Memories of the California
Jalopy Association














































Racing Commentary

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Cloutier was pretty banged up – but not as badly as his conduit cage – in this incident
at The Pines Speedway in May of 1961. (Cloutier Collection)

August 20, 2008


Man, did the winds of change ever blow in the sixties. No part of American life was untouched.

In short track racing the times were especially colorful and dynamic. There were race tracks everywhere, and everyone was monkeying with the rules. Countrywide, the sport was transitioning from the clunky jalopies of the fifties towards the more permanent shape the cars took in the seventies.

In California, at venues like Ascot and Balboa Stadium, the square tops of the Southern California Jalopy Association gave way to the early sprint cars of the California Racing Association. In the Southeast, the mighty coupes of Ralph Earnhardt and Runt Harris were relegated to a field behind the barn, replaced by A-frame cars, the early late models.

In northern New England, the jalopies became so chopped and channeled that they quite properly became known as the “cutdowns”. These unruly little flyweights offered up great and gutsy racing at asphalt quarter-miles like Westboro, Groveland, and West Peabody in Massachusetts; Dover, Loudon, Hudson, and Lee in New Hampshire; and Scarborough and Arundel, Maine. But it all lasted for only a brief period of time.

Bob Cloutier’s #84 cutdown (above and center below) was prototypical of its genre. The car was glued together right at the dawn of the decade, before the widespread availability of specialty racing parts. Like Reino Tulonen’s jalopy run in the mid-fifties (below, left), Cloutier’s car still perched on a ’34 Ford frame, but it was creatively – if a little awkwardly – reworked and shortened. The cab, from a 1950 Ford pickup, was mounted on a conduit cage, along with a cowl from an old Dodge truck found in the woods. The motor was a highly polished Flathead with multiple carbs.

Those carburetors posed a curious challenge. As is often the case with racing and beer drinking, one or two won’t be enough for long. Especially as the overhead engines came into play, cutdown guys were going with four carbs – and then six. Making a six-throat throttle linkage work smoothly and reliably in racing conditions is quite a feat for a backyard mechanic. The consequences of getting it wrong could be quite severe: When a linkage stuck, it tended to be wide open.

For several seasons cutdown racing was haunted by horrific wrecks, cars flying off the ends of straightaways, full throttle. It seemed that all the early hot shoes experienced their sky rides – Bentley Warren, Carl Tiberio, Archie Archambault, Jimmy Martel. It was not always a survivable adventure. Hank Kiasim died in the woods off the third turn at Hudson, Charlie Coffin at The Pines.

It wasn’t long before the technical complexion of the pit area had changed again. Leading car builders had found that it was easier to start from scratch – to design chassis using tubing rather than cobbling something together with a rusted junkyard frame. Additionally, the wide use of fuel injection and professionally engineered mounts and linkages drastically improved reliability. As the railed Tewksbury Auto Parts “Flying 5” with Smokey Boutwell at the wheel shows clearly (below, right), cutdowns of the late sixties were really early supermodifieds, ready to take on the steamroller tires and honker motors of the seventies.

Anyone lucky enough to witness one of those New England cutdown shows – especially at night – will attest to the excitement. The sight of 24 guys in tee shirts wrestling these sparking, smoking, ill-handling, but lightning fast hot rods can never be forgotten. It will certainly never happen again, not with today’s issues of insurance, litigation, and strict adherence to the rules. Massachusetts’ Gavin Couper, a seasoned veteran of cutdown battles, once quipped, “There was nuthin’ like it, but, I’ll tell you, you could get hurt just lookin’ at one.”

© 2008 Lew Boyd, Coastal 181

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Russ Conway

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.: Previous Tearoffs :.

8/6/08 - Wallace on Wednesdays

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

7/7/08 - McUnderdog

6/18/08 - The Night Buzz Was Worried

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

5/20/08 - The Spirit of a Racer

5/1/08 - Bobby's Blues

4/15/08 - Thinking About Rene Charland

3/26/08 - Carl and Corey

3/4/08 - A Cool Track with Cool Racers

2/14/08 - Doug Wolfgang

1/25/08 - Frankie Schneider

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

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

12/1/07 - Ride Along with Erica Santos

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