|Date: 6/10/2015 6:24:56 PM|
Northeast Modified Hall of Fame To Induct Donnie Wetmore
By Gary Rowe
Donnie Wetmore, a standout on the New York small-block Outlaw circuit in the 1980s and '90s, has been selected for induction into the Northeast Modified Hall of Fame. Driver inductions and special award ceremonies are scheduled for Wednesday, August 5 at the Northeast Modified Hall of Fame and Stock Car Museum in Weedsport, NY, the night prior to Weedsport Speedway's Super DIRTcar Series Hall of Fame 100.
Growing up around the tracks in the Capital District, Wetmore has deep roots in Modified racing. His mother, Ethel, served many years as a scorer at Lebanon Valley Speedway. His older brother, Stan, was a long-time competitor at that track. So it was natural for Donnie to follow the family path.
"Around 1973 or so my brother gave me an opportunity to try his car,"
Wetmore related. "As time went on, I kept getting better rides."
He landed in a former Kennedy Garage car that had been raced with success by Hall of Fame driver Mert "Socks" Hulbert. And Wetmore made the move westward
-- with good results.
"In 1975, I started racing at Can Am Speedway on Saturday nights; then the next night, while on the way home, at Weedsport. Then Brewerton Speedway reopened its doors so I added that track to my schedule -- so I now had a full weekend of racing," Wetmore recounted.
Donnie's career really took off when he moved to Weedsport in 1982 and hooked up with Harry Murphy.
"During the day, I ran M&B Racing, Harry's speed parts store. And on weekends I competed on the old Outlaw circuit at Brewerton, Fulton and Utica-Rome speedways, plus any specials that I could fit into my schedule, driving Harry's #M-1," said Wetmore.
For a 15-year period, until his last full season in 1997, Wetmore was the man to beat on the Outlaw circuit, the king of the small-blocks. But he was sometimes able to surprise everyone with a few big-block scores, as well.
"I was running Weedsport in the days when the small-block was limited to 320 cubic inches -- and, on one occasion, I was able to beat the big-blocks,"
Wetmore remembered the singular accomplishment. "Right after that win,
(announcer) Gary Montgomery hung a nickname on me: 'The Mayor' from Constantia."
It was also at Weedsport that Donnie had another unforgettable moment in racing. "It was just a few years before I retired and there was a Sunday afternoon race at Weedsport, as well as an evening race at Utica-Rome. The interesting thing is that earlier that day I had broken my arm while loading the car! One of the cables that help raise and lower the trailer's tailgate snapped and came back and hit my arm just above my left wrist, breaking a small bone," Donnie told the story. "It didn't bother me too much at Weedsport, and I won that race. But by the time we got to Utica-Rome it was really starting to bother me and I ended up dropping out of the main."
Donnie Wetmore set a standard of excellence on the tracks of Central New York State, the hub of Modified racing, for nearly 20 years.
"I won my first feature in 1975 at Brewerton Speedway. Back then, there wasn't as much media coverage and I remember there was no victory lane, no pictures, no nothing. It was like winning hot laps," he said with a chuckle.
Later that year Wetmore won a long distance race at Humberstone Speedway in Canada. The following year, he finished second to Denny Planck in 320 Modified points at Weedsport. But after that, "I struggled until I moved to Central New York and started getting some more help."
One of Wetmore's biggest wins came on August 2, 1990, driving a car owned and wrenched by longtime friend and supporter Pat Borello. Donnie won one of the most prestigious small-block races in the Northeast, the Pabst Shootout at Can Am Speedway, over hard-charging, multi-time Mr. DIRT Pat O'Brien Jr.
At the time, the Pabst Shootout was one of the few mid-week, high dollar races for small-blocks, and teams would travel from tracks like Middletown (NY), Flemington (NJ) and Grandview (PA) to compete in the event.
The Pabst Shootout was Donnie's second win of the 1990 season at Can Am: a few weeks earlier, on June 28, he won a small-block Syracuse qualifier.
"Most years, Brockville and Cornwall speedways also had big races in conjunction with the Pabst Shootout and I usually ran well in those races, too," he recalled.
The one major race Wetmore wanted to win, but that always eluded him, was the biggest race of the year at his Saturday night home track -- Fulton Speedway's high-profile Victoria 200. The closest that he came was in the second edition of the annual event. "I was leading with 15 laps to go when the yellow came out, closing up the field." Eventual winner Billy Pauch "got by me on the restart and I ended up following him across the finish line."
Before concluding his career, Donnie Wetmore notched six Fulton titles, eight Brewerton championships and one each at Utica-Rome and Cayuga County (Weedsport). His 200-plus career wins include 39 in DIRT 358 Modified events and a trio of big-block wins. He is the all-time feature win leader at Fulton with 68 and second only to Bob McCreadie on the Brewerton list with 67. Donnie has been inducted into the New York State Stock Car Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, NY, along with his mother and brother.
Since retiring from competition, Wetmore moved to Concord, NC, where he's employed as an instructor at the Richard Petty Driving Experience.