NYSSCA Celebrates 2012 Racing Season
COLONIE, N.Y. – Annually the New York State Stock Car Ass’n (NYSSCA) celebrates the prior racing season in style by bringing together drivers, owners, crew members, media, and fans to the Polish Community Center to recognize member track competitors and supporters.
The 44th annual awards banquet held on Saturday gathered approximately 450 celebrants with local track announcers John Stanley and Dan Martin serving as Masters of Ceremony.
Earlier in the day the NYSSCA Hall of Fame Committee, chaired by John Keegan, inducted six members of the stock car community including modified driver and now car owner Robert Devine, asphalt modified star George Kent, dirt and asphalt star Don Diffendorf, long-time engine builder Walt Markert, well known and respected journalist Ron Hedger, and the legendary DIRT organizer/promoter Glenn Donnelly. While the official ceremony had taken place earlier in the day at the Saratoga Auto Museum, the group was introduced to the gathering at the banquet and recognized for their many years of service and great accomplishments in the stock car arena.
Presenting Ron Hedger’s many journalistic accomplishments to the gathering was Tom Boggie, Sports Editor of the Schenectady Daily Gazette. Hedger began his foray into writing after witnessing several tragedies in 1978.
His concern about driver safety led him to pen an article that he submitted to National Speed Sport News. From that point on Hedger has penned columns and feature stories for several venues including race magazines Stock Car Racing, Open Wheel, Speedway Illustrated and Autoweek. For several years he was a motorsports columnist for the Schenectady Daily Gazette and also serves as a trustee for the Saratoga Auto Museum. For the Museum he curates the racing exhibits and the Lost Speedways program, a very popular annual program.
Hedger’s commitment to accuracy and fairness for everything he pens has earned him the respect of his fellow journalists, track promoters, drivers and fans alike and the very well deserved inclusion as a member of the NYSSCA Hall of Fame.
Long-time potent engine builder Walt Markert began his race related career in the world of dragster straight-line racing in the 1960’s. Mike Budka, car owner and NYSSCA HoF member, recounted Markert’s career that then entered oval racing in 1970 when he built a motor for Austin Dickerman’s No. 357 driven by Eddie Delmolino.
Over the years Markert’s engines were known for their tremendous power and were found in victory lane with drivers such as Dave Lape, C.D. Coville, Jack Johnson, Lou Lazzaro, Eddie Flemke, Bobby Santos, Tommy Corellis, Ken Shoemaker and many others. Many records were established and many records were broken by those using a Markert engine.
Connecticut native Bob Devine began his career 65 years ago and was successful as a mechanic and as a driver starting with the ARDC Midgets in 1948. In the early 50’s he made the move to stock cars and, as presenter Sam Barlow stated, the 85 year young Devine is still a major presence in the sport.
Devine fielded cars for many years at the Lebanon Valley Speedway for his son Steve, Guy Sheldon and currently third generation driver Kyle Sheldon. His early days as a racer involved racing five nights a week beginning on Wednesday with Empire Speedway (N.Y.), Bridgeport (Conn.), West Haven (Vt.), Rhinebeck (N.Y.) and Plainville (Conn).
The young racer was also working six days a week at the time as a carpenter. It was Devine’s own race car that was sold in the late 50’s to Cliff Wright and Donnie Zautner that came to be known the “Tollgate Ice Cream Special” and had drivers such as Howie Westervelt and Don McTavish behind the wheel.
Hall of Fame member and asphalt star Brian Ross provided the background for inductee George “the Duke” Kent, driver of the famed Southern Tier asphalt No. 26 Modified. A formidable opponent on track, Kent’s race career included nine track championships at Shangra-La, three at Fulton, two at Spencer and one at Thompson Speedways.
Kent won the Race of Champions five times, and had a dozen wins on the NASCAR Whelan Modified Tour. Other major wins for the driver Ross considers one of the top five drivers in the history of asphalt racing, include Oswego in the Budweiser 200, Martinsville, and the Turkey Derby at Wall Stadium. The late Richie Evans, recognized by most as the top asphalt Modified driver ever, had indicated just prior to his tragic passing that when he retired Kent was his choice to replace him.
Another well-known and respected dirt and asphalt driver, Don Diffendorf, was inducted to the Hall of Fame by noted publisher, author and former driver Lew Boyd.
Known as “the Old Gray Fox” Diffendorf was first in line for the inaugural “Spring Sizzler” at Stafford Springs Speedway in 1982 which was promoted by Boyd, Dick Berggren and Bruce Cohen? The No. S360 was a formidable opponent and winner at tracks such as Five Mile Point, Langhorne, Shangri-La, Lancaster, Syracuse, Oswego, Stafford, Lebanon Valley, Fulton, and Dover.
At the NYS Fairgrounds at Syracuse Diffendorf was a two-time winner of the “State Fair Classic.” With over 100 career wins Diffendorf was known for his outside lane, take no prisoners, charge to the front of the pack and was a winner on both asphalt and dirt.
The career of Glenn Donnelly, DIRT organizer and promoter, was summarized by well known writer and journalist Andy Fusco. Donnelly, who is considered by many as one of the most successful and influential promoters ever within the dirt racing world, began his race related career in the early 1970’s when he leased the popular Weedsport Speedway.
Recognizing the need that for dirt racing to become popular it needed a new direction, Donnelly formed the Drivers Independent Race Tracks (DIRT) in 1975 and fashioned it after the policies of the successful National Football League. From that time, until he sold DIRT in 2004 to the World Racing Group, Donnelly had built an empire of over 30 member speedways and a band of devotees who remained loyal to Donnelly and DIRT for many years.
Considered by Fusco to be Donnelly’s legacy was his role in providing television coverage of dirt track racing, including network coverage of Super DIRT Week and the highly popular “This Week on DIRT” television show that made his weekly and tour racers household names.
Today Donnelly is actively promoting the development of the Central New York Motorsports Park in Brewerton, N.Y., involved with his son’s ownership of Myrtle Beach Speedway, working to develop ways to bring back the younger fan to racing, a synthetic dirt track race surface and a Modified that would be electric powered.
The 2013 NYSSCA Hall of Fame inductees are a strong and diverse group representative of those who have achieved greatness in the world of racing.
Special awards were also on the agenda for the night, beginning with a presentation by NYSSCA President Mark Krosky first recognizing the addition of three new member tracks for 2012—Airborne Speedway, Orange County Fair Speedway and Woodhull Raceway.
Likening the leadership of the organization to a race track Krosky thanked all those who play pivotal roles in the success of the organization including track representatives, the Board of Directors and officers, committee members and sponsors.
Also recognized by President Mark Krosky for their dedicated service as banquet emcees were Dan Martin and John Stanley. The very well known local track announcers each dedicate many hours to the compilation of statistics and background information on each of the award recipients and the dynamic duo has done so for 24 consecutive years. Responsible for the delivery of each year’s banquet agenda, they are a key ingredient to the success of the night.
Annually NYSSCA presents several awards to honor and recognize past and present members. This year’s “Special Awards” were as follows:
The “Jim Langenback Memorial Award” to Chad Jeseo who had a tremendous 2012 season in Pro Stock competition. The Langenback Award will be presented to a NYSSCA member that has an exceptional season while representing himself in the manner likened to Hall of Fame member Jim Langenback.
Jeseo claimed five separate championships in 2012 in his No. 25 Pro Stock machine including the Mr. DIRTcar championship, his second Lebanon Valley Speedway championship, his first Albany-Saratoga Speedway championship, the ECHO Series championship at Lebanon Valley and the TORO Series championship at Albany-Saratoga.
His season totals included 3 wins and seven seconds at both Lebanon Valley and Albany-Saratoga. Overall, of the 39 events run at his weekly tracks he finished over half in the top two with 6 wins, 14 second place finishes and 31 times in the Top 5.
Ed and Betty Biittig, columnists for the Gater Racing News, were recognized with the “NYSSCA Journalism Award.” Having penned a column for many years, the Biittigs have provided Gater readers with weekly coverage of Capital District region tracks, including Utica-Rome, Fonda, Lebanon Valley, Albany-Saratoga, Accord and I-88 as well as covering major events throughout the season. Their son, Eddie, Jr., also a columnist for Gater Racing News, accepted the award on their behalf.
The “Dedication to Racing in Memory of Harry Peek” award was presented to Ramsey, New Jersey native, Billy Wilson. Wilson, who at over 70 years of age, is still active in stock car racing. His racing career began in 1959 and in 1963 he began competing at Orange County
Fair Speedway, making this past season his 50th year of racing on “The Hard Clay.” With seven career wins at OCFS, the first in 1965 and the last in 2007, Wilson continues to enjoy the competition and truly exemplifies the driver worthy of the “dedication” award.
“Car Owner of the Year” accolades went to Dale LeBarron of Troupsburg, NY and owner of four Late Models that compete weekly at Woodhull Raceway. In 2012 his cars finished first with John Waters, fifth with Steve LeBarron, ninth with Frank LeBarron and 13th with Buck Payne in points. LeBarron was recently recognized as “Citizen of the Year” by his hometown.
The “Lifetime Contribution to Racing Award in Memory of Kenny Shoemaker” was presented to Michael Sanchelli of Oak Ridge, N.J. Sanchelli has worn many hats throughout his lifelong involvement in racing. He worked as a crew member on the famous Ferraiuolo Bros. No. 73 and turned wrenches for drivers such as Gary Balough, Jimmy Horton and Brett Hearn. His involvement next involved several different officiating roles at weekly dirt tracks and as race director for the DIRTcar 358-Modified Series. He also served as race director at New Egypt and Orange County Fair Speed way until his retirement from racing at the end of the 2012 season.
The “Dedication to NYSSCA Award in Memory of Arty McCarty” was presented to a very deserving and surprised John Stanley. Kept in the dark that he was receiving an award, a humbled Stanley was honored for his many years of dedicated service to NYSSCA, his many years of track announcing initially at Albany-Saratoga Speedway and currently at Lebanon Valley Speedway. He promotes NYSSCA and its events on his weekly radio program on Albany based radio station WGNA where he has also served for over 40 years. Stanley has worked in many capacities for NYSSCA over the years and his tireless efforts have been instrumental in the promotion and success of the NYSSCA.
The NYSSCA “Award of Excellence” was presented to 23 year old Kings Ferry, N.Y.-native Mike Mahaney. The 2012 season was a breakout season for the second generation driver that included the Fonda Speedway “Ice Jam” opener and the end-of-season 112 lap “Tribute to Jack Johnson.” In addition he also won the Race of Champions event at I-88 Speedway, the big block / small block shootout at Can-Am Speedway, and two Saturday night wins at Fulton Speedway.
Capping off a 20-win season that included several end-of-season major event wins earned Brett Hearn of Sussex, N.J. the “NYSSCA Overall Outstanding Performance” award. In addition to winning Super DIRT Week for the sixth time, “Mr. Dirt Track USA” at Lebanon Valley, a sweep of Eastern States Weekend at Orange County,
the “King of the Catskills” race at Accord and the World Finals at the Dirt Track of Charlotte, Hearn also won track championships Albany-Saratoga and Lebanon Valley Speedways. This was the fourth time in his career that Hearn has received this honor.
The NYSSCA “Lifetime Achievement Award” was presented to Altamont, NY driver Jeff Trombley who has been involved in racing for over 30 years. He began as a crew member on the Modified driven by Kenny Shoemaker and Tommy Corellis, moving to Go Carts, to Mini Modifieds, and then on to Modifieds. Trombley has claimed two track championships at Fonda Speedway (2001 and 2002) and is 10th on the all time win list at Fonda with 34 victories. He has also won features at Albany-Saratoga, Lebanon Valley, Weedsport and Devil’s Bowl.
A ceremony at the Saratoga Auto Museum (Saratoga Springs, N.Y.) on Saturday morning added the Hall of Fame honorees to the permanent Hall of Fame display in the Racing in the New York Gallery.