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Rich Terruso

And the Terruso Brothers

By raycer27

 

      Not many people know about Richie or his brothers in this article unless you were from Hammonton N.J. or attended the races at Pleasantville Speedway and Wall Stadium on a regular basis. Take a trip back in time with us.                                             

   Richie and his brothers were involved with stock car racing all throughout the mid 60ís and early 70ís. Richie began hanging around Tom Skinnerís shop as a youngster and later worked on Tomís pit crew in the 60ís for about 5 years. While Rich was with Tom, he listened and learned and gained much knowledge over those 5 years or so. When Rich decided to build his own car, being on the pit crew for Tom, the understanding of what to do to make a car handle and just the overall experience working with Tom on his crew would prove to be extremely valuable. 

Tony Siscone told me that Rich was a nice guy but temper wise; he had a short fuse, on the other side of the coin  if you were on his team or if he took a liking to you, he would have your back100%. He was also very unpredictable at times, which leads to this story. Tom, Parker Bohn and the crew were at Wall Stadium, When Parker gets into an altercation with another driver and the officials at Wall suspend Parker for a week. Tom decides to take the 659 to Islip Speedway in Long Island N.Y.  They arrive, they qualify and Parkerís winning the show, problem was, Tom was running side-draft carbs on the engine and when Parker went into the corner, a little fuel dripped onto the exhaust headers and would ignite and then burn off until the next corner. There are only 3 laps to go, Richieís in the grandstand right behind the flaggerís stand and notices the flagger getting ready to throw the black flag, so Rich grabs the flag and takes off running with the assistant starter chasing him. The guy never did find Rich and Parker won the race. The track security people were all over the pit area looking for this 6 ft. tall dark haired guy that stole the flag.

Now the crew knows nothing about what took place at the flaggerís stand. Tom collected the prize money, theyíre all loaded up and theyíre ready to go home, Tom asks "Whereís Richie"? No one knew until they opened the door to the hauler truck and there lying on the floor is Richie, with the black flag in his hand.On the way home someone must have thought the flag was a bad omen and they threw it out of the truck, what a piece of historic memorabilia to have had in their possession.

Junior and Paulie Terruso decided to build a Ď37 Ford coupe, painted it blue, put the #3 on it and hired Bunky Higbee from Fortescue to drive the car. I donít remember how long they ran that car, but it was later sold to Jim Habermehl and Earl Huegel. They repainted the car maroon & white and renumbered it, the #73.

The Terrusoís had an opportunity to buy a Dick Barney car that was built for Trenton Speedway, but when Trenton closed Rich went to Lakewood and bought the car.

Those of you, who went to Píville Speedway, will remember it as a dark blue Falcon with the #3 on it and was also driven by Bunky Higbee.

George Smith, who owned Statewide Hi-Way Safety, became involved with the Terrusoís and wound up sponsoring the car. The car was repainted in the colors of Statewide, which was red & white. Bunky was a good driver and was the track champion in 1966 & í67. The Higbee family owned and operated Higbeeís Marina and when Bunky took on more responsibility at the marina, Bunky told Richie that sometimes he would possibly arrive late and would miss warm-ups. Rich said that was ok, because there was this young kid the local paper did an article on, who raced go-karts and was a top notch driver. The kid wants to drive stock cars and knew he worked at a gas station on the weekends. That "kid" was Tony Siscone.

So Rich stops off at the gas station to fill the truck and the race car where Tony worked and tells Tony to come to the track and warm up the car for Bunky because heíd probably be late. Tony would normally get there later in the evening after warm-ups were over. Rich said he was serious and Tony just laughed and said "Yeah, yeah, ok Rich" because Rich was always the practical joker and you didnít know if he was kidding or not. Rich comes to the station the next week, jumps out of the truck and heís one mad Italian, screaming "Where the hell were you last week, Bunky was late and the car wasnít warmed up. I was serious, I wanted you there and you never showed up"! And blah, blah, blah, etc.  Well, Tony apologizes and tells Rich heíll be there for sure this Sunday and Rich continued to read him the riot act and says "You better be you little #@*^#". So Tony goes out and gets a fire suit and other essentials and shows up at the track, and Rich tells him "I donít want ya to go fast, Iím gonna train you the right way, just stay on the inside and watch the gauges because I donít want you to be like a lot of the guys out here that donít take care of their equipment".

After 2 weeks things are going pretty good with Richieís master plan in place and one night Rich gets called to the handicapperís shack where they tell him that Bunky called and said he wouldnít make the heat races but would be there for the feature. Rich tells him to go out and see if he can qualify the car, use your head, and try not to wreck the car. Tony starts 8th in the last heat and winds up finishing 3rd. On the way to the pits, Richie jumps in the car, hugs him, gives him a kiss, (Yes, real men do that from time to time). Richie knew from the beginning that this "kid" had some real talent and the kid just proved himself, I mean that was a big deal, not only for Richie, but for Tony too. The crew was going "bananas", life is good, and itís a great night. Bunky arrives and finishes 2nd in the featureÖWhat could go wrong after a night like this you might ask? ......wait for it.

Statewide, as we said, was sponsoring Rich and at the same time they were building a new car, a sedan. When George Smith heard that Rich was letting Tony warm the car up and actually ran a race in the car, he wasnít too happy about it! George went off on Richie, telling him that he didnít like the idea of some long haired hippie looking kid driving a car that he was sponsoring. Rich says to George, "Heís a school teacher; heís going to be teaching school in September, heís not just a long haired hippie kid".

At that point a tremendous argument broke out between Richie and George Smith and I now have to use my artistic license to clean up the dialogue somewhat.

Richie is now up in Georgeís face, saying "You so & so, you can take this car and put it where the sun donít shine, Iím gonna take the 2 blown motors in the shop, you can keep the Falcon and keep Bunky as your driver, Iím keeping the sedan and Iím putting the kid in that car and Iím gonna beat your butt every single week!

Rich and his crew were working hard to complete the sedan so they could make the last race at Píville which was a 50 Lap race; they finished everything except for the paint, so it came to the track in primer grey with T3 as the number. This was in 1971.

Tony and I and few others were in a heat race and going into turn three, 3 or 4 cars including me get into an accident, I bounced off the wall and Tony hits my nerf bar and blows the left front tire, at the time Chuck Warner a.k.a. "Cousin Chuck" drove one of the wreckers, (Later he drove in the sportsman division) picks Tonyís car up about 4 feet or so in the air and the car drops to the ground and now blows the right front tire, he picks the car back up and heads to the pits, Rich meets him and wants to know why he lifted the car so high in the first place that it was his fault that the right front was damaged, well, Cousin Chuck tells Richie to shut the hell up (thatís the mild version) so Rich hauls off and knocks him back into the truck, needless to say, they told Rich heíd have to go to the grandstands for the rest of the night. Paulie and Junior Terusso ran the race operations for the rest of the night.

So Rich took the 2 blown motors he had from the split with Statewide, and made 1 good motor out of them, Tom Skinner was having a coronary, and heís yelling at Rich, "What the hell are you doing, the motorís not balanced, itís gonna blow up"!

All of the big names were there, Bunky, Jerry Camp, Carl Grinar, Parker Bohn, Bob McCullough, Charlie Angerman and driverís from other tracks made the trip because this was the last race of the season and the purse was pretty healthy. Tony starts 17th in the feature and with 8 laps to go, Tony takes the lead, then with 5 laps to go the yellow comes out.

If the yellow hadnít come out, Tony would have won, Skinner and Parker both attested to that. Parker was in second and on the restart, Parker went ahead and won the race by 3 feet over Tony. Richie and his crew were so elated, plus they beat the Statewide car which finished 5th. Over the winter they painted the car blue.

In 1972, Richie and Tony had 4 wins at Píville and 4 wins at Wall. Rich had never won at Wall until Tony got in the car. In Richieís opinion, with Tony at the wheel, he had achieved everything he had set out to do, he gave the "kid" a shot at driving, they won races together, they beat the Statewide race team, (Statewide never beat the Terruso team) who said that "A long haired hippie looking kid couldnít drive a race car", so much for that theory.

So Rich tells Tony that heís selling the car, that heís done, but his brothers have a modified and Tony should run in the Garden State Classic, back then it was a 300 lap race. Rich tells his brothers to get the coupe ready and take it to Wall for the Classic because the limiteds werenít running. Let him get some seat time and experience and build him a new car for next year and he would help them when he could.

He tells his brothers that heís selling the T3 and Tonyís dad hears this and was not happy about that, so thatís when Tonyís dad and Tony Ruberti went into a partnership together and bought the T3, painted it bronze and renumbered it the T4.

  He ran in the Classic in the Terruso brothers modified coupe, finished in 6th spot 3 or 4 laps downÖ.not bad for a "long haired hippie".  The ironic thing is that Rich was there with the Dick Barney Falcon in the beginning with Tony driving and he was there for the last race that Tony drove at Flemington, also in a Dick Barney car.                            You might think thatís the end of this story, but we have more. The T3 was the last car he was involved with but he did follow Tonyís career right to the end, they were best friends, but at that stage of his life Rich was a spectator and race fan.

Some years down the road Richieís in a bar having lunch and a cool beverage and Rich always the prankster buys this lady whoís sitting at the bar a drink, then gets up and leaves and this happens a few more times at the same bar.

Now the lady in question was Ann Ransom, the daughter of the late Frank Ransom who built the famous "O" cars that ran at Pleasantville. Ann didnít recognize him until about the 3rd time he saw Ann and her boyfriend, Joe Carr in this bar. He told Ann, he was just messiní with the both of them; Joe didnít know who he was and vise versa and knew sheíd figure out who he was sooner or later.

So they rekindled their friendship talking about the good times they had at Píville, (Ann was also Miss Atlantic City Speedway in 1974 see inset photo) plus Rich knew her dad from racing. They were at the Pumpkin Run when it first started and the event was small compared to what it is today. They were talking to Bill Force, when Bill says he knows where the hood is for the old zero coupe that Frank built and Carl Grinar drove.

Later on Bill finds out that the car is down in the Cape May Court house area and tells Ann and Joe. They donít have a garage nor the knowledge to take on this project, so Ann asked Richie if heíd consider doing the restore on the O, he said no problem, he would do the restore if they helped him put on an addition to his garage, all parties agreed and the plan was put into motion. Joe and Rich put the addition on and Rich and the gang went and picked up the car and started the restore. It took about a year to complete, working on the weekends

mostly. The car was in pretty bad shape after sitting out in the weather for many years and it needed a lot of work done to it and Richie wasnít a young man anymore.

From what Joe told me, he enjoyed working with Rich and yeah, they had their little snit fits when things didnít go the way they planned but overall Joe said it was a great learning experience. Joe promised Rich he would be the first to drive the car when it was done, so they took the car to Wall Stadium, Rich posed for a picture and the heavens opened up and they got rained out. Then they made arrangements at Flemington Speedway to take the car there, seem they had a deal where you paid a fee that would let you drive on the track for an hour.

They had old McCreary tires on the car that were so hard that Rich got into the 3rd turn fence and suffered a mild concussion, but he did get in 3 laps before hitting the fence.

there wasnít a lot of damage and it was repaired within a week or two.

The restore gets double thumbs up from anyone whoís seen the car at various vintage racing shows. It can always be seen at Flemingís Pumpkin Run every year in November. If you would like to see the restore from beginning to end, go to the "Slide Show" section on this website and select, O Restoration parts I & 2 and we have a DVD on this restore in the "Video" section of the site. You will then see the labor of love that Richie put into this project. There were many others involved in this undertaking and thatís why you need to see the above slide shows and video.

Rich was there from the beginning to the very end of that restore. I guess you could say, that was Richieís way of giving back something to the sport that he loved, knowing that he was helping to preserve a piece of history for the future generations.

I didnít know Richie that well, I knew he was Italian, he lived in Hammonton and he had a race car and driver that beat the living crap out us every week. Richie, Paulie and Junior were the guys that jump started that "hippie kidís" career and were interesting characters that were a part of the history of Pleasantville Speedway.

Iíd like to thank Tony Siscone and Joe Carr for their recollections of Richie for this story.

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