Talking sports

A stock car legend

“Wild” Bill Greco and old #43

By TED WADDELL
Posted 9/22/21

KAUNEONGA LAKE, NY — “He was really good… an aggressive driver. He was really, really good on small tracks, kind of a charger,” penned noted sportswriter Pete Zanardi, as …

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Talking sports

A stock car legend

“Wild” Bill Greco and old #43

Posted

KAUNEONGA LAKE, NY — “He was really good… an aggressive driver. He was really, really good on small tracks, kind of a charger,” penned noted sportswriter Pete Zanardi, as quoted in “The Inexplicable Atmosphere of Stock Car Drivers,” in a fascinating book titled “The Number 43: The Life and Legacy of Wild Bill Greco.”

Fast forward a few years, and a couple of turns at Bethel Speedway, and this local sports scribbler had a chance to talk short track stock car racing with 92-year-old “Wild Bill” Greco, a motorsports legend who first took to asphalt ovals in about 1949.

During his decades-long career in auto racing, Greco posted more than 300 trips to the winners’ circle, along the way amassing an impressive number of championship victories.

In the halcyon days of stock car racing, those golden decades of the 1950s and ‘60s, when the United States Stock Car Racing Club was considered by many at the time to be greater than the all-powerful National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) (at least by folks not from the deep-fried South, but from the Northeast) Greco was known as king of the local circuit.

A few short weeks ago at the close of July, “Wild Bill” showed up at the ¼-mile asphalt oval of Bethel Speedway as it honored legends during Danbury Racearena Night.

Greco, one of those racing legends, watched the hot laps and racing action from the sidelines, but was recognized as the night’s Grand Marshal and honorary head flagger for the vintage modifieds feature.

Known by fans and sports writers as “The King of the United Stock Car Racing Club”, Greco began his racing career at the end of the 1940s at the now-defunct Savin Rock Speedway, located near West Haven, CT, and later drove ”Sharkey” Gaudiosi’s  #44 to numerous victories, including a trio of championships at the West Haven Speedway.

In 1960, he switched over to Riverside Park Speedway, and was soon driving #43, a car built by his brother George. It was about 1963, and he made #43 a legend on the Northeastern circuit.

Sort of like major league baseball stars, stock car drivers can be a superstitious lot—at one point, the future #43 campaigned as #13, but out came a paint brush, and quick as Jumpin’ Jack Flash,  was transformed into #43.

Greco won races at nearly every track where he put the pedal to the metal, posting wins at West Haven, Riverside Parks Speedway, Plainview Stadium, Rhinebeck, Lonsdale, Menands, Stafford Speedway, Waterford Speedbowl, Freeport, Eastern States Exposition Fairgrounds Islip Speedway (winning 5 straight races in one season), and the Pine Bowl, where in one year, he won 18 out of 20 feature races.

A short list of his career accomplishments: championships (three at West Haven, two at Riverside, and the first-ever at Albany Saratoga Speedway), 2nd on the Riverside wins list with 57 victories, 1st on the wins list during the United Stock Car Racing Club’s heyday at Riverside, including three Riverside 500 team races… and the list goes on.

At the end of his career, Greco focused his efforts at the Waterford Speedbowl, winning several main features before hanging up his driving suit and helmet, entering the lore of stock car racing as one of “the 50 greatest modified drivers” of all time.

In 2018, Sarah Greco penned “The Number 43: The Life and Legacy of Wild Bill Greco,” which was published by Coastal 181 in Newburyport, MA. Call them at  978/462-2436 or 877/907-8181 or go online to www.coastal181.com.

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