Grand Island, New York is about four hundred miles west of Long Island, New York. Both are obviously surrounded by water, but the water is dissimilar. Long Island nestles up to the Atlantic Ocean, Grand Island splits a river that flows around to become a whole river again…for a few miles. The river continues flowing until it takes a plunge…a big plunge…into the Niagara gorge. Grand Island will be Niagara Falls in a couple hundred thousand years, unless they keep plugging it with concrete, as they have in recent years. So what does this quiet island beside Buffalo have to do with Motorcycle Drag racing?
Grand Island is the home of Paul Gast, James DiTullio, (Puppet), and the former home of Gary Larsen. It's a small island with roads along the water's edge, and crossing roads through fields and housing developments. I (Dwight) remember Paul Gast when I was ten years old, as I was a frequent summer visitor to Grand Island staying at the home of my nephew, Gary, who is two months younger. (My dad always said we have a productive family).
Okay, now we know who Grand Island has as residents, frequent National Champion racer, Paul Gast, and legendary frame builder Puppet, (a giant in person) but there's another reason why drag racing is king in these parts. For years, those roads that crossed away from the developments were secluded, and the island had only two police officers, and everyone knew where they drank coffee.
One more diversion before I proceed with an interview with Paul Gast. Grand Island has tollbooths on each end, and has for at least forty years. I wonder if anyone has counted all the quarters that have dropped into the baskets over the years, but I don't wonder if there were a few quarters that weren't collected. I'm not going to identify two motorcyclists who years ago, once ran those booths at speeds exceeding one hundred miles an hour one night, but I can tell you it wasn't the giant, and it wasn't me. I was back in Pennsylvania going to school.
Gary and Paul go back a long way, and when we finally got the chance to talk to Paul in his motor home, it was between Paul's hectic activities as rider, owner, and consultant to his fellow racers. Gary says years ago when he traveled the race circuit with Paul they used to call him 'the wind-up doll', describing the way he zips back and forth in his compound, taking care of business. As we sat down, Paul told Gary that he has stolen a track joke of Gary's and used it for many years…
"Just can't wait to get one of those wieners dipped in warm water and dumped into a chrome bag."
Paul Gast D-O-B: May 6, 1949
HOME TOWN: Grand Island, New York
Do you have a nickname?
Who are your Heroes?
"In the racing context, John Myers. He was a great buddy of mine."
What are (or have been) your scariest moments?
"When I crashed in 74. I broke everything."
(Bones and bike parts.)
Do you work out?
Do you have a special diet?
"Meat and potatoes. Plain lettuce."
What mental routine prepares you for each run?
"I go out behind the line and run through the run, four or five times. One, two, shift, and going straight. It's feel…Hit!"
Do you have time for a hobby?
"Absolutely. Golf and pocket billiards."
Many motorcyclists ride to unravel, what do you do to unwind?
What personal quality (one trait) would you want your fans to admire most?
"Desire to win. Most of my peers would agree. Whatever it takes. Expenditure and effort."
What's most important?
1.Fame 2.Money 3.Thrill/fun 4.Winning
"Absolutely. Winning! But thrill and fun…close."
Are you happy?
"Beyond! I want everybody to be as happy as I am."
What could make you happier?
"Nothing. I've got everything I want." Then Paul added. "And make sure your wife is happier than you."(That brought up a conversation between Paul and Gary describing how Paul met his wife, Dana, in Gary's kitchen.) "Yes." Paul said. "I was with another girl at the time, and I told Colleen (Gary's wife) that I want her. Fix it up."
If you could change one thing about motorcycle drag racing, what would it be?
"I would like to see major sponsorship in the whole series, so all racers could benefit."
When driving a car, do you always wear a seatbelt?
1. Yes. 2. No. 3. If yes, really?
What does 185 miles an hour on a motorcycle feel like?
"I've been doing this for 35 years. Every run still gets my attention. It's fast. Flat fast."
Where and when do you find the most peace in your life?
"When I'm out for walks with my puppy and wife."
You're a skilled racer…What one factor, what one reason separates you from the fast traffic on smooth public highways?
"Defensive driving. Totally. I'm not a speeder."
How do you balance being an owner and a rider?
"Just get the wallet out!"
What do you like most about your job as owner?
"Gives me the ability to do what I want. Affords the speed."
What do you like least about being an owner?
When asleep do you ever dream you're riding a motorcycle?
"Oh, yeah. I go over perfect runs in my mind."
Name one other sport you believe you could excel at?
If you could make one part of your body stronger, what part would that be?
When frustrated. What do you do first?
3. Try to be cool.
"A little of (1) and a little of (3)".
How long does it take you to come off an emotional high?
"Mmmm, I'll have to think about that, and get back to you."
I could fill a paragraph with good words about Paul Gast. It's hard to keep up with him as he works his business, let alone keeping up with him on a drag strip. This frequent National Champion exhibits a rare combination good sense and good speed. I'm not going to chose one word to describe Paul Gast, however, Gary has. Gary knows him best, and Gary decided to describe the mighty Paul with the single word…
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