Saugus Speedway ~ Striking a Blow For Short Track Racers ~ Part II
by: Carol Bell
The saga continues…
“According to one owner, Coldewey agreed that none of the drivers would be singled out for his part in the protest, but that very night, Coldewey reportedly wrote letters to Bob Johnson of Palmdale and Marvin Rowley, who happened to be the two owners whose cars blocked the track, notifying them of their 90-day suspension and forfeiture of all 1968 points.”
This was the shot heard ‘round the county since Rowley owned the car of point’s leader Jimmy Insolo. This prompted Insolo to announce he would not return to Saugus unless Rowley was reinstated.
All competitors felt this action went too far and to complicate matters, Coldewey suspended the entire Sportsman division for one week thus cementing the determination of every driver who competed at Saugus to band together and form a united front.
Then the ugliness started. Accusations began flying like tumbleweeds. Some were obviously the product of someone’s imagination such as the one included in a later column insinuating that days prior to the Labor Day race, several drivers had received anonymous phone calls telling them not to come to Saugus because their cars would be destroyed. This made little sense because the threats came before the race.
At this point, it seemed that Coldewey was in a full state of denial. Surely, he had to have heard that drivers and owners were firm in their belief that a strike was their only option. However, Coldewey continued along his normal path.
Coldewey issued his weekly bulletin on Wednesday, and it read, “Due to the shortage of the Sportsman Division cars on August 24, and September 1, there will be no Sportsman racing at Saugus on September 7. The maximum tire tread width of 9 ½ inches will be held in abeyance until further notice.
Then under “COMING EVENTS AT SAUGUS SPEEDWAY; SAT. NITE, Sept. 7: Cadet, Limited Stocks and Foreign Stocks. No Sportsman.
Regular events, including Sportsman races, would resume the following Saturday, Sept. 14, it said.”
By boldly stating in print that all would be well on September 14, Coldewey played the absolute worst card in his hand, and the drivers in the Cadet and Limited Stock divisions felt this was a slap in the face of those drivers who drove in that upper division who were so responsible for drawing huge numbers to the track.
With a full staff on hand that lovely Saturday evening, they found themselves virtually all alone. Because the drivers had banded together, Coldewey had no choice but to cancel the event.
“It’s the first time we’ve been able to stick together,” said one jubilant driver, who has been opposed to what he considers to be dictatorial, arbitrary, iron-fisted rule by the management at Saugus for several years.
We have no say in what goes on out there,” he commented adding that anyone who attempted to stand up to management in the past has been suspended.
“That tire squabble was just something that brought this thing to a head….it’s actually been going on a long, long time,” the driver-owner spokesman said.”
Tony Coldewey claimed complete ignorance, claiming that no one had any complaints, orally or written, and stated that those involved were just looking for “little things”, and that whatever suggestions put forth were put into the rules. He then went on to literally pass the buck for his strong stance in banning the Sportsman division by shifting the blame to the stadium owner Bill Bonnelli who, according to Coldewey, had instructed him to keep them away from the Speedway.
When speaking of possible solutions to the problems, the drivers and owners hoped to return to Saugus.
“We like Saugus,” one representative said. “That’s where the crowds are….the atmosphere….the challenge…
“If a driver can learn to drive at Saugus, he’ll be able to handle any track anywhere.”
The drivers emphasized that they had no quarrel with Tony Coldewey as a promoter, but they wanted more say in the rules that they have to drive by; better, more consistent officiating, and a fair share of the money.”
Tony Coldewey continued to put forth his same positive attitude.
Friday, September 13, 1968
~ Figure 8 Cars on Saugus Racing Bill ~
Following a week of inactivity at Saugus Speedway due to a drivers’ boycott, racing returns to the one-third mile oval tomorrow night with Figure 8 competition and a demolition race scheduled.
While an attempt is being made to rectify the situation the Pacific Racing Association stock cars from Ascot Park will be on hand to take part in a 10-race Figure 8 program.
The regular card will be made up of a 25-lap main event, 15 lap semi feature, trophy dash and heat races.
What it came down to was a Figure 8 race and a Demolition Derby at a track that once had three point divisions racing every week.
It might have gone as planned, but Mr. Coldewey seriously underestimated his Pacific Racing Association roster of competitors.
Needless to say it didn’t go as planned.
Sunday, September 15, 1968
~ Drivers Submit Letter ~
Saugus Speedway was dark again last night.
Pacific Racing Association Figure 8 drivers from Ascot Park were to have filled in for the absent Saugus regulars, but promoter Tony Coldewey was forced to cancel the show when Ascot drivers voted to honor the driver-owner boycott.
It is anyone’s guess what was going through Coldewey’s mind, but this had to have come as a shock. Perhaps he felt that the drivers and owners needed the PRA more than it needed them or even that this was nothing more than a bunch of little boys throwing a tantrum. It’s also possible that he did in fact realize that the whole mess had reached this point because issues had arisen in prior seasons. Certainly, he recognized that if he wanted to keep his racetrack running he was finally going to have to deal with these issues.
Sinclair Buckstaff of Northridge, working as a representative of the drivers and owners of racing machines in all three divisions at Saugus Stadium, submitted a list of formal, written grievances to Coldewey late Thursday night.
Coldewey acknowledged receipt of the letter from Buckstaff and said that he and his lawyer would review the points, one by one, before calling for a meeting with the driver-owner representatives on Tuesday or Wednesday.
“Judging from a cursory examination of the letter, I would say I am in favor of 98% of the points mentioned,” Coldewey told The News. “Many of them, in fact are already provided for in the rules of PRA,’ he commented.”
Buckstaff’s list of grievances included points involving the consistency of officiating, rules and enforcement, and purse distribution.
Any of this sound familiar? Officiating, rule enforcement and money?
This last paragraph, in fact had been a major issue with the drivers and owners over the years. The fact that management was not following the rules and equally important, the issue of monies guaranteed in the rules had been going down. The rules stated implicitly that the purse would be set at 40% of the gross gate receipts and many owners and drivers felt the purse had dropped considerably. They not only wanted more money at the “back end” of the race, but a wider distribution of monies, and they wanted it checked by a “certified public accounting firm.” Coldewey for his part wanted a guarantee from the drivers that enough cars would show up each week and provide a good show for the spectators; a reasonable request of course, if the drivers and owners received the monies guaranteed in the rules.
Another problem was the suspensions of car owner Marvin Rowley and driver-owner Bob Johnson who drove their cars across the track effectively stopping the 100-lap Open Comp race that started the boycott. This was a major issue for Coldewey who insisted that some penalty be assessed “even if the drivers have to administer it themselves.” How he thought that was going to happen is beyond me.
As the disputes between drivers, owners and management finally began to wind down; the fan craziness was in full swing. Family members of competitors were threatening to picket and stage a sit-in on the racetrack, and stories circulated about threats to out of town drivers and their cars were made known.
Still, Saugus Speedway remained dark.
Friday, September 20, 1968
~ Drivers Settle With Promoter ~
Automobile racing will return to Saugus Speedway this week end. After two weeks of arguments and negotiations between management and driver-owner representatives, differences have been resolved and the early-model stock cars will roll onto the one-third mile track again tomorrow night.
Almost three weeks after the calamitous Labor Day race, it appeared all parties involved were making progress and the sound of stock cars would once again reverberate throughout the Santa Clarita Valley. With so little information other than what was being diligently printed in The Valley News, fans surely wondered if their little track would survive.
Scheduled will be the usual 12-event program, high-lighted by main events in Sportsman, Cadet and Limited Stock divisions.
You had to give the major players credit though, for coming together in an effort to work out their differences, hopefully improving not only relations between management and the drivers and owners, but to insure that great racing continued at the little one-third mile track.
Meetings had been held in secret by drivers and owners from the beginning and it would appear this enabled them to develop particular elements of their demands to take to the promoters. It’s doubtful that they had legal help much less representation which certainly was available to track management so their efforts were even more impressive.
Each of those PRA classes was represented during negotiations and driver-owner meetings.
(Sinclair) Buckstaff and Carl Stronberg represented the Sportsman division, while Ed Harris, owner of Bobby Kauf’s division-leading Chevrolet, was spokesman for the Cadet drivers.
Steve Colbert was elected representative for the Limited Stock pilots.
Of course, this is what drew me to document this story. I knew my brother was involved, and I did ask him about it as it was happening. He refused to talk about it. Absolutely, and unequivocally, refused to talk about it. Whether this was due to an agreement with the other drivers and owners I don‘t know. Sadly he’s no longer with us, but even if he was I doubt I’d ask him about it. That’s just the way he was. I do know that the entire episode bothered him a great deal. Litigation of any kind in the 1960s wasn’t as it is today and I’m sure that those drivers and owners who stood up for what they believed, worried about their futures in racing if they didn’t come to an equitable agreement with management.
As to Tony Coldewey, I never sensed any great animosity towards him. He was a former racer and seemingly well respected. It was just business and with the exception of your usual odd ducks, hammering out the agreement was probably no different than any other business dispute.
Following the meeting, Coldewey announced: “We have reached an agreement. There will be stock car racing at Saugus again on September 21 and September 25, and we have a CRA sprint car program scheduled at the track Oct. 5.”
Buckstaff echoed Coldewey comments.
“All the differences have been ironed out. We’re back to racing and I just hope we have a good show and that the fans come out and support us. We want them all back,” he concluded.”
They did come back. They came back in full force and racing continued at Saugus Speedway for another 27 years. The track not only produced great racing but hosted some of the biggest names in the sport.
The fact that it was also the site of a successful driver/owner strike is but a small part of its long history. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, it was necessary. I think racing at Saugus Speedway was a bit healthier for having gone through this experience.
Steve Colbert raced at Saugus Speedway until 1983.
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