July 29, 2013

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 Flemke’s Greatness Remembered By Many

 

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Eddie after a win in a Wednesday night Open Show at Plainville Stadium.
Phil Hoyt Photo

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

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

Sometimes when you are surrounded by greatness, you don’t see it. The ball players of yesterday always seem better than the players from today but it isn’t necessarily true.

When you were at the garage or around the track with Eddie Flemke, Sr., you knew he was something special. His reputation preceded him. He was Richard Petty, Mario Andretti and A.J. Foyt all rolled into one.

Two guys who got to know Flemke were fellow racer, Denny Zimmerman, who later went onto become Rookie of the Year at the Indianapolis 500 in 1971 and a young writer named Mark ‘Bones’ Bourcier.


Eddie at Riverside Park Speedway early in his career.
Shany Lorenzet Photo

Zimmerman was one driver taken under Flemke’s wing as he guided his career and later became one of Flemke’s Eastern Bandits.

“Never allow yourself to be intimidated by someone’s celebrity status or intimidated by a famous racetrack.” Flemke told Zimmerman as he branched out from the modifieds to the open wheel midgets, sprint cars and eventually the Champ (Indy) cars.

“It’s important to respect their achievements but don’t be intimidated.” Denny said

For a young writer, still in his mid-teens, Southington’s Bones Bourcier was trying to get the respect of other drivers and he knew the biggest driver to have on his side was Flemke.

“Eddie was great to me personally and always accommodating to me professionally.” Bones said finishing up another book, this one on Bentley Warren, a veteran of the supermodifieds and Indy.

“I always felt that having Flemke’s stamp of approval helped me immensely. Being seen as a young guy who was ‘okay with Eddie’ began the ripple effect of me being ‘okay with’ a lot of the other top drivers, car owners, and mechanics. That kind of credibility can’t be bought.” Bones said.

While Zimmerman and 1970 Daytona 500 winner, Pete Hamilton, grew up in and around what Flemke could offer them, he also showed them that common sense…which today is a lost art and a little Yankee know how could turn a bad day at the track into a better day.

Zimmerman recalled one race in Virginia when he was driving John Stygers car and flipped it.

“It was more like a Tommy Tip Over, it hardly had any damage and it landed on its wheels so I drove it back to the starting line. While we waited for the safety crew to clean the dirt off the race track, Eddie noticed a leak in the radiator so he reached into his pocket, took out a cigarette, peeled the paper off and dumped the tobacco into the radiator. That stopped the leak and I finished the race.” Denny said.

Smart. Innovative. Always thinking. That was Flemke.

“One of the things that adds to Ed Flemke’s mystique is no one knows for sure how many victories that guy had. That’s because in Eddie’s days, racing attracted many characters, but few competent file clerks.” Bones, with his unique sense of humor said. “But, think about this: Published guesses by respected historians range from 400 to 600, a gap of 200 wins. Now by most measures, 200 victories would constitute a hall-of-fame career. With Eddie, 200 victories is just a margin of error.”

One famous saying Eddie always used was ‘dirt is for planting potatoes, not racing.’ Needless to say, Eddie wasn’t a fan of the dirt racing circuit.

Zimmerman also said that Flemke told him was, “Only drive hard enough to win, no faster.” (Read that for taking care of the equipment.)

While Zimmerman and Hamilton are two of Flemke’s biggest success stories, a young driver from Rome, NY named Richie Evans, also was an up and coming student of the ‘professor’. Evans would go onto to become NASCAR’s only nine time modified champion and a NASCAR Hall of Famer.

“It’s amazing to think about the impact Eddie had as a mentor.” Bones said. “He was also a great sounding board for Richie Evans. Both Hamilton and Zimmerman will tell you bluntly that without Flemke’s help, they might have never have risen above the Saturday night short track level.”

According to Bones, three-time modified national champion, Bugsy Stevens and a friendly rival with Flemke also sought out Eddie’s help.

‘Eddie was one of my professors, too. Many times, he took me aside and talked to me, and just not in my early days.’ Stevens told Bones during an interview.

“It says so much about Flemke that he was so free with advice to the guys who might possibly beat him later that night same evening. And it says a lot about Eddie’s stature in the sport that even champions would seek his counsel.”

“All these years later, I think how fitting it was to have met Eddie in victory lane.

That’s like meeting Ted Williams in the Fenway Park locker room after he knocked in the game winning hit.”

A few years back, Bones wrote a book on Flemke. It was a compilation of notes from people that Eddie raced with and against as well as the people who knew it the best.

“I owe a lot to Eddie, just as a lot of racing people from New England do. When I decided to take on that book project, I saw it as a small down payment on my part. It didn’t square the debt, because nothing ever will, but maybe it was just a small installment.”

The book, Steady Eddie—Memories of Ed Flemke, Modified Racing’s Fastest Professor is available at www.coastal181.com

Flemke taught just about everyone he met. And the best thing was you were soaking in all of his life lessons and racing knowledge, all without ever knowing it. You just needed to listen.


Now on Sale at Coastal181 Publishers
Click on Photo for info!

 

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.