We were founded by Don Rodimer
IN THE BEGINNING there was an Italian barber AND HE WAS GOOD. He was a professional and he loved his work. As he snipped away he hummed his favorite aria from It Trovatore or Rigoletto. As he stropped sometimes burst into the Largo e Factotum from It Barbiere di Siviglia. Yes, he loved good things, good Italian things from the lasagna to the red vino da tavola that washed it down.
Especially he loved a graceful but large Isotta-Fraschini that he had seen so often standing magnificently near a large factory waiting for some IMPORTANT man at the end of each day. A brass plaque near the instruments stated proudly that this was TIPO 8A and came from Milano. A neat set of letters fastened under the front doors spelled out CASTAGNA.
Mama Mia! This was heaven on wheels!
Wheels? They were huge and each tire bore the legend GOODYEAR DOUBLE EAGLE and the numbers 7.00x21. But what a car for a gentleman! Perhaps it had belonged to a count! He had to have it.
He didn't have long to wait. Even then World War II was casting its long shadow on us and the owner of this wonderful steed knew too well its appetite for fuel and the cost of those tires. With the barest show of reluctance by the barber, the bargain was made and the happy barber drove away. At a discreet distance he burst into ``Figaro, figaro'' and headed home.
And home is where the Isotta remained most of the time. Those puny gas ration stamps were barely enought to get to the gas station and back and trying to keep two usable six-volt batteries on hand was very trying. So it came to pass that he drove the Isotta less and less and after the surrender of Japan, but while the vision of those few gas rationing stamps floated before him, he decided to sell his hungry car. Buyers did not stampede to make offers and he despaired of ever selling until this lean guy in a Navy flight jacket came and looked inside and under, and listened and drove and that's how I got the Isotta.
Now the Isotta didn't have much
brightwork by American standards and it wasn't chrome either. It was gen-u-wine NICKEL and so I found myself one day in 1946 delivering some bits and pieces of the ISOTTA to a plating shop in Newark. As I
turned to leave the delivery area what to my wondering eyes did appear but a small chrome-plated axle. It was most unusual in design, appearing to be tubular, yet having two box-like openings through it. I
asked what it was, but the plater said he didn't know other than that it belonged to some fellow up in East Orange who was always fooling with foreign cars and bringing in parts for plating.
So the visits and the conversation continued in the heady atmosphere of Gunk or the glare of the brilliant flame of the welding torch. And here I found out about a club up in New England, mostly around Boston, where club members drove rare and exciting cars, and met at regular intervals to look at and discuss those cars. By and large they sounded like a rather special group of persons who owned exotic cars and knew those cars intimately, and worked in their innards with their own greasy hands. Names like Russ Sceli, Edgar Roy, Col. George Felton, and George Weaver fell into the conversation, and they sounded like wonderful people to know. The club was called the Sports Car Club of America.
I learned that there were a few members outside of the New England area. In New Jersey, besides Hudson Mills there were Haig Ksayian of Lambertville, H. B. “Bal” Hooper of Trenton, Ledyard Pfund, and Dr. Henry Finn. In the course of my travels around the state I made it a point to locate and visit with these members. I found Haig to be a real enthusiast who preferred to live in the country where he had room for his Alfas, of which he often has two. A person of considerable engineering talent, he did his own rebuilding and frequently visited Bal in Trenton, where Bal had opened a small foreign car repair shop. I had known Bal's brother, Harry, in college and remembered seeing an elderly Bentley on campus from time to time and now I made the connection. There were always some interesting cars at Bal's garage, and he was never so busy that he wouldn't stop to chat about them, and cars in general.
By this time I wanted to join the Sports Car Club of America, but there was considerable doubt that I could since one of the requirements for membership was the ownership of a sports car. Patient readers who have stayed with me this far know that, despite untold man-hours of debate, there has never been a completely acceptable definition of a sports car. The same readers will also probably agree with me that it is far easier to say that a particular car is not a sports car than to define it as one. With no illusions I entered the proud name of Isotta-Fraschini in the space provided under ``SPORTS CARS OWNED'', had the application endorsed by two sponsors (even then!) and mailed it to the Secretary at his office in his home there was no Westport headquarters then.
I didn't have long to wait. Back came a polite letter saying that the Membership Committee did not consider the Isotta to be a sports car, and therefore I was ineligible for membership. HOWEVER, the club did recognize that certain enthusiasts had such a deep interest that they would be received as Subscribers, with no voting privileges or rights of participation. I gladly sent my $3 and on March 2, 1948 became a Subscriber of the Sports Car Club of America. Within a year the distinction was wiped out and thereafter there were only Members.
The Regional organization of SCCA had not spread very far at that time. As a matter of fact there wasn't any spread, but rather a few enclaves scattered through the country. Washington, Chicago, Philadelphia, and of course New York were the large centers. It was to the New York Region that New Jerseyites then belonged, and this arrangement included the whole of the State of New Jersey.
In September of 1948 came the event that was to set off the latest revival of road racing in the United States the first Grand Prix races at Watkins Glen. It is hard to describe the emotional aura that surrounded the village at the southern end of Lake Seneca on those early fall days of brilliant warm sunshine and crisp, cool nights. After seven years of wartime austerity, no cars, no petrol, no motoring fun, and after years of interruption of the revival of road racing begun by ARCA the competitors and their fans burst upon Watkins Glen like children rushing outdoors on the first warm day of spring after winter's enslavement. They overwhelmed the village in numbers unanticipated by the most optimistic of organizers and filled hotels, rooming houses, guest rooms, and acres around the course. They ate all the food in town and put away the potables. They consumed all the replenishments hastily requisitioned from Ithaca, Elmira, and more distant points. They filled the local coffers and, let's be frank about it, made such a fiscal impression on the townsfolk that the latter have welcomed every annual renewal.
The odor of castor oil delighted their nostrils and their ears were assaulted with the almost forgotten or there-to-be-experienced sounds from countless open exhausts. For the first time many of us heard the wondrous sounds of a high-revving Bugatti like the noise of a bedsheet being ripped asunder by two giants. The deeper sound of Frank Griswold's 2.9 Alfa-Romeo was quiet by comparison. There was much camaraderie and impromptu partying, and on Sunday morning after the races and while morning mist hung over the chill Lake Seneca some of us went down to the lakeside cottage of Cam Argetsinger for breakfast and hot coffee laced with brandy.
Always there was talk of cars, cars, and more cars and repeated expressions that we must do this again. All the anticipation had been realized and yet having been satisfied we clamored for more. The enthusiasm fired here was carried away by all who came and its spread never ceased. The cry was for action and more of it.
The Annual Meeting of SCCA in January 1949 was affected by the enthusiasm of Watkins Glen, and the discussions and actions taken there looked forward to greater activity than ever. The Jerseyites looked to a busy year ahead the New York Region did not provide it and our grumblings increased as time went on. There was another Watkins Glen, as enthusiastic as the first, and again the enthusiasm was carried home with great anticipation of increased local activity. Again we were disappointed and the grumbling mounted. New Jersey was well represented at the National Annual Meeting on January 14, 1950, and these were active enthusiasts who agreed that something should be done.
Small though we be in numbers perhaps the National Headquarters would let us secede from our big neighbor across the Hudson and strike out for ourselves. There began a flow of correspondence with D. Cameron
Peck, then President of SCCA.
Now we were rolling! The true believers were called to a meeting at the ``Chicken Barn'' on Route #46, Totowa, in May 1950. I cannot recall why that location was chosen but the Vreeland family, then proprietors, became our good friends and for some time we were frequent visitors at the Barn. There weren't many of us around the table that night, but we were enthusiasts who wanted action and from the very beginning we planned to conduct an activity every month, a plan that has been substantially followed ever since. The SCCA members who gathered there and are therefore charter members of out Region were:
Dr. Henry W. Finn
It is of more than passing interest to note that, within our individual limitations of time and skill, we were largely do-it-yourselfers who maintained and restored cars and who knew their innards intimately. I recall our informal and even rather formal discussions of the location and availability of parts, and the sources of new parts and materials that could be purchased at favorable (that is, wholesale or trade) prices. How little times have changed! We discussed racing and quickly concluded that there were legal and physical reasons why we could not attempt such events. But most of all we believed that SCCA was not a racing club, and that the club, as established and conducted in New England, was a group of gentlemen who possessed sports cars, who loved them, cared for and nurtured them and, on auspicious occasions, held meets where they were displayed and admired. Several times a year they congregated at Thompson Raceway where friendly management allowed them to conduct time trials, Australian pursuit races and the like. Our belief was founded on historical fact and so the early policy of our Region reflected an attempt to be like our New England contemporaries.
Consider the beginning of the ``Purpose of SCCA'' quoted from the National
Beardless reader, before you snicker at that kind of club, pause to ponder the state of sports cars immediately after World War II. A few MG-TCs were trickling into the country but they were hardly noticed before 1950. The only sports cars around were those that had been imported before the war and had somehow survived it. The restoration, preservation, and maintenance of those cars was the strong reason why our New England predecessors constituted that kind of club. Some owners of those jewels, so carefully refurbished were not about to risk them in assorted fender-bashing.
So our Regional policy began with three basic goals:
our membership criteria were founded on the concept of a gentleman; our requirement for good standing was measured by keen interest and active participation, in a phrase, we wanted doers, not joiners.
Two months after our organizational meeting we conducted our first event, a night rally! There were two entrants, William A. (Billy) Eager III and Robert (Bob) Carbauh. They were mounted in new MG TCs and Billy's father navigated for Bob Carbauh, while Sherid Bearder navigated for Billy. It was a straight time-distance rally and the cars ran all night while the drowsy officials took turns nudging one another into wakefulness until the tired contestants turned up. A month later we ran our second night rally! Here are the instruction for the third leg of our second rally, on August 28, 1950.
Starting at Newton:
As it was an honor to become a member so too it became an honor to serve. After I was elected as Regional Executive for 1952 I asked various members to accept appointment to expanded committees such as Membership and Activities. Here are some of the responses.
”pleased and flattered at your request only through active participation can one derive the maximum benefit...”;
“very happy to serve”;
”accept with pleasure”;
”most flattered and honored.”
Today's harassed committee chairmen would probably be stunned by such responses, but they illustrate the spirit of the early Region.
The Annual Report for 1952 shows that we conducted eleven events and had sixty-three members at year-end against fifty-seven the year before. The average attendance at rallies, of which there were eight, was 58.7 and there was serious talk of limiting our membership!
Despite our early belief that ours was not a racing club there were always members who were attracted to racing, and the early days saw them in action whenever and wherever there was racing. Briggs Cunningham was attracted to our racing talent as early as 1949 when Haig Ksayian drove Briggs' new TC at Watkins Glen, and won his race. The early Sebring races drew numbers of entrants from our Region, among them Bob Carbauh, Hudson Mills, Homer Richards, A. W. (Bill) German, and Charlie Schott. Note that these were entrants, not spectators.
Grand Island, offshore from Buffalo, was the scene of Bill Eager's maiden race in 1952, and he won his class in his bored-out TC after driving it to the race, some 400 miles. Others there were Bruce Bailey, Ralph Casler, El Harkrader, and Walt Hansgen.
There were, in 1952, two classes of competition licenses, Temporary and Senior. The Temporaries were issues on an application approved by the Regional Executive, who checked out the applicants himself. This old Navy check-pilot re-lived the war on a number of frosty mornings at Linden or Morristown airports trying to satisfy himself that an applicant was safe to try to race! There were times of great pleasure, such as when Walt Hansgen came along, and then there was the time when I squirmed out of a somewhat bent Ferrari while the driver was trying to count his teeth. I remember the haste with which Walt Hansgen had to be processed so he could compete at Watkins Glen to begin his great racing career. I can't remember what I spent in telephone and telegraph to accomplish it! In 1953 our member, Bob Bird, finished just 50 points behind one Phil Hill of Santa Monica, Cal. in National point standings.
Our rallyists were just as far-ranging as the racers. The 1952 Elkhart Lake National was run by Ed Neu, Paul Widenor, and Charles Everest and in 1951 by Bill Eager and Howard Bearder. It was commonplace to run an informal rally to a National or other big-time race and groups of four or five cars would stage such impromptu events at the slightest suggestion.
Much more could be said of those early days by other reporters and some has been said in the biographical sketches in recent issues of the Tonneau. What has been said has shown that our Region was solidly founded and had an active, devoted membership that wanted to serve. This foundation has served us well, today we are nearly 500 strong, and thriving. As with any living organization it has changed as it must, going through the evolution from a hobby club of do-it-yourselfers to the race-oriented club of today. Here and there the change has been regretted, but this evolution was forseen and accepted by the early members whose regret, if any, is that the close-knit, fun-loving group of old has been replaced by the intense, timed-to-a-hundredth individualist who finds what he needs here too. It is inevitable that our Region will cease to exist some day when the automobile as we know it has become extinct. When we guide our vehicles onto the electronically controlled highway, and let our computers direct us to our destinations while we picnic or play a few rubbers of bridge, there will be no place for our Region. I, for one, shall regret its passing. It has been fun.
BILL SERVED AS CHIEF OF TECH, PIT
AND PADDOCK, AND AS A FLAGGER.
AMONG HIS MANY OTHER CONTRIBUTIONS
TO THE REGION WERE FOUR TERMS AS
TRUSTEE, THREE TERMS AS MEMBERSHIP
CHAIRMAN, RALLYMASTER, AND SOCIAL
CHAIRMAN, MUCH OF THIS WHILE COMPETING
AS A DRIVER
THIS AWARD IS GIVEN TO THE
MEMBER WHOSE ACTIVITIES EXEMPLIFY
THE DEDICATION AND SERVICE TO THE
FOR WHICH BILL WILL ALWAYS
This award is to recognize the time and effort it takes to make the Region work above and beyond the normal effort. Nomination for this award can be made by any member in good standing; this award can be given to any member or friend of NNJR
Left us on April 21, 2005. He was 36.
Vinny joined the SCCA in October of 1991. He was a member of the Berkeley Heights Rescue Squad and was already a big fan of automobile racing. His interest in auto racing had been sparked by his father at an early age.
In short order Vinny earned his Flagging and Communications license as well as his Emergency Services license. Regardless of the region conducting the event, it was a virtual certainty that Vinny would be there working a corner or doing his thing at the track’s medical station.
Vinny was a quiet guy. Hearing that something needed doing, he would simply go and do it. He wouldn’t look to be thanked. He loved to have fun.
He was awarded the honor of NESCCA Worker of the Year in 2002 – affirmation of the high regard which the Flagging & Communications community as well as the entire SCCA NorthEast Division held for his abilities and his dedication.
Race Worker of the Year
Last updated: Sunday February 27, 2011 17:18:42