By LEON ANDRUS
I’m finally feeling a little better to report on my last road trip to the Saratoga Auto Museum and the New York State Stock Car Association (NYSSCA) banquet this past Saturday night January 20th. Unfortunately for me and you readers I didn’t get half the information I wanted especially from the four Hall of Fame (HOF) inductees. I had/have a terrible head cold and has me so congested I can barely hear unless it is really loud. I could hear for the most part the Masters of Ceremony Dan Marten and John Stanley so I got some information from them as they introduced the (HOF) member or the person doing their induction.
They day started early at the Saratoga Auto Museum in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. For the four inductees to be honored and given their place into this great institution and join the greats before them. On this day they were inducting one of my childhood hero’s Dave Kneisel, also another legendary Modified pilot still getting the job done today Jimmy Horton. They also was honoring Dick Hicks a legendary mechanic and fabricator that I knew very little about other his association for years with Brett Hearn. Lastly was driver Allie Swears which unfortunately I knew nothing about but was really wanting to get information on. I tried some one-on-one conversations but they would have to answer to loud for me to hear I decided it to be unfair to them and anyone around me.
Dave Kneisel drove Modified racecars for many years here in the Northeast and hailed out of Clark Summitt, Pa. Dave’s Daughters Lynn and Marcee were the guest speaker for their Dad and I definitely wanted to pick their brain as I had many questions I could have asked. Here are some of the things I knew and will pass on and a few things that I could make out or got from Dan or Stanley that night at the Polish Community Center in Albany, N.Y. during the (NYSSCA) banquet. Here are some of his accomplishments Dave gathered in his racing career. Mr. Kneisel was a five time track champion at Five Mile Point Speedway in 1953, 58, 63, 66 and his final one in 1973. He also was a three time winner at this track of the prestigious Heath Memorial Event. Note here when Dave won it was known as the Irv Heath Memorial and changed after the death of his wife Anna quite a few years later. Kneisel won the memorial races in 1971,73 and 74. Kneisel won over fifty features at this track where he spent the majority of his racing career. Other track championships were won at Twin Valley Speedway in Chenango Forks, N.Y. In 1971 and amazingly also captured it at the Weedsport Speedway in Weedsport, N.Y. in the same year which was quite a feat as they both ran on Sundays. Twin Valley ran Sunday afternoon and Weedsport at night. After feature at Twin Valley the crew hustled out of the track to make the one hour plus haul to Weedsport.
For the most part of his career he ran his own cars numbered 711 and carried the traditional Lyn-Mar Special on the side of his hood in reference to his two daughters. The front of the roof always had two dice with “Ole Bones” written there. Most of the sponsorship came from his own business Kneisel Speedsport. He also serviced many of the race tracks with his parts trucks.
Dave was a tutor for another young racer out of his hometown and that being Carl Reynolds who went on to have a successful career himself just a shorter one as he left racing rather young for other interests. A Kneisel chassis car chauffeured by Jack Johnson who captured the Schaffer 200 in 1979.
Dave Kneisel died doing what he devoted his life to in a devastating crash at the Orange County Fair Speedway on Monday, September 6, 1982 and when I got the news I just couldn’t believe it. Kneisel was always thinking safety in all he did and built.
Some of the interesting things I found out was Dave always went to the shop each day and came home for supper at five pm sharp. Then he would make time for the girls and have family time and then doze off but made sure someone got him awake so he could watch the Johnny Carson Show as it was his favorite.
Jimmy Horton who now lives in Neshanic Station N.J., and before out of Folsom, N.J. He was honored to the Hall by his Son as he told of much of his very storied career behind the wheel of many different types of race-cars at many different tracks from small to large and from dirt and asphalt.
Along with his many wins on dirt from his start with a Sportsman car at Orange County Fair Speedway driving for his Dad. On to Modified in many different rides with a long stretch with Statewide racing in the potent No. 3 car. Syracuse was another of his big wins with two during the grand daddy of them all at the mile, and now today running for the fine folks at Halmar International.
Horton spent eight years and running 35 races in Nascar’s ARCA Series from 1988 – 1995. Also from 1987 until 1998 Horton ran 48 events in the highest form of Nascar with the S & H race team with sponsorship from Miles Concrete. The horrendous crash and flip of Horton at the Taladaga Speedway that is readily available on you tube was something folks should go watch and just to prove how well these cars are built.
One of the things I found out for sure that I wasn’t positive about was how Mr. Horton does a lot of the work on his cars and has made some and is always trying different innovations on the cars he race.
Allie Swears was one of the folks going in the Hall that I didn’t know much about other than hearing the name from time to time but knowing he was going into the Hall his career had to be impressive. His son performed the induction ceremony and said his father had some serious health issues and couldn’t make it.
From what I could make out was he was a successful driver and also an innovator in his own right as were all the inductees this year. His son brought his lap top that had many images to show at the banquet hall when they are introduced to the huge crowd there. He drove a Modified number 51 that I saw the most images of but did drive other number cars. Most of the images I saw of the 51 were with the car having no sponsorship. Swears also ran Nascar in the Grand National division where again he drove and worked on the cars
Finally the other inductee was Dick Hicks who was a mechanic and fabricator for many years with drivers such as Pete Corey, Pete Corey Jr, Larry Nye and as mentioned above Brett Hearn. With Hearn he had wins at the Syracuse mile winning the biggest race during Super Dirt Week. They talked about many things he has done and made unfortunately I didn’t get that information. He did have a famous quote that I liked that went like this. “A winner has a plan a loser has an excuse.
After the speaking was done everyone goes to the second floor to get their picture taken and receive their (HOF) jacket as their name goes on the war. Then family pictures are taken before folks go on their way. The jackets are given back to the members so they can be given out with the hardware at the award ceremony.
At the award ceremony the folks get a smaller interview and the presenter tries to shorten up their speech some. Then they receive their official award and jacket. Then it is time to eat and this year it was in a buffet style for the first time. In my opinion here I thought it worked out well but thought the down time to the actual awards for the others in attendance was a little long. Again just my opinion and I had a head cold and stuffed up so I am sure that played a part in it.
I will report some on the special awards and then give a little take on the track recipients. First off I want to congratulate all of the award recipients. It was good to have NYSSCA President Tom Coughlin speak about the lack of coverage by some of the local media outlets, even though I caught bits and pieces of it. The organization is there for the good of racing and should get more respect and support in my opinion. One last thing in my opinion is I would love to see more award recipients show for their awards or send representatives. I will re-iterate here this is my opinion and I realize people do have other things happening at that time.
Special award winners were Car Owner of the Year. The award went to the owner of the car driven by Peter Britten and that is Andy Romano.
Overall Outstanding Performance; Had two winners Matt Sheppard and Dave Marcuccilli and these two were the only ones out of the eleven special award winners that couldn’t make it. I know Sheppard had an appearance at the Motorsports Expo in Oaks, Pa.
The Media award winner was Ron Szczerba who has done media at the Fonda Speedway for years and continues to do so. He also has done media for NYSSCA in the past.
The Dedication to Racing Jim Langenback Memorial Award went to Rob Yetman and Crew. Langenback a super star in the pro-stock division in the Capital district was a big supporter of NYSSCA and left money to the organization for this award. The NYSSCA folks vote on who best represents what Langenback stood for.
NYSSCA Award of Excellence went to Warren Alexson who fielded a Sprint car for Jeff Trombley on the CRSA 305 Sprint Series.
Humanitarian Award In Memory of Chaplain Dave Miller went to Allison Ricci who raised money for Breast Cancer through her race team. She drove the Halmar International 55 which sported the pink ribbon all season and raised around $10,000 for the cause.
Bob Vedder, a Modified chauffeur in the Capital district with his No. 53 for 50-years, won the Dedication to Racing in Memory of Harry Peek. Peek was one of those guys that you wanted to be associated with as soon as you met him. Vedder who was leading track points at Glen Ridge this season until changes at the speedway and then ended season at Fonda. He did announce his retirement earlier this season.
Next award is Dedication to NYSSCA in Memory of Artie McCarty. Artie as I heard was the person that would do anything for you and be happy doing it. The award went to Cheryl Catman who is the Treasurer for NYSSCA and puts the award banquet together and what a fabulous job she does. She announced that she was stepping away from doing that and that will be hard shoes to fill and probably have to be done by a few people to make up for it.
Lifetime Contribution to Racing in Memory of “The Shoe” Kenny Shoemaker went to Mike King. King has raced at the Lebanon Valley Speedway for forty five years and got his first feature win in his 43rd season.
The final award recipient for the special awards went to Brett Hearn for the Lifetime Achievement Award. The award speaks for itself here as Hearn owns over 900 feature wins and numerous track championships. He got win 700 at Orange County 800 at Fonda and 900 at Albany-Saratoga Speedway. That is just a tip of the iceberg of his many accomplishments
The track awards I am going to give how many there were to give out and how many showed to receive those said awards as that goes back to my earlier opinion statement.
Albany-Saratoga had 16 awards and eight showed and also one sent a representative. Fonda Speedway had 15 award winners and they had seven show and one sent a representative. The CRSA group had three award winners and two showed. Glen Ridge Motorsports Park had 11 award winners with 10 appearing. Afton Motorsports Park had 15 award winners with just three showing. Lebanon Valley had 20 award recipients with thirteen showing and one representative showing for the another. Utica-Rome Speedway had a possible nine winners and had three come get their award. Orange County Fair Speedway had seven winners and two showing. Finally is Woodhull Speedway which had 18 winners and six recipients came for their awards.
In closing I want to put a shout out to Glen Ridge for their fine support of 10 out of 11. Distance certainly plays into it I understand that. A shout out as Woodhull which is the farthest away had one third of their recipients show. One last thing I want to thank the sponsors of the yearbook, and the program book.
Finally, if you have never visited the Saratoga Auto Museum you need to put it on your list and also this race season if you don’t normally sign up with the NYSSCA representative when they come around please think hard about it this year and make their banquet.
Until next time Race On!