Known simply as “Mr. Modified,” Al Tasnady (March 4, 1930 – December 3, 1988) was the first person inducted into the EMPA Hall of Fame in 1974 and the first driver to come along with a polished image that brought a touch of class to dirt-track Modified stock-car racing.
A role model for other drivers in the way that he handled his race cars on the track and the fans and media off of it, Tasnady liked people and people liked him. He had the sport’s first fan club and was a goodwill ambassador who made everyone that he met feel welcomed.
The winner of over 400 races, Tasnady was the first driver in history to win four features in one day when on October 1, 1967, he swept the inaugural 4-25-lap program at the old Reading (Pa.) Fairgrounds in Dave Piscopo’s white No. 39 fuel-injected Chevy-powered 1936 Chevrolet coupe “Polecat Special” with the iconic skunk mascot painted on the car’s trunk lid.
The popular driver first raced as a 19-year-old in his brother John’s 1937 Ford coupe “daily driver” at a race in Dover, New Jersey, and won $75 for his seventh-place finish. Encouraged by that, he quit his job as a telephone lineman and concentrated on racing.
Tasnady was a dirt-track specialist and chassis-setup expert who had great success at New Jersey’s old Vineland, Alcyon and Flemington Speedways and on Reading’s half-mile.
He won 24 features events (1955-1956) at his then-hometown Vineland track in “Toots” Armellini & Romeo Gelsi’s red No. 44 flat-backed 1937 Ford sedan. He led the nation in 1958 with 24 wins in Lucky Jordan’s Chevy-powered white No. 2 1937 Chevrolet coupe. And in Neal Williams’ red No. 44 flat-backed 1937 Ford sedan (1957-1962) he won an amazing six-straight victories at Pitman’s Alcyon Speedway in 1960.
In 1963 and 1964, Tasnady drove Charles Wolfe & Paul Deasey’s No. 707 “Big Donkey” and with the yellow fuel-injected Lincoln-powered 1937 Plymouth coupe he recorded 60 feature victories – a nation-leading 37 wins in 1963, plus 23 additional triumphs in 1964.
From 1965-1968, Tasnady drove Piscopo’s No. 39s and in 1968 he won his first Daniel Boone 200 at Reading and a 100-lapper at the old 1-1/8-mile Nazareth (Pa.) National Speedway.
The 100-lap NNS victory on August 24, 1968, was one of the most impressive in dirt-track Modified history. Tasnady started 29th and effortlessly charged through traffic to lap everyone except fellow EMPA Hall of Famer Frankie Schneider, who finished in second place.
In 1969 and 1970, “Tas” drove the fuel-injected 454-Chevy-powered No. 44 “Cozze Coach & Coupes.” And with the 1935 Chevy sedan he won 1969’s Daniel Boone 200 at Reading and the Eastern States 200 at Orange County Fair Speedway in Middletown, New York.
He also had some luck in asphalt racing as he triumphed on the one-mile Trenton (N.J.) Speedway in 1959 and won the last special race at the then-asphalt Vineland Speedway in 1965 after he switched the Piscopo 39 over to an asphalt setup in the track’s parking lot.
The first driver to win 50 races at Reading, Tasnady had 52 victories there and was the 1965 track champion. He won 28 races at the old half-mile Nazareth (Pa.) Raceway, 36 at Alcyon and was an eight-time champion (1958-1961 & 1963-1966) at Flemington where he had 96 victories – a total that includes seven-straight (1960-1966) Opening Day wins.
Tasnady also competed in major NASCAR Modified and Grand National Stock Car events on Daytona’s old Beach-Road Course and at Daytona International Speedway, and he was the driver of a factory-backed 1957 Plymouth in NASCAR’s old Convertible Division.
When he retired from the cockpit after the 1972 season, Tasnady served as the trusted and respected Assistant Promoter and Race Director at Flemington. And throughout his stellar career as a driver and as track official he worked tirelessly to improve racing’s overall safety standards.