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home : features : strap in April 17, 2015

7/11/2014 7:40:00 AM
John Gammell, Long-time Racer, Dies at 86
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"Gentleman Johnny Gammell"
1928 ~ 2014
Johnny (J.O.) Gammell may have been the happiest man on the grounds in the restored Fitzgerald No. 32 at the Northeastern Speedway reunion July 18, 2009 wearing his original Northeastern racing suit. (Photo by Big Bigelow)
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Johnny (J.O.) Gammell may have been the happiest man on the grounds in the restored Fitzgerald No. 32 at the Northeastern Speedway reunion July 18, 2009 wearing his original Northeastern racing suit. (Photo by Big Bigelow)
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Paul Bigelow (31) takes a scary ride down the front stretch at Thunder Road, June 19. The NEMA Lites driver was transported to the hospital and released later with a slight concussion and bruised knee. The 00 (driver not identified) gets tangled with Bigelow as Carl Medeiros Jr. (50) gets by it all.



Biggy can be reached at
R. Bigelow, 294 Hillside Dr., St. Johnsbury, VT 05819


J.O. Gammell, as my Dad Jerry used to call him, lost his seven-year battle with cancer on July 4. When I heard we lost him on the 4th of July I couldn’t help but think abut how many of his July 4ths were spent at a race track. For us racing people, July 4 is better than Christmas.

J.O. and my Dad were great friends. They were very active members of VFW Post 793 of St. Johnsbury and both started racing in 1949 at Webster’s Flat, just north of Lyndonville.

Think about that for a second, 1949, that was the year NASCAR was founded. At the same time, up in the small state of Vermont, guys were getting together and carving out dirt tracks in farmers’ fields to race around in circles. It’s not like they got an e-mail, fax, tweet or saw it on Sports Center that a group in Daytona were saying this is what we’re thinking of doing and you should give it a try.

And then, 10 short years later, the Northeastern Speedway Driver’s Association was born. Johnny was elected President while Dad was the Secretary/Treasurer. Keep in mind France threatened to close his track before he let the Teamsters union anywhere near his drivers.

I guess you can say Johnny had known me my whole life. It wasn’t long after my first Strap In column was printed in April of 1998 that he stopped by the house to ask about the column. He wanted to know if it was going to be a weekly column or what. At the time I wasn’t sure how long it would last. I’ll never forget how surprised I was that day when, as he was leaving, he thanked me for writing a racing column. The few hundred times I saw him after that, not once did he not thank me for writing a column.

He was also very appreciative the winter we ran a few dozen of Norm MacIver photos from Northeastern in Waterford and he just loved the Spring Racing Guides.

I’m not sure any one person could list every one of Johnny’s racing accomplishments, but I will hit on some I know of, and in no particular order. First off, I’m a big Thunder Road fan so his 1969 Milk Bowl comes to mind when I think of Johnny. The car, numbered Hawaii 5-0 was owned by Joey Laquerre. He finished fourth in the first Milk Bowl ever run in 1962, won by his lifelong buddy Harold Hanaford. He was fifth in 1963, fourth in both ’64 and ’65. He retired from racing in 1972. Still today, his five top 5s in the Milk Bowl has him tied for 10th with four other drivers in that category.

In 1971, John won the prestigious Don MacTavish Award, voted on by sportscasters and writers. When his name was added to the trophy the only other winner at that time was “Big” Bill France, the founding father of NASCAR.

In 1963, his fellow drivers at Northeastern named him winner of the Rice Memorial Good Sportsmanship Award. Interestingly enough, my Dad shared that award with Glen Gadapee in 1961, making my Dad (1966) and J.O. (1959) the only Track Champions to win the Rice Trophy. Dad, Skip Easter and J.O. were the only drivers to win features in both divisions at Waterford.

In 2008, he was voted into New England Auto Racers (NEAR) Hall of Fame. The following was taken from the NEAR website site (

“In 1959, he won the first of his two Vermont State Championships, winning five of 12 features run at the Northeastern Speedway, in Charlie Ely’s No. 88. He won the first feature ever run at Northeastern in 1959, and repeated the feat in 1964, winning the first feature ever run at Riverside. A flat tire late in the race kept him from winning Thunder Road’s first feature in 1960.

Johnny’s second Vermont State Championship came in 1964, driving the W.G. Fitzgerald No 32. Harold “Hard Luck” Hanaford competed against Johnny several years. “Johnny was a quiet, shy kind of guy”, Hanaford remembers. “But when he strapped in that car, everything changed. He became a fierce competitor. Given equal cars, there’s nobody I raced with that I’d have a harder time getting by. He’d never hit anybody to get around ’em. He’d just race you hard and clean.”

• I don’t believe anyone in the world enjoyed or looked forward to the yearly Milk Bowl reunions more than Johnny. But now that I reread that, I guess that could be said about any racing get together anywhere, anytime.

• Paul Bellefeuille’s restoring the Northeastern Speedway in time to hold a 50th reunion there may have been one of Johnny’s greatest days in his racing career.

• I’m going to miss seeing him wearing his bright red pants at Thunder Road.

• At his request, there was no formal funeral service. Instead, if you wish, do something you really enjoy in his memory or just close your eyes a moment and take a ride with him, as he surely is racing or driving something somewhere – DRIVE ON!

• A whole bunch of Johnny’s friends will be at the Northeastern Speedway Club fifth Annual Vintage Racing Festival, July 12, at the Waterford School. Legendary cars will be on display and you’ll be able to chat with some of the drivers who ran at Northeastern.

The event will go from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tickets are $5 with children under 12 Free.

Aric Almirola Wins at Daytona

Can you say wild card? Almirola, who has never finished better than 18th in standings, may be one of the 16 drivers with a shot at the Cup championship this season.

He went into the race 23rd in points, 213 points out of the lead. With the win he closed the gap to 199 points and now sits 21st in points.

Because of Brian France’s vision, Almirola, with a win in a rain-shortened restrictor plate race, may make the playoffs. He’s the 11th guy with a win and is safe for now. There are spots for five more winners with eight races to go. If six or more guys win in those eight races the tie breaker is points.

He was driving the No. 43. The last time the 43 won was in 1999 when John Andretti won at Martinsville, 545 races ago. Bobby Hamilton won in No. 43 twice, once at Phoenix in 1996 and at Rockingham in 1997.

Those are the only four wins for that number in the 30 years since the photo finish with Richard Petty and Cale Yarbrough on July 4, 1984 at Daytona. It was Petty’s 200th and last win. Petty didn’t retire until after the 1992 season.

Speaking of that photo finish, who ended up finishing second that day? No, that’s not a trick question that was back when races finished under yellow. If you look at the flags in that photo they are yellow and white. Yarborough would drive down pit road the next lap while Harry Gant was completing the race on the track. Yarborough ended up being scored third.

Cup Stuff

If the playoffs started today, the 16 in would be winners Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Aric Almirola and Kurt Busch. Those in by points would be Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman, Paul Menard, Clint Bowyer and Austin Dillon.

• Daytona was Barney Hall’s final play-by-play race on MRN radio. With more than 50 years of calling races, the 82-year-old Hall will remain a vibrant part of Motor Racing Network broadcasts.

• A group of nine multi-car Cup teams announced they have formed a collaborative business association called the Race Team Alliance (RTA). The purpose of the organization is to create an open forum for the teams to explore areas of common interest and to work collaboratively on initiatives to help preserve, promote, and grow the sport of stock car racing. The organization intends to open up its membership to all full time Cup teams in the very near future. In providing a vehicle for the teams to work together, the organization creates for the first time a single entity to engage with stakeholders on creative ways to market and experience the power of the sport’s teams and drivers. As part of its focus, the RTA also plans to explore innovative ways to harness the combined purchasing power and scale of the teams’ operations to drive efficiencies in costs. Rob Kauffman, co-owner of Michael Waltrip Racing, has been elected the first chair of the RTA.

The teams are Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, Hendrick Motor Sports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Michael Waltrip Racing, Richard Childress Racing, Richard Petty Motor Sports, Roush Fenway Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing and Team Penske.

Statement from NASCAR: “We are aware of the alliance concept the team owners have announced, but have very few specifics on its structure or purpose. It is apparently still in development and we’re still learning about the details so it would be inappropriate to comment right now. NASCAR’s mission, as it has always been, is to create a fair playing field where anyone can come and compete. Our job is to support and strengthen all of the teams, large and small, across all of our series and we’ll continue to do that. NASCAR is a unique community with hundreds of stakeholders. They all have a voice and always will.”

Cup Weekend at NHMS

Friday Cup qualifying will be the first-ever group qualifying knockout format at N.H. Group qualifying will also be used to line up Saturday’s Nationwide Series race.

• It’s been six years since there’s been a repeat winner. That’s 12 different winners in its last 12 races. That’s the longest active streak of any track in all of NASCAR.

• Six of the last seven winners at N.H. have yet to win this season.

• Eddie MacDonald will make his Cup Series debut in the No. 32. MacDonald has 29 combined career starts in NASCAR’s four sub-divisions: Nationwide, Trucks, K&N Pro Series East and the Modified Tour. He has three K&N wins and three American-Canadian Tour Invitational wins. He’ll also race in Friday’s 100-lap K&N race.

• Jeff Burton, now a part-time driver for Michael Waltrip Racing, will run the race. In 38 starts at N.H. he has four wins.

• Austin Theriault will be in JR Motorsports No. 5 in the Nationwide Series.

• Kyle Busch has won four of the last five Nationwide races at NHMS.

• K&N Pro Series East driver 17-year-old rookie Ben Rhodes’ has won five of the last six races, including four in a row heading into this weekend’s Granite State 100.

The four straight wins are tied with Ricky Craven (1991) for the most consecutive wins in the series and is one win away from tying Dylan Kwasniewski’s record of six wins in a season set last year.

Bear Ridge

July 12 – Four-time Cup Series race winner and diehard short-track driver Ken Schrader will pilot a USAC Dirt Midget Association car at The Ridge. Other names of note who will be at the Ridge for a meet and greet will be Bob Dillner from NASCAR on Fox, Mark Garrow from Performance Racing Network, Dick Berggren former longtime NASCAR pit road reporter and Speedway Illustrated contributor, Mike Joy from NASCAR on Fox, as well as others.

RESULTS July 5: Modifieds – 1 Chris Donnelly, 2 Ed Patterson, 3 Josh Sunn, 4 Tim Hodge, 5 Adam Pierson, 6 Jason Gray, 7 Derek Graham, 8 Jordan Fornwalt, 9 Robert Tucker, 10 Bryan King, 11 Josh Currier, 12 Mike Gendron, 13 Derek Barker, 14 Richie Simmons, 15 Kevin Chaffee, 16 Gary Siemons, 17 Travis Shinn, 18 Bob Shepard, 19 TC Forward, 20 Tyler Austin, 21 Ryan Christian, 22 DJ Robinson, 23 Mike Dunn, 24 Matt Austin.


Had last weekend off. Up next is the $25,000-to-win 200-lap ACT International at Plattsburgh, NY, July 20.


BEECH RIDGE RESULTS July 5 – 1 Joey Doiron, 2 Austin Theriault, 3 Glen Luce, 4 Mike Rowe, 5 Scott Mulkern, 6 Cassius Clark, 7 Travis Benjamin, 8 Trevor Sanborn, 9 Johnny Clark, 10 Brent Dragon, 11 Richie Dearborn, 12 Brad Babb, 13 Reid Lanpher, 14 Curtis Gerry, 15 Mike Hopkins, 16 Joey Polewarczyk, 17 Tony Ricci, 18 David Oliver, 19 Bryan Kruczek, 20 Gary Smith, 21 Mike Fowler, 22 DJ Shaw, 23 Dave Farrington Jr., 24 Ricky Rolfe, 25 Scott Robbins, 26 Ben Rowe, 27 Wayne Helliwell Jr.

• Up next the $25,000-to-win Oxford 250, July 20.

Thunder Road

LATE MODEL POINTS headed into last night (July 10): 1. Cody Blake 372, 2. Dave Pembroke 365, 3. Nick Sweet 364, 4. John Donahue 360, 5.Derrick O’Donnell 359, 6. Phil Scott 353 and Brooks Clark 353, 8. Brett Gervais 351, 9. Jason Corliss 348 and Eric Badore 348.

• The Road is racing every Thursday night.


RESULTS July 5: Late Models – 1 Travis Fadden, 2 Brockton Davis, 3 Tyler Cahoon, 4 Jeff Marshall, 5 Oren Remick, 6 Jeremy Harclerode, 7 Stacy Cahoon, 8 Mike Kenison, 9 Michael Jurkowski, 10 Glenn Martel, 11 Corey Mason, 12 Jerry Lesage, 13 Quinten Welch, 14 Ricky Wolf Jr., 15 Ryan Olsen, 16 Bernard Lantagne, 17 Russell Clark, 18 Jeff Wimble, 19 Brandon Allbee, 20 David LaBrecque.

• July 12 five divisions (no Dwarf’s), post time 6 p.m.

Riverside Speedway

RESULTS July 5: Late Models – 1 Paul Schartner III, 2 Mike Bailey, 3 Luke Shannon, 4 Tom Estes, 5 Bryan Mason, 6 Matt Carbone, 7 Doug Laleme.

No racing July 12


Until Next Week

Go Austin Theriault, go Eddie Mac and go Denny Hamlin. I suggest this weekend you get yourself to a race track but remember: “If you’re not having fun, stay home and don’t bother those of us who are.”


Reader Comments

Posted: Tuesday, July 15, 2014
Article comment by: Denise Marks

Hi Big,
Really enjoyed your article about J.O. Gammel. I remember Duane and many others admired him.
May he rest in peace, Denise

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