The 4th Turn: 6/3/2021

~ By Tom Boggie

I missed Dave Lape Tribute Night last weekend.

I wanted to be there, but I had a family commitment, and family comes first. Dave and Jackie Lape would understand that.

I’m sure there were a lot of great stories told and embellishments further embellished at the tribute, especially because Lew Boyd was there, but I wasn’t a part of it.

That doesn’t mean I can’t pay my own tribute to Dave. When I was writing for “Trackside” magazine, I did a couple of stories about Lape, including one in August of 1991. What I wrote nearly 30 years ago still rings true today. I’m going to reprint it here, for the sake of those who may have never read it.
Here’s goes.

It’s a hot summer night at Fonda Speedway, the kind of night Dave Lape loves. It’s the kind of night when nothing goes wrong. The rear quarterpanel on the Burrows Trucking 22 is flapping in the breeze, but on this night, nothing is going to slow Lape down.

It’s the night of the 1991 Skoal Qualifier at Fonda, and Lape is about to end a long dry spell. The last time he won a Skoal Series race was at Fonda in 1973, darn near two decades ago.

When he pulls up on the famous checkerboard stand and climbs out of the car, the place erupts.

Cheers. Nothing but cheers. Listen as hard as you want. There are no sounds of discord, no grumbling, no boos. Then it hit me. I’ve never heard anyone boo Dave Lape.

Lape, a quiet man who has never gloated about his success, or whined about his failures, is afforded a rare respect in a sport whose allegiances are as strong as those of street gangs. Jack Johnson and Brett Hearn get booed with regularity, and when their success becomes too aggravating to stand, are usually accused of cheating. All the past greats – Cagle, Lazzaro, Corellis, Wimble, Shoemaker – have heard the taunts of the boobirds.

Heck, I’ve heard Mike Romano get booed just for drawing a pole position.

But Dave Lape never gets booed.

Certainly, there are other drivers in dirt track racing who never get booed. There are other good guys in racing, but for the exception of Bob McCreadie, they can’t begin to envision the success Lape has enjoyed in his career. The boos are saved for the winners, and even though he keeps winning, Lape only hears cheers.

The respect has been earned.

Lape doesn’t dwell on his success. The only way to learn about his past accomplishments is to look them up. He was the overall DIRT point champion in 1977, won the CRC point title in 1982, has stood in Victory Lane at Syracuse, has two track titles at Fonda and is currently battling for a third, shares the track record for wins in a season at Albany-Saratoga Speedway, is a past winner of the Eastern States 200, still considered the granddaddy of dirt track races. He’s won races in four decades, and hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down.

“Every time I go out, I go out to win,” said Lape. “If the car’s right, I still can race with anybody else. But there are a lot of nights when the car’s not right.”

There are a lot of reasons why Lape’s distinctive 22 isn’t right some nights. Since 1982, when he came out with the first “Troyer Destroyer,” Lape’s Champ Car Fabrications shop in Canajoharie, N.Y. has been booming. Customers have first priority. Lape’s own car comes second.

In the past two years, he’s also gotten into promoting with long-time friend and DIRT legal counsel Andy Fusco. LAPCO Promotions did three shows this year, and turned down a couple of other opportunities.
He’s found there’s more to life than just racing, but winning is still a top priority.

Lape started racing in 1964, and has been winning races since 1969. He’s found success with a number of different car owners. The chassis design, engine builders and owners have changed, but the one constant has been Lape’s driving ability.

His first major accomplishment came in 1977, when he drove for Don Knapfel of Esperance, N.Y. Campaigning a Tobias chassis, Lape won the overall DIRT point championship.

Five years later, he teamed up with Dick Putman and drove a car of his own design, the “Troyer Destroyer,” the prototype of Champ Cars to come. In one of his best seasons ever, Lape won 12 races and the track championship at Albany-Saratoga Speedway, picked up another seven wins at Fonda and never finished lower than 10th in a CRC race, walking off with that crown.

For the last four years, Lape has been driving for Fred Burrows, who used to back Tommy Wilson’s career. Lape and Burrows have meshed perfectly, concentrating on racing on Saturday and Sunday nights. The days of traveling around the Northeast to hit 100 races a year are over.

“I don’t miss it,” said Lape. “That’s a lot of traveling around, and it’s a lot of wear and tear on everyone. It seems like that’s all you can do, just race. We did it for 10 years, when I didn’t have the shop, but if you’re going to chase points like that, you’ve got to do it fulltime.

“If I was driving for Billy Taylor and he picked me up and got me to the races and I just had to drive the car, I’d still do it,” added Lape with a laugh. “But when you do all the work on the car, all the driving on the track, all the racing … I don’t want to do that.”

Modesty is one of Lape’s traits, and so is loyalty. In the early 1980s, when Ron Compani was still running Fonda Speedway, invading drivers would troop into the speedway office after the races with their hands out, picking up appearance money, dinner money, motel money. Lape never got in on the gravy train, but he was back at the track every Saturday night, helping fill the seats.

When the track surface went to hell and many of the name drivers left to run somewhere else a couple of years ago, Lape stayed around, and his fans stayed with him.

He still goes to Weedsport every Sunday, maintaining a close relationship with DIRT president Glenn Donnelly.

But one of the more surprising stories of his loyalty is his relationship with engine builder Kevin Enders.

You’re nobody these days if you’re not running a Feil or a Hutter motor. But Lape’s motors still come out of a small shop in tiny Nelson, N.Y., a speed trap that sits nestled in a valley on Route 20, between the college towns of Morrisville and Cazenovia.

“When I got with Fred, he had all Hutter stuff and I didn’t want to go back and forth to Ohio when we needed something,” said Lape. “Kevin had built engines for Paul Jensen and Ted Lamb, and he had approached me about getting a motor together for me when I was with Dick.

“I told Fred I knew a kid who was just starting out. I went up to look at his shop and everything was neat and put away and I liked that part of it. We needed a small block then, so I said, ’Let’s give it a try.’”

That first small block is still in Lape’s car four years later, and since that first meeting, Enders has built all six of Burrows’ motors.

“When we need an engine rebuilt, I take it out on Sunday and we get it back by Friday. That’s a big help to us,” said Lape. “As long as Kevin is there, he’ll be doing our motors.”

And as long as Lape keeps racing, he’ll keep winning. No one has ever said that Lape may be getting over the hill, nor have they hinted that he may be losing his touch. They just wait for him to win another race.

Abandoning the Skoal Series has even seemed to help, because he’s been able to avoid the burnout that plagues many of the sport’s other big names at the end of the season.

It’s hard to tell if Dave Lape has mellowed, because he’s never been exuberant. On the nights when things have gone wrong, when he’s ready to explode, the only giveaway was a nervous habit of rubbing an eyebrow.
He’s never danced on the roof of a car, and certainly never will. It’s important to be a humble winner, as well as a gracious loser.

No one ever talks about role models in racing, bit it wouldn’t hurt some of today’s younger drivers to copy Dave Lape’s style.

It’s a good way to avoid the boos.

Stewart Friesen had a busy week surrounding the Memorial Day holiday, getting in six straight nights of racing. It began last Thursday, when he won $7,000 in the modified event at Orange County Speedway. He followed that up with a fourth, matching his best finish of the season, in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Charlotte. On Saturday, he swept both 22-lap features on Dave Lape Tribute night at Fonda, and then finished third in the Heroes Remembered 100 Super DIRT Series race Sunday at Weedsport. He went to Lebanon Valley on Monday for the Mr. Dirt Track USA Super DIRT Series race, and after leading the first 67 laps, later broke an oil line and finished 18th. He completed the hectic schedule at Penn Can Tuesday with a second-place finish after starting in the front row. According to Friesen’s Facebook page, he drove with a broken left rear suspension for the second half of the feature at Penn Can.

The other big winner during the holiday weekend was Matt Sheppard. After recording the 400th win of his career at Land of Legends last Saturday, he took home the top prize of $13,500 from the Mr. Dirt Track USA race, and picked up another $5,000 by winning Tuesday at Penn Can.

Marc Johnson showed he can run with the big boys on Monday, finishing third behind Sheppard and Mat Williamson at the Valley. Ronnie Johnson returned to the Valley for the Mr. Dirt Track USA race. He was running fourth late in the race when he suffered a flat tire, which dropped him to ninth in the final order of finish.

Vince Quenneville Jr. won the Northeast Crate Nationals at Devil’s Bowl on Monday, earning $5,000. That was his first win at the Bowl in four years. The Nationals were originally scheduled for Sunday, but moved to Monday because of bad weather.

Tim Hartman Jr., driving as a substitute driver for Demetrios Drellos, came from deep in the field to finish fifth in the Crate Nationals. Drellos was scheduled to start on the pole in the Nationals, but opted instead to complete in the Mr. Dirt Track USA race at the Valley. But he wrecked in his heat race and the damage was too extensive to repair at the track.

Andy Bachetti earned the $500 hard charger bonus at Penn Can, coming from his 21st starting position to finish fourth.

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