Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday April 24, 2013


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Volume 5, Number 17                                                                                    New Column Every Wednesday

Updated 4-24-13


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By Dave Dykes                                                                            CLICK ON PHOTOS FOR FULL SIZE

Starting yet another week on a somber note, we offer our sincere condolences to the family & friends of 1974 Northeastern Midget Association (NEMA), championship car owner Dewey Cali who passed-away earlier this month at age 88. Dewey will certainly be missed by many within New England’s open wheel racing community. For this installment of “RTT” we offer-up a varied assortment of images including a couple of really-rare shots of NEAR Hall of Famer, the late Moe “Moneybags” Gherzi courtesy of our pal & former racer, JoJo Farone. As-always, thanks go out to our Webmaster & friend Tom Ormsby who gets the site up n’ running each & every Wednesday! And thanks to Tom & Ken Meisenhelder of KGM Video for this weeks video from the KGM Archives. Email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com

Our Weekly Selection Of Short Track Stormers…

Thanks to our pal JoJo Farone, we’re able to present this great portrait image of the late, great “Moneybags” Moe Gherzi. In addition to being a prolific winner during the early days, he helped bring a degree of class to a sport that was still experiencing growing-pains. When the standard driving-uniform of the day consisted of a t-shirt & blue jeans (often work-worn, adding to the illusion that racin’ folks weren’t the pillars of society they’re considered to be today), he often appeared in victory lane nattily-attired in a silk shirt and pressed, dress-style trousers. A big winner all over New England, after retiring from driving he held the post of Racing Director for many years at the late Plainville Stadium. As the photo states, among his accomplishments was the 1953 UNITED Grand National New Car championship. Moe was inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 2012. (Image courtesy JoJo Farone, photographer unknown).

Even big winners like New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer the late “Moneybags” Moe Gherzi had a bad day on occasion as this action shot illustrates. His hulking coach typical of the stock cars of the post-war era, the location is Avon, Connecticut’s Cherry Park Speedway of 1946. Originally constructed as a horse track in 1882, it began hosting auto racing as a ½-mile dirt oval in 1939. Action resumed following World War II, the track having been shortened to a tight 1/5-miler. By the fall of that year, the asphalt had been applied. In addition to the stock cars, it was a frequent (and popular), stop on the midget racing schedule. Sadly, Cherry Park closed its gates forever in 1954, eventually falling victim to the wrecking ball in 1959. (Image courtesy JoJo Farone, photographer unknown).

Captured here through the lens of our friend John Grady is the late Bernie Charland, son of New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member, the great Rene Charland. Over the years that this photo has been in our files we’ve attempted to gather information on his career, but details are sketchy at-best. We have been told that he was a solid, journeyman racer that would have likely gone on to better things. Tragically, Bernie perished in a mobile home fire before reaching his full potential in the sport. (Grady photo).  

Though there were still many of them, it wasn’t all coupes & coaches at the Plainville Stadium of the early-1970s…. Just like at other tracks in New England, the “Pinto Revolution” had an impact at “Tinty’s Place” and here’s a fine example of the modern tinwork that would quickly become the norm in modified racing all-over the region. Seen here is Warren “Elmer” Lee, a popular journeyman racer that called The Stadium home for many seasons. A scan of the tracks archival records show that Lee was a top-runner, always in the thick-of-the-action. Note the nickname bestowed upon this ride; “Elmer’s Yellow Banana.” (Hoyt photo).

Seen here snagging a victory while wheeling the famed Lenny Boehler #3 is Bugs Stevens. Enjoying a long career that included 3 NASCAR National modified championships he went on to become Stafford Motor Speedway’s most-winning modified driver with 72 feature victories. His numerous track championships include Stafford Motor Speedway (4), Seekonk Speedway, (3), Norwood Arena, (2), Albany Saratoga, Catamount and Thompson. His big wins include the 73 Spring Sizzler, a pair of 500 lappers at Thompson and several victories at Trenton and Martinsville. Both Stevens and Boehler are members of the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame. (Grady photo).

Captured here pitside with his crew at Connecticut’s “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl of the early 1970s is Danny Hyde and his #J7 coupe. This car was a former Simons Brothers “Excavator Special” and was driven to many wins by some of the finest racers in New England before Hyde took-over the reigns. (Dugas photo).  

And here we have the late Bobby Santos. Yet another driver whose racing roots are traced back to the fabled Norwood Arena in Massachusetts where he got his start in the Hobby Division of the early-fifties, he went-on to become a dominant force in the modified wars. Driving for renowned car-owners such as Art Barry (as seen here at Stafford), Billy Simons, and Joe Brady among others, he was a threat to-win each time he donned the Nomex. Inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 2001, Bobby passed-away in December of 2006. (Photographer unknown).

The feature victory floodgates may not have swung wide-open for journeyman modified pilot Neil Bickford during his tenure as a Waterford Speedbowl wheelman, but there were a number of heat & consi wins, along with a host of respectable main event finishes. Extremely popular with both fans and his fellow competitors, Bickford was one of the sports true “Nice Guys.” He’s captured here pitside with his “Red Baron” entry, the Corvair-bodied creation that became a familiar & popular sight with the ‘Bowl faithful of the early-seventies. (Dugas photo).  

Like so-many others, Blaine Belz was there every-week, trying his best to snag that first-ever checkered flag. Guys like Belz often get lost in the record-books as the years progress, forgotten by time, and seemingly neglected by a racing press that unfortunately, has only so-much space to use in reporting on the weekly happenings at your local short track. A consistent Speedbowl modified competitor in the early-70s, he recorded a number of respectable finishes in the division before moving to the Pro Stock class where he experienced great success at tracks throughout New England. This Speedbowl shot captures him with one of his earliest renditions of the “Q” Belz Brothers coupe. Waterford was always big on “letter” cars. (Dugas photo).  

Last this week we have a classic Shany image of Ricky Taylor, a standout competitor in the “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl’s former Daredevil division. Introduced in 1965 to shore-up a sagging car-count in a failing Bomber class, it was a slam-bang show with cars-aplenty. Even qualifying for the feature could be a supreme chore. Mostly populated by tri-five Chevy’s & Fords, they were essentially stock vehicles with the only modifications made in the name of safety. Taylor won a bunch of features in the division’s rough n’ tumble early era. (Shany photo).

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

ACTION-4 Crashes, Wrecks & Spins from the KGM Video Archives



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