There are some historical figures who are so mythical that their life stories prevail through a series of Chinese whispers. It can be hard to discern which aspects of their stories are true, and which are hearsay; rumours blown out of proportion to intensify the protagonist’s image. Frederick R DiNome is one such legend. His antics remain relevant through stories of those who claimed to have met him and lived to tell the tale, and also legal documents – affidavits and statements sworn under oath.
I first heard of DiNome (who we will be calling Broadway Freddy for the rest of this article due to reasons I’ll tell you about in a bit) when I saw a post on Instagram from the brilliant user @raildragster. It was an archaic newspaper clipping stating ‘WANTED’ in big bold font that wouldn’t look too dissimilar on a saloon door with a sketch of some Western outlaw. It carries on to say ‘INFORMATION LEADING TO THE RECOVERY OF DON SCHUMACHER’S NEW DUSTER AA/FC, SPARE PARTS AND TOW TRUCK’. It details the date of the theft, 15th March 1970, and provides contact details.
This piqued my interest. It wasn’t unusual, it seems, in the 70s for drag racing rigs, equipment and cars to be stolen out of hotel parking lots – all the greats had rigs stolen: Tommy Ivo, Sox & Martin, Bill Jenkins… scumbags have always existed. What is unusual, however, is the brazenness of the thief to appear at the track with the same very Plymouth Duster funny car a few meetings later, with a paint scheme so similar and so hurriedly done that allegedly you could still see the original signwriting through the thin layer of paint. Schumacher’s ‘Super Duster’ was now emblazoned with ‘Broadway Freddy DeName’.
So who is this shady fellow? Luckily there is a certain amount of history to be gathered from forum threads, podcasts (Brian Lohnes has an excellently researched episode on Broadway Freddy on his Dork-O-Motive podcast) and books (Murder Machine by Gene Mustain and Jerry Capeci). So this is where Freddy’s story begins.
The Path to Becoming a Made Man
Born on the 30th August 1935, Frederick R DiNome had a rougher start in life than others. One of three brothers, Freddy suffered from undiagnosed dyslexia, and therefore often bore the brunt of the neighbourhood bullies. This is also allegedly the reason for him misspelling his surname as DeName. It also meant that he could never attain a drivers’ licence, however this didn’t stop Freddy from being a talented chauffeur later in life.
His brother, Richard, started working for a chop shop in Staten Island, and this was Freddy’s avenue into cars. This passion for cars eventually led to him opening his own auto body and repair shop called ‘Broadway Freddy’s Diagnostic Center’. The money to open this garage was raised in a far from above board manner. He got into car theft.
At this time in the 20th century, auto theft became the fastest-growing crime in both New York City and the nation. 70,000 cars, 80% of the national total, were reported stolen in the city in 1974 alone. In 1982 this increased to 104,056. It is impossible to know the true numbers, but it’s thought a high percentage of this grand theft auto was committed by one of New York City’s main 5 crime families: the Gambino family. This syndicate was headed at the beginning of our story by Carlo Gambino, then Paul Castellano from 1975 to ‘85, and these two men cover most of Freddy DeName’s involvement with the gang.
From being a child, Freddy was running in the same circles as Roy DeMeo growing up in Canarsie in Brooklyn, who later became an associate of the Gambino family mafia and headed his own crew; the DeMeo Crew. The DeMeo crew was one of the most successful auto theft rings in the city, and DeMeo had 20 professional car thieves who went out each night, taking cars to order. These luxury cars, such as Lincolns and Cadillacs, were on special order to countries such as Kuwait and Iran.
Before becoming fully involved with the mafia, Freddy was already into shady business and had a car theft operation of his own, specialising in Volkswagens and Porsches. However, in the late 1960s and early ‘70s, Freddy began retagging cars for the DeMeo crew, replacing the VIN tags with fabricated numbers to help them fly under the radar on their journey to the Middle East.
He even borrowed money from Roy DeMeo from 1971 onwards; a surefire way to ensure you were part of the mob for life. He also acted as DeMeo’s chauffeur while out doing his dirty deeds, despite not having a licence, but was reputedly an excellent chauffeur due to never forgetting a location after he’d been there once. The money gained from chopping these stolen cars and high interest loans funded his purchase of ‘Freddy’s Diagnostics Center’ and a fuel station.
Now, before I tell you stories of how goofy and almost… loveable Freddy was, you mustn’t forget he was just as bloodthirsty as his mafia compadres. There is no doubt he was capable of real violence, including murder, and one such incident is detailed in the Murder Machine book. Henry Borelli and Vito Arena, two of his associates, testified that they witnessed Freddy cut off a dead man’s genitalia and then place it in the mouth of the severed head. This kind of gratuitous violence wasn’t exceptional in these crime syndicates, and the DeMeo crew was one of the most brutal of the lot in New York City, terrorizing its citizens for decades.
You may be asking yourselves “but why is a mafioso going around stealing funny cars out of parking lots?”. Well, Freddy didn’t just dabble in VWs and Porsches, he also had a penchant for drag racing.
Funny Business to Funny Cars
His career began in 1967, financed through his car thefts, and he continued at it for another decade, becoming a regular fixture at tracks on the East Coast. He also raced in Southern California during the winter of 1968 and 1969, including at the famed Lions Drag Strip. At Lions he ran the Motion Performance top fueler ‘Fugitive’ which he allegedly had the cowl decorated with cutouts from porn magazines and then clear coated. There is debate whether it was in fact porn or cartoon characters though. The dragster survives to this day.
He switched to funny cars in 1970, his first of which was a Camaro. This Camaro is one of his more well documented cars, owing to the photo series of Freddy turning up at Coney Island and proceeding to do rolling burnouts down the length of the boardwalk without any permission or licences. This just gives you a glimpse into the colourful and eccentric character Broadway Freddy was.
His next funny car was the reason I first heard of Freddy. This was Don Schumacher’s Plymouth Duster. This is a story I’ve already touched on, but it was the aftermath of the theft that really shows you what Freddy was capable of, and how differently this story could’ve ended. I’ll let Schumacher tell you it in his own words, in this excerpt taken from the Competition Plus website as part of their War Stories segment:
“There may have been a hotbed of racing action on the west coast, but let me tell you – we had our own little shindig of activity happening on the east coast, especially in New York.
The location escapes me at this time, but we went back to the hotel and parked the transporter and car in the parking lot. We got up the next morning and it was gone – stolen. It had disappeared.
It was a tough loss, but not the end of the world. I had a complete operation back home, so we went back there and got it. About three weeks later, I was out on the East Coast match racing with Jungle Jim. One of his crew guys told me that he saw my rig over at Freddie DeName’s place.
Freddie DeName was a car thief out of Brooklyn, and he ran a car back then, and he was connected with the syndicate. He was connected with a group that thought nothing of killing people. I went ahead and got a hold of the police and put them on it.
I was racing out on Long Island a couple of weeks later after notifying the police and Freddie DeName came out to the race track and visited me with a Thompson sub-machine gun.
He was a serious individual, so I said, “No problem, keep whatever you have…I don’t need to know anything further.“
In a situation like that, you learn quickly to forget that you had a car. I sure did.”
At the height of his career he was making around $100,000 a year from his appearances, mostly at match races. Adjusted for inflation, that’s around $640,000 today. You’d have thought a man making this kind of money from a hobby wouldn’t need to be stealing cars and getting involved in the filthy crime underworld of New York City.
Don’t be fooled by this cash flow however, Freddy was allegedly a pretty bad racer. He never won a major race. Except for the UHRA races at New York National Drag Strip on Long Island and the New England Dragway in Epping, he never even qualified in other major races. In Murder Machine, Roy DeMeo says “I went to watch Freddy race once, and he crashed. He climbs out of the car and he’s on fire. He looks like an astronaut whose crash-landed. The firemen are hosin’ him down, but he looks up at me in the stands and begins to smile and wave like some kids were just squirtin’ him by the pool. Don’t tell me Freddy is crazy. I know he’s fuckin’ nuts.” Both Freddy and Roy suffered from burns from the incident.
Al Segrini, five-time NHRA national event funny car winner, shared memories of Broadway Freddy with Brian Lohnes on his podcast. One included a time racing at New England, when Freddy left the start line and after 100 or so feet he released the chutes, stopped the car, climbed out the hatch and threw his hands up, all the while the crowd were going crazy and Freddy was relishing in the attention. Upon returning to the pits the other racers questioned his motives on the run. Turns out, Freddy thought he’d completed his run and crossed the finish line, much to his embarrassment when the other racers started poking fun at him for only driving a couple of hundred feet.
Most of those who knew him from the drag strip remember fondly that, despite not being talented whatsoever at drag racing, Freddy just enjoyed being one of ‘the boys’ at the drag strip, and clearly really thrived in the atmosphere and camaraderie of the scene. Most of them said they only ever saw Dr Jekyll in him, and knew nothing of his Dr Hyde side. Others said that they had just heard rumours, and kept him at arms’ length to protect themselves. Other than stealing Schumacher’s Duster, it seems that Freddy managed to keep his dark, criminal side at bay while racing.
As well as his lack of talent for racing, they tell tales of him being a practical joker and a character who stood out in the pits. One example of his eccentricity are the stories surrounding his pet monkey, Suzy, who he used to strap into his dragster while warming it up and have physical fist fights with when they’d have ‘disagreements’. Perhaps she felt she wasn’t getting as many bananas as she deserved for her pit crewing duties?
Despite 1976 being Freddy’s busiest season with his most appearances, he switched to being an owner instead of a driver in 1977. He hired Harlan Thomspon to drive his Chevrolet Monza (or Buick Skylark/Skyhawk, sources seem to be confused) flopper ‘Saturday Night Fever’, complete with John Travolta airbrushed on the hood and super ‘70s graphics – the car survives today. Thompson, who began racing in 1969, later became a European drag racing funny car champion from 1980 and later a British Drag Racing Hall of Fame inductee.
Freddy Meets his Demise
Unfortunately, Freddy’s own life did not end in such a triumphant way as Harlan Thompson’s. After leaving the East Coast drag racing scene around 1978, Freddy’s involvement with the crime families of New York became dramatic. His involvement went beyond stealing cars, and spread to drug dealing and hijacking trucks for Roy DeMeo. The DeMeo crew was responsible for up to 200 murders, mostly of other criminals, who they used to perfect the art of making people ‘disappear’.
By 1980, Roy DeMeo’s paranoia from a drug-deal-gone-bad situation meant that the crew started turning on each other. DeMeo was afraid of his soldiers turning informant against him, and thus the seams begin to tear apart. In 1983, Roy DeMeo was killed by his own syndicate, after becoming too much of a liability for the upper echelons of the Gambino family due to this aforementioned paranoia and increased drug abuse.
This paranoia amongst the crew continued, until a seminal moment in the story of Broadway Freddy happened on 4th February 1984. Richard DeNome, Freddy’s brother, was killed by Joey and Anthony Senter, a pair known as the Gemini Twins, on suspicion of turning state’s evidence. If one thing is more important than respect to mafiosos, it’s family, and Freddy was not letting the murder of his brother go without revenge.
Freddy decided to do something those around him never thought he’d do, and became an informant for the New York City police. He and Vito Arena became key witnesses in bringing another 8 members of the crime family to justice, as well as testifying against two corrupt police officers with mob ties. Due to this aid he was providing in the trial, he became a protected witness.
An article in the New York Times in February, 1986, states that ‘Mr. DiNome, an admitted car thief, was awaiting sentencing for his role in seven murders. He testified last month in the trial of eight men accused of operating an international car-theft ring that started in Mr. DiNome’s garage and commiting five murders, in which he admitted playing a role. Information from Mr. DiNome was expected to figure in at least four future trials of reputed Gambino family members on charges of extortion, loansharking, drug trafficking, murder conspiracy and racketeering.’
This article is also where the story of ‘Broadway’ Freddy DeName comes to an end. It was announced in the same article that Freddy was found hanged from the canopy of a water bed in Texas, where he had been living under protection, using the name Fred Marino. Some theorised it was the guilt of turning informant which had driven Freddy to hang himself while awaiting his day in court. Others weren’t so convinced, including Harlan Thompson, that Freddy would ever commit suicide, and that somthing altogether more sinister may have befallen Freddy. It seemed even the investigators had their doubts at one point, with the article going on to say:
‘In San Antonio, Sheriff Harlon Copeland said he had never suspected foul play in Mr. DiNome’s death. But he said he had kept his investigation open for nearly a week while he sought the arrest of three men believed to have stolen the victim’s money and jewelry after finding him dead in the two-bedroom home he had rented.
The sheriff said the men had told him that Mr. DiNome had left a suicide note addressed to his wife and children, but investigators have yet to find it. Mr. DiNome testified last month that he could neither read nor write.
William M. Dempsey, a spokesman for the United States Marshal Service, which runs the 15-year-old witness-protection program, said that none of its witnesses who abided by its rules had been murdered. He added, however, that there had been 15 suicides among the more than 4,800 persons who took part in the program.’
The true fate of Frederick R DiNome, or Broadway Freddy DeName as we have come to know him, may never truly be known. What we do know for sure however, is that Freddy was both a ruthless and violent man driven by money, which found him tied into a mafia family which ultimately led to his undoing.
At the same time, he was a charismatic character, who left a lasting impression on those who knew him, some of whom have fond stories of his hijinks and almost a loveable personality. Drag racing has certainly changed in the last 50 years, and while we do have larger-than-life personalities representing the sport nowadays, I guess we can’t say we have a made-man representing the sport. I’ll let you decide whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing.
Brian Lohnes The Dork-O-Motive podcast ‘The Mafia Killer Who Loved Funny Cars – The Complete Story Of Broadway Freddy DeName’
Murder Machine by Gene Mustain and Jerry Capeci
Photo credit to rightful owners
Written by Niamh Frances Smith
4 thoughts on “Funny Car Driver-come-Mobster: Broadway Freddy DeName”
Excellent, well told story. It’s amazing some of the double lives people lead.
Thanks so much Timothy! I’m sure some of those who knew him must’ve been surprised when the news came out
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In spring of 1985, I was in a finance class with my boss. Ed Howard, who worked for the State came and talked to the class. We talked to him for quite a while after class. He was an very interesting guy. In September 1985, we got the news he was a Soviet Spy and had given the FBI the slip and escaped to the Soviet Union. We were quite surprised. Here’s a wiki on him: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Lee_Howard
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This is probably the most “colorful” drag racing-related story I have ever read. I love your writing style.
When my dad was racing VW Beatle in Brazil, in the early 1990s, there was another driver that everyone knew was a car thief. But just like our character here in this tale, this guy kept his bad deeds away from the race track and we treated him as “one of us”. He progressed to much higher classes pretty quick and became the owner of an upscale tire shop chain in the city.