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September 15, 2007


For various reasons, I have been to a whole bunch of race tracks in the last couple of years. Superspeedways, quarter-milers, West Coast to East, and everything in between.

There is no question that we are in troubling economic times and that keeping the racing going in some places is pretty darn challenging. However, I have also been impressed at how just plain nice a lot of track owners and promoters actually are. People like Sherry Clifton at Hickory, NC; the Mattiolis at Pocono and South Boston, VA; and Lanny and Beverly Edwards at Devils Bowl in Texas are a special breed. Wonderful folks, very much dedicated to keeping the traditions of oval racing alive.

Curiously, though, at many tracks there seems to be a growing number of lower-level race officials who just donít get it. Itís as though something psychologically happens to guys and gals who wear white shirts on Saturday night. They put on an air of inflated authority. They become village Napoleons, stomping around shouting directions, impressing no one but themselves. It has become remarkably common.

Even aside from probably costing struggling promoters far more than they are worth, these weekend bureaucrats are horrible for the show. If anything, racing has become too buttoned down. It just might be a good idea to lighten up a bit and to let the "sport of the people" breathe a little. It just might be time to bring back a little of the color and excitement rather than to kill it both purposefully and unpleasantly.

I realize that racing is too serious and too dangerous to be run by libertarians, but consider for a minute that good officiating might be minimal officiating. One of my favorite memories from 40-plus years of driving was towing into Canaan Speedway in New Hampshire for the first time. We had a wild car and were worried about whether we could run. I walked up to the promoter, Charlie Elliott, and asked him what the rules were in Class A. He smiled. "Youíll have no problem, Lew. We have just two rules. The driver has to be behind the engine and the driver canít be drunk. But, then again, this is New Hampshire, and we have had a little trouble enforcing that second one sometimes."

I told Charlie of an amazingly un-regulatory way that an old-time upstate New York track owner had dealt with that second one in the past. Check out the following story from our book FONDA! A Documented and Illustrated History of the Legendary Fonda Speedway.


They say he was perfectly built to drive old time dirt cars. "Don Hendenberg had the biggest arms Iíve ever seen," recalls master photographer John Grady, while in Jeep Herbertís words, "He was the bear that walked like a man." When the burly truck driver came to Fonda in 1954, he and rival Cliff Kotary were already heroes in the Rome, New York, area, each with credentialed win lists. And Hendenberg caused a particular stir as the appointed chauffeur of the famous red, black, and white S/33 sportsman owned by Dave McCredy, the Chevrolet dealer from Sherburne.

Hendenberg would not disappoint Montgomery County railbirds. He immediately began copping top-five finishes. In fact, in 1956 his enviable consistency earned him the track championship without winning a single feature.

Very much a man of the í50s, Hendenberg lived to race, to joke Ė and to party. One Saturday night he tooled into Fonda straight from a wedding, and no small number of folks took notice of his condition. Several drivers marched up to the Tower, demanding that they not race against an inebriated competitor. Quickly and profoundly the officials responded that they could not possibly police the drivers but that they would support any reasonable action the drivers wished to take themselves. The competitors went off, huddled, and came back with the following request: let Hendenberg go out and run five hot laps by himself. If he does okay, okay. The officials agreed. Hendenberg went out, ran three laps, and crashed through the fenceÖ

Early on, 1957 had the look of a good year for the fun-loving Roman. In June he snagged a fourth, a second, and his only two Fonda feature wins, back to back. However, fate was to have its own sad and unexpected twist. Delivering papers one morning, Don slammed a tree at the sharp bend in the middle of Lee Center, New York.

The popular bear man, driving his tiny early Volkswagen bug, was dead.

© 2007 Lew Boyd, Coastal 181

.: Previous Tearoffs :.

9/1/07 - The Look of a Driver

8/15/07 - Being Junior

8/1/07 - Armond Holley

7/15/07  -  Red Farmer


























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