Q&A: Thunder Road’s Dick Blake

Written by Sky Barsch on . Posted in Way of (Vermont) Life

Dick Blake and his wrecker. Photo by Ken Burris.

Dick Blake and his wrecker. Photographed by Ken Burris.

When the stock car racers at Barre’s Thunder Road get into trouble, it’s Dick Blake and his wrecker crew who get them out. At 84, Blake runs the tow truck at “The Nation’s Site of Excitement,” where fans of all ages enjoy fast cars, fried dough and checkered flags.

VL: How long have you been running the wrecker?
DB: This will be my 53rd year. I was going to retire after the 50th year, but Ken Squier and Tom Curley said I’ve got to stay with ’em … as long as they own the track. I said as long as I’m able, I’ll do it.

VL: Is it a job or volunteer work?
DB: We volunteer, but I get a little gas money every once in a while, and I get good advertisement after all these years, and I enjoy doing it.

VL: Have you ever had a car stuck that you couldn’t get out?
DB: Never. We’ve seen ’em over the fence into the parking lot a couple of times; they’ve been everywhere. I’ve probably picked up a car on every inch of that track over the years — on top of the wall, over the bank in the trees. We’ve seen some pretty mysterious accidents and have been lucky nobody’s been killed.

VL: Where’s the best spot to watch the races?
DB: Off the fourth turn. That’s where a lot of the action happens, or starts to happen.

VL: Do you ever get a sense before you go in for the night if it’s going to be a big wreck night or pretty mellow?
DB: Generally if you have a full moon, it could be a little rough. It could be. You never know. There’s no two races alike.

VL: Has anyone ever gotten really hurt?
DB: Oh yeah. But not lately, because the cars are built so much better than they used to be like with old Chester T. Wood, with that X-1, that thing was bale hay wire and a hay rake for a seat. That car, I don’t know why he won races with it, that thing was tied together. That was the worst looking car on the track. Ever. And he did great with it! He won races with it.

VL: What’s the mood of the drivers like after a wreck?
DB: Depends on what caused the wreck to begin with. If somebody pushed somebody, the mood’s changed. Some people are pretty calm and forget about it; some are pretty nervous.

VL: What does it feel like when you come on a bad scene?
DB: You’ve got to stay calm. But we don’t get near them until a safety crew goes out and makes sure everything is taken care of before we touch the car.

VL: You get to see the lieutenant governor (Phil Scott) race?
DB: Yup. I picked him off a wall once. I was very nervous when he hit the pit wall, head on. He stopped that in a hurry. He’s never done that since. But he does a good job. Phil’s still a good driver.

VL: It all sounds very interesting.
DB: Well, this is my Thursday night. What else is there to do on a Thursday night? Nothing. I enjoy going up there. My wife says it’s my first love.

VL: Oh, I’m sure that’s not true …
DB: That’s what she says. I go up there on Thursday nights, and she says, “I guess you’re going to your first love.”

 

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