Don Gillette Memorial Friday at Brewerton

By Barbara Patterson and Kenneth Parrotte

The Empire Super Sprints (ESS) will race in the 20th annual Don Gillette Memorial at Brewerton Speedway on Friday, May 27. Don grew up in Brewerton and raced locally in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.

Thomas Schmeh, former curator of the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame & Museum and passionate supporter of sprint car racing, is coordinating lap sponsorships for this meaningful race. Each lap is $20 and 100% of the money goes directly to each lap leader. To sponsor any of the 25 laps, email Tom at or private message Tom on Facebook at This is a wonderful way to help the local 360 sprint car drivers and honor Don, one of the local greats, in racing.
History of the Don Gillette Memorial as remembered by Kenneth Parrotte

Donald Lake Gillette was born on April 12, 1936, in Brewerton, NY, to parents Lois and Donald “Pete” Gillette. He started racing and winning races locally in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s at Brewerton Speedway, Weedsport Fairgrounds, Fulton Speedway, Watertown Fairgrounds, and Oswego Speedway. Don joined the United Racing Club (URC) in 1960 and, by ’62, he and Jim Maguire were voted the most improved drivers. Don had two wins in 1962 and finished third in URC points.

Jim Maguire told the story of a drivers meeting at the Shangri-La Speedway when a URC official called Don and Jim the “Whiz Kids” to get them to pay attention. The nickname “Whiz Kids” stuck with both Jim and Don.

Mario Andretti said he knew Don but did not pal around with him because of the distance between their respective homes in Brewerton, NY and Nazareth, PA. Mario said the cars had no cages and were a mix of old and new sprint cars. It was a tough time as they both were trying to move up the racing ladder. Don had a car and Mario was trying to find a winning ride for each race.

Don again finished third in URC sprint car championship points in 1964 with three feature wins and followed that up with three more wins in ’65. Don was on the road to getting an Indy Car ride. Tragically, while leading the September 19, 1965, URC sprint car race at Trenton Speedway, Don was involved in a fatal accident. He was 29 years old.