By: Lew Boyd and Andy Fusco
Although Jerry Cook is well known as one of NASCAR’s most successful asphalt drivers ever, many fans have forgotten just what a great career “Cookie”
had on dirt before becoming a master of macadam.
But the members of the DIRT Hall of Fame Induction Committee will recall
Cook’s former prowess on clay, and accordingly have named him a 2011 inductee in the
DIRT Modified Hall of Fame.
DIRT is the second sanctioning body to have so honored Jerry. When NASCAR
celebrated its Golden Anniversary in 1998, it commemorated the milestone by naming
the top 50 NASCAR drivers of all time. Only four modified drivers made the grade:
Richie Evans, Red Byron, Ray Hendrick, and Jerry Cook. Here’s his story in his own
“I built my first modified when I was 13 years old, back in 1958. Cam Gagliardi was my driver and we raced Ransomville. In 1959 I built a car for Ken
Meahl. It was number 38 and that became my number for the rest of my career. Kenny and I raced everywhere, including Fonda. In 1962 Kenny totaled two
of my cars, one in a fiery crash at Richmond, and another in a fiery crash at Syracuse. That’s when I decided if I gotta fix ’em, I might as well drive
’em. So in 1963, at age 18, I started racing. I won my first main event that year at Utica-Rome.
“My best year at Fonda was 1966 when I won four features. I had a wild looking car,
with a high mounted Falcon body. I had a sharp-looking three-window coupe, but
Albany-Saratoga and Utica-Rome started to offer a late model body bonus. So I took off
the coupe and stuck on the Falcon. Money is money and it qualified for the bonuses.
“I had a little short block in the car. At Fonda, I was runnin’ against all those big honkers. Plus, I was buyin’ used tires off of Bill Wimble’s car
and then going out and beatin’ him with them. Dave McCredy would just shake his head and paw his foot into the ground. I felt a real sense of
accomplishment to beat the best at Fonda, especially the way I did it. I figured out a unique way to run the track. I ran it like asphalt, on the
bottom keeping the car straight. When racing the corners I could look to the right, and there’d be somebody like Pete Corey, flat sideways with the
nose of his car pointing towards the door of mine. When the track came in hard, I’d win. But when it was muddy, I was petrified I would even qualify.
“Fonda is where I found out how truthful promoters are. One day going to Fonda,
it was raining all the way was we were towing down the Thruway. And I kept stopping
to call the track and they kept saying the weather was fine. So we kept going. Finally, we go to the Fonda exit and its still pouring and the tolltaker
tell us its been raining all day.
“So I went into the Fultonville truck stop, and called the track again to ask about the weather. Young Jim Gage answered and said, “Oh, it’s beautiful
here.” So I said, “Well, this is Jerry Cook and I’m right across the river in the truck stop and its rainin’ cats and dogs. He hung up the phone on
Besides winning as a car owner at Ransomville and as a driver at Fonda early in his career, Cook also had some success on the clay in Canandaigua,
where he won the track championship in 1964. And one of his greatest coups on dirt occurred in 1972 when he nearly copped the first-ever Super Dirt
Week Schaefer 100.
Jerry brought his asphalt Falcon into Syracuse for Super DIRT Week I, knowing the Moody Mile often bound up hard, like blacktop. He time trialed second
fastest, but soon became a forgotten factor during the race because he pitted so often. “I remember that race well,” says Hall of Fame Committeeman
Andy Fusco. “By 1972, Jerry had already acquired a lot of pit strategy experience in races as long as 500 laps in Martinsville. At Syracuse 1972, he
kept ducking into the pits to keep his tires fresh, his chassis adjusted, and his tank topped. But he always remained on the lead lap.
Everybody kind of forgot about him, because the pit stops put him to the back of the field. But when all the pit stops cycled around, there was Cookie
chasing down Buzzie Reutimann for victory. He fell just the little short and ended up second.”
Cook’s dirt career essentially ended with a 1973 when it Ransomville in Genesee Trail extra distant event. A consummate point chaser, besides seeking a
NASCAR state and national titles, Cookie was also chasing the Genesee Trail, a brewery sponsored champion to determine an overall New York State
modified champion for all dirt and asphalt tracks, both NASCAR and independent. Cookie won the 1973 Genesee title and that 1973 Ransomville race.
“That was the one and only time I ever laid eyes on what is the current Ransomville track,” laughs Cook over his surprise 100-lap win. “The Ransomville
track we raced on in the olden days was a different place, out behind Ed Ortiz’s garage.
“Anyways, I showed up and (promoter) Stan Friesen said, ‘Why didn’t you tell me you were coming so I could have advertised you?’ I told him I didn’t
want to be advertised because I didn’t want to look like a fool.
“In the beginning of the race, I was trying to run the bottom and I got spun a couple of times and was sent to the back. So I got mad and took the car
to the top and drove around everyone.”
Cook’s skill on both dirt and asphalt made him a real factor in the All-Star
League, a former confederation of top clay and black top speedways, which invented the concept of mid week tour racing. Cook was the League’s point
champion in 1972.
His 1973 winning ride at Ransomville was a five-year old coupe built in 1968 at a reported cost of $10,000 — the first five figure modified in racing
Fonda was Jerry’s home track in 1971 and 1972, when he won his first two
NASCAR National Modified Point Championships. Before calling it a career at the end of 1982, Cookie copped six NASCAR national point titles. He has
served as a high-ranking NASCAR official since his retirement from racing. Presently, at age 65, he resides in Mooresville, N.C. and serves as NASCAR’s
Competition Administrator, in charge of determining all rules and writing the rulebooks for every NASCAR division.
Cook will be inducted in ceremonies at the Hall on Sunday, May 29, 2011. P.J.
Hollebrand, son of Cook’s long-time car owner Pete Hollebrand, is being invited to give
the induction speech.
The 2011 Hall of Fame inductions are part of the 3rd annual DIRTcar NE All Star Weekend, with races taking place that evening at the nearby
Rolling Wheels Raceway Park, featuring the season opening round for the 2011 DIRTcar NE Big Block Super DIRT Series.
(A portion of the foregoing is from the Coastal 181 book “FONDA!” and is reprinted by