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Thread: Billy Zimmatore

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    Team Member Master Oil Racing Team's Avatar
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    Default Billy Zimmatore

    No boat racers out of Texas ever heard of Billy Zimmatore, and I doubt there are any others besides Steve Jones that remember him either, including Joe Rome. I woke up this morning and something told me I needed to put him in the encyclopedia. I wrote this twice more than a year ago, but it took so long both times that it timed me out and it was lost. That was before I figured out how to log back in to save it.

    Billy Zimmatore was born and raised in Alice, Texas and lived on the same side, but the far end of our block. We lived on one end and he lived on the other. Billy was an outgoing natural leader, and an outstanding athelete. He competed in football, baseball, track and field. He was captain of the football team, the Alice Coyotes. In 1956 we went to state and lost, but Billy was a junior then. I believe he was the quarterback. In any case his family and the team was looking forward to his senior year. As was the case all across America in 1957, there was an epidemic of polio and Billy was struck down. Another friend that was much younger than Billy that I started school with in the 1st grade was hit too, but he just lost the use of his legs. Billy was paralyzed from the neck down.

    At that time I didn't know Billy personally as I was a first grader and he was a high school senior. But, all us kids up and down the block whispered about the boy that had to live in an iron lung. We envisioned a big black cylinder all riveted together and only his head sticking out. It was a terrible thought of having to live in such a machine with never the hope of getting out of it.

    Billy did finally progress to the point where he could spend his waking hours outside of it, but he had to sleep in it at night because breathing no longer came to him automatically. In order to breathe, he had to think to do it, and then command his lungs to pull in some air. When he would talk, he would frequently stop to take a breath and he would move his head and throat a lot like he was gulping down air. That never stopped him from doing what he wanted to do though.

    Before I ever actually met Billy, he had a group of my friends hanging around his house. They were all the jocks of our high school. I was too small to play football and didn't have the speed or an arm for high school baseball so I didn't go in for the weight training. Billy always had between 10 and 20 young men that he would coach in weight training, boxing and just plain coaching advice for sports. He did it all from a stretcher type bed on wheels in his garage.

    I started racing in 1966 and my best friend Kenneth Kattner (an All American college player) mentioned my boat racing. Billy, nor any of the others had ever heard of foreign outboards that smelled and sounded like model airplane motors (which they were into also). Kenneth came to my house and said that Billy Zimmatore wanted to meet me and find out about this "alky boat racing". So I went over to his house with Kenneth. I already knew who he was and I was uncomfortable about meeting him. I had hoped he never knew what kind of tales us kids had spread nearly a decade earlier. When I went to his house, I found a half dozen other friends over there and that Billy was very friendly and gregarious. He asked question after question and of course I had not been racing long, but I read every Roostertail cover to cover several times over, and I carried my copies of Boat News to school with me, so I could speak a little bit intelligently about boat racing. He asked if he could come over to our house to look at the boats and motors and I said he could. In 1959 we moved from the house down the street from Billy to a house in a new addition about three miles northwest from where Billy lived. At that time he met my Dad, who also knew about Billy previously, but never actually had met him. Billy was very enthused about racing boats. He was so interested that my Dad asked him if he wanted the little 9'6 Mishey hydro that we didn't need any longer, having replaced it with a 10'6 SidCraft. Billy immediately accepted the offer although he didn't know what he would do with it. But it would be something he would spend many hours studying.

    My Dad recorded all of our early racing on 8mm film. He spliced it all together and in 1970 took it over to Billy's for him and his boys to watch. By then all my friends that hung out over there were in college and a new group of boys were working out. That's the way it was. A sophomore would never hang out with a Senior if they weren't related, but at Billy's everyone was one happy gang. And that's about the age group that was always there. The sophomore athelete's would get word that they needed to work out at Billy's and would continue until they graduated, and thus the group was always being renewed. Past members of the group would always come by for occassional visits until they moved off or started their own families, but not a one would ever forget the years they spent with Billy.

    Billy loved hydros though, so my Dad and I would either go to his house to show him films, or he would come to ours. By then my Dad had sold the house in Alice and the one at a different addition on the lake and we both lived at his house at Barbon Estates. Back then they didn't have the specially rigged vans like they do now for handicapped people, but Billy directed his boys to fix it up so he could travel to the lake and watch us test. He could never travel to any races to watch us though because other than the one at our house, all other races were too far. He had to be back in his iron lung by a certain time. He did look forward to the races we held at Barbon, and never missed one.

    I never remember them running the Mishey, but Billy studied enough that he finally decided he would have his boys build a hydro, which they did. I don't know where they came up with the deflector motor. It's been too long ago and I have forgotten. It's not unlikely that my Dad picked it up somewhere for them. After the boat was finished they brought it up to the lake to our place to test and give their driver experience. Most of the boys didn't like to go that fast and were happy to be pit crewmen. Chuck Carlisle and Kenny Tipps did like the speed and both went at it in earnest. They only entered one race and that was in 1971. Kenny drove one heat and Chuck drove the other. They were clearly outgunned running a Merc/Quincy deflector against Konigs and Merc Quincy loopers, but they finished the race. Billy was very happy about it. They put a team on the water with a boat they built themselves and managed to finish the race without breaking down or flipping.

    Billy was so appreciative of the help we gave him that he gave my Dad one of his oil paintings. It was one of my Dad's most prized possessions. It survived Hurricane Celia which blew the house down, but he lost it in the fire in 1993. Now remember...Billy was paralyzed from the neck down. He couldn't mix any of his paints himself, he couldn't draw anything on the canvas prior to painting, and he couldn't even lift or clean his brushes. He had someone put the brush handle between his teeth and that's how he painted....with his lips and teeth. The paintings were professional. The one he gave my Dad looked like Colorado in the fall with aspens by a clear stream and mountains in the background. I don't know how many he painted over his lifetime, but all the ones I saw were musuem and art gallery quality.

    Billy could do anything he put his mind to. I never saw him down or feeling sorry for himself. He always seemed to be happy and drawing life from the young men around him. He was very proud of the accomplishments of his boys. Whenever they would take on a project, Billy would supervise and he had to show them things they didn't know how to do by his direction. Billy was very articulate and he had to explain what he wanted someone to do very explicitly because he could not walk over, pick something up and say, "put this over here on this piece and tighten it like that" It all had to come from his brain and tongue. If you've never tried that, it is much harder than you think it would be.

    Over the years leading merchants, oilmen and businessmen around town got to realizing that many of the young men that stayed in Alice and found work in town all had a common thread. They had at one time been a part of Billy Zimmatore's young atheletes. Many local Golden Glove champs came out of Billy's gym. They were all trustworthy and hardworking guys. Billy's gym was producing some solid citizens for Alice. I don't know whose idea it was, but this group of men got together and built Billy a gym around 1500 to 2000 square feet on the lot on the next block across from his house. That one lot had been vacant all the time I lived in Alice, and that was the only thing ever built on it. They called it Zimm's Gym and outfitted with all kinds of equipment.

    Billy's Dad died sometime in the late 60's and I think his Mom passed away around 1980 or so. Billy didn't make it too much after that. He was an only child and his parents lives revolved around his and helping him live. I don't even know all the things Billy accomplished because he was active in some other things too. One thing I know though is that he was the most unselfish, caring, and giving person I have ever known. He never cussed, never talked bad about anyone, was very patient with people, handed out compliments and encouragement at every step of a person's learning, inspired confidence and was unequaled in an attitude of giving inspiration. A good movie could be made about the life of Billy Zimmatore. And although he fielded an entry in only one race, I felt I had to include him in the encylopedia. He would have seen ecstacy on the pages of BRF.
    Last edited by Master Oil Racing Team; 01-09-2008 at 09:49 PM. Reason: corrections


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    - Skoontz's Avatar
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    Wayne:

    Now that, is truly an AMAZING story. I think everyone in our town knew someone who had some form of polio at one point. And, of those, the vast majority were told they would never be anyone, never go anywhere, and so on. The ones who did get beyond the condition are people we all can learn from.

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    It's a very tough thing to go through Skoontz. Look how long Christopher Reeves made it after his tragic accident. Being totally bedridden can drastically alter your body's resistance. Over those many years any one of those kids could have accidentally introduced a bug to Billy that would have killed him. He couldn't have survived a serious bout with flu I don't believe. But I never recall seeing any medical personnel around him. When he came to our place it was just with the group of boys. He carried an oxygen bottle and stuff like that for emergencies, but that was all. He lived much, much longer than anyone ever expected and that had to be because of help from above.

    Here are pictures that my cousin John Lacey took of that race. The driver with the long hair and mustache is Kenny Tipps who graduated during the previous spring. The driver shown in the turn is Chuck Carlisle who was just starting his senior year. I don't remember the names of the pit crew.
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    Default Art Berg

    is a guy who did nnot ever race boats, but given the chance, he would take you up on it. Put a set of hand controls in a capsule boat, and he would be hell on water. When I read his story, it brought me to tears, and his life amazes me to this day. Check him out at www.artberg.com. there are some amazing similarities between he and Billy Z.

    Sorry this is not boat race encyclopedia stuff, just had to add and share.

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    Default Polio: A Big Worry

    Wayne, your Billy Zimmatore story rocked my brain. Seems when I was a kid, my dad suspected that POLIO and water were connected. I always thought my dad was just too cheap, was why he said we'd probably just get polio...if we had a pool.

    I do recall, every time I'd get sick, especially in the summers, I'd hope like crazy it wasn't polio. And I was sick a lot for the first twelve years of my life.

    When Jimbo McConnell and I started Junior College, together, we had to have polio shots...(1962)...Jimbo and I were so elated that we didn't have to worry about polio anymore..

    When I started teaching in 1966, Norita Scavarla was our school's music teacher. She could sing like the wind. She carried more stuff around with her than I could believe. Her daughter was quite an ice skater. The Scavarla's and Hill's spent a lot of time together. Norita had a bad limp, one day I asked what had happened. She said she'd had polio.

    Norita had to have suffered much pain from her leg, but she was always the most up beat person I ever knew.

    Chet Herbert, in the MOD VP days, got to be pretty good friends. Doug Herbert got Chad Hill into BMX racing. I got Doug into 20 SS Hydro. I asked Chet, one day, how he happened to be in a wheel chair. He said, "Polio. He was playing in the gutter water and contracted polio."

    If you know Chet Herbert or of his cams, you know Chet never let polio get him down.

    People like Billy, Norita, and Chet are the type of people that really make this world go around. As I know, I would not have been as strong as these three!!!
    Last edited by Ron Hill; 01-22-2009 at 10:14 AM.

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    You know you just rocked my brain too Ron. I had never heard of a connection between water and polio. It just so happened that 1957 was the year a 6 or 8 year drought ended for us. We were in George West at a parade for the 100th anniversary of the founding of the city and it was held on my great aunt's 100 birthday. It started raining as we walked toward Main Street and no one complained. I remember us all being drenched and very happy as my great aunt rolled by in the limo. It rained non stop for two weeks. I remember my Mom and Dad driving us to her parents house that night during a flood. My Dad talked the cops into letting us cross three flooded bridges. I guess they wanted to get us out of the way so they could celebrate. The water stood about 4 inches high in our yard for about three weeks. There was no storm water drainage then. Behind our block was about 100 acres of trees and brush. By the time the water was gone we had sheets of algae on the ground. I'm sure it was about the same at Billy's who lived 5 houses to the east of us. What a tragedy if the water that brought life to South Texas also brought the polio to Billy. But then it is really a bittersweet story because would Billy have affected so many lives like he did otherwise? Like you say Ron, people that have that kind of inner strength give some to everyone around them.



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    Another year has passed since I did this story about Billy Zimmatore, and I was looking for something else when I came across these slides. I didn't remember earlier, but I was in error when I said Billy only entered their boat one time. They also ran it in the Pan American Regatta at my Dad's house in 1974. Kenny Tipps drove it once again. Some day I will post a pic of that painting he gave my Dad when I find a better closeup.
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    I didn't find that photo yet. It is in a family photo album hanging on a wall in the back of some some family holiday gathering photos. I didn't look long enough back then, but in the last couple of weeks I have had two people that knew about Billy Zimattore that brought him back to the forefront. A lot of members have joined BRF since I first posted this thread, and I am like most to check in on what's new and never look at the archives. Believe me, there is so much to check out in the archives it is unbelieveable. The extra special thing about new members that sign up for BRF to find things you will not see anywhere else is that only a few weeks ago, we thought EVERYTHING was lost. But no! Thanks to heroic efforts....and people who knew what they were doing....it's all still here.

    Back to Billy Zimmatore. I found some stuff on the internet regarding a top level Golden Gloves champ that went to higher glory and credited Zym's Gym for his success. I never posted that, but I will see if I can find it.

    About six weeks or so ago I was on a job about an hour south of Joe's shop and had to wait on pipe as usual. While talking to the Company Man I found out he was from Alice, Texas. He was much younger than me. Somehow we got on the subject of Billy Zimmatore while waiting for the pipe. He not only instantly knew about Billy, but was a very strong advocate of him. I was very happy to hear that because he was so much younger than me, and very much younger than Billy himself, but had a huge respect and feeling for Billy like those who had known him from personal experience. He told me that there had been erected on the high school grounds a monument with names engraved of all the people that had been considered to have had a positive and long lasting impact on the community. It was placed at the high school so that the students might walk by every day, and it might sink in to them that people that do good things are respected in the community. It's not for self important political refugees.

    I have not been on the high school grounds (which was built right after I graduated in '67) since picking up my young sister from class sometime around 1973. As this company man and I talked, he wondered to himself whether Billy's name was engraved or not. They add names whenever whatever committee meets to consider the additions. The guy I was talking to has seen the monument, but never thought about whether or not Billy's name was on it, and he was concerned that whenever the monument was conceived, installed and implemented anyone was old enought to know or remember anything about Billy. He told me he would check into it, and I told him I would send him a link on the thread.

    Only two problems. Right after that....I didn't know how to do a link....but I didn't know how to try either. Then BRF disappeared for awhile, but fortunately was rescued. I wanted to post this to not only remind all of you about how much boat racing history could be lost while we were sleeping, working, or doing things we shouldn't be doing, but also about how much there is in the archives you don't even know about. We don't want to lose that either.

    More about Billy Zimmatore to follow/



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    I started this thread over 10 years ago. A lot of new members have joined since then and this thread has been dormant a long time. Billy Zimmatore was such a unique and inspiring and one of a kind of guy that I wanted new members to read about him, and to honor his memory.


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    This link is to a video article done on Billy Zimmatore painting done by a Fort Worth TV station in the sixties.

    https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67...adc1781423/m1/

    Dale Lykins
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