October 1, 2009
COMMON STARTS, UNCOMMON
Coming of age back in the sixties was a different deal from what it
is now. Two young twenty-somethings from Georgetown, Mass., Jim
Cheney and Paul Richardson, were typical of the times: they were out
to have a good time. But they also shared a more serious goal. Both
of them were obsessed with making their marks as supermodified
The infamous New England Super Modified Association was forming at
the time, and regular meetings were being held at the bar at the
Heidelberg Restaurant near Haverhill. In time, young Paul and Jimmy
were invited to attend.
The seating arrangement was hierarchical. At the near end, the demi-gods:
the crusty Don MacLaren, master racer Ollie Silva, Dick Cloutier,
and the like. Then sat the middle runners and officials, and at the
far end, the newbies.
Paul and Jim saw immediately that they would have to prove
themselves here as well as on the asphalt. The minute they were
perched, Silva slid two shots down the bar. Paul remembers how Ollie
watched the way they tossed ’em down, one after another, with beers
By the time the session was over, it was a just little hammered out.
Drunk driving was not the serious social crime it is today, and Paul
and Jimmy continued pounding down the beers on the way home. As they
neared the Georgetown line, Paul polished one off and, without a
thought, tossed it out the window and over the roof of the car – a
direct hit onto the hood of a police car.
The chase was on, blue lights flashing and sirens blaring.
After a half-mile Jimmy and Paul had a good lead, trucking along at
over 90 mph, lights out. They decided to duck off onto a side road.
Jimmy tossed the car, no brake lights, into a subdivision, and lost
control. He hadn’t known they had paved the road that day and it was
covered with fresh tar and sand. They slid and fish-tailed wildly
and, incredibly, ended up inside someone’s open garage. They jumped
out, pulled down the garage door, got back in the car with a sigh of
relief, and lit up a cigar to wait until the coast was clear.
Within a couple of minutes, however, they heard voices and police
radios outside. That’s when it dawned on them that they had laid
some rather obvious tracks in the sand and across that poor dude’s
lawn. When the garage door opened and Georgetown’s finest marched
in, Paul remembers rolling down the window, cigar in hand, and
asking “like a puff?”
Over time both Paul and Jimmy did settle down – somewhat – and both
achieved – no question – a major role in supermodified history. Both
were hugely popular, major winners.
Jim Cheney in the office.
Paul Richardson with a
(Wes Pettengill Collection)
But, in a strange twist of fate,
the two former neighbors from Georgetown also starred individually
in two of the greatest comebacks in racing history. In 1977, Jimmy
crashed at Oswego and was trapped inside the Holinski Roadster,
upside down and on fire. He was savagely burned and endured months
of painful therapy over that winter. Who could have possibly dreamed
that this same driver, in that same Holinski war wagon, would win
the season opener at the Ice Breaker at Thompson Speedway the
Twenty years later Paul “Ricochet” Richardson was still at it. He
was the fastest thing around in a Freddie Graves car owned by Bobby
Witkum and sponsored by NAPA. One night in August he was warming up
at Star Speedway and the go pedal stuck. He slammed the wall head on
and landed in a twisted mess. He was so broken that, before a
helicopter flew him to a medical center in Boston, the local
hospital said he would surely be paralyzed for life. Paul was out of
commission for five months, and like his friend Jimmy, underwent
painful surgeries and therapy. But on the eighth month after the
accident, Richardson drove that same NAPA Super to a resounding win
at the Star opener.
© 2009 Lew
Boyd, Coastal 181