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Monthly
Racing Commentary
with
LEW BOYD

Email Lew at lewboyd@coastal181.com

Al Crockett at the old Westboro Speedway in Massachusetts.
(Coastal 181 Collection)

7/31/15

WHEN CHARACTERS COULD RACE*

 
Isn't it curious how selective our memories can be?

Think back on racing in the 20th century. The heroes who come to mind are the guys who ran the top division, the likes of Scott Bloomquist, Sammy Swindell, Richie Evans - dashing dudes who drove shiny, brilliantly crafted machinery.

But there was a whole other side of the racing equation. The "B" division often filled out the show without the flash. It was about balls-to-the-wall racing, with impossible numbers of battered, entry-level cars, crashing and bashing with crowd-delighting regularity.

Most of the old-time bomber pilots have slipped silently into racing obscurity. In the 1960s, however, one particularly outrageous character was known by every dedicated racing fan in eastern New England. He was Alfred "Blackie" Crockett.


Al Crockett was born in 1919 into a long-time farming family in Randolph, Massachusetts. The Crocketts had owned hundreds of acres on North Street near the Central Cemetery, but over the years as New England farming declined, the land was largely sold off.

Randolph itself was never as tony as nearby towns like Dover and Milton. And it always had its unusual citizens. It was known for the Rum Pot Rustlers, a particularly seamy motorcycle gang. Even against that background, Blackie stood out as a notable character, and during the years he actually lived in South Boston, he was fondly nicknamed "the Mayor of Randolph."

Happy-go-lucky Blackie had a couple of dozen trades. Much of his time was spent running a septic-service business for his mom, a Cochato Indian. He built the trucks, the tanks, and he did the pumping. It was total commitment. As friend Fred Levangie says, "If it was silver and shiny, like someone's high school ring, no problem. He'd jump right in and retrieve it."

Blackie knew everyone. He plowed snow for the town and was everyone's fix-it man. Whether your hay baler was busted or you just really needed a laugh, you'd pop over to the old Crockett place on North Street. There were derelict cars everywhere, some upside down or hanging from the crane from hell. Nothing was new; everything was used for three lifetimes. Especially Blackie's clothes, says Levangie.

The times were less regulated than they are now. The North Street area was wooded, so folks pretty much left Blackie be. He had no licenses, no permits, no insurance. In the mid-fifties, however, he became just a little too rambunctious. He started crashing cars out on the highway. Lots of them. Finally the police suggested that either he go to Norwood Arena, the local stock car bull ring, to get some testosterone out of his system or they'd come down on him.

Blackie had a bumpy stint at Norwood in the Mad Merry-Go-Round division, whacko, bone-crushing ramp racing. He won his fair share, all at the helm of hulking '37 #94 Plymouth sedans, crashed from every conceivable angle. But in 1960, when NASCAR brought a new, up-town image to the Arena with the thundering Modifieds, it wasn't Blackie's bag.
-

Blackie didnít last long when NASCAR came to Norwood with rules and
up-town trophy girls.  (RA Silvia Collection)

By this time a committed racer, Blackie began the long commute north to the Merrimack Valley and New Hampshire, to the Pines and Hudson Speedways, and the Manchester Motordrome. It was Oscar Ridlon's URDC circuit, and "Cannonball" Ridlon was a showman. He loved the old time carney scene - brash, wild, basic entertainment. And he loved Al Crockett.

Blackie had become a true racing showman in his own right, even before he reached the pit gate. Hall of Fame racer Pete Fiandaca recalls the first time he ever saw him. "I was going to Hudson in the early sixties over by the Tyngsboro Bridge. Along comes this unit with a clapped-out Plymouth race car. It was quite a sight, especially since the race car was doing the towing."

Once in the pits, the scene with Blackie was no different. Richard Naphen, a son-in-law and former NEMA racer who worked with Crockett for years, recalls a night at the Pines. The #94 was sick, sputtering, and Al said to Richard, "We ain't about to tow a hundred miles and not race." They turned the car over, right there on the spot. Blackie took off the oil pan and cut the connecting rod in the bad cylinder with a torch, pulled out the piston, and went out and ran on five cylinders. The whole night, as usual, he never stopped to remove his Cromwell helmet.

Out on the asphalt, Blackie was Oscar's delight. The sky-high Plymouth sedans were either upside down or in the winner's circle. Blackie was 43 when he won the Pines Bomber point chase in 1962 and finished up second at Hudson, but he drove like a hyperactive teenager. One time he flipped mightily coming off the fourth turn for the checker at the Pines. He jumped out of the overturned, steamy pile and ran across the finish line on foot.

Given the sketchy construction of Crockett's coaches, it seems miraculous that he was never badly banged up. The #94s in those seasons never had a new part, never even had anything better than the stock bench seat. Blackie's most serious injury came when he fell off a donkey in a specialty race at Groveland. He jumped right back on, paying little heed to his broken ribs.

In 1967, as kind of a last hurrah, Blackie actually bought a race car, a former Brice Haskell #213 owned by the late "Nasty Neil" Murray. Blackie put in a barking hemi, uncharacteristically rebuilt with good pistons and a cam. He was lightning fast. As Nasty said at the time, "It was function junction. He was the man making it happen."

As the A-frame cars began to change the complexion of racing in the very late 1960s, Blackie, now in his fifties, was turning the bomber driving over to Al Jr., one of his four children. He was still a welcome presence at Oscar's, though, frequently running spectator and figure-eight contests. Daughter Irene smiles about the day the family stopped at the chicken farm next to Hudson, a place they often camped. Blackie picked up 30 dozen eggs and put them in the backseat of their '65 Mustang convertible. He never stopped to take them out for the spectator race, and they sure didn't stop him from winning.

In the 1970s, Al's days as an outrider began to catch up to him. He became sick, and then sicker. He entered a number of rehabilitation centers with his illness never completely understood or diagnosed. Finally, on June 10, 1980, he passed away. The cause given was lung cancer.

By the 1980s, the days of the old-time bombers and rugged individualists like Al Crockett were gone but not yet forgotten. Anne-Marie Naphen, one of Blackie's six grandchildren, recalls the service. "We had to use the largest funeral home in Randolph and close it down just for him. Getting in was a two-hour wait. Everyone loved him."
-
Thatís just AlÖ
(Coastal 181 Collection)

* Most of this article originally appeared in Thom Ring's Shorttrack Magazine in December 2008.


© 2015 Lew Boyd, Coastal 181


If you like this Tearoff,  you may enjoy these titles:
Norwood Arena: The Movie
 Hot Cars
Cool Drivers

by Lew Boyd
A History of Auto Racing in New England

- A Project of the North East Motor Sports Museum

Stop by our Book Store Directory for a look at our book and DVD selections:

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.: Previous Tearoffs :.

INDEX BY SUBJECT
OF ALL PREVIOUS TEAROFFS
SINCE THE FIRST ON 7/15/07

7/7/15 - Rickey's Resilience

5/28/15 - How I Won the Little 500 in the Emergency Room

4/22/15 - Billy Betteridge - The Improbable Superstar

3/25/15 - Putt Mossman - Character for the Ages

3/3/15 - Four Bounces of Bergie

2/15/15 - On Golden Ice

9/3/14 - The Lindsey Flash

8/7/14 - Two Lucky Guys and Their Modifieds

7/7/14 - George and Art's Sweet Sorrow

6/9/14 - The Ring and Its Ringmasters

5/11/14 - Inner Tough


4/17/14 - Being Eddie MacDonald

3/25/14 - Matty D and the Track of Champions

2/25/14 - In the Southlands with Bugsy Stevens

2/10/14 - In the Moment with Jessica Zemken

1/23/14 - On the Plane from Tulsa

© 2007-15 Lew Boyd, Coastal 181

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



 


 

 


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