By Lew Boyd and Andy Fusco
Weedsport, NY — When Irv Taylor was in his prime, a top five finish was a
huge deal. That’s because Taylor had to compete nightly against the likes of Pete Corey,
Dutch Hoag, Ken Shoemaker, Bill Wimble, Lou Lazzaro, Rene Charland, Steve Danish,
Buck Holliday and Jeep Herbert — Hall of Famers all — on a regular basis. Heck,
against that level of competition, a top ten finish would be something.
But Irv Taylor was up to the challenge and won his fair share of features against
the toughest array of modified foes in racing history. As such, he has been named as
2011’s “Pioneer Driver Inductee” in the DIRT Modified Hall of Fame.
Taylor’s first racing operation was less than spectacular for sure. During his
second race, young Irv Taylor noticed something flying from the front of his car as he
came off the turn. Turns out that wooden spokes were shearing off his front wheels and
being thrown forward. It was a four-cylinder, early-thirties Plymouth coupe at Carroll’s
Grove, the hillside track near Troy, spring of 1950.
By 1956, Taylor was at Fonda playing with the big boys, but his car was still
modest. It was the resurrection of a pile of parts brought home from Syracuse by Hoppy
Redner after a bad wreck. “They blew me off pretty bad in my little flat-head.”
By February of 1959, however, Taylor was tooling around the new 2.5-mile
Daytona asphalt tri-oval in Henry Caputo’s 283-powered #111 coupe at 142 mph average.
“As I recall,” says Taylor, “we might have been seventh at the end. First Sportsman. I
do know this: I couldn’t get out of bed the next morning I was so sore. It was hang on
and hold your breath. If we had ever hit that wall, wow.”
By the early 1970s as he gradually retired, Irv Taylor had become a highly
respected racing figure who had competed on 32 different tracks in the State of New
York alone. Taylor’s way was a little different. After fielding his own cars on the
smaller tracks in the Eastern part of the state, he usually brought a piece of his own
making as a backup. Whenever he ran for himself, he would end up pumping all the
purse money back into his equipment. So, he usually sought out a ride. He figured the
40% he made as a driver went right into his pocket. “That way, I always made some
An interesting result of his utility driver approach is this: he won 10 Fonda
features for nine different owners; two came in Mike Michael’s famous 10-10. Then, he
delivered trophies to eight other car owners as well-Vince Barbuto, Frank Trinkaus,
Ray Vine, Henry Caputo, Al Caprara, Pete Corey, Dick Munroe, and, of course, Irv
A utility driver sees lots of stuff. “I remember so many incidents. How about the
night the steering wheel in the Ray Vine #75 spun in my hands in the second turn (at Fonda).
Broken drag link. What an experience. Through the fence, off with the front end, way
up in the air like a rocket ship, and bang, down in the (Mohawk) river. I just held on.
When I landed, the part of the car that wasn’t in the water was on fire.”
Then, there was the night in Caputo’s car at Middletown in the Spring. I tangled
that Sportsman with a couple of modifieds and started flipping. I closed my eyes and we
ended up upside down in a gully. I opened my eyes and couldn’t see anything, but I
didn’t hurt. I thought, ‘death ain’t that bad.’ Eventually, I saw a track light and knew I
had more life to deal with. They had been burning garbage down there and that soot was
unbelievable. We jacked out the roof and qualified through the consi. Henry wasn’t
happy. That was okay. I had other stuff to drive.”
Besides his ten Fonda feature wins, Taylor also won 5 features at Victoria,
including the last-ever race held there in 1966. Accurate counts of Taylor’s total
victories escape calculation because several long-lost pioneer tracks never kept records
anyway. But it is known that Irv won features at eleven different speedways during his
illustrious career: Lebanon Valley, Stafford Springs, Plattsburgh, Fonda, Monroe
County, Victoria, Riverside in Quebec, Route 66 (near Troy), Burden Lake, Whites
Beach (near Ballston Spa), and Corith. He drove for twenty-two different car owners in
As a resident of the tiny community of Crescent, north of Albany, Taylor became
a confidante and teammate of the great Pete Corey. Taylor and Corey became the first
drivers anywhere in Northern modified racing to eschew the old coupes and coaches, by
building a pair of Ford Falcon mods in 1964. In 1967 they teamed in nearly identical
coupes, big block #3 for Pete and small block #1 for Irv. Both cars were multiple feature
Today, Taylor spends his winter in Florida and his summers in Old Forge. He is
an avid motorcyclist and attends many local short track events in Upstate New York by
riding his motorcycle to and from his Old Forge camp.
Taylor will be inducted 2 p.m. May 29, 2011 and the Hall of Fame in Weedsport.
Famed racing driver and publisher Lew Boyd is scheduled to give his induction speech.
(A portion of the above is excerpted from the book FONDA! and is reprinted with