Gasoline Alley—not just a comic strip
As far back as I can recall, my father did all the work on our family cars, teaching my brother to do the same. As an automotive enthusiast, I have to wonder if he was also a visitor to Paterson’s Gasoline Alley.
Between 1931 through the era of Muscle Cars, auto enthusiasts, hot rodders, and racers either heard of or frequented the row of buildings known as Gasoline Alley, which began as a series of auto shops back in the 1920s.
With many race venues nearby, teams needed places to park their cars and maintain them. They quickly focused in on the row of garages on East 29th Street. Visiting drivers from all over the U.S. would set up shop in rented garages while they raced in places like Union, Castle Hill, Nutley, Woodbridge or HoHoKus to name a few.
During the Depression, a lot of race teams that stored their cars at Gasoline Alley went bankrupt, leaving garages empty. It was a perfect time for local area racers to open their own shops.
It became home to a number of racing greats, such as the West Coast’s Ted Horn [three-time AAA National Championship winner (1946-48)]. The Gasoline Alley Tavern on Market street was owned by Willy Belmont and soon became a hangout for racers; Fred Post opened a race car upholstery shop; Roscoe “Pappy” Hough built the “Five Little Pigs” there, and Dick Simonek with Ted Horn opened a machine shop and became the only East Coast shop able to supply all types of race engines for racers including Lee Petty. It’s said that Petty would haul a full year’s worth of motors to Simonek for modification, balancing, and assembly.
An interesting fact about Simonek was even though he built thousands of
engines in his career, he never used a torque wrench, he never even owned one!
In the late 1950’s Dick became a NASCAR engine tech inspector and remained
with NASCAR until 1967; he was inducted into the Sprint Car Hall of Fame in
But back to Gasoline Alley— In my minds eye, I can see the drivers hunched
over their cars, hear the sound of wrenches and the banter of drivers and
mechanics as they tweak their engines, and, of course, smell the fuel as they
start them up, all on Paterson’s Gasoline Alley.