Even if you are not the religious type, it’s
hard not to warm to the spirit and humanity of the Christmas season.
Holiday cards are always a treat, evoking memories of people we
often don’t see as much as we’d like.
A most welcome card
came today from Barre, Vermont, just the other side of the hill from
Ken Squier’s legendary Thunder Road speedway. It was from Cho and
Sheena Lee, as fine a father-daughter duo ever to grace Northern New
England. Both are huge supporters of racing – and Cho has looked
pretty darn racy in the Coastal 181 coupe at vintage races here and
Cho and Sheena’s greeting, though, carried a whole
other string of memories. Front and center there’s that fabulous
image of Oscar “Cannonball” Ridlon, perched mightily in the cockpit
of the wire-wheeled Ridlon Offy. To Northeastern racing history
buffs, the photo is worth 10,000 laps. Ridlon just has to stack up
as one of the most outrageous racing characters ever.
began racing in 1932 – starting right out in big cars, thank you
very much. He was a winner from the get-go, loving the loot and the
ladies, playing scant heed to a series of horrendous crashes. He ran
wherever he could make a buck. That included jaunts abroad, even to
South Africa, but he was quick to turn down the seat in a Milt
Marion ride at Indy because the pay sounded skinny.
“the Old Showman” was fast and violent with his smoky and sonorous
Elto-powered midget. He also became a promoter, running weekly stock
car shows in Massachusetts and New Hampshire for nearly three
decades. They were gritty, no-nonsense programs, and he ran them
with a steely hand.
I will never, ever forget the first time
I met him. I wrote about the incident in the Pines (MA) Speedway
section of the Coastal 181 book
HOT CARS COOL DRIVERS:
what they say is true, it must have been quite the scene.
There can be no doubting that Carl Tiberio, brother to Al,
Butch, and Mike from Methuen, was one tough customer, both
on and off the track. In his early days with a bomber and
later with a cutdown, Tiberio was hard on the throttle, soft
on the brake. In the pit area he was quick with both his
temper and his fist.
One night in the
sixties, after winning the “A” feature at The Pines
Speedway, Tiberio swaggered up to the payoff window, puffing
beneath his trademark tee shirt and sailor’s cap. Fully
expecting $500 for the win, Tiberio slammed down that fist
when Oscar Ridlon, The Pines’ promoter, stopped counting at
$250. “Where’s the rest of the money, you crook?” Tiberio
demanded. Ridlon’s response came slowly. “So, Carl, you
think you’re tough. I’ll show you who’s tough.” Ridlon
calmly reached up and unscrewed the single light bulb
dangling above his table. He soaked the two fingers from his
right hand in his mouth and then jammed them into the
Tiberio left with $250.
Oscar running on the dirt at
The Pines before World War II. He went to
in 1973, but he is likely still thumbing his nose at all of
HOT CARS COOL DRIVERS, by
believe the story. Not more than a couple of years later,
Bruce Cohen and I went to Hudson Speedway, a quarter-mile
sister track to The Pines in New Hampshire, for the Easter
opener. We were intending to test our dirt modified by
running a few laps on the asphalt. Amos Bird, the pit
steward, made us race in the supermodified division, and we
were like a whale in a sea of goldfish. Somehow a bunch of
cars dropped out, and we splashed home in fifth. Totally
green and naïve, Bruce and I were thrilled at the thought of
a few extra bucks to start the racing season, until we got
to the payoff window, that is. A weathered, cranky-looking
guy wearing a crumpled old suit and a white shirt with no
tie grunted, “Who the hell are you?” without even looking
up. We responded that we had just taken fifth in the super
main. He counted five five-dollar bills and handed them to
us and promptly snatched four back. “Twenty bucks to join
the club, kid.”
So, Bruce and I had just towed all the way up to New
Hampshire, run up front in the feature, and we were getting
$5.00. What happened, we wondered. We should have known
better. We had just run into Oscar Ridlon.
for the picture – and the memories, Cho and Sheena!
AND A MERRIEST CHRISTMAS TO RACING PEOPLE, ONE AND ALL.
© 2010 Lew Boyd, Coastal 181