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GREASE! Hosted By:  Cemetery Jim

June 3rd, 2006

Here's part 2 of a three part series on one of the pioneers of Modified racing in this area, and a track champion multi feature winner and double Hall of Fame inductee - Steve Elias. One thing that makes this column different is that this is an autobiography, written by Steve himself. So... from the man himself, in his own words, here is the Steve Elias Story.

 As we begin part 2 of the 3 part Steve Elias autobiography, I would like to, once again express my deep appreciation for the birds eye view of what early Modified racing for a top driver actually was like. Thank you so much for sharing your story with all of us - Cemeteryjim

MY LIFE IN RACING (Part 2 of 3)

By Steve Elias

AL,(Tasnady),was still driving for LUCKY JORDAN when they decided to go and run the NASCAR tracks. By them leaving ALCYON, I was left with the lead in points, which didn't bother me a bit. I finally won my first feature. It made my lead in points even greater.


One thing I forgot to mention: a cat’s head was painted on the hood of my car. BILL GREGORY was the announcer and he gave me another nickname - "SYLVESTER THE CAT" - which has stuck with me throughout the years. Even today, some of the old timers will see me and say "hi" SYLVESTER.


In the meantime, I was running at PLEASANTVILLE on Saturday nights and ATCO on Sunday afternoons. I didn't run every race or even have a regular car. One particular Sunday afternoon I was looking for a ride and JIMMY DE'NATALE asked me to drive his car, the old mud duck NO.69. The car didn't even have roll bars, but in those days I had big ones. I won the heat race on old half worn out tires. I guess JIMMY felt bad because he sent somebody out to buy two new tires for the feature. In those days we used to run street tires. Well I don't know if the new tires did it or what, but I won the feature.


Meanwhile at PLEASANTVILLE I was running any car I could get my hands on. I won a feature with the 779 normally driven by BOB ALCORN. He had to work that night, so the owners had asked me to drive. Another night I won the feature with the 111 under the new ownership of BUBBY ANGEROTH. Back at ALCYON, the 111 was being driven by BILL DANKEL. I used to qualify the car in the heat race whenever BILL had to work late. I was still holding my own in the points chase.


We had a LABOR DAY race coming up. It was a daytime affair with the STONEY MC'LINN trophy at stake. STONEY had been a WIP sportswriter before he passed away. Things were going pretty good in the heat race till BERNIE HART spun in the fourth corner. I put on my brakes trying to miss him and I was hit in the rear by the 111 and he ended up on top of my roof. It was a weird looking sight. The right side door on my car was smashed in. They took the 111 off the roof of my car and lucky for me there was no damage to the running gear. I was able to restart the heat

and when the race was over I had qualified for the feature.


JACK MC LAUGHLIN had taken an early lead in the feature and I was still fighting my way up through the pack. The announcer was saying, "here comes "SYLVESTER" in his air conditioned 011" due to the side of the car being all smashed in. I had finally gotten in to second place, but JACK still had a pretty good lead. A red flag came out stopping the race because of a wreck.


JACK had the pole on the restart and went into the lead in the first turn. There were five laps to go. I caught him with two to go and passed him going down the backstretch and went into the lead for keeps. I won the feature and the trophy and I also increased my point lead. The last two races of the season I finished up near the front and captured the modified point championship of 1953 at ALCYON. At the awards banquet we received trophies and I was talking to GEORGE HERITAGE the owner of the 160. He asked me if I wanted to drive their new car next year and I said "yes". The new car was going to be 061; CHUBBY HOWER was going to drive the 160.


This was the year the INTERSTATE STOCK CAR RACING ASSOCIATION was born. It was formed to give owners and drivers a fair share of the front gate and more say in how the organization was run. We elected our officers rather than have them self-appointed as they were in the past. HARRY REEVES was President, JOHN GAUNT was Vice President, GRAHAME DENHAM was Treasurer and MARTY GEORTLER was Secretary.


After the first four races at ALCYON we had been running pretty good - one second and three thirds. We were leading in points without winning a race. Then everything seemed to go down hill. We blew eight front tires; not all of them in the feature race, but enough of them to hurt. On one night I was leading the pack going through the dogleg. I blew the right front tire and hit the boards. BILL SMITH was behind me. He turned to the left to miss me and he hit the inside fence and rolled over on the straight. Twelve more cars got into the wreck, one of them running into BILL'S roof as his car laid on it's side. He suffered severe injuries, which he died from within two weeks. When something like that happens, it gets you to thinking, but you can't dwell on it. You know that things like this are going to happen from time to time and you just say to yourself "it's not going to happen to me" and go on driving.


Another night I was working my way up through the pack when I blew a right front tire. I hit the fence on the backstretch. The top board broke off and I straddled the bottom board. The one that broke off hit the left front fender came through the firewall wiping out the fuel lines and breaking the steering column loose. It was across my right leg pinning me in the seat. The board had continued on right up between my legs. I looked down at it and it looked like it had gone though me - there was blood all over the place. I took my safety belts off and tried to get out of the seat, but no luck - the wheel had me trapped in the seat and I couldn't move it. Lucky for me there were kids up in the trees watching the races. One of them was a big kid named BUNKIE HIGGBIE. He got in the car with me and together we pulled the steering column off my leg. I was able to get out of the car.

I got up on the roof because they hadn't stopped the race yet. Somebody got to the flagman and he red flagged the race. My right leg was covered with blood - I had a hole in my leg up near my crotch. The ambulance arrived and took me to the hospital where I had 19 stitches in my leg to close the hole and they released me. Right then I had serious doubts on continuing my racing career, but the next morning I was hot to trot again.


On Saturday nights I had been running EDDIE ROBINSONS 202 at the PLEASANTVILLE SPEEDWAY. I had been doing pretty well - I had won two features in a row. The night after the accident at ALCYON, I told EDDIE that my leg hurt like hell and not to expect too much. I had trouble getting into the car, but once I got going it wasn't too bad. I started near the rear of the pack, because I was leading in points. Well I never had it so easy. Every place I moved there was a hole to go through and I ended up leading and went on to win the feature. When I got back into the pits, EDDIE told me to tell him I was feeling bad every time I drove the car. The following week was my last ride in the 202, because the owners of the 061 had decided to take the car down to PLEASANTVILLE. EDDIE wasn't too happy about that. I had told him early in the season that if the 061 came to P'VILLE I would drive it. I went on to win two or three more features and won the drivers point championship.


LIBERTY STOCK CAR RACING ASSOCIATION had been the sanctioning body at P'VILLE and at two other tracks - NAZERETH on Sunday afternoon and HATFIELD on Sunday night. For a while, we were running Saturday nights, go to NAZARETH on Sunday afternoons and hit HATFIELD on the way home. It was kind of hard to keep the car in shape for all three tracks. To take care of my spare time I was running ATCO on Tuesday and Thursday nights. I was running any car that I could pick up for that evening. One night the 01 modified out of CAMDEN was there and needed a driver. I wasn’t allowed to run there because the track was not sanction by Interstate Racing Club but I drove any way and ran under the name of Harold Mitchell, a friend who had worked with me building our first car, I won the feature and right after the race was over I got out of the car real quick and ran out to the bar before anybody could see me.


Another night I didn't have a ride so I had a couple beers. STEVE BRITTINO, owner of the 77 (formerly driven by CHIC DENATALE) arrived at the track during the first heat. Steve asked me if I wanted to drive his car. I went out in the second heat and I couldn't do anything. Just because of those two beers my reflexes were off. After the heat I started running out to the main road and back trying to wear off those two beers. I ate about two dozen clams at the clam bar they had by the pit gate. I had to run in the consolation race because I hadn't qualified in the heat race. Everything was fine. I won the consolation and started in the back of the feature and won that too. I learned one lesson that night - I couldn't drink and drive and expect to have quick reflexes.


Another night at Atco Pete Ambrosia had brought the 026 sedan to the track without a driver so I asked to drive the car and he said yes.

 Also at the track was Will Cagle in one of his first races in the north. He had a bug with him, like a 32 ford body, I won my heat and the feature started with Will and I starting in the rear. We put on a great show going to the front. They had an accident bring out the caution on the restart Will was on the pole and I was second on the outside, going into the first turn my right front wheel came off and they continued to race for another lap putting me a lap down From that I figured they did not want me to win but I restarted anyway. I started coming thru the pack and was making good time. Coming off the fourth turn a car went wide and I got under him and then he came back down hitting me and went into the wall. The flagman came running down the track waving a black flag and said I was disqualified. At least I felt good about something Pete said it was the best bit of traffic driving he had seen, that made ma feel good. I ran a lot of other races at ATCO but it's a little hard to remember all of them after so many years. I had to be satisfied when the season ended I had won the championship at "PLEASANTVILLE" and received a nice trophy at the LIBERTY banquet.



I was looking forward to the new season. I had cabin fever waiting for the first race. A new racetrack was going to open this year, VINELAND SPEEDWAY, a half-mile dirt. I received a phone call from the owners of the 061; they wanted me to meet them down at the track. There were going to be some newspaper people and they wanted to get some pictures to give the track some publicity before opening day. I got down at the track and AL TASNADY was there with DUTCH MAUK'S no.52. The 061 was off the trailer and ready to go. This was in March and it was really cold. We went out on the track and ran a few laps staying together so they could get some pictures and make it look like a race was going on. I don't know how they could see to take pictures. The dust was really flying. There wasn't any calcium on the track to keep the dust down, but every thing turned out fine and so did the pictures.


We started out at the new track hoping to have a good year, but that didn't happen. We were running pretty good not winning any races, but finishing up near the front. We were running with 20% nitro-methane added to our fuel that would give us an extra boost going down the chute. Once in a while they would add a little too much and the car would run good for about six laps then heat up and slow down. This happened on several occasions, I would have to slow down let the car cool off and start running again, but it was too late to get up near the front. I used to get all bent out of shape, and I told them to stop using it all together if it was going to cause us all those problems. One night we developed a problem in the heat race, and were done for the night. It was almost time for the third heat and JOHNNY FOSTER who owned the 1/2 asked me if I wanted to drive his car,

I said yes and took it out in the third heat. I started near the back and I could not do much as the back end kept coming around in the turns, we did not qualify. Now we had to get ready for the consolation race. I told them to just change the left front tire and put a smaller one on. I hoped that would transfer some weight to the left side of the car and make the back end stick. Well it worked, we won the "conci". We had to get out on the track for the feature race. We were starting near the back because we qualified in the consolation race. The flag dropped and away we went. The car was going through the corners like it was on rails. I was working my way up through the pack passing cars on every lap. I was in second place when there was a wreck in the back of the pack. They cleared the cars that could not restart and we lined up in Indian file for a flying start. They dropped the flag coming off the fourth turn; you had to be ready. I held back just a little and tried to anticipate the green. Well the green came out and I had got my foot in it a shade before HERM FISHER who was leading at the time. I got under him going into the first corner and took the lead coming off the second and went on to win the feature. I also had broken TAS'S string of wins, he had four in a row up to that night.


During the year we were running some other tracks, NAZERETH on Sunday afternoons and the half mile asphalt track at HATFIELD, which at the time was the fastest half mile in the east, on Sunday evenings. It was kind of hard to have the car handle on the asphalt after you had been bouncing around on the dirt in the afternoon. We did take another excursion one Saturday, we took the car up to DOVER, N.J. They had a half mile high bank dirt track that was pretty quick, it really had us messed up on which gear to run. We did not qualify in our heat we had to run the consolation, we had the right gear and finished second and were ready for the feature. While the race was running part of the main grandstand collapsed. They stopped the race and removed the people from the rubble. My father was in the stands and lucky for him two of my buddies were there with him, one on each side and they held him up when the stands went down. After removing everybody they resumed racing. We did pretty well; we did not win the feature, but we ended up third. NELSON APPLEGATE won and AL TASNADY was second. That was the last race ever run there due in part to a bunch of law suits. This wasn't one of my better years, but at least I was in one piece.



A new year was starting and I decided to make a change. I was going to drive the 1/2 owned by JOHNNY FOSTER. He was building a new modified coupe and we were going to run the car at VINELAND and ATCO SPEEDWAYS. We started out real fine winning at ATCO several times and doing pretty good at VINELAND.


We were running a SATURDAY night race at ATCO. We were leading the heat race and I was coming off the fourth turn. I saw CARL, who was the crew chief on the car, waving frantically. Well I figured I would look a little closer on the next time around, but that didn't work out too well. Just as I was between the third and fourth turn, the left front wheel came off and I proceeded to go end over end. When I finally stopped I was on my roof. I waited till all the cars stopped before trying to get out of the car. I was hanging by my safety belts and I had to put one hand down to catch myself when I pulled the release for my belts. I crawled out through the window and stood up and proceeded to check for any thing that was broken. I was pretty lucky, no broken bones just a little stiff. The car was totaled, that means that it's not repairable. The engine rear and transmission were saved but the rest was just junk. Well a new car had to be built and that takes time and CARL who was going to be building the car was going to do it in his spare time. I hung around a few weeks trying to help, but things did not seem to be progressing too well. It seemed to me that CARL had lost interest, so I started looking for another ride.


I heard through the grapevine that KENNY VAN-BUREN did not have a driver for his car. It was a different looking car, compared to the rest of the cars that were running at the time. The car was built by ANDY BEACH and his brother, who had a garage in WOODBURY. They started out with a ‘37 Ford five passenger coupe, they cut about two feet out of the middle of the body and moved the windshield back and then welded the body back together. The next thing they did was move the engine back in the frame about a foot. That meant they had to make a longer hood. The theory behind the whole thing was to have all the weight between the front and rear axles and that should make the car easier to handle on the racetrack.

 This car was a few years ahead of its time. Getting back to the story, I asked KENNY If he wanted to run the car at a race they were having down at DELMAR, which was located on the DEL. MARYLAND line, he said yes and I said I would meet him down at the track on race day. I arrived pretty early and KENNY was not too far behind me with the 37. They got the car unloaded off the trailer and we fired it up. That car really sounded fierce, with the V/8 LINCOLN and the four carburetors. I got in the car and adjusted the safety belts and took the car out for a warm-up. The track was a little rough - it was oiled dirt, which is kind of like soft asphalt. I took a couple slow laps then I put the pedal down and proceeded to take a few hot laps, this car really had some power. They had a set of firestone sprint car tires on the rear, and they were hard rubber. I would come off the turn and put my foot in it and I would spin wheels all the way down the straightaway.


AL TASNADY and FRANKIE SCHNEIDER were there for the race, they were the two hottest drivers in the east at that time. Trying to remember exactly what happened after all these years is a little hard to remember. The heat was won by TAS, but I finished second, and I was satisfied considering I had never driven this car before. In between the heat and the feature they decided to run a match race. The match race was to be run by FRANKIE, AL, HENRY DOER and me. It was a ten lap affair and coming out of the forth turn it was AL and FRANKIE side by side, but they made one mistake - they left the inside open and I took advantage of it and I moved to the inside and took the lead right at the checkered flag and almost ran over HARRY REEVES, the flag man, in the process. The feature started with AL, FRANKIE and myself going to the front. As the laps wore down FRANKIE started getting slower and I got by him but I couldn't do anything with AL. The 37 was hard to steer and my arms were getting sore but I hung on for a second place and I was happy with that, being in the car for the first time.


I'm a little fuzzy on exact dates and times because all this happened 50 years ago, and then again some of it seems like it happened yesterday. I especially remember KENNY saying he would like to take the car to MANASSASS, VA. It was a special race they were having and a lot of the cars from the area were going down there. The track was a third of a mile asphalt with about a fifteen degree bank. FRANKIE, AL, and myself were there, and I don't quite remember who else. The "HOT DOG" in that part of the country was RAY HENDRICHS. We started in the rear of the pack, RAY, TAS, FRANKIE and myself. Before too long we were up front, we were running nose to tail with nobody able to get by. RAY was leading FRANKIE, TAS third and I was fourth. I was really surprised at the way my car was handling, the 37 had never been on asphalt before, it was doing great. We kept running in the same order with nobody able to pass the laps wore on and it was getting near the end of the race and I caught a break good for me bad for AL. Somebody had dropped some oil on the track and AL hit it making him slide a little, just enough for me to slip by into third and that's the way we were when we took the checker. It was a good night except for one thing, during the sportsman race there was a bad wreck and one of the drivers was killed. I didn't know who he was, he was from that area. After we packed up and got the payoff we headed for home, about a three and a half hour drive.


I started running the "37" at VINELAND and did pretty good, finishing up near the front in most of the races. The hard FIRESTONE tires were still a problem, I was having trouble getting a bite coming off the turns. One night MARVIN from RACEMASTER TIRE'S was at the track with a set of tires he wanted to try on somebodys car and of course I volunteered. Before this race TAS had won six features in a row and I had finished fourth, second and four thirds behind him. I went out in the heat and the tires worked great and I won. The feature started and I got out in the lead pretty quick and had built up a good lead, but TAS caught up with me with four laps to go. He got under me and we ran side by side the remainder of the race. Coming out of the fourth turn for the checker I had him by a half a car length. He pulled almost even, but he couldn't quite make it and I beat him by about two feet. We learned one thing that night - tires could make a difference. KENNY was hard headed and he still would not go to a softer tire.


Kenny took the car to Atco Speedway and put Sal Machella in it because I wasn’t allowed to run there - I did not belong to the club. Sal got into the fence and did not finish the race. The following week Kenny asked me to drive the car at Atco and I went, I had to pay a $50 fee to run. We won the heat race, the match race and the feature and I was given the trophy. It was a pretty big trophy and Kenny said he would like to have it. I said if he would pay my membership fee he could have the trophy, he paid me the $50 and I gave it to him. Back to Vineland the next three races we finished two fourths and a fifth. In the next race we developed a miss in the engine not to bad, just a little that cut our power down slightly. That turned out to be a blessing in disguise, I started getting a bite coming off the turns and I finished second to TAS in the feature. The next week it was good again and I was leading coming off the fourth turn about to take the checker, well the engine blew and I coasted across the line in third place, a rod had broken and went though the side of the block. ANDY BEACH worked on the engine all week, he welded a patch on the side of the block and got the engine back together in time for the next race, which was going to be the last race of the year. Race day came and we were ready. I won the heat, started in the back for the feature and won. All in all it was a pretty good year and I finished third in points for the season, but I always wonder what might have been if I could of had those RACEMASTER TIRES all year.



Over the winter Kenny had put a sedan body on the car so we could run at Alcyon. We were running at Vineland and Alcyon in the same week and still had those hard tires. Every week I would bitch about the tires. One night I showed up at Alcyon and Kenny wasn’t there but the car was and the Mechanic said he had orders to put anybody in it except me. That was fine with me I was tired of fighting with Kenny.

I picked a ride in the #14 from Oxford, PA and ran that the rest of the year. It wasn’t the fastest car on the track but we finished the top ten most of the time.


Over the winter I did not have a ride lined up for next year. In the early spring I was down in Vineland and stopped by Neil Williams’ shop and they were working on the new 44 coupe for Ralph Smith a beautiful car with an engine built by John Bohlander who used to have Frankie Schnieder driving his cars in the early 50’s with great success. In another part of the yard sat a sedan driven in the past year by Ken Marriot. The car was old rags - all beat up, no wheels and a 292 ford engine stock except for an ambler cam. As I looked at it, Hanny (Hanford Nixholm) a friend of Neil’s asked me if he put it on the track would I drive it. Not having a ride I said sure.

I helped get the car back together, welding license plates from the running boards to the fenders to hold the car together.

We were not ready for the first week at Vineland and Elton Hildreth won the feature and set a new track record, of course that was the first race on the new asphalt track.

The following week we were ready running the 44A with the 292 one carburetor on gas. We won the heat setting a new track record and also won the feature taking 2 seconds off Elton’s time for another record.

The following week we were back at Vineland set another track record in the heat won the feature and took 7 seconds off the track record from the week before. This was done with a car running on gas and one carburetor against the modifieds running on alcohol.

I have to say that the new track was hard on tires, it was so smooth it built up heat in the tires and they blistered. I was running Mellini recaps and after one race half the right tire was gone.

We took the car to Hatfield Speedway, a half mile asphalt track and the fastest track in the country for its size. We won the feature again running against the Modifieds. We then took the car to Wilmington, Delaware, a quarter mile asphalt track and won the opening day feature. We were running three tracks a week Vineland on Friday, Hatfield on Saturday and Wilmington on Sunday.

The racing at Vineland started to change for us. Racemaster came out with a new tire that would not blister and we still ran the Mellini recaps. Don’t get me wrong; we still ran well but couldn’t keep up with the cars with the newer tires.

A little later in the year John Regineck from Millville offered to put a modified Chevy in the car at no cost to Neil and we started running that engine. Very fast but still the problem with the tires. Neil had no interest in the 44a everything was for the 44 that Ralph drove.

I didn’t complain; Hanny and I just did our thing. One night at Hatfield with John’s motor we set a new track record in the heat. We put another set of Mellini recaps on for the feature and I couldn’t keep the car on the track. John Regineck was disgusted and took his engine out of the car and we went back to the 292 Ford.

We tried our best and were leading in Modified points till one day we were at the shop and they needed a tire for the 44 which Ralph drove. I went over to the Speedshop in Pennsi to pick it up when I returned they had taken the fuel tank out of my car and put it in the 44 and I could not run that night. That was the last straw and I quit the car. We still won the Sportsman Championship for the year at Vineland and Wilmington. Another year where tires were a factor.


Click Here for Part 3 of Steve Elias' "My Life in Racing"

Click Here in you missed Part 1 of Steve Elias' "My Life in Racing"


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06/05/06 Bill Ore Thanks, Jim, for having Steve's story on the site, and thanks to Steve for writing it. It's good to have the story in a driver's own words. I read part one, and while it was interesting I really couldn't relate because I wasn't around then. But now Steve's getting to the part that I remember. I remember him driving the 07 at Vineland in the early 60's, and I'm sure that will come up in part 3. Thanks again, Steve and Jim.

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