Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday August 21, 2013


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By Dave Dykes                                                                            CLICK ON PHOTOS FOR FULL SIZE

This week we open with a little promotion for what has certainly become one of our favorite yearly racing events. Looking-forward to the fall (it’ll be here sooner than you think); on Saturday, October 12th it’s the Fifth Annual Plainville Stadium Reunion. To be held at the Berlin CT. Fairgrounds, the event is presented by the Nutmeg Kart Club in conjunction with the Berlin Lions Club. On the agenda is a day of fun for the entire family that includes a vintage race car display, an autograph session with the stars of Joe Tinty’s much-missed ¼-miler, and some great Kart racing on New England’s only WKA Dirt Master Track. The event runs from 10am-3pm with a rain date of Sunday October 13th. Family-priced, admission is only $5.00 with children 12 & under admitted free. Again, this is an event that we never miss! Till’ next time, have a great week! As-always, email reaches me at foreveryounginct@yahoo.com

The Mid-Week Modified Memories Continue…. 

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 following a 1970s feature victory at Connecticut’s Stafford Springs Motor Speedway where he would become part of management following the conclusion of his driving days. (Rene Dugas Photo, Tom Ormsby Collection).

Captured here behind the controls of Bebe Zalinski’s potent M6 coupe is the late Buddy Krebs. Among the Northeast’s greatest modified racers-ever (especially at Massachusetts’ former Riverside Park Speedway as captured here), he was inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 2000. Krebs started racing in 1947, and before it was over, won an estimated two-hundred features while competing in Modifieds, Sportsman, and Grand Nationals. Among his accomplishments were six Riverside 500 victories – a record never broken. Known primarily for his feats during the Tattersall/United era, he won at virtually all the tracks that once dotted the New England landscape including the late Plainville and Candlelight Stadiums in Connecticut, and Millers Falls and Westboro Speedways in Massachusetts. A founding member of the New England Antique Racers, Buddy passed-away in January of 2006 at 74. (John Grady Photo).

Lou Toro (real name Louis Conforte), was a fierce competitor for decades, no-matter where the venue. Like many other racers from his era, running as much as 4-times weekly was commonplace. He was particularly good at UNITED haunts like West Haven and Riverside, but also excelled at the independently-sanctioned “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl. A popular chauffer with both fans and the guys he raced-against, he’s captured here following a victory in the lens of our pal, veteran racing lensman John Grady. Not sure of the track, as Lou’s busy schedule covered about every bullring in New England. (John Grady Photo).

The late Lou “Monks” Lazzaro; the name is magic in the history of Northeastern modified racing. He raced an incredible six decades on dirt and asphalt on tracks from Canada to Daytona and amassed 250 plus feature wins. He was extremely versatile and would successfully race and win with the same car on the 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. Lazzaro 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, and 1971). He was a three-time winner of the prestigious New Yorker 400 (1963, 1968, and 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. (John Grady Photo).       

Our pal veteran modified campaigner Don Moon is seen here in one of his signature #9 entries during the much-heralded “coupe era.” A big winner at Plainville Stadium as well as other New England & New York tracks, “Moonie” was one of the more well-traveled guys to compete at “Tinty’s Place” on a regular-basis. His earlier efforts included successes at the Danbury Fair Racearena, when in 1966 among his triumphs was the coveted “Conrad Memorial Trophy Race” while at the controls of the John Spada-owned #4 Coupe. In addition to his driving accomplishments, he was widely-regarded as a master car-builder. Today, Don stays busy touring with the New England Antique Racers (NEAR), piloting a restored version of one of his later Pinto-bodied mounts. One of the organizers of the annual Plainville Stadium Reunion, Don will be present when this year’s event takes the green on October 12th. Be-sure to stop-by & say hello! (Phil Hoyt Photo).    

If you’re a frequent visitor to this site, you probably already know who this New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member is. Seen here is Rhode Island’s Fred DeSarro, simply one of the best New England modified drivers in history, period. Before his untimely death following a horrendous crash at the Thompson Speedway in October of 1978, he’d captured the NASCAR National Modified Championship in 1970 along with several other significant wins including Stafford’s inaugural Spring Sizzler in 1972. He also notched the Stafford title that season, repeating in 1976. Also proficient at Thompson, he won four consecutive championships starting in 1974, taking down an incredible 14 feature that-year. The same season, he took the prestigious Race of Champions at Trenton, New Jersey – then “THE” event for the Modified troops. This one captures Freddie in 1972 behind the wheel of the legendary “Ole Blue” coupe owned by fellow Hall of Famer, the late Len Boehler. (Rene Dugas Photo).

Captured by our friend longtime official track photographer Phil Hoyt, this one really conveys the action that was Connecticut’s much-missed Plainville Stadium. There was a time at the Stadium’ when it was populated by scads of drivers like the colorful Pud Noble; the place was really rockin’ when this image was caught by Phil. It’s only been in recent years that people have realized just how-important Joe Tinty’s little Connecticut ¼-miler really-was. As I’ve stated previously, it was the first track I ever attended after I got my drivers license and was able to stray from my home base of the Waterford Speedbowl. I loved the place along with its colorful drivers and competition that was second-to-none. I’ve always been envious of our friend & Webmaster Tom Ormsby, as not-only did he get to call Plainville his home track as a kid, he later got to race a modified there! (Phil Hoyt Photo).         

By the time Waterford Speedbowl campaigner Jiggs Beetham debuted this beautiful entry dubbed the “Golden Hurricane” during the late-1970s, the timeless profiles of the once-popular coupes and coaches had all-but disappeared on the New England modified racing landscape. Like everything-else he constructed during his many decades in the sport, the car was absolutely flawless and a real head-turner. This Steve Kennedy image captures him pitside at the ‘Bowl. Jiggs later placed his helmet on the shelf and teamed with NEAR Hall of Fame driver Bob Potter to form one of the most successful modified teams in the regions history. Still looking-great today, this car is now campaigned on the vintage racing circuit by its present owner. (Steve Kennedy Photo).

Seen here following an early-70s victory, Nicky Porto remains one of the best to have ever-competed at Plainville Stadium. Another driver that spent the formative years of his career competing at West Haven Speedway where he snared multiple victories, his reign at Plainville was nothing-less than spectacular. Leaving the local scene for a brief period in the mid-70s, he headed to Riverside Park during what was arguably one of that track's most-competitive eras becoming an almost instant feature winner (May 17, 1975 to be-exact). Porto later returned-home to “Tinty’s Place” picking-up where he’d left-off as a winner. (Phil Hoyt Photo).

It was John Grady capturing this great image of our late friend, New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member, Bill Slater. From his HOF biography; “Wild Bill Slater” drove is first race at Lonsdale R.I. in 1949 and for the next twenty years he won at tracks from Oxford Plains Maine to Trenton New Jersey. Slater is a four time champion at the Norwood Arena and a two-time Sportsmen champion at Thompson. He won on the dirt at Stafford and on the pavement everywhere. He was often a top three finisher in the NASCAR National Sportsman championship run, even though he raced against full time drivers while he held down a weekly job. Bill’s list of accomplishments includes winning 8 straight features at Norwood, and 7 straight wins at Stafford. In 1959 he posted twenty wins at Waterford. He also took down two championships at Waterford and one at Stafford. Slater won the 400 mile race at Trenton New Jersey four times, and is a two time winner of the Utica-Rome 400 in New York. His biggest career victory was in his win at the Langhorne Penn. Race of Champions the first year it was paved. He drove in The Daytona Permatex 300 four times from 1963 to 66. He is most known for his long time association with the Vitari-Bombacci owned V8. He drove his last race at Stafford in 1969 and then became involved in the promotion side of racing at Stafford and later Thompson. (John Grady Photo).  

BONUS SHOT: As captured-here, “Rapid Rick” Donnelly’s modified career started at the late United Stock Car Racing Club-sanctioned Riverside Park Speedway in Agawam, Massachusetts. In 1975, he followed Harvey Tattersall down to Connecticut’s Waterford Speedbowl when the shoreline oval became yet-another acquisition of the once-powerful UNITED dynasty. That year he was awarded Rookie of the Year honors, and by 1979, he was crowned track champion. His title year was particularly spectacular; he won 10 of the 14 events, a season that was plagued by an unusually-high amount of rainouts. (Photographer Unknown).

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