Weedsport, NY – May 1, 2011 – Tom Skibinski, NE Hall of Fame Selection Committee
Veteran owner Richard Cozze from Jutland, New Jersey will receive the Northeast Modified Hall of Fame ‘Gene DeWitt Outstanding Car Owner’ Award in 2011.
The 20th annual driver inductions and special award ceremonies are scheduled for Sunday, May 29 on the Cayuga County Fairgrounds in conjunction with the Memorial Day Weekend holiday show at neighboring Rolling Wheels Raceway Park in Elbridge.
Gaining membership in the Eastern Motorsport Press Association’s Hall in 2006, Cozze now joins the ranks of past DeWitt car owner award recipients including inaugural winners Gil Bruss and the Turner Bros. in 1995, Joe Bullock, Harold Cope, Paul Deasey, Tony Ferraiuolo, Jim Sincerbeaux and last year’s honoree Jeff Brownell Sr.
His ties with the Weedsport, N.Y.-based Hall of Fame go back just as far, with past inductees Budd Olsen ‘92, Stan Ploski Jr. ’96 and Al Tasnady ’92 some of the most revered drivers ever to buckle in behind the famous Cozze Bros. Engineering rides.
“This (award) is certainly something I never expected, but it’s always nice to be remembered for something you’ve done,” remarked Cozze, 83, himself a driver for just one season when he launched his trackside career in 1950. “I was fortunate to have some very good drivers and most of the time enjoyed what I was doing. There was a lot of hard work involved so anytime you could win was something big, especially when it was against the best in the business.”
Among his most prized victories were the ‘Daniel Boone 200’ at the defunct Reading (Pa.) Fairgrounds and ‘Eastern States 200’ at still active Orange County Fair Speedway in Middletown, N.Y. Ploski steered the no. 80 Cozze sedan to victory in the 1967 Daniel Boone Classic while in 1969 Tasnady captured both the Orange County and Reading finales behind the wheel of the more familiar red, white and blue no. 44 Cozze coach.
“I was most proud of the fact that I was the only other car owner Stan had besides his father,” said Cozze, a long-time proprietor of Cozze Bros. Salvage Yard in Pittstown, N.J. alongside siblings Andy and Frank. He has since turned over the deed to his sons Rick and Lou Cozze, with middle son Frank heading the operations at Deerfoot Auto Parts across the state line in Wind Gap, Pa. “Al was popular everywhere we raced and always brought a lot of attention, while Budd closed out his career with me before my sons started racing. Bob Pickell also drove for us at Daytona and Bristol, those were far different times, when money and motors weren’t the biggest issues.”
Ironically, Cozze’s biggest thrill came four decades later in the richest Modified race of the day, using an engine designed to maximize fuel mileage. And it came not as a car owner but as a father, when his son Frank grabbed a long-awaited checkered flag in the 2008 Super DIRT Week showdown on the New York State Fairgrounds’ Moody Mile in Syracuse. “Frank’s win at Syracuse was the best part of anything I ever did in racing,” figured Cozze, who was accompanied by young Frank on his first-ever visit to the Salt City’s most famous speedway for the annual NYS Fair Labor Day Championship in 1968. “He could’ve won it a couple other times so it was really big when he finally did.”
Dick Cozze made his brief driving debut in the post-war era competing at Garden State tracks in Newark and Morristown. Flemington Fair (NJ) Speedway and Reading were the weekend hangouts during his heyday as a respected owner, fielding some of the fastest cars that were among the best-prepared and well-constructed on the Tri-State circuit. Akin to many of his counterparts in the 1960s, he built his own Modifieds from the ground up and made all the repairs himself, in every case using spare parts available only from right outside his office door.
“Racers rarely build their own cars today, but ours really did pretty much come right from the junkyard. All we bought was the quick-change rear-end. The chassis and body, motor and transmission, springs and front-end were all done by us in the garage. I liked driving and probably would’ve raced more myself but couldn’t afford to. Back then I was working for 60 cents an hour so just getting to the track was a good thing,” Cozze said.
Despite turning over both car and company ownerships to his sons, Cozze continues to spectate as much as possible. No matter what the results are on race night, family remains his top priority and he is always there to provide support the next day with routine stops made at those sacred salvage yards.
“I have a wonderful family, hopefully the Cozze name will be seen in the sport for a lot more years. I still enjoy watching the boys race, the only tough part was losing my wife awhile back as she was a fan and went to every race. Right now I’ll stay involved as long as I can. Racing is a way of life around here, there’s not much else I’d rather do,” added Cozze, who has outlasted Reading, Flemington and Nazareth (Pa.) Raceway —a track his family owned in 1988— and hopes to be in attendance when more of the Cozze clan gains Hall of Fame enshrinement in the years ahead.