Goofing Off With Bobby LaCentra

Last Friday (November 15, 2013) I was downstairs puttering around in my garage and knocked a can of Goof Off down off the shelf. No big deal, it was capped, and even at that it, only had a few drops left in it. I was going to toss it out, but as I picked it up and placed it back on the shelf, it set off a distant memory of an old school pal of mine. It was probably the bright yellow and red colors on the can.

Back in my last year at Floyd High '63- '64, I wasn't even 17 yet and was trying to turn a 1937 Plymouth into a Sportsmen racing car on shoestring in my backyard in Mastic Beach, hoping to have it out on the track at Riverhead Raceway for most of the '64 season. Two of the major holdups was a racing camshaft, I had ordered for the engine and paid for, but was taking forever to arrive, the other was our family life was rapidly unraveling and it looked like we were going to have to move away from Mastic Beach, a place I had lived since I was three.


That is Bob & I next to each other in the second row on the left

Bobby LaCentra was a classmate of mine since 5th grade, and lived in my neighborhood, a few blocks away on a parallel road, 117 Pine to my 117 Elm. One spring evening in 1964, he came tooling by my house with a car he just bought. It was a shoebox Ford, dark forest green. I was outside working on my jalopy racer when he and Gil Giradin, another classmate, pulled up in my driveway and I could hear straight away that there was something potent under his hood. When he opened it up to show me, I can still see it. Two four barrel carbs and those chromed valve covers that said Cadillac on them! WOW! MAN! IT'S A FORDILLAC!

Fordillac's were built on Long Island by noted race car builder Bill Frick and enjoyed a nation wide reputation in the 1950's. Basically, they were hopped up Cadillac engines, installed into a variety of old Fords. Bob's was a '50 Ford club coupe,

Bobby and I weren't thick as thieves friends, we didn't hang around with each other after school, but he was always a likeable guy all through school. I remember in 8th grade he nominated me to be foreman of our print shop class. Something I didn't want and I kind of glared at him with a what did you go and do that for? It didn't matter 'cause the shop class voted on it and gave that honor to Ricky Lust ( a real popular kid, who's Dad drove him to school in a new Corvette) As we went on in high school, we had mutual interests in cars. I recall one night that last year of school, a bunch of us ( Pete Morano, Frank LoPriore, Gil Girardin, Bob and I went to the indoor auto racing at Island Gardens in West Hempstead, where they raced 3/4 midgets. Sitting up high in the bleachers, we all got even higher on those exhaust fumes.

It was right at the end of the school year or perhaps even a week or so later that Bob decided he wanted to run his Ford at Westhampton Drag Strip. He wasn't old enough to drive it in competition without parental permission, but Gil Girardin was. With my engine still waiting on the camshaft, I knew 1964 was probably not going to be my year to get out onto Riverhead. I had this can of racing fuel additive, that I think cost me around 5 bucks for a pint. ( This is when you could buy Sunoco 260 gas for 35 cents a gallon) Can't recall the name of it but it was a bright yellow can with red letters and crossed checkered flags on it. I said, " Here put this stuff in your tank, it will probably shave off a second or two on your ET." It probably wasn't even legal for the class he was running in ... but so what.

So off to Westhampton we went. Bob, Gil, Frank and me. It was a fun day,with lots of entries, but it seemed to take forever before his car was called up. Gil pulled up to the line and as soon as he took off , I could tell the run was not going to amount to can of beans. He didn't even smoke the tires. Then when he went for second gear there was a hesitation. He mis shifted and wound up with a speed of around 75 mph. With the power that car had, he should of easily broke 100 mph in the 1/4.

Bob joined the Navy soon afterwards and that would be the last time I saw or heard from him for about 35 years.

Bob, Pete Morano & Ed Gill

My posting stuff online about our home town of Mastic Beach and our school days is what re connected us. I think I first heard from his cousin Chris Mazzarella, who put me in to touch with Bob and we started e mailing and reminiscing I asked him what he did with his Ford. He GAVE it to Gil when he joined the Navy. He even contributed photos to my website like this one of him leading a group of Brookhaven Junior Police in a Memorial Day Parade around 1959. And when I was back up on Long Island around 2002, I took photos of his boyhood home on Pine Rd for him.


Bob's the tall one, looking a little flustered trying to get his troop to march without falling into each other

I was watching from the sidelines.

We saw each other again at our 40th high school reunion in 2004. He had retired from the Navy and was selling real estate and homes in Florida. In a very last minute decision, decided to come to the reunion. I was glad he did. We sat together for much of it. Here he is with one of our favorite teachers Mr. Turpin.

In 2010 my book The Knapps Lived Here, which has quite a bit in it about growing up in Mastic Beach in the 1950's, came out . I got a call from Bob. It seems he was going to be passing through Nashville and he had a copy of it wanted to stop by and have me sign it. We had ourselves a pretty good time that day, just goofing off and catching up with our lives.


We stayed in touch sporadically via e mail and Facebook since then. Even though we were 180 degrees apart politically, we never let it get in the way of being friends and I always thought he was someone I would want on my side if I was in a jam.

On Sunday, two days after that almost empty can of Goof Off fell down, I found out that Bob had a heart attack on Saturday and passed away. Word spread pretty fast on the internet and many of our classmates were in shock. Some of them had been in touch with him just a few days prior regarding our 50th Reunion in 2014. I don't know if I'm going to that, but I have moved that can of Goof Off over to my toy car shelf where it will now sit next to a '50 Ford in memory of Robert Edward LaCentra.