Hodge Photo - John
THINKING OF GENE
There were thousands and thousands of
racing photos on display at Gater Racing News’ Motorsports Show in
Syracuse a week or so ago. The one above, however, sparkled bright
as a diamond in John Grady’s booth.
That’s the late Fred
“Sharkey” Gaudiosi’s trademark pink and white #44 being towed up the
long hill on the Massachusetts Turnpike west of Springfield in the
1960s. Sharkey’s distinctive creations, always Plymouth-powered and
now almost mythological in stature, were gritty but lightning fast.
And Sharkey, a Northeast Auto Racing Hall of Fame owner, always had
the best in class behind the wheel.
No question one of
Sharkey’s most star-crossed linkages was with another Hall of Famer,
driver Gene Bergin. Bergin, popular and colorful as they come, has
been much in the mind of the Eastern racing community since he
passed away this February 27th. It is said that he died from
complications from a stroke last summer. What actually happened may
be much sadder. Gene’s wife Lucy, the love of his life, had died
eight years earlier, launching him into a deep depression from
which, friends contend, he simply never recovered.
blues were hard to watch, as he had been such an animated,
energetic, joyful and athletic type throughout his life. How many
times was he seen ambulating through the pit area on his hands
rather than his feet? And out on that track he was always on the
gas, completely devoid of fear. He won a lot – and he had his
mishaps. The one pictured below, on the dirt at Stafford Springs,
CT, in 1965, was in a Sharkey-mobile. Bergin was about as busted up
as the #44 and he was done for the rest of the season.
|(Tom Ormsby Collection)
Everyone who was ever around Gene Bergin
has a story. Master-owner Skip Matczak, for whom Gene drove
sprinters, recalls that “he was one incredible athlete, but he was
no engineer. When he’d bring the car in from warm-ups, I’d send him
off for coffee so he wouldn’t get all confused about what
adjustments we were going to make. He came from that old Fats Caruso
school – they had no clue about the mechanics of the car, but they
sure could go out and find the fast groove.”
Northeast Hall of Fame driver, Billy Harman, thinks his buddy Gene
won so much because “he was so agile and coordinated and because,
frankly, he wasn’t so good a businessman. He just worked
construction and raced, but he had a nice, growing family with kids
and he really needed that purse money.”
Legendary shoe Bill
Slater summed up his thoughts about Bergin with classic crispness.
“He was so good I could give you a whole list of guys I would rather
I have my own memories of Gene. That top photo
may well have been taken on a Sunday in 1969, Sharkey on his way to
Lebanon Valley (NY) Speedway for one of their wildly racy Sunday
night 100-lap open competitions. If it’s the night I recall, I
started the feature right behind Gene who was in that #44. I was
thrilled. We were just getting going on the dirt, and I admired Gene
tremendously. I figured I could follow him closely and observe how
to get around those high banks like one of the big boys.
didn’t quite work out that way. When the green flag flew, Gene went
way upstairs and clouds of dust billowed up. That pink sedan was out
of sight – gone. Gone for about three laps, that is, until he went
roaring by, lapping me on the outside. Oh well.
Here’s to you
Gene – and Lucy, and Sharkey, too.
Gene Bergin drove anything and everything well, even Indy
(Lloyd Burnham Photo from Dick Berggren
© 2011 Lew Boyd, Coastal 181