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Wall of Fame Inductee, Sonny Grimes

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The first Wyoming County International Speedway “Wall of Fame Inductee, Sonny Grimes. By Larry Woodruff and Dan Hall

In 1999, Wyoming County International Speedway began a tradition. That tradition is called the “Wall of Fame”. The wall is recognition to a person who has contributed to the betterment of the Speedway and racing. The first person to be honored is former starter and driver, Sonny Grimes.

Sonny grew up in Hinsdale, New York. He started racing as a teenager. In the early sixties, he started racing at Angelica, Holland, and Perry. He raced in the Hooligan division. In the mid sixties, he married his high school sweetheart, Verna Woodruff. She shared Sonny’s passion for racing. They left the western New York area for work in California. Sonny and Verna began a family and eventually returned to Rochester. The racing was still in Sonny’s blood. He returned to competition at Limerock in the mid seventies. This led to becoming an official and finally a starter at Limerock Speedway. He remained there for ten years. Larry Woodruff, Sonny’s brother-in-law and best friend remembers, “During his racing career, Sonny had a very limited budget. He did win some heat races at the tracks he raced at. The most notable win was at Clyde Martain Memorial Speedway located in Lanco, Pennsylvania. He won a heat race which was a national sanctioned event. He was the first Limerock competitor to do this.” In the eighties, Sonny’s job took him to Middletown, New York. He became the starter at Sullivan County Speedway which is located in White Lake, New York. Sonny enjoyed four years at Sullivan County Speedway before returning to the Rochester area. Sonny concentrated on raising his family, developing a business in Florida, and looking for a new racing adventure. In the early nineties, Sonny worked at Frozen Ocean Speedway. The track was a Grand Prix style race track. Sonny sent out resumes to local tracks. He hoped to find an opportunity with one of the local tracks. An opportunity became available in the 1997. Doug Chapman, owner of Perry Speedway, replied to Sonny’s resume. They discussed racing and Doug offered the Starter position to Sonny. The Majchrzak’s bought the track in 1998. Sonny continued in the 1998 racing season despite his illness. In 1999, Sonny passed away. 

During the two years at Perry Speedway, Sonny had been grooming another person to take his place. Larry Woodruff remembers, “One evening at Perry, Sonny left me in the starters stand to finish practice. He went to the infield to talk to Jim Majchrzak. When the practice concluded, Sonny said, “We need to talk.” I replied, “About what” and Sonny said, “Your style.” My reply was “I don’t have one” and we both began to laugh. The second year at Perry was difficult for Sonny. He was ill but never let that interfere with his ability to manage the race. Larry remembers an incident from Sonny’s first year at Perry, “The winner of race was upset because of an incident. He aimed most of the criticism at Sonny. Sonny let him go on for a couple of minutes and then stated, “This celebration is terminated.” The driver had won the race but not the argument. Sonny did not let his emotions dictate a decision. He always handled tense situations with calm and integrity. All of the drivers respected Sonny for his impartiality. Larry went on to say, “Sonny really appreciated that the Majchrzak’s asked him to remain as their Starter. They (Majchrzak’s) treated him like family. He really enjoyed working for them.”

The following is an excerpt from a 2000 WCIS program. Jim Majchrzak wrote, “Sonny was our very first starter. He always had a smile and never let his illness affect his ability to start the race. Many of us got to visit one last time with Sonny and Verna. I know that day will live with me forever. We all understood what a loss to come in time. Last November, we inducted our very first person on to the Wall of Fame. Sonny Grimes will always have a place as one who helped to make the sport of auto racing and this facility what it is now.”

Sonny enjoyed the fact that his family shared his passion for racing. His daughter, Bridget, became a starter at Limerock. Brenda raced a mini sprint at Limerock. Brian, his son, raced go-karts at Limerock. Brian’s son, Phillip Lubanski, was WCIS 2003 Pure Stock Champion. Beth and Becky were big supporters of their father. Verna still continues to be involved in racing through her grandson, Phillip. His brother in-law and best friend, Larry Woodruff is currently the head starter at Lancaster Speedway. 

The Perry tradition to honor someone for their efforts began with Sonny.  The driver turned starter is certainly missed. He was liked by all the drivers. His family was his pride and joy. Though he is gone, Sonny will always be part of the Speedway. His spirit lives on through the many lives he has touched. Sonny Grimes is the 1999 recipient of the Wyoming County International “Wall of Fame”.

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