50 Greatest Modified Drivers – “Wild” Bill Slater 1928-2012
“Been There, Done That, Seen It All”
When one talks of Stafford Motor Speedway, Wild Bill Slater’s name comes to mind. If not for Slater’s vision and prodding, what we know to be Stafford Speedway today may have faded into oblivion.
Slater was an active competitor for twenty-one years, retired from driving at the end of the 1969 season. He went to work for Mal Barlow, the then owner of Stafford Motor Speedway, for the 1970 season. When the track fell on hard times, during mid-season, Barlow decided to shut down. Not one to sit idle, Slater contacted construction company owner Jack Arute and convinced him to lease the near bankrupt track. Their first event together was a rained out 150-lap event. Included in the package was a ‘ton’ of rainchecks Arute inherited from Barlow. Eddie Flemke, driving a car co-owned by the Garutti Brothers and Arute, took the win and from a promoter’s prospective, Arute was hooked.
Slater worked for Arute full time during the following months and at the season’s end convinced Arute he should buy the track. When Arute took ownership, Slater over-saw an almost complete reconstruction of the facility. In the last 28 years, there have been a few bumps in the road for Slater, but he is still held in high esteem by the Arute family and is still involved at the track.
At Stafford, Slater was the 1967 Sportsman Track Champion. Running his famous V-8, 327 Chevy, Slater never made it to Victory Lane against the big block injected Modifieds. His best finish on asphalt was a second on June 21, 1968. Slater’s record on the Stafford dirt prior to 1967 was another story. Driving for John Koszela Sr., Slater ran up a string of seven wins in a row. When Ernie Gahan replaced Slater in the Koszela car, Slater brought the famous V-8 for its first and only appearance on dirt. In one of the most thrilling events ever seen on dirt at Stafford, Slater pulled out a win at the finish line and beat his former mount.
Slater’s racing career began at the Lonsdale Arena in 1948. Throughout the 1950s, Slater raced at Waterford where he won 39 events. First he won in a flat head Ford known as the Connecticut Valley Rocket V-8 owned by Bob Vitari and Vic Bombacci. In 1959, his final year at Waterford, he won 20 features.
Looking for bigger and better things, Slater joined NASCAR and moved up to the tough Norwood Arena. It was at Norwood where Slater would become a legend, where he would be a dominating force until the track dropped the Modifieds at the close of the 1969 season. At Norwood, he was a four-time track champion and at one time won eight features in a row.
His crowning achievement was a win in the 200-mile Race of Champions at Longhorne, PA in 1965. His other accomplishments included three wins at the Trenton, New Jersey mile, two track championships at Thompson, two Utica-Rome 400 wins, plus the 1964 Thompson World Series.
On February 1, 1998, ‘Wild’ Bill Slater was inducted into the New England Antique Racers Hall of Fame and he now joins the prestigious list of the Fifty Greatest Modified Drivers of All-Time, part of the Stafford Salutes NASCAR at 50 program.
By: Phil Smith