Column By: LAURIE FALLIS / RPW – FULTONVILLE, NY – When you think of the word superstar, one thinks of someone doing great things to elevate to the top of their field. Getting all the recognition. In other words being the top dog.
Why? They usually win and win a lot. Names that come to mind in Dirt Track racing are like, Friesen, Lape, Hearn, Coville, Sheppard, Wetmore, Decker, Corellis and ‘Jupmpin’ Jack just to name a few.
To become a superstar, it takes alot of things that have to fall into place. You could maybe even say a miracle, and of course, their God-given talent that takes them to reach their superstar status.
What helps them become superstars you ask? Sponsorship, which comes along with having top-shelf equipment. Luck, along with having a great team. Racing with no fear in taking risks on the track while possibility wrecking the car, all the while not having the worry about taking food off the table to get it back to the track for the next week.
In the racing world, could a driver that finishes last or isn’t a top runner pull off a win in their division and be recognized as a superstar?
Let’s be opened-minded at to a different perspective on the word superstar. Allow me to explain.
Could it be a thought that the superstars of racing reached their heights with help from their fellow competitors? The guys that struggle financially on getting their cars to the track but show up because it’s their addiction to the sport? The ones that give a 110% and do have the talent to drive, but just aren’t lucky enough to get the breaks that it takes to be successful?
How about ones that are just too shy and not outspoken enough to go out and get sponsorship? These are the drivers that try just as hard if not harder to try to be successfu. However, many times their results don’t show for it.
One thing, for sure, is their heart and soul in trying to compete each and every week with the popular race teams are certainly there.
The drivers that would get knocked down but come right back fighting and try all it all over again, be it with their shoestring budget or just having the hope of giving the top dogs a run for their money just one night. Without the low budget competitor’s drive and determination, there’d be no cars for the greats to show off their talents to the fans.
Would there be enough cars to field a race? One has to wonder. So let me pose this question. Who are the real superstars in racing?
What inspired me to write this story was the fact that I was looking at the roster of drivers that plan to participate in the 2019 Mohawk Valley Vintage Dirt Modified Series. I realized that we have four gentleman that were not superstars, but were average racers that show up for all aspects of the racing sport.
Could they be classified as superstars? You be the judge.
Let me tell you a little bit about these journeymen. They have each have been racing for over 43 plus years each and will be adding another season to their careers in ’19. That’s a pretty incredible feat when you think about it, and they’re still going strong in the MVVDMS.
These great men are John Constantino, Frank Blanchard and Doug Mathewson and Stanley Wetmore. Wetmore is thee brother of Donnie Wetmore who had superstar status himself at Weedsport and Fulton Speedway over the years.
These drivers have seen the eras in racing elevate to incredible heights with the expense of fielding a ecar in today’s world. They feel it’s not all for the good of the sport as we’ve seen with the decline in car counts over the years. That’s partially due to the fact the cost of supporting a race team is unthinkable and younger generations finding other interest that keep them away from the tracks.
John Constantino, the “Dancing Bear” has been racing since 1971. He started in the Late Model division before moving to the Sportsman ranks. That’s where he ran most of his career at Fonda Speedway.
John was there every week trying his best to make the feature. He told me that he had one year where he didn’t qualify once all season. However, that didn’t discourage him. He kept going back each week, determined to make features.
Later in his Sportsman career, the “Dancing Bear” would capture a popular win at the Glen Ridge Motorsports Park.
Now 67-years old, Constantino says he never gave up because he enjoyed driving the car. He stated he always tried his best with limited funds and older equipment.
This season will be John’s 49th behind the wheel as he’ll enjoy another year in vintage racing.
“It’s a great deal because it keeps me racing,” Constantino said. “It’s cost-efficient and they don’t race each week and racing against people I cheered for is pretty neat also.”
Doug Mathewson, known as the “Flyng Horseman,” started his racing adventure in 1976 at Fonda Speedway. He thought he was going to set the world on fire his first time out until Dave Lape and Lou Lazzaro went by him like he was standing still.
The young pilot then realized it wouldn’t be so easy, but he knew this was what he wanted to do. Over his 43-year career behind the wheel, Mathewson has ventured to other tracks, but Fonda has always been home.
Doug always thought that loading car on the trailer after a feature unscathed and not getting hurt was a good night. Unfortunately, there were many occasions, more than he’d care to admit, when that didn’t happen. The 64-year-old always felt that if he had equal equipment, he could have been just as good as the hotshoes.
Legends Rene Charland and Kenny Shoemaker have even told him that if he was more aggressive in getting sponsorships, he could have shown his true talents behind the wheel.
Doug captured his first feature win at Brookfield Speedway after 18 years of trying. He’ll be spending the 2019 season in the Vintage Series. He enjoys it and feels it’s important to keep our history and the drivers memories alive. It also allows him to keep doing what he loves…racing!
Stanley Wetmore, at the young age of 75, is the elder statesman of the bunch. Of the four, he’s been racing the longest…56 years to be exact.
Wetmore had probably the most notoriety of these drivers. He spent most of his racing career at the Lebanon Valley Speedway where it would take him 31 years before he finally captured his first, and only, Modified feature win there in 1994.
This was not his first win as he captured the Vermont State Championship event in 1963, passing Roger Gauthier coming off turn 4 as the two headed towards the checkers. He also took a win at Brewerton Speedway.
Wetmore admitted that his team had to build there own stuff, including engines. It was only him and his buddy Phil Sherman, funding the car and could only imagine what he could have done if he’d had the proper backing. He has stayed in racing all these years for the thrill of the competition and speed…along with some great friendships that have developed along the way.
In 2019, Stanley will be Vintage Racing which, he’s said, has been a lot of fun. He likes that its affordable and enjoys racing with a good bunch of guys.
Frank Blanchard, the “Racing School Teacher,” began his career in 1971 at Fonda. Throughout his career, Blanchard went winless, but would get to victory lane in his later years when he became involved in vintage racing.
He was also a budget racer and claimed financesvheld him back from being more competitive in the sport. He told me he remembers only buying a total of two brand new tires in his 49 years of racing. When I heard this, I was shocked. The reason he bought them he was at Malta and Dave Lape had won the week before. He saw what Lape had on for sneakers and decided he was going to get the same.
With the new sneakers he had his best run to that point, but it was the last time. He saw how the tire wore and decided he couldn’t afford that and never bought new again.
Over the years, the love of the sport kept him behind the wheel…racing in the era that had several “superstars.” He’s grateful for the Vintage class due to the fact it’s the perfect way to end his career.
It’s simply amazing how these four gentlemen have given their lives to something that has not always treated them well. However, they showed up at the tracks each and every week and had a big involvement in making of our superstars of the sport.
When you hear people refer to the cars on the track as field-fillers, remember this. Those “fillers” are the ones that may have been, or could be, instrumental in developing other drivers into superstars. Without them, there’d be no excitement for the fans in the stands.
So tell me…who are the real superstars?