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|Neil PUNKY Manor, Jr. 1953-1979|
September 17th 2008 - THIS FROM THE "PUNKY MANOR RACE OF CHAMPIONS" RACE PROGRAM FOR 2008 - BRONCO
By Jim Gorecki
Editor of BroncosPitstop.com
Welcome to the 29th Annual Punky Manor Race of Champions! This race is
in honor of a young racer and champion who gladly showed up to steal the
show. An Altoona resident, Punky Manor was a man that was taken from us
way before his time. This race weekend every September in Menomonie is
also a celebration - a celebration of the man and his sport. This is
the culmination of the dirt track season before the long winter forces
race cars to hibernate, race fans to find other outlets for their
passion, and race teams to start thinking about what to change on their
setups for next spring.
I recently had the pleasure of doing a telephone interview with a cousin
of Punky, Dale Manor, of Oak Creek. Dale was 12 years old when he
started to help out working on Punky's car and spent quite a bit of time
with him. Dale commented, "Punky was notorious for running late and
getting to the track after the positions were drawn, so they'd put him
at the 'back of the bus' to start the race. That didn't seem to matter,
because he'd work his way to the front anyway. I think that is one
reason he was such a popular driver - he was fun to watch."
Punky didn't only run here at the Red Cedar Speedway, but all over the
area on the dirt tracks. Rice Lake, Fountain City, Wisconsin Rapids,
Hibbing, Minn., Thunder Bay in Ontario, various tracks in Iowa, and the
Eau Claire Speedway before it closed. According to Dale Manor, "It is
difficult to find records, but the last season of the Eau Claire
Speedway, Punky was timed turning the fastest lap ever, so that record
Punky was at the point of his life when he was ready to make the
transition to asphalt racing and had started to build a car for it, with
an eventual goal to make the NASCAR Circuit. In a sport that is often
on the verge of disaster, it was on a public highway that his life was
taken in 1979, specifically Highway 37 south of Eau Claire. Ironically,
a week after his death, his father, Neil Sr., received a letter from a
NASCAR team inquiring about his son racing for them. And within that
same week, Neil Sr. was also killed in a head-on collision. A tragic
end for a family that had given so much to this sport.
People who saw Punky race remember the number 57 Camaro, but according
to Dale Manor, "Punky was really a Ford guy. He started to race at age
18 with a 1958 Ford in the Street Stock Class, moved up to a 1963 Ford
Galaxy in the Hobby Stock Class his second year, and in his third year,
drove a 1972 Ford Torino in the Late Models. That is when he really
started to get noticed. Punky was not a big man, maybe 5'3" tall, and
130 lbs., but he didn't back down from anyone and was always ready to
take on all competitors. When he did pull into Menomonie one time, he
had built a car hauler, a Ford truck he had built, with a Chevy Camaro
on the back. He took a ribbing on that one, but Punky just told people,
'Hey, you gotta get the car here somehow."
Outside of racing, Punky was the owner of the "Winner's Circle Bar" in
Altoona. But it was racing that was his real full-time job, often
hitting the road, shades of the old barnstormers and running races every
night of the week all over Wisconsin. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday
nights, it was a given that he'd be racing his familiar "Schlitz Beer
Special" number 57 in a family racing tradition you so often see, a
number that was handed down from a car that Neil Sr. had owned.
Off the track, this weekend is a special time for drivers and fans alike
to get together. Many make this an annual pilgrimage from the mid-west
and Canada - and make the Red Cedar Speedway one of the brightest spots
in the racing universe for two days. This year promises to be very
special for the Manor Family as they host a family reunion on the Dunn
County Rec Park grounds. Punky's cousins, Dale (of Oak Creek) and Duane
(of Menomonie) Manor will be driving their cars on the parade lap.
"Just a little piece of the Manor Family racing tradition continues,"
stated Duane."It is a bit emotional, but it is great to see that this
race continues. The Menomonie community and the racing families really
support this event so well."
Since there are not many photos of Punky's racecars to be found, Dale
Manor took an extra step in bring Punky's memory to life for his
daughter. "For years, my daughter, Jacque, has heard of the racing stories, but
I didn't really have many photos to show her. So I started building
models of each one of his cars. Since then, she has become a real stock
car fan, and it is something we can share together."
So even in death, we can celebrate life, the life of a man and a
champion. If Neil "Punky" Manor Jr. was still with us, I am sure he
would have it no different. Give him a beautiful fall weekend, and he'd
say "Let's race both days."