Man Against Man Days of Racing
By Chuck Kobar
September 26, 1964
Auto racing's a funny business - it's a never-ending toss-up of who's got the edge, driver or car.
It started out as a man against man sport until Carmen Camshaft got the idea to soup up his engines with a few extras. Then everybody joined in and moved into the machine vs. machine field. This is a story from the man against man days.
Elliott Ellis is the key figure, one of the founders of the old Penny Royal race track of the 1940s. Penny Royal was a five-eighths mile fast track outside of Leon, NY and one of the first in the area. Its only rival was in Kimball Stand in Chautauqua County.
They came from all over to compete at the one-time horse racing strip. Cars came from Canada, Rochester, Western Pennsylvania and the Cattaraugus-Chautauqua area to run at the fast track.
Races were a regular Sunday affair with the names of the day Bud Fanale, Lloyd Moore, Carl Pintagro and Al Mancuso along with Ellis. They all raced at Penny Royal including Billy Rexford, Grand National NASCAR champ of 1950. "But Moore was the best," according to Ellis. The Frewsburg bus driver recorded the track record of 27.1 seconds for the five-eighths mile with a water-injected vehicle in the late 1940s.
There were good times and hard times and all kinds of things to be remembered. "I brought home $100 one Sunday," reminisced Ellis. There were also times when the Rochester crew would come out for a holiday double-header and spend the night in the hay mow. As many as 52 cars would flock to Penny Royal and the crowds, at a dollar a head, reached 1200 at one point.
"They all drove the same type of car - if you made one mistake you were out." Ellis made a few mistakes. He lasted from the mid '40s when the track opened, into the early '50s when they finally closed.
Accidents are commonplace in the stock car world - so are deaths. Penny Royal had its share of accidents, but only one that took a driver's life.
Joe Ott of Fredonia, a veteran of 27 fighter missions overseas, returned home and got into the thick of things at the auto track. But his mother didn't approve of the racing game and asked Joe not to race one Sunday. Joe came anyway - it was his last race.
A decade of racing thrilled fans of Western New York at Penny Royal. But the beginning of the end appeared in the late '40s when Moore brought in his water-injection engine. "It started everyone outdoing everyone else," claimed Ellis.
One of the last races remembered by Ellis was his duel with Carl Pintagro, the former bringing in an extra big motor. "I beat him the first time, so the next week he brought in just a little bigger one," claimed the track veteran.
Ellis ducked out of the picture the final two years. The cars got bigger and bigger until the track couldn't keep up with itself. The final year saw only jalopy races at the one-time sped course - then oblivion.
Auto racing's a funny business.