Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday April 20, 2011

 Volume 3, Number 15                                                                                     New Column Every Wednesday


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Scott Pruett smoked 'em again at this year's Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona.  (Brian Cleary Photo -
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By Dave Dykes                                                                              CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE

We start this week on a somber-note, as we received word that popular Waterford Speedbowl competitor Chuck “Uncle Buck” Rogers passed-away unexpectedly late last week. Our sincere condolences are offered to Chuck’s family, friends, and many fans. This installment of “RTT” is a varied lot, featuring shots from the archives of our friends Mal Phillips, Tom Ormsby, Phil Hoyt, and Pete Zanardi. As-always, have a great week! Email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com  

More April “Old-Daze” Action….              

Here’s a great early shot from Connecticut’s “Stafford Springs Speedway” of the 1950s courtesy of our old pal, Mal Phillips. The driver is John Coon, and his coupe is typical of the machines that lapped the storied nutmeg state oval at the time. The Arute family purchased the track from Mal Barlow at the dawn of the 1970s rechristening it “Stafford Motor Speedway” and transforming it into the showplace it remains today for the NASCAR modified division. (Shany Photo, Mal Phillips Collection).                

We ran a piece on this driver a few months-ago, and have subsequently received a ton of requests for more images of the popular “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl star. Seen here at the shoreline oval during the early days of his career is Johnny Sandberg. Claiming the 1952 Non-Ford championship, he scored a career-total of 19 feature victories at Waterford in both Non-Ford and Modified competition. His final Bowl’ triumph came during the 1961 campaign. (Shany Photo, Mal Phillips Collection).         

Early color shots from the Speedbowl are relatively difficult to come-by, and we really like this candid image of the Hudson coupe successfully wheeled by popular Benny Derosier. The car was owned by Chester, Connecticut’s Barney Tiezzi. Barney’s son Joe later carried-on the family tradition becoming one of our region’s top drivers. Note that the car is being flat-towed, which was common-practice before trailers became the norm. (Shany Photo, Mal Phillips Collection).         

Though we admittedly don’t know a whole-lot about early “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl racer Leo Bourdreau, we can certainly appreciate the sanitary-looking condition of his little coupe during a time in-which much of the machinery at the shoreline oval usually looked more than a little battle-scarred. Shots like this go a long way in illustrating just how far our sport has come. Priceless…. (Shany Photo, Mal Phillips Collection).                     

Here we have Phil Mitchell in his mighty GMC-powered coupe at the Bowl’ of the early 1950s. He was a multi-time modified winner. Popular legend says that Phil’s coupe was one of the loudest cars of the era, his Joe Fontana-engineered GMC powerplant emitting a distinctive howl that could be heard for miles-around. (Shany Photo, Mal Phillips Collection).       

Here’s a great shot of the late Tony Mordino courtesy of our Webmaster, Tom Ormsby after one of his many Plainville Stadium wins. One of the absolute-best during the stock car boom of post-war New England and a leading member of the legendary “Waterbury Gang” that also included guys like the late Danny Galullo, the battles he waged with established UNITED stars such as Billy Greco and Johnny “King” Cambino at the old West Haven Speedway are stuff of legend. He later conquered Plainville Stadium and Riverside Park; certainly two of the toughest bullrings in the Northeast. Tony retired following the 1975 Thompson 300, an event in which raced to a top-10 finish after having started 50th in the field. (Photo Courtesy Tom Ormsby). Faust Photo                                     

Seen here celebrating a victory with UNITED flagman Lou Reed is popular West Haven Speedway chauffer, Davey Crockett. Connecticut’s West Haven Speedway (AKA ”Savin Rock” for its close proximity to amusement park of the same name), started life in 1935 as a 1/5-mile dirt oval. The track was constructed within the confines of Donovan Field, a baseball coliseum named in honor of “Wild Bill” Donovan, a popular early manager of the New York Yankees. The “Mighty Midgets” were the featured attraction during the early years, later replaced by the stock cars. While it wasn’t anticipated at the close of what was the final season, West Haven Speedway became a causality of the era’s widespread urban-renewal movement, hosting its last event in the fall of 1967. Many of the top-stars of the tiny 1/5-miler went-on to similar success at Riverside Park Speedway in Agawam, MA. (another cornerstone of UNITED), and Joe Tinty’s Plainville Stadium. Ironically, both of those tracks are but memories now.  (Herb Todd Photo).             

The late Harvey Vallencourt was a pioneer on the New England Modified circuit that became an unfortunate statistic in a sport that can sometimes reveal a cruel side. Starting his career at the old West Haven Speedway, Harvey was known as a proficient chauffer enjoying many successes over the years. Sustaining severe head-injuries in a seemingly minor crash at Plainville Stadium in the mid-seventies, he was confined to a hospital bed for almost a decade before his passing. The popular Vallencourt is seen here at Plainville in what we believe is the car that ended his career. (Photo Courtesy Phil Hoyt ).          

Courtesy of our close friend NEAR Hall of Famer Pete Zanardi, comes an image of New Britain, CT. native, the late Johnny Kay (real name John Kapustinski). Kay is also a member of the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame, and justifiably-so. As a winner on both the NEMA & ARDC Midget circuits for many years (along with forays into AAA and USAC Indy & Champ Car competition), he was long-considered one of the best during a career that was unfortunately, compromised by a serious crash while still at the top of his game. As a side-note, after retiring from driving Kay became a talented racing photographer, staying close to the sport he loved. (Miour Photo Courtesy Pete Zanardi).              

The year is 1977, and the venue is Connecticut’s history-rich Thompson International Speedway. Heading into the high banked first-turn facing those daunting sand banks which once encircled the expansive 5/8-mile track known as the “Indianapolis of the East” is a full field of NEMA Midgets. Our pal racing photographer Steve Kennedy captured this unique and dramatic image, something he’s been doing for over 3-decades. (Kennedy Photo).                            

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

 
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