Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday April 17, 2013


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Volume 5, Number 16                                                                                    New Column Every Wednesday

Updated 4-10-13


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By Dave Dykes                                                                            CLICK ON PHOTOS FOR FULL SIZE

Unfortunately, we again open on a somber-note, as it was learned over the weekend that longtime modified racer Jimmy Smith age-62, passed-away after being suddenly stricken in the pit area following his qualifying heat at the Thompson Icebreaker on Saturday. Our sincere condolences are forwarded to his family and many friends on this sad occasion. As-for this week’s material, we have a nice selection of images from Connecticut’s Waterford Speedbowl and the former Plainville Stadium. To balance- things-out for dirt racing aficionados, we also present an image of that segment of the sport’s truly iconic competitors. Enjoy! As-always, email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com

Your Wednesday Dose Of Short Track Heroes….

Starting this week’s edition we stray a bit from our usual pavement endeavors with a shot that we find simply timeless. The late Lou “Monks” Lazzaro raced an incredible six decades on dirt and asphalt on tracks from Canada to Daytona and scored 250-plus feature wins. He was supremely versatile and won with the same car on dirt and pavement with only minor changes. His Saturday night home track was Fonda Speedway, where he amassed 113-career feature wins over four different decades and four track championships (1964, 1969, 1977, and 1978). Lou's final Fonda Speedway feature win came on May 15, 1999, less than a year before his untimely death. A lifetime guaranteed starter at Fonda, he was described many times as "The Embodiment of Fonda Speedway.” His greatest win was Orange County Fair Speedway's Eastern States 200 in 1978. He was also track champion at Victoria Speedway (1962, 1964) and Albany-Saratoga Speedway (1969). He was New York State NASCAR champion once in the Sportsman division (1964), and three-times in the Modified division (1969. 1971, 1972). He also won the prestigious All-Star League title twice (1968, 1971). One of his favorite tracks, besides Fonda, was the Utica-Rome Speedway, where he won 27 career asphalt modified features and three track championships (1963, 1970, 1971). He was a three-time winner of the prestigious New Yorker 400 (1963, 1968, 1969), race held on the old Utica-Rome asphalt track. In addition, Lazzaro has two career Utica-Rome dirt modified feature wins, the first being the first ever dirt race held at Utica-Rome. (Grady Photo).

Captured here in the lens of our friend Steve Kennedy at Connecticut’s Thompson Speedway World Series of 1976 is our old pal, Ronnie Wyckoff. Starting his racing career in Florida, he joined the Sportsman ranks at Plainville Stadium after moving North in 1959. Success in the modifieds quickly-followed with numerous wins at an assortment of New England speedplants. Included in those victories are multi-time triumphs in UNITED’s “Riverside 500” events, once an absolute-benchmark of the Northeastern racing season. Often-overlooked historically-speaking, this racer remains one of our region’s most-underrated competitors and his record proves that statement. (Kennedy Photo).

His racing roots tracing back to the rough n’ tumble tarmac of the late Plainville Stadium as-seen in this great Phil Hoyt image, Stan “Stash” Greger parlayed that modest start into one of the most-stellar careers in all of New England Modified racing. After conquering “Tinty’s Place” it was on to the ultra-competitive (and much-missed), Riverside Park Speedway in Agawam. Massachusetts where he recorded a trio of championships and nearly forty feature wins. Known as one of our sports true “Nice Guys” and not unlike the aforementioned Ronnie Wyckoff, he remains another of the most-underrated drivers in New England with a winning history garnered during what many railbirds still consider to be the most competitive era in our region. (Hoyt Photo).  

It seems as long as there’s been a Speedbowl, there’s been a member of the Gada clan entering victory lane. Captured here in the shoreline oval pits with his Grand American entry during the 1978 campaign is Bob Gada Sr. who still holds-court pitside every week, making sure things in the latest version of the family racing effort run smoothly. Few families can claim more track titles and victories at a single track than the Gada’s have at Waterford and their success continues today. (Kennedy Photo).

This one is for our friend, multi-time Speedbowl champion Corey Hutchings. In a recent conversation he relayed to me that it was this driver that sparked his youthful enthusiasm for the sport years-ago. Within a division populated by mostly General Motors products, cars like this stood-out in 70s-era Waterford support-class action. Along with fellow Ford aficionados the Gada clan, Keith Eves took an unconventional route in fielding one of Henry’s creations. Having started his Grand American career a couple of seasons earlier in a Mercury Cougar, he later progressed to this Ford Torino. The car was a winner, and Eves was a popular chauffer in the shoreline oval’s “full-fender” brigade. As for Hutchings, he’s off to a great start in 2013, having handily captured the Street Stock feature at the Speedbowl’s season-opening Budweiser Blastoff. (Kennedy Photo). 

Familiar driver, familiar number, and familiar car…. Eddie Bunnell (along with brothers Donnie, Junior, and cousin John), were around the Waterford Speedbowl for what seemed an eternity. A former Bomber champion, Eddie later advanced to the modifieds enjoying a long career as one of the division’s top racers. He’s seen here in May of 1981 behind the controls of what had formally been the #110 chauffeured by among-others, NEAR Hall of Famer Bob Potter, The entire Bunnell family remained a vital part of the shoreline oval scene for many seasons. (Kennedy Photo).

Over-the-years, we’ve been fortunate to meet a lot of really neat New England racing personalities, and it’s been an unforgettable experience. From the big-winners to journeymen drivers, they all rate here at “RTT.” Pictured here is our pal Bobby Mikulak who was one of Plainville Stadium’s finest for over a decade in the 1960s & 70s. Bob owned this nifty coach, but also drove for other teams, most-notably wheeling the #1 of Merle “Spud” Cray. Note his fancy racing attire and the Budweiser beer can screwed to the roof (an item that was “knocked-off” on more than one occasion according to our Webmaster & fellow Stadium competitor Tom Ormsby). (Hoyt Photo).

Local product Ed Reed Sr. (father of multi-time track champion Ed Jr.), had long-been involved with the Speedbowl, spending much of his life around racing. In 1977 when Harvey Tattersall introduced a new budget-minded division known as Street Stocks, he was there. The class was a huge success with a banner crop of cars and plenty of slam-bang action. Bob Faiella took the title that first season, but Reed rebounded in 1978 as seen-here to claim his first championship. Interestingly-enough, this modest class eventually morphed-into today’s ultra-sophisticated Late Model division. (Kennedy Photo).  

No installment of “RTT” mentioning Plainville Stadium would be complete without an image of this guy, our friend Dave Alkas. Starting his career in the Novice division of the early-1960s, before it was all-over, he managed to win five Stadium Modified championships, and holds the record for all-time wins. He was simply a master at getting-around the slightly-banked ¼-miler, and was still very-much at the top of his game when the track closed its gates forever. This action shot captures Dave wheeling his familiar Roland Cyr Vega in June of 1977. A 2008 inductee into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame, Dave is one of the organizers the ultra-successful Plainville Stadium Reunions held every fall at the Berlin Fairgrounds. (Kennedy Photo).  

If you were lucky enough to be around the sport when this guy was in his prime, you witnessed one of the best. On his www.vintagemodifieds.com site, our friend & webmaster Tom Ormsby once stated that he was “Colorful, Controversial, and Popular” all at the same time. The truth-is, Anthony “Jap” Membrino helped to sell a lot of tickets during a stellar career that lasted over 3-decades. While he experienced incredible success at Plainville Stadium (as captured here following one of his many feature triumphs in the 1970s), Jap also won-big at many other New England venues. (Hoyt Photo). 

BONUS SHOT #1: As we’ve stated several times in the past, before the onslaught of today’s “cookie-cutter” modifieds, each ride possessed a look of it’s own that reflected the taste & ingenuity of the builder. This neat little Plainville coupe is a perfect example of that statement. See here in 1974 seated behind the controls of a vintage 5-window coupe is Johnny Zeigler. Keeping it in the family, the car had formally been campaigned as the #26 of longtime Stadium competitor, the late Skip Zeigler. (Kennedy Photo).

BONUS SHOT #2: Here’s a nice shot of our pal Billy “Gramps” Greco as captured at Connecticut’s Thompson Speedway in June of 1975. A New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer, he was an absolute master of the modifieds, honing his skills at tight little joints like the late West Haven Speedway and the much-missed 1/5-miler at Riverside Park. A darling of the old Harvey Tattersall-led UNITED circuit (once the most influential sanctioning group in New England), in later-years he also became a winner at the ultra-competitive Danbury Fair Racearena. Billy also has the distinction of being the only driver to win on all 8 ovals that existed one time in the State of Connecticut. The personable Greco is as popular today as he ever-was, and can really enlighten you on the history of the sport. If you get a chance to chat with him, please do! (Kennedy Photo).

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

Reminder: Calling hours are today, April 17, 2013 from 5:00 to 8:00 PM at the Smith and Walker Funeral Home, 148 Grove Street, Putnam.
Funeral Thursday at 10:00 AM at the Funeral Home.
Jimmy Smith

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