2019: 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks – Week 26 (June 24 – June 30): Legend
I “first” joined Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks on its “first” year in 2014… and what a whirlwind year that was… writing, editing and researching daily for 365 days! As much as I wanted to continue the following year, I found that I didn’t have the time to continue another year with that type of research… although I did continue blogging and writing stories at my own pace, which allowed me to write on other topics as well as family stories when ideas came my way… but I’ve often missed it. The first year were no specific weekly prompts like today… but I’m taking a different spin on them. There will be some posts on a specific ancestor, but most will be memories that spring from those prompts. Head over to 2014 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks to read about my ancestors in the first years challenge.
If you’re new to genealogy, make your “first” stop to Amy’s website for genealogy ideas or even join in on this 52 Week challenge… you learn by doing… not procrastinating! There is no right or wrong… anything you do is a start!
When I first read the prompt of “Legend”… there was only one name that called out to me… my husband’s uncle… Johnny Cambino! From the first time I met him, he made a lasting impression on me… he was one of a kind… a true “Legend!“
I often talked to Johnny, asking countless questions about his racing career that I’d heard so much about. He was a “Legend” within the family… as well as at the racing track! And from Johnny’s own words… “Until I saw the checkered flag I raced to win!! Some guys would settle into a spot, but not me – I was there to win and I never gave up! “I live on the edge.”
In asking Johnny once about where was his favorite pole spot was in the race… “I never liked to draw an upfront pole… I like to be last in the field… and win from behind!”
The West Haven Speedway was a paved 1/5 mile oval located directly on the waterfront of West Haven, CT. The track was somewhat unusually shaped, being built around a baseball diamond named Donovan Field – named after “Wild Bill” Donovan, manager of the New York Yankees. This small town of West Haven also held an attraction known as Savin Rock… a somewhat small version of Coney Island.
My husband remembers that by 5:30 or 6 o’clock p.m. on Saturday nights, there would be a steady stream of cars coming off the turnpike – all heading to the rock for the Saturday night racing. Many people with large lawns nearby, often stood out in front of their house to park cars in their yard… it was an easy way to make a few extra bucks.
One race that always stuck in my husband’s mind was… “I remember a 100 lap race where Tommy Sutcliffe, “Tommy Suitcase” as Johnny called him, was in the lead. He held the lead for 98 laps, then Johnny made his move and pulled right around him – winning the race.! Johnny could be in last place and never give up trying to win the race. As Johnny would say, “the race isn’t over till it’s over!”
“I saw my uncle, “The King,” win many races! He was one of the top racers at Savin Rock Speedway. Usually I didn’t have the money to get into the races, so my friends and myself often “hopped” the fence after the cop walked by. On Saturday night the speedway was the place to be; it was exciting to be there and especially to watch my uncle, “King Cam,” race.”
Words from Uncle Johnny…
“I began racing about 1950/51 and raced locally at West Haven Speedway at Savin Rock until the Rock closed around 1965/67. I was the top racer there, racing in all the features and winning most of them. Quite a few of them were $1000 winning purses. If there were any special entertainment going on at the races – I was involved!”
“I was so popular at Donovan Field that when the owner, Tattersall, found out I was engaged, he asked me to have a ‘mock’ wedding right on the infield – on a Saturday night for the fans! I was all for it as I was a crowd pleaser… I loved my fans and I’d do anything to please them, but my soon-to-be wife, Margaret, wasn’t as eager to participate in that deal, so the answer quickly became NO! My wedding was so popular that even many of my young fans also attended the church wedding… sitting in the pews quiet as a mouse.”
“Often, after the races, my fans would line up for me to autograph the pictures they’d purchased. I was always asked for my autograph – and I never refused. There was always a long line of girls waiting for my signature. Even my soon to be wife, Margaret, stood in line for her photograph to be signed… she never cut the line!”
Johnny with only a few of his winning trophies!
“No matter where I went, I was recognized. Even on my honeymoon in Vermont, a group of motorcyclist passed and yelled out, “Hey King Cams.”
Johnny’s famous “Legend” scrapbooks!
Johnny’s, soon to be wife, Margaret, made him a scrapbook for his birthday one year… entitled “THE LEGEND“… put together from all the racing photos and newspaper clippings she had saved all through his career. Johnny was super surprised with that scrapbook of his career in print… and couldn’t wait to show his friends. Maggie later began a No. 2 “Legend” scrapbook when Johnny re-entered the racing game at age sixty-two… racing in the “Legend Race.” Little did she know, that there would be so many new photos and newspaper clippings to soon fill a No. 3 scrapbook. The “King” as he was so called… was back in the driver’s seat! Sitting behind that wheel… was where Uncle Johnny was always the happiest!
Johnny with the girl who stole his heart!
Johnny was one of seven children born to Giuseppe (Joseph) and Domenica (Minnie) Cambino. He was one of three boys… and very close to his brother Frank; they were very competitive in everything they did together through the years.
Johnny could tell a tale like none other… holding you spellbound to every word, and the one story of how he almost didn’t make it past age three, I’ve never forgotten. Johnny always accompanied his mother down to the well to carry water back to their farmhouse. One afternoon his mother suddenly missed him and before anyone went searching, she took off running down to the well… only to see his little fingers holding over the edge. She always knew how fascinated he was with the well, so that had been her first thought of maybe where he had went.
He entertained me from the first moment I met him… telling me about the Tarzan Tree that he and his brother Frankie made. It was no more than a rope hanging from a tree on their farm, but it yielded them much fun… especially after an afternoon of watching Tarzan movies at the Rivoli theater in town.
Johnny’s father often scolded the boys to not swing there… as they’d hung the rope above a bed of rocks… probably to prove how tough they were! One afternoon Johnny returned to the house holding his arm… he had fallen on the rocks. Quickly before his father came home, his mother and grandmother whipped up several egg whites to soak strips of cotton sheeting in…. then they wrapped his arm to set it. Johnny laughed in telling me how hard that “home made” cast actually was. When his father came home and asked what happened… he was told that the cow had kicked him… whether he believed if or not… Mothers always knew best… on how to keep peace in the family.
I was treated to riding with Johnny several times… and while I felt like I might be taking my life in my hands… he’d look over and say, “you’re as safe as a baby in a cradle… I can stop on a dime!” He never lacked confidence… and no matter where he went, everyone knew him… he was a true “Legend.”
Stay tuned for Week 27… to be announced!
Continue reading 2019: 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks over HERE!
To read more Family Stories… click HERE.
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