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“The Song of the Fifties”

 Pete Corey and Bob Mott’s 1934 Ford
(Fuez Collection)
April 11, 2010


He lied about his age to go fight in World War II.

He came back grown up from the grisly things he had seen.  Like so many others, he found it difficult to settle down. He needed a release.  It came on two wheels, and they say he was one of the most amazing motorcycle racers ever in upstate New York.

But it was in 1950 that his true identity burst forth.  That’s when Pete Corey and his buddy Kenny Shoemaker bought a 1935 Ford to build up a stock car.  As the Shoe would quip 50 years later, “Pete was a natural.  I had to learn to drive ’em.”

By 1953, Corey was driving for the Whitbecks of Canajoharie, New York, and he won at Fonda Speedway that opening season.  Two year later he was in Bob Mott’s “Li’l Yellow #3” a yellow and silver flyweight ’34 Ford coupe with a 292, and the combination was spectacular. 

Corey was in the zone of the fifties.  He was brash, dashing.  A tall guy, wiry and thin as his pencil moustache, with flowing black hair and olive complexion lending him a wild look, he’d dress the swashbuckling part.  Engineer boots, black pants striped at the seam, and long-sleeved white silk shirts.

On the track, it was equal attitude.  He had some otherworldly talent allowing him to race without lifting.  He was uninhibited by fear, driving so hard that he taunted the rest of the field.

Corey was never comfortable with authority.  It seems almost predictable that by mid-season NASCAR had had enough of Corey and Mott’s all-to-dominant win streak.  Daytona outlawed the little coupe.  The team threw together a later-model round-top – and Pete smoked them all at Langhorne that fall.  Quite self-satisfied, he was allegedly the first in racing to celebrate with a roof dance in victory lane and taunt the rest of the world.

Pete continued his rock and roll rampage in the #3 in 1956.  He was the Jerry Lee Lewis of the circuit, the bad guy you loved or hated.  Shiny yellow Corey jackets were all over the swelling grandstands of the day.  No night was normal for Corey, but one of his most memorable had to be at Fonda when he wrestled the #3 to the lead only to catch the backstretch fence and tumble over it.  The car flipped wildly over and down onto the little side road next to the Mohawk River.  Corey never lifted.  He blasted back up onto the track by the graveyard turn and went on to win the feature, roof all bashed in.

Corey’s warp-speed antics – especially at Langhorne and Fonda – had to have their consequences.  In 1957, aboard a black Whitbeck Ford coupe with a flaming #22 on the side, Corey was hot after another win at the Horne.  He tangled on the frontstretch, lost his brakes and steering, and plowed full bore into the pit area, taking down a chain link fence next to Frank Trinkaus’ pit.  It was a ghastly scene, injured people and torn-up fencing scattered everywhere.  No one is quite sure today about the final count of injuries and fatalities.

When the #22 burned up in a garage fire, Corey spent the balance of the Fifties in the NY State Champion Sportsman #37 out of Schenectady.  He was in top form, a curious combination of elements.  He was roughhouse, arrogant, and standoffish, but at the same time would spent hours after the races each weekend signing hundreds of autographs.

In the early spring of 1960, Pete went wide on the opening lap of the feature at Fonda.  He hit that infamous board fence and an oak plank plunged into the cab, pinning him.  Rescuers simply didn’t know how to release him, when suddenly Corey’s voice boomed, “Give me that damn torch!”  He literally cut himself out of the wreck, after which he was rushed to St. Mary’s Hospital in Amsterdam where the emergency room doctor amputated his leg.

So little bothered Corey that it never occurred to him that he might not race again after that incident.  Two legs, one leg, whatever – he won the first night back in Frank Trinkaus’ #62.  His fans went totally nuts.  So, too, did they when he’d alternatively carry a transistor radio and a small pearl-handled pistol inside his hollow wooden leg.  Can you imagine the alarms if this guy went through one of today’s airport scanners?

Truth be known, something did seem to change with the wreck of the #37.  Corey did race and win again, but not as much as he had before.  By the early Seventies, he’d left the scene completely and sullenly, not wishing to think or talk of car racing ever again.

Pete Corey was the song of the Fifties – and here’s that song.

© 2010 Lew Boyd, Coastal 181

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.: Previous Tearoffs :.

3/22/10 - Davey!

3/8/10 - Restart!

2/21/10 - Miracles of the Rock

2/8/10 - Roger The Remarkable

1/21/10 -  Shane's Sensational '78

12/28/09 - The Flying Finn and The All American Boy

12/12-09 - Hello Wall

11/29/09 - Once More for Ernie

11/15/09 - Ernie's Excellent Chase

11/1/09 - In The Zone

10/19/09 - Rough Week in the Midwest

10/1/09 - Common Starts, Uncommon Comebacks

9/4/09 - South Dakota Chris

8/15/09 - Facial Exposure

7/31/09 - Dying in the Pits

7/9/09 - Barn Rat's Last Race

6/18/09 - Catching Up With Brad Doty

5/20/09 - Big Boys in The Attic  - rare photos of legends

5/6/09 - Back Up In The Attic - more rare photos

4/22/09 - The Son of Hard Luck - accessible racing
experience for the handicapped

4/3/09 - Racin' In The Attic - Gordon Ross photo collection

3/18/09 - About That Mike Spaulding

3/3/09 - Dick Berggren's First Win - (you had to be there!)

2/11/09 - Peter at the Park - Peter Fiandaca at Riverside Park

1/30/09 - Steve - Steve Arpin

1/4/09 - Racer Speak -cool quotations

12/16/08 - Wimble Power, Will Power - Bill Wimble

11/24/08 - Remembering Chuck Amati - by Joyce Standridge

11/11/08 - That Rick Ferkel

10/24/08 - Beyond Bionic - Bentley Warren

10/6/08 - Fifty Second Classic - Skip and Lois Matczak

9/20/08 - Joey's Dad - Tom Logano

9/1/08 - One Night at The Park - the death of Les Ley

8/20/08 - Transitional Technology - early supermodifieds

8/6/08 - Wallace on Wednesdays - dirt trackin’ Kenny

7/19/08 - Star(ter) of the Show - importance of good flaggers

7/7/08 - McUnderdog - Eddie MacDonald

6/18/08 - The Night Buzz Was Worried - Buzz Rose

6/5/08 - John Richards - Boomer Role Model

5/20/08 - The Spirit of a Racer - the late Al Powell

5/1/08 - Bobby's Blues - Bobby Santos III

4/15/08 - Thinking About Rene Charland

3/26/08 - Carl and Corey - Carl Edwards and Corey Dripps

3/4/08 - A Cool Track with Cool Racers - West Liberty, Iowa

2/14/08 - Doug Wolfgang

1/25/08 - Frankie Schneider

1/7/08 - When Drivers Can't See - cockpit vision

12/21/07 - When Starters Couldn't See - flagstand vision

12/1/07 - Ride Along with Erica Santos - in-car camera midget win

11/15/07 - Tough Drivers

11/1/07 - Cockpit Safety

10/15/07 - That First Race

10/1/07 - Racing Nicknames

9/15/07 - Too Many Officials

9/1/07 - The Look of a Real Driver

8/15/07 - Being Dale Junior

8/1/07 - Armond Holley

7/15/07  -  Red Farmer

© 2010 Lew Boyd, Coastal 181