Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday August 14, 2013


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By Dave Dykes                                                                            CLICK ON PHOTOS FOR FULL SIZE

We open with good news, as it was learned last week that our friend, New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer Billy Harman was released from a stay in the hospital and is presently recuperating at home. I’m sure that I speak for all of us in wishing Billy a swift recovery! Secondly, big congratulations go out to our pal Hall of Famer Billy Greco on his successful NEAR fundraiser that was held in West Haven last weekend. An extra special thanks is offered to all that were involved in staging such a wonderful event! As-always, email reaches me at foreveryounginct@yahoo.com

Another (Very) Varied Selection…… 

Here’s a classic Shany image of a friend captured back in the 70s at Connecticut’s “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl. Honestly, I thought I had just about all of the shoreline oval shots of Jim Torok in his original #13 coupe, so seeing this one was a pleasant surprise. Jim was a consummate low-bucker who actually concluded his career at the much-missed Danbury Fair Racarena before that track’s untimely closure. A longtime member of the New England Antique Racers (NEAR), he still manages to put in some fast-laps every season with the club as the owner and driver of the restored Corky Cookman Pinto and Lou Funk Buick straight-8 powered Coupe. We’ve known this guy for a lot of years. (Shany Photo From Jim Torok Collection).

Our good friend Steve Kennedy began his long career as a top-notch New England racing photographer as a kid shooting from the grandstands at Joe Tinty’s former Plainville Stadium in Connecticut; this is one of those images. The year is 1972, and our friend Dave Alkas is ready to go in the Roland Cyr-owned coach during the season’s opening event. If there was ever a “King of Plainville Stadium” this guy was royalty and we never tire of running shots of him. He was a 5-time track champion and was just plain-hard to beat on the tough little ¼-miler. 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 prestigious New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 2008. (Steve Kennedy Photo).

Celebrated New England racing lensman Shany Lorenzent wasn’t known to shoot a lot of color images, so this one is kind of a treat. Captured here during the late-60s at Connecticut’s “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl behind the controls of the Dick Brooks-owned #65 is the late Charlie Webster. He was one of the guys that literally helped put the shoreline oval on the map. Amassing a career total of seventy-three feature victories in both Non-Ford and Modified competition, he was a champion in both classes (3 Non-Ford titles, and 1 Modified crown). Charlie shocked the local racing community with his decision to retire at the dawn of the 70s, still very-much in his prime. (Shany Lorenzent Photo).

Here’s a nice color image of Johnny Thompson behind the controls of his familiar checkerboard  #122 captured at Connecticut’s expansive and historically-rich Thompson Motor Speedway during the 1970s. A winner at several different New England raceways during his long career, He was particularly-good at the storied Norwood Arena in Massachusetts where he was a champion during that track’s most competitive era. (Rene Dugas Photo)     

Flash-forward to the “Pinto Era” and New England modified teams were starting to abandon the classic pre-war tin in favor of more-contemporary (and certainly less-scarce), Detroit stylings. While we can’t put our finger on the locale of where this image was recorded, we do know that it’s Ed Barton behind the wheel. Regarded primarily as a “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl competitor, he managed to etch his name into the shoreline oval history books as a modified winner on a singular occasion. On Saturday evening June 26, 1971, he took the 36-lap June Championship Modified feature event over Speedbowl stalwarts Jiggs Beetham, Seabury Tripler, “Daring Dick” Caso and Don Bunnell. Future Modified champion Dickie Doo Ceravolo was the accompanying Sportsman Sedan main event winner that night. (Rene Dugas Photo).     

Captured here at the Speedbowl through the lens of Steve Kennedy during the “Twin-50” event on Sunday, October 22, 1978 is Frank Federici and his wild looking Mustang Cobra-bodied ride. Hall of Famer Carl “Bugs” Stevens was the modified winner on that autumn afternoon, while it was Bob Gada Sr. taking the Grand American class feature. Frank always fielded stellar-looking rides and this little number was no exception. It truly was a gorgeous piece! As our close friend award winning racing journalist & New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer Pete Zanardi noted, the multi-talented Federici was also an accomplished drag racer.(Steve Kennedy Photo).

Through “RTT” we’ve been blessed to make a lot of new pals that are also interested in the vintage aspect of our sport (you can never have too-many friends in this game!). For quite-a-while now, New York State Racing Historian Roger Liller has been contributing some dynamite photos from his neck of the woods and this is one of them. We’ll let him provide the details on this timeless image; “This photo captures Hyde Park, NY driver Vincent "Duke" Dushensky at Arlington Speedway in the early 50s. The photo was sent to me by his Daughter Pam and depicts a relaxed driver and his sponsor, Jim Camillaccio, in the pit area.” Keep sending-along these NY shots, Roger – a lot of folks really enjoy them! (Roger Liller Collection)..         

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. Though it’s not on the car in this image, just for fun Bob used to screw a Budweiser beer the roof to see how-long it’d stay-put during the action at “Tinty’s Place.” It was knocked-off on more than one occasion according to our Webmaster & fellow Stadium competitor Tom Ormsby. It was indeed, a more carefree time in our sport. (Phil Hoyt Photo).

What has to be written about this guy? If you’re at-all familiar with New England racing history, than you should already know a little about the career of the late Gene Bergin. A member of the first class inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 1998, Bergin excelled in everything from modifieds, to midgets to sprint cars. Starting his career in 1949 at the Stafford Motor Speedway, he remained one of our regions top-drivers for over three-decades. This shot captures him following a Stafford Motor Speedway feature victory when he was wheeling the potent Dick Armstrong-owned Pinto. (Photographer Unknown).

As with other New England raceways, the 1950s were a truly-prosperous period at Connecticut’s “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl. Packed grandstands every weekend were the norm, and the starting fields swelled across all divisions. It seemed that if you weren’t a racer, you wanted to be present to see the action! Captured here behind the controls of a MOPAR pre-war entry, “Big Butch” Caswell was a mountain-of-a-man, and a standout Non-Ford division competitor recording a number of victories and top-5 finishes during his career. Those were the days…. (Shany Photo).

BONUS SHOT: Though he’s captured here at Plainville Stadium, it was another Connecticut oval where this driver really excelled. Built within the confines of a baseball stadium and adjacent to an amusement park, Bobby Black was a big winner at West Haven Speedway (aka Savin Rock), which began as a 1/5-mile dirt oval in 1935. Paved the next year, the track operated running primarily midgets until World War II intervened. During the post-war era, it became a hotbed of action for the Tattersall’s United Stock Car Racing Club, and remained a successful venue until shuttered in 1967, a victim of the nationwide Urban Renewal movement. (Phil Hoyt Photo).

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