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Diary of a Mad Sportswriter: Hall of Fame inductees: NYS Stock Car Association

Diary of a Mad Sportswriter

Stan Hudy is a sportswriter for The Saratogian and Community News. He covers high school and youth sports in the Saratoga County area as well as writing a weekly book review on sports books. He's not just a "stick and ball" sportswriter, he's willing to take on any sport as well as any subject.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Hall of Fame inductees: NYS Stock Car Association

Courtesy of NYSSCA

SARATOGA SPRINGS – A trio of outstanding drivers with wins around the Northeast and beyond and a highly regarded short track promoter will be inducted into the New York State Stock Car Association’s Hall of Fame on January 17 at the Polish American Club in Albany.

Western New York star Billy Rafter, the "Tampa Terror," Will Cagle, and the king of the Accord Speedway, Dick Hansen, will be joined by Dick Waterman, who operated the NASCAR sanctioned Utica-Rome Speedway when a contingent of local stars faced the best of New England every Sunday night.

Rafter began his illustrious career at Buffalo’s Civic Stadium in 1949, when he was only 17. He went on to score over 100 wins there and in 1959 claimed both the Civic Stadium and the New York State NASCAR Sportsman championship.

As good on a dirt mile as he was on the ¼ mile asphalt at the stadium, Rafter won extra-distance NASCAR events at Syracuse in ’59, ’62 and ’64 and was the State Fair champion as well in 1959. Other career highlights included a 1966 win in one of the famed "First Sunday of the Month" 100-lap open competition events at Lebanon Valley, which in those days drew well over 100 cars from New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and 13 wins at Canandaigua, where Rafter shares the record of eight consecutive wins with fellow Hall of Fame driver Bob McCreadie.

But perhaps the most amazing of Rafter’s many accomplishments was winning five features in three days. After winning a 100 lapper at the Monroe Co. Fairgrounds in Rochester Friday night, he claimed two more 100-lap events on Saturday, at Syracuse and Civic Stadium. Sunday brought an afternoon win at Merrittville and a nighttime score at Waterloo.

Rafter’s final title came in the NASCAR Late Models at Holland in 1970, after which a fiery blown engine at Perry that left him in the hospital for an extended stay brought his illustrious career to a premature end.

Hansen also started racing at age 17, claiming three of the dozen wins he would score at Rhinebeck before moving on during his rookie year. He was the ’63 and ’66 champion at the Pine Bowl, took the White Lake title in ’65 and was the Accord champion in 1971.

A winner in three different decades at Lebanon Valley, Hansen won his first race there in 1966 and was the 1978 Sportsman champion. Best known for his time in Bruce Carman’s potent #23, Hansen was the ’72 champion at Mid-State, winning some seven races, including the first Super DIRT Series event ever run, and then backed it up by winning the inaugural DIRT series event at Lebanon Valley later on in the season.
But Accord was Hansen’s place, as he notched nearly 70 wins on the tight quarter mile, often wearing his helmet for 20 minutes or so after the feature just in case someone took exception to his aggressive charge from the rear.

Cagle’s impressive resume shows some 444 modified wins in the Northeast, not to mention his many wins south of the Mason-Dixon line. He won at 39 speedways, claiming 108 DIRT events and 336 independent speedway wins. For a time he was nearly unbeatable in central New York, winning 86 races at Weedsport, 70 at Rolling Wheels and 53 at Canandaigua to garner three Weedsport championships and four each at Canandaigua and Rolling Wheels. He remains the leading winner at Weedsport and Rolling Wheels and was also the 1973 Brewerton champion.

Prior to that run, Cagle was a big winner at the Orange County Fairgrounds, claiming 47 features, including four Eastern States events and five consecutive championships (‘66-’70) and at Nazareth, with 40 wins and the 1967 title.

He won the "Mr. DIRT" title in ’76, ’78 and ’79 and had an equally impressive record on big tracks, with asphalt wins in the National Open at Langhorne and on the Trenton mile and four triumphs on the tricky 1 1/8 mile Nazareth National dirt oval. His only disappointment was in not winning at Syracuse, though he was a tight second to Jack Johnson in ’79 and recorded two thirds, a pair of fourths, a fifth and a seventh in other attempts.

Cagle has also driven late models, sprint cars and even Indy cars and is still competing in Legends events in the southeast.

Dick Waterman, with partner Bernie Ingersoll, a retired local racer, bought the Utica-Rome Speedway from Joe Lesik, who built the speedway just outside the village of Vernon, NY in 1961. A paved quarter-mile, Waterman would later enlarge Utica-Rome slightly but it remained tight and anyone who won a NASCAR feature there had to handle constant lapped traffic as well as his pursuers.

Waterman’s genius was in creating a Sunday night battle between New York favorites and invading New Englanders, with his overhead late model class sending a constant stream of local talent to the "A" class, which for a while combined sportsman and modifieds and then became strictly modifieds.

The cast constantly changed but it was not unusual to see Bill Wimble, Jerry Cook, Richie Evans, Lou Lazzaro, Sonney Seamon, Kenny Shoemaker, Lou Smith, Frank Mathalia, Dick Clark, Bernie Miller, Dick Fowler, Dave Lape, Bill Henry and the Kotary clan defending their turf against such noted invaders as Rene Charland, Eddie Flemke, Bugsy Stevens, Freddy DeSarro, Fats Caruso, Pete Hamilton, Don McTavish, Ronnie Narducci and Bobby Santos.

And Waterman, to assure his fans saw the best possible show, would hold the feature until a handful of point chasers made the mad dash across the Mass Pike and up the Thruway from Thompson, CT’s afternoon show to tag the field.

His biggest promotion each season was the New Yorker 400, run the night before Labor Day, attracting point chasers from the south such as Joe Thruman, even more New Englanders and a huge crowd to watch the non-stop action.

Waterman sold the speedway and adjacent drag strip in 1979, with the new owners converting it to dirt. But Waterman remains a racing fan and still attends Sprint Cup events at Bristol and Pocono each year, often with Wimble, a long-time friend and one-time Utica-Rome official after retiring from competition.

Following the induction ceremony at the annual NYSSCA banquet, the new Hall of Fame members will be at the Saratoga Automobile Museum, site of NYSSCA’s permanent Hall of Fame display, to greet the public and recall the glory days of their careers.
The event is set for 11 a.m. January 18. The Saratoga Automobile Museum is located in the Saratoga Spa State Park, just off exit 13N of I-87, the Adirondack Northway.

For more on the New York State Stock Car Association click here.

For more on the Saratoga Automobile Museum click here.

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