May 28, 2010
THE MONK AND MATTY D.
On May 15, 2010 Fonda Speedway hosted a memorial
event for Lou “The Monk” Lazzaro. Louie, no question one of the
modifieds’ all time brightest stars with 113 wins at Fonda alone,
had died right there at the track on April 19, 2000, at age 65. He
suffered a massive stroke climbing out of his car following the
Though he thrilled a million people, Louie was as
basic as dirt – and about as poor. He kept his wits and his family
together as best possible over a 40-year span as a full-time
modified shoe. He had no ambition beyond the exhaust circuit.
It showed in his appearance. He’d cruise around in junkers on
the road, attired in thread-thin tee shirts, extra large to
accommodate his industrial-sized frame. Bald as Bonneville, by the
time he was in his forties he had the look of an old man.
Louie was always shy to the point of awkwardness, his face typically
directed to the ground during conversation. How curious that someone
so unpolished – almost disengaged – alternatively had the stands at
Fonda rocking with cheers after a special win one night and shaking
with boos the next because he won too much.
The great Lou Lazzaro swept this one at Fonda with a tube
chassis car in 1978,
but he probably would have
preferred his baling wire coupe shown at
on the right.” (Fred smith Photo, Otto Graham Collection)
Louie’s cars were mechanical understatements, almost always #4,
most always maroon, and most always sand-blasted from 10,000 too
many laps. Certain years he did have some horsepower, such as 1969
with his infamous injected big block. More typically, his headers
puffed smoked as he chugged around on parade laps. It looked like
the #4 car needed rings and bearings as badly as its master.
The feature on May 15 this year ran off with all the usual Fonda
fury. Great Fonda names like Pepicelli, Varin, Camara, Romano, and
Palmer all had their swings at it, but, at 44 laps and the
checkered, it was Matt DeLorenzo parked on the victory platform to
collect the $4444 winner’s purse and the Coastal 181 Cup.
|Matt DeLorenzo – in smooth,
stealth mode – sneaks up on hard-charging
Fonda’s 2009 Champion. (Bill McGaffin Photo)
Matty D, sitting still in the cockpit, took his time gaining his
composure before greeting Louie’s daughter, Mimi Lazzaro, on the PA
system. Likely quite a few people in the huge crowd took that moment
to contemplate what had just happened.
With the first look at
it, you had to wonder how it was possible for the Lazzaro race to be
won by a team so different from Louie and his clapped out #4. Though
hardly gleaming for the layers of dirt and dust all over it, the
DeLorenzo BBL car sat sleek, looking racy. It appeared to have the
very best of equipment, and it is said to be painstakingly tuned by
Matt’s family-centric crew. Many will tell you that it was these
guys who first took Fonda’s modified motor monsters to task with a
small block Chevy.
The wonderment only deepened when Matt
popped spryly out of the #3. At 37 he is diminutive – like a Jeff
Gordon or one of the current crop of USAC open wheelers. DeLorenzo
is also articulate and certainly bright. He spoke graciously of Lou
Lazzaro, he apologized if he had roughed anyone up more than he
liked on way through the field, and he spoke of his joy that his
daughter, by now in his arms, had seen him win.
between Matt and Louie (and most all of the outrageous outriders of
Louie’s era) was palpable. You had to reflect on how Matty would
have fared back in the sixties, when disagreements were summarily
decided by fisticuffs back out behind the Cow Palace.
one thing was clear as a starlit night at an asphalt track: Matt
DeLorenzo won that race because he drove just the way Louie did.
It was an inspiration to watch that #3 motor from 13th starting
spot to the lead on the 30th go-around. Matt was super smooth. There
was always that stylistic difference between the momentum-motivated
Lazzaro and some of his throttle-stabbing competitors, such as Kenny
Shoemaker and Pete Corey. Those guys needed and most often had
enormously powerful motors. Matt was more like Louie. His car seemed
nosey, seldom way out sideways. His typical line was about 2/3 of
the way out to the outside, and it seemed to take him several laps
of peddling to get his small block fully up to speed. That attained,
it was just like Louie. It was as if he was attached to a giant
invisible tether in the infield. Round and round he went, appearing
to go equally fast on the straightaways and through the turns.
Who can possibly predict what the Bicknells, TEOs, and such will
look like forty years from now, let alone the guys (and gals) who
drive them. Let it all change as it will; let history take its
course. But here’s hoping that one thing will stay as constant as
clay, as it has been since opening night in May 1953. May it be
after 100 years of racing that victory at Fonda will still demand an
uncanny combination of raw driving talent, physical endurance,
technical know-how, and unfathomable courage.
And here’s to
Louie and Matt – and all who are to follow.
Fonda promoter Ric Lucia and
Lew Boyd present Matt with the Coastal 181 Cup.
© 2010 Lew Boyd, Coastal 181