Buckhorn State Park is a point at the end of Grand Island New York that provides a view of the mist from Niagara Falls about three miles away down river…About three decades ago in the middle of that island sat Marty's Mobil gas station.
At fourteen Gary Larsen began working there pumping gas, washing windshields…at the same time an older (by a few years) James Ditullio twisted wrenches on cars in Marty's bays. Paul Gast (younger than both, but not by a lot) never worked there, but he surely stopped for gas at Marty's Mobil, one of two gas stations on the island when he bought his first car for twenty bucks, a 51 Plymouth.
Marty Wolverton owned the station and a 36 Ford Roadster, painted candle apple red, powered by a new 327 Corvette engine (dropped in every two years). Puppet was allowed to drive the 36 Ford Roadster, but Gary worked there four years before Marty allowed him to join 'Marty's Club' a cherished ride in the Roadster to pick up parts.
I (Dwight) visited Grand Island for two weeks every summer during this time…and later too, but this isn't a reunion…It's a story of three decades or so later.
Paul Gast became a motorcycle champion of speed (and now drives a new Porsche). Gary raced too, but became a champion fan and an Internet wizard, while Puppet welded his way in the racing world frame by frame, and now has built the four fastest bikes in the galaxy.
Someone has to race, someone has to know racing, someone has to build frames so anyone can push an engine…and someone better write about it, so drag racing fans can know more about the people who thrive on speed.
Join me as I ask steady questions from the…MASTER OF THE BONES OF SPEED…James 'Puppet' DiTullio.
Do you have a nickname?
Who are your Heroes?
Do you have time for a hobby?
"This is my hobby. If I were into it for the money, I'd do something else."
What personal quality (one trait) would you want your fans to admire most?
What's most important?
1.Fame 2.Money 3.Achievement 4.Being the best
"Not money. Not fame. Top quality in frames. I guess that's achievment."
Are you happy?
What could make you happier?
"I'm happy the way I am. I'd be happier with warm weather and less snow in Buffalo."
If you could change one thing about motorcycle drag racing, what would it be?
"Electronics. I love computers, but I hate electronics on a bike."
When driving a car, do you always wear a seatbelt?
1. Yes. 2. No. 3. If yes, really?
"Yes. I can't afford the fine."
What part of your past would you like to share with us? Something you want people to know about your past?
"I don't know. I was a Hippy for eleven years and quit. I was an Iron Worker for 11 years and quit that too."
If you could make one part of your body stronger, what part would that be?
When frustrated. What do you do first?
1.Erupt. 2.Withdraw 3. Try to be cool.
"Try to be cool. Go do something else."
WHERE do you find the most peace in your life?
"At work, and talking to Sandy on the Internet."
How did you get started in crafting motorcycle drag racing frames?
"I used to build race cars. A kid from Niagara Falls wanted a Harley Drag Bike. Paul Gast saw it, and wanted one. Paul Gast nudged me into bikes…and after that it was all motorcycles."
What do you worry about the most?
"Not a whole lot."
Do you have pets?
"I got a cat. I inherited it from my daughter when she moved…It's going to be a stuffed cat pretty soon… (Puppet laughs…it's a gentle ha ha.)
If you can't get your favorite food, what do you eat first?
"Cheesburger and french fries…Always get them some place.."
What about life amazes you the most?
"The fact that I'm still alive."
(Gary's daughter…Devon's question)
If you could have lunch with anybody in history…With whom would you munch?
"Leonardo da Vinci."
How did you get hooked up with Jim McClure?
"Through Elmer Trett. When he crashed at Indy, I fixed his bike. McClure was with him, and I lowered the seat of Jim's bike nine inches and moved the engine way forward (11 inches, and the rest is history."
Other than the obvious riders (Ron Kroll, Elmer Trett, Jim McClure, Spiderman) who else have you built bike frames for?
"Brian Johnson, 'Pizza John' Maffaro, Dave Shultz and others."
What's your biggest success so far …Your finest moment?
"Nineteen number one plates for Jim McClure, Elmer Trett for all his accomplishments,
and "Pizza John (Maffaro)." in eighty nine when he set records and championships in Pro Stock bike."
In a few words, how would you sum up…yourself?
"Tall, dark and handsome."
What quality do you admire most in other people?
"Dedication in what they are doing."
If you had one wish, what would that be?
With a focus on routine, what works best for you?
"Go with whatever happens…with the flow."
Where did you get the nickname 'Puppet'?
"Ahhhh…the ole 'wher'ed you get your name question…As best I can recall…When I was a wee lad (teenager) I used to bite girls on the posterior…a youthful act which often ended in fights if a boyfriend was nearby. My friends would say…"Go bite that one." ...And I would. They said I behaved like a puppet, so they started calling me 'Puppet'.
The nickname stopped for a long time, then one day I ran into a guy I hadn't seen in years, and he called me Puppet. Someone overheard it, and the name started all over again, and it hasn't stopped. Somehow I don't think it ever will…Haaaaaa!!!…Actually it worked out well, because it's a name that you hear once and don't forget…Sooo…that's my Puppet story."
"I don't know I'll have to get back to you."
And so he did….
"I would like people to realize that the place to save weight on a bike is NOT the chassis. The chassis is about ten per cent of the total weight of the bike, and it's the most important ten per cent on the whole bike. Without a good strong chassis nothing works right. It's easy to build a lite chassis, just leave out half the tubes, and hope you can ride it."
I (Dwight) can't say enough about this complex character, so I'll close before I say too much. Puppet is a Star Trek fan who likes to say he builds the fastest bikes in the Galaxy, and he's working on the Universe. No matter what part of space Puppet aims for, I found a word that suits his expertise on this planet and Gary agreed…Puppet is…