HALL OF FAME DAY AT THE AUTO MUSEUM
One of the highlights of the year at the Saratoga Automobile Museum is the annual induction ceremony for the New York State Stock Car Association’s Hall of Fame, as NYSSCA’s permanent HoF exhibit is a major feature of the museum’s Racing in New York gallery. This year’s ceremony will be held on Saturday, January 26th at 11 am and will honor a half-dozen inductees.
Leading the group will be DIRT organizer/promoter Glenn Donnelly. He’ll be joined by a trio of outstanding drivers, Don Diffendorf, George Kent and Bob Devine, highly respected engine builder Walt Markert and longtime racing journalist Ron Hedger.
Donnelly left General Electric in 1970, when he bought the rundown Weedsport Speedway, and from there his career went straight up. He took over racing at the Syracuse mile in 1972 and expanded the annual State Fair program to include races on July 4th and the industry leading Super DIRT Week, all the time using the Syracuse draw to build DIRT member tracks to a high of 27 speedways throughout the Northeast.
Offshoots included network TV coverage of Syracuse and the highly acclaimed “This Week on DIRT” TV show. Donnelly, who was voted national Promoter of the Year in 1986, sold his empire to World Racing Group in 2004 and took an advisory role but is currently working on a new track in the Syracuse suburbs.
Diffendorf is known to most fans for his fleet S-360 coupes and unique coach numbered in honor of the IBM computer that supported both racers and fans in the Southern Tier. He started at the area dirt bullrings, wheeled super-modifieds for a while and was a big asphalt winner at Shangri-La, Fulton and Lancaster. But he was just as fast at Reading, PA., where he ran second to Stan Ploski in the Daniel Boone 200, Lebanon Valley, where he won multiple 100-lap “Opens,” and Syracuse, where he won the State Fair classic twice.
Kent was another product of the Southern Tier but unlike Diffendorf, he spent his entire career on asphalt. An eight-time Shangri-La champion, Kent won the prestigious Race of Champions five times and recorded a dozen wins on the NASCAR Whelan Modified Tour. Equally impressive was his performance in the 200-lap modified races on Classic Weekend at Oswego. Everyone knew he would pit early, get the lead when others pitted and sit on it, daring anyone to go around him for the win. But though they knew his strategy ahead of time, more often than not they couldn’t beat him.
Connecticut resident Bob Devine had great success as a driver, starting with the ARDC midgets in 1948 and moving to stock cars in the early 50’s, running five nights a week at such far-flung tracks as Rhinebeck and Menands in New York and West Haven , CT. and indoors at the Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx during the winter.
Also a great mechanic, Devine built a ’37 Ford that he won a dozen races with before selling it to Capital District car owners Cliff Wright and Donnie Zautner for driver Howie Westervelt. Their amazing 1959 Lebanon Valley season included 17 wins, three seconds and a third in a 21-race season.
While best known for his powerful stock car motors, the Charlton, NY resident came to oval track racing from the drag world, where his hemi-powered “Berkshire Beetle” carried him to three NHRA national championships and was undefeated over a five-year span. In 1970 he built a motor for Austin Dickerman’s #357, then wheeled by Eddie Delmolino, and his oval track career was off and running.
Markert’s resume includes Jack Johnson’s win in the Flemington 200, 9 wins at Lebanon Valley for Delmolino in a single season, 30 wins in one year for Dave Lape during his legendary run in the #44 modified, 25 wins by CD Coville in Cliff Barcomb’s modified, Eastern States wins with Lape and Lou Lazzaro, a track record at Syracuse by Sammy Swindell in the Barcomb car and untold victories by the Mike Budka #64 with Johnson, Coville, Bob Savoie or Joe Budka at the wheel.
Best known as a columnist and reporter for National Speed Sport News and the new Speed Sport magazine for some 35 years, Hedger also wrote scores of stories for Stock Car Racing and Open Wheel magazines, Speedway Illustrated and Autoweek. He was the motorsports writer for the Schenectady Daily Gazette for many seasons and still writes the Saratoga Automobile Museum’s weekly Gazette feature. A trustee of the auto museum, he curates the auto racing exhibits and organizes the popular Lost Speedways programs and as chairman of the NYSSCA Hall of Fame committee, brought their exhibit to the museum. He is also active in the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association and the Eastern Motorsport Press Association, where he currently serves as President of the association.