West Coast Wheelman

He and his brother Richard began racing at San Jose Speedway in 1956- the same year I was born. The Hardtops were before my time. The guys were racing Super Modifieds when I first visited the Speedway in 1968.

Yarimie was driving the “Triple Deuce”, a car that had local history and had been raced competitively by Al Toland, Ken Shirley and Kenny Van Blargen. It was the first race car I’d ever seen with a three digit number and had playing cards painted on the airfoil. I thought that was cool and he became a favorite right away. He was a good guy to root for because he typically qualified well and rarely crashed. He would win a heat race from time to time and usually made the Feature.

1970 found Yarimie piloting #56 (the ex-Steve Chambers #8). This was a cool little hot rod and a step up to a more competitive mount for Larry. He ended the season with no less than five heat race wins, two Semi Mains, one Trophy Dash and four “A” Main top fives. Traditionally Yarimie wasn’t a points chaser but this would prove to be his most consistent season, garnering a twelfth in the overall standings. Sadly, ’71 would prove much more challenging.

While Yarimie struggled just to make the program, fellow veteran Ed Hopper and racing partner Dick Cinelli introduced a lightweight new Super that was competitive right out of the box. The new #54 had a unique rounded off coupe body that included little triangular windows on either side of the cockpit. (It was so popular in fact, that the Speedway used line art of the racer in their weekly display ads.) The car elevated Hopper to a potential winner and he finished out the season second in points. When Yarimie and his team had the opportunity to purchase the car, they jumped on it.

In 1972 a replica of the San Jose Speedway was constructed in the central valley. The new Madera raceway was the same length as San Jose (1/3 mile) but had less banking. Yarimie and his crew participate with their new racer (christened the Eaton Bros. Chevy) in the Copper Classic then held in Salt Lake City and drove all night to make Madera’s Sunday Opener. Yarimie arrived just in time to qualify but easily made it into the program. In front of five thousand enthusiastic fans, Yarimie ran down local favorite Lloyd Beard, taking the lead on the sixth canto. On June 25th 1972, after fourteen years of competition, Yarimie claimed his first victory and $465 in prize money. He would finish second the following weekend at the same venue.

Opening day 1973 back in San Jose found Yarimie in Tony Casho’s potent #44. He finished second behind legendary Howard Kaeding in his heat, placed third in the Trophy Dash, fifth in the Final heat and won the Feature outright. It was a satisfying win for Casho as well as Yarimie and paid $610. Unfortunately, the accomplishment was overshadowed by a last lap spectacular involving Kaeding and Nick Ringo-neither driver was injured. Most that were in attendance that day recall the smash up (captured by numerous photographers) rather than Yarimie’s second career win.

In the years that followed, Yarimie continued to campaign the ex-Hopper car with varying success. The livery changed (from blue with flames over the nose to gold) and the numbers changed (from #92 to #5 to #4) but Yarimie never won another Feature.

By 1978 the Speedway had closed and Super Modified racing moved to the dirt track at the fairgrounds. Like many, Yarimie did his best to convert his asphalt car for dirt competition. At the biggest race of the season, the Johnny Key (8/5/78), Yarimie transferred out of the Semi Main to start at the back of the Feature. In the one hundred lap grind, he strong-armed his straight axle car to a respectable seventh. He was paid $310 for his night’s work and at the end of the season was crowned Semi Main Champion. As far as I can tell, at forty four years of age he retired from racing. I wouldn’t meet Larry face to face for another sixteen years.

In 1994 I was strolling through a small automotive swap meet in Auburn, CA. On one of the tables among the auto parts was a wooden planter made to look like a Sprint Car. I remembered the planters being sold at the Fairgrounds Speedway. “You get this down in San Jose?” I asked. The crusty older gentleman smiled and pushed the straw cowboy hat back on his forehead. “Yeah, I used to race in San Jose,” he replied quietly. “What’s your name,” I inquired. “Larry Yarimie,” he said offering his hand.

Within the blink of an eye I reverted back to my childhood. I became a ten-year-old “fan-boy” standing in front of one of my idols. I wanted to tell him that he’d won many races in the Hot Wheels I’d assigned to him…but I refrained. I did run home to retrieve my album of Super Modified photos. He spent twenty minutes or so going through it page by page, commenting. It was awesome. He was totally humble but I think he could tell that he had been (and still was) a hero to me.

After I’d moved to Oregon I met another former San Josean who had crewed for many of the “old guard.” He had known Yarimie and shared with me what he remembered. He said he thought Larry had been a truck driver by profession and wasn’t a wealthy man by any means. He thought he was a better racer than the stats would suggest. He thought Larry had lost a son in some sort of accident, he was shot. He didn’t know what the circumstances were, but the death had devastated Larry. “He never was the same after that,” he said.

I had sensed a profound sadness about Yarimie when I met him. Today I wish I’d told him about all the races he’d won on my bedroom carpet. I think it would have put a smile on his weary face.

NOTE — Most of the photographs for this article were provided by Loel Burt—a lifelong fan and friend of Larry Yarimie

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