Remembering
Dave Kneisel

by Scott  Pacich

It Was 20 Years Ago...

"After a one week absence, stock car racing will continue this coming Saturday night at the Orange County Fair Speedway in Middletown, N.Y., as the track presents the second leg of the fall Tri-Track Series. Top drivers from Flemington, Nazareth and Orange County will be competing in the 100 lap modified race that will see 32 cars start the feature."

"There will be a memorial service during the race program, honoring the memory of the late Dave Kneisel of Clarks Summit, Pa., who was fatally injured in the Labor Day race on the 6th of September. In order to accommodate the great number of requests from fans, drivers and owners, the track will supervise the collection of funds. Checks and money orders, made payable to Ann Kneisel, are preferred instead of cash. All proceeds will be tabulated, announced and sent to the Kneisel family."

So read a Press Release from the Orange County fairgrounds on September 10, 1982.

It's been 20 years since that sad day in Middletown, N.Y. when modified legend Dave Kneisel lost his life. 20 years since the ingenuity that fueled so many unique and competitive modified racecars was snuffed out in a brief instant in the first turn at the fairgrounds. 20 years since the gentle soul, and fierce competitor that was Dave Kneisel was taken from us, never to grace our presence with his talent and generosities again. 20 years...

I really hadn't planned on writing this because quite honestly I hadn't realized that it was 20 years ago Labor Day 2002 that Dave was killed. It was a telephone call from Paul Martin, son of former OCFS publicist Ray Martin that got my memory going. We discussed quite a few things surrounding Dave's accident, and Paul sent me a few of the original press releases and "suggested" that I do something with them. Well Paul, I took your
suggestion.

I'll not go into the statistics of Dave's career, save to say that it started in 1950 at the paved 1/5-mile oval called Bone's stadium. From there began a storied career that saw too many point titles and wins to count, coming at many different tracks throughout the entire northeast section of the country. Different size track, different surfaces; it never mattered because Dave won on all of them. He didn't only race modifieds either. In the mid-1960's Dave added super sprint style cars to his schedule, and competed at some of the strongest sprint car tracks in the country: Williams Grove and Selinsgrove in Pennsylvania.

I've documented Dave's ingenuity before, especially the high-rail chassis and the Pacer but was surprised to find out in the course of talking with some of Dave's friends about an asphalt car that he put together to run at Shangri-La Speedway in New York State. Dave put together an extremely offset asphalt coupe. Built along the lines of Charlie Jarzombeck's famous number 1, it had a very offset engine and Dave sat well to the right side. It had a spoiler molded into the trunk lid, and was raced, I believe, in the 1966 and 1967 seasons.

But the purpose of this article is, as I said not to glorify Dave's racing statistics. It is to remember Dave Kneisel the man. The friend. The helper. The advisor. It was often said that winning was not the most important thing in Dave's life. Rather, it was the feeling of a good race run, or congratulations from a fellow driver that made it worthwhile to Dave to be out there. He was a friend to all racers, and a leading force in modified safety. Dave had a soft spot for the "new" racers, and exhibited an extreme amount of patience in watching them adapt to the sport. As a once aggressive driver, Dave understood that it took time to develop on the track, and small "transgressions" could be overlooked. I guess this came from Dave understanding that even he was wrong on the track sometimes. But, Dave would always own up to it, much in the same way he would confront someone who he felt wronged him. With class.

So let's get on to the real purpose of this article. Memories of Dave from those who knew him raced with him and respected him.

Mark Yaple, former driver and car owner remembers Dave racing at East Windsor Speedway in New Jersey. "I only remember him racing at East Windsor sporadically", says Mark. "I think it was 1968 or 1969 that he showed up in a white and blue coupe, numbered 280. I'm not sure whose car it was, but the name Holland comes to mind". Mark continues, "He came out for warm ups with an old sprint car style wing on the roof, and they made him take it off for the heat". Now THAT sounds just like Dave, doesn't it? Mark remembers, "He traveled south to Windsor for several weeks along with a number 9 Corvair driven by a guy named Norm Norton". Mark remembers also that he bought his first fire suit from Kneisel's Speed and Sport. 

Reader Dan Olsen writes, "Since I didn't attend Nazareth on a regular basis, I have only a smattering of remembrances of him racing there. (Also, would I be correct in saying that he did not race there on a regular basis"? Yes Dan, you would be correct. Dave raced occasionally at Nazareth, and I count myself fortunate to have seen him capture a feature win there. Dan continues, "I do remember the first time I saw him. I think my jaw dropped open when I saw his Pacer-bodied modified"! Me too, Dan. Me too. Finally Dan relates, "And with that great metallic paint scheme! Metallic purple striping and flames. Cool"!

My friend Billy Deskovick spent may years racing side by side with Dave and has some very good memories of his own. "I ran with Dave many times at Five Mile Point and we became very good friends", says Billy. "His children and mine became friends because we used to meet at a restaurant on the way home from the races and rerun the night's events". He adds, "Dave was possibly the most courteous person I have ever met. One night, we were running a heat race and one of the cars we were trying to pass was one of those drivers that every race track has". Billy continues, "You know, a driver that is always out of control, and without fail spins out and takes half the field with him".

As Billy recalls, "True to his standard, he spun right in front of Dave and I and we both had to spin our cars to keep from hitting him. As the dust settled, Dave and I got out of our cars, both of us quite upset". It doesn't end there. Billy remembers, "You know that my nature was quite the opposite of Dave's, and I was in the mood to re-arrange that guys facial features! But Dave got to him first, and when I reached them Dave was reading him the riot act"! Billy finishes the story, "I will try to paraphrase as close as I can because I never forgot what Dave said: Your stupidity is exceeded only by your inability to drive that thing! Evidently this was Dave's most vicious way of telling someone off".

I think that Billy's last statements tell it all about Dave. "I still remember getting back in my car with a smile on my face, and thinking there was a true gentleman. And a man". Billy concludes, "I drove racecars for 25 years and never found a driver that I enjoyed racing with more than Dave". It is statements such as Billy's that point to a real affection for Dave, and a real admiration.

Photographer Jack Hedstrom points out a characteristic that was found on every Dave Kneisel modified.  Although Dave rarely raced at tracks that Jack frequented, he always tried to get a shot or two of Dave's "well prepared and sharp looking cars". But the one thing that Hack pointed out that was really Dave's trademark was "the light". If you will recall, Dave almost always had an orange-yellow light on the roof of his car. If you wanted to find out where Dave was in a pack of cars on a dusty track you could always look for "the light".

My dad recalls that it was Dave who really got Billy D on the "right" track at Five Mile Point. Billy was running a split-leaf front end, and it just wasn't working right. Dave suggested that Billy change over to coil-overs for the better adjustments and ride they provided. Dad and Billy worked all of the week following to cut the suspension over, and their work was rewarded with a feature win the first time the car with the new front end hit the track. Dad thinks this might have cost Dave a few dollars as well!

It was later; when my dad had his sportsman that Dave again helped him out. Dad's choice of rear suspension, torsion bars and four radius rods just didn't work. Dave suggested removing two of the radius rods and adding a torque arm to make it work better. Dad followed his advice and made those changes, resulting in a much better handling racecar. Again, Dave's willingness to help resulted in a driver beating him, and better success (and a new customer) from a backyard race team. He also remembers the first Mandrel bent frame Dave came out with. We think that it was driven by Jack Johnson, and won the first time out at East Windsor. On the subject of winning, dad remembers Dave winning a feature at Nazareth. I'm pretty sure I was there for this one, as it was one of twin 25s that was run that day. It was kind of a dismal Sunday afternoon, and Nazareth had a cushion for that race. Dave was the only driver to use it, and he rode it to victory.

But dad's most cherished memories are of spending time with Dave. The week he spent with him at Super Dirt week in the parts truck in the pits. Dad says he had the best time that week with Dave, his wife Ann and all of the crew. Dad also recalls spending a New Years Day or two at Dave's home in Clarks Summit with his family and racing friends. Dave was, in Dad's words the perfect host.

I'll close with this, again from a Ray Martin written OCFS Press Release, this one dated September 18, 1982.

"A memorial tribute to the late Dave Kneisel overshadowed the stock car racing tonight as the big crowd paid their respects during and intermission. To comply with the requests of the stock car people, a collection was taken with a total of $4,464.17 received. The winner of the street stock feature, Bill Leise donated his purse to the Kneisel fund as well. At the request of the Kneisel family, the money will be used to purchase a Jaws of Life to be donated to the track in his memory".

Clearly, the integrity that was Dave Kneisel was a big part of his family. To this day, I miss seeing the 711 on the track, and miss the stories of Dave Kneisel. He was a pleasure to watch.

Scott Pacich
Area Auto Racing News
Under the Radar
pacich711@cs.com
(570) 820-1613


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