Fisticuffs Highlight 1964 Season At Stateline
January 16, 2011
Part 10 of 12
The owners of Busti Speedways, Len Briggs, Lloyd Williams, Don Frank and Jerry Frank, performed major surgery on Stateline during the offseason. A sinkhole in turn four that had been the cause of many accidents in 1963 was repaired by digging down 3 feet, lining the area with railroad ties and then refilling the hole. The track was re-clayed with material obtained from digging a pond at one end of the parking lot. Water from the pond was used prepare the track during the season. Bobby Schnars, who had captured four checkered flags the previous season, began where he left off winning the late model season-opener in front of 4,600 fans on May 23. A week later, the inaugural Hyle Russell Memorial race to honor the 1959 and 1960 Stateline champion who had unexpectedly died during the offseason was fittingly captured by Hyle's hometown friend and former teammate Eddie Kisko. Kisko, the Kane candy maker who made a last lap pass of Squirt Johns, was driving a Chevy powered by the very engine Russell had used the previous year.
Paul Wilson, driving Julian Buesink's No. 9 1964 Ford was the next winner. Floyd Fanale, congratulated his friend Wilson and then said, "My time's coming."
A week later Fanale made good on his prediction wheeling his No. 97 Chevrolet to victory.
Ronnie Blackmer from Youngsville grabbed his first-ever late model feature wins the following two Saturdays in Frank Ruhlman's lightweight 1964 Chevelle, No. 4.
The annual Firecracker Fifty was held in front of a record standing-room-only crowd of 7,100 customers. Johns who passed Schnars on the 40th circuit said, "I learned a lot from this one. When I tried to catch Bobby running full bore I slipped too much. So I took my foot off the gas a bit and eventually caught him."
The next winner was veteran Freddy Knapp in Berglund Chevrolet's No. 99 Chevelle.
The Mid-Season Championship fell to Blackmer as the Ruhlman protege won for the third time.
As the dog days of summer heated up, so did the driver of the orange No. 511 Dodge. Johns, the defending Stateline champion, reeled off four consecutive wins as July turned to August.
The Dean Layfield Memorial on Aug. 15 was described by Post-Journal sports writer Jim Johnson as "A three-ring circus and Johns was the ringmaster of the center arena. The outer two rings were filled with a conglomeration of chin-to-chin confabs and outright fisticuffs."
Dick Gilbert charged the flagstand and punched flagman Pete Abers. Gilbert felt that Abers had not thrown his red flag soon enough to protect his stalled car. Track owner Jerry Frank had to restrain Dick's brother, Bob, from joining the fray. The Gilberts were suspended one week for their actions.
Next, car owner Joe Mobilia bent the flagman's ear for a good five minutes about his job performance before the race could be restarted.
The final act of the night switched to the pits where Floyd Fanale, taking exception to Chuck Piazza's driving techniques during the feature, applied a headlock to the offending driver, but cooler heads dissolved the argument.
Back in the center ring, Squirt explained his win streak.
"Earlier this year I would keep the gas on the floor and whip the car into the turns," he said. "But I was slipping too much and not winning either. In a race a couple of weeks ago I found that if I slowed down I could keep traction and get out front. It seems strange that I am winning by slowing down, but that's what I'm doing."
The final race of 1964 was another night fraught with controversy. At the conclusion of the 100-lap Grand Championship, new starter Art Anderson flagged Jim Scott and his 1964 Pontiac GTO as the winner. But while Scottie carried the checkered cloth proudly around Stateline for the first time in his hard-luck career a recheck of the scoring sheets had begun. Thirty painful minutes later, Lloyd Williams announced that Chuck Piazza had won the race. Scott and his supporters were unconvinced, but the decision stood.
Final point tabulations revealed that although Johns had won five features to his three, Ron Blackmer's other more-consistent finishes were enough to make the 23-year-old the Stateline champion.
In the Sportsman Division at Stateline for 1964, Fred Clark had five wins, Stroker McGurk four, Bill Felton and Blackmer had two while Chuck Piazza and Paul Wilson had one each. But as it was in the late model division, Blackmer's consistently good finishes resulted in the track championship for the driver of the 4 Jr.
The mechanical wizardry of Ruhlman combined with the driving talent of Blackmer had resulted in two track titles in the same year.