April 11, 2010
THE SONG OF THE FIFTIES
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
As the Shoe would quip
50 years later, “Pete was a natural.
I had to learn to
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
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
The team threw
together a later-model round-top – and Pete smoked them all at
Langhorne that fall.
he was allegedly the first in racing to celebrate with a roof dance
in victory lane and taunt the rest of the world.
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.
warp-speed antics – especially at Langhorne and Fonda – had to have
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
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
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
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
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 –
© 2010 Lew Boyd, Coastal 181