Hedger Among NYSSCA HoF Inductees
CLIFTON PARK, N.Y. – National Speed Sport News contributor Ron Hedger leads a diverse group of inductees into the New York State Stock Car Ass’n Hall of Fame in 2013.
Best known as a columnist and reporter for National Speed Sport News and its successor SPEED SPORT Magazine for some 35 years, Hedger also wrote dozens of stories as a contributing editor to Stock Car Racing and Open Wheel Magazines along with numerous articles for Speedway Illustrated and Autoweek.
He was also the motorsports writer for the Schenectady Daily Gazette for a number of seasons and still writes a weekly column for the Gazette on behalf of the Saratoga Automobile Museum. He is a trustee of the auto museum, where he curates the auto racing exhibits and organizes the popular Lost Speedways program each November.
Hedger is also active in the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcaster’s Ass’n and the Eastern Motorsport Press Ass’n, where he currently serves as a board member and President of the association. He is well known for his winning record in the writing contests of both associations.
He was also chairman of NYSSCA’s Hall of Fame committee for a decade and brought the Hall of Fame exhibit to the Saratoga Automobile Museum, its permanent home.
Joining Hedger in the NYSSCA Hall of Fame is DIRT organizer/promoter Glenn Donnelly. Donnelly, who is also a member of the Eastern Motorsport Press Ass’n Hall of Fame and the Syracuse Hall of Fame, left General Electric in 1970, when he bought the rundown Weedsport Speedway, and from there his career went straight up.
He took over racing at the Syracuse mile in 1972 and expanded the annual State Fair program to include races on July 4th and the industry leading Super DIRT Week, all the time using the Syracuse draw to build DIRT member tracks to a high of 27 speedways throughout the Northeast.
Offshoots included network TV coverage of Syracuse and the highly acclaimed “This Week on DIRT” TV show that made stars of his weekly and tour racers. Donnelly, who was voted national Promoter of the Year in 1986, sold his empire to what would become World Racing Group in 2004 and took an advisory role in the sport, though he is currently working on a new track in the Syracuse suburbs that may well put him back on the local scene once again.
Don Diffendorf, George Kent and Bob Devine makeup the list of drivers entering the Hall this year. Diffendorf, a driver who was equally at home on dirt or asphalt, is known to most fans for his fleet S-360 coupes and unique coach numbered in honor of the IBM computer that supported both racers and fans in the Southern Tier.
He started at the area dirt bullrings, wheeled super-modifieds for a while and was a big asphalt winner at Shangri-La, Fulton and Lancaster. But he was just as fast at Reading, where he ran second to Stan Ploski in the Daniel Boone 200, Lebanon Valley, where he won multiple 100-lap “Opens,” and Syracuse, where he was a two-time winner of the State Fair classic. In short, Diff could drive anything and was a winner everywhere he went.
Kent was another product of the Southern Tier who became a factor everywhere he raced, though unlike Diffendorf he spent his entire career on asphalt. An eight-time Shangri-La champion, Kent won the prestigious Race of Champions five times and recorded a dozen wins on the NASCAR Whelan Modified Tour.
But equally impressive was his performance in the 200-lap modified races on Classic Weekend at Oswego. Everyone there knew he would pit early, get the lead when others pitted and sit on it, daring anyone to go around him for the win. But though they knew his strategy ahead of time, more often than not they couldn’t beat him, as he was always blazing fast along with being crafty.
Kent was an extremely talented driver, rated by most observers as one of the few as talented as the late Richie Evans, and Evans had indicated before his tragic passing that when he retired, Kent was his choice to replace him.
Connecticut resident Devine had great success as a driver, starting with the ARDC midgets in 1948 and moving to stock cars in the early 50’s, running five nights a week at such far-flung tracks as Rhinebeck and Menands in New York and West Haven, Conn. while working full-time as a carpenter. He also raced his stock car indoors at the Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx during the winter.
As good a mechanic as a driver, Devine built a ’37 Ford that he won a dozen races with before selling it to Cliff Wright and Donnie Zautner, who put Howie Westervelt in the seat. Their 1959 Lebanon Valley season was arguably the best ever as they scored 17 wins, three seconds and a third in a 21-race season.
Devine spent many years fielding cars at Lebanon Valley for son Steve, Guy Sheldon and Kyle Sheldon and is still there every Saturday night, overseeing the younger mechanics and conversing with other oldtimers.
The last, but certainly not least, inductee in 2013 is respected engine builder Walt Markert. While best known for his powerful stock car motors, Markert came to oval track racing from the drag world, where his hemi-powered “Berkshire Beetle” carried him to three NHRA national championships and was undefeated over a five-year span. In 1970 he built a motor for Austin Dickerman’s #357, then wheeled by Eddie Delmolino, and his powerplants were soon a standard in pit areas across the region.
Markert’s resume is broad and includes Jack Johnson’s win in the Flemington 200, 9 wins at Lebanon Valley for Delmolino in a single season, 30 wins in one year for Dave Lape during his legendary run in the #44 modified, 25 wins by CD Coville in Cliff Barcomb’s modified, Eastern States wins with Lape and Lou Lazzaro, a track record at Syracuse by Sammy Swindell in the Barcomb car and untold victories by the Mike Budka No. 64 with Johnson, Coville, Bob Savoie or Joe Budka at the wheel.
The induction ceremony will be held at the Saratoga Automobile Museum at 11 am on Saturday, Jan. 26, with the inductees to also be recognized that evening at NYSSCA’s annual awards banquet in Albany.