Taking A Look At Northeast Auto Racing History

Wednesday April 18, 2012

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By Dave Dykes                                                                              CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE

This week we again delve-deep into the “Racing Through Time” archives to bring back a few fond memories of what many consider to be the “Golden Era” of Modified racing in New England. Special thanks go out to our friends JoJo Farone, Chris Langer, and R.A. Silvia for contributing some great images for all of us to enjoy!  On a two sad notes our webmaster & friend Tom Ormsby called yesterday April 17th to let me know our mutual friend Donna Harman passed away that afternoon in Florida. Donna is the wife of our good friend Hall of Famer Billy Harman who has been featured in this column many times. It was also learned that Dave Myers passed-away from injuries sustained when his car struck a utility pole on Saturday April 14 in East Granby, CT. Dave was the Crew Chief on the late Jay Miller’s #09 Modified and his father Billy is a former Modified car owner and builder of the #7 driven by Jay’s father Ray to many successes. We offer our sincere condolences to Myers & Harman familys & their many friends. As-always, email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com

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(Yet-More) Modified Memories…!        

If you’re at all familiar with New England Modified racing, not much has to be said about this fellow. As a driver, the late Ed Yerrington was a big winner, and in later years as an official became one of the most-respected figures in the sport. He’s captured here ready-to-roll at Connecticut’s Stafford Springs Motor Speedway. Yerrington drove for several different teams during his career; we’re not sure who owned this little coupe. (Photo Courtesy R.A. Silvia).               

Captured here at Stafford in the early 1970s, the late Ernie Gahan’s 28-year racing career started during the post-war stock car racing boom of 1948 at New Hampshire’s Dover Speedway. By the time he’d hung-up his helmet, he’d amassed over 300 career victories. Perhaps his greatest achievement in the sport was being the first New Englander to win a NASCAR National Modified championship in 1966. He was equally successful on both dirt and asphalt. He won a record 21 features on the old dirt at Stafford Speedway in the late 50’s and early 60’s. He had eleven starts in Grand National (now Sprint Cup), series competition, recording two top-ten finishes, one of which was in the 1962 Daytona 500. In 1963 Gahan along with Tiny Lund was credited with saving the life of Marvin Panch by pulling him out of a burning race car at Daytona. For his courage he won the Shuman Award and the Carnegie Medal for Bravery. He was among the first drivers inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 1998. (Photo Courtesy JoJo Farone).  

Rhode Islander Fred DeSarro was one of the truly-gifted racers of his era. Seen here with the Sonny Koszella “Woodchopper Special” he was a top New England Modified shoe for what seemed like eons. The racing media had a field day with the much-publicized “driver-switch” in 1971 when the great Bugs Stevens took the wheel of Koszella’s car, and Fred climbed aboard Bugs’ vacated Lenny Boehler “Ole’ Blue.” Truth-be-told, there were no hard-feelings. Fred and Bugs were great friends and remained-so until Fred’s tragic death following a 1978 Thompson Speedway crash. Both are members of the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame, as are Boehler and Koszella. (Photo Courtesy JoJo Farone).

The career of Fred Schulz ran the gamut from the days of the notoriously dangerous “Cut-Downs” to the modern Modifieds of the 1970s as seen here. Fred won just about everywhere in New England and truly was one of the pioneers of the sport in this region. He’s captured in a Chevy Camaro-bodied mount on the Stafford Springs half-mile in this image. (Photo Courtesy JoJo Farone).

Seen here during an outing in the Freddy Doolittle coupe at Stafford, many fans don’t realize-it, but before switching to competition of the 4-wheeled variety the late George “Moose” Hewitt was a champion motorcycle racer. He was particularly-successful at the Waterford Speedbowl, where he claimed five Modified championships between 1977 and 1984. Worth mention is the fact that the fiercely-independent Hewitt was one of the few shoreline oval competitors that during an era of “store-bought” cars later in his career, continued to craft machines of his own design at his shop in nearby Uncasville, CT. (Photo Courtesy JoJo Farone).

Here’s a really early Plainville Stadium shot of our old pal, Don Moon. In addition to his long residency at that much-missed Connecticut ¼-miler, Moon competed at a number of other Eastern modified haunts during his long career, compiling a stellar record of triumphs. As a member of the “closed-club” Southern New York Racing Association at Danbury Fair Racearena, he notched two victories in 1966, including the Conrad Memorial Trophy event. An admired car-builder, he’s also credited with helping jump-start the career of a young Reggie Ruggiero. With a broken-arm putting a premature end to his Stadium’ season, Moon placed “The Reg” behind the wheel of his potent #9 in 1975 resulting in ten feature wins for the young upstart. These days, Moon campaigns an immaculate version of his former Pinto Modified on the NEAR circuit. (Photo Courtesy JoJo Farone).                           

Few New England Modified drivers had more going for them than the late Don MacTavish. Starting his career at the age of 15 racing at the much-celebrated Norwood Arena, he quickly gained popularity as one of the regions brightest young upstarts. In 1963 he progressed to NASCAR’s Sportsman Division and in 1966 took the NASCAR National Sportsman Championship, his closest competitors being Ralph Earnhardt, "Wild" Bill Slater and Rene Charland. During his Daytona debut on February 22, 1969, “Mac” lost his life in a horrific crash during the Permatex 300. To say this regions racing community was stunned and saddened is an understatement. He was posthumously inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 2001. (Photo Courtesy JoJo Farone).               

Captured here with his familiar #27 at what we believe to be Stafford, anyone that was around during what’s widely considered the “Golden Era” of New England Modified racing is sure to recognize this guy. The late Booker T. Jones joined the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 2003. Upon his induction, award-winning racing journalist Bones Bourcier commented that “He drove NASCAR Modifieds around the Northeast for what seemed like a hundred years, and yet when he passed at the age of 74, it was not his racing you remembered. It was his friendly smile, his big right hand shaking yours. He was everybody’s buddy.” The consummate low-buck operator, Jones made-due with equipment that was often less than that of his competitors. He remained a popular figure at New England raceways long after his days behind the wheel were over. (John Grady Photo).        

Wayne “Mr. Mysterious” Smith claimed most of his Waterford Speedbowl success in the support-division classes, his full-fender endeavors being of the championship variety. As this shot illustrates, “Mr. Mysterious” also turned some laps in the Modified wars at the Connecticut 1/3-miler affectionately known as the “Shoreline Oval.”  This little coupe was one of his earliest efforts in Waterford’s premier division (Shany Photo).               

Even future track champions have an off-day on occasion. Seen here at Connecticut’s Waterford Speedbowl, a place that he would dominate for a period in the late-70s & early-80s is the late George “Moose” Hewitt. It’s the 1960s, and it looks as if he was involved in a vicious rollover incident while piloting his #11 coupe. That’s Moose on the left in the driver’s suit surveying the damage. Also among those pictured is the late Johnny Whitehouse (next to Moose wearing a cap). Whitehouse of course, was the longtime Director of Racing at the Speedbowl. (Shany Photo).           

BONUS SHOT: If there was ever a “King of Plainville Stadium” this guy was the man, and we never tire of running shots of him. See here is Dave Alkas, 5-time track champion, and the former (& much-missed) Connecticut ¼-milers all-time Modified winner. This image captures him behind the controls of the much-feared Roland Cyr-owned coach. When Dave pulled out on the track in this rig, his fellow competitors knew that they have their work cut out for them! Fittingly, Mr. Alkas was inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 2008. (Photo Courtesy Chris Langer).                        

This Weeks Column is Dedicated to Two Friends
Donna Harman & Dave Myers
(Photos courtesy of Tom Ormsby)

Zetti Shookus, Donna Harman & myself at the
Plainville Stadium Reunion

Dave Myers (left next to Jay Miller holding trophy)
Keith Cyr Photo-Race Dog Photography

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

This Weeks Comments

5 days ago) Bill said:

Nice to hear the history lesson. I also enjoyed the pics at the end. I considered myself a friend of Jay Miller's and I know he is missed like many others. Good job Dave.


(6 days ago) mike said:

the 32 was kept at Carrano's Express, a trucking co. that is now out of business. the owner of the car was Johnny Maselli, who was the truck mechanic. my brother Vinny also worked on the car.

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