Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday April 13, 2011

 Volume 3, Number 14                                                                                      New Column Every Wednesday


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Vern Romanowski and Brandon Bellinger dice on the perfectly graduated
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By Dave Dykes                                                                              CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE


It’s Wednesday, so that means it’s yet another batch of New England racing memories for all to enjoy. Special thanks to our pal NEAR Hall of Famer Billy Harman for sending-along some shots from his personal photo album. Also contributing this week are friends Chris Langer, former Plainville Stadium official track photographer Phil Hoyt, R.A. Silvia, and Pete Zanardi. To all, have a great week! Email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com          

Another Installment Of “The Way We Were”…             

Here’s a nice shot from the personal scrapbook of our pal, New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member Billy Harman. The year is 1959, and it’s Billy’s Rookie year as a New England modified stock car racer. From his Hall of Fame biography; “At age 21, Billy Harman began racing a modified 312 Ford at the Waterford Speedbowl. He won a feature in his first year, as well as taking down Rookie of the Year honors.  He continued at the Speedbowl for the next 7 years, recording many wins and holding four different track records, including the fastest 10 lap heat, 25 lap feature, 50 lap feature, and non-stop 100 lap feature. He dominated there, especially in 1965 and 1966, driving the famed L & M Coupe. Following 1966, Bill felt it was time to move on to more and bigger challenges. He went on to win races for many car owners, including Freddie Beaber in the 715 and 716, Tuck Hoffman and Kevin Coan in the 73, and Bob Judkins in the 2x.  In 1971, driving the #55 for Ted Marsh, Billy finished 6th in the National Modified Championship.  He raced from Canadian tracks in the North, to Hollywood Speedway in Miami Beach, Florida. He raced as far West as Ohio, competing at 54 tracks, and winning at 14 different speedways.  From the Race of Champions in Trenton and Pocono to the Oxford Plains 250, Harman thrived on the ‘big’ races.  He also competed in the 1st Thompson 500 ever run, running 2nd to Fred DeSarro in Ted Marsh’s 55 with only 10 laps to go before blowing a motor.” Bill retired in the late 1970’s, following a successful stint behind the controls of the Joe Zenga Vega. Today, Billy and his lovely wife Donna divide their time between homes in Connecticut and Florida. (Shany Photo, Harman Collection).        

Another great image from the Billy Harman archives, this one captures him following a 100-lap open competition victory at the late Plainville Stadium in Connecticut. The year is 1967, and Billy was driving for famed New England modified owner Bob Judkins (that’s Bob on the right). Like Harman, Judkins is also a member of the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame, inducted in 2003. Winning one of the open shows at Plainville was never an easy feat, as they routinely attracted the best teams in the business. (Harman Collection).       

The late Gary Colturi is captured here during the 1964 season at the Riverside Park Speedway in Agawam, MA. When I first pulled this shot from my archives, I noted that it was in the “unidentified” file. I had an inkling of who it was, but wasn’t certain. Webmaster Tom Ormsby suggested that I contact Gary’s former car owner Mario Fiore, and here’s what he had to say about the shot; “Dave, that's Gary alright. It was one of his first cars. He liked the number 5 because his dad Louie & Uncle Munn Nigro owned the famous Suffield Auto Center #5 modified that won many races in the '50s & very early '60s at Riverside and many other Northeast race tracks. Billy Greco, Gene Bergin, Eddie Flemke, and Jerry Humiston were some of the drivers of the Suffield Auto #5.” In later years, Colturi & Fiore made a formidable team racing to much success at Riverside. Sadly, Gary perished in a motorcycle accident in 1973. (Shany Photo).     

Seen here during a 1970s outing at Connecticut’s much-missed Plainville Stadium is Fred Alkas in a car owned by George "Pete" Saunders. Along with his older brothers Dave (a NEAR Hall of Famer), and George, Fred enjoyed considerable success on the ovals of New England. He was particularly good at his home track of Plainville, recording a bevy of feature victories during his long career at the fast ¼-miler. (Phil Hoyt Photo).                     

Here’s another shot of one of our buddies. Like so-many of the drivers that became premier players within Plainville Stadium’s weekly action, popular Don Spazano traces his “racing-roots” back to the Novice Division. This shot however, captures him in later years as one of the top modified pilots at Joe Tinty’s late (and much-missed), Connecticut oval. Riding high on the tracks all-time winners list, the popular Spazano also competed with success at a number of other tracks in the region including Riverside Park. You gotta’ love this neat-looking little coupe! (Phil Hoyt Photo).       

The Northeast Midget Association (NEMA), lost one of its most valued and popular members when Jimmy O’Brien passed-away a couple of weeks-ago. A member of the club for over 4-decades, his drivers included Johnny Evans, Hank Stevens, Doug Cleveland, Steve Eldridge, Paul Stoehr and Roy Daniel. Cleveland and Evans won in O’Brien equipment; Stevens won the 1975 dirt track title. He also served as an officer of NEMA for many years. This shot captures Jimmy (second from right), following a 1970s victory at New Hampshire’s Star Speedway with Johnny Evans as his driver. (Pete Zanardi Collection).                         

At a venue we’re unsure-of, seen here is the late, great Pete Corey. Popular legend dictates that it was fellow competitor, the late Kenny Shoemaker that dubbed him “The Crescent Hillbilly” after an on-track altercation left “The Shoe” stammering for the proper choice of words. Legend also has it that he actually rather-enjoyed the moniker that was a nod to his geographic origins in the capital district of New York State. In actuality, Corey and Shoemaker may have waged many battles on the track, but there was a vast degree of respect shared between the two legendary racers. Few came tougher than Corey; he was real-deal. (Photographer Unknown).             

Deservedly-so, much has been written about the driver known as the “Crafty Redhead”, New England Hall of Famer Melvin “Red” Foote. Often lost in the mix is the memory of his brother Russ Foote, who was an accomplished racer in his own-right. He’s captured here at the “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl of the 1950s. Russ claimed one Waterford Modified victory in 1959 during a career that was substantially-shorter than that of his more-celebrated sibling. Russ retired after sailing out of the ballpark in dramatic fashion during the shoreline oval’s 1963 season, while his brother’s last event came at Langley Field, Virginia in 1980.  (Shany Photo, Courtesy Chris Langer).        

And here’s another great “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl image donated courtesy of our friend Chris Langer. Seen here behind the wheel of an ultra-sanitary coupe is the popular Don Bachand, who scored multiple feature victories in both modified & non-ford competition at the shoreline oval during the 1950’s & 60’s. (Shany Photo Courtesy Chris Langer).              

Lastly, here’s a REALLY old one from a long-gone track located in Tiverton, Rhode Island. The date is July 26, 1942, and the midget division is gathered in-formation on the infield for the last race before World War 2 halted auto racing in the United States. Known as Ponta Delgada Motor Stadium” and also “Tiverton Speedway” the track was built as a 1/5 mile dirt oval around a soccer field debuting in 1939. For the 1941 season, it was paved. Racing resumed after the war, and continued (on a somewhat inconsistent basis in later years), until the facilities demise in the early-50s. (Photographer Unknown).                             

That's it for this week. Email me at:

 
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