By Kenny Bainbridge Jr.
Tommy Druar 1950-1989
My father owns a business building transmissions and gears, called Old Man Engineering. My family grew up around drag racing. For me it started in 1979 at Lancaster Speedway. My Uncle took me to my first stock car race. This was quite an experience for me. I sat in the grandstands with amazement. As each different division entered the track, I would pick out a driver to cheer for that was a customer of my fathers. As the night ended, Uncle Joe asked if I would like to go in the pits to meet some of the drivers. Of course I said yes. At the drag races, We would ride with the tow cars, help with the cars as much as we could. I was 11 and my brothers were 6. Everyone was very friendly with us. Nervously, I walked up to the winner of the Street Stock class that I rooted for. I knew he used my fathers rear ends in his car. I introduced myself, "Congratulations; I'm Kenny Jr., the Old Mans son". His reply "Yeah, So?" He was very grouchy and arrogant. He made me feel like it was a bother to talk to me. I was crushed. He wasn't a professional, wasn't racing Grand National, just a local street stock racer. I didn't know anything about him, except I was cheering for him and he won. I thought all stock car drivers are jerks. I didn't care if I ever watched another stock car race again.
Uncle Joe knew I was kind of upset. He asked if there was anyone else that I wanted to meet. I told him yes, so we walked down to meet a modified driver. I dint know who he was, but he had one of my dads decals on his car. I asked him for his autograph. He said " hang on a second". He walked to the front of his car hauler, grabbed something out of the cab, and returned. He was holding a composite picture of himself and his car. He signed it Tommy Druar #37 and handed it to me. I couldn't believe it. Suddenly my opinion of stock car racers changed dramatically, and I had a new hero.
That night was a turning point in my racing career. My father was designing and planning to build a NASCAR Modified. Our family started going to the track weekly. Every week I would sneak into the pits to see if I could help Tommy. He would let me wipe down the car, go get tires mounted and pick up food and drinks from the concession stand. I remember my father asking him if I was being a pain in the butt. He said no. I was having the time of my life.
At the end of the season, my father began building a new modified. He was building the car for Bill Bitterman. Bill and his 2-crew members, Ed Werick and the "Chin" worked late every night trying to complete the car. I helped them as much as I could. All their hard work paid off as they were rewarded with a cover story in Stock Car Magazine. The car was different from any other from being totally Aerodynamic (modifieds were anything but aerodynamic then) to being numbered Roman III. It was beautiful. Painted Pearl white, and more than 20 different shades of green.
Even though my father was going to own a car that was going to race against Tommy, I still couldn't wait until I could get to the track to help Tommy. He even let me ride to the track with him. I don't know why he didn't mind me around. I was just a kid. As the season went on, I learned first hand where he got his nickname "the Traveling Man". He took me to tracks in Perry NY, Holland NY, Oswego NY, Spencer NY, Shangri-La NY, and even Stafford Connecticut. He would race wherever he wanted to. I watched him on and off the track. He was a great guy and an awesome driver. He always had time to smile and talk to his fans. Through the 1980 season, I kept bugging my dad to let Tommy drive his car. Tommy didn't have the equipment that my dad had, yet he was beating Bill weekly. I knew if he had a shot to prove himself in a good car, he would have great results. When the season at Lancaster ended, I got my wish. Tommy was going to drive the Roman III.
He took the car down to Shangri-La Speedway in the southern tier of New York. The night didn't go as well as planned. He was involved in a wreck that severely damaged the car. Although this was not his fault, Tommy felt terrible that he tore up my dads car. After he ran the car a couple more times, he talked with my dad and decided to build 2 new cars with the help of my father. Tommys sponsor Jim Connelly was going to own one and Tommy was going to own the 2nd car for a backup. I was in heaven. I helped Tommy all winter long with the new construction. During the off months, Tommy began dating my sister Mickey. As the 1981 season started, Tommy headed south to New Smyrna Speedway in Florida. Tommy ran well, however he experienced motor problems all week. Opening day at Lancaster, Tommy was running 4th, the only local driver on the lead lap in the Genesee 200, when a lap car got into Tommy and took away his hopes of winning. Winston Cup driver Geoff Bodine won the race that day.
Tommy Druar #37 in the 1981 Genesee 200
In May, Tommy and former crewmember Tony Jankowiak, who was driving in Street Stock at the time, made a pact. They promised to win their first features on that night. They didnt, but strangely enough the very next week, it happened. Tommy won a few more races that season. The following season Tommy drove a new Dodge Laser built in the Old Mans shop as he sold His OME Pinto to Tony Jankowiak, who was moving up into the modified division. For the first time in their careers the T & T boys would become competitors. They raced hard and they raced clean, always putting on a great show for the fans. Over the next few years, Tommy married my sister and had 2 wonderful children, Matthew and Ashley. Tony Married Tommy's sister Debbie and had 2 children also.
Tony Jankowiak #73 and Tommy Druar #37 at Lancaster Speedway in 1988
My friends and I began construction of my first street stock late in the 1987 season while Tommy and Tony were battling for the Lancaster Speedway Points championship. I was hoping to use what I learned through the years watching Tommy on and off the track, I could begin a successful racing career. As the season wound down for the T & T boys, Tommy edged Tony out at the end and became the 1987 Modified Champion. The following season Tommy was able to defend his title and win his second career championship which included a win in each month of the 1988 season. Tommy had a family that he loved, he really enjoyed being with them. During the off season, he contemplated hanging up his helmet. Racing was becoming more expensive and it was harder to spend the time with his family. With less than a month before the 1989 season started, Tommy picked up Mobil as a sponsor and decided to race for another year. On June 10th, only in my second year in street stocks, I won my first feature race. At the conclusion of my race, we went directly to have the car inspected. By the time we finished with the inspectors, the modifieds were already on the track. I would have to wait until they finished so I could share my joy with my hero. Leading the points again, Tommy was involved in an accident while leading the mid season championship. His car jumped wheels with a competitors car and hit the wall drivers side first. Tommy was fatally injured in the accident. I never knew what Tommy thought about my win, or even if he even knew about it. I can only hope he was half as proud of me as I was to be involved with his life.
On June 10th 1989, we lost more than Tommy Druar; we lost a friend, father, husband, a great champion and a Hero.
This site was last updated 05/09/16