Automotive History is More Than Just Cars - Part 2

To recap some of Part 1, Paterson had grown from nothing more than an idea to an industrial powerhouse covering numerous decades and as a strategic effort to grow America. The 1930's brought a local arena, a part of what is called "The Stadium Era", built to satisfy the entertainment needs of local residents and which included car racing.
The double row of garages built early in the century to store the growing numbers of automobiles became home to transient race teams now frequenting the area.

The racers who took up most of the space in Gasoline Alley for the better part of the 30's, all but disappeared as the Depression economy took hold bankrupting many of the teams. Space in the garages soon became available for as little as $1 a month. The opportunity for local racers and shops to launch their own businesses was set.

Racing greats moved in, including West Coast star Ted Horn. Willy Belmont opened the Gasoline Alley Tavern at 838 Market Street and soon it was a popular racers’ hangout. A young Chris Economaki became a go-fer for many of the visitors, eager to give directions to the track in exchange for a ride to the races.

Eventually, Fred Post had his race car upholstery shop there. Roscoe "Pappy" Hough (pronounced Huff) built his “Five Little Pigs” in the stalls, while Dick Simonek’s machine shop did much of the technical work. There was the crankshaft shop, J&J Electric, Dick O’Dea’s outboard shop, a cycle shop and garages for a local hot rod club.
Pappy Hough’s "5 Little Pigs" traveling racing community in 1947. Left to right, Dee Toran, Jeep Colkitt, Red Raymond, Roscoe “Pappy” Hough, and Walt Walasek.
Ted Horn (left) and mechanic Dick Simonek working together in his machine shop in Paterson, New Jersey in 1945
Along with others, "Pappy" Hough and Dick Simonek hung up their racing helmets to start a second career as machine shops, engine builders and providers of other specialized services. Almost anyone involved in the automotive Community will instantly recognize West Coast names like Iskenderian and  Edelbrock, but most of today's enthusiasts never even heard of "Pappy" or Simonek. Do a search and you will find very few related sites and articles. 

As time progressed Simonek focused more on engine building while "Pappy" stayed in his shop taking on piecemeal machining jobs he found interesting. After purchasing state of the art equipment from a number of suppliers, including Ed Iskenderian, Simonek became the ONLY east coast shop capable of supplying all types of race engines for all types of racers, including NASCAR's Lee Petty. 
Richard & Lee Petty    Source: ESPN
According to the information located, Petty would haul a full year's worth of motors to Simoneck's shop for modification, balancing, and assembly. According to "legend" Dick never used a torque wrench...nor did he even own one. Simonek was inducted into the Sprint Car Hall of Fame, stayed with NASCAR until '67, and retired to Florida.

By the time I learned of Gasoline Alley, Dick Simonek and the other specialized shops, the art of building high performance cars for drag racing, on and off the track, was in vogue. And even though Simonek moved off to become Chief Inspector for NASCAR in the late 50's, Simonek's Gasoline Alley shop carried a lot of credibility. Available information is sketchy, but based on an article written in 1965, Dick Simonek Jr. may have been in charge of the shop after Dick Sr. left for NASCAR.

My first trip to Gasoline Alley was also my last. The area had been under decline for some time and from the looks of things might not be there much longer. Unfortunately, I was right. The combination of 21% interest rates, inflation, a recession, smog motors, gas crises, and a crack down on street racing dealt a powerful blow. The few remaining shops struggled into the '90's before shutting down. The Gasoline Alley, as I'd like to remember it, was gone. 

Gasoline Alley was not bulldozed. It has become a storage lot for used cars along with a few shops, all facing shutdown or eviction due to conditions. A search also returned a machine shop called Simonek Performance located in Wyckoff, NJ. Maybe there's another story to tell. 

Hinchliffe Stadium has become both very run down and a National Historic Landmark, now earmarked for restoration as part of revitalizing the area around The Great Falls of Paterson.

IN CLOSING The unfortunate part of this article is that the numerous associated stories, documents, photos and details regarding Gasoline Alley, "Pappy" and the shops are gone. During the time it took us to compile and you to read these articles, a few more parts of automotive history have vanished. We'd like to invite you to become a member and to preserve your automotive history. 

Remember, Preserving Automotive History...One Car At a Time® is not just a slogan. It's what we do. Select this link to learn more.