Mitchell – a shining example
By Pete Zanardi for
Northeastern Auto Racing lost a real power Thursday when Charlie
Mitchell, the long-time sportswriter for the Norwalk Hour, died.
Charlie was the dean of New England racing writers. The respect he
had from competitors, from promoters, from fans and, especially from
other media members, remains unparalleled. Having Charlie in the
press box signified that it was indeed an event worthy of coverage.
brought the skills he used covering other sports to auto racing. He
was one of a tiny group that was instrumental in making our sport
part of the general media scene. In that regard, he was a
revolutionary figure in New England auto racing history.
Charlie and his wife Mimi became close friends with my wife Jane and
me. We will miss him. We extend our condolences to son Charles,
James and Dennis and their families.
Pure and simple, Charlie was a decent human being, dedicated and
loyal to his friends. If Charlie had an enemy, if there was somebody
out there that didn’t like him, he’s been hiding for decades. Plain
and simple, if you were one of the host of Charlie’s friends you
you were a fellow writer, it was more than a blessing. He was a
shining example. Every time you shared a press area with Charlie you
saw an old time newspaper guy, dedicated to finding the truth
without prejudice. It was all about telling the story with fairness
and honesty. Charlie never varied from that and from that came the
incredible respect and love we had for the man.
Charlie was welcome in every press box in the country. In mock anger
I would question why he had a better seat than I did at Daytona.
After all, I argued, my papers were bigger circulation wise than the
Norwalk Hour. He would simply smile and change the subject.
When I went to work at Stafford Motor Speedway in the late 1980s I
got a simple order from promoter Mark Arute: “get Charlie Mitchell
in our press box.” Charlie never believed that story. He always
thought I was fooling around.
wasn’t fooling. Mark Arute wasn’t either. Charlie’s presence was
Mitchell, popular The Hour sports editor
and auto racing writer, passes away
NORWALK — The sport of auto racing lost one of its greatest
ambassadors Thursday night with the passing of Charlie Mitchell,
former sports editor and longtime writer at The Hour Newspaper.
Mitchell, 74, was a fixture on the pages of his hometown paper for
more than four decades in both news and sports. A lifelong resident
of Norwalk, Mitchell began working at The Norwalk Hour (as it was
known then) in 1969, following in the footsteps of his grandfather
“I hired him as a police reporter,” Editor Emeritus John Reilly, the
managing editor at the paper at the time, recalled Friday morning.
“He said to me ‘I’d like to work here,’ and I told him to go take a
typing course and he could. He did and I hired him.
“He was the best police reporter I ever had,” Reilly added. “Charlie
knew everybody and everybody knew Charlie. There was nobody who
didn’t like him. He knew all the cops and got more information from
them than anyone.”
In 1971, Mitchell switched to the sports department and for the next
27 years he covered local and area high schools, as well as the
college and professional careers of numerous Norwalk athletes from
Calvin Murphy to Mo Vaughn. He would eventually move up to assistant
sports editor and then, following an eight-and-a-half year run as an
editor in the news department, he returned to sports in 1996 to
become only the third sports editor in the newspaper’s long history.
It was in 1971 that he suggested to then-sports editor Lou Brodersen
the need for a weekly auto racing column to follow the exploits of
the many local drivers. With that, his popular weekly column “Around
the Speedways” was born.
Mitchell’s fascination with auto racing began long before that,
however. He was 13 years-old when he landed a part-time job after
school at Deb Motors on Taylor Avenue sweeping the floors and
cleaning off wrenches.
It was there that he first laid eyes on a stock car one of the
mechanics, Charlie Hyatt, worked on in his free time and raced at
the old Danbury Fairgrounds.
“It was a 1938 Chevy Coup,” Mitchell recalled in a November 2010
interview. “I didn’t know anything about racing before I worked
there, but I was fascinated with it. I ended up being close friends
with Charlie Hyatt.”
Hyatt, in turn, took his young helper to his first race in Danbury.
“I was pretty excited about that. It was neat,” Mitchell said. “At
the time, Danbury was a dirt track, but I remember it was quite a
show. Just watching it was great. I never dreamed I would write
about it someday.”
Mitchell kept readers abreast on all the Norwalk drivers, including
the legendary Don LaJoie, a former classmate of his at St. Joseph
School in South Norwalk.
“Charlie covered all of us 100 percent. He covered racing like no
one else,” the five-time points champion at the old Danbury
Racearena said. “And not just at Danbury. He would drive to Stafford
and Thompson by himself to cover our races.”
Even after the Danbury track closed in 1981, Mitchell continued
covering local drivers at tracks throughout the Northeast. He also
kept readers abreast of the latest happenings in the world of
NASCAR, which was going through its popularity boom.
“I never missed a Daytona 500,” he said in 2010 of the sport’s
showcase race every February.
He soon became recognized as one of the leading auto racing writers
and columnists in the region.
“No question, Charlie was clearly the premier auto racing writer in
New England,” his close friend and fellow veteran sports writer
Peter Zanardi from the Hartford Times and New Haven Register said
Friday. “There was no one close when it came to the respect
competitors and promoters had for him, and other writers had for
“Promoters wanted Charlie in the press box whenever there was a
race,” he added. “They knew the best was there. And he had an
incredible relationship with NASCAR. He received several awards from
NASCAR. He was totally recognized by everyone.”
“Everyone in racing loved him and enjoyed his company,” he said.
One of Mitchell’s biggest honors came in 2001 when he was named the
Grand Marshal of the Fall Final NASCAR Modified race at Stafford
Spring. Another came in 2004 when he was inducted into the New
England Auto Racers Hall of Fame.
He also served as a board member of the National Motorsports Press
Association and was a member of the nomination and selection
committee for the Auto Racing Hall of Fame at Talladega Speedway.
Mitchell retired from The Hour in 2001 after a 32-year career, but
he continued writing his auto racing column every Sunday. His final
column appeared on Nov. 28. 2010.
“He was a very, very good friend of mine and we shared a lot of
press boxes,” Zanardi said. “He had an incredible loyalty to the
sport and an incredible loyalty to the profession. He was the guy
people wanted to be with and be like.
“He will be missed by people like myself. There will never be a
replacement for Charlie Mitchell, never ever. He was something
R. Mitchell, age 74, of Norwalk, died peacefully at his home on
Thursday, October 25. He was the husband of the late Amelia Renzulli
“Mimi” Mitchell. Charlie was born in Norwalk on November 5, 1937,
son of the late Charles R. and Ruth Russell Mitchell. He was a
graduate of Norwalk High School, Class of 1955, and worked for many
years as sports editor at The Hour newspaper until his retirement.
Charlie was a member of the Elks Lodge # 709, Union 76 Racing Panel
of Experts, the Southern NY Racing Assoc. and the Norwalk Old
Timers. He was a lifelong auto racing enthusiast and an avid St.
Louis Cardinal and Green Bay Packer fan. Charlie enjoyed watching
sporting events of his sons and grandchildren and also dinners with
his many friends and family.
Survivors include three sons and their wives; Charles A. and Karen
Mitchell, James J. and Jane Mitchell, and Dennis M. and Kathy
Mitchell, all of Norwalk. Also surviving are his loving
grandchildren Jessica, Ryan, Matthew and Shane, as well as many
nieces and nephews.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated on Monday, Oct. 29, 11
AM at St. Jerome Church, 23 Half Mile Rd., Norwalk, with burial to
follow at Riverside Cemetery. Charlie's family will receive friends
at the Magner Funeral Home, 12 Mott Ave., Norwalk on Sunday from 3-7
PM. Donations in his name may be made to the Smilow Cancer Center at
Yale-New Haven Hospital - http://medicine.yale.edu/cancer/gifts/
index.aspx. For directions or to leave an online condolence, please
go to magnerfuneralhome.com.
The Mitchell family would like to extend it's sincere appreciation
to Yale-New Haven Hospital, Georgia Kay and CT Hospice, Dr. Dennis
Meighan, and Pat McCarthy, his friend and companion.
DIRECTIONS TO MAGNER FUNERAL HOME
Published in The Norwalk Hour on October 27, 2012