Lou Lazzaro, 65, of Route 5, passed away unexpectedly Monday, May 1, 2000, at Albany Medical Center. He was born January 7, 1935, in Utica, the son of the late Peter and Philomena Vertucci Lazzaro, and was educated in Utica schools. Lou devoted his life to Stock Car Racing and was a member of D.I.R.T. Motor Sports and the New York State Stock Car Association. Lou was a loving and caring father and grandfather who lived and died his dream. He is survived by three daughters and a son-in-law, Laureen Arcuri-Lazzaro, of CA, Frances and Louis Rugari, of CA, and Melissa Lazzaro, of Utica; three sons and a daughter-in-law, Louis and Stacey Lazzaro, of GA, Peter Lazzaro, of Frankfort, and Dan Lazzaro, of CA; two sisters and a brother-in-law, Chiarine and Robert Novak, of Clinton, and Mary Jane Malta, of Herkimer; two brothers and sisters-in-law, Nicholas and Eleanor Lazzaro, of Frankfort, and Peter and Carole Lazzaro, of Utica; seven grandchildren; and several nieces and nephews. A Memorial Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated Friday at 10:00 a.m. at St. Anthony of Padua Church, Utica. Visiting hours are Wednesday, 7-9 p.m., and Thursday, 2-4 and 7-9 p.m., at the Assaro-Bentz Funeral Service, Inc., Court at York Sts., Utica. The family extends a special thank you to Junior Bianco for supporting Lou Lazzaro all these years. The family may be contacted at 436 Brown Rd., Frankfort, NY 13340.
Lazzaro was an area racing legend
By RON MOSHIER
It’s nice to know that in the end, at least, everybody really does love a winner.
Hopefully, Lou Lazzaro knew that.
Certainly, there were times when he must have had his doubts, back in the 1960s and 70s when nobody won more stock car races at Fonda Speedway than he did.
Back then, the grandstands were filled with spiteful fans who showed up each and every week just aching to see anybody but Lou Lazzaro win Saturday night’s main event.
Back then, the feature winner was interviewed right on the frontstretch of the racetrack — and when Lazzaro and his all-too-familiar maroon and white No. 4 won yet again, the Utica driver dodged more than his fair share of beer cans and barbs.
That’s how good he was. That’s how often he won. And back then, many in the angry post-race mob didn’t appreciate it.
“They’d throw full cans of beer at him,” said longtime fan and friend Danny Morrone of Watervliet. “Louie would have to leave his helmet on. “They’d say, ‘Go back to Utica,’ all that stuff. ... It bothered me so much, I quit coming here for a while.”
Lazzaro didn’t quit.
Instead, he kept coming back and he kept winning. He did it again, and again, and again, much to the dismay of his competitors and the disdain of a growing number of detractors.
“This one girl wanted my autograph, and then she tore it right up in front of me and she didn’t even know me,” Lazzaro said a few years ago. “Yeah, it bothered me, but the way I look at it, if they boo you, they know you’re good.”
Still, winning more didn’t ease the pain.
“The fans hated him and they hated us,” said Lou Lazzaro Jr., the oldest of Lazzaro’s six children, when his father was inducted into Fonda’s Hall of Fame in 1990. “It was hard on us. They made us cry.
“Now, they love him. It’s funny how the tables have turned.”
Now, nobody’s laughing.
At age 65, still racing and still capable of winning after all these years — nearly 50 of them — Lou Lazzaro ran his last lap around Fonda’s »-mile clay oval last Saturday night.
Two days later, just a month before his induction into the Greater Utica Sports Hall of Fame, he was gone.
The good news: Lou Lazzaro left while he still was going what he loved to do most, and he was still good at it, too.
“It’s a shame,” said crew chief and lifelong friend Junior Bianco on Monday, “but Louie always said he wanted to go when he was racing, and that’s what he did. He wouldn’t have given it up. That was him. He wanted to be there, racing.
“Even if he just got in the car and drove around, people would come to see him,” Bianco said. “Now, it’s not going to be the same. No way.”
Lazzaro, who grew up on Gilbert Street not far from the old Bennett’s Field race track in North Utica, never saw the end in sight. If he did, he never admitted to it.
Instead, he grew tired of the same old questions about how old he was and, ‘How much longer will you be racing?’
“This age stuff, I don’t even want to hear about it,” he would grumble. “I am what I am. ... I’ll know when to quit.”
He never did. The gritty veteran — who first made a name for himself back in racing’s good old days when winning depended more on the man than his machine and how much money he put into it — figured it was better to burn out than to fade away.
Always operating on a shoestring budget, he came back from a life-threatening intestinal illness in 1984 and open-heart surgery in 1996 to win again.
And the legend lived on.
“You have people in the stands now who saw Louie race when he was younger, and their grandchildren were there last year to watch him win,” said Betty Biittig, who along with her husband Ed is a media coordinator at Fonda.
“If there’s a legend at Fonda Speedway, it’s certainly Lou Lazzaro. We’ve been to Daytona and people there always ask, ‘Is Louie still racing?’ Even there, they know the name.”
Now, the man is gone.
His name and his legend will live on, though. And rightly so.
When Lou Lazzaro was at his best there was nobody better, and in the end, everybody at Fonda Speedway would have loved to see him win again, and again.
Even those who grew up booing him because they thought he won too much.
I know. I was one of them.
Back then, I didn’t know any better. Now, I only wish I could see him win again.
Ron Moshier covers auto racing for the Observer-Dispatch. Write him at 221 Oriskany Plaza, Utica, NY, 13501, or e-mail him at email@example.com
Monday, May 01, 2000, 22:43 ET
Veteran New York racer Lazzaro dead at 65
The Associated Press
UTICA, N.Y. (AP) -- Race driver Lou "Monks" Lazzaro died at Albany Medical Center on Monday, two days after collapsing in the pit area at Fonda Speedway. He was 65.
Family members said he suffered a massive stroke that left him in a coma and died of an inoperable blood clot on the brain. His death came a month before he was to be inducted into the Greater Utica Sports Hall of Fame.
Lazzaro, who at the age of 17 won the first stock car race he entered, recorded nearly 300 feature wins during a career that spanned six decades. He first victory came in a car the regular driver had smashed up earlier in the day.
Lazzaro, who lost his job as a bus driver a few years ago because of high blood pressure and high blood sugar, lived for Saturday nights at the dusty Fonda oval, where he won 113 races. In the 1960s and 70s, nobody won more stock car races at Fonda Speedway than Lazzaro.
"That was his second home," said Lazzaro's niece, Rena Scharf.
He won races in five different decades and was New York state's NASCAR points champion once in the Sportsman Division (1964) and three times in Modified (1963, 1971-72). His best season was 1969 when he had 11 wins and finishes of third or better in 15 of 16 races at Fonda.