50 Greatest Modified Drivers – Fred DeSarro

50 Greatest Modified Drivers – Fred DeSarro 1937-1978
“A Champion’s Champion”

Fred DeSarro was the 1972 and 1976 Winston Racing Series Modified track champion at Stafford. His biggest wins were the 1970 Stafford 200, which sewed up the 1970 NASACR National Modified Championship with and the Inaugural Spring Sizzler® in April of 1972. DeSarro never raced on dirt, but when the track was paved in 1967, DeSarro became a regular and remained at Stafford until he passed away on November 1, 1978.

During DeSarro’s career at Stafford he recorded 33 wins. He drove his own home-built cars from 1967 through 1969. In 1970, he teamed up first with Joe Brady and then later with Sonny Koszela. It was in the Koszela Woodchopper Special that he won the 200 and the national title as well as the track championship at the then asphalt Albany-Saratoga Speedway in Malta, NY.

DeSarro’s 200 win came at the expense of long time rival Leo Cleary. Cleary, who had formerly driven for Koszela, was leading in the final stages until a caution came out with six laps to go. DeSarro was running second. Before going back to green, Koszela, who was holding a pit board for DeSarro made an obscene gesture at Cleary. When the green came out, the rear end gears expired in the Cleary mount, known as the Garbarino Brothers Mystic Missile, and DeSarro went on to take the win. Cleary was so infuriated that he had to be subdued by his crew.

In 1971, DeSarro and Bugsy Stevens switched rides and created one of the most exciting rivalries ever seen at Stafford. With the legendary Len Boehler turning the wrenches, DeSarro continued his winning ways and capped off the 1971 season with back to back wins at Martinsville.

During the winter of 1971-1972, Dick Bergeron, Bruce Cohon and Lew Boyd formed INK, Inc., and leased Stafford from Jack Arute and presented the first Spring Sizzler, an 80-lap open competition event. The event drew 120 Modifieds and 13,000 fans. Eddie Flemke, a Modified legend in his own time, used every trick in the book to keep DeSarro at bay. Ten laps from the finish, Flemke slowed in turn one, a victim of a broken water pump. DeSarro went on to win by a quarter of a lap over Denis Giroux and Bugsy Stevens.

Throughout the 1970s DeSarro was the man to beat and in 1974 won the Race of Champions at Trenton, NJ in a photo finish over long time rival Bugsy Stevens. In addition to his Stafford championships, he recorded a second in a Modified event at Daytona. He also called the Thompson Speedway home. DeSarro won his first feature there in 1966 and he also drove his last on an October 8th Sunday afternoon in 1978.

DeSarro had been under a lot of pressure from his employer, Stanley-Bostich of East Greenwich, RI, to get out of racing. Len Boehler had taken sick and needed time off. They had decided to close out the season after one more event. DeSarro went out for warm-ups and after a couple of slow laps, brought the mighty No. 3 up to speed. What happened after that no one will ever know. As he went into turn three, he didn’t turn and sailed over the sandbank into the parking lot. Kenny Bouchard and Bugsy Stevens were right behind him and were first on the scene. Bouchard tore the roof of DeSarro’s car with his bare hands, hoping to help. DeSarro was removed by safety crews and taken to Rhode Island Hospital. Fred DeSarro passed away on November 1, 1978 at the age of 41.

By: Phil Smith