May, Emeril beat Schneider to win the feature at Winter Haven Fla. where Schneider had been undefeated since he first showed up there 7 weeks ago. It brought down the house. Of course, Reutimann had to break the track record to beat him. He said that they had found a new set up for the 00, that had made all the difference. Frankie said "With THAT set up, I would have needed an airplane to pass him".

May

Schneider rolled into Vineland Speedway near the end of May, and won the feature there in record time, after winning his 9th feature out of 11 starts at Winter Haven Fla. just a few days earlier.

 

Old Bridge re paved the whole track with new macadam,(at a cost of only $15,000.00 if you can believe that), and the cars had a lot of trouble getting a grip on the new surface causing a melee of accidents. Bill Chevalier mastered the slick track quickly, however and went on to win the feature.

TWIN 25s at FLEMINGTON - To celebrate the Memorial Day Weekend, Flemington ran twin 25s. The theme of the first feature should have been "You picked a fine time to leave me loose wheel", as 4 cars lost wheels before it was all over, one of them lost a wheel twice ! That driver, Smokey Lippencott skated by OK when he lost the first wheel, then returned to the race only to lose another one. This time cost him a serious crash and a trip to the hospital. He returned as a spectator later with shoulder injuries and his arm in a sling.

The first feature was won by...you guessed it, Jackie McLaughlin, followed by Otto Harwi, Art Scott, and 1st Sportsman Blackie Reider came in 4th. The second one was won by Blackie Reider, in his really fast Sportsman car. The first Sportsman feature win in 2 years. He was followed across the finish line by Freddie Fehr, Jackie McLaughlin, Art Scott, and Spud Murphy.

Meanwhile, back at Alcyon, Don Stumpf garnered another feature victory, followed by Otto Harwi, Glen Guthrie, Reds Kagle, Ralph Smith, Ken Marriott, and Jackie McLaughlin.

 

 

June started off with Schneider grabbing the wins at Middletown, and Vineland, Otto Harwi in that Dornberger rocket ship #999 beat a 45 car field at Nazareth, Ralph Smith at Alcyon, and Flemington was won by rain, followed closely by more and more rain.

The following week, Harwi and that 999car grabbed another feature at Alcyon, the pesky Rain won for the second week in a row at Flemington, A relatively unknown driver named Henry Doerr,(who would later switch from the asphalt to dirt and drive the Walt Tait 07 at Alcyon), held off the hard charging Al Tasnady for the feature win at Atco, and it was a strange night at Vineland, as well. In the third heat, Sal Moschella won with Tasnady second, Schneider third, and Bill Wilson forth. In the feature, however, Moschella crashed completely through the third turn fence and down the embankment. He was taken to the hospital where he was treated and released. With Moschella, the guy who had beaten them all in the heat, out of the way, the three who had followed Moschella to the checkered in the heat finished the feature in the exact same order they had followed him. Tasnady won, second was Schneider, and third was Bill Wilson.

 

On the 10th of June, the USAC big cars returned to Reading for a big 100 lapper. The big race was won by veteran and racing legend Tommy Hinnershitz, 2nd was the former Sonny Dornberger owned Modified driver, Mike Magill. The 22 year old phenom, Jackie McLaughlin landed a ride in the Traylor Offy, and brought it home 10th against all the veteran indy drivers.

On June 18th, Jackie McLaughlin once again took on the Indy guys, this time at Williams Grove. He finished second in his heat, and was leading the feature until Pat Flaherty, who had just won the Indianapolis 500 a couple weeks ago, dove under Mclaughlin, they touched and Mclaughlin wound up spinning.

That weekend, Tas took the feature at Vineland, followed by Steve Elias, Bill Wilson, and "The Wild Man", Elton Hildreth. - At Flemington, Blackie Reider,(I LOVE that name for a driver), won his second feature in a row driving his speedy Sportsman, followed by Ken Wismer, and Spud Murphy. Meanwhile...back at Pitman, Ed Lindsey won, followed by the Dornberger rocket of Otto Harwi, and "The Flying Farmer", Lou Mood, in his own car. At Old Bridge, Pete Frazee took the honors, and Atco was rained out.

 

 

BORROWED CAR WEEK -

On June 22nd, at Old Bridge, Parker Bohn, who had totaled his regular ride at Wall the week before, landed a ride in a car out of Staten Island NY, and won the feature with it.

On June 30th, Tasnady grabbed both 25 lap feature wins at Vineland.On June 24th, Pete Frazee won at Old Bridge for the second week in a row.

 

Atco ran a twin feature show. In the first feature, a make up one from last week's rain out, Tasnady won in a borrowed car. In the regular show, Tasnady won his heat and ran the feature in his own car. Schneider battled furiously with Tas, running wheel to wheel lap after lap in the early stages, but engine problems forced Frankie to settle for second.

 

 

 

JULY - News the first week of July included Alcyon's announcement that they will be running twice a week, Tuesday night, and Friday night. Flemington announced that they will be adding a "Novice" division beginning with the July 14th race night.

July 4th saw Ken Marriott take the honors in the big 50 lapper at Alcyon. Jackie McLaughlin was second until he lost the left rear wheel with one lap to go. The car did a 360, he caught it, and ran the last lap on three wheels to finish fifth. Eddie Crouse of Richmond Virginia wound up second, Ralph Smith, of Baltimore Md. was third, and Budd Olsen of Paulsboro NJ was forth

On July 5th, Tasnady won at Vineland again,(so...what else is new?), followed by Bill Wilson and Steve Elias to the checker in the 35 lapper.

 

At Atco, we had another one of those exciting Tasnady - Schneider duals, only this time schneider came out the winner. Florida ace, Bobby Malzahn grabbed the win at Old Bridge, at Nazareth, Jackie Bergstresser, who was coming back from a serious injury after a 6 week recovery, cruised to victory in the 25 lap feature, followed by reigning champion, that Dornberger rocket 999, with Otto Harwi at the wheel, Budd Olsen third, Carl VanHorn forth, and Jackie McLaughlin fifth.

 

Alcyon saw the flying Dornberger 999 of Harwi put yet another notch in it's fan belt, as it beat out Budd Olsen in the Lucky Jordan #2, followed closely by Ken Marriott, Don Stumpf and Glen Guthrie. Flemington saw that Dornbeger rocket ship of Harwi win again, followed by KennyWismer, and Budd Olsen.

On July 7th, Flemington presented a spectacular show to a sellout crowd. It was a combination show with the modified/sportsman, and the URC sprints. In the sprint feature, with the white flag waiving, tragedy struck. Lou Johnson had led most of the race, but was passed by Bobby Courtright who led until lap 19 of the 20 lap feature. Johnson dove under Courtright coming down to the white flag to regain the lead, just as they were lapping Toby Tobias. Somehow, Johnson and Courtright came together 25 feet from the starting line, at top speed, and both wrecked really badly. with Courtright slamming into the outside guardrail with sickening force. his car continued to spin almost to the first turn before stopping. He was rushed to the hospital with a broken nose and a facial fracture. In the meantime, Lou Johnson's parents were in the stands just a few feet from the crash, and Lou's mother started down to see if her son was all right, and fainted on the way. Since there was only one lap left, and Courtright would obviously not be able to restart, URC called it a race and named Lou Johnson the winner. A very controversial call, but it stood. In the modified/sportsman race, Blackie Reider won again, followed by Bergstresser and Harwi.

The next week, Pete Frazee, out dueled Tommy Elliott, Lennie Brown, and Don Stumpf, in that order to win his third feature at Old Bridge this year.

The following week... Old Bridge was cancelled due to a strike by the car owners who wanted an increase in the purse. Promotor Ed Otto refused, and cancelled the show. He announced that he was switching from modified/sportsman racing to a weekly show of late models and midgets. Nifty, huh?

And then comes Friday the Thirteenth but that didn't bother Al Tasnady any as he shoved all the bad luck aside, challenged the ghosts and goblins to stop him, and went out and won his sixth feature in a row at Vineland that year. Over at Atco, Steve Elias showed his prowess as a great driver by winning the feature there. The inaugural Tuesday night race at Alcyon drew 3000 fans, and a full field of cars. Jackie McLaughlin had the race in the bag until the steering gear broke on the last lap, and Don Stumpf got by him. Jackie held on for second, followed by Lou Johnson third, with Lou Mood forth, and Ken Marriott fifth. They had twin 25s at Nazareth I guess they should have called them the Dornberger/Harwi twin 25s, because that's how they turned out. Otto Hawi stuffed his foot in it, and the rest of the field just followed in the afterburner flames of the rocketing Dornberger #999 to the finish line.

In the Friday Night race at Alcyon, Budd Olsen won the feature in front of the over 6000 fans on hand. Olsen took the lead on lap 14 to lead Glen Guthrie to the finish line. Guthrie and Otto Harwi had been battling for the lead until after the second restart when both cars seemed to slow down. Jackie McLaughlin had trouble getting his engine started, and wound up starting last way behind the field. He made up a half a lap and caught the leaders before his engine problem forced him out of the race.

 

At Flemington, the most freakish stock car race in the history of the speedway took place in a 50 lapper that was stopped 17 times by accidents, and lasted over two hours. McLaughlin started dead last, in 20th position, yet somehow missed all the mayhem and took the lead with on the 33rd lap never to be caught. Budd Olsen was second, Otto Harwi was third, Blackie Reider forth, and Joe Rosko fifth. Bill Wilson won at Atco, but neither Schneider, nor Tasnady were there that night.

The following week Flemington got hit with yet another rain out, Alcyon on Tuesday was won easily by Jackie McLaughlin after the hard charging Otto Harwi who was keeping the front bumper of the Dornberger 999 plastered against the back bumper of McLaughlin's Case 300 developed radiator problems and had to retire. Over at Atco, Saturday night, Schneider won, with Tasnady, a seven time winner here this year, taking second. Up at Nazareth, Defending champion Otto Harwi in the potent Sonny Dornberger car won his third feature in a row, and the track posted a bonus for anybody who could beat him. second was Freddy Fehr, followed by Bill Wilson and Budd Olsen. Al Tasnady made it 8 straight feature wins at Vineland, followed by Schneider, Elton Hildreth, and Bill Hill !

 

August...Dog Days -

Vineland announced they are changing from Friday night to Sunday night racing.(NOTE: with the Vineland changeover, all the top modifieds left Atco Speedway)

The bonus paid off for Nazareth. Jim Delaney stunned the crowd by beating the seemingly unbeatable Dornberger rocket ship of Otto Hawi ! Delaney got passed Harwi on lap 16, and Harwi was all over him from then to the checker at lap 25, but Delaney was able to hold him off and collect the bonus Nazareth had posted the week before, for any driver who could beat Harwi.

At Flemington, defending champion Jackie Bergstresser grabbed another win. followed by Budd Olsen, and Otto Harwi. At Vineland??? Yep, Tasnady again, making it 9 straight wins, followed, (of course), by Frankie Schneider.

At Alcyon, on Tuesday Jackie McLaughlin was the winner, followed by Budd Olsen, Chick DiNatale, and Ralph Smith. On Friday, the brothers in law reversed the finish as Budd Olsen won, and his wife's brother, Jackie McLaughlin came in second, followed by Chick DiNatale Otto Harwi and Freddie Mears.

Meanwhile... over at Flemington Saturday night, 2 new records were set. 1. The largest crowd ever, and 2. the most crashes ever. Jackie McLaughlin and Jackie Bergstresser latched onto each other early and staged one of the most spectacular duals for the lead ever at Flemington trading the lead back and forth 9 times. On one of the many restarts, Bergstresser and third place Otto Harwi touched cutting down one of Bergstresser's tires. After the tire change, Bergstresser had to restart last but came barreling through the field to finish third. The final rundown was : Winner, Jackie Mclaughlin, followed by Blackie Reider, Bergstresser, Otto Harwi, and Joe Rosko, fifth.

The modified sportsman cars have returned to Old Bridge, and Tommie Elliott shows the boys the quick way around in the Joe Racz #41 car. followed by Pultz, Lineberger, and Parker Bohn. Pete Frazee retired early with engine problems.

Dead heat at Vineland - An overflowing crowd thrilled to a dead heat finish in the feature. The Speedway was now operating with a working agreement with NASCAR allowing NASCAR cars and drivers to compete here for the first time. Since almost all of the modified sportsman tracks in NJ were NASCAR, this opened up a whole new group of cars for Vineland, and a record number of cars and drivers were on hand. Steve Elias took the lead on lap 7 with Al Tasnady following close behind. Tas really applied the pressure for the last 5 laps, and finally got along side of Elias on the last lap. Elias wasn't about to give up and kept fighting with all he had and they crossed the finish line in a dead heat, with both being declared the winner. following those two were Jackie McLaughlin, Elton Hildreth, and Irv Streets.

At Alcyon, Budd Olsen won his third straight Friday night feature, in front of the over 8000 fans in attendance. Once again, Budd's brother in law, Jackie McLaughlin finished second, followed by Otto Harwi, Pete Corey, Jim marks, Sandy Montello, Bill Wark, Henry Doerr, Stan Shill, and Jackie Hamilton. at Flemington, Jackie Bergstresser, despite a near fist fight with Pat Wohlgemuth, a spin, and being involved in a multi car crash, came from the rear twice to win the feature, followed by Fredie Mears, Joe Rosko, Jimmy Conroy, and Blackie Reider. Lennie Brown picked up a feature win at Old Bridge, followed by Pultz, Stumpf, Sonny Strupp, and Jackie Hart.

 

Alcyon to McLaughlin. Jackie McLaughlin whipped his Joe Pustizzi owned, Case #300 car around all 5 turns at the Pitman NJ Speedway 25 times to take the checker in Frday night's feature. In doing so, he had to survive two restarts and stave off the challenges of Ken Mariott on the last lap. Don Stumpf was third and Lou Johnson forth. On Tuesday night a Alcyon, Al Tasnady took home the winner's trophy. At Old Bridge, it was Pete Frazee.

at Flemington a big 10 hour long "Spectacular" as promoter Sam Nunis called it, featuring the URC sprints, ARDC midgets, SCODA sports cars, NASCAR modified/Sportsman, late model pleasure cars, and novice stock cars. The modified portion was won by Jackie Bergstresser, if you want the rest, write me.

At Vineland, Ken Marriott of Baltimore roared to victory in the 25 lap feature, second was Ralph Smith, also out of Baltimore, followed by Jackie McLaughlin, Steve Elias, and Bill Wilson.

And then... the following week...

 

Nazareth ran split 50s. the first 25 lapper was won by Freddy Fehr, and the second by Eddie Riker. Defending champion, and current Points leader Otto Harwi suffered mechanical difficulties and was out for the night in the first feature. At Alcyon a new record was set as Jackie McLaughlin won his forth feature of the season. In so doing, he became the first driver in the history of the speedway to win four times in one season.following McLaughlin to the line were Ken Marriott, Otto Harwi, Pete Corey, and Budd Olsen.

Pete Frazee battled and battled with Tommie Elliott to finally win out at the end and notch another win at Old Bridge, while a similar tight battle took place at Vineland between Elton Hildreth, and Al Tasnady. Hildreth held on for that win. Flemington, unfortunately endured yet another rain out.

 

..."AND THE DAYS GROW SHORT, WHEN YOU REACH SEPTEMBER"

Well as the 1956 season begins to draw close to a close, and the weather gets a little cooler, the competition gets hotter. At Old Bridge, the 35 lap modified feature was led by Jim Hoffer, then by Parker Bohn, and then by Don Stumpf before Tommie Elliott came blasting by on lap 15, and held on for the last 20 laps unchallenged to win followed over the line by Bill McCarthy, Stumpf, Bill Chevalier, and Lennie Brown.

Not one car could beat Jackie McLaughlin all night long at Flemington. Oddly enough, they weren't rained out this time, and got in a double header with the 35 lap rained out feature from the prior week, and a full show with a 25 lap feature for the current week. Mclaughlin won the 35 lapper, followed by Kenny Wismer, and Jackie Bergstresser, then won the heat for the current week, then took the win in the 25 lapper as well. Guess it was McLaughlin night at the square.

Down in south Jersey, Al Tasnady took the honors at Vineland, followed by Ken Marriott, Bill Wilson, Jackie McLaughlin, and Henry Doerr.

A last lap pass garnered the feature win for Ed Lindsey at Alcyon. Lindsey fought his way up from the back of the field to squeeze into second on lap 19. From there on it was a three way fight between Lindsey, Ralph Smith, and Ken Marriott. The three of them battled each other for the next 6 laps with Lindsey taking the lead on the last lap to cross the line first. Following Lindsey were Smith, Marriott, Bill McCort, Budd Olsen, and Jackie McLaughlin.

 

On September 12th, The National Speed Sport News ran a picture of a sprint car. The caption said, NEWEST DIRT TRACK SENSATION IN I.M.C.A. competition is A. J. (for Anthony Joseph) Foyt of Houston Texas. Foyt, only 21 years old, set the fastest time in trials at the Minnesota State Fair, and consistently placed third ... in the feature racing events. He drives the powerful Les Vaughn Offenhauser from Omaha.

 

Back to NJ, Ken Marriott won again at Vineland followed by Freddie Mears, Jackie McLaughlin, Jackie Lynch, and Steve Elias.

At Alcyon, 22 year old Jackie McLaughlin broke his own record set about a month ago by winning his fifth feature this season. followed by Ken Marriott, Pete Corey, Ed Lindsey, Jimmy Marks, and Don Stumpf. McLaughlin also won at Flemington in their finale on 9/22. It was his third win in a row at the square.

Al Tasnady returned to the winners circle at Vineland, followed by Steve Elias, "Big" Bill Wilson, Irv Streets, and Bill McCort.

In the meantime... here came USAC again, and Jackie McLaughlin jumped in the third USAC sprint he had driven this year, and took off after the big boys. The USAC cars ran the Allentown and Reading fairs. Tommy Hinnershitz won both. Jackie drove the Charlie Sack's "Offy Killer" Hal powered car. He finished 10th in the feature at Reading, but was involved in a wreck with Hank Rogers at Allentown and out of the race.

 

An Aside-

Strange things happen in this world. Jackie McLaughlin finished 10th in the USAC car at Reading, and Van Johnson finished 4th. Van Johnson was a regular in the USAC sprints, and Jackie had raced with him on each of his forays into USAC.

Van was killed in a race a few years after 1956, and a few years after that, his widow became Mrs. Jackie McLaughlin. 2 or three years after marrying Jackie, McLaughlin was also killed in a racing accident. A few years after Jackie's death, if you can believe it, she married yet another race driver. He sold the race cars and retired from racing. He's still alive. He adopted Jackie's daughter, and for some reason, she was never told that her real dad was the famous Jackie McLaughlin. She was, at one time, on the US Olympic swimming team.

Then came the big 100 lapper at Middletown NY. Very few of our NJ/Pa drivers went, but that Sonny Dornberger Rocket ship, # 999 went up, and, with Astronaut Otto Harwi at the helm came in third, and Sonny Stupp came in sixth.

The headline read Aged Parker Bohn Triumphs in Old Bridge Stox Century The story goes on to say that "Parker Bohn, 38 year old Freehold NJ race driver, and oldest driver in the 33 car field, led only 10 of the 200 laps... Etc. If 38 is aged, that makes me ancient. I haven't had any calls from the National Geographic lately wanting to put my body on display. I hope Billy Pouch, Jimmy Horton, Kenny Brightbill,and most of the other top dogs in modifieds today don't read this, they'll all retire. Anyway, following the 38 year old senior citizen across the line were Pete Frazee, , third is not mentioned, Ken Marriott in one of the 2 Putty Hill Garage cars was forth, Don Stumpf was fifth followed by Lennie Brown, and Ralph Smith in the other Putty Hill Garage car.

The USAC big cars came into Trenton Speedway, (Then still dirt) for the NJ state fair, and once more Jackie McLaughlin joined the group of drivers looking for a career boosting USAC win, again behind the wheel of the sacks HAL powered car. When all was said and done, the HAL powered car of McLaughlin did well against the Offenhousers and Drakes. The top nine were ; Johnny Thompson, Tommy Hinnershitz, Jud Larson, Van Johnson, Sonny Dornberger driver- Mike Magill,

Hank Rogers, Jackie McLaughlin, Al Herman, and Joe Materra.

 

October - the wrap up, in more than one way, Brrrrr !

Back to the modifieds, Alcyon was still running to capacity crowds bundled up in the chill October air. On the 5th, the ghost of Robert E. Lee must have been there. The winner, Reds Kagle, (an ex NASCAR Grand National - what is now Nextel Cup - driver who lost a leg in a cup race), won the feature, followed by Ken Marriott, and Ralph Smith, All three from Baltimore Maryland, followed by Ed Lindsey, of Randallstown Maryland, followed by Glen Guthrie, of Washington DC all regulars at Alcyon, but they didn't normally all beat the "Boys from NJ". The first local driver was Jackie McLaughlin, in sixth then Jimmy Marks, Otto Harwi, Bill Wilson, and Henry Doerr.

Over at Vineland " The Wild Man" Elton Hildreth won one of the biggest thrillers of the year as he, Baltimore's Ed Lindsey, and Steve Elias were bumper to bumper from the green flag to the checker, with Hildreth grabbing the lead as they came down the main straight to the checker...(no doubt holding his breath he would make it by the starters stand).

At Old Bridge, a guy named Johnny Rocco had decided to toddle on down from St. Albans Long Island, since all the tracks up there were closed. I guess, since he was there anyway, he decided he might just as well win the feature, so he did!followed by Tommie Elliott, Lennie Brown, Pete Frazee, and Frank Myroncuk.

Then came the 100 mile LANGHORN 100 for Sporstsman. at the end of the 100 miles , besting the 60 starters was Dutch Hoag followed by Don Stumpf, George Horvath, Bob Cameron, Lee Blise, Paul Walker, Perk Brown, Ken Marriott, and Fran Jischke, most from NY.

At the Middletown NY, season finale, the #999 of Otto Harwi took the win, with Harry North, Danny Mitchell, Doug Benjamin, and Herb Mason following.

 

Alcyon wrapped up their '56 season in mid October. The 44 of Al Tasnady was really on, and nobody could catch it. Following Tas across the line were Ed Lindsey, Jackie McLaughlin, Jimmy Marks, Bill McCort, Freddy Fehr, Budd Olsen, Bob Malzahn, Bobby Becker, and Jackie Hart.

At Old Bridge, Pete Frazee scored an amazing 7th victory of the year, in this week's 35 lapper. following Frazee was Bill Chevalier, Tommie Elliott, Tommy Clark, Bill Pfister.

 

USAC Returns to Williams Grove

Twenty nine year old Van Johnson, of Anaheim California won the big 50 lapper at the Grove in the Traylor Offy ( Another coincidence, Jackie McLaughlin had driven that same car earlier that year), This day McLaughlin brought the Sacks HAL powered car home 6th, just in front of veteran Indy 500 driver Eddie Sacks, and 5 spots behind the car of the driver who's widow he would soon marry, who was driving a car that Jackie had driven twice this year. An amazing coincidence.

The next week, Old Bridge called it quits for the year, and Don Stumpf won the 50 lap semi feature, while Lennie Brown won the 100 lap feature.

 

Top 10 Modified point standings

Alcyon -

1st, Otto Harwi in the Sonny Dornberger #999

2nd, Jackie McLaughlin in the Case # 300

3rd, Chic DiNatale

4th, Bob Malzahn

5th, Ralph Smith

6th, Tommie Elliott

7th, Ken Marriott

8th, Ralph Smith

9th, Lou Johnson

10th, Fred Mears

Flemington -

 

1st, Jackie McLaughlin

2nd, Jackie Bergstresser

3rd, Joe Rosko

4th, Jim Conroy

5th, Ken Wismer

6th, Jimmy Metzler

7th, Otto Harwi

8th, Budd Olsen

9th, Bill Deskovitch

10th, Fred Mears

Old Bridge -

1st, Tommie Elliott

2nd, Pete Frazee

3rd, Bill Chevalier

4th, Bill McCarthy

5th, Lenny Brown

6th, Glen Ford

7th, Joe Lanzaro,

8th, Ed Soden

9th, Bob Malzahn

10th, Peanuts Wardell

And Otto Harwi in that Sonny Dornbeger rocket ship #999 was the Champion at Nazareth, as well as Alcyon

 

NATIONAL -

 

 

Many of our local drivers scored well nationally that year.

Bob Malzahn was 4th,

Ralph Smith was 5th,

Tommie Elliott, 6th,

Ken Marriott 7th,

Jackie McLaughlin 8th,

Bill McCarthy 9th,

Lenny Brown 10th,

Bill Chevalier 14th

Pete Frazee 15th,

Glen Ford 16th,

 

Well... That was the year that was, 50 years ago this year ! The 37 fords and the chevy coupes battling it out lap after lap to capacity crowds of 7 or 8000 fans every week. Guys like Sonny Dornberger figuring out how to make each car a little faster. Faster engines, faster chassis set ups, special pieces he designed, some bought by Holman Moody. Almost everybody had their cars to Sonny at one time or another if they wanted to keep up with the rest.

Legendary drivers like Jackie McLaughlin, Al Tasnady, Frankie Schneider, Elton Hildreth, Otto Harwi, and on and on, all racing each other on the same tracks at the same time.

As Frankie Schneider said recently, when they started to allow trick parts and factory chassis it ruined the sport. I agree.

 

I was just a kid in 1956, only 11 years old, my Uncle was a half owner in one of the world's slowest sportsman cars at the time. But he sold that and bought a Curtis Midget. That one was fast. We had more fun and adventures with that midget than anything else he ever owned. It came with a beautiful partially enclosed tandem axle trailer that matched the cars black with gold leaf trim color scheme. The trailer was set up to use the same wheels as the midget. To save money, my uncle would put the tires that were no longer useable on the race car, on the trailer. That caused us a lot of near disasters.

We ran Islip Long Island a lot, and that was a long tow from Glassboro N.J. where he lived. The driver was Al Graeber, a midget and stock car driver at the time, who went on to build and drive the famous factory sponsored Dodge Charger funny car, "Tickle me Pink" a few years later.uncle Tom towed the midget on a matching black pickup, and my uncle would drive to the speedway, and for some reason, he would let "Herky", a buddy of Graeber's drive back. Usually by the time we got loaded up, and waited in line to get paid our winnings, we didn't get out of Islip till about 1AM, or later.

Since there were about 8 or 9 of us all together who went with the car, uncle Tom, Graeber, and Herky would ride in the pickup, and the rest of us in a follow up car. Herky would pop a "No-Doze tablet and off we would go. about half an hour later, the pickup, and trailer would begin swaying all over the road as Herky was falling asleep. A few years later I found out that "No-Doze affected about one in a hundred people that way, putting them to sleep instead of keeping them awake. Uncle Tom would have to take over and drive home.

One night, at about 3 AM, just as we entered the Holland tunnel, we blew a tire on the trailer. You can't imagine the noise a shredding tire makes when it slaps a thin metal trailer fender in a tunnel. In about 30 seconds, we had a 3 car police escort with flashing lights escorting us through the tunnel.

Now, just as you enter the tunnel, there is a sign that says $5,000.00 fine for transporting explosives through tunnel. The entire pickup bed was covered with a canvas tarp, under which were our tools, jack, lug wrench, and everything we needed to change the tire. Unfortunitely, also under the tarp was a 55 gallon drum of racing fuel...methanol alcohol and nitro, definitely an explosive. They guided us into a fire station parking lot and said we could change the tire there, (While they watched, and examined the race car).

We were screwed. We couldn't lift the tarp to get the tools and jack, because they would see the drum of fuel, so... we're kinda reaching under it, and feeling around for what we needed. No luck.

"Can we borrow a jack?" we asked, "We forgot to bring ours". They looked at us like we were nuts. a beautiful race car rig all decked out, coming home from a race, and we don't have a jack.

"Ahhhh... We don't seem to have a lug wrench either", we said, "Could we borrow one from you?" Well incongruous is an understatement as to how they looked at us then. "And a screwdriver to pry off the hub cap?"we asked, timidly. Did you ever see 4 cop's eyes roll simultaneously??? Not a pretty sight under the circumstances.

Finally we got the tire changed, the cops didn't look under the tarp, and we were back on the road. It was about 4 more hours to Glassboro, and I think we were all still shaking when we got there.

Uncle Tom never learned his lesson though, and continued to run threadbare, worn out, racing tires on the trailer. Abut a month later, we were running Georgetown Delaware, and got a late start, so we were really hauling. At one of the areas where it was 2 lanes each way Tom was passing cars like they were standing still, and another trailer tire blew. The trailer is whipping back and forth, the old woman in the car riding next to him was petrified, and if Tom slowed down, she did too, if he speeded up so did she, and he couldn't get away from her. At times the trailer came within a couple inches of hitting her. Our hero race driver, Graeber, was in the pickup smoking one of his big fat cigars. He got so scared he swallowed the lit cigar. So much for the race drivers are very brave concept.

Then, there was the time, back at Islip, when Graeber came in from hot laps, and wanted a different gear in the car. Uncle Tom changed the gear set in the quick change, and when the car came out for the heat the engine was screaming, and the car was going about 15 miles an hour. My uncle put the gears in backward !

Soon after all these fiascoes, my uncle sold the midget and went back to stock cars. Maybe next time I'll tell you all more about that.

Once again, a big thanks to Bill Skinner, and a big thanks to auto racing and all the people in it for all the joy it has given me for these last 50 years.

Till next time -cemeteryjim

 

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01/18/06 Steve Elias The night of the dead heat at Vineland between Tas and Steve Elias. I was declared the winner by a foot over Al.
In the October race with Hildreth winning I was leading coming off the fourth turn and blew the motor.
The following week, the last race of the year, with the motor repaired we came back and won the feature.

Hope this will help

Steve Elias
02/12/06 Cemeteryjim Thanks for the info, Steve;

Sorry it took me so long to answer you !

Those were the days, huh? On any given day you could see you, McLaughlin, Olsen, me, and God knows who else at Leon Manchester's place.

The rumor in those days was that Elton Hildreth used to practice at Vineland Speedway just about every day. Know anything about that one?

Well, always good to see you again at the reunions, and great to hear from you here.

Thanks,
Cemeteryjim
04/12/06 DEBBIE FROM DELAWARE I JUST FOUND THIS VAULT APRIL 11,2006. I HAVE BEEN LOOKING FOR PICTURES AND STORIES FROM THE 60:S WHEN MY DAD AND MOM USED TO TAKE ME TO THE RACES IN NAZARETH AND READING.

MY FAVORITE DRIVER IN PA WAS JACKIE MCLAUGHLIN.   I REMEMBER WE GOING ONE WEEKEND AND I COULDN'T FIND JACKIE ON THE TRACK. WE DIDN'T KNOW THAT HE HAD DIED THE WEEK BEFORE.  I WAS REALLY YOUNG AND I WAS CRYING. I ALWAYS WONDER IF HE HAD A SON WHO RACED. THEN I FOUND THIS SITE AND FOUND HE HAD A DAUGHTER.

I AM FROM DELAWARE AND USED TO GO TO GEORGETOWN SPEEDWAY. MY DRIVERS THERE WERE HORACE WILLIAMS AND JONNY MARTIN.   IF ANYONE HAS ANY INFORMATION ABOUT THESE TWO GUYS, PLEASE LET ME KNOW. OR ANY PICTURES. THANK YOU
10/05/07 Ed Johnson I loved reading about Uncle Lou. I was only 10 when I saw him wreck on July 7th at Flemington. I will always remember those fun filled racing days at the Flemington fair watching "lead foot" Lou Johnson race his sprint. Dad still has many of his racing pictures from those good ol days. I can still smell that old clay track, along with grandma's sausage and hoggie rolls. Damn i'm hungry!
03/14/08 Mike Kutz Very good article! I was a real modified fan in the early 60ís so this gave me some good info on what was going on. The late 50ís and 60ís were the best for me. I loved watching Al Tasnady and Frankie Schneider battle at Nazareth, Flemington and Reading Speedways that was the best racing ever.
10/19/08 Ed Finally found a page that brings back many memories - In the 50's I attended many races at Nazareth, Flemington, and the fairgrounds at Middletown NY.

Yep, Otto Harwi and Jackie McLaughlin were my two favorite drivers. I remember one race at Nazareth where a car (don't remember who or when) had a mechanical failure coming into turn one. Hit it dead on and flipped up, into, and over the wooden fence on to cars parked on the other side. There were some wild Sundays at Nazareth. When I had nothing to do on Saturday night - it was Flemington or Middletown. Back then I lived in Palmerton, PA. Only went to Dorney Park (1/4 mile, paved) one time. Preferred to see the wild side of dirt. :-)
As Bob Hope would say "Thanks for the Memories"
12.04.10 Bill Lawson ~~aka~~Racerchaser To Debbie (posted above):  Johnny Martin passed away  about 10 years or so. He lived in a town about 8 miles east of Georgetown named Harbeson. He retired as a prison guard.  Horace Williams of Bridgeville also has passed away.
07.12.12 Jack Burroughs

In them days I was racing APBA stock outboard hydro planes against Dick O'Day of Paterson, N.J., folks today can't even imagine how it was to travel all over the east coast in the days before Interstates. My '52 Chev. would hardly go 70 mph towing the trailer.  All these guys had the same problems and experiences towing all up and down the east coast. It used to take almost all night to tow from my home in Sparta, N.J. up to Berwick ,Pa. in 1957, just a few yrs. back I was able to get up to Evergreen Speedway to run my Micro-Stock , in less than 2 hours. 1958, my first drive to Fl. there were only 3 straight and toll roads, Jersey Turnpike, Richmond toll road and the Fl. Pike that ran from Ft. Pierce  to Ft. Lauderdale, most of the rest were U.S. hwy's. or 2ndary roads. I for one can really appreciate the system we have today.

07.12.12 Jack Burroughs

56 yrs. now, I am blessed to have seen some of these legend drivers.'56 I graduated H.S. and was boat racing  all over the east coast, folks that never had to travel those roads back then can never imagine the world of those days before most of the interstate system were completed.

     
     

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