Weedsport, NY — July 30, 2009 – By Tom Skibinski, DIRTcar Racing Northeast PR Director
World Racing Group officials and the entire DIRTcar Racing Northeast staff extend their deepest sympathies to the family and friends of long-time Syracuse Newspapers motorsports journalist John Hill, 74, who passed away July 29.
“He was a true friend of DIRTcar racing, and best of all he was an even bigger fan of the sport he covered so loyally for half his life,” remarked Cory Reed, DIRTcar Racing Northeast Director of Competition & Track Sanctioning.
In May of 2001 Hill, of Lakeport, N.Y., joined fellow Syracuse staff writer Dick O’Brien in receipt of the prestigious Lenny J. Sammons Outstanding Contribution To Motorsports Award during the Northeast Modified Hall of Fame induction ceremonies.
“We were saddened to learn of John Hill’s passing,” said World Racing Group CEO Brian Carter. “John dedicated his life to writing about motorsports and earned the respect of fans, competitors and officials for his ability and skill to draw readers into the sport. We certainly enjoyed reading his stories about DIRTcar Racing. He will no doubt be missed by all.”
Calling hours for Hill will be from 4 to 7 p.m. on Monday, August 3 at the Tait Funeral Home, 2333 Fenner Road in Cazenovia, New York. The funeral will be 10 a.m. Tuesday also at Tait Funeral Home (315/655-4615).
John Hill – Northeast Modified Hall of Fame Class of ’01
Lenny J. Sammons Outstanding Contribution To Motorsports Award Recipient
Filing race reports for the Syracuse Post-Standard morning edition in four decades, Hill’s interest in writing stemmed from his parents who were avid readers. By his 10th birthday he was already following the exploits of Charles Lindbergh and Jimmy Doolittle in the field of aviation. As a teenager he joined the Civil Air Patrol and even learned to fly, engaging in a 10-year stint as both a flightline mechanic and jet engine technician in the Air National Guard.
A career solidly fixed in aviation seemed a mere formality until the sights and sounds —and of course the smell of exhaust— quickly consumed Hill’s senses. Listening to radio broadcasts of the Indianapolis 500 following World War II then attending his first AAA-sanctioned champ car race on Labor Day at the New York State Fairgrounds in 1949 easily laid the foundation.
“The bellowing sound of those four-cylinder Offenhauser racing engines and the way those drivers slid their cars sideways through the turns really caught my interest,” Hill recalled. “One day I suddenly realized that the fuselage of an airplane was built just like an Indy-type car and the daring of pilots equaled that of race car drivers.”
In the late 1950’s, an assignment as a test flight mechanic at Republic Aviation Corp. on Long Island afforded Hill the opportunity to attend modified races at the old Islip Speedway. Working at Page Airways in Rochester, New York soonafter offered him more chances to take in sportsman events at the Waterloo Fairgrounds and A-Class modified competition at Oswego Speedway.
“I saw my first Indianapolis 500 in 1961,” Hill reminisced. “That place was truly the palace of speed. All the fanfare and pre-race activity, especially Tony Hulman’s ‘Gentlemen, start your engines,’ then the vision of 33 cars three-deep coming down for the start hooked me forever on auto racing. Indy still does that to me every time I go back.”
Carl Frederickson, publisher of the old International Motorsport weekly newspaper first asked Hill to write a column and report Central New York race results in 1962. Articles appeared later in Gater Racing Photo News and Stock Car Racing Magazine, and Hill also supplied photographs and stories for various other publications.
While feeding DIRTcar and USAC information to the Syracuse Post-Standard in 1974, Hill was approached by sports editor Jack Andrews to write a weekly column on local auto racing. He not only submitted result stories, he selected and processed his own prints in the photo lab to run alongside. The seeds were now firmly planted and by the following winter Hill remained writing, only this time of year the headlines were about snowmobiles.
“I’ve covered nearly every side of motorsports there is, including Super DIRT Week, Daytona 500, Indianapolis, the U.S. and Canadian Grand Prix as well as everything in between right down to junkyard jalopy races in the cornfield,” Hill said. “And I’ve interviewed everyone from the local racers to the big names like Foyt, Unser, Petty and Earnhardt.”