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Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Tony Vickio

Originally uploaded by Sally Ann.

Experiences of "The World Famous"
by: Tony Vickio

Painting at the Famous Race Tracks

Lap 1

It all started when I was two years old!
In 1948 we moved into our new house on Rt.329, just above Seneca Lodge, in Watkins Glen, NY. The road, winding up the hill from Watkins Glen, down through "White's Hollow", back up the hill, around the top of the famous Watkin's Glen Gorge, down and around hills, back into the Glen. This route is now on the Register of Historic Sites. It is a piece of racing history. This road was the first Road Racing Course in the United States and I lived on it! The first race was held in 1948 and because of the speed, sounds and inhaling the exhaust fumes. I haven't been "right" since!

The effect these race cars had on my brain and the fact that I turned out to be a sign artist, naturally led me to letter race cars. One day, a friend of mine, Don Romeo, told me he was going to have his new '72 Vette pinstriped. I didn't care about going with him until he mentioned the "beer"! I'm sitting in this garage, drinking beer, watching this guy, Bob Shaw from Dundee, NY, paint freehand stripes on his Corvette. I couldn't believe what I was seeing! Bob made pin stripping look so easy. This is so cool! We got talking and when he was finished, he gave me his brush and said, "Here, go practice."That's how I started painting.

The first actual "paying" job I did, around 1974, was for Graham Hill. For those of you who don't know of him, he was the Formula 1 World Champion at that time. Graham's crew spilled fuel on the rear wing and obliterated the lettering. Someone gave him my name. I was just starting to letter things like my mother's vacuum cleaner (no kidding) and a couple of snowmobile helmets, but had no real lettering experience. I was so nervous as I had never done anything like this before and it was for Graham Hill! As you will see later, a lot of things have come up that I have never done before. But this one job started it all!

From that point on, through the 70s and early 80s, when the Formula 1 cars came to town, I would do some sort of lettering on them. Back then they had maybe one sponsor, if any and mostly just numbers and the driver's name. I worked on the cars of Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Jody Schecter, Mario Andretti and just about every other Grand Prix Driver of that time. I have a list and it is long. One stands out in my memory. It was Jody Schecter. His son, Thomas is driving in the IRL. I met Thomas at Nazareth last August and told him of the old days. Jody put a new body on his car and needed his name put on. All he had on the old car was "JODY", at a slant. I put that on but when he saw it, he started hollering "No, No, No, it is not slanted right". He went and got his helmet which had "JODY" on the sides, put it on and got in the car. I lettered the car while he sat there! Everyone was happy! It drew quite a crowd while I was lettering! The one thing that bothers me is, I never took pictures. I would go to the track at night, after the garage was closed and do my work. This was great! No one in there except me, a guard and an attack dog! I was scared of that dog! After I was done with a car, I would sit in it! I have sat in some of most famous cars in the world! Getting paid was even better! I was so new to this, I was nervous to charge too much, so I left it up to the team manager to tell me what it was worth. I would get 5 times what I would have charged! They carried Traveler's checks, usually 50s or 100s and they would rip off one or two and hand it to me! Holly Sh*t!! Life was good! Sometimes, after I was paid, the drivers would take me to supper with them at Seneca Lodge. Many of them didn't speak English, so I just smiled and nodded a lot.

In the late '70's, Formula 1 added the Japanese Grand Prix. Watkins Glen used to be the last race on the schedule until then. The cars would stay at the track for a week, getting ready to ship to Japan for the race. I would go up and letter some of the cars that needed changes. Just so happened, this is where I got the "World Famous" moniker! My work was going across the ocean and out into the world!

Teddy Yip had two cars that he wanted lettered in Japanese for the race in Japan. He drew it on a sheet of paper and I lettered it on the cars. Sometime after that, a few of us were talking about it and someone said, "Since your lettering is now going around the world, you are "World Famous". It stuck!

Things kicked up a notch! Now I'm lettering all types of cars at the track. To make it worse, it's in front of thousands of people! This cured my shyness! One day I got called to the track at 8:00a.m., race morning, to put a last minute sponsor on Paul Newman's car. He sat next to me in a chair and we talked about racing while I painted. Hundreds of people were watching. One woman even fainted! No Kidding! This type of lettering got me used to working while people watched. No problem now.

Strange things happen when you work around race tracks! One thing I remember was the time a company installed the new Camel Cigarette signs. They had two signs on a tower by the Glen Club, near the S'es. I was in my shop in Ithaca, NY, when I get this frantic call from the track! The IROC race was about to start (live TV) and the Camel signs had the wrong warning label on them. They were not going to let the race be broadcast on live TV with the wrong label on the signs! They were going to send a helicopter for me but there was no place nearby to pick me up. So they had the State Police escort me form Ithaca to the track! We flew! It was a blast, just like in the movies! On TV you could see a guy in the bucket truck. I'm scared of heights, putting the vinyl stickers on the sign as the cars are taking pace laps. They had to take two extra laps on live TV before we got the stickers changed! Being petrified of heights comes into play in later stories.

Once Corning purchased the Watkins Glen Circuit, I was busy doing small signs, working my way up to larger things. The most valuable thing that came from this was meeting the "important" people from other tracks! I will tell of these contacts as they come along. Most of them turned into very good friends. One of them is Dick Hane. He was the Operations Manager at Daytona Speedway (he is now Senior Vice President). When he visited Watkins Glen Race Track, he would find me and ask questions about the signs. I would take him down to the Mechanic's Club in Montour Falls for Hot Dogs. He loved them! He still asks about them today! One day, out of the blue, he called me and wanted me to go to Talladega and do some signs before the race. Seems their sign painter was trying to get more money and was holding out just before the Talladega race. Watkins Glen International wanted me to take the Pace Car down as it would be good advertising. So away I went, all by myself, to Alabama!

This will start the Tales of "Painting the Famous Race Tracks". All of the "Tales" are true and no names have been changed to protect anybody! Anybody associated with me is "Fair Game"!

Go to Tony's webpage


Anonymous Cinderman said...

Its great to have a world famous racing personality telling his tall tales on this site. I guess we can give you the benefit of the doubt since you did admit right up front that your brain was altered by exhaust fumes (maybe even at two years old).Look foward to more.

10:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

exhaust fumes??? it was the beer......I know, it happened to me too...Tone-man, you're a bonafide legend.....tell 'em the story about you, me, Steve and "meatball" in Talladega.....and the "white lightning".....should be good for a few more laughs.....stay happy..stay safe 'cous.....

9:21 AM  
Anonymous Si Allen said...

Hey Tony...someday I'll give you the secret method to get rid of your fear of heights!

Woking on the "big name" racers was always fun and profitable, but the wannabe's were enough to drive me away from race cars lettering!

PS... don't stop writing!

7:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

World Famous Fan Club

Dude! I read this one first I thought you were a pompous ass with a moniker like "World Famous"...But after reading your amazing stories I see that you have a great sense of humor. Are you going to collect these into one PDF booklet or something when you get more of them?
You seem to have a bunch of crazy friends too..."anyone associated with me is fair game"..I laughed hard. Can't wait to hear about the rest of the wild bunch.

World Famous Fan

8:33 PM  

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