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    Three Generations on Dirt

    By Leo Dougherty


     Part Three


    (Photos have not been credited but I received help from various people obtaining them. Special thanks to Jim Madigan and Chuck Brownell for suggestions. At least two of the photos came from the photo collection of Empire Super Sprints, some came from individuals who took photos and offered them, and a few were photos of photos. Jaclyn Preston, now Jonathan Preston’s wife (December 2019), provided photos of Jonathan. Also, Many thanks for the Preston family for taking the time to answer my questions.)

    Ray Preston, Jr. and Becky Preston have four children, three boys and one girl. The oldest child is Christopher followed by Heather, Jonathan, and Ethan. They were always part of Ray’s racing. Becky and the kids always went to the races when Ray and I were racing and after I moved out of the area. I spoke with each one and all four noted that their mother found places to show the kids along the way.

    After Ray’s motorcycle crash he offered his car to one of his sons. “I offered the car first to Jonathan and he turned it down because he said it was too slow. So Ethan drove it and he won. He should have won in his first race but another driver knocked him out. Ethan won week after week and finally I got him to realize that slow is fast. I finally got him to slow down a little and go down to the bottom in the turns and he would win races.”

    Ethan started racing at Paradise Speedway for a couple years in a four cylinder modified. He said, “The first 360 I drove was a car I built when I moved back to New York from Virginia. I purchased a motor while driving back and attempted to run with Jon. I ran four to six races and ended up crashing the car. I had to reevaluate it financially after that and decided I had some other things to take care of first. It was a matter of allocating money to put another car together or take care of some of the other things.”

    However, Ethan supports and helps Jonathan as much as he can. “I try to attend as many races with Jon as I can,” he said.

    Chris was always with us when Ray and I were racing. He was always taking care of the car in the pits. He too decided to race a sprint car.

    “I ran the 360 cars first at Brewerton,“ he said. “ I ran at Outlaw Speedway (Dundee, NY) a few times and also raced it at Fulton. I think I ran it at Weedsport too. I qualified for a couple of the shows and missed qualifying for a couple of shows. This was my first time having any experience in that. The results were not great but later I didn’t do it for a few years. With college and everything I wasn’t able to do it. After college I got back in to the 305s. When Jon started racing we both had cars at Canandaigua. We ran there that summer and I went to Outlaw (Speedway) again with the 305. Jon and I were both in the feature. I was running like third or fourth and Jon was behind me somewhere. He got tangled up or spun off the track bringing out a caution. At the restart I was running third and Lee Sanders hit me in the right rear and spun me into the wall. I hit it head on and then got hit with another car. Lindsay [spouse] was supposed to be there that night but wasn’t feeling well. I got knocked out there for a while but I’m not sure for how long. When I finally came to I had to go to the hospital. My mom called Lindsay and after I talked to her at home she said that was pretty much the end of my racing. So that was the end of my racing career. I gave it a go there for awhile and I enjoyed it. But we had young children by that point. And it’s a major time commitment and it’s quite expensive. I have a job so I didn’t see it as sustainable.”

    Jon’s nephew Sawyer makes it clear he wants to be just like Uncle Jon.

    Still, Chris goes to the races because his two children like to watch Uncle Jon race. “The kids like to go in the pits where the action is but the way the pricing structure is it’s so difficult to take kids in the pits when they are charging $40.00 a head. If you take the whole family in there it costs $160.00. I still enjoy helping Jon and trying to make as many of those races as possible. I live in Elbridge so I am within an hour or so of several of the tracks Jon races at. I talk to Jon pretty much daily. We discuss a lot of things and every now and then I get over to where he is and help him out when I can. We have to get new safety bars in the cars because of a change in rules for next season. Once that is done and the frames are ready he’ll probably need a hand with some of that. Whatever I can do I’ll try to help out. Now that I’m a parent I have a whole different perspective on that.”

    Chris provided information about his parents and siblings on the road, saying, “Four kids in a truck driving all over New York State and spending a weekend in Canada as a family and then trying to do the racing and everything was a pretty impressive task. We had all of our own food cooked and ready so we didn’t go out to eat all the time. It was a pretty good opportunity though. We got to meet a lot of good people. I still love the racing but haven’t had as much of an interest to drive. I like snowmobiles and do a lot of other stuff but it’s hard to balance it all off.“

    Heather also wanted to drive a sprint car. She strapped herself into a sprint car at Dundee and did a few laps. “I was like the child that didn’t have the fear. I went bungee jumping, pierced my tongue and all these wild things that my dad knew. I was a little bit of a rebel and didn’t have any fear. I told my dad, ‘I want to get in the car,’ and he said, ‘I bet you do.’ I got into a car and Jon got into a car. I was ready to go and I was so excited. I knew how to flip on the fuel switch but then my dad grabbed ahold of my helmet and said, ‘Heather, if you crash this, you buy it!’ But I was out there with the other drivers too so it was a very exciting experience.

    Needless to say, I didn’t really have that good of a debut. I just kind of idled around the track for six laps or so and Jon drove right around me of course. I think Jon may have passed me twice. I did spend quite a few times in the pits with Chris doing minimal stuff like pushing up the shock rubbers, pushing with the four-wheeler and cleaning the car. I was more like the social one though and I would go around the pits talking with people. When Chris went to college it was just me in the pits. I think I was helping out Chris for four or five years.

    When Jon raced the 305s at Canandaigua we would go watch every night because we live in Canandaigua. My husband and I and our two kids go to the races a lot to support Jonathan. Uncle Jon is like an idol to my son Sawyer. He wants to grow up and be a construction worker and a racecar driver just like Jon. He wants Uncle Jon to come in for career week at school.”

    Back row: Jeff Carson Ray Preston Ethan Preston Jon Preston Brian Preston Chris Preston with Everett Preston on shoulders. 2nd row: Lindsay Preston Sawyer Carson Heather Carson Haylie Karlsen Jackie Preston Becky Preston. Front row: Emelia Preston Kennedy Carson.

    Jonathan continues racing sprint cars. He ran the 305 sprint cars at Canandaigua two or three seasons starting in his mid 20s. “We ran up front,” he said.

    “The first year was a learning year and I remember spinning out a few times. The next year we were a top five car. I had two wins with the 305 at Canandaigua and two at Dundee. I had a few wins each season. The 305 was a slow momentum and you had to be straight with it.“

    So, he began racing with Empire Super Sprints.

    “I didn’t follow the full tour with ESS each year,” he said. “In 2017 I was tenth in points. In 2018 I was fifteenth but missed some races. I had a couple hiccups in 2018 but I don’t remember what they were. I had a motor issue and some other issues. I got crashed out a couple times and just didn’t have much luck. I couldn’t get a break. At Fulton I could have won but I pulled off the bead on the right front. I was definitely contending but I couldn’t get the luck on my side. We knew we were knocking on the door in 2018 though.”

    Work all week and still go through it again just before racing.

    At the end of the 2019 season, his points indicate that he is one of those drivers you need to beat. He won five races with ESS and one with the Patriots Sprint Tour. While he didn’t race the full season with ESS he did have significant points with both groups.

    Final points finale for the 2019 season:

    Empire Super Sprints Tour points 7th
    US tour points 5th
    Lap leader 1 st (120 laps)
    Speed weeks 7th

    Canandaigua Series Tour points 3rd

    E&V Energy Interstate Tour points 4th

    Patriot Sprint Tour Tour points 8th
    Lap leader 10th
    Hard charger 4th

    2019 win at Weedsport with his mom and dad.

    Asked about his strategy and where he will race in 2020 he said, “For the last two years I’ve been in the top five points going in to the Canada week and I always bail, I don’t go. I think maybe I might just have to run with that tour if I’m up there in the top four or five, I have to go and just try it. See where it takes me. Because as soon as you bail on that weekend your pretty much out of those missed points. I’ll go like from four to maybe fourteenth or fifteenth and then you will have that points jump. I was seventh in the ESS tour and missed eight races. I think there were at least a dozen drivers who went to every single race.”

    Jonathan’s intention has been to win every time. “That’s my mentality, “ he said, “and that’s why running for points sometimes can change that. You have to think. It’s kind of like a chess game. You have to think a couple steps ahead. You can’t always drive as hard as you want. I didn’t think I would win or get as many points in 2019 as I did. I was expecting like one or two wins, to be realistic. You run against a lot of experience and talent. To be honest I didn’t think I would do quite that good for the 2019 season. I’m really looking forward to the next season. I’m hoping to progress and have as many wins next season. “

    As I recall Jon had five wins with ESS and one with the Patriots. It was a good season for him, demonstrating an evolution to a hard charger and very competitive driver. I hope to see him complete the full ESS Tour in 2020. Potentially, he could be a season champion or definitely a top five driver.

    Knowing these four siblings, I didn’t think they would all strap into a sprint car at one time or another as adults, but they did. Jonathan says he will be preparing for the next season and his siblings will jump in to help out when they can, There is a fourth generation watching and rooting for him. Is this the start of a fourth generation on the dirt? Perhaps.

    (Personal Note: Sadly, Jeff Williams, who owned Williams Insurance and is a sponsor of Jon’s sprint car, passed away Christmas day. His donation after Ray lost his ride at Can Am Speedway put Ray back on the track, doing something he loves to do. Rest in peace Jeff,).



    Part Two

     Ray Preston, Jr. was hooked on racing from the time he started going to races with his father. He eventually became part of the second generation of dirt track racing. He began racing go-karts in 1978 and in 1984 moved into 4 cylinder modifieds. In 1987 he moved up to sportsman modifieds. In 1995 he began racing his sportsman modified on Friday nights and started racing my sprint car on Saturday nights, both at Paradise Speedway in Phelps, NY.

      Mine was an older Buckley sprint car in 1995 and I just enjoyed playing around with it. Eventually I wanted the car to have a competitive driver. I knew I wasn’t the right driver for that. I knew Ray Preston who is the service manager at NR Boyce Ford in Ovid, NY. It was mostly a business relationship we had because he serviced pickup trucks I had purchased there. One day while having my truck serviced I saw a racecar in the corner of the shop and learned he was a dirt racer so I started watching him racing his sportsman modified at close-by tracks.

     I approached him one day and asked if he would consider driving my sprint car. Ray was hesitant, which made sense since he had his own racecar, but I had a feeling he would handle a sprint car well. Then, of course, he could keep the maintenance up on the sprint car and do things with wrenches and a few cuss words that I could not. Well, actually, I was pretty good with cussing but not so good with wrenching.

     I waited for a week or two and didn’t hear anything so I approached him again and mentioned I had a stand by driver but said he still had first choice. I was getting excited to get racing every weekend so I said to Ray, “I have a driver who will drive the car if you say no, so it’s OK if you want to say no.”

     Ray running his own car and number. Not sure where this was taken.

    Ray quickly responded, saying, “Nope. I want to drive the car.”

     “I was only undecided,” he told me just recently, “because in 1993 I went with John Birosh different times with Empire Super Sprints. And I really wanted to do sprint cars. I was looking at a car in, I think, Fonda that was George Sifo’s. He had an Oz car and he wanted to sell it. I looked at the car and really intended to buy it so we got down to business. After awhile, he said the tires and wheels don’t go with it. Well, without the wheels and tires I wasn’t going to be able to get it home. I asked why not and he said he leased the tires and wheels. So, that deal went by the wayside.”

     Well, we were both trying to get into sprint car racing and I don’t think either of us knew what the other one was up to during the waiting period but in the end we wound up together. Ray drove the Buckley our first season at Paradise Speedway in Phelps, NY, which was a quarter mile track.

     Ray Preston after the La Fargeville crash winning at Cornwall and working to keep his points for the end of the season.

    That car was about all we had when we first started so I began looking for a roller for a back up and stumbled onto a 1989 Gambler for sale down in Pennsylvania. Ray, his son Chris and I drove down around Williams Grove and picked it up. Ray is a hell of a mechanic and had good set up abilities but I purchased a couple videos for us to watch anyway. The Jimmy Sills video was the best of the videos on set up.

     We raced two seasons at Paradise and won the track championship the first year. After the first season Ray and I talked seriously about moving to ESS. During the discussion I mentioned to Ray that maybe we shouldn’t give the championship away after only one season. I thought maybe we should run another season at Paradise Speedway to make whomever the next champion might be earn it. Ray agreed so we raced hard again that second year.

     We did do well the second year but it was an interesting ending to the season. Ray would have to win the final race to win the championship. The results after the end of the last race were Dan Kazabinski first, Ed Horne second, and Ray third. There was a track rule that an engine could be challenged for inspection after a race for a certain amount of money so Ray and, I think, Don Wilson put up the money. Kazabinski declined to undergo tear down and inspection so the win was given to Mike Horne, who became the champion that year.

     One of our many wins at Paradise Speedway in Phelps, NY. Ray is on the left, his son Christopher is in the middle, and I am on the right.

    Over the winter we began concentrating on racing with ESS. In 1997 we were having a good season. We were heading for our Canada tour with a first stop at Can Am Speedway in La Fargeville, NY. As I recall, we were 8th in points going into that race and things were going great for us. Ray won his heat race and, starting from the back, he also won the dash for cash race. On the pill pull for the top 10 feature lineup of the night Ray pulled number 10 and started on the outside of the 5th row. When the green flag came out he began passing cars at a rate of one or two cars per lap. By halfway he had worked himself up to 5th place. I was confident he was going to win this race. I believed that we would come out of the Canada tour somewhere between 3rd and 5th place in points but fate had a different idea. Ray was making a move on the 4th place car in turn 3 and all hell broke loose

    .“We were running in 5th at the time and I think it was Tommy Taber running ahead of me in 4th”, Ray said. “Spider Thomas decided to drive underneath going into turn 3 but I don’t know how he could have done it. He went under my left rear, broke my steering arm so you couldn’t steer and at that point we were probably running 120 or 130 miles per hour and basically no steering. Once you apply the brakes the car wants to go left which theoretically it should have went into the infield but instead it went straight into the jersey barriers where cars go on and come off the track. It didn’t knock me out but Bobby Parrow’s dad talked to me after the crash and said to me ‘you went right out of sight and sunk down in the car when you hit. I knew you were dead. I didn’t think you were going to survive it.’ “

     “The car was steaming and some guy who came over to the car said it was on fire. Well, I knew it wasn’t on fire because I could smell the antifreeze.”

     Unsure where this was but it demonstrates Ray’s hard charging driving.

    I wasn’t too far away from the crash and when it hit the concrete barrier there was a huge white flash of light created when the front of the car hit the barrier. I too thought at first that the car was on fire but realized after a moment or two it was not. Being a car owner I knew that bad crashes and maybe total destruction does happen in racing. I often thought about that the first year Ray and I started racing and decided that as long as he was OK and not hurt, I wouldn’t care if the car did get demolished.

     The first thing I asked Ray was, “Are you OK?” He said yes. Then he looked at the car and said, “It’s junk.”

     All I cared about the crash was he was OK so I said, “I don’t care about the car Ray.”

     He looked and me and said firmly and loudly, “Well I do!”

     After the race I drove back home but Ray stayed because he had already checked in to a motel. Doctor (John) Duell, who also owned a sprint car, checked Ray over after the race to assure he was OK. Ray said to me years later, “He told me to put ice on my neck because I was going to feel sore in the morning. I wanted to go home that night but we already had a hotel reservation and had checked in so we went back to the hotel. There was a bar there so we went down to the bar. I got some ice and iced my neck. I drank I guess. My neck didn’t hurt too bad the next morning but my head sure did!”

     As soon as he returned home Ray began stripping the car, which was a mess. As I recall, there were 18 or 19 breaks in the chassis and cage but it definitely did protect him. When I looked at the car I realized the car hit so hard the paint on the tail tank was completely cracked, looking somewhat like a huge spider web. Anything I had that was usable I left with Ray. I think it was a double halogen light, a generator and maybe a few other things. As far as the car was concerned the only thing that did not get broken was the engine, and that belonged to Ray.

     He was a hard charger and knew the dangers of racing but he was also stubborn. This crash put me out of the car owner business but Ray was lucky enough to get another ride and was racing again.

     “We started our crusade to find something,” Ray told me, “and I was pretty sure Gary Chambers had a car. Christopher and I went to look at it and he gave us a price on it. It was a Gambler, only a newer one. I didn’t have the money to do it then but a customer of mine, Ted Stelter, came by the dealership and sent his wife in to ask me to come out. I was talking to him and her from the passenger side and his wife opens the glove box and gives me an envelope. I put the envelope in my pocket and walked back into the shop. I wasn’t thinking about it for a while but later I opened it and it had a thousand dollars in it. Now I was closer to what I needed to buy the car. Then Jeff Williams, a local insurance guy came in and chatted with me. He asked me what I was going to do. I told him I found a car but I was shy money. He asked me what I needed and I told him I needed sixteen hundred dollars. He left and a half hour or so later he comes back. He throws a check on the counter and says to me ‘go get it.’ We got the car and put my motor in it.” By the next weekend Ray was racing again.

     Not long after the crash I was offered a job in Topeka, KS and went out there to work. It was through the grapevine sometime later that I heard Ray had been involved in another bad crash at Canandaigua and was sent to a hospital in Rochester. I was told he was induced into a coma because of some internal injuries.

     When I saw Ray this year to talk about the generational involvement in racing I asked him about the Canandaigua crash. He told me, “I was in a borrowed car because I had lost my motor in my car a few weeks before Canandaigua. I had gone to Weedsport to help Scotty Holcomb and the Castners had both their cars there. Mike and Little Mike were there. Well, Little Mike came over to me and wanted me to drive his car. I said I know I can’t qualify it with these guys and he said ‘I know you can.’ I told him I didn’t have any of my (safety) gear so I told him I didn’t want to do it. Later on he came over and tried again to drive and I said no. Well, then his mother came down. I explained to her the same thing. Well, she said you can try on Mike’s stuff and I said it’s not going to fit. Well finally they convinced me so I went down and tried things on. They were good enough to use. So I ended up qualifying in the heat race. Kazabinski and I made contact and I hit the wall. The W link was bent but I didn’t know it then but after that happened the car was on rails. It tightened the car right up because it was bound right up. I think I finished 7th that night with the car.”

     Later in the week he was asked again to race one of their cars. Ray agreed as long as he could put his own seat in it. He continued racing for Castners for the next few weeks and had good finishes at Ransomville, Stateline, and Eiriez. Canandaigua was next and he was asked again to drive one of their cars.

     “We started 6th in the feature,” he said, “which I do remember that. We were outside 3rd  row so I’m trying to scope out what I’m going to do. I had it in my mind I was going to go into (turn) one and jump over the cushion and run right around the outside. Because there was good brown dirt up there I figured it’s going to be a good bite. We come down and they drop the green and I get on the outside.   Coming out of two I’m running second. Timmy Kelly, who may have started on the pole, he came from the very, very bottom of the track to right straight across the track all the way to the top and runs over my left rear tire. The next thing I can see is grass. I’m coming down on the nose and the next thing I think is uh oh, this is going to hurt. I don’t remember a thing after that.

     Anyone who came to visit me told me I looked like a raccoon. If they didn’t know me they would not have recognized me. That’s what everyone said to me who came to visit me in the hospital. I was in intensive care until Tuesday morning. I was unconscious from 11:00 PM, which is when they got me to Strong Memorial Hospital and put me in an induced coma. I was dropped on the gurney, which ended up with a punctured lung that I didn’t have when I left Canandaigua. On Tuesday they put me in a room with a gunshot victim.”

     That’s the stuff that would make one worry if the shooter might come to the room to assure it’s lights out, and shoot the wrong guy!

     Once Ray was out of the induced coma and was getting itchy to go home and of course race again, he had to deal with the various medical people who wanted to help him recuperate. He told me, “In the afternoon after they put me in the room the therapist came around. They told me I had to start walking the next day. I said ‘Nope, I’m walking right now.’ I told them I had a race Friday night and they all laughed. They told me I wasn’t going anywhere. So I started walking. On Thursday they told me I had to do stairs.’

     Friday was getting closer and Ray was determined to get out of the hospital.

     “I was doing all the stuff myself on Friday,” Ray said, “doing the walk a couple times a day and the stairs at least once.

     Ray had a problem with a ventilator and with the staff when it was improperly removed one time. His doctor came into the room and offered some options to make things better for breathing. The doctor made the mistake of including “just letting it go,” and Ray told the doctor to let it go.

     “I’m out of here, “Ray said. “’No you are not’ the doctor said.”

     There was a lot of back and forth of who was going to win the discussion and Ray made it clear it was his way or the highway, a phrase I heard from him now and then. “Becky shows up at noon and I told her we are out of here, let’s go! She said they told her they weren’t releasing me. I told her they released me so let’s go.

     I ordered my new helmet, a Bell helmet, on a Monday and it came in UPS on Thursday. I tried it out. I put it on while I was sitting in my recliner watching TV. Do you think I could get it off? I couldn’t get it back off.  I had no strength in my arms to get it off.”

     Becky comes home while he’s sitting in his recliner with the helmet on and she asked Ray, “What are you doing?” Ray replied, “I need help getting my helmet off. I can’t pull it off my head! Well, she helped me get it off my head.”

     During his stay at the hospital, Ray had a lot of people visit him. Those visits were good medicine for him.

     Ray did go on racing sprint cars after both very serious crashes. I think racing was in his blood, perhaps passed on to him from his father. He continued racing sprint cars until 2009. On his way home from work that year a drunk driver hit him on his motorcycle and put him out of commission once again. He had also blown an engine that year and decided it might be time to retire. He did race vintage racecars from 2010 to 2013 and raced a few 305-sprint car races in 2015 and 2016.

      He was a hard charging driver and did not give up unless there was no other choice during a race. He had many, many people who were fans and some of those drove an hour and a half or so just to see how he was doing while he was in the hospital after the Canandaigua crash. He was able to find a ride after the La Fargeville crash and retained my car number, 39, to keep up his points for the balance of the season. Eventually he was able to race again under his own car number, 22. Maybe stubbornness is a wrong description of him. Maybe Ray is one of those drivers who was committed to his passion for racing.

     In the beginning when he still drove for me, we didn’t talk much about who got what part of the purse money but soon into our racing I agreed to let Ray go to the pay window and pick up the entire purse money. He used it all towards keeping the car maintained and ready. There’s the old saying that some people can make a buffalo on a nickel squeal. Ray was one of those guys. The car was always ready for racing. We spent a lot of time on the roads over the seasons we were racing and I think my most favorite time was stopping somewhere for breakfast after a race even if it was close to home. In a way it slowly lowered the adrenalin but we always seemed to talk about racing before getting home for the night. I was very lucky to get Ray to drive my car. He was always competitive.

     I think it’s important to note the rural area where we all grew up and lived did not offer a lot of activities for youngsters during the summer. I realized that come Friday and Saturday nights Ray and his wife Becky both knew where their kids were and what they were up to. That was the first time I realized racing truly is a family activity.

     Next up is Ray’s son, Jonathan, an evolving sprint car racer. I hope the have his story posted soon.


    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

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