Racing Commentary

Email Lew at lewboyd@coastal181.com

July 31, 2009


There’s no doubt that Buzz Rose’s monumental book, RACERS AT REST, is one of the most historically significant racing books ever published. It is a sobering and emotional testimony to nearly 1500 racers who perished competing in open wheel racing over the last 100 years.

It is curious, though, to contemplate related incidents beyond Buzz’s focus, remembering drivers who died at the speedway, but not on the track. Here are three examples from the Northeast. If readers know of other examples around the country, we would very much like to hear about them.

Sparky Belmont in the Dark Horse Special cutdown at the
New London Waterford Speedbowl in the early fifties.
Dave Dykes Collection

In the 1960s, Connecticut’s Plainville Stadium, that funky little outlaw track, sure had a roster of hot shoes. Right up there was Michael Belmonte, aka “Sparky Belmont.”

Belmont was a fixture in the midget boom after World War II. As the doodlebugs outpriced themselves and lulled the fans to sleep with follow-the-leader shows, he switched to hard tops in 1949 and towed all over the Northeast with Harvey Tattersall’s United Circuit. He was a big star, leveraging his talents, friendliness, showmanship, and colorful garb. He was known as a family man, but he seldom brought his children to the track. His avocation, he thought, was too dangerous for them to be watching. How

On July 3, 1968, Sparky, then 49 and defending track champion, swept a major 100-lapper at Plainville aboard Walt Kuyns’ #00 coach. Fellow racer (now motorsports historian) Tom Ormsby, along with a throng of folks, ran up to congratulate him. Sparky was pleased, grinning widely as he popped open a beer. Recalls Ormsby, “What a great guy. He was on top of the world, looking good, and then suddenly he flopped over. It was so sudden that we didn’t know quite what to do, and the ambulance had just pulled out the gate for the night. It took 20 minutes to bring it back and by then the Spark was out.”

Jerry Dolliver at Hudson, NH, behind the flathead that propelled him to a hundred wins.
Coastal 181 Collection

On September 1, 21 years later, Jerry Dolliver warmed up a NEMA midget at Star Speedway in Epping, New Hampshire. At 61 years of age he knew what he was doing. He was a huge, though undocumented, winner in Northern New England. It is said that he amassed fully 100 features with one single flathead motor, often embarrassing the fast-invading overheads. Although the bulk of his wins were in coupes and cutdowns, in his heart he was a sprint car guy. He loved the open air.

Jerry had survived a horrible garage explosion in the mid-fifties that flung him across a lift and into a concrete wall. He had endured pain ever since. Then in the mid-sixties he underwent innovative surgery to repair a congenitally defective heart valve. The operation was a success but left him easily tired, so his busy life and the rigors of racing required unusual determination.

As he warmed up the midget that night at Star, a suspension part broke and Jerry ended up pushing the car back to the pits. No one really noticed that he immediately sat down on the edge of the trailer. He often did. But this time it was different. His heart finally gave up, and the ultra-popular racing role model was gone.

Jerry’s two boys, Bryan and Peter, by then had formed a team, and those talented racing genes were shining again. With never any finances at all, Bryan showed all that smoothly speedy Dolliver finesse behind the wheel. Tragically, however, poor health also passed between the generations. Peter quietly endured problem after problem, finally to pass away on the operating table during a second pancreas transplant a few years ago.

Lou Lazzaro and Blackie will be at Fonda Speedway together forever.
Dick Berggren Collection

In 1999, the fabulous racing journalist from Indianapolis, Bones Bourcier, went to Fonda Speedway in New York to check out Lou Lazzaro. “The Monk,” as Louie was called for his balding pate, was beyond question one of the greatest stock car drivers ever to come out of upstate New York, itself one of the country’s busiest racing pockets.

Louie had raced for a living for years, bulling his often ancient, perpetually underfunded #4 dirt cars to victories with raw talent. At age 60, he was still at it, still accompanied by his familiar German Shepherd Blackie. He told Bones, “They say that retirement age is 65, so I think I’ll hang around till then.”

That’s exactly what he did. Louie’s daughter Melissa tells what happened at an April show at Fonda five years later:

“That night at the track Dad complained that he was real tired. He asked me to get in the car to warm it up. It was strange. Always before I had to ask to do that. In the heat, though, he did something that caught my eye. Bobby Varin went under him, and Dad jerked the wheel like he was spooked. I never saw him do anything like that before.

Before the feature, I noticed that he kept falling asleep in the lineup. He came in after 15 laps, not having done anything. He was totally discombobulated. He looked at me and George Biancosino, blinking like he couldn’t see right. He said the car wouldn’t steer, but I think both George and I knew what wasn’t working. He had these deep circles under his eyes and his words began to slur. He just stayed in the car and, when his friend Dave Lape won the feature, I asked him if he was gonna go over and congratulate him. When he said “no,” I knew he was really in trouble.

We got the ambulance and he collapsed on the way in. When the ambulance doors closed, the dogs started going crazy, barking their brains out. He was air lifted to Albany and along the way he kept moving his feet like he was driving his race car. But, by the time we got there, he was all but gone. He had a massive blood clot.

They unhooked his life support on Monday morning. I was there and I kept begging him to take one more breath.

Ric Lucia, the promoter, was wonderful through the whole thing. He had a big memorial race for Dad. We had saved the ashes and we spread them all around the track. We spread Blackie’s ashes at the same time.”

© 2009 Lew Boyd, Coastal 181

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.: Previous Tearoffs :.

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

© 2009 Lew Boyd, Coastal 181