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GREASE! Hosted By:  Cemetery Jim

July 4th, 2006

Here's part 3 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 3 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 3 of 3)
By Steve Elias

By Steve Elias

(Click Here for Part 1)
(Click Here for Part 2)


The year did not start out too well. I drove a few different cars and finally hooked up with guy that had bought a late model from Romeo Gelsi. It was a 1957 Plymouth that Romeo had gotten from Detroit to run at Daytona with Al Tasnady as the driver. It was set up for racing with the Grand National circuit that preceded the Winston Cup. 

They took the car to Daytona for the last race on the beach, one straightaway was on the beach and the other was on a two lane road connected at each end by high banked turns. At the time I was working for Toots Armellini who was Romeo’s brother in law. I hauled flowers out of Florida to New York and Boston. On the trip down to Florida, Toots let me take a layover at Daytona and I got into the race hiding in the trunk of the racecar. As we were going thru the check in Romeo was clowning around banging on the trunk lid saying what a great day they were going to have and almost breaking my eardrums.

Al did not have a great day, breaking a fan belt and having to pull out of the race. Al drove that car in a lot of races throughout the South for two years, running both hardtop and convertible races. They would cut the hard top off and bolt it back on whenever needed.

When I started driving the car we were with the Penn–Mar Racing Association that was affiliated with USAC. We ran a 150 250 at Langhorne with USAC. It was a thrill to run with the top dogs from USAC.

One of the races they had at Langhorne was a 100 mile Round Robin with three 33 mile qualifying heats for Late Models, Modifieds and Sports Cars. We had to run a two lap qualifier to get our spot in the 33 miler. We had the third fastest time for a good starting spot. The qualifying race started with a Ford from Baltimore and Frankie Schnieder in a Chevy and me in the Plymouth pulling away from the field running nose to tail.

We ran that way for 22 laps when I blew a piston ruining my day. The first five cars to finish in the 100 miler where all Late Models. I would have had a good day if I had not had my trouble.

As the old saying goes, the dog would have caught the rabbit if he hadn’t stop to take a crap.

We also ran Williams Grove, Vineland, Hatfield and Oxford, Pa and also had a few pick up rides in Modifieds. Without having a lot of success I still enjoyed the year.



In our last race at Hatfield we had blown a right front tire and hit the outside wall destroying the right front of the car. That was our last ride with the Plymouth.

I picked up a ride in the 36 owned by Pappi Ippoliti out of Folcroft, Pa. It was a 37 Ford coupe with a small block Chevy.

It ran pretty well considering I was running Mellini recaps. We had a little problem getting a good bite coming off the corners, but running in the top ten some top fives.

Later in the year Pappi bought a set of Racemaster tires and everybody thought we had put a new motor in the car. On a night that they were having two feature races we won our heat race putting us near the back but we came up through the pack and finished third in the first feature. To the back again to start the second feature and the race started and through the pack we came. On lap 17 we were going for the lead coming off the fourth turn getting under George Slight in the 119. He forced me down into the infield and I got all tangled up in a wire fence unable to continue. I was not a happy camper. At a later race we were involved with an accident coming off the fourth turn and the car caught fire, lucky for me the track crew put it out before I was burned. This year again proved me right that you have to have the proper tires to be competitive.


The start of a new year and racing wasn’t at the top of my list. I had a full time job driving a truck over the road and wasn’t home much. I had four children and supporting them was my number one objective but the bug got to me.

I went to Vineland without a ride and picked one up in the 54L. The following week on April 30th they had a NASCAR Grand National Race at Vineland. The owner of the 59 Plymouth that I drove in 1959 pulled it out of the barn and brought it to the track. It still had straw in it when they got it there.

The race started and we weren’t running too bad that is until the drive shaft fell off. That ended our day. Bud Olsen was driving the deuce owned by Lucky Jordan (Rebel) and was going to make a change and drive his own car that he had built over the winter - I think the number was 83. I had done some of the welding for Bud. Bud was to later switch to Piscapo’s 39 and Bud’s brother in law Jack McLaughlin would drive the 83 in which he was killed in 1964 at Nazareth. I had a chance to run the deuce for the Rebel and drove the car at Vineland. I drove it two times in June and two times in July. I also drove it at Flemington and Nazareth. I didn’t do too bad at Flemington but had a little trouble with Nazareth. We parted ways in August and I went back to Vineland and picked up a ride in Walt Tait’s 07 for the last three races.


I went back to running Vineland in the 07 owned by Walt Tait from National Park, N,J, same town I lived in. Walt’s car was a Sportsman that meant one carburetor and limited to 305 cubic inches. You could run methanol, which produced more power and cooler engine temperatures. It was a pretty good running Sportsman and we won heats and most always in the top ten.

At that time, they paid Sportsman money to the first three to finish and we collected first money many times and ended the year winning the Sportsman Championship.

At the same time I was running another car at Hatfield Speedway, the 444. This was the third track to be at Hatfield. The first one was a half mile dirt track and then a half mile asphalt and then they built a high bank third of a mile dirt track.

In all my years of driving I never had as many things happen as I did with this car. Wires would fall off linkage the same and all sorts of weird things. The one decent night we had the topside of the track was wet and you had to run the low side; it was like running a flat track. After the race started, there was a wreck and the race stopped. My linkage fell of the carburetor. They put it back on and lucky for us after the repair we were able to continue. Most of the drivers were used to the high banks and had trouble getting around, but I loved it. I was used to running flat tracks and made my way toward the front, I ended third for my best finish of the year. There were two features that night and I had to go to the rear of the pack for the second one. I came up through the pack and took the lead coming off the fourth turn and was going away when the jinx hit me again when the right rear spindle broke putting me out of the race. Little did I know the worst was yet to come. The following week we qualified for the feature and were running pretty well went down into the first turn and left off, only the accelerator stuck and we went in wide open hit the fence rolled over with the engine still running wide open oil going away from the bearings and blowing the motor. That finished the year for us. For the whole season I only finished four races with this car I was glad the season was over.



Back to Vineland with the 07. We were running pretty well except for the carter carburetor we were using. When you went down into the corner and started to come off, it would sputter a little bit. Walt worked on it every week but couldn’t get it out.

Every Friday night we were at Vineland and started running Flemington on Saturday night. You could almost bet you would be in a wreck at least once every four weeks. Flemington was a narrow racetrack and our luck there wasn’t the greatest. About midway through the year Walt bought a Holley carburetor that was already set up for methanol. He paid $50 for it and we paid for it the first night by running fourth in the feature. What an improvement, we were jumping off the corners. Vineland was a lot better for us as we finished in the top five and top tens and winning quite a few heat races along the way. We ended the year winning the Sportsman title again. The one mile track at Langhorne had a 100 lapper every year and Walt did not take his car there. Joe Table had the 1sr with a Chevy engine in a Studebaker body that he ran at Vineland with Bunkie Higbe as the driver. Joe had asked me if I would drive the car at Langhorne and I said yes.


On the Saturday before the race you had to qualify and there would be well over a hundred cars trying to get in the race. We turned a lap in the 37 second range that put us in the race about 15th starting position. On the day of the race they had a non-qualifiers race and the top two cars could get into the 100 lapper. The main race started and we were running petty good, nose to tail with Jack McLaughlin and Will Cagle. We ran that way for about 40 laps and we started to develop a heating problem. I pulled into the pits and to put water in you had to take the hood off wasting valuable time and we tried to run with the hood off and the tech man stopped us and we had lost two laps so we just parked the car and had a disappointing finish to the year.


A new year was starting and Walt built a new Ford engine for the car. As I said before we were allowed 305 cubic inches in the Sportsman division and we ended up with 304.

To get this Walt had to buy a brand new 292 block that had not been honed out and put a 312ci crankshaft which had a longer stroke and that gave us the 304. This car was a real runner and we were giving the Modifieds a fit. We could jump off the corners if we had the inside track. We started running Wall on Saturday nights and we ran well up there. 

One night at Vineland we were running in the feature and we caught up with another sportsman driven by Bob Trout. He could run me down the chute and then lock his brakes up blocking the inside. This really upset me because I had a sneaking suspicion he was running a 327 Chevy, which was illegal in a sportsman and if he would put his foot in it he would not slow me down. After the race I protested and they put the tube on his car and found him illegal, then they check my car and said we had 308ci and we were illegal. We disputed that and offered to pull a head so they could measure the bore and stroke. We did and we were found to have 304ci, which made us legal.

We went to Wall the next night. We finished first Sportsman and somebody protested us and we pulled the head and were found legal again. We went on to have a fine year except for the last race at Vineland where we blew the engine. It was the only race that we did not finish all year but we still won the Sportsman Championship at Vineland. Joe Table asked me again to drive his car at Langhorne this year. He still had the Studebaker body with the Chevy power. We again qualified and started running well in the race. We were following Rags Carter in Harold Copes # 1

When he blew a right front tire and hit the outside rail braking part of and sending it across the track and I hit it taking the front end out of my car and that ended our day and year.



A new track was opening up, East Windsor Speedway, a half mile dirt track. We took the 07 up there and found it to our liking. I was in the first heat race and I started fifth. In two laps I was leading and going away I won with straight away lead.

When it came time for the feature, they had me in the seventh starting spot and Elton went up and raised Cain saying I would win from there so they started me 13th behind a lot of modifieds. I had a little bit of trouble getting through but I still managed to end up fourth and first Sportsman. I beat Elton and that made me feel a little better.

We were still running Vineland and going to Flemington on Saturday nights. The cars on the asphalt were getting quicker because of advancements in suspension and car design. They were being made a lot lower with less wind resistance, while we still ran a full size humpback 37 ford sedan. Some of the cars even had offset engines that made for better handling. Wally Dallenbach had a car with full torsion bar suspension almost set up like a sprint car.(The Mr.Pop's X-Torsion Special-Ed) While walking through the pits one day I passed Herb Vails car. Herb was the son of Bill Vail who had promoted Alcyon Speedway. He had a good-looking car, a 37 ford flat back sedan that was lowered. I noticed that he was square in the back, meaning he had two tires the same size on the rear. That will cause you to push the front end going through the corners. With a smaller left rear tire it helps the car turn. He thanked me and I went over to Walt’s car to get ready for our heat race. Herb came over and asked me if I would try his car in a heat race. He was in a different heat than us. I took his car out and ran second in the heat and he was happy. I went out in our heat with the 07 and the engine was missing and I did not qualify. Walt could not cure the problem in time for the conci so we decided not to run. Herb came over a little while later and asked me if I would drive his car in the feature and I said "yes". I did not run that great because the car wanted to come around, meaning there wasn’t enough weight on the left rear. The handling can be changed with jacking bolts but not while you’re running. Herb had a guy that did the set ups on the car and I didn’t think he was doing a good job but it wasn’t my car.

About two weeks later we were running Vineland and the exhaust headers cracked. I went over to Walt’s house on Saturday morning to weld them back together so we could run Flemington that night. I worked on them for about four hours and finally finished when Walt said he wasn’t going to run Flemington that night. I was a little upset and I decided to make a change. I called Herb during the following week and asked to drive his car and he said "yes". There wasn’t too much of the season left and we fished fairly well, but handling was still a problem.


Over the winter the fellow that was in charge of setting the car up made a demand for more percentage of what the car made. I told Herb to let him go and we would set the car up by ourselves.

Best move we ever made - come to find out the other guy was doing every thing backwards. With a little experimenting on our part we had the car handling better than it ever had before. I am not going to mention his name because he might still be alive and I will embarrass him.

Vineland was closed, so we ran East Windsor on Friday nights and Flemington on Saturday nights, Herb as the owner and my son Steve as pit crew and we were a great team. They had upped the cubic inches for sportsman to 330ci that let us run a 327 Chevy, which gave us a little better chance running against the Modifieds. Some of the Modifieds were now running the 427 Chevys and the big block Fords. We had quite a few finishes in the top five.



Over the winter, Herb made a change to the engine. I think he put a new roller cam in but he wouldn’t tell me. He said just drive it and I did. This thing was really potent and we were leading a lot of features and finishing real well. One night we jumped out into the lead and held on for five restarts and finally the Modifieds caught us and we ended up third. Another night the track was wet and we were back in the pack. The Modifieds couldn’t get a bite but I did and I came up through the pack like gangbusters. I was going around Gil Hearne on the outside. Billy Osmun dove under Gil, slid in the mud that was on the bottom of the track and drove Gil up into me and put me into the fence. The car hit the fence so hard that it bent right at the firewall. Of course that put us out of the race. The way we were running we would have won that race except by a stupid move by another driver.

With the car back in the garage we put it on jack stands from the firewall back and I used a rose bud torch to heat up the frame and drop it back in place. It worked and I then welded braces from the front of the frame back to the roll bars which would stop the same thing from happening again. It was late and I had to get to bed - we were racing the next night at Flemington. I came back the next day and Herb and my son Steve had worked on the car all night but to no avail. The carburetor was flooding and we could not fix it. They were dead tired and I said the hell with it we would just miss the race that night.

A couple of weeks later we were at East Windsor an had won our heat race. The feature was going well: after about fifteen laps Al Tasnady was leading,I was second and Pee Wee Griffith was coming up thru the pack, got by me and was on Al’s bumper.

He then hit Al in the rear and spun him out. Pee Wee stopped his car, jumped up on Al’s hood and started beating his chest he was a real idiot. Al had touched him earlier in the race and he wanted to get even. Tex Enright was the flagman and he put both of them to the back of the pack with four laps to go. On the restart I was on the pole with Bill Brown in a Modified starting behind me. Coming down for the green flag I did a little brake check on the fourth turn that gave me jump start. I pulled out to a five car length lead and held it to the finish and won the race. I know I caught a break when Al and Pee Wee went to the back, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles I still enjoyed it and so did Herb and Steve Jr.

We were running well at Flemington. They had widened the track so you had more room to get around. The first night after it had been widened, we were leading the heat and they had a restart. I stuck to it and promptly broke an axle. They waited for us to replace the axle, but we couldn’t get one piece out so they started without us. That meant we had to run the Conci. I started thirteenth and noticed nobody was running the outside, so to the outside I went and ended up winning the race and that gave us the privilege of starting sixteenth in the feature. We worked our way through the pack and ended up fourth a great finish after a bad start.

They had a 100 lapper at Flemington and we had checked with the pit steward the week before about using a second tank and he said it would be ok. We qualified in our heat and were going around for the start in the feature and they stopped it and pulled us out for running two tanks. I went to the NASCAR official and vented my frustration to no avail. He said if I wanted to protest it would cost me $100 and I told him where he could stick it.

We were at East Windsor the following week running second in the feature right on the leader’s tail. I started sliding on one of the corners and the car slowed down. I checked the oil and temperature and everything seemed ok. I then pulled in the infield and found that the lower hose to the radiator had come off and the engine was cooking. From that day on we started bending push rods and it ruined the rest of the year.

Near the end of the year, Herb had bought the 444 that I had driven at Hatfield and he parked it in his garage.



Over the winter, Herb was building a new car - a 36 Chevy sedan with two springs on the rear. We had been used to single spring front and back, it was a beautiful car with a Modified engine by Sonny Dornberger. It wasn’t ready for the beginning of the season and he had sold the 444 to somebody in Pitman, NJ. That person wanted me to drive the car till Herb’s was ready, but I said no and went fishing down the Chesapeake instead.

When the car was finished we took it to East Windsor and had trouble getting a bite coming off the corners. At Flemington it wasn’t too bad. We had run second in the heat and running good in the feature but got involved in a wreck and bent the tie rod putting us out. Back at East Windsor, I couldn’t get a bite again and while I was on the track Herb had said something about my driving and my son told me on the way home. I called Herb at home. It was two in the morning. I told him to get another driver. I put my 12 foot boat on the roof of the car and went fishing.

P.S. I found out thru the grapevine that Herb had the wrong springs on the car that is why we could not get a bite on the track.


As my career in racing ended I started fishing down at the Chesapeake Bay and I am still at it in 2006. I had a good time racing. I didn’t get rich but I ended up winning 6 Track Championships, 38 features and over 150 heat races.

I was inducted into The National Old Timers Hall Of Fame in 1999 and inducted into The Garden State Vintage Hall Of Fame in 2002.


Thank you Steve, for sharing your story with us.

I'd just like to ad my own comments to Steve's GREAT story. This man is an Icon of what auto racing is all about. It's not about the Tony Stewarts, and Dale Earnhardt Jrs. It's all about the racers, and that's what Steve was.




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07/08/06 Sue Because I grew up on the race track with my Dad, is probably why I love racing today, I love the sounds, the smell, the excitement an of course my Dad.
Love you Dad!


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