Tuesday, February 16, 2010
"The older race fans will remember the famous "Chicone Duce" that appeared at the Lakehead Dirt Track Invitational Championships in Fort William back in the early 1960's. The car was built by Mike Lepinski, older brother of the famous Jerry "Haircut" Lepinski who had won the Lakehead Invitationals back to back in 1965/66. Mike Lepinski was a brick layer by trade and built race cars as a hobby. He had built the original "Duce" from a 1932 Ford 2-door sedan and used a Golden Commando dual quad Plymouth 383 for power. The original 32 frame was retained in the car. The fabrication and engine work was done with the help of Bill Kavaloski, who did the welding.
Mike first brought the car up to the Lakehead in 1960. With Jerry Richert as the driver, Mike and Jerry proceeded to win the Championship that year. In the 1961 Championships, the beautiful 32 sedan body was replaced with sheet metal to save weight...the only thing retained was the roll cage, frame and engine. A huge fuel tank was placed at the extreme rear for traction. Though the car didn't have the looks of the '32 Ford, it was extremely fast and handled very well on the rough Fort William 1/2 mile track(especially with Jerry Richert behind the wheel). The "Duce" complimented Jerry's driving style which was "up on the cushion"(the outer edge of the corners). Jerry drove this version of "The Duce" to a total of three Lakehead Invitationals in 1960/61/62. The car also won plenty of races back in Minnesota as well.
During a conversation with Mike, I asked him to explain, first of all, why the misspelling of its name, "The Duce", to which he replied that logically, the name should refer to the car number, or as in "32 Ford", which is normally written "deuce". He indicated that it was done on purpose and explained that "Duce" in Italian means "Leader". The car definitely lived up to its name.
In 1963, Mike built a brand new car with a CAE tube frame, and furthermore had stroked the original Golden Commando 383 to 440 cubic inches. This time he hired Jerry "Scratch" Daniels to drive the new version of "The Duce" in the 1963 Championships, and broke the Lakehead track record right there and then. Unfortunately "Scratch" had to pit during the 50 lap feature due to a flat , and Jerry Richert won his 4th straight title in a different car. Jerry D. said, "The car had so much power, it would break axles like tooth picks, and it was very difficult getting traction". The "Chicone Duce" would later morph for the third time into a beautiful roadster(last photo), to be driven by Mike's brother Jerry "Haircut" Lepinski.
Mike said he always looked forward to the Championships at the CLE track in Fort William every fall. Both Mike and Jerry remember the fun that was had at the old Blue Swan Inn on Kingsway Street in Fort William. In a phone conversation with Scratch Daniels, he acknowledged the fans and said how much he loved coming to the Lakehead to race. Jerry Lepinski also raved about the race fans up north. "Every time I went to Canada I felt so welcomed. The Canadians were and still are "THE" friendliest people I have ever met, and I still have fond memories from the Fort William days.
Jerry L. related one more great story. "A local Canadian that owned a service station in town, closed it down so we could have full use of his shop the day of the race and to top it off, invited our whole crew over for a fabulous dinner after the races that night. I will never forget that hospitality"."
Special thanks to Mike and Jerry Lepinski, and Jerry Daniels for taking the time to answer my questions.......... DENNIS WINKO.
POST SCRIPT: Dennis, I can't thank YOU enough for the great research and wonderful story of the "Chicone Duce". Many guys my age and a little younger(like you) with thoroughly enjoy this one. It was my pleasure to post this story on my blog......Dave
Click on photos to enlarge!