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Durf Hyson, 1954-2023


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#1 Bridgehampton66

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Posted 19 May 2023 - 05:05 PM

It is my sad duty to report, to those of you who have not yet heard, that our friend and fellow slot car racer, Durfee “Durf” Hyson has left the building. Per his wishes, there will be no memorial service.

 

Durf grew up in Hartford, CT, always a big reader, always a debate-level thinker and talker. If a couple of things had turned out differently, he could very well have been a congressional or campaign staffer, maybe a high-level public servant. He had the necessary brains, and the strong inclination to help people, which he did often, throughout his life. He was selfless, and had an authentic soft spot for the little guy.

 

His grandfather nurtured a love of things mechanical, which nested nicely in Durf’s facility with his hands, and with math. In his teens, he discovered cars, and slot cars, and a dual, lifelong passion was born. He ran the NCC classes, USRA, HO Magnatraction, and SuperG cars, pretty much whatever was happening in Connecticut and environs.

 

When a family crisis forced him to leave university, he quickly found employment at what became a series of auto dealerships. He worked as a mechanic, but soon became a sought-after auto parts savant, and ran several parts departments, ably, throughout his career. He never went back to school, something he sometimes regretted.

 

Durf became a Lotus fan, and then fanatic, early on.Colin Chapman, Jim Hall, and Dan Gurney were his lifelong heroes. Independent, capable, and at times headstrong, these fellows were his personal blueprints.  In tribute, he often modeled his slot cars after their designs. He knew the history of all the cars, all the drivers, and damn near all the races. It could be uncomfortable to sit or stand in the path of Durf’s accumulated firehose of information. 8-)

 

He became a master 1:1 mechanic, mostly on Lotuses, and a talented, trusted and opinionated member of the Elan/Elite/Europa community.  His little house in Thompson, CT, overlooking the Quaddick Reservoir, sat atop a garage that was always filled with this or that fiberglass Lotus shell-in-process. Tiny, English Ford four-cylinders were seemingly everywhere. And, in the near distance, you could hear the roaring, weekend warriors pounding around Thompson Speedway. Durf knew many of the drivers of the most serious SCCA machinery there. He had wrenched and crewed for several serious national competitors, including some NIssan teams with factory ties.

 

I met him in around 2010, when he became a member of New England’s MARC, the Miniature Auto Racing Club. HO magnet cars, HOPRA rules, and quite a few bonafide characters, but none of them bigger than Durf.  He could talk your ear off, but he also built fast cars, many of them driven for him by his loyal and very talented friend, Erik Eckhardt. If you wanted to know the science behind what made the cars work so well, you had to pull up a chair. The explanations were incredibly complete, and never short. He wanted you to understand, and made it his business to see that you did. You had to know how to get your learning done, and then slip away with enough time to apply the new-found knowledge on the track.  8-)

 

Durf was also remarkably kind to kids and new racers.  He’d do his best to encourage anybody who showed some spark, often surprising them with a special body, or car, after he’d managed to get their address. He was remarkably generous, almost to a fault. He organized a really big benefit HO race for the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp for disabled and seriously-ill children, when he was already in rough financial condition himself. Donations to the camp are the only way that Durf wanted to be remembered, so you could do that.

 

From the time I first knew him, Durf’s body was already rapidly failing him. One miserable, serious malady after another. These cascaded. Those of us close to him saw how truly horrible and cruel it is to be seriously ill in America, and broke.  His wars with the medical and “health insurance” industries are the stuff of legend.  We helped where we could, but he was deeply proud and decidedly stubborn.  Mostly what he allowed us to do was to help him take his mind off his health, by working on slot cars. There was another cadre of pals that helped him keep his fingers in some 1:1 Lotus projects, too.

 

Many, many times the Reaper came calling for him, but he managed to talk the SOB into a hasty departure.  Maybe he drove him off with a diatribe about all the things that slot car racers misapprehend about aerodynamics?  I don’t know how many times we were sure that he would lose a new argument with the Old Boy, in the form of some new and seemingly insoluble health crisis. He had a powerful will, one like you’ll rarely see in this lifetime.

 

Throughout the pandemic, on most Thursdays, wedged in among home nursing visits, sudden trips to the ER, dialysis, and god knows what else, we’d sit together at his house for four or five hours.  We’d talk about auto racing, and just build slot cars. The last few years, we shifted our efforts into 1/24 Retro racing, at Modelville Hobby, and with NERR, setting ourselves a new (to us) hill to climb.  

 

I learned a metric ton from Durf, though his health made him crabby, short-tempered, and sometimes hard to be with. But I can say for sure that I couldn’t take what he did; I would have given up. His strength was astonishing.

 

So I hope you rest in peace, Durf. May whatever comes next be pain free. And this to those in charge:  wherever Durf is, please, please let there be Cosworth heads and Koford gears in abundance.


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Rob Hayes

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#2 slotcarone

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Posted 19 May 2023 - 05:40 PM

Sorry to hear, Rob. Beautiful tribute to a special person!

 

May he now RIP.


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#3 old & gray

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Posted 19 May 2023 - 05:46 PM

My condolences to his family.

 

I lived in Hartford until 1990, I feel it is my loss I didn't met him. 


Bob Schlain

#4 Modelville Guy

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Posted 19 May 2023 - 06:42 PM

Rest in peace, Durf.

 

I guess I will not be ordering anything different than what everyone uses until another one like you comes along. I feel that will never happen, you were a true one of a kind. Glad I got to meet you and race with you. 

 

Until we meet again.


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#5 nicky 65

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Posted 19 May 2023 - 11:36 PM

Well said, Rob.
Nicholas Traina
 
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#6 JerseyJohn

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Posted 20 May 2023 - 12:04 PM

Durf was a good friend and innovator. He will be missed.


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#7 spudboy

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Posted 22 May 2023 - 04:21 PM

"He knew the history of all the cars, all the drivers, and damn near all the races. It could be uncomfortable to sit or stand in the path of Durf’s accumulated firehose of information. 8-)"

 

True that, Rob. Thanks for posting this.

 

RIP, Durf.


Nate "spudboy" Bemis

#8 MSwiss

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Posted 27 May 2023 - 09:05 AM

Rob,

 

Very nice euology for Durf.

Speaking of Lotus, I have a customer who comes in and races very casually with a few friends. Out of the blue, he mentioned he knew Bob Herzog, one of the top slot racers in the Chicagoland area in the '60s.

Bob was good friends with the late Sano Dave Fiedler, an area track owner and racing legend. He said he had sold Bob his Lotus Elan, as he apparently is the Lotus guru in the area. He added Bob had recently(?) sold an Elan he had restored for an astronomical amount for that type of car.

I'm guessing Durf and Bob knew of each other.

The undisputed #1 area racer from the '60s, Mike Staskie, morphed into a go-to-guy for Panteras.

It's kind of funny how slot racers migrate towards quirky sports cars. I'm still in therapy from owning a Fiat X1/9 and a Lancia Beta Coupe. LOL.

Anyway, apologies for the minor thread drift.


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#9 matcophil

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Posted 11 June 2023 - 07:53 AM

Hello all,

 

My name is Phil Smith and I'd to add a few things to Rob's eulogy for Durf Hyson.

 

I first met Durf in church school in East Hartford, where we, as 16-year olds, were given the assignment of teaching a class of youths the way of the Bible. Well, as all of you would believe, these church school classes soon evolved into a discussion of last weeks F1 race. We were soon relieved of our teaching responsibilities. 

 

My first car was a '66 VW bus. When the engine blew up, he assisted me in obtaining a used motor and a place to swap it out. Being a novice in this type of endeavor, he extolled the virtues of a ratcheting 17mm wrench for unbolting it from the transaxle and how to set the points with a matchbook and the timing with a test light. My fascination with cars was just then beginning. Within a few months, he had stumbled into the whereabouts of a '69 Mustang that he thought would serve me better. As those of you that knew Durf know, the explanation of why I should sell the VW and buy the Mustang was long, detailed, and convincing. So much to my father's chagrin, I ended up with a green '69 Mustang GT in my parents driveway.

 

At the time, Durf had a white '70 Boss 302 Mustang with American Racing wheels and Mickey Thompson tires. To this day, I still think that was the prettiest car ever built. Over the next few years, I would spend many a night in his driveway working one or both of those cars. From his explanations of how engines, transmissions, brakes, and tools worked, I was hooked. I can still remember sitting at his mother's kitchen table with Durf drawing various roads and explaining how to enter a corner, find the apex, and how to exit smoothly with the most speed possible. I still use those lessons driving my Honda Ridgeline today.

 

When the cars were running, we would take some late night trips to 'test' out our adjustments. How we lived through those years, I'll never know. One of our 'fun' things to do was to run the Burnside Ave in East Hartford curves as fast as we could, as close together as possible in the middle of the night. These 'curves' were two 90 degree corners, one left and one right, with about 100 yards in between. I believe our record was 85 MPH. Considering the condition of the road in those days and how heavy and clunky our American Iron was, It's a wonder we made it through every time.

 

Around that time, Durf decided that he had found me a more fun girlfriend. So one night, the three of us were sitting on his front porch in East Hartford at 11:15. He said to me, "I bet we could make it to Lake Hayword in Colchester and back by midnight." Well, this was a 40-minute one way trip on a normal day, so I being under his spell, said "Sure, lets go." We made it there in about 20 minutes down Rt 2 and turned for home, about five miles into the return trip, the Boss 302 overheated, or so he told me. So he pulled over to side of the highway and decided to leave us there to look for help. Well, Mary and I spent the moonlit night on the top of the hill next to the highway getting to know each other better. Durf showed up at dawn and 'fixed' the car and we were on the way home. To this day, I don't know if it really overheated or if that was part of his plan to get Mary and I together. (She and I dated for a couple years.)

 

Somewhere along the way, after his father died, his mother moved to Old Saybrook and he started working in the auto parts business, first at NAPA in Deep River then at ACME Auto in Old Saybrook. While he was at NAPA, the engine blew up in my Mustang, so he convinced me to take a vacation from whatever job I was working and work for a week for NAPA as a driver, that way I could get the employee discount on machine work and parts. I'll always remember putting the rings on the pistons at his mother's kitchen table with detailed explanation on which ring went where and why. 

 

He always had hard and fast rules when we worked on cars. Brakes were most important, don't take shortcuts, and never start drinking before the job was done. 

 

When I got laid off from my job with Exxon Company USA, Durf was working at the ACME store in Old Saybrook. He convinced the manager to give me a job as a part-time driver until my suit was settled. Well, I lost that suit and stayed on working at ACME for the next 20 years, where I worked my way up to VP. 

 

Durf and I chased girls, worked on cars, and drank together (he, rum and coke, me, Miller High Life) for years. He and I were joined at the hip for lots of years. I was best man at his first wedding, and I helped him buy his second wife's wedding band the afternoon of that wedding. I never met his third wife. 

 

As they say, life got in the way over time and he and I drifted apart. He and I probably hadn't spoken except for a couple times over the past 35 years. Once in a while I would run into his sister Janice and she would catch me up on his health. I knew his health was failing, so last fall I sent him a note thanking him for all the lessons he taught me back in the old days. I went to his house last December for a visit and I'm glad I did, as it was the last time I saw him. 

 

He may be gone, but the "Durf stories" (and there are many more) will live on for me forever.

 

Phil Smith


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#10 Bill from NH

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Posted 11 June 2023 - 03:58 PM

I didn't know Durf, but it sounds like he and my friend Alan, who I lost last year, we cut from the same mold. 

 

:)


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