Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday August 18, 2010

 Volume 2, Number 30                                                                                      New Column Every Wednesday


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By Dave Dykes                                                                              CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE

This week we offer another selection of images from the archives, a couple donated by our readers. A big “Happy Birthday!” goes out to our pal, former New England Modified racing great Ronnie Wyckoff who recently turned another lap. Also, congratulations to second-generation racer Keith Rocco who clinched the 2010 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series National Championship with his SK Modified victory last weekend at the Waterford Speedbowl! As always, email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com

Reader Contributions, Midget Racing Greats, And Even A Little Clowning-Around…..       

Seen here at New York’s Lancaster Speedway in 1971 is Eastern hotshot Cam Gagliardi. Long a presence in the Modified wars of his region, he was a big winner at places like Lancaster, Albany-Saratoga, and Merritville in naming just a few. Cam actually got his start in the sport at the old Buffalo Civic Stadium in Buffalo, New York which operated from 1933 to 1959. Many of the area’s greatest drivers emerged from the Civic Stadium including Gagliardi, Billy Rafter, Chuck Boos, and Bill Torrisi – all were champions. (Reinig Photo).

The late Ray Delisle enjoyed a long and successful run in racing, but it was not without a few rough-spots along the way. Felled by serious injuries sustained in a Waterford Speedbowl crash when his Coupe was hit from-behind and the old-style “jerry can” fuel tank erupting in-flames, he endured a long, painful recovery before returning to the game. In 1964, his career reached its zenith when he waltzed-away with the Speedbowl Modified title wheeling the famed Simons Bros. #9. This image captures Ray and the Simons car during a visit to the dirt of Lebanon Valley Speedway in New York. A quiet and unassuming man who let his throttle-foot do the talking, Ray was always in-demand with the top car owners of the day. (Photographer Unknown).     

Our pal Mal Phillips sent us this wonderful early Waterford Speedbowl shot of “Big Butch” Caswell. A mountain-of-a-man, Caswell was a standout Non-Ford division competitor recording a number of victories and top-5 finishes during his career. Note the whitewall tires and wheels complete with hubcaps! (Shany Photo, Phillips Collection).        

And here we have an ancient shot of the great Bill Schindler at a long-gone Connecticut oval that unfortunately, is often forgotten. Cherry Park Speedway in Avon originally debuted as a dirt 1/2-mile oval in 1939. Shuttered during World War II, it reopened in 1946 (no-doubt inspired by the post-war Midget craze), reconfigured to a more-compact 1/5-mile layout. Paved later that year, it operated until 1954 when the site was sold for development. Sadly, Schindler became a casualty of the dangerous early days of American motorsports, perishing in a Sprint Car at Allentown, Pennsylvania on September 20, 1952. (Photographer Unknown).  

Another image from Cherry Park, this one captures eastern Midget racing great the late Georgie Rice at the height of his much-celebrated career. His real name George J. Viola, Rice actually started in Sprint Cars before switching to the Midgets. One of the best racers of the busy post-war era, in 1947 he notched championships at Connecticut’s Danbury Fair Racearena, Deer Park (NY), Speedway, and won his second-consecutive title at West Haven (CT), Speedway. He was the 1947 ARDC Midget champion. In 1948 he won the Bridgeport (CT), Speedway Midget track championship. His younger brother Johnnie also enjoyed a successful career in the division, the two often billed as the “Fabulous Rice Brothers.” Georgie also ran overseas as a member of the Briggs Cunningham team at Lemans, France in 1951. (Photographer Unknown).

The final in our trio of Midget shots this week, this one captures the late Ed Clothier at what looks to be a dirt track outing. Born in Troy, New York in 1935, before entering auto racing, he’d been a both a New York State Boxing champion as-well as an accomplished motorcycle racer. His life and promising career was tragically cut-short in a crash during a Northeastern Midget Association (NEMA), event at Massachusetts’ Westboro Speedway on June 19, 1965. The NEMA Rookie of the Year award is presented each season in Clothier’s honor. (Photographer Unknown).     

Captured here on the old 1/5-miler at Riverside Park, Jerry Humiston was one of the premier-players within Harvey Tattersall’s United Racing Club. Three-times a track champion (1954, 59, and 61), he raced at The Park’ during what many consider the tracks most-competitive era. One of the most-popular and accomplished drivers of his time, Humiston’s prominent place in the history of the much-missed oval is rightly-deserved. (Shany Photo).             

One of the real heavies of the Harvey Tattersall’s once influential United Stock Car Racing Club, Tommy Sutcliffe enjoyed a long-reign at the front of the pack. Twice a champion as the late West Haven Speedway (as seen here), he was a top competitor all over New England for decades winning a boatload of features. I had the pleasure of chatting with Tommy for a while recently at Waterford’s “Wings & Wheels” event – he looks like he could strap-in and make a run for the checkers even-today! (Shany Photo).    

Recently, our friend George Cleveland forwarded us some vintage shots taken at what we believe, to be the late Brewster Speedway in New York State. A real-find, George scored them at of all-places, a tag-sale! Brewster was a rudimentary 1/3-mile dirt oval that operated for only 4-seasons (1949-1952), and was the first home of the Southern New York Racing Association (SNYRA), before their move to the Danbury Fair Racarena. Note that there are no grandstands in this shot. Fans just sat on the hillside to take-in the competition! If any readers have additional information on this shot, do feel-free to write…. (Photo Courtesy George Cleveland).   

Stafford had the famous “Seymour the Clown,” and the shoreline oval had this popular fellow. Here’s a shot of a guy that added a little levity to the race night activities at Connecticut’s Waterford Speedbowl for a number of seasons. “BoBo The Clown” (real name Paul Ballon), was well-liked by both competitors and the small-fry in the grandstands, his antics keeping the kids occupied during those sometimes-lengthy cleanup times that are a customary part of a typical Saturday evening at the track. (Paul Ballon Collection).

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

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