by Randy Anderson
December 19, 2010
Part 6 of 12
Weatherman Was Not Kind To Stateline In 1960
Pilots of 1959 model racers were eligible for $75, $35 and $25 for top-three results.
Mother Nature was not kind to the raceway proprietors in 1960. An especially rainy summer resulted in only 14 weeks of racing.
A preview of things to come occurred the first week. Try as they might to get the show in, the fourth separate shower of the day brought an early end to the race and a surprise victor on opening night. Sprinkles began falling on the fifth lap of the scheduled 25-lap feature and when it was finally halted on lap 14. Gordon "Jug" Pierce, "an Indian youth from Onoville, piloting a combination of baling wire, scotch tape and a 1957 Chevy" found the finish line first before 2,500 surprised fans.
Eddie Kisko made his first-ever Stateline victory lane visit the next week when he captured the Gust Johnson Memorial. Teammate and fellow Kane resident Hyle Russell rode Frank Ruhlman's other 1957 Chevy to the checkered flag the first Saturday in June.
The Joie Chitwood Thrill Show attracted 4,670 fans to the speedway the following week, but rains doused the crowd five minutes before the conclusion of the thrill show and completely wiped out the 50-lap feature. Then 4,286 customers took advantage of a discounted rain check the following week to witness Russell make it two straight wins.
Although the Fourth of July was still a week away, Gill Lathrop and Bud Fanale provided fireworks. During heat action, Lathrop leaned on Bud and gave him good shove. Spun out and boiling over, Fanale laid in wait and whacked Gil as he made the next circuit. The two men later traded insults in the pits before being separated by cooler heads. Busti's Bobby Schnars won his career third in the feature race.
Chuck Piazza, whose career had previously had more heartbreaks than a country and western song, delighted 4,000 strong by winning the Firecracker Fifty, his first-ever Stateline feature.
Bob Schnars recorded the first-ever Stateline "triple crown" the following week when he captured a heat, semifinal and feature race all in the same night. A week later, Schnars made it three feature wins in his last four outings. The Kane Komet, Hyle Russell, stopped Schnars's streak on July 23 as he edged out the M-1 Chevy to prevail in the 50-lap Mid-Season Championship.
Next on tap following yet another rainout was an upset win by rookie Tom Dill of Erie. Although Dill, a raw-boned fugitive from motorcycling, won a 100-lap jalopy race at Stateline in 1959, this was his first late model triumph in Busti. The lure of handsome purses tempted Dill and his car owner, Joe Mobilia, to join the late model ranks with a somewhat battered 1960 Chevy that they said tongue-in cheek "had been shipped brand-new from Detroit, fell off a truck in Cleveland, and dragged the rest of the way to Erie."
Unusually winless in 1960, Squirt Johns remedied the problem by winning the next two weeks. He followed up a win on Aug. 13 by capturing the Burch-Ruth Memorial Race for the second consecutive year, thus being able to permanently claim the handsome trophy for his home in Brockway, Pa.
Kisko then scored his second victory of the year before Schnars grabbed the biggest win of his young career, the 100-lap Grand Championship before a crowd of 4,359. Although Schnars was the leading feature winner for the year with four flags, consistent Hyle Russell repeated as track champion.
In addition to the late model action, three 100-lap jalopy races were held in 1960 with Pepper Martin, Schnars and Dill earning the prizes.
Next: Allegations of cheating, a sister track and the death of a legend (part 7 of 12).