Uncle John Zukowski, my fathers younger brother who was also my God Father. Uncle John was better know to his fans as Johnny Zeke. Here is his story:
Johnny Zeke was a race car driver, promoter, starter, driving instructor, crew chief and a member of the Air Corps during World War II. Johnny "Zukowski" Zeke grew up across the street from the Castle Hill Speedway inBronx, NY.
He earned a bachelor's degree in banking and finance from NYU. Even though he was racing, he continued to work as a field rep and crew chief for Grumman Aircraft on Long Island in 1950. Johnny remained with Grumman until retiring in 1984. While employed there, John and his wife, Veronica, and daughter (Christine) lived in Levittown until he was transferred by Grumman in 1972 toCalifornia where he lived until his death in 2008. One of John's biggest racing fans was his very pretty wife, Veronica, a former model who was also a scorekeeper at Islip Speedway.
John began his auto racing career driving midget racing cars during the 1939 season at the Bronx Coliseum inNew York. After the war, John raced midgets with the Auto Racing Association and the American Racing Drivers Club. He raced on dirt as well as asphalt tracks during his long career. During the 1948 season, while racing several nights a week and against the best drivers on the time such as Bill Schindler, Bill Holmes, Tony Bonadies and Len Duncan, Johnny Zeke won 13 main events and then 20 main events in 1949. He was crowned the midget racing champion three years in a row 1949, 1950, and 1951 at Freeport Stadium.
Johnny was among the first drivers to race stock cars in the Northeast. Driving a modified 1937 Ford Coupe, he won the indoor driving championship at the Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx for the 1950 season. Once the stock cars came on the scene, Zeke was soon running about 100 stock car events a season. Some of the stock car races were then being run on tracks that were built for the smaller midget racing cars which made the racing very close. During the late 1950's and early 1960's stock car racing rook over as the top auto racing division and it was immensely popular with the fans. Midget racing made a comeback in the sixties and is still going on today at tracks all around the country.
Johnny's first win in stock car racing came at the New York's Dexter Park in Woodhaven Queens driving the #1 Trunz Meat Special, a 1939 Ford Coupe with a souped-up flathead engine. A bit of a showman, Zeke always wore white pants and colorful shirts when racing. His first win driving a midget came in a 1000-lap indoor championship event at the Kingsbridge Armory in New York. His most memorable stock car victory was a 200-lap race at Dexter Park. He said, "That was a real slam-bang race but my car held together and I was fortunate enough to win/" That's an understatement, to say the least, as Dexter Park's track was literally formed around a baseball diamond. Just imagine cars racing around home plate! Zeke said, "Just for your car to stay in one piece for that many laps was very rare in those days."
During the 1956 season at Islip Speedway, NASCAR conducted a racing driver's school with Johnny Zeke as the head instructor. During NASCAR Speed Weeks in February, 1957, on the famous beach and road course inDaytona Beach, Florida Johnny raced in a special 100-lap modified race. Built right here in Long Island with a 1957 V-8 Chrysler
that would develop 400 horsepower and hit close to 160 M.P.H. on the long straightway. The Plymouth had a Ford front and rear suspension with the engine moved back about 18-inches.
John had the help of Art Drury of Queens, a top notch engine builder. Toward the end of the 1957 season, Johnny brought the #X-111 Plymouth Coupe to Islip Speedway just to see how it would perform on a short track. The car did so well that Johnny won the last three main events of the season.
More story to be published soon...