February 7, 2016
Erny “the Flying Frenchman” Levesque
A rural kid born in the “Valley” in 1928 Erny, the son of Abel and Leona Levesque of Madawaska, did what what any young man at that time did, worked wherever work could be found. Growing up in the Depression in Grand Isle did not seem to unduly influence the young man with it’s potential for despair and hopelessness.
Erny would work on farms, in the woods, or on machinery which honed his skills that determined his pathway in life. He watched and learned from his father, uncles, and other men as they performed the tough manual labor required to feed their families.
Levesque followed the outward migration of northern Mainers as they sought jobs in Connecticut after the war. He found his job at Pratt Whitney near Plainville, Connecticut where he worked as a machinist/tool and die maker.
While living in Connecticut he got his first taste of stock car racing in his 1934 Chevrolet which he campaigned in the Hobby Jalopy class at Plainville Speedway, Riverside, Avon Mountain, Agawam, and Springfield. Several of those tracks are no longer in existence.
The Korean War meant Levesque did what many of his fellow Saint John Valley men did, he joined the Army in 1951. He was attached to the 110th Armored Division.
After serving two years he was discharged honorably and moved back home. Levesque went to work as a mechanic at Acadia Motors in Madawaska.
After returning to Northern Maine he met his bride-to-be Edwina from St. Leonard in 1953. They were married in 1954 and celebrated 62 years together in 2015.
Levesque opened his own garage across the road from where his present home is in St. David in 1957. He worked for himself until 1964 when he closed his shop and went to work for Northern Sales in Caribou. He made the daily commute from St David.
This move would prove to be influential in his racing career since the new racetrack in Caribou called Spud Speedway was being constructed on the Thompson Road. Levesque would often visit the track and watch the bulldozers and construction equipment molding and shaping the 1/3 mile track. He began to prepare for it’s opening and his chance to race stock cars again.
When the track opened in 1964 he was at the first race. Levesque rarely missed any races in his 11 years at the Caribou track. By missing few races he was able to maintain his position at the top of the points race many years.
In 1966 Levesque took a job at Beaulieu Chrysler in Madawaska to eliminate the hour long daily commute to Caribou.
Levesque Makes His Name as Someone to Be Reckoned With
Levesque now nicknamed “the Flying Frenchman” became a threat to win every week at Spud Speedway. He had enough race savvy to also know that he could not win them all and would put himself into a points winning finish rather than make race ending moves.
Studying the points standings shows Levesque with substantial leads. He may not have won a large number of races yet knew how to garner the points needed to remain at the top. Levesque estimated he had about 20 feature race wins and three track championships.
In early August 1966 Levesque was approached by a couple promoters from Edmundston, New Brunswick who offered to pay Levesque $100 to enter his car in the Sunday race at their track. Levesque took them up on the offer.
After running only a few laps in a heat race, Levesque lost his engine in his stock car. He jumped in the #5 Desmeules & Dufour car from St. Jacques and with no laps of practice brought the car home in third place in the consolation race.
Levesque recalls competing for the first time at the dirt track in Limestone, September 1, 1966. He was a force to be reckoned with as attested in the above 1968 newspaper ad from Limestone Motor Speedway. Levesque said he liked the dirt track but favored the asphalt track at Spud Speedway.
After a few years as a mechanic at Beaulieu’s Chrysler, Levesque spent three months working as a welder at the Frazier Mill in Madawaska then took a job with Cianbro as a welder working on the International Bridge in Van Buren.
With little time to work on the race car he would leave it at pit crew member Ronald Saucier’s home in Grand Isle. Saucier would then lovingly prepare the car for next week’s action.
“I would leave the car at Ron’s during the week,” said Levesque. “He was very fussy who he would allow to touch that race car. We never missed a race. I was there every week due in no small part to Ron.”
“My crew consisted of my brother Yvon Levesque, Ronald, Philip Beaupre, and Jon Beaupre, all from Grand Isle.”
Levesque was only one of few racer’s from the Valley, however, he had a huge contingent of followers who attended the races to cheer him on. When Levesque retired in 1975 from racing, attendance from the Valley suffered. One might compare this to the modern era when Fort Kent’s Austin Theriault and Eagle Lake’s Rick Saucier no longer raced at Spud Speedway.
I remember going to the races and watching the Flying Frenchman wheel his Chevy toward the front. As the sun sank the fire from Levesque’s “zoomie” headers protruding from the hood would light up the darkening sky. In addition to being spectacular to watch, it was loud!
The race track sat silent for a couple years until Barry Thibeau took over in the early 70’s. Levesque continued to make his presence known until he retired from stock car racing in 1975 to build his new home. He no longer had the time to continue the hobby he loved.
By then Levesque had been called back by Frazier to work on the clarifier project. They liked his work ethic and skills so much that he was offered a job in the mill as a 3rd class millwright. He advanced rapidly to a 1st Class Millwright until the union recognized that he did not have a high school diploma having left school after the eighth grade to work to support his family.
In 1976 Levesque earned that diploma through the ISC program which allowed him to advance to a 1st Class Machinist when he retired in 1989 at the age of 62.
“To me Barry Thibeau was one of the best,” Levesque reminisced about the Spud Speedway owner. “He did what he said he was going to do and took no lip from anyone.”
“Chink Maynard was a clean driver. He was one of the good guys. When Chink was in front he stayed in front. If he was behind he stayed behind rather than pushing you out of the way.”
“Bobby (Alexander) was a good driver too. I made lots of good friends. I proved myself as a good driver. I had lots of friends.”
Maine Motorsports Hall of Fame member Bobby Alexander had this to say about the Flying Frenchman,”Ernie raced hard but he raced clean. He was very innovative I recall that he had an attachment on his distributor which was a lever protruding through the firewall that allowed him to adjust engine timing on the fly as needed for some extra power.”
Levesque remained a fan of racing after retirement although he did not return to Spud Speedway until the 50th Anniversary two years ago.
He attended the races at Loudon, New Hampshire at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway with his son Eugene. He and his son would get together on Sunday afternoons and watch NASCAR races on TV. His favorite driver was Dale Earnhardt Senior.
Tragedy struck the Levesque home June 26, 2003 when Eugene and his wife Pat were riding with a group of motorcyclists. The group was traveling well below the speed limit and were just south of Grand Isle heading north. Eugene, though riding somewhere near fifth in the pack, hit a moose and was killed instantly and his wife was in a coma for 3 months before she recovered.
After Erny lost his son he also lost enthusiasm for racing and rarely paid much attention to any part of the sport. He emersed himself in projects around the house and tinkered with mechanical devices as well as woodworking. He spent time with family and especially his grandchildren Andrew and Sara.
Just last week he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer formed by malignant plasma cell generally found in the bones. At 88 he holds no pretense that this disease can be licked but remains optimistic about the future no matter what.
So continue to pray for “the Flying Frenchman” as he enters this next phase of life. Thank you Erny for the colorful entertainment you provided while racing at Spud Speedway.
No Announcement from Austin Theriault Racing Yet
Austin Theriault had the opportunity to address the CEO Club of America in New York City last week. The club’s mission is to help CEO’s increase their companies’ success through shared experiences and personal growth.
Still time for someone to partner up with this promising driver from Fort Kent, Maine.
Photo Gallery From 24 Hours of Daytona
Daytona Speedweeks and GRIP Seminar Next Week!
I am looking forward to reports from Daytona and from Bobby Alexander who attended the GRIP Seminar this week in Charlotte, North Carolina. Until then…
Let’s go racing,
Soli Deo Gloria