Sarkisian Honored at New England Reunion
No one — not even Ed Sarkisian — really knows how much this pioneer hot-rod photojournalist's friendship, generosity and encouragement influenced the rewarding path through life that this writer has taken. Not even I realized how many other lives have been similarly blessed until I attended the inaugural Charlestown Dragway Reunion in Warren, R.I.
CHARLESTOWN - The guest of honor and HRN's Dave Wallace presented the Ed Sarkisian Best In Show award to Peg and Hank Fournier (North Scituate, R.I.).
First reunions are always the best, and this was evidently the first time since the 1960s that members of the Southern New England Timing Association (SNETA; long-defunct) all found a good enough reason to get together again. The real reasons behind this particular reunion were to spring "honored-guest" Ed Sarkisian out of the veterans' home in which he's sat literally around the clock since January 1985; to surround Ed with hundreds of rods, customs and vintage drag cars; to help sustain the optimism that "The Roddin' Rugmaker" has somehow kept going since he was diagnosed with multiple sclirosis in 1971; and to raise a few bucks to get the computer and telephone equipment that were keeping Ed off the Internet.
CHARLESTOWN - Because it sat in storage for 30 years, unmolested, the Strokers' restored slingshot may be the finest example of a Scotty Fenn car in existence.
This is vitally important to anyone with lots of pen pals and little use of his fingers. Ed, who has lost none of his considerable mental skills, uses an electronic headset and keyboard to select individual characters, enabling him to "type" letters to friends — very, very slowly, one head nod at a time. E-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) was made for this guy! This former jet-propulsion instructor is a real wiz with the limited computer hardware and software available inside the home, so his friends never doubted that Sarkisian would take to the World Wide Web like a tornado to a trailer park.
CHARLESTOWN - Our favorite vehicle was Ed Perry's '47 Topolino, which had been resting in the weeds and vines of Rehoboth, Mass., since its last race in 1966.
It was Ben DiPetro and Ray Baril, regular visitors to the home, who initially proposed the possibility to Sarkisian and his attendants. Another old pal, Bob George, liked the odds enough to assume financial responsibility for such a day. Three unselfish staff members of the Rhode Island Veterans Home (Pam Dow; Alysa Boyle; Dave Stone) clinched the deal by volunteering to deliver Ed to the show and care for him all day, without pay. Dozens of other old racers and rodders sprung into action. An outdoor location was secured; car clubs were notified; flyers were photocopied and mailed; potential sponsors were solicited; telephone numbers were dialed that hadn't been in decades.
CHARLESTOWN - Leo Errarra, a longtime flagman at New England strips, brought a photo of himself in action at Charlestown Dragway,which operated from 1956 to 1964.
Naturally, it rained. It was a cold, windy rain. Everyone said it was one of the coldest, wettest June Sundays that they could remember, but they were all smiling when they said it. There were lots of them, too. They filled the grassy grounds with cool cars and trucks of all kinds, including the 283/245 '57 Corvette that 78-year-old DiPietro drove: the same car he'd raced from 1957 to '62. Its clock shows 17,000 miles. ("Those were all racing miles," he says proudly. "The odomoter reads a little high, because I've always had a gear in it.") Jim Barillaro hauled history's first fuel Funny Car, Jack Chrisman's Comet, plus a second, flip-top '67 Logghe car all the way from Tennessee. Some very old men drove some very old roadsters in the rain, grinning wildly. Nationally known New Englanders such as Sy Sidebotham, A.B. Shuman, Jim King, Don Marshall, Bob Tasca, John Healey and Smiley Smullen showed up, among others too numerous to mention.
CHARLESTOWN - Bob Savory, formerly an NHRA regional adviser and editor of SNETA's newsletter, wore the oldest shirt and hat. According to Bob, his King Pins were Rhode Island's first car club.
Attendees were encouraged to cast ballots in two judging competitions. The Ed Sarkisian Best In Show trophy went to Peg Fournier for the full-custom '50 Pontiac built by her husband, Hank. Manny Viara's straight-axle '40 Chevy was honored as People's Choice. All kinds of speed equipment and collectibles went home with more than 50 lucky raffle winners, thanks to the generosity of manufacturers and suppliers from coast to coast. Although the Charlestown Dragway Reunion was conceived as a one-shot event, rumors of a followup are being heard as this publication goes to press. The one guy who could pull it off again is Bob "Bear" George, who might've recovered from the first one by now. We'd never suggest that you badger poor Bob to endorse a second event, but his telephone number is (508) 336-8352.
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