Sometime my job is so cool I have to pinch myself. Today was a perfect example. I spent the morning with Pete Zepka Jr. If you’re from central Pennsylvania you’ll probably recognize the name. Pete’s family has been the owners of the Johnstown, Pa., Harley-Davidson dealership since just after World War II.
I went to talk to Pete about the old Windber (Pa.) Road Race National that ran in the 1950s and ‘60s. Pete was not only a wealth of information about that classic old road race, he also regaled me for hours with stories about the racers of the 1950 and ‘60s who used to base themselves out of the Zepka shop during racing season. A story about Brad Andres trying to shift the family’s motorhome (an old city bus converted) while going to Laconia was classic. Apparently Andres didn’t know how to double clutch and was grinding his way to third gear.
Pete said Brad told him he was going to go home to California over the winter, buy an old pickup and come back the next year a double-clutch expert. “And he did,” Pete laughed. “The next year Brad drove that motorhome like an expert.”
Pete was a teenager when his father helped organize the first road race at Windber. Pete was given the job of flagger in turn one, where the riders hauled down from 90 miles per hour to make a left-hand hairpin turn.
“I wish you could have seen Joe Leonard taking that turn,” Pete beamed. “He must have hit 100 miles per hour down that straight and he would wait to the last second and pitch his KR sideways and take that turn perfectly almost every time. It was beautiful to watch.”
I thank Pete for giving me a couple of hours of the best education on the history of the sport I’ve had in years. Keep posted for my upcoming story about Windber.