Bill Wimble Story
by Scott Pacich
He started attending races in 1951 at the
St. Lawrence Valley Speedway in Canton, NY, which was near his hometown of
Lisbon. Immediately captivated, it took only six weeks of watching the
competition before he made the decision to go racing himself, although
with no money the endeavor was tough. But it was that humble start that
launched a storied career that resulted in numerous championships, awards
and accolades. Accolades that continue to come in.
His first race win was in 1955, and his first point championship came 3 years later. He won the first NASCAR National Sportsman Championship and the first NASCAR New York State Championship in 1960 and ran at Fonda Speedway for 10 years, from 1958 through 1967, winning the track championship in 5 of those years. On a circuit of Utica-Rome, Albany-Saratoga and Fonda in 1967, he won the point championship at all three tracks. He won 10 Most Popular Driver awards in the Northeast through the 1960's, was the first driver chosen for Kodak's "All Time Great Award" in 1972 and was the second driver chosen for the Race of Champions Hall of Fame in 1979. He was inducted into the New York State Stock Car Association Hall of Fame in 1988, the Fonda Speedway Hall of Fame in 1990 and the DIRT Hall of Fame in 1992. Finally, he was inducted into the Living Legends of Auto Racing in 1993, The Eastern Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame in 2001 and the New England Auto Racers Hall of Fame in 2002.
Not only are his on track accomplishments and accolades almost overwhelming, he was also awarded the Carnegie Bronze Medal in 1963 for aiding in the rescue of Marvin Panch from a fiery wreck at Daytona, the John Naughton Memorial Sportsmanship Award in 1963 and the Buddy Schuman Award by Champion Spark Plug in 1964.
He's also a veteran of 54 years in the business world, being the principal or sole owner of roughly 25 different businesses. The major focus of his business career has been Dairy Farming, Auto Racing, Bulk Truck Transportation and Factoring. He successfully bought, built to prominence and sold two trucking companies. In 1993 he turned to Factoring, which involves the process of buying debt from a debtor, and then settling it, hopefully at a higher price than it was bought for. As he was in racing, he was outstanding in factoring, being honored by the Greater Brandon, Florida Chamber of Commerce as Small Business of the year in 1998. He sold that company in 2000, and expects to finish his business career as General Partner of three Investment Limited Partnerships.
Number 33 is Bill Wimble and I was recently privileged to speak with him and ask him a few questions.
Since most of his career really was spent in the modifieds, I asked Bill what made him stay with them. "Because they were there," Bill says. "There were really no choices and that's all I knew. I did try to run Grand National (Winston Cup), but I found out there was more money to be made with the modifieds. Of course, this was well before the days of Television and big-dollar sponsors". Bill would not pin down one specific thing as a career defining racing moment, but based on the accolades listed previously you can see that was a difficult thing to pin down. When asked about a non-racing highlight, Bill responded with his very successful business resume, this time highlighting his 1998 Small Business of the Year award.
I asked Bill the obligatory "favorite" questions next. You know those questions. Favorite driver, favorite track, favorite car... His responses: " I really had no favorite driver, but I do consider among my friends many of the great drivers we've seen. Fonda Speedway was my favorite track. I won 5 championships in 10 years there". And finally Bill responds about his favorite car: "One of the many number 33 coupes that I drove was my favorite. It was originally built in 1960, but after a rebuild it gave us our best year in 1963. Dave McCredy of McCredy Motors in Sherburne, NY owned it. Fred DeCarr was the chief mechanic, assisted by Doug Rundell". I found this kind of unique, as I expected that a good old time racer like Bill would have built his own cars, and remembered one of them as his favorite. "I built my own cars only long enough to be noticed by others," says Bill. "I had no talent for building". Bill again paid homage to Fred DeCarr, naming him his favorite car builder.
One last "favorite" question related to his competition. I wanted to know if he had any favorite drivers on the track. Someone whom he liked to race against. "There were too many to name," related Bill. "Frankie Schneider, Pete Corey, Kenny Shoemaker, Buck Holliday and Lou Lazzaro to name a few". Yes, I guess you can say there were too many to mention, but Bill did a pretty darn good job don't you think? To close out this line of questioning, we shifted gears to a "least favorite" topic; did he have anyone he DIDN'T like to compete against? Bill diplomatically answered "Yes, but I prefer not to name them".
Changing gears a little, I wanted Bill to give me a little insight into what racing in his "time" was like. For instance, what would a typical race week be like? "In 1960 I was determined to be the NASCAR National Sportsman champion," said Bill. "This is what's now known as the Busch Grand National Series. We would race Wednesday in Montreal, Canada and then Friday in Rochester, NY. Saturday's would find us at Fonda, NY and Sundays would find us back at Montreal in the afternoon, and then at Plattsburg, NY on Sunday evenings". Phew! And to think that it's considered hard these days to put together a two night a week racing effort! In the modifieds, Bill relates "In 1967 I ran Friday at Albany Saratoga, NY, Fonda on Saturday and Sunday at Utica Rome, NY. I won all three track championships that year". Again, two nights a week is tough for most of today's teams, and a single point championship is admirable.
During this incredible racing period of Bill's, many interesting things happened and I just wanted to get a little taste of some things that happened to him, and get an exposure to a favorite place of mine. With all that time on the track, something strange is bound to happen during a driver's career. In Bill's case, it was not only strange, but a little scary too. "I once rolled a car over in Ottawa" Bill relates. "During the crash a fence post was driven straight through the car, about three inches behind my seat". Strange indeed. And pretty close to life ending too. From a somewhat selfish standpoint, I wanted Bill to talk about one of MY favorite places. Langhorne. I asked Bill to take me for a lap around that legendary place, first on dirt and then on asphalt. Bill said "First on dirt. It was balls to the wall. There was no real straightaway, and I ran the outside groove. I was in a constant power slide all the way around". I would have thought that after paving the track would have changed considerably. Bill responds, "On asphalt, it was balls to the wall. I ran the center groove, and with paving came a short back straightaway. The rest was all turn". Not as much difference as I anticipated. Bill adds, "Langhorne was a very rough racetrack, both in its dirt and asphalt configurations".
Bill's legend has been related in far more detail I'm sure, so I wanted to touch on the more personal aspects of a traveling modified racer in the heyday of the sport. I wanted to find out a little bit about his family and their involvement in his career, and I wanted his feelings on topics such as pensions, insurance and how racing today compares to racing then. "During my first marriage, my wife traveled to the races with me quite a bit," says Bill. " Her sister, who is like my sister traveled with me even more. In my second marriage my wife, and my kids to some degree traveled with me most of the time". I was not surprised to hear this, as it seems to be the case with every racer of that era. Family was a huge part of the racing deal. I wanted to know from Bill if as a traveling racer that invested a huge amount of his life into the sport, did he feel any slight about the lack of pensions, insurance and recognitions that these pioneers seemingly suffer. "We knew those things weren't there. There were not, nor are there now any entitlements to such" says Bill. "It's the responsibility of the individual to take care of his family, his retirement and his well being". Words well spoken, and advice that should be taken by many of today's drivers who feel they are owed something by the sport.
As far as a view of today's state of modified racing, Bill says "I loved it then, and I love it now. Some of the entrepreneurship is gone due to the ability to buy a complete car, and it's replacement parts. But it's still a great sport". I echo, as I think many of you do Bill's thoughts. The modifieds was always a class where ingenuity was encouraged and could get the job done. In fact, it used to be the way to get to a higher level of racing. In fact, at some point in time it was considered to be in itself the top of racing.
So this is the story of Bill Wimble. A guy who raced against the best modified racing had to offer, and more often that not beat them. Even though the real money in racing arrived after his retirement, he has no regrets, including the fractured skull that ended his driving career in 1968. As for the racer who is just starting out Bill advises, "Persevere and believe in yourself when the bad times come (as they always do). Do this and things will pay off for you".
Now living in Valrico, Florida with his wife Nancy, Bill is winding down his business career. After 54 years in business, raising three sons and beating the best racers there were it's time to relax. Ever aware of what really makes racing, Bill leaves us with one comment about the modified fans, both then and now.
"We love you!"
Reach Scott Pacich at email@example.com
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