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Fred “Jiggs” Peters

Sport: Auto Racing

Born: September 28, 1920

Died: December 25, 1993

Town: Metuchen and Edison

Fred Peters was born September 28, 1920 in Metuchen. He was one of 13 children who grew up on an Edison dairy farm, four of whom contributed to the family budget working on engines and repairing cars during the Depression. Eventually, all four—Fred, Al, Walt and John—found their way to Paterson’s Gasoline Alley, where they built, sold and drove midget cars and “big cars” (aka stock cars) in the 1930s and 1940s. Fred also went by “Jiggs” after the main character in the comic strip Bringing Up Father—a working man who wins the Irish Sweepstakes. The nickname helped distinguish him from the older car owner, Fred Peters, who passed away in the early 1950s.

In 1938–39, Fred partnered with Dick Simonek to build a sprint car that they raced on the dirt ovals that dotted New Jersey and Pennsylvania in the pre-NASCAR era. Fred did not drive—there was plenty of racing talent around Paterson’s machine shops. Joie Chitwood , Frank Bailey and Buster Warke were often behind the wheel of cars they built.

The racing business shut down during World War II, but picked up bigger than ever in the late-1940s. Fred served in the Army and was wounded in Italy. Doctors inserted a steel plate in his right heel. Upon his return, he attended a driving school for midget racers and began his driving career at the “speedrome” located inside the Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx. Early in the summer of 1949, he won his first midget race at Hinchcliffe Stadium in Paterson. In 1951, he was crowned American Racing Driver’s Club champion.

By the late-1950s, Fred was a consistent winner on the midget circuit. Fred also enjoyed success driving sprint cars and Indy cars in longer races. He competed in several NASCAR and AAA events in the 1950s, and won his first sprint car race in 1954 at the Bedford Speedway in Pennsylvania. When the Eastern racing season ended, Fred would often compete in the South or Southwest. In 1955, Fred attempted to qualify for the Indianapolis 500, but did not make the starting field.

In 1959, Fred won the biggest purse of his career ($3,202) when he took the checkered flag in the 250-mile race at the Trenton Speedway in a car owned by Kenny Brenn. Among the other owners Fred won races for were Ed Darnell, Johnny Fray and Joe Barzda. Mostly, Fred drove his own cars. In the spring of 1961, he piloted his Offy-powered midget to victory at a 100-mile event at Langhorne Speedway, setting a track record with an average speed of 98 mph. Fred’s USAC racing career drew to a close in the mid-1960s, but he continued to compete in lower-level events for several more years. In 1968, he won his last title on the dirt track at Nazareth National Speedway in a United Racing Club race. He quit racing in 1969 after a crash at the Bedford Speedway in Pennsylvania.

Fred retired to central New Jersey but kept up with old (and new) racing buddies during the 1970s and 80s. For many years, he ran the gate at Grandview Speedway in Pennsylvania, 90 minutes west. Fred passed away on Christmas Day in 1993 at the age of 73. At his request, his ashes were spread over the track at the Latimore Valley Fairgrounds in York Springs…some of his ashes, but apparently not all. They reportedly made showings at his beloved old-timers gatherings and were in the cockpit for at least one midget race.


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