I love the sport of auto racing, but I've always said that the smartest thing that I've ever done in life was to figure out a way to be involved in it that did not involve driving racecars as my primary role in the sport. Fortunately, through the years I've been able to carve out such a role that is a little bit friendlier on the wallet, my pride and personal relationships.
But that wasn't always the case. Back in my teen years, I thought that I had the right stuff to become one of the short track stars that I now write about.
Starting at age 15, I became an aspiring driver in the Enduro and Strictly Stock classes at New Hampshire's Star and Hudson Speedways. I was long on desire and drive. I also had in my corner the help and support of my father Craig, which was the biggest reason that I could go racing.
But there were some things we didn't have though. The first was a truck to tow the racecar with - that problem was solved with finding “Big Red”, a fuel-thirsty 1972 vintage Ford pick-up truck that could pull a house off its foundation and was surely suited to haul a racecar. The second was space. We couldn't park on the street in front of my family's suburban Boston home, so that problem was solved by loading up the racecar from the garage to an open trailer in the driveway every night (therefore, everything only took up one parking space). Another shortcoming was money, but by working near 40-hour weeks at the long-gone Auto Place auto parts store after my high school classes, I helped make up for that. We weren't running Super Late Models or anything, so I that modest paycheck helped fund the racing program.
But one of the biggest things that I lacked was knowledge. I grew up in a car family, but not an oval track racing one. My father's background was in drag racing and muscle car era street racing and the GTO he ran back in the day had nearly nothing in common with the roundy-round cars I was now playing with.
So to overcome all of those shortcomings, I became a pest to my racing heroes - guys like Mike Weeden, Dave Dion and Joe Bessey. I'd ask countless questions and those guys would all take the time to answer them. The knowledge that I gained was worth its weight in gold.
One of those guys even gave me my first trophy and since that man has just been inducted into the New England Auto Racing (NEAR) Hall of Fame, I figure it's a great time to tell his tale. So please read on to hear more about Peter Fiandaca.
They called Fiandaca the Traveling Man because he would leave a raceshop in Fitchburg, Massachusetts and hit any track he could during an extended weekend. He earned the nickname back in the day when you could break even, or maybe come out on top, with a few victories or top five finishes in your racing week.
It took a little bit less for Fiandaca to break even too because he was the master of making his own speed parts. He never ordered up the latest trick part - instead he figured out how to build it himself. This short track MacGyver used an old coffee can as his air cleaner assembly. The roofs of his racecars were made from flat pieces of sheetmetal. Although they looked nothing like the ABC bodies of today, they sure worked well. There was always a slight pitch to them that brought just a little bit more downforce.
And then there was the Traveling Man's hauler. Some said it was one an old U-Haul truck. I never confirmed that for sure, but I do know that it was a trick unit when it found its way to the track. The blue and silver Ford featured a flatbed deck with tool compartments all up and down the sides. Fiandaca built it all himself.
This one-piece rig was especially useful at Hudson Speedway (NH) because the pits were so small there that only one tow unit was allowed to come into the pit area with a racecar. That meant if you towed an enclosed trailer (and almost nobody did back then), you had to unhook it in the pits and drive your truck out to the parking lot immediately. If you towed on an open trailer, that stayed in the parking lot and you drove or pushed your racecar in along with the pick-up truck that brought it. Well, since Fiandaca only had one unit, he just drove by everyone and waved as they we monkeying with their tow rigs.
Honestly though, that didn't happen much. Fiandaca always arrived so late to the track that everyone was unloaded and out practicing when he arrived. Fiandaca didn't need practice though. He just won anyways.
Fiandaca did have a great reason for being late to the track though. Hudson raced on Sundays, which meant it was his final event of the weekend. Before that, he would have spent Friday night racing at Monadnock Speedway, Saturday night racing two different cars at Star Speedway (the hauler had a trailer hitch - so it was one of the first two-car rigs in short track racing) and then he'd go through the cars late on Saturday night and early on Sunday morning to bring one to Hudson which was his turf.
One year, Fiandaca won what I think were 15 races consecutively in what was then Hudson's top tier division - the Bud Light Lightning division. The cars were basically Super Late Models with very loose rules. There were a few showpieces in the division too, I remember this one #30 car that was bright red and covered with chrome. But the polish didn't make it faster and Fiandaca's somewhat… uh… homely… homebuilt #135 beat it almost every week.
If I turn my head right now from my writing desk, I can lay my eyes on the trophy from victory #5 of that 15 race streak. It's sitting right on top of a display cabinet at my home.
After Fiandaca won his fifth Hudson feature of 1991, I went over towards his pit to congratulate him. Peter gave me such good support and advice that I was one of his biggest fans. Well, I was a big fan before he even knew who I was, but his actions only cemented my respect for him.
On that day though, I didn't make it all the way to his pit. That's because Peter was already walking towards mine. He had his trophy with him. We meet halfway in between and he handed the trophy to me. I was speechless, but he wasn't.
“You're going to win a lot of these,” he told me. “So I wanted to give you your first one.”
I think that I slept with that trophy for weeks after that day.
Not long after that day, I moved to North Carolina to pursue an education and a career in motorsports. Fiandaca just kept on winning races. It took me another seven years to get my next trophy - which came during a short stint of drag racing actually. I never earned my own short track trophies until nearly a decade and a half after the one I was given by the Traveling Man. I've gotten a precious few since then, but his still sits in front of my small collection.
I haven't spoken to Peter in years. I'm not even sure if he'd remember me now. But I'll never forget what he did for me.
As a journalist, we're not supposed to cheer or pull for any one driver. That's not really the case though because I know that even the most grizzled writing veterans secretly have their favorite men who they like to see succeed. But I'm not ashamed to say that I let out a little cheer for Peter Fiandaca when he was announced as part of the 2010 NEAR Hall of Fame class. He earned his way there in a way that most young kids coming up in the sport couldn't even imagine now.
I wonder if a coffee can air cleaner on an ABC body could pass tech today?
Congratulations Peter Fiandaca. You are a true Hall of Famer.