Story By: ALBANY-SARATOGA SPEEDWAY – MALTA, NY – One was as smooth as silk, both in his demeanor and his driving style. The other was like Dennis the Menace, unpredictable and brash with a take-no-prisoners style of racing
Together, they were two of the best dirt track modified drivers in the Northeast, and developed a rivalry that carried from track to track, a show that racing fans couldn’t wait to see.
Jumpin’ Jack Johnson and “Super” C.D. Coville will be honored on Tuesday, June 12 at Albany-Saratoga Speedway in what is simply called “The Tribute.”
The modified feature will be 61 laps long, in honor of the number that Coville carried on the side of many of his race cars, and the winner’s purse will be $6,112, a combination of Coville’s 61 and Johnson’s 12A
But this will be most than a race. “The Tribute” will be a celebration of two icons of dirt track racing. Brothers Paul and John Lakata have combined with management at Albany-Saratoga Speedway to make a truly memorable night. Coville will be on hand to sign autographs, and Paul Lakata has designed a special poster for the occasion. There will also be “Tribute” T-shirts on sale, as well as raffles.
And there will be memories.
Jumpin’ Jack, who ended his career with 90 wins at Albany-Saratoga Speedway, recorded his first victory at Albany-Saratoga on June 24, 1977, the first year C.J. Richards ran the speedway.
Coville’s first win at Malta (his first of 42) came three years later, on opening day 1980 in the Jerry Barnowski-owned Perth Lumber Wagon, and that win springboarded him to his first championship at the historic Malta track.
The rivalry really took off in 1981. That season, Johnson set a track record with a dozen victories. Coville won four races that season, and was second to Jumpin’ Jack on two other times.
The next season, it was Coville’s turn. After climbing behind the wheel of the Cliff Barcomb No. 11, Coville sat in victory lane seven times. It was as if they were playing a game of “Whatever you
can do, I can do better.”
The Coville-Johnson rivalry didn’t just exist at Albany-Saratoga Speedway. It played out even better at Fonda Speedway.
Two of Coville’s biggest wins against Johnson came at the Track of Champions. In 1981, Johnson had won seven races in a row, tying the track record set by Steve Danish. In four of those races, Coville finished second, or as he liked to call it, “the first loser.”
But on the night of Aug. 8, Coville ended Johnson’s streak, and Danish’s record was safe.
Four years later, they were at it again. Johnson put together another seven-race winning streak. Coville was uncommitted that season, starting the year at Fonda, and then spending some Saturday nights at Airborne Park in Plattsburgh.
But after Johnson again tied the record, Coville pulled into the speedway the next week for the 100-lap Spring Championships, and again prevented Johnson from breaking Danish’s record.
When Richards decided to drop big blocks prior to the 1985 season, Johnson opted to run elsewhere, but Coville decided to stay. He drove the John Bruno 22 in 1987, winning the overall CVRA championship.
And when Richards again changed rules in the 1990s, changing to the present-day 358 engine rules, Johnson returned, and both Johnson and Coville had success behind the wheel of the potent Mike Budka-owned B&H Auto No. 64.
Coville recorded his last win at Albany-Saratoga in the Budka 64 on May 17, 1996, before being forced to retire because of health issues during the next offseason.
Johnson’s last visit to victory lane at the historic Malta track was on May 18, 2007.
Racing fans always talk about two of Johnson’s biggest accomplishments – victories during Super DIRT Week at the New York State Fairgrounds.
Racing fans always talk about the time Coville flew the Barcomb car out into the trees off the third turn at Albany-Saratoga, or took the Romeo car over the fence and into the parking lot at Flemington.
Johnson was slick and soft-spoken, typically leaning on his car, one foot on the side bar, toothpick dangling from the corner of his mouth as he surveyed his kingdom.
Coville was brash, with a self-deprecating sense of humor, and loved hanging the rear end of his modified out in the first turn during warmups so he could fling mud on his fans in the first-turn stands … and the fans loved it
Although Johnson had as much raw talent as anyone who ever drove a modified, his favorite quote was “We beat them in the garage,” referring to the work he and the crew of the 12A put in during the week.
One of the best quotes from Coville appeared in a story by the late Andy Fusco in “Stock Car Racing” magazine in 1979. “As long as people think I’m crazy, they’ll back off,” Coville said. “The more I mess with someone’s head, the easier I’m gonna beat them.”
Two legends, two very different personalities, one “Tribute.”