When The Track at Hillside, formerly Holland Speedway, opened its pit gates for a new racing season last month, many things were different, including the track management and name. Yet there was a constant in the pit area that day who has been there for nearly five decades, "Chargin" Charlie DiRosa.
Even for DiRosa, however, things have changed because of a stroke in October. The West Seneca driver was forced to hang up his helmet for good, but his intense enthusiasm for the sport remains.
After racing in stock car classes early in his career, DiRosa switched to the open-wheel, open-cockpit, winged TQ Midgets many seasons ago. The last several years have been spent with the New York/Pennsylvania Midget Association. NYPA is a traveling series that visits area tracks, including Hillside, Lancaster and Lake Erie Speedway. DiRosa owns and promotes NYPA.
While he will not slip into his driving suit any longer, he will still be at all NYPA shows in an official's shirt.
One of the two cars he owned most recently was sold to racer A.J. Hessler. He continues to own the other and fields the car in competition with Modified driver Tony Hanbury behind the wheel when Hanbury's schedule allows.
Hanbury drove DiRosa's car for the first time this season at Lake Erie on June 9, finishing sixth. The team will compete Saturday at Hillside.
"The doctors told me stay away from driving a race car," DiRosa said. "They didn't want me to even own a car, but I sold one and kept the other one. It's hard to not own one and still stay involved, especially with the NYPA part.
"It was a little different seeing someone else in my car at Lake Erie, but after the warm-up and the heat race with Tony the first time, it was OK."
DiRosa has many memories of a successful career in his No. 39 cars, including championships in the Limited Modifieds and the Midgets at Holland.
"I started racing at Holland in 1972," DiRosa said. "I began in the six-cylinder Limited Modifieds. I raced those to 1988 and I then I got a ride in a TQ Midget owned by George Turner and I started racing after that with the Can-Am Midgets. There was cars sitting around Western New York that weren't going up to Canada to the Can-Am races, so locally John Casey got the idea of trying to start our own Midget class. We did that at Lancaster at first. Then it grew and evolved into NYPA. It's nice now."
DiRosa said the current roster has 42 drivers listed, although not all drive full time. He formed an agreement with new Hillside operator Daniel J. Hutchinson to bring the NYPA group to the Southern Erie County oval about 10 times this season.
"After Daniel introduced himself to everyone at the preseason party (March 25) we had a meeting with him the following Saturday and we got things worked out," DiRosa said. "He gave us about as many races there as we wanted. It has worked out good."
DiRosa misses driving but is glad the stroke did not deprive him of his capacity to handle directing NYPA and still being a car owner.
"I was behind the wheel of a race car for 46 years," DiRosa said. "This year is my 47th overall in the sport.
"I've owned my own cars most every year. I'm still around."