September 1, 2008
ONE NIGHT AT THE PARK
It was midsummer 1964, and Riverside Park in Agawam, Massachusetts,
was the biggest attraction in western New England. The roller
coaster rides were jammed, and the adjacent 1/5-mile asphalt track
was packing ’em in on Saturday nights.
There was great anticipation in the days leading up to August’s
150-lapper, the first of the extra-distance “Triple Crown Series.”
Fans were focused on multiple winners that season – Dick Dixon,
Jocko Maggiacomo, Buddy Krebs, and point leader Ed Patnode. Patnode
had recently vacated the chair in the famous Salenski #M-6.
Towering Anthony “Beebe” Salenski always pitted beautiful,
well-tooled and growling race cars, but 1964 had been a tough run
for him. That year alone names like Billy Greco, Stan Disbrow, and
Dick Dixon – as well as Patnode – had been painted above the door.
Maybe out of frustration he decided to try something new. Beebe
called down to Valley Stream, New York, and hired a Long Island
standout known as Les Ley to give the M-6 a go. Ley, whose real name
was Harry Dominick, jumped at the chance. He, too, was facing hard
Close friend Gary London, the well-known National Speed Sport News
columnist, called Harry “a bull of a driver with a compact
wrestler’s build.” He was a serial winner on the Island, oft times
at the helm of Joe Baccari’s memorable blue and yellow #1 coupe. But
by 1964 he had plum run out of rides, and his dad was sick. He
needed money. He was on his way up to Agawam in a flash, and the
first couple of nights looked promising.
The 150-lapper immediately developed into a dog fight. Greco, Dixon,
Patnode, Bobby Bard, and “Les Ley” dueled wildly before lap 68, when
the M-6 suddenly veered into the wall at the pit gate. Fence boards
flew and crew members scattered, while the mighty M-6 motor screamed
wide open after the crash.
The track news release reported that the driver had “hit the pit
gate fence, damaging communication lines, but Ley was not injured.”
Not so. Later that week the Daily News reported that Harry had died
in the Springfield Hospital of massive head injuries. Gary London
claims that his buddy always refused to wear shoulder harnesses and
that he had struck the top front roll bar on impact.
There may have been an insidious reason for the track’s inaccurate
reporting. The Daily News article describes in depth the horrifying
few minutes following the crash. Apparently the starter, Al Parent,
and other officials never saw the M-6 careen off the edge of the
track. The race continued on for a full eight laps “while the
frenzied crowd of 5664 began throwing debris on the track and
shouting at Parent.” By the time an ambulance arrived on the scene,
Harry had bled heavily and was in bad shape. Another driver,
journeyman Riverside Park and Lebanon Valley racer Bill Gurney, was
also taken to the hospital but subsequently released.
Parent had to be escorted from the track by police, and old-time
promoter Harvey Tattersall used every political trick up his sleeve
to calm the crowd. Eventually he succeeded, and Billy Greco won the
Folks in Long Island were devastated by the loss of one of their
marquee gassers. There were collections and memorials, and Bruno
Brackey even towed a late model Harry had driven down to Langhorne,
ran a USAC show, and donated the $500 he won to Harry’s widow, Joan.
In the most profound testimony of their affection, however, the
drivers at Freeport Stadium honored Harry by burying his helmet
right there in the pit area.
Thirty years later, when Freeport was being torn down, that
wonderful Marty Himes, curator of all things racing in Long Island,
went to the track and began digging. He dug, and dug and dug – and
finally found it.
Today Harry’s helmet sits in Marty’s racing museum in Bay Shore, New
© 2008 Lew
Boyd, Coastal 181
VERY COOL FORTHCOMING EVENTS:
|OPEN HOUSE at The HIMES
MUSEUM of MOTOR RACING NOSTALGIA
Saturday, October 4, 2008
15 O’Neil Ave
Bay Shore, NY 11706
PARK SPEEDWAY REUNION
- A major attraction of the
2009 Speedway EXPO
February 27 - March 1, 2009
The Big E - Springfield, MA