Weld Racing Presents Legend Racer - Sam Biondo
By: Luke Bogacki
To the younger generation of sportsman drag racers and fans, Sam Biondo is probably best known as “Sal and Peter’s Dad.” That’s bound to happen when your sons have accounted for six NHRA World Championships and are generally regarded as two of the best sportsman drivers on the planet. But Sam Biondo has been added to the short list of DragRaceResults.com LEGENDS for more than his merits as a father. In a racing career that spans more than five decades, Sam has earned a reputation as a successful businessman, an innovator within the sport, and a great racer in his own right.
Sam Biondo was introduced to the sport of drag racing briefly in 1956, before he went into the Army. Upon his return home two years later, Sam said that all his friends were going to West Hampton Drag Strip (Long Island, NY). After attending a few events, Sam’s interest was piqued. “It was exciting,” he said. “And to be honest, I wanted to get involved because it looked easy. I soon found out it wasn’t, but I’ve never been able to get away from it,” he laughed. “All of my buddies quit racing within 5 years, and here I am 50 years later, still doing it.”
Sam enjoyed immense success in the 1970’s and 1980’s, and was a dominant competitor in the Northeast during that time. Raising his three children (Sal, daughter Christa, and Peter) as a single parent, Sam didn’t travel in his racing. The majority of his competition took place close to home. Over a twelve year stretch, he earned the track championship at Old Bride Township Raceway Park (Englishtown, NJ) on a remarkable 8 occasions.
“People now tend to think ‘track championship, big deal.’ But those titles were and still are very important to me, more because of the level of competition than anything,” said Biondo. “This area was, and still is really, a hotbed for great racing. When I won those championships, I was racing with guys like Jim Harrington, Tom Dauber, James Antonette, Dave Schapiro, Butch DeLorenzo, and more. Looking back now, to come out on top of that caliber of competition is really special.”
Even more impressive is the fact that while Biondo generally owned his own racing vehicle over that stretch, he regularly drove (and won with) others.
“My approach has always been one of very low overhead,” said Biondo. “Back then, a low 10-second car was fast, and that’s what everyone thought you needed to win. Phil Monteith, who’s been a part of our racing for as long as I can remember, built me an 11-second car. I could do just as well in it, plus it was cheaper to build and I wasn’t constantly breaking parts. As I started doing well, other racers started asking me to drive their cars. I looked at that as a luxury; I got to leave my car at home and still race.”
Biondo & Monteith have been partners for 35 years..... yes the same Phillip Monteith that Sam's son Peter now parners with in the World Championship winning "Hatari" Pontiac.
While Sam isn’t sure of the exact numbers, Sal Biondo says that the family patriarch won well over 150 events in at least 32 borrowed cars during that stretch!
Sam’s crowning on-track achievement came in 1988, when he carried an incredible 36-round winning streak from Englishtown down to Bradenton, FL and the annual 5-Day event. There, he earned a $5,000 triumph, besting John Labbous, Sr. in the final round. During that time period, many of the top competitors had started using delay boxes, but Biondo was still leaving off the bottom bulb, not even using the aid of a 2-step.
“I think it would be really hard for racers now to comprehend how often Dad won at that time,” said Sal Biondo. “Dominant is really the only word that can describe it. But with the wins, and the losses, there was always a lesson for Pete and me growing up. You’d never see him perform a helmet toss after a loss. He learned from his losses, studied them, and his time slips. I have a memory of Pete and I coming back from the stands after he got beat one day. The people in the stands cheered loudly when he lost, to the point that it caused Pete and I to cry. We were still crying when Dad got to the trailer, and he just kept telling us how good it was when people cheered for him to lose. He always told us that if they didn’t cheer when he lost, he was having a bad year. I’ll never forget that.”
In researching this LEGENDS column here on DRR, there was a recurring theme from everyone who was contacted. If one phrase could be used to describe Biondo it was “Ahead of his time.” It seems Sam was always a step ahead of the competition, both on the race track and in business. Thirty years ago, he seemed to grasp the intricacies of the sport that most competitors struggle with even today.
“I never felt like I was supremely talented as a driver,” said Biondo. “I felt like I was average in that regard. The success that I had came from little things, attention to detail.”
Sam shared a story from his years of dominance at Englishtown, saying that he would always be the first racer at the track, pulling in an hour before anything got started. Sam had developed a rollout wheel to measure rollout on the starting line, and he’d check it prior to every event.
Sam Biondo with his "contraption" as stated above in the story checking rollout.
“At that time, our announcer set the rollout every weekend,” he said. “And I’d go out there and check it every week. Most racers didn’t understand rollout. Heck, we didn’t even have reaction timers. Anyhow, there was generally a significant difference between the lanes. The announcer would ask me, every week, ‘everything right?’ Well, what would you tell him?” He laughed. “I know the difference in the lanes, why would I want him to make them equal? ‘Yea, everything’s perfect!’”
Sam’s son Peter shared more stories of his father’s awareness and innovation. “Dad used to block the top two bulbs on the tree, like a lot of Stock and Super Stock racers do today. This was back in the 1970’s, when no one thought about stuff like that. For the first 10-12 years of my life I watched him dominate using that method. So when he decided to switch driving styles and watch the tree come down, I’ll admit I was a bit nervous. My father explained to me that in dusk & dark conditions and with hood reflections he would be better off learning to try to master bottom bulb racing without blocking so he wasn’t at the mercy of the conditions. That’s how he taught Sal and I to race as well.”
Sam was one of the first to recognize that deep-staging was a huge advantage in the early years of pro-tree competition. In fact, at one point races in the area were contested on a .3 Pro tree, with a handicapped head start.
“I remember when they tried the .3 tree like it was yesterday,” said Peter. “Dad was driving one of the faster cars in the class, and obviously no one could get a light. He just dialed a tenth faster than his opponent every round and left on their tree. He had at least a tenth advantage on the starting line every round. What’s funny was that he really pushed the limits in the final of a big race against none other than (Peter’s longtime car owner) Phil Monteith. He dialed .15 faster than Phil and red-lighted. There weren’t any reaction times then, so at that point he knew where he was at.”
Sam’s forward thinking and innovation wasn’t limited to the race track either. He and longtime friend Charlie Buccola are credited with developing the first practice tree in 1974. Although primitive, the device paved the way for Biondo Racing Products and was the predecessor to the driving aids available today. A year later, Sam and Charlie worked together to design and build some of the first generation of delay boxes.
Sam officially opened Biondo Racing Products in 1987, but the company history is rooted much deeper than that. Sam built, marketed, and sold his practice trees, delay boxes, and a variety of other items from the back of his station wagon at events as early as the mid-70’s.
“I worked as a beer rep for Kirin Beer for almost 20 years, and I raced just about every weekend,” said Sam. “Like any parent, I felt kind of guilty about robbing money from our regular budget to support my hobby. That’s how the parts sales came about initially. I figured I could make a little bit of money to support the racing, so it didn’t have to come out of my paycheck.”
What started as selling primitive electronics from the back of a station wagon has since morphed into one of the most recognizable business’s in the drag racing aftermarket. Biondo Racing Products now employs the entire Biondo family and specializes in a variety of mail-order products.
“I don’t think there’s any big secret to our success,” said Biondo. “I’ve just always tried to keep overhead low. We buy in volume so that we can offer racers a low price. As we’ve grown, we’ve just tried to pay attention to what the racers want and we try to provide it at the lowest price possible. Fortunately, we have partnered with some very good companies like Digital Delay and Sparco who share the same view. The biggest thing for me when I was racing a lot, and the boys have continued this, is to let customers know that they can buy direct from us and get the best deal.”
As mentioned earlier in the story, Sam’s sons Peter and Sal carry on the family legacy on the race track. Sam’s boys have combined for 6 NHRA World Championships and 52 national event wins in 83 final rounds. The duo also holds 17 NHRA Division 1 Championships. Most do not know that Sal and Peter’s sister Christa also raced briefly prior having kids, and accumulated a handful of wins in her short racing career.
Sam, Christa, Sal and Peter on a typical Sunday at Englishtown Raceway Park in 1986.
“I really got involved in racing heavily when the boys were very young,” said Sam. “In fact, I remember Peter staying with my Mother when Sal, Christa, and I went to the track because he was so little. For fifteen years, those boys were at the race track with me every weekend, they didn’t have a choice. With racing such a part of their lives for that long, I knew one of two things would happen. They’d either be overexposed to it and grow to hate it, or they’d take to it and love it as much as I do. Thankfully, they both really took to it.”
“I can’t even begin to cover all of the things Dad taught Sal and I about racing,” said Peter Biondo. “I can remember discussing his dial-in with him. I was probably 10 years old and I always wanted him to dial the car what it could run or maybe even one lower so that he wouldn’t break out. He would tell me, ‘Give me a few in my pocket so that I have some options down there.’ Although the numbers might be tighter these days than they were in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s, you can see the general concepts are still the same.”
Sam was elected into the NHRA Division 1 Hall of Fame in 2000, and earned his most cherished victory in 2002 when he drove to the Super Stock victory at the NHRA Summer Nationals at hometown Raceway Park. Sam’s earned a couple of NHRA LODRS victories as well, to enhance his incredible collection of bracket triumphs. And he’s still racing today, as he competes at a handful of events each season with his sons.
“My top accomplishment in racing, and I want you to print this,” said Biondo, “Is that I’m 4-0 against Peter Biondo. He’s never beat me!” Sam said that he had made the decision shortly after the boys started racing that he’d let the boys beat him if they ever squared off in competition.
“I told myself that, but those boys are so good,” he laughed. “Pete had already won a lot by the time we raced each other. Our first meeting was in a $5,000 final at Atco, so I kind of recanted on that promise to myself… Yea, I got by him. Like I said, I’m 4-0. That’s why I always try to avoid him in the staging lanes now; I’m not going to jeopardize that record!”
Peter and Sal learing the ropes at an early age.... Luckily for them, Sam didn't own a Big Wheel back then.
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