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Gary Spaid

Longtime Hall of Fame chair Gary Spaid, left, presents an award to car owner Eugene Mills.

Editors' note: Today's article is part of a series of profiles of the 2018 inductees submitted by the Northeast Dirt Modified Hall of Fame in Weedsport:

In his 40th season working at short tracks throughout the region, auto racing historian and official Gary Spaid will receive the 2018 Leonard J. Sammons Jr. Award for Outstanding Contributions to Auto Racing from the Northeast Dirt Modified Hall of Fame on July 26 in Weedsport.

"I am absolutely humbled and honored to receive this award," said Spaid, who is one of the founders of the Hall of Fame. "This sport has blessed me with many friendships and experiences, and I am forever grateful to my family and many people over the years."

Spaid, 70, was introduced to the sport by his late father, Elton, who took him to weekly competition at Waterloo Speedway. There, Spaid gained a love for racing that shaped his life. He took his wife, Donna, on their first date to Waterloo, and their children, Brian and Jennifer, both became involved in the sport after spending summer weekends at tracks in Central New York.

In 1979, his life changed forever with his first venture into writing for the weekly program, DIRT Trackin' Magazine.

"Within a month, Andy Fusco asked me if I’d be interested in writing a column for Gater Racing News. Then, the program editor, Larry Costa, asked me to keep the track and series points. I agreed, and it started from there."

After a year of tutelage under Costa and DIRT President Glenn Donnelly, Spaid learned the handicapping and point systems. He also learned to score the races. Gaining the confidence of Donnelly, Spaid was named DIRT’s chief handicapper and points keeper in 1980, a position he has held since.

"I taught computer programming to high school students in the early 1980s," noted Spaid. "Using that knowledge, I wrote programs for DIRT that included handicapping, points and memberships. DIRT became the first short track series in the country with all of these functions computerized."

In 1985, Costa relinquished control of the program to Spaid. Working closely with George Caruso of Speedway Press, Spaid continued to edit the program until the publication ended in 2006. Since 1987, Spaid and Caruso have published each Super DIRT Week program.

"I met a lot of writers and photographers working with the program," noted Spaid. "Tana Robinson and Dave Roberts first started writing for the program. Tom Skibinski was a prolific contributor over the years. There are simply too many to mention and thank."

Dating back to 1977, Spaid started writing about local auto racing history. He learned that Donnelly was interested in the work. To both men and Fusco, it was important that the wins and legends be chronicled to maintain the traditions, history and characters of the sport. In 1988, this led to publication of a book on New York State auto racing history, “Car Coming,” written by Spaid and Hank Schramm.

"Glenn and I tried to convince another company to publish it, but they thought it would never sell. Glenn knew Hank, and we worked together to write and publish it with the help of Speedway Press. Glenn funded it. In the first month, we sold so many books that Glenn made all his money back. It was a great success."

Spaid, who also published "Syracuse Scrapbook" about the annual Labor Day race, is starting work on a sequel to "Car Coming," picking up where that book ends.

In 1991, Donnelly wanted to build a museum for his classic car collection on land at Weedsport Speedway. With urging from Fusco and Spaid, Donnelly started the Hall of Fame. In 1992, the first class was inducted, and the Hall of Fame grows in prestige year after year.

"It is bigger than I ever thought it would be," said Spaid. "Gary Chadwick, Gary Rowe, Tom Skibinski, Andy Fusco and I were the first committee. Jack Speno was instrumental as the curator. I am thrilled to see where it is today with the current committee, and the dedication and hard work of (chair) Buffy Swanson."

In addition to his work on handicapping, scoring and points, in 1985, Spaid spent a year on the road with DIRT official Robin Manus on the Super DIRTcar Series. He also ran events at Canandaigua and Weedsport Speedways. In 1986, Spaid was named series director. He held that post until 2004, working with Cory Reed the last five years. In 2004, he was named head scorer. He continues to travel with the series, but 2018 will be his final year on the road.

"I am the last remaining official from the Donnelly era, and I appreciate that DIRTcar and World Racing Group have allowed me to continue to work for them."

At Donnelly’s insistence, local auto racing took the leap into electronic scoring under Spaid’s tenure as well.

"We tried it first at Nazareth in 1991 with the help of the CART IndyCar Series," recalled Spaid. "We put a transponder on Bob McCreadie’s DIRT Asphalt car, and we were excited with the lap time readouts. Glenn and I then worked hard to develop electronic scoring at the dirt track level for the next decade. It was a huge challenge that finally came to fruition for DIRT in 2001. Today, it is a necessity for every track."

Over the years, Spaid has worked with many officials and developed friendships that will last a lifetime. Among those mentioned above, Donnelly is the man that Spaid credits with the most influence on his career. However, in addition to his wife and children, he and Donnelly mentored another young man that stands out over the last four decades.

"Because I held a teaching certificate, Glenn wanted me to bring in summer interns. One of the first was Cory Reed. Cory is like a second son to me. I have worked with him for many years, and he has a lot of respect in the industry. I am very proud of where he is today," Spaid said of Reed, who has gone on to manage both Brewerton and Fulton speedways.

Close friend and former DIRTcar 358 series director Gaston Salvas will present the award to Spaid at the July 26 ceremony in front of a throng of fans and family that will recognize Spaid for his contributions to the sport, which he anticipates will continue for years to come.

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