Compiled by William A Greene, 2009
Harry Dean Layfield was born on April 6, 1919 in Akron, Ohio, the son of Alpha D. and Dorothy Fosmer Layfield. He was the second of ten children, seven brothers and two sisters.
Sometime in Dean’s early life, Alpha and Dorothy packed the family up and moved to Rixford, Pa., just south of the New York state border and south of Olean.
Dean went to grade school in a one room school house at Rixford. From there he went to high school at Otto and graduated there.
Dean and two of his brother’s, Gerald and Conrad started their racing in 1939 in the local tracks along the New York and Pennsylvania border. His first race he drove in was at Portville, N.Y..
On July 29, 1939, Dean married Alice Madison.
Dean spent some time in the Navy during World War II as a flight mechanic and in 1945, after the war, he and Alice moved to her hometown of Wellsville, N.Y. to make it their home, and raise a family.
Once in Wellsville, Dean worked for the local car dealers as a mechanic, then opened his own garage at 100 Chamberlain St. He had the franchise for Studebaker – Lark sales and service.
Dean hadn’t forgotten the few years he raced before WW II and the urge was still there when he was discharged after the war. So after settling down in Wellsville, he got himself a car and away he went. It was soon noted that Dean was a very good race car driver. He ran with the best from this area and won. He ran the tracks along the Pennsylvania and New York border. Tracks like, Olean, Portville, Perry, Hunt, Angelica, Wellsville, Bradford, Steam Valley and Limestone just to name a few that come to the top of my head. As a matter of fact, he helped lay out the first Bradford Speedway. He was always in the hunt for the first place position, and was usually there or very close to it.
Dean picked the number for his cars to be 9/16’s, since most of the bolts in his first car were that size. The number stuck with him through his 22 years of racing. During those years he had won 50 trophies from races at 57 race tracks across the country.
Dean always wanted to race with the “Big Boys” and if finally happened at Syracuse, N.Y. in 1957. The “Big Boys” were running a 100 lapper. Dean was driving a Ford, sponsored by his son in-law William Dickinson. Dean qualified 9th out of the starting 24 cars and finished 4th when the checkered flag was dropped. He had finished 97 of the 100 laps. Not bad for the fist time with the “Big Boys”. Dean won $295 for his efforts for that day. That was big money then.
The next day there was to be a championship race in Pennsylvania for the Late Model division. Dean along with his brother “Herbie” and Jack Thomas were to represent Smethport Raceway. They were told that they probably wouldn’t win, because there were some very good drivers there, but if they just finished, they could bring home some money.
Dean’s car got banged up pretty good at the Syracuse race so he hired two Ford mechanics to help him put the car back together so it would be race worthy for the big race in Pennsylvania. He called “Herbie” and told him to stall the race as long as possible so he could get there. So “Herbie” told the other driver’s to take as much time qualifying as they could and they did. “Herbie” had set the fastest time until Dean arrived and had run his time trial. Dean was on the pole with his brother “Herbie” right beside him.
When the checkered flag dropped after 100 laps, it was Dean first, “Herbie” second and Jack Thomas third. They didn’t bring just some money home; they brought most of it. Something that wasn’t supposed to happen, happened.
Then 1958 came around and Dean was still as determined as ever. He raced in seven of the Grand National races that year. He raced at Daytona Beach, Concord, Columbia, Spartanburg, Atlanta, Old Bridge and Bradford. The car of choice that year was a 1958 Chevy with a 348 C.I. motor under the hood. Dean worked up a deal with Pearsall Motors of Shinglehouse, PA. Dean paid for half of the car and Pearsall’s paid for the other half and William Dickinson was still the sponsor.
At Concord, he finished 15th out of 30 cars. At Columbia he started 24th out of 33 cars and finished in 27th with engine problems. As Spartanburg he started 14th out of 27 cars and finished 17th. At Atlanta he started 22nd out of 25 cars and finished 16th. At Old Bridge he finished 18th out of 27 cars. And at Bradford he started 16th out of 21cars and finished 19.
But the race that everyone talks about and remembers is the Daytona Beach race. Dean didn’t have the money for a trailer to haul the car to Daytona, so this is what he did.
He stripped the car down and put in the roll cages and everything else that was to be there. He then got in the car and drove to Daytona. Once he arrived at his motel room, he took off the license plates and removed the lights and then raced that car in the last Daytona 500 on the old beach course. He started 22nd out of 49 cars and finished 12th. He won $135 that day. When done with the race, Dean then put the lights back in, replaced the license plates and drove the car home.
Though the race was won by Lee Petty, father of King Richard Petty, Dean had proved a point. You didn’t need all that money to compete with the NASCAR’s “Big Boys” and their big manufacture sponsors. He had showed them that a small town boy could do the same thing with a lot less money.
Dean came back to this area and settled back into racing locally at the tracks he knew so well, until tragedy struck. He was in a race at Perry Speedway on Sunday August 20th, 1961, called “snap the whip”. The rules were simple; the last car in every lap was eliminated until there was only one car. Dean was driving a car owned by Paul Miles. Dean came out of turn four when a stone struck him in the head. The car swerved and went over the first turn bank, just missed the ticket stand, did a couple of circles and stopped in a ditch. Everyone thought that Dean was just showing off, unfortunately, he wasn’t. Dean died four days later.
Harry Dean Layfield was laid to rest at Woodlawn Cemetery in Wellsville, N.Y. His wife and children moved to California and all died within years of each other. All of Dean’s racing history went with them, what we have now is what is passed on from news papers, magazines and word of mouth.
For many years pictures of the “58” Chevy were never seen. Now a few have come to light.
In 2008 the “FOAR Score Club” of western New York inducted Harry “Dean” Layfield into its “Hall of Fame”. This club only recognizes the best of the best of anyone affiliated with auto racing. Dean surely belongs there.
Articles from Wellsville Daily Reporter & NASCAR History & Material supplied by Layfield Family