NEAR….the Beginning

 

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By Al Fini

Photos By Howie Hodge

NEAR was started by the single-handed efforts of one man, Ed Clark. This article attempts to trace the motivation and the actions that started NEAR.

In my opinion, NEAR’s conception can be traced to the racing career of George Clark, Sr. George was a racer’s racer of the post WWII period when so many daredevils took to the early bullrings without any regard to safety or sanity. He started racing motorcycles in 1939 and when he got home from the War he started driving the notoriously dangerous homemade “Big Cars” that were the fore-runners of today’s sprint cars.  Later, he was among the first to drive the “jalopies” and then drove modifieds until a broken shoulder side-lined him in 51. Then he had a long career in the “strictly stock” late models that became popular in the United Stock Car Club of Harvey Tattersall and NASCAR with Bill France. In 1950 the Cavano Bros. bought him a brand new Oldsmobile from an East Hartford dealer that they took to NASCAR and Daytona Beach.

George lived to race. George loved to race and he always raced for money, not trophies. It is very difficult today to document his career. He often won races in other driver’s cars using fictitious names or as a fill-in for other drivers. Ed says his dad has the credentials that the Veteran’s Committee should look at as a nominee to the NEAR Hall of Fame.

George had his own business. He had a wrecker and primarily spent his time repossessing cars, long before the movies and video games made glamorous the careers of “A Repo Man”. Along with his wrecker he towed a trailer that allowed him to take a trip, go racing, and make money by bringing back three or four repossessed cars. He was usually accompanied on these trips by his sons George Jr. and Eddie. Every year they were part of the Indy 500 activities and got to know and be friends with all the personalities; A.J. Foyt, Tony Bettenhausen, George Bignotti, Eddie Sachs, etc.

Every February the Clark boys made the annual pilgrimage to the Daytona Beach races where they made the same friendships with: Richard Petty, David Pearson, Junior Johnson and many of those who will be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Around 1959 George became a NASCAR official and they began attending more and more of the races down South.

Eddie Clark loved this life. As a young adult he traveled the country himself attending as many big races as possible. 

Eddie married Diane and assumed a normal life. For twenty-two years he was a driver for Mashkin freight.  Around 1977 he suffered a debilitating workplace accident that left him unable to perform his normal duties. Having a lot of free time he started to reminisce about the glory days of traveling with his dad and the fun days of his racing youth.

 He began building a replica of a 1937 Ford coupe modified that was driven by his dad and owned by Bob Pulchowski and sponsored by the Edson Bros. garage in Meridan. He painted it green & white and was numbered 870 from the Edson Bros. slogan: “If it don’t go, call 870.” The car was completed roughly around 1979. There was almost no interest in vintage race cars in those days. One club, Eastern Old Timers, was operating out of its home base at Flemington Speedway in New Jersey. Promoter Paul Kuhl had given them space in one of his buildings that they used as a clubhouse. At the time Pappy Hough was president and Johnnie Rodgers was the executive director. Eddie joined EOT and he and Johnny Georgiades brought his car down to a meet in 1979. He remembers about twenty-five open wheel cars and only three stock cars in attendance. The open wheel cars got plenty of track time while the stock cars were forced to look on from the sidelines. Obviously he was very disappointed in the lack of acceptance and started thinking about forming a club closer to home that would give proper recognition to the stock car crowd.

 I am not sure when or what finally triggered the next step but I do know that he shared his ideas with close friends, notably his dad and Moon Burgess. They encouraged him and he created the name: NEAR. In early 1980 he shared his new dream with Frank Marratta and he gave the “870” free display space in the Hartford “Frank Marratta Show” Frank also provided considerable seed money for printing, postage and incidentals. Eddie said he signed up about 70 people at that first show. No money was collected but old racers filled out applications. Over the rest of 1980 Ed continued to promote the new “Club” although no meetings or events were scheduled. 

By the end of the year he had about 200 “sign-ups”, and it was decided to “make things legal” and the following were invited to an exploratory meeting that was held in Eddie Clark’s living room at 121 Syracuse Drive home in East Hartford Ct. on Friday evening, January 16, 1981: Gene Bergin, Moon Burgess, Bob Echo, Eddie Flemke Sr., Danny Gaudiana, John Georgiades, Howie Hodge, Buddy Krebs. Red Labelle, and Charlie Stebbins. George was absent because he was out in Riverside Cal. performing his duties for NASCAR at the Winston Cup race.

At the first meeting the following officers were elected: Buddy Krebs president, Charlie Stebbins, vice president, and Eddie Clark, secretary-treasurer. They voted to incorporate and Charlie Stebbins began the task of filing all the appropriate governmental forms. An aggressive schedule was planned for 1981 including displays at the Marratta Show, Racearama, the first Frank Marratta Awards Banquet and several race meets. History tells us this was a significant time for starting successful new ventures because four days later Ronald Reagan was inaugurated President !

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