At ‘This Place in History’ we’re in Milton with Executive Director of the Vermont Historical Society Steve Perkins.
“We’re going to be talking about the Milton Speedway. The former owner of the speedway Rene LaBerge is here to talk to us about the history. So we’re going to go over and look at the actual dragstrip and talk to him about it,” introduced Perkins.
“It was one of the first [dragstrips] in New England. It was certainly the first one in Vermont. It was the only one in Vermont, the only legal one in Vermont. Salisbury Flats ran a lot out of Middlebury,” joked LaBerge.
“It was in the early ’60s and that was a boom in fast cars and to be able to get out and travel a lot. There was a lot of racing done all over this part. There must have been, no exaggeration, 40 or 50 circle tracks or dirt tracks in Vermont. And they were in the ‘darndest’ places. There were like two in South Burlington,” added LaBerge.
“There was a wide variety of people from executives to farmers that would come out and just wanted to have a fast car and drive it. It brought people from all over the country. It wasn’t just locals. We had a lot of Canadians that came here all the time. People from New York, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Maine. There’d be 5 or 6 thousand people here, which was a lot back then.”
“The record was 196 mph in a hair over 6 seconds. And that’s ‘boogying’ on this track, especially with no shutdown. That’s one of the reasons the track closed was because cars were going faster and faster and there were no shutdowns. We couldn’t get the property at the end.”
“The engineering that went into these cars, people don’t believe. Back when we were racing here, it was all backyard engineering,” concluded LaBerge.
“John Keefer, a retired engineer, is known throughout Vermont and the U.S. for his engine work. He had some cars that raced right here at this track,” explained Perkins.
“The first car I had here was just a pleasure car. It was a car I drove back and forth to work, a family car. I basically put good tires on it, redid the exhaust, had open exhaust, but no engine modifications or anything like that. The car was a ’62 Chevy, 300 horse[power], four speed. It turned low 14 seconds, 96 mph. I won 37 trophies with that car,” remembered Keefer.
“My buddies in Albany had a AA gas dragster. So, I bought their old chasse and I had to build an engine for it. Frankie Woodward, we worked at [General Electric] together, he was my best buddy. I said that whoever is lightest race day was going to drive it. So I start eating,” joked Keefer.
“Just about every trip here we went 180 mph in 8.2-8.1 seconds. The first time going down, you’re pinned in your seat and I’m saying to myself I can’t believe I built such a monster,” concluded Keefer.
At ‘This Place in History’!
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