Ron Hedger

Adventures With Trucks & Trailers

BALLSTON SPA, N.Y. — After listening to yet another racer standing behind his stacker trailer hitched to a toterhome tell us how he can barely afford to race anymore, we started thinking about the past and our personal progression through tow vehicles. 

Times have certainly changed.

When my father raced, his sponsorship from the Chrysler dealership where he worked consisted of use of a dedicated stall to work on his car and use of any car on the used car lot with a trailer hitch to flat tow. 

After he quit racing, Pepper Eastman, who was later killed in a crash at Fonda Speedway, drove for him and used his ’57 Chevy pickup to flat tow. A couple of spare tires, a jack and some hand tools went in the bed of the truck.

Our next upgrade was to a ’56 Chrysler New Yorker that held more people and a single axle trailer with a vertical pole on the front to hold two or three spare tires. The New Yorker was a terrific car, but its tires were a bit unusual. 

Eastman had convinced a Syracuse tire dealer to give us a set of high-end passenger car tires for use in a 100-lap race on the Syracuse mile. After getting caught up in a melee and dropping out, the tires had a lot of tread left, though the wear patterns would make any alignment mechanic shake his head in confusion.

They wore like iron in normal use and lasted a couple of years on the Chrysler.

By the time the Chrysler blew up, we’d put a second axle under the trailer, added a double-tire rack for the assortment of M&H and Hoosier racing tires that had replaced passenger and truck tires and started using my personal car, a ’59 DeSoto, to tow it. 

That DeSoto, probably the only one in the world outfitted with chrome truck mirrors, took us to 60-70 races a year until being replaced with a hauler truck. It pulled the biggest hill on the New York State Thruway at just over 80 mph and handled the trailer perfectly in the days before load-leveling hitches became the norm.

I was barely old enough to drive myself and my younger brothers grew up in that car.

Ray went on to become an outstanding fabricator and car owner, while Randy became a championship-winning modified driver and NASCAR tech official. They still talk about the time Randy, half asleep in the back seat, smelled smoke as we rolled down the Thruway.

A quick stop to rip the back seat out and dispose of a mouse nest right over the muffler eliminated that problem.

A bigger scare came when a state trooper lit us up going just over 80 on the Thruway. I got out of the car scared to death, figuring I’d lose my license, and found trooper Rich Bergdoff, who was the NASCAR tech inspector at Utica-Rome Speedway, laughing so hard he could barely stand up. 

The DeSoto eventually blew a piston on the way home from Fonda one night.

We pulled over to check it out and when I tried to restart it, the pressure in the oil pan blew the breather cap off and clunked one of the crew guys in the forehead, nearly knocking him out. 

By then, Jerry Cook’s crew had stopped and we hitched our trailer on the back of his hauler and they took it home.

Our driver, Dick Clark, then pushed my DeSoto with his pickup and when it got up to about 60 mph, I turned the key on and it started. It belched smoke and sounded terrible but we made it to the next toll booth, where we parked and waited for my father to come and tow us home. 

In a couple of days, the car had a newer, more powerful engine and it served until we built a ramp truck from an old mail truck that already had nearly 300,000 miles on it.  

With storage cabinets underneath, a huge tire rack on top and a barrel of methanol strapped to the tire rack, that old Chevy took us to three races in New York every weekend, midweek All Star League events around the Northeast and made the trek to Martinsville with only a few problems.

It too blew up once, but junkyard owner and Fonda Speedway fixture Gigi Conover helped us put a new engine in it between races. And twice we lost the brakes, once going down through the Delaware Water Gap headed for Wall Stadium and Flemington and once at the Fonda toll booth on the Thruway.

Both times, I pounded the broken brake line flat with a hammer, filled the master cylinder with fluid and kept on trucking. Believe me, New Jersey traffic with three-wheel brakes is not enjoyable, especially when you’re running late.

Somehow, we survived those years and went on to bigger and better things.

Enclosed trailers became the norm and morphed into today’s huge tow rigs. Life may be easier for the teams now but many have mortgaged themselves to the hilt.

We doubt they would have enjoyed the adventures we had all those years ago!

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