There Were Plenty Of Winners At Stateline In 1961
December 26, 2010
Part 7 of 12
Fans coming to Stateline Speedway in 1961 were greeted by a few changes at the facility. To make the racing safer, improvements were made to the guard posts and a higher wheel fence was built. Seating capacity was increased to 4,000. Concession stands were operated by the fire departments of Busti, Sugar Grove and Chandler's Valley. Adult admission prices were raised to $1.50, the first price increase since the track opened.
Racing was extremely competitive in '61. Ten different lead-foots carried the checkered flag in 15 events. Tom Dill led the way with three scores; Bob Schnars, Chuck Piazza and Kenny Johnson each won twice; and single victories were recorded by Emory Mahan, Fred Knapp, Hyle Russell, Bob Duell, Floyd Fanale and Sammy LaMancuso.
Kenny's win was in the Gust Johnson Memorial, a race he first organized five years ago in memory of his late father. Other popular wins were achieved by Emory Mahan driving a '61 Rambler Ambassador and a tally in the season-ending 100-lapper by veteran Jamestowner, Sammy LaMancuso. LaMancuso, who previously had campaigned Studebakers, scored the win in a '59 Ford.
Duell's win in the Mid-Season Championship resulted in a protest being filed by ace car builder Frank Ruhlman. He accused the owner of Duell's #52 Ford, Julian Buesink, of having a locked rear-end in the car, a violation of track rules. After posting a $25 teardown fee, Ruhlman and a crowd of 250 spectators watched as Len Briggs and crew dismantled the Ford's gear case. After tearing the axle assembly "clear down to the bolts, Briggs declared all was legal and above board." Ruhlman remained unconvinced. Even Buesink, who was given the teardown money as compensation, was unhappy with the turn of events. "We've been having rear end troubles all year and now that it's been torn apart we'll probably have more," said the Findley Lake car dealer.
Oddly enough, the 1961 championship was won by a man who never found victory circle during the year - Squirt Johns driving the #511 Dodge pumpkin. Squirt, though pleased with the consistency of his machine, blamed his lack of feature wins on a "weak motor."
The Joie Chitwood Thrill Show made another appearance this year while demolition derbies were presented for the first time at Stateline in 1961. Also introduced were novice races for older '54-'57 model cars. Among the less experienced drivers who competed in the new division were Ron Blackmer, Johnny Whitehead and Paul Hellman, all of who would become key players in years to come. Three ever-popular 100-lap jalopy races were contested with Keith Lundmark taking two and Dick Lindner the other.
Two other important events occurred in '61 that would have an enormous effect on the fans and competitors of Stateline Speedway. First, management had long thought that their drivers needed another place to race in order to earn enough prize money to support their racecars. After leasing the race tracks in Bradford for 4 races in 1959 and Smethport for another 4 shows in 1960, Busti Speedways Inc. built a brand-new sister track to Stateline near Erie, PA. The appropriately named Eriez Speedway opened in July 1961.
The other game-changing event was the death of Dean Layfield in August. Layfield was struck in the temple by a stone while competing at Perry Speedway. He died a few days later of a brain injury. Dean's passing had a profound impact on local drivers who lauded the 1957 Stateline champion.
"Dean was too good to be true. He'd take the engine out of his car just to help you," praised Eb Young.
"He was one of the hardest and toughest competitors I have come up against," said Emory Mahan. "I feel that I have lost a personal friend."
"You couldn't ask for a better guy," commented Eddie Kisko.
Jim Pollaro summed up the feelings of all drivers when he commented, "On the track Dean was a lion, but in the pits he was as gentle as a lamb. He would go out of his way to make sure the other guy's car was running at its peak."
Track owner Lloyd Williams said, "In my opinion there will never again be another driver like Dean Layfield."