As Steady

As Ever

by Mike Adaskaveg

From the August 1973 Stock Car Racing Magazine

 


As a man ages, he begins to see the light at the other end of the tunnel: a comfortable life away from the headaches of life. When your name is Flemke, though, aging merely means looking harder for that daylight between two cars in front of you.

"YOU JUST GOT TO go out there and I grab the tiger by the tail," replied the man in the brown reclining chair. He was giving advice to a neighborhood youth who was inquiring on how to get into auto racing.

The object of his questions had been around the race scene for quite a long time. He knew his stuff. His word was respected. The kids sitting in his living room referred to him as 'Boss." The term "boss" is a rather harsh term to most of us, bringing to mind a master, or a ruler. But, to the kids in the living room it meant something different. It was a term used with respect to someone they came to for advice, someone they followed, and someone they hoped they could emulate some day.

The "Boss" has changed over the past few years. His once dirty-blond hair has given way to streaks of silver. His, once sharp eyes are now assisted by glasses. His face shows the wrinkles of age, and his hands are worn and cracked from years of man's work.

He looks nothing like he did 25 years ago—not even like he did ten years ago. But, when he sits in Bob Judkin's 2X, his exterior fades from view. His 25 years of experience on the oval predominate. He is just as good, if not better than he ever was. Flemke is still a threat, no matter where he races on the East Coast.

I T WAS 25 YEARS AGO this spring that Flemke first took a ride in a jalopie. He was at the West Springfield (Mass.) Speed way, which was an old dog racing track. He was then a boy of eighteen.

He had been anxiously waiting for that first ride. Racing was very much in the Flemke family. "It grew on me without me knowing," admits Ed. It was something he had to do, and Ed wanted to race so bad nothing could stop him.

Flemke's first ride was everything but successful. But, it was a start. Later that same year, Ed won the first heat race he had ever entered at Cherry Park in Avon, Connecticut. "My father was a great help to me," says Ed. "He wasn't for racing; actually, he was against it. One day he came up to me and said  "Is this what you really want to do in life?' I didn't know if I'd get my head knocked off, but I said yes. From that day on he did all he could to help me."

Thus, Flemke's career as a chauffeur was launched. He chose to run Plainville (Ct.) Stadium, which was practically in his back yard.

Ed was young then. He wanted to get out there and go, no matter who he had to run off the track. He was once leading a sports man race at the Stadium when it came time to lap the late Phil Salerno of Southington (Ct.). Salerno drove the famous "Banana Wagon," which had a banana painted on the sides instead of a number. (Phil, incidently, is remembered for throwing bananas into the crowds during intermission. After all, it was good advertisement, since he owned a fruit stand.)

As Flemke was about to pass. Salerno turned right on him and took Ed for a ride through the wall. After the race, Phil walked up to Ed, shook his hand, and said, "You got me, now I got you—we're even. Flemke was never a violent person. He real ized that this was racing; for he recalled putting Salerno into the wall a few weeks before. He also realized Salerno was three times bigger than he.

It was two weeks later that the Plainville boys went to Riverside Park in Agawam (Mass.) for a show. Flemke was without a ride. Phil had a spare car. He walked up to Ed and offered him the ride. Flemke accepted, and went on to take the show that night. Of course, Phil helped Ed out by driving defensively with his "Banana Wagon." From then on, the two were the best of friends. It was a lot safer to have Salerno and crew as friends.

"Salerno had a big crew. I'd fight them any day on the track, but not off . . . they were big guys," admits Flemke.

When the decade turned, and the Summer of 1950 rolled around, Ed Flemke began to run at Riverside Park. Riverside ran the modified class, as well as the sportsman. Plainville ran only sportsman. It was a chance for advancement, so Ed tried to make it.

Flemke proved himself very rapidly at Riverside. He was a strong contender, and was to have a great amount of success at "The Park."

It was around this time that modified racing was to get a stronghold in the world of racing. Races were being run seven days a week. The age of the midgets was coming to a close and modifieds were in.

Ed was somewhat sad to see the popularity of the midgets fall. The midgets always meant something special to him. When he said earlier that racing grew on him without his knowing it, he was referring to his fa ther's involvement with motorcycle racing, and his brother Georges involvement with midgets.

In 1951 Ed was driving Moon Burgess's midget at Riverside Park on Tuesday nights. "I would rather run midgets to this day, but, there's no money in it," says Ed. "I first warmed up midgets as a kid. My brother George was involved with midgets, and I always hung around. . . He ran ARDC, and always got the job done in a Ford, running against the Offenhausers. To this day I don't know why he stuck with Ford; he had many good offers to run Offenhausers, but refused them.

The modified pace began picking up. Monday night Flemke ran at Candlelight Stadium in Bridgeport (Ct.), Tuesday he was at Riverside, Wednesday he raced at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl, Thursday at Savin Rock in North Haven (Ct.), and on Friday he ran at Plainville Stadium. Saturday meant back to River side, and Sunday back to Plainville.

NEXT PAGE