Going back, in time - with Nofri (Nick) Fornoro


     With some family members memories and thoughts


                       and from his many friends, too


                            By Tom Avenengo




I’m going to take you back to November 3, 2007.  On that date, a Memorial Service was held for Nofri (Nick) Fornoro, Sr. at the Church of the Savior, in Denville, N.J.  A reception followed the service, and that was held in nearby Andover, N.J.  It was during that reception when I was honored by his widow, Bette, by her asking me to read to those in attendance, what some of Nicks family and friends had to say, about this “good man”.


Nick was born on October 23, 1920 and passed away on September 27, 2007.


For those of you that did not know, Nick was the American Racing Drivers Club (ARDC) driving champion in 1950, and he was the first NASCAR Midget driving champion in 1953.  After retiring, he went on to be one of the best starters (flaggers) ever, starting out here in the Northeast and eventually ending up as the flagger for two hundred consecutive Championship Auto Racing Teams Indy Car Series races, serving in that position from 1979 to 1992.  In 1993 he was the honorary starter for the Indianapolis 500.


As I read what people had written about Nick, to those in attendance that day, I thought that it was a shame that others, not in attendance, would miss out on what people had to say about their husband, father, grandfather, uncle and good friend.  Nick was a “friend” to countless thousands of people.  I thought it would be nice for them to read what others thought, so, here is what was said (in writing) about Nick, by twelve family members and by sixty three close friends.  So, please sit back, relax, read and enjoy!


Nofri, my husband, was a kind, generous, compassionate, loving husband.  We had a good strong marriage of some 59 years.  Everyone that knew him, respected, honored and loved him.  What I remember most about Nofri was him telling everyone that “My wife, Bette is the love of my life and she always was.  Without her, I would be lost  Rest in Heaven with all your family and friends.  That by Elizabeth (Bette) Fornoro


I remember when we lived near the church.  My brother was always getting dressed up.  I would say, “Who are you going out with tonight?”  As he was running down the stairs, he would have this grin on his face looking at me.  My brother had a good heart, loved everybody, got along with everybody.  Nof had a good life and I have great memories of us. 

his sister, Connie Abdalla


My dad was a very loving and caring man.  He was always concerned about his family and friends and wanted to make sure that they were always happy and never “wanting” for anything.  There are two things that I will remember the most about him.  One is when I was a little girl – he would come into my bedroom at night and rub his five o’clock shadow on my cheek and nibble at my earlobe and say “I love you doll.”  The other one was after I had moved out of the house and was getting ready to leave, he would ALWAYS say “Do you need anything?”.  Those words meant so much to me.  The only thing I ever needed was his love, which he gave me every minute of every day of his life.  Dad, I miss you and love you very much and I will see you in Heaven.

his daughter, Cindee Lee Bertling



By my side, he always held me up.  As I learned to walk, he opened his arms for me to run to.  When I learned to talk, he was one of the first people I thought of … And out came the name PePa.

A name as unique as the man whom it described.  PePa was one of a kind.  His heart was so big, I often wondered how he could hold so much love inside.  Love for his family, love for his friends, love for every animal that ever took an interest in him, love for his fellow man and the tremendous love he had for racing.  How?  How is it possible to hold this much love in your heart?  I would ask myself this over and over again … until … when I finally grew up, I realized… I also have this much love in my heart.

Love for my family, my friends, all animals everywhere, and for racing, too.  I realize now that this tremendous love I have for those around me… is my gift, my gift from my PePa.

Only in his presence did I ever feel completely loved and at peace with myself.  Now that he is gone, I struggle to find that peace within.. all I feel is emptiness and sadness… and anger!

I am angry that God took him away from me!  I wasn’t ready to let him go yet…  There were still things I wanted to do with him, things I wanted to say to him… so many things… but… then I remembered all those times we spent together when I was growing up  playing hide and seek with him in the back yard, helping him feed the birds, squirrels, cats and all the other strays that made their way to his door…

Eating dinner with him at the table and listening to his many funny stories – that he never seemed to run out of, or forget…

Watching him flag the races, especially at Pine Brook – when my dad and uncle Drew were racing… just below his watchful eye.

I always felt better when PePa was flagging because I knew he would keep my dad and uncle safe… he always did his best to keep everyone on the track safe when he was in charge.

And my wedding day… when he put both his hands on either side of my face, pulled me close to him, and said, “Jessica, I am so proud of you and I love you so much.  May God bless you always”, then he kissed me on the lips as tears of happiness ran down his face.  That… is the memory I will hold closest to my heart.

PePa has joined my granddaddy now.  They are my two guardian angels watching over me always and keeping me safe…

Thank you PePa, for holding on long enough for me to spend time with you before you left us… I hope you know that you were never alone… You remained surrounded by family and friends the whole time you slept… until you woke up again – in heaven.

You were my dearest friend and you will always be my hero.  I tis because of you that I learned to love… but like you, I will never let-go or forget those whom I’ve lost.

I love you PePa.  Thank you for teaching me how.

his granddaughter, Jessica Lee Fornoro.


He was a loving grandfather who wanted nothing but the best for people he cared about.  He treated everyone he met like family, and there was never a bad word to say against him.  I am glad I got to spend so much time with him in my life.  He will be truly missed.

his granddaughter, Tara Lee Bertling


In loving memory:  PePa was a loving and caring man as everyone that met him knew as soon as they spoke to him.  He was always willing to hear your problems, I will miss that the most.

his grandson, JJ Bertling


What I have to say about my PePa is that he was always so happy to see me and the family, whether it was just my immediate family or the entire family.  Whenever he would see me he would always say “Eey Boy”, “Eey Boy how ya doin?”  He would have such a big smile as he hugged and kissed me, then moved on to the next one of us boys.  Or whenever he would see me eating he would put his face on, one of absolute awe,… and say “you eating again?”  Because whenever he would see me at the races or any other time I was always eating something or just finishing eating.  But one thing that  will always stick the most in my mind is that when he came with me and my family to the races for the last time.  And on our way to the races we stopped at the Golden Sakura Japanese restaurant.  He asked me what I was doing for work and I told him I was working as an electricians apprentice.  He says “that’s a really good line of work, a good trade and I should stick with it.  It will take care of you.”  He was looking out for my future because he knew his time was coming soon.  The way he said it to me was so inspirational.  And from that point on, I knew one thing for sure… he loved me so much and it seemed to me like he was trying to guide me towards a good life and future.  And I grew to like the trade and got comfortable with the work more and more.  I know he loved me and was always trying to guide me and his family towards the right path.  He was a real family man.

his grandson, Lanson Fornoro  


My PePa was the greatest man alive.  I will never forget when my whole family went to Seekonk and PePa woke up in the camper because we were too loud.  He had such a good time.  The family and I just felt so happy to have my PePa with us.  I remember walking him around and he said to me “I love you, and don’t forget that!”  After the race we packed up and were on our way home and I put my head on his lap.  He started to rub my head and I fell asleep and I felt so happy he was with us.  When I woke up we were at PePa’s house.  I miss him very much and I know hi is with me, and my heart and always will be.

- his grandson, Jarett Fornoro


What can I say that hasn’t already been said.  Nick was a good man who cared about others, he always gave good advice whether it be about racing or life in general.  He was a good father-in-law who always treated me with respect, what more could you ask for.  He will be missed by many.

his son-in-law, Jack Bertling


My memories are so many with him.  Telling some within my list are my sons having a grandfather named PePa.  Visiting our home, sleep overs, feeding Chanel our bird, giving ice cream cones for snacks to Abuala and Lugasi our goats.  Giving words of wisdom, spending quality time with us whether it was a holiday, gathering, family barbecue or much more.  Especially the travels we had in the van, laughing till our stomachs were aching while he told jokes and stories.  Eating out, sharing a hotel room telling me to turn off the air conditioner.  I would say “I have hot flashes, you know”, and laugh.  He would put his long johns on, then his pajamas, kiss everyone and I would tuck him in with the covers up to his neck.  I think our most precious memory of him will always be our last trip in mid August to Seekonk Speedway.  Seeing friends, being with his family, watching racing, staying up partying with the gang at Seekonk until 7 AM for his last trip.  Going back to the hotel saying I’m not gonna tell Bette I stayed up all day and all night until the next morning.  Then going to bed at 8AM he couldn’t believe it.  What a great time we had laughing about it getting undressed to rest for a few hours.  Then getting brunch, heading home he definitely was and will always be “King Fornoro”, sitting in the front seat being called PePa or my co-pilot.  When I or Nokie was driving he would ask “Are you ok driving?”  Once we got him home, we all kissed him and hugged him, I gave him a chocolate bar, as I always did.  This glow came over his face, I stuck the candy in his shirt pocket and he moved it to his pants pocket.  A smile as he whispered “I’ll hide this behind my trophies or way under the bed, Bette won’t find it she won’t look there!”  That’s what he thought.  I’m sure mom was wise to us about the chocolate but I didn’t tell him.  There are not enough words, love or time to describe my father-in-law.  Who’s name to me was Nick, then became dad!  These last few years seeing me he called me “My Angel.”  Greeting me with a big smile, tears of joy in his eyes, his arms just like wings spreading over me, giving me a warm tight hug which we both embraced, then a gentle kiss on our lips.  Feeling this loving sensation from him every time we saw each other, it was mutual.  Not knowing all this time the reason for my nickname he gave me.  Not until holding his hand, caressing his heart till his last breath of life, leaving our world with my arms embracing him and one last gentle kiss goodbye, did it really hit me with the words I heard in my mind for the last time “My Angel.”  As I do believe in “Angels” and that they are always watching over us, sending their love through others, caring, sharing their emotions among the living.  Trying to bring loved ones together, protecting all we have within a family to preserve and pass on many traditions and stories.  Which in my case I’ve already had for “Angels” looking my way touching me in every sense of the word.  By saving my sons life – Nofri the III, which I was proud to honor him by giving him his name and I’m thankful for that everyday!  Sending dad to the hospital following along with mom, family and friends visiting, family staying at different times, then saying their last goodbyes however they could.  Being with him sharing his last moments was meant to be for me.  For myself believing in his spirit as becoming my fifth “Angel” to channel the ways of “Angels.”.  Giving me strength of emotions and those of Nick Sr’s couldn’t begin to understand or feel what this nickname has in store for me.  I wrote a poem for dad, read it at his retirement party October 1992.  We really connected.  Another poem I found is a reading in spirit of a new Angel, Nofri “Nick” Samuel Fornoro, Sr., “PePa” this touches the heart.


                                     “To Those I Love”


When I am gone, just release me, let me go – so I can move into my afterglow.

You mustn’t tie me down with your tears; lets be happy that we had so many years

I gave you my love, you can only guess how much you gave me in happiness.

I thank you for the love you each have shown,

But now it’s time I traveled alone.

So grieve for me awhile, if grieve you must,

Then let your grief be comforted with trust.

It’s only for a while that we must part,

So bless the memories within your heart.

And then, when you must come this way alone,

I’ll greet you with a smile and a “Welcome home.”


I will miss you, your love is within my heart and soul.  I will always try my best to live up to your nickname you gave me, “My Angel.”

his daughter-in-law, Deborah Fornoro


Nicky was the kindest most gentle man I have ever known.  He loved his family and he loved my sister and me as if we were his own children.  I am so glad that we were able to visit with Nicky and Bette this past summer.  My funniest memory is sitting a the dining room table as Nicky was eating a dandelion salad, hesitated on another bite, and low and behold there was a small live worm.  He casually scooped it out, placed it along side his bowl and continued to eat.  As children, my sister and I, of course, were horrified.

- his niece, Beth McLaurin-Smith


My Uncle Nick was one of the most loving and happiest men I’ve ever known.  I never saw him angry or upset.  His love for racing was always evident, but his love for his family was just as strong.  My last visit with him, in July, only reiterated how happy he was and how much meaning his family brought into his life.  I have only the fondest memories of him, and will truly miss him.  One of the funniest times spent with Nicky was during one of the Fornoro visits to Valley Forge, Pa, when we passed around Italian jokes (printed on several pages of paper) at the dinner table.  Nicky choose to read one that someone else had read a few minutes earlier.  It was hysterically funny, because he didn’t know that it had already been told, and yet everyone cracked up over it.  We basically told Nicky “Some people can really tell a joke and some cant.”  Another fond memory is during Nokie’s first wedding, when Drew had written on the bottom of Nokie’s shoes, “HELP ME” (which the entire church saw as he kneeled at the alter).  As if that wasn’t a “moment” in and of itself, the funniest part was when Nicky found out, he was so upset, because those were HIS shoes than Nokie had borrowed and Drew ruined them!  In conclusion – Nicky brought a lot of love and happiness to my life as well.  With loving thoughts

- his niece, Margaret McLaurin.



And here is what some racing friends, and family friends, had to say about Nick after he left us.


Mrs. Irene Vendetti – He was a gentleman and a gentle man.


Dr. Rose and Dr. Joe Mattioli – Nick never had an enemy.  We have many beautiful memories of a beautiful man.


Crocky” Wright – Nicky was one of my oldest friends in auto racing.


Ace Lane – He was my second father and dear friend.


Joanne Jaeger – Anytime you felt you were having a miserable day, he would have his own special way to cheer us up at Dr. Philip Santiago’s office.


Dr. Catherine Duncan – I always remember how no matter what kind of day Nofri was having, he would smile and reach out his arms when he saw your face.  I will never forget how he taught me to acknowledge the strength I had with him, to always have faith and to never give up on yourself and what you truly believe in.


Kim MathisonNofri had the incredible ability to walk into a room and make everybody in it smile.  He was the type of person that would make a lasting impression on you after spending just a couple of moments together.  No matter what the day brought, seeing Nofri would make everything brighter.  I will never forget the way he would greet me every time I saw him with a big warm hello and a kiss on the hand.  The only way a true gentleman would greet someone.  This is the type of person who will never, ever be forgotten.  Nofri will forever be in our hearts, as his beautiful spirit will always be remembered.


Anna Barnes – Nick was a wonderful friend and will always be remembered as a wonderful influence in this world.


Michele (Mattioli) Kulick – Nick had a wonderful life, family and racing career.


Lillan Jenson – Good times in racing.


Billy Kamphausen – I am sorry to hear about the loss of such a “Great Man”.


Jack Arute – May Nick and my dad spend some quality time together now comparing notes about the “Good Old Days”!  May he rest in peace.


Pam and Earl Krause – He was a wonderful gentleman.  A person that we considered a true friend and inspiration in our life.


Bob Jenkins – I have very fond memories of him.  God bless you and all the family.


Bones BourcierOl’ Nick was certainly of the good guys, a smiling link between grassroots Midget racing and Indy cars, bridging the cultural gap between joints like Danbury and Flemington and “Fancier” places like Laguna Seca and road America.  I cherished every conversation I ever had with the man.


Mike Lloyd – One of my favorites was always Nick Fornoro, Sr.  In my opinion, any story about Nick Fornoro is a story worth telling.  The racing world will miss you, Nick Fornoro, a Champion on and off the track.


Tom Avenengo – Nick was always a warm caring man, driver and flagger.  He had a lot of love for his fellow man.  Nick confided in me, with tears in his eyes, about Nick, Jr. and Drew never having made it to the Indy 500 as drivers.  He did carry that sadness, in his heart, with him to his grave.  But that was only one dream – he did live his other – by flagging the 1993 Indy 500 and an Honorary Starter.  As Nick said to me on more than one occasion:  “Thank you for being my friend and may God bless you”.  That I will cherish, always.


Stephen Grant – I spent four hours with the most famous starter in the world.  That meant a lot to me being a starter myself.  Hanging out at his last Seekonk race.  Racing has lost a part of history.


Dave Humphrey – We go back many years, I lost a good friend, we had a lot in common, friends, wives and reminiscing about the good ol’ days together the whole day at Seekonk Speedway with his family and everyone there.


Jennifer Scrivani – I remember Nick who I called “PePod” at his last race at Seekonk Speedway.  Everyone there had the best and greatest time ever.  Back at the campgrounds, staying up until 7:30 AM having fun, eating watching the gang dancing and reminiscing with all.  Especially Mrs. Vendetti, Miss Ellie Seymour and Dave Humphrey sitting next to each other watching his son race with pride – with an ecstatic flow on his face.


All the Iron Workers – As an Iron Worker, Nick was someone you could always look forward to working with.  He worked hard, was respectful, always did more than his fair share of the work and always without complaining.  He was the type of conscientious man that is missing in today’s workforce.  His Union Brothers will miss him very much.


Sean and Brian Hogan – Nick – Thank you for being a great neighbor and friend for the last 46 years.  Every time we had a chance to hang out was a great memory for us.  We love you. We’ll miss you.  We’ll never forget you.


Jon, Jenn, Samantha, Matthew and Emily – We started out as neighbors 9 years ago, but quickly turned into family.  To our kids, Nick was the grandpa they could see each and every day!  He always made time to come over for a hug and a kiss – even though he was always busy working on the lawn, fixing his car, or hanging up holiday decorations with Bette.  Whether we were celebrating our November wedding anniversaries together at Hunam Taste, where Nick was treated lie the Mayor, or spending time at the kids birthday parties, Nick always marched home in search of his bologna sandwich!  Nick was a wonderful friend and the best neighbor.  He always said:  “Take what you need, anytime you want” and we were blessed to get o take so many great memories with a man we all loved very much.  We will all miss you very much.


Frank Orsillo, Sr. – A few things to remember about Nick:  The first thing – if you couldn’t get along with Nick then you sure were going to have a problem getting along with anyone.  He was that kind of a guy.  Mostly all of us were kind of young – that is the guys I palled around with when Nick started driving midgets.  I first met him at Hinchliffe Stadium, in Paterson.  I took a liking to him then, and we really became close friends more so like family.  I just want to slay one last thing:  People like Nick don’t come by that often anymore, and to know that man was to love him.  I will never forget him.


Frank Orsillo, Jr. – I have known Nick since I was a young boy.  My father introduced me to him.  Nick was a very wonderful man and we are all going to miss him very much.  I could remember, as a young child, Nick would stop over to see my parents two to three times a week.  He would talk to us about racing since my family and I are very into the sport.  He was just a great guy who mad everyone always laugh and feel good.  I was very fortunate to get closer to Nick since I built my home right behind him.  I know one thing that is that I was very blessed to have had such a special person in my life and I am going to miss him very much.  He will always hold a very special place in my heart.  God bless you, Nick.


Reverend Philip DeRea – Nick is a great loss to us all.


Jim Swimtal – He was a master storyteller and observer of human nature.


Joe and Barbara Ernesto – He was a great man who always made time to talk to us when we were around.


Doug Wolfgang – Nick was a great guy who was always very nice to me, even when I was the new guy on the block.


Ciddi Cinelly – I feel so very blessed to have known him for so many years.


Dick Berggren – He had a wonderful, warm smile that matched his personality. He was a great guy, a real credit to the sport of racing.


Dianne and John Ellis – The world truly will be different without his beautiful presence. 


Steve Potter – The world and our sport are poorer for this passing, but richer for his having been here.


The Atlantic Coast Old Timers – Nick was always a champion.


Linda Mansfield – He was one of the friendliest men I ever met.  It was always a treat to see that twinkle in his eye.


Bobby Stoll – He taught me how to flag.  He will be missed by so many.


Wally and Peppy Dallenback – Nick was such a dear friend and we all had some great times.


Noran and George Feli – Goodbye to our second father.  We loved Uncle Nick.


The Allen family – A wonderful friendship and racing memories.


The Dittmeiers – Nick would say:  “Thank you for the love and friendship”.


The Grawehr family – We have great racing memories.


Pietro BaioNofri always called me Paisono.  He’ll be flagging the races at the Golden Speedway.


Joseph Saleem, Jr. – Nick has been my hero for 50 years.  He will always be that and so much more to me.  Nick set my racing life into motion, showed me how to live it with grace and dignity, and to always be kind to everyone.


Greg and Annie Passauer – He was a dear man, we all loved him.


Albert Nystrand – Nick was a good friend and had good jokes.


Monnie Jr., Marin, Monnie, III and Tonya Wonder – He was a fine gentleman.


Bruce Parmelee – I was a big fan of Nicks driving in USAC and flagging.


Warren and Rosemarie Alston – He was a mentor for me growing up.  All of the techniques Nick taught me I still use today whenever I flag a race.


Nancy Medico – He was a wonderful man with a smile and kind words for all.  He will be missed.


Gina Capitummino – When I think of Nick, it’s beautiful memories.


Maryellen and Kenny – We will miss seeing him outside doing the yard work or just puttering around.  We will miss him very much.


Dan and Evi Gurney and family – the AAR Racing Team – Nicky had a big heart.


Neal and Barbara Carter – He was a great guy and a close friend.  He had my greatest respect as a driver and person.


Lenny and Gail Terry – Nick was a wonderful and funny man.


Ann Miller – Nick was a good friend


Carol and Jack Capor – We will miss a good friend and the fun we had at the races.


Rest in peace, Nick.


Nofri (Nick) Fornoro - October 23, 1920 - September 27, 2007