Friday, November 23, 2018

A Champion, Indoors and Out

In this photo, driver Bobby Albert has just won an ATQMRA feature at the Islip Speedway in 1961. The flagger Johnny Zeke is on the left, in the middle is car owner John Dini and on the right is John's son Dick Dini.

In this car Albert would go on to win the 1961 ATQMRA championship, having already won the winter indoor championship driving for Bill Mildern.  (For many years, the ATQMRA offered separate outdoor and indoor championships, primarily because in those pre-Pine Brook days there were just as many indoor races as outdoor.). 

At the end of the 1961 season, John Dini sold this car to newly-retired Cleveland Indians pitcher Mike Garcia.  Garcia asked Albert to drive and maintain the car for the 1962 indoor season.  Garcia wanted Albert to race in indoor events at the Rochester War Memorial Auditorium and in Cleveland Ohio, which he did with success.  But the travel during the winter months, before the completion of the Interstate Highway system, got to be too much for Albert.  Vic Novell then offered Albert the ride in his #22 TQ for the remaining indoor season back east, so Albert gave the former Dini car back to Garcia.

Albert, who began racing in 1947, was a versatile driver who competed in Midgets, Sprint Cars and Stock Cars as well as TQs, winning a total of 109 feature races all together.  As a competitor in the always-tough American Racing Drivers Club series, Albert was voted Most Improved Driver in 1962, finished second in ARDC season-long points in 1965, and in 1969, driving the Strapoli Brothers Chevy II, he captured ARDC’s Stock Block championship.  He was the overall Super Midget Racing Club champion in 1974, driving a Buick-powered car entered by his son, Bobby Jr.

In 1980, driving in the United Racing Club Sprint Car series also in a car owned by Bobby Jr., Albert finished second to Paul Rochelle in driver points, and that was enough to earn the car owner championship for his son.

An intriguing footnote to Albert’s career is that he was the first driver to flip a car in a NASCAR race at the then-new Daytona International Speedway.  It occurred came one day before the first Daytona 500 in 1959.  The support race for the 500, the “Modified 200,” was comprised of Sportsman and Modified race cars, and for that first race Albert brought a 1937 Ford Coupe Modified to Florida from his home in the New York City suburbs.

The field was a whopping 55 cars, mainly consisting of coupes from the 1930s, like Albert’s. After qualifying 16th, Albert’s engine blew on lap three of the race while traveling 130 mph on the high-banked track. With oil on his tires, Albert spun in turn one. As the car hit the apron, it began to roll side-over-side, flipping several times before coming to a stop on the apron. Albert climbed out of the car unhurt and was credited with a 46th-place finish.

[Our thanks to Bobby Albert, Jr., for providing the photograph and much of the information here.]