Last week, Vince Christiano Sr., sat in his garage and race shop located at Englewood Collision, which he has owned for 55 years. He was asked to recall the numerous highlights of his many decades of involvement in local motorsports. It took him a little time because when you've been involved in the sport since the 1950s as he has, there is a lot of valuable memories to rekindle.
Of the many special racing moments that this 85-year-old retired driver and current TQ Midget car owner mentioned, not many created a bigger sparkle in his eyes then those made in these later years involving his sons, Vince Christiano Jr. and Mark Christiano. Now the Christiano racing legacy has expanded once again as Christiano Sr.'s grandson Vince Christiano III has gotten behind the wheel as well. Not many Western New York racing families have spanned the generations of longevity in the sport as this Tonawanda-based family has.
Christiano Sr., got involved in the sport as a mechanic and eventually became a driver and car owner in TQ Midgets. The beat goes on.
Today, the Christiano Racing team which competes in the NYPA TQ Midget Association consist of the owner Christiano Sr., as well as drivers Christiano Jr., Christiano III and Dave Wollaber. Mark retired several years ago as a driver. On normal race nights Wollaber drives the team's No. 1 TQ Midget while Christiano Jr., and Christiano III handle the driving chores in the No. 2 and No. 3 cars respectively.
"I helped build Roy Campbell's stock car and I used to work on it when he drove down at Civic Stadium in Buffalo in the 1950s," Christiano Sr., said. "I then started driving Go-Karts and I was racing with Harry Macy. I used to run Go-Karts with him and when he got into TQ Midget racing he talked me into it. This was at the beginning when the Can-Am Midget Racing Club started."
The Can-Am Midget Club was formed in 1965. Christiano Sr. earned four career Can-Am outdoor championships, 1975, '79, '80 and '83.
After Christiano's driving retirement his sons got into the cockpit.
"Mark drove Midgets and then he drove Sprint Cars," Christiano Sr. said "So did my other son Vinnie Jr.. He had a Sprint Car too. That was the second generation of our racing and now we got the third one with Vinnie III.
Christiano Jr., recalled his indoctrination into the racing environment.
"My earliest memories of dad was when he was running with the Can-Am Midgets," Christiano Jr., 45, said. "I remember when I was younger when he was running mostly up in Canada with the Can-Am Midgets if we got back home at 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning I wanted to get into Go-Kart racing but he kept telling me there's no way we can get home at that hour of the morning and wake up and get you to Batavia to the Go-Kart track there. So I just helped him until I was 19 years old."
A near tragedy would change the course of the family racing structure.
"The summer that dad had his heart attack ( August,1990), he had a tough time keeping his driving career going.," said Christiano Jr. "The year after he had his heart attack is when I started running the TQ Midgets. That's when he retired as a driver. Soon Mark started driving to.
"Mark got out of running the TQ's and got into running with the Southern Ontario Sprint Cars and I went up to Ohsweken Speedway and Mark let me take his Sprint Car out after one of the races and instantaneously I fell in love with dirt Sprint Cars. I bought my first Sprint Car in 2000. By the time 2005 rolled around my youngest daughter was born so I had three kids, Vinnie III, Brigid and Samantha, and when Samantha was born it took a little too much to race Fridays on dirt, Saturdays the Midgets and then work on the cars. I cut my schedule back to just TQs where I raced on my father's team ever since.
"My son started hanging around the shop and just as he got older what we did was Dave Wollaber's father Danny called me up one night three years ago and he said that he had an older Go-Kart that his other kid used to run at Ransomville and would we be interested in it for my son to go out and run it there. We took him out there and at first he was real timid and all of a sudden he started doing better and then all of a sudden he had an accident when someone drove over him in the Go-Kart and my wife said that she thought she'd rather having him driving a Midget because at least it has a roll cage on it."
Christiano III, is 17 and a senior at St. Joe's Collegiate Institute and plays hockey and runs track.
"I wanted to race my whole life and when I got the go from my grandfather and dad that was a special day," Christiano III said. "This is my second full season driving TQ Midgets. This is the coolest thing I've ever done. I heard many stories about my families long history in the sport but I haven't been alive long enough to really appreciate it but I listen to all the stories and it's always really cool to hear them. It's great to have both my grandfather and dad mentoring me every week along with Dave Wollaber, Dennis Haslem and Ross Lute. The advice I get is unmatched. It's a great family thing."
The Christiano team will race in the Jerry Gradl Memorial 50 this Saturday at Holland.
The local racing community is remembering Jim Pierce Sr. and Ronald "Sonny" Wittmeyer.
Pierce, 47, the 2007 SST Modified champion at Wyoming County, died from a heart attack Aug. 5. Pierce has spent the last few seasons redirecting his racing passion toward the development of his son's racing career. Jimmy Pierce Jr. drives a 4-Cylinder at area tracks. A special collection to assist the Pierce family will be held during the stock car program this Saturday at Wyoming County.
Few drivers were more well known at Holland Speedway then Wittmeyer and his No. 9 NASCAR Late Models. Wittmeyer, 77 died July 24. He was Holland's NASCAR Late Model Champion in 1979 and 1980. Wittmeyer is tied with Dave Heitzhaus for seventh on Holland's all time asphalt NASCAR Late Model win list, with 17. His first Holland win occurred June 17, 1972 and his last, August 3, 1996.