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Big Ev & the 2009 Reunion.

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Big Ev & the 2009 Reunion.

DANBURY -- Behind a table in the back of the O'Neill Center, former racecar driver Evie Pierce sat in a wheelchair, his wife Margie always close by his side. Gradually, everyone in the arena -- there for the Southern New York Racing Association's eighth-annual reunion -- came over to shake his hand.

They knew Pierce (he turns 81 in October) as the man who started racing when he was 20, who raced for years at the Danbury Racearena, and is fourth on the all-time winner's list in the SNYRA's Modified Division. But on Sunday, in the wake of Pierce's recent stroke, they were also there to support him.

Some fans handed him cards with money, others slid programs across the table and asked for his autograph. He stopped racing in 1978, but he was still a celebrity to these people -- a king in a castle of carburetors and worn-out tires.

He speaks slowly now and he doesn't hear as well as he used to, thanks to years of sitting just a few feet behind roaring engines, but the memories are still vivid. Like the time when he didn't have a cherry picker to take the engine out of a car, and he had to lift it up with his bare hands. Or when he and a few friends pooled together all the money they had and bought a 1934 two-door Ford sedan for nine dollars. When they drew straws to see who would race it, Pierce was the lucky one.

"It's really great that all these people still remember, it means a lot to me," said Pierce. "We were a big thing in Danbury."

Several of the old cars were on display, some with trophies and old pictures next to them. The younger kids climbed in through the windows and sat in the driver's seat, gripping the steering wheel, but for the old men with graying beards who remembered what the Danbury Racearena was like, it was a chance to reminisce.
Many of the cars were over 50 years old, but the men still remembered everything about them. They wandered between the cars, mumbling the make and model with no hesitation.

"When you're associated with all these people, and you're going to all the races, you remember all that stuff. It's like going to school for us," said Don Campbell Sr., a Danbury resident since 1964 who worked in a few pit crews, and also helped former driver and then-next door neighbor Billy Sunderland with his car.

"I used to go to the races every Saturday with my father," said Mayor Mark Boughton, who said his favorite driver was Ken Webb. "It was a wonderful era in Danbury's history. For the people who weren't there, it's very hard to describe the kind of family atmosphere there was."
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