It all started out pretty much as I expected... my wife, son and I drove up to the Wheels & Wings car/airplane show at Candlelight Farms Airport in the rolling hills of Litchfield County Connecticut. There was the usual collection of rich-guy show cars you'd expect to see in the far-northern suburbs on New York City.
The Renault here was certainly something that you don't see often though, bright red with huge tires on the back and plenty of charisma. At least it's not the typical brightly colored 'Merican Muscle cars and trailered Euro coupes from the 70's, there's nothing wrong with those cars, I like 'em but sometimes it's cool to be surprised by a car show.
Well I kept walking and slowly a car appeared, it was bright orange and a little rough around the edges...ok maybe not just the edges.
Russ Truelove of Waterbury Connecticut, had his "Marvelous Mercury" 1956 Mercury Monterey there on display. A bit of history first, which is taken from the display information on the front of the car.
"One of the early show room stock cars of Nascar was this 1956 Mercury. Roll bars and other items of safety, as necessary, were added to meet the requirements of Nascar in early 1956. This car ran the Daytona Beach Beach Race in February and now appears much the same as when it ran then."
"It was close to show room stock when Russ drove it to Daytona Beach to compete in the grass roots of Nascar. With the help from Bill Stroppe, head of Mercury racing factory team, a 260 HP kit was installed in the engine, at the Daytona Beach Truck Garage that had been leased by Mercury."
"Russ qualified 5th fastest (first Mercury) and had some confidence when the green flag fell. During the race while going into the north turn Russ' #226 flipped violently several times and came to rest on all four wheels. Life Magazine first published pictures of this event along with others that involved Junior Johnson and Ralph Moody."
"The entire body had to be replaced. John Holman, parts man with the Mercury Factory Team, arranged to get a new 64C body. The frame was straightened slightly and fitted with new parts. The car was raced again in a few more Nascar races in 1956 up north."
But a car by itself is only so interesting... Russ was there too.
In the nearly 13 years of being a photographer I've met lots of celebrities, most of the time the experience is less than memorable. You often get the feeling the notable person is being put on display against their will. Yogi Berra stands out as as a particularly unpleasant person. Years ago during the big weekend at the Baseball Hall of Fame, Yogi was listlessly signed endless autographs for fans. You feel like they don't want to be there and don't really care that much what the fans think, as long as they get paid their appearance fees (cough...Pete Rose...cough).
Meeting Mr. Truelove was like getting to meet Richard Petty as I did years ago...both Petty and Truelove have an easy smile and a personality that just draws you to them. Ask Russ about his car or his time racing in the early days of Grand National Racing and he's all-too-happy to answer anything. He told me about his time behind the wheel during the Daytona races and about the wreck he had at Lime Rock Park where he sustained amazingly heavy injuries while racing...and he was in his 70's at that time! On that grassy airstrip in the hills of Connecticut Russ was really the star of the show.
What a guy.
Publisher, Slot Car News