June 25, 2012
 

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Clyde McLeod owes everything to Plainville Stadium

Clyde doing what he does best.

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

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Clyde McLeod owes everything to Plainville Stadium. Those are pretty powerful words but when you talk with him and he tells you his story, you believe it.

That little quarter mile oval, which was much maligned when it was open and now is sadly missed nearly 32 years after its last race gave many its start in racing.

Clyde, who grew up in Southington, began hanging around a local race shop and after going to Plainville Stadium for the first time, the now 62 year old said, “I knew this was something I had to do the rest of my life.”


Clyde with Reggie Ruggiero

McLeod knows what it’s like to leave the garage as the sun was coming up the following day, the long road trips, the lousy hotels, the greasy spoon diners and the many sleepless nights but he wouldn’t have traded a minute of it for his life in racing.

Clyde now works for Stewart-Haas Racing in the tear down room, where Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman’s cars go to after returning from a race weekend. The cars are completely torn down, replacing worn or damaged parts.

“I love it. I am in charge of the tear down room and then the rest of week I am building new coolant systems for all of the cars. This is a great place to work.”

The person who hired him to work there is none other than Berlin native, Greg Zipadelli, who once worked with Clyde at the old Sherri Cup race shop on Hart St in Berlin.

“When Zippy left Joe Gibbs racing we talked, he said I might have something for you, so we talked and I took the job. Greg has done a great job as the Competition Director at Stewart-Haas on the management side of racing after being a crew chief at Joe Gibbs Racing.” At the time, McLeod was working for Revolution Racing, one of the top developmental series teams in NASCAR, helping get minorities into racing.

At Stewart-Haas racing, Clyde works with several people who either worked or lived in Berlin or Southington growing up, it’s like being home.

McLeod’s career has seen him working for some of the biggest local legends like Eddie Flemke, Sr. to other top stars such as Stan Greger, Kenny Bouchard, Ronnie Bouchard and Ronnie Rocco.

He has ascended from pit mechanic to crew chief to overseeing the administrative side of racing to now just working in the shop.

“I went to the race at Darlington with Brett Bodine. It was nice to go and see everybody but that’s about it. I real don’t care if I go to the track anymore. I did that as crew chief for over 14 years and 45 years being at the track and don’t really miss it.”

The pinnacle for McLeod was when he and driver, Mike McLaughlin captured the 1988 NASCAR modified tour title but he could see the writing was on the wall for the end of his days in the modified series.

“I sort of feel responsible for Sherri Cup racing shutting down. I had made up my mind to move south and pursue a job in racing. I moved here in 1990 and got hooked up with Todd Bodine (who also worked in Berlin). Mike McLaughlin later became our driver and I was reunited with him at Frank Cicci Racing.”

For several years, McLeod and McLaughlin were a formidable Busch Grand National team (now Nationwide Series) securing many wins and were also in the top five in season ending points for several seasons.


An early 70's shot of Clyde with car owner Billy Simons. At the time Bill's Driver was New Britain's Ronnie Wyckoff.

But life on the road was getting tiring and McLeod soon found himself with some of NASCAR’s rising talents in the developmental series and a lot less travel.

“This kid Darrell Wallace is going to be one to keep your eye on.” Clyde said. “He can drive.”

But McLeod thinks back to his Sherri Cup days and that is where “they went big time racing.”

“Billy Corazzo (car owner and part owner of Sherwood Industries of which Sherri Cup was a division of) wanted to race and that is when we went out  to big time racing. We’d go to Albany-Saratoga on Fridays, Stafford on Saturdays and Thompson on Sunday’s as well as other big races.”

McLeod said that when the modified tour was formed for the start of the 1985 season, it gave more teams a chance to compete for the title.

“The modified tour gave you something to chase because of the set number of races. You didn’t have to run all these races all over the country. You knew what the schedule was and could set a budget for it. Back then the point fund was good and the racing was fantastic. It was hard racing against the who’s who of modified racing on the tour back in the 1980’s.”

Clyde said winning the title in 1988 after a season long battle with Reggie Ruggiero was special.

“The Reg and (team owner, Mario Fiore) gave us everything we could handle. It was two great teams going for the championship.”

Now that McLeod has done just about all he can in racing, he has kicked back a little and enjoys more time in the shop and at home.

“I could do this until I am ready to retire at 65 and then maybe after that, it all depends on how I feel.”

McLeod has been on the pit box at places like Daytona, Talladega, Las Vegas and California but none of it would be possible if it wasn’t for the little quarter mile in Plainville.

 

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 Brian Danko