July 22, 2013

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 McLeod, Arute Jr. talk area legend Flemke Sr.

 

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3 of the Original Eastern Bandits who barnstormed the east coast winning races from New York to to Virginia. Dennis Zimmerman on the left. Eddie Flemke on the right and Rene Charland next to Ed.
Photo Courtesy of Lew Boyd, Coastal181 Publishers-Coastal181.com

 
By Brian Danko, Staff Writer
The New Britain Herald & Bristol Press

Photos Courtesy of Tom Ormsby,s SpeedwayLineReport.com
Dave Dykes' RacingThroughTime.com

When one reads the history of racing, especially here in the central Connecticut area and in the northeast in particular, it’s hard not to mention Eddie Flemke, Sr. as one of the top drivers and innovators of his time.

Flemke was and still is a driver that many in the sport have looked up to or used his advice one way or another. Just like the philosophers of years gone by, who are often quoted today.

Over the next couple of weeks, I have reached out to several graduates of the Eddie Flemke, Sr. School of Racing and Life Studies and will bring their stories of what Flemke taught them.

I, too, have found out you can learn about racing, life and yourself just riding six or seven hours to and from a race.

When Clyde McLeod was a young man learning the ropes of racing of what would later become his career, the former Southington resident couldn’t have paid the “Boss” a bigger compliment. This folks was long before anyone would refer to Bruce Springsteen as “The Boss.”

“The ‘Boss’ was one of the best teachers I ever knew. I learned a lot about racing and life on those long road trips spent with him. No matter what I would ask him about, he would have an answer for it, and as I went through life and into racing, his answers were always right,” said McLeod, now working for Stewart-Haas Racing out of North Carolina.

“The racing lessons were just as important as the life lessons, and he was good at both. That is what made him so good driving race cars.”

Being a car builder, Flemke knew what it took to make the car go better and handle better. Some drivers today can tell you what a car is doing but have no idea of what to do to correct it.

“He built his own car so he knew what the car could do, the rest was all him.” McLeod said referring to the driving end of the spectrum. “He taught many racers how to race.”

But more importantly, “He taught them how to be a class act.”

Jackie Arute, Jr. was a young announcer working at his father’s Stafford Motor Speedway and he said Flemke helped make him a better announcer both on the public address system and later in his career with ABC Sports, ESPN and now Sirius Radio.

“Eddie would critique my announcing and he taught me how to ask the right questions to get more out of the driver, not just a question that would be a yes and no interview,” Arute Jr. said recently.

Not only was Flemke a fellow New Britain resident, but he was personal friends with the Arute family, who also drove to many victories in their cars.

“I learned a lot from Eddie. One thing he was never afraid to do was to offer an opinion, whether or not you wanted to hear it. It was never an opinion that would only help himself but other racers,” Arute Jr. said.

He said Flemke was also instrumental in the forming of the SK division at the Stafford Speedway fully knowing it could affect his future driving at the half mile oval.

“Was Eddie a pain in the [butt]? Absolutely he was,” Arute Jr. said.


Eddie in the Arute/Garuti owned car. Eddie won the first race held at the Arute owned Stafford Speedway in 1971. (Click on Photo for Full Size)

But as Arute Jr. said, he always seemed to know what he was talking about.

“We would talk about things and Eddie would look at it and say, ‘Well, it makes sense but does it make sense in this way,’” Arute Jr. said.

Both McLeod and Arute Jr. commented on the way racing was back then. You put on a show for the fans, not just go off into the lead and run away from the field.

“I remember one day during a heat race when Dave Monaco was in the race with both Flemke and Bugsy Stevens. Well, Dave was running good and he passed both Flemke and Stevens and proceeds to run away with the win. After the heat race ended, both Eddie and Bugsy go over to Dave, take him into an area and say to him, ‘this isn’t the way we race here, people pay to see racing.’ Well, Dave took the advice as did others when either Flemke or Stevens spoke,” Arute Jr. said.

Flemke also knew they were in the entertainment business. McLeod mentioned the same thing.

“He understood way back then that it was a show and you didn’t need to win by a straightaway but only a couple of inches, and putting on a show for the paying fans was what it was all about,” McLeod said.

Arute Jr. also said while Flemke was great offering advice, he also knew how to take out someone without actually making it look like he did.

“There was nobody better at spinning a guy or moving a guy up the track,” Arute Jr. said. “You wouldn’t see him dump somebody into the wall. It was a classic move where he would just get into them enough and then dive below them for the spot.”

For McLeod, he misses Flemke as much as he misses his own father.

“I spent maybe more time with him than my own father and I learned most of life lessons from him,” he said. “I still miss being able to talk with him and I truly miss that there will never be another person like him.”

Arute Jr. also said the affect Flemke had on others was something to see and the people that Flemke knew was incredible.

“I remember being at the shop and the phone rings and it was Mario Andretti calling to find out something and just chat,” Arute Jr. said.

 

Brian Danko has been covering Auto Racing for over 30 years for various magazines & and racing papers including Area Auto Racing News. His weekly column can be seen "In The Print Editions" of  The New Britain Herald & The Bristol Press.

 

Copyright © 2012-2013  Brian Danko & SpeedwayLineReport.com, New Britain Herald & The Bristol Press.