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Ollie ''Quick" Silva, at 75; lapped competition on track

Ollie ''Quick" Silva was a race car driver whose flashy wheel handling and independent nature made him a folk hero on short tracks from Cape Ann to California. From 1949 to 1980, he won 500 races, often exploding from the back of the pack to race past better financed racing teams in cars he built in his own garage.

Mr. Silva, who was the first driver inducted into the New England Auto Racers Hall of Fame when it was instituted in 1998, died Sunday at the Veterans Affairs Administration Hospital in Manchester, N.H. He was 75.

''In person he was quiet and laid back," Lew Boyd, author of ''Hot Cars, Cool Drivers," said yesterday. ''But when he got in a race car some kind of a switch flipped and he got very aggressive and flashy and filled with testosterone."

First in a modified '34 Black Ford Coupe, then driving a succession of race cars he built and maintained himself, Mr. Silva was a regular at Pines Speedway in Groveland and Star Speedway in Epping, N.H.

Mr. Silva, who supported himself as a carpenter and roofer, elicited ''oohs" and ''aahs" from thousands of race fans as he wove his way through heavy traffic. He often drove fender to fender with spit-and-polished race cars that looked far better than his own machine held together with baling wire and duct tape -- but Mr. Silva, regularly proved that when it comes to race cars, beauty is only fin deep.

In 1975 in the Waterford Speedbowl in Connecticut, he raced against some well-financed drivers from NASCAR who laughed as his car was unloaded from its trailer. But Mr. Silva laughed last. When the exhaust fumes cleared after the 100-lap feature, he had lapped the field, not once but twice. It's something they still talk about in the track's gasoline alley.

''He traveled all over the country and would show up with his dilapidated equipment and just eat their lunch," said Boyd.

In addition to being called ''Quick" Silva, some fans knew him as ''Dynamite," a nickname he earned for his predilection for exploding from the back of the pack, or ''The Big O" in salute to his cars, which were numbered zero.

For 30 years Mr. Silva hauled his cars up and down the East Coast and to small tracks in Canada and California.

In a story published in the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune in 1999, he recalled one race in Quebec: ''We just had this little flathead engine. They had these big fuel-injected Chrysler V-8s. But when they got to the end of the straightaways, they didn't know how to drive through the turns," he said. ''I wasn't going to tell them."

''They're speaking French and all of a sudden one guy wants to buy our motor. Another one wanted to buy the rear end. Somebody else bought the transmission. Then somebody else bought the body, frame and roll bars. We came home with an empty trailer," said Mr. Silva, who built himself a new racer the next week.

One of 16 children raised on a farm in Topsfield, Mr. Silva lived in Georgetown and Haverhill before settling in Salem, N.H. He served in the Army during the Korean War.

In 1978, five years after moving to Salem, a racecar crash left him with a near-fatal head injury and he spent weeks in a coma.

After a brief comeback in 1980, he retired from racing, though he still sometimes attended races at local tracks where up-and-coming young drivers are still described as ''another Ollie Silva."

But fame and fortune was not what Mr. Silva was after. He had offers to race for big-money NASCAR teams, but the soft-spoken racer who often dined alone at the Arlington Diner in Haverhill, always politely declined and explained that he'd rather be his own boss.

In ''Hot Cars, Cool Drivers," a history of the racetracks at Norwood Arena, Westboro Speedway, and the Pines Speedway, Mr. Silva said his wants were few: ''All I need is nice clothing, a nice car, and a little jingle in my pocket."

He leaves five brothers, Alexander and James, both of Haverhill, Manuel of Youngsville, Thomas W. of Newport News, Va., and Frederick of Watsonville, Calif.; and nine sisters, Diolinda Durkee of Plymouth, Beatrice Sweet and Evelyn Sweet, both of Salem, Rose Junkman of Portland, Ore., Mary Coumo of Absecon, N.J., Jennie Munson of Newtonville, Eleanor Halliday of Goffstown, N.H., Anna West of Haverhill and Joaquina ''Jackie" Deskin of Aptos, Calif.; and several nieces and nephews.

A funeral service was held yesterday.

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