Plenty Of Cars, Fans Opened 1965 Stateline Season
January 23, 2011
Part 11 of 12
The year 1965 marked a successful first decade of operation for Stateline Speedway and its owners, Len Briggs, Lloyd Williams, Jerry Frank and Don Frank.
Opening night, May 8, found 5,500 fans in the grandstands and 33 late models in the pits, 20 of them brand-new 1965 model vehicles. Even a Checker cab, driven by Hyle Van Arsdale, made its debut.
The large number of cars necessitated a change in the racing program. Track officials decided that just 25 cars would be eligible to start the feature and planned to qualify them through three heats, two semifinals and a consolation race.
Part of the reason for the influx of cars was the large number of rookies making their late model debuts. Included in the rookie class were Dave Turner, Kenny Shearer, Johnny Boyd, Dick Gilbert, Ray Jordan, Zon Davison and Larry Parmenter.
Meanwhile, the larger-than-expected crowd forced the cancellation of the intermission that is usually held before the feature events. Concessionaires reported there was nothing left to sell.
Despite the changes a familiar face was found in the winner's circle as Bobby Schnars unveiled a new 1965 Chevelle to his satisfaction.
The next Saturday, Schnars won again before his streak was finally halted by defending track champion, Ronnie Blackmer, on May 22.
The Memorial Day weekend featured football-weather temperatures, but 4,000 shivering fans cheered Chuck Piazza, driving the Berglund Chevrolet entry, to the win in the second annual Hyle Russell Memorial. Piazza acknowledged the significance of the victory by saying, "It's pretty hard breaking into the Ron Blackmer-Bob Schnars-Squirt Johns-Tom Dill foursome. They do a lot of winning, so I feel pretty good."
Joe Tomes, a hard-luck driver from Olean, shocked everyone when he was able to keep his 1965 Mercury out front of a 26-car field the first Saturday in June. Car owner and mechanical genius Frank Ruhlman expressed his dissatisfaction with the large size of the fields and his car's usual starting position at the back and sold his Chevelle, leaving Blackmer without a late model ride.
On June 12, Kenny See added Joe Mobilia's Chevy to the list of 1965 winners.
During the offseason between 1964 and 1965, Johns had replaced the 1960 Dodge that he had driven the past four years with a spanking-new 1965 Plymouth with a 426 hemi engine. The big man from Brockway, Pa., finally got his new mount rolling as he captured first-place money the next two weeks.
The annual Firecracker Fifty was won by Tom Dill in his No. 51 sponsored by Meadowcroft Dodge in front of 6,800 fans.
Floyd Fanale ended a year-long drought when he won two out of the next three events. First he won in his own 1964 Chevy and then two weeks later he took the top prize in Julian Buesink's No. 9 Ford. Sandwiched between the Fanale wins was yet another Mid-Season Championship victory for Johns.
Point leader Johnny Whitehead, a dairyman from North Clymer, then won his first-ever feature at Stateline for the Russ and Barry Thompson No. 39 team. Whitehead, known as "The Flyin' Farmer," was a multiple champion at several local jalopy tracks such as Sherman Raceway and Roll-O-Bowl Speedway, but both Whitehead and the Thompsons were considered rookies in the late model division at Stateline in 1965.
On Aug. 21, the Dean Layfield Memorial Trophy was permanently retired to Brockway when Johns won his third consecutive 50-lap Layfield race.
"He lost the battle, but won the war."
Those words describe the fortunes of Whitehead as the 1965 Stateline season came to an end with the traditional 100-lap Grand Championship. Whitehead had built up a three-quarter lap lead, but a broken driveshaft on the white flag lap ended his race on the backstretch. Schnars capitalized on the twist of fate to be the first to see starter Art Anderson's checkered flag. John Seeley, ever the sportsman, pushed Whitehead across the line in fifth position. It was a heart-breaking loss for Whitehead, but his injured feelings were soothed by his No. 1 finish in the season-long points chase.
The sportsman class was thoroughly dominated by Ronnie Blackmer in 1965. The defending champion sold his title-winning buggy over the winter of 1964 and built an even better mousetrap. The No. 4Jr. coupe won an amazing 10 of the 15 feature races in route to a second consecutive track title. The remaining sportsman races were won by Dale Clark (3) and Sam Colwell (2). All hail Ron Blackmer - King of the Coupes.
Next: 1956-65 epilogue.