Balls of Fire!

Archie Blackadar, Ambassador of Racing
By Dorothy Larrabee and Sharon Lakey
Pete and Archie Blackadar were registering racers at a track when a sheepish-looking man approached the window.  “I wonder,” he said, “if I might have two of those driver pins for my children who are with me.” Archie, field manager and nice guy, agreed and Pete handed him the two pins. The man started to turn away, but hesitantly turned back. “You wouldn’t be able to give me one for all my children, would you?”
“Well, how many children do you have?” asked Archie.
“Eight.”
“Balls of fire!” exclaimed Archie. And everyone laughed. “Take all you want,” he said.
“That was one of Archie’s expressions,” explained Pete.  “He took his job seriously, but he never lost the joy of being part of the racing community.”  Archie’s been gone now since 1993, but in 2010, he was inducted into New England Antique Racers Hall of Fame.
Archie Blackadar grew up for most of his life in West Danville, graduating from Danville High School in 1922. He went to the Boston area to work where he was bitten by the racing bug. He drove “midgets,” a small-sized high-powered class of racing cars. “I didn’t win much,” said Archie in a newspaper interview. “I couldn’t afford to build my own, so I raced clunkers.” When WWII broke out, he enlisted in the Navy in 1942. In 1944 he became Chief Petty Officer on the USS Alhena, serving in the South Pacific.
After eight years in the Navy, in 1950, Archie retuned to West Danville to care for his ailing mother and began work at Ralston Purina in St. Johnsbury, where he worked until he turned 65 in 1968. His job at Purina didn’t slow the racer in him, though, and he took a job as flagger at the Waterford, VT, racetrack.  The racing community would soon enjoy the acrobatic starter that was his trademark.  In 1961, after attending the NASCAR Officials School in Daytona Beach, he became a licensed NASCAR chief steward. A chief steward has full charge of the officials, and the responsibility of the races rests on his shoulders.
 Three years later, he met a widowed waitress named Pete working at Brickett’s Diner in St. Johnsbury. What attracted Archie to her was her insistence on NOT having anything to do with racing. “I’d been to a race before and it just didn’t appeal to me, “said Pete. “Women threw beer bottles around and were cursing and things like that,” she said with disgust. It really bothered Archie that someone didn’t like racing, and he just didn’t give up trying to change her mind.
One day, when he had to flag a race in Groveton, he called her to ask her to accompany him. Since she was tired of him pestering her, she grudgingly said yes. That’s all it took. After that race, they were inseparable, although they didn’t marry for another 8 ½ years. “Just good friends, “said Pete.  For nearly thirty years, though, they worked “desk by desk,” as she puts it.
Over that lengthy period of time, Archie moved from flagger to chief steward to track owner /partner, to field manager.  The track they owned was in partnership with broadcaster Ken Squier—Catamount Speedway in Milton, VT, from 1965 to 1977. When they sold that, Archie became the East Coast field manager for NASCAR. He worked 48 tracks in the U.S. and Canada. Pete worked 38 of them. Every February, the two of them found themselves at the Daytona racetrack where they worked in registration, which consisted of selling NASCAR memberships and making sure all the drivers, owners, sponsors, and wives, etc., had signed insurance releases for admittance to the pit area.
“Every winter Archie would say he might like to stay in Florida,” said Pete. “I told him, ‘Anytime you want to do that, just put the sign out there in front of the house in West Danville.’” He never asked for the sign and when their big chance came for the couple to work the prestigious Winston Cup circuit registration, he listened to the pleas of Lin Kuhlor (Executive Vice President of NASCAR), who begged him to stay as chief steward in the north. “Archie was a man who felt a deep sense of duty,” said Pete.
Pete tells us the life of a NASCAR official isn’t as glamorous as some might think. “It’s a lot of work,” she said. For example, the pickup truck they owned and drove to the races was loaded with Purple K (a special track fire extinguisher) for the entire season, along with the Jaws of Life apparatus and scales. “We parked that in the garage and let our cars sit out,” she said. They would arrive at the tracks early before each race and set up registration.  And as chief steward, Archie would walk and inspect the track before every race to check for debris. After the races, they had to pay the boys and close up shop, sometimes getting out as late as midnight.  If there was a post-race inspection, it might be 3:00 or 5:00 a.m.
There was a little glamour, though. Pete remembers when she met Dale Earnhardt. “The first time he came to Daytona, he was driving just a little pickup truck pulling an open trailer with his race car on it.” The last time she saw him, he was late for a race in New Hampshire and came into the registration booth, put his arm around her and said, “Sign me in, Pete, will you?” The other racers didn’t seem to mind. “That’s as close as we’ll get to him today,” she remembers them saying.
“We were privileged to have Marty Robbins and his band entertain us at two of our Daytona banquets; he also drove the Winston Cup.” Archie tried to get Paul Newman’s western style shirt from him when he was signing in. They also signed in the Carradine brothers: David, Keith and Bobby.  
There were tragedies, too. They were there when Richie Evans died at Martinsville, VA, and Don McTavish in Daytona. “That’s racing, though,” she said with a sigh. She was in Egypt with a church group when she heard of the death of Dale Earnhardt in 2001. “That’s racing, though,” she said with a sigh.
Archie was diagnosed with leukemia in 1991. Still, you couldn’t stop him from his duty. On August 22, 1993, they worked registration at Loudon Speedway in New Hampshire; he died September 6 at the age of 89. Pete created an award in his honor that was given every year at Thunder Road for the top rookie finisher—the Jiffy Lube 150 NASCAR Busch North Grand National Race.

When asked if she misses racing, Pete shrugged and said, “I miss the people. Archie loved racing, and I loved Archie.”


This article was published in the May edition of The North Star Monthly.
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