WOODHULL, N.Y. — Last weekend, Woodhull Raceway Modified competitors competed in the 13th Annual Lyle Sherwood Memorial on “New York’s Toughest Bullring.”
It had been just over 12 years since one of Woodhull’s historic Modified legends lost his life on the third-mile. Sherwood suffered a medical event while in his race car, coming to rest off the backstretch. It was a night that so many shared memories of this past weekend, but the driver known as ‘The Wild Child’ will be remembered for so much more than the night of his passing.
Many ‘friends of Woodhull’ shared fond memories of Sherwood last weekend. Here are their stories.
Woodhull Raceway announcer/historian Morgan Colegrove:
“In my years of helping with the Woodhull Raceway program we came across several ‘letters to the editor’ that were sent in from a man from Michigan named Orin MacIntosh,” explained Colegrove.
“The man wrote in claiming that the Van Pelt team was running what he called a ‘ratchet rear end’ and noticed nobody else was running one and gave that team an advantage. At one point I asked Lyle about it and he told me that he didn’t feel that team would run something that wasn’t allowed, but was always impressed with how well Billy could accelerate across the corners. It was a few years later that Walt Sherwood let the cat out of the bag and confessed that Lyle dictated and Walt wrote these letters during lunch hour at Sherwood Enterprises.”
Colegrove remembered the smile that Sherwood shared in the pit area.
“Lyle was never without a smile at the races. Whether it be cutting up in a joke or prank, or sharing his tales from ‘Orin MacIntosh,’ Lyle Sherwood lived life at a constant 100 miles per hour. He was all business behind the wheel- if there was a car in front of him he was trying to pass it no matter what position he was in at the time. His wife and daughter were his life and racing a very close second. His job and anything else just helped fill time between races.”
The loss and reflecting on memories still stings 12 years later.
“It’s been 12 years now, I still miss him and it still hurts…”
Lyle’s brother and current Woodhull Raceway Turn 1 flagger, Bobby Sherwood:
“You didn’t want dad to pick out your wheels, but when Lyle was a Junior in High School that is exactly what happened,” Sherwood said with a laugh.
“Dad brought home a Buick Regal and let me tell you- it was a granny mobile that you would drive to church. We threw a set of my Keystone Classic 50’s on there and now the granny mobile was a real head turner. One Fall night, the axles decided they had had enough of the oversized ‘sneaks’ and both gave out and passed Lyle as we drove down the road. The left side left a gouge in the driver’s window and the sparks from the rear end pumpkin sure put on a show!”
Sherwood himself had not been back to Woodhull, since Lyle’s passing, until the 2016 running of his brother’s race. Now in 2017, Sherwood has joined Woodhull’s officiating crew and has enjoyed every minute of it being back. Woodhull is a special place to some, but for Sherwood, that carries a much different meaning.
Modified racer Billy Van Pelt:
Eventual winner and now multi-time champion of the Lyle Sherwood Memorial, Billy Van Pelt, spoke of one of his fondest memories of No. 17.
“Lyle stopped up to the shop one night and wanted to talk about the cars and had some setup questions we discussed,” said Van Pelt.
“I told Lyle the creeper was right there, climb under and take a look. We were racing Mercer at the time and that weekend he called me up to tell me about Woodhull and I told him about Mercer for probably an hour and a half. He passed away later that year and our team decided we were going to put all of our focus on racing Woodhull and try to win the championship in memory of Lyle. We missed five races that year, but came back to win it come season’s end.”
In Victory Lane last weekend, Van Pelt offered up his thoughts on the storied rivalry between he and Sherwood.
“I think the Lyle Sherwood/Billy Van Pelt rivalry was more in the stands than it was on the race track.”
Modified racer Donnie Lawson:
“My dad raced for the Sherwood’s for years- my dad was really close with Lyle,” said Lawson.
“I grew up in that shop working on cars with dad and Lyle. We had a lot of fun riding four wheelers behind the trucking company. But when it came to the racecars, my job was to pledge the cars before race day. Lyle always said with a smile, ‘it makes the cars slicker in the air.'”
Lawson remembers Lyle and his team always running a tight ship.
“Sherwood’s did things first class and Lyle always had immaculate equipment. He always had a smile and was always laughing and making jokes. Dad and Lyle were very close, they traveled all over when Curt (Van Pelt) drove for Sherwoods. They spent a lot of time together and on the phone.”
Modified racer Kenny Peoples Jr.:
“We used to park next to Lyle at the track,” commented second generation driver Kenny Peoples Jr.
“He was a great man. Would do anything for anyone that needed help. I would watch him race and tell (dad) that I wanted to run the outside like Lyle did. Lyle told me once, ‘now boy, if you’re going to run the high side you have to get back to the gas a lot sooner to keep your momentum up.’ I sure do think about that a lot.”
The biggest victory in Peoples’ career, the very first Jake Davis Memorial King of the Ring, was won on a hammer-down, bold move using the outside lane. Peoples surely had two racers riding with him that night.
Woodhull Raceway fan submissions:
Woodhull’s Facebook account posted last week asking for fan submission stories of their favorite Sherwood memory. The most common response, to nobody’s surprise, were of two things- that smile and driving around the outside lane, often one-handed.
Sherwood made the “Sherwood lane” famous at Woodhull. Riding around the outside of the race track, often dipping two, and sometimes, all four tires over the backstretch banking. Sherwood would make a daring move to re-enter the track before the high-banked third turn and even passed cars this way on occasion.
When asked by former race director Jerry Symonds why he drove off the backstretch bank like he did so often, Sherwood always had a smile with his reply.
“There’s an awful lot of bite down there Jerry!”
Long live the ‘Wild Child.’
About the Writer
Steven Ovens is the Northeast Dirt Correspondent for Race Chaser Online and the creator and host of the Turn 5 Live dirt track racing radio show, part of the Performance Motorsports Network.
Ovens has spent his lifetime in the sport of dirt track racing, growing up in the garages of the Kerrick and Ovens families. He spent 11 years behind the wheel between go-karts and 4 Cylinder Mini Stocks which brings a unique perspective to his dirt track editorials.
The 31-year-old has a career in the growing health care business world, and is also entering his second season as the full-time announcer and media director for Woodhull Raceway in Woodhull, N.Y.
In addition, Ovens was formerly the announcer and media director for Outlaw Speedway (formerly Black Rock Speedway) in Dundee, N.Y., serving in that capacity in both 2015 and 2016.
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