Wednesday, May 19, 2010

For The Love: Zampieri Keeping Thunder Road History Alive

LOUDON, N.H. -- “Did you find a coil for that thing today?” bellows the thickly accented voice of an elderly man. It’s Harold Hanaford, 80, seeking shelter in a dry garage bay as the mist falls outside.

“Naw, I couldn’t find one. But I heard you can reverse the wires and still get it started,” replies Paul Zampieri. The two are standing in the infield at New Hampshire Motor Speedway hoping that the rain will stop before a barbeque party begins at 6:30 that evening.

It’s the 20th annual Vintage Racing Celebration at the track, and four 20-bay garages are packed with race cars from yesteryear -- everything from Modifieds to Midgets, from Indy Cars to an ex-Jeff Gordon NASCAR Winston Cup car that has been converted to SCCA road racing specs. NASCAR champion Bobby Allison is in attendance, too.

Zampieri, of Montpelier, purchased and painstakingly restored the car Hanaford drove to the 1964 track championship at Thunder Road Int’l Speedbowl in Barre, Vt., nearly a decade ago, and has been on tour with the car ever since, taking part in car shows and exhibitions all over the northeast. New Hampshire is the latest stop on his circuit.

“I bought the car for $500 back in 1998,” he explains. “It was in rough shape, but I’d done body work before and that was no big deal. But I needed help with the details.”

After two years of work and research, Zampieri brought the car to Hanaford’s garage in Plymouth, N.H., to “get it right.” By September 2002, the car was complete and on display for the first time at Thunder Road’s Milk Bowl, a race Hanaford won twice in the early 1960s. Hanaford took the car around the track for pace laps that day and has driven it on occasion in exhibition races with the New England Antique Racers club.

“It was a lot of fun and a lot of work,” says Zampieri. “We have to work on it a lot, though. I just put a new engine in a couple weeks ago.” The car’s flathead Ford engine, a staple of the early Coupes at Thunder Road, recently turned over for the final time. A “new” Offenhauser flathead was installed in time for the week-long NHMS celebration, which includes three days of on-track times, but the ignition coil burned out while Zampieri was loading the car on Tuesday night. Still, he brought the car for the show anyway.

He’s not stopping with the Hanaford car, either: Original pieces of a 1932 3-window Ford driven by Ronnie Marvin at Thunder Road and Northeastern Speedway near St. Johnsbury are being incorporated -- along with the rear deck of a 1930 Chevrolet -- into a replica of the original Marvin car. Once finished, the car will complete a restored team of three cars originally campaigned in 1962 by owner Andy Cote and drivers Marvin, Paul Martel, and Tony Colicchio.

Zampieri estimates his Hanaford project car has cost him a total of $7,000, and that the Martel car restored by another enthusiast has between $10,000 and $15,000 sunk into it.

“We have fun,” says Zampieri, looking around the garage at Hanaford and restoration buddies Cho Lee and Lloyd Hutchins. “That’s what it’s about.”

(PHOTOS: 1. Paul Zampieri (left) and Harold Hanaford with their restored Thunder Road Coupe at New Hampshire Motor Speedway; 2. Zampieri's next project will restore the #13 Ford driven by Ronnie Marvin in 1962. Justin St. Louis/VMM photos)

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