A driver who raced Modified stock-cars for almost 50 years with a strong devotion to the sport that he loved, Lou Lazzaro (January 7, 1935 – May 1, 2000) of Utica, New York, was a winner on both dirt and asphalt speedways whose driving career started in an unusual manner.
A crewman on a Hobby car that competed at the old quarter-mile Columbia Speedway near Utica, Lazzaro got the chance to drive it in a 1952 heat race when the regular driver refused to help fix the car after it got in a wreck. Making the best of this unexpected opportunity, the 17-year-old Lazzaro won the heat but after that he was told that he couldn’t drive the car in the feature race because another driver complained that he was too young.
But that little bit of success really got Lazzaro interested in racing and after spending several seasons racing his own Limited Sportsman he formed a partnership with four others in 1959 and began Modified racing in what was to become his signature livery – a maroon and white No. 4 race car.
After a couple of years the partnership dissolved and Lazzaro fielded his own cars again. He then won his first Modified race at the five-eights-mile dirt Fonda (N.Y.) Speedway in 1961 and some 19 years later the four-time (1964, 1969 & 1977-1978) Fonda Modified Champion scored his 100th victory at the track. In all, Lazzaro had 30 winning seasons at Fonda where he won a total of 113 main events, with his last victory there coming in 1999.
The winner of a dozen Modified championships, Lazzaro also recorded three (1963 & 1970-1971) at Utica-Rome; two (1962 & 1964) at Victoria; one (1969) at Albany-Saratoga; and he was the only two-time (1968 & 1971) champion of the old All-Star Racing League which raced the same cars on both dirt and asphalt.
Lazzaro was also a three-time (1963 & 1968-1969) winner of the old New Yorker 400 on the old asphalt surface at Utica-Rome (N.Y.) Speedway and his overall total of victories there include 28 on its asphalt layout and two on its dirt surface.
Lazzaro’s best single winning season was in 1969 when he won 27 races. And he scored double-digit career-victories at the following New York tracks: the half-mile dirt Cayuga County Fair Speedway in Weedsport where he won 17 races; the old half-mile dirt track in Victoria where he had 34 wins; and, the half-mile Albany-Saratoga Speedway in Malta where he had 16 wins on asphalt and 15 wins on dirt.
The 1978 winner of the prestigious Eastern States 200 on the five-eights-mile dirt track at the Orange County Fair Speedway in Middletown, New York, Lazzaro also finished in the Top-10 three times (seventh in 1962, eighth in 1963 and eighth in 1964) in the NASCAR National Sportsman Championship and three times (ninth in 1969, ninth in 1977 and eighth in 1972) in the NASCAR National Modified Championship.
Known to his fans as “The Monk,” in part due to his hulking presence and his balding head, Lazzaro was frequently seen at the track with his dogs Blackie or Mimi. Since he paid most of his own bills, he concentrated on the performance aspects of his Chevrolet coupe or Gremlin Modifieds more than he did their appearance – although when his signature No. 4s were running out front they always seemed to look pretty good.
Interestingly enough, Lazzaro’s racing career and his life effectively ended at his much-loved Fonda. At the track on April 29, 2000, which was almost a year after he recorded his 113th victory, Lazzaro qualified for the feature race, but pulled out of the event because he wasn’t feeling well. Then, shortly after the race finished, the man who had given so much to racing and so much to Fonda Speedway over the years suffered a stroke that days later proved to be fatal.