John "Sonny" Koszela
Car Owner
Class of 2002

Sonny Koszela remembers watching race cars being flat-towed to the Kingston Fairgrounds in the 1950s, and realized that he needed to visit the track. By the late '50s, Sonny had built his first car, which was driven by Freddie Crockett at Keene, NH.

September 6, 1959 was a big day in Sonny's life, both in terms of his racing career and his personal life. Ernie Gahan drove Koszela's car to his 1st victory, on the dirt at the Stafford Speedway. The day was especially memorable for Sonny because his daughter Julie, wife of Modified Tour/NASCAR North champion Mike Stefanik, was born the same day.

Koszela has put many notable drivers behind the wheel of the popular #15. Besides Crockett and Gahan, Roland LaPierre, Sr., Leo Cleary, Kenny Bouchard, Bugs Stevens, and Mike Stefanik have driven the popular "Woodchopper", nicknamed after the family lumber business. Fred DeSarro drove the car to the 1970 National Championship.

"We just missed a couple of other National Championships", recalls Sonny. "Bugsy had one that came down to the final race, but Jerry Cook walked away with it. Still, it's been a lot of fun, especially in the old days. We'd be able to get a little creative. We'd get carried away, put in a little too much motor, blow it up, then back it off a little. Those were the days. We'd run Stafford Friday, Malta Saturday, Sunday out to Utica, and sometimes an All-Star race on Wednesday. We'd wreck it, work all night and all day fixing it, and race somewhere that night." Koszela remembers pulling in for some "Golden ESSO" gas one night before a race at Stafford. "As I was pumping the gas, I looked at the rear end of the car. The housing was cracked all the way through!!" Sonny smiled, then continued, "We took a chain and binder, chained the rear end together, and went out and won the race that night!!!"

From the early coupe to the current modified tour car, Sonny Koszela's race cars have been forces to reckon with.

We welcome Sonny into the NEAR Hall of Fame.