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    Three Generations on Dirt

    By Leo Dougherty

    Part One 

    Ray Preston, Sr. on the left and Phil Juliano on the right.

    This story is about three generations of dirt track racers; Ray Preston Sr., Ray Preston Jr., and Jonathan Preston. Ray Sr. raced at a time when coupes and coaches were big in the Finger Lakes area. As a kid I watched Ray, Sr. from Romulus, NY race at Maple Grove Speedway in Waterloo, NY.  Ray Jr. began racing in go-karts and moved up to sportsmen modifieds. Eventually he was approached about driving a sprint car and after some thought accepted the offer. I owned the sprint car that started Ray Jr.’s relationship with sprint car racing. He soon began racing with NY State Empire Super Sprints.  Ray Jr.’s family was always at the track when he would race. Ray, Jr. eventually retired but his son Jonathan began racing sprint cars crewed by his father and family members.

     The story of this family began in 1957 at the Maple Grove Speedway in Waterloo, NY. It was a dirt track that provided great racing entertainment and often hosted some really great New York drivers. My sister took me to my first race there when I was eight years old. I was hooked on racing as soon as the first green flag waved to begin hot laps. I soon had my favorites, and I remember Ray Preston Sr. from Romulus, NY racing there. He was a competitive and determined driver.

     I think it’s fair to say his number one fan was Ray Jr. He said, “Dad began racing in 1957 and I started going to the track in 1958 up until 1972. I was four years old in 1958 and never missed a race at Waterloo. The first car dad drove was the 38 coach. I can’t be 100% sure but I think the owner was Roland Velte.  I remember him driving a coupe that was a Mr.X. He raced a late model at one time he drove for Leo Kuleszo (from Romulus). Leo had, I think, a Hudson Hornet and it was a demolition derby car. It wasn’t in bad shape so they put roll bars in it and raced it. At one time, Dad used to run both classes.”

    Phil Juliano, Ray Preston, Jr. and Ray Preston, Sr

     I asked Ray what he thought would be one or two of his dad’s standout racing moments. He said, “1962 was a good year for dad. He was leading the heat race at Syracuse (state fairgrounds 1 mile) for the annual NY State fair championship race and all of a sudden the car just started going backwards. It ran out of gas but he won the mid-season championship at Waterloo in ‘62.”

     When asked how his father and the other drivers prepped for the next race he said, “Back then it was all pretty much homemade stuff. You ran what you had.  If you bent the car, you took it home and put it by a tree. Then you hooked up the winch from the tow truck and that’s how you [straightened it] back then. For what they had, they did really good.”

     Ray Sr. and Jr. at Waterloo.

    Ray Sr. hooked up with Phil Juliano from Lyons, NY and they made a good team. 

     “I remember in the warm ups Julie would stand in turn one,” Ray, Jr. said, “and watch dad’s car, and stand in turn two, but he never asked dad what the car was doing. He made the adjustments to the car and dad drove it. That was it.”

     Mike Baley, who grew up in my home town of Ovid, NY, was a fan of Ray Sr. as were so many of us. Oddly, four years before I saw my first race, my parents purchased the house Mike and his family had lived in. Only recently did Mike and I connect as racing fans, so I reached out to him about Ray Sr. because Mike was one of his fans.

    Ray Sr. after a win on the dirt.

     “I remember his orange number 30 coach,” Baley told me.

     “I'm guessing the coach was a '30-‘32 Ford body. Ray always seemed to be at least in the top five in every race. Sometimes mechanical issues or getting caught up in another's wreck would interfere with top five finishes. He was a very unassuming guy, very methodical, rarely making an error, and a clean race driver. He was a very popular driver with the fans. Very quiet guy, as I recall. Plus, being from Romulus, which was close to where I lived, he had many fans from us locals.”

     Ray Sr. went to the Romulus High School in Romulus, NY. He graduated in 1952 and   married his high school sweetheart, Madaline Hilkert. He was a rural mail carrier for more than 30 years and was an active member of the Romulus Fire Department for many years. He passed away December 7, 2015 but is not forgotten.

     Ray Jr.‘s story is about following in his father’s footsteps but also is about the conversion of the family from stock cars to sprint cars.

       Contact Leo Dougherty at leod1948@gmail.com


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