Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday August 28, 2013


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By Dave Dykes                                                                            CLICK ON PHOTOS FOR FULL SIZE

Once-again it’s Wednesday, and another week is on the fast-track to becoming history. With that-said, we present another healthy dose of the “Good Old Daze” for your viewing enjoyment... As-always, special thanks to those who contributed images this week, and a big dose of appreciation goes to our Webmaster & friend Tom Ormsby for getting things posted without-fail as he always does. Lastly, don’t forget, 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

More Mid-Week Modified Meanderings…. 

Though his remains one of the most tragic tales in Northeastern racing lore, this driver’s unfortunate story continues to interest us. Call it a somewhat-morbid fascination with the sports dark-side, or a continuing quest in trying to discover just what made these early guys “tick.” I prefer the latter conclusion…. Seen here in the potent Gordon Ross #19 is the late Daniel Duncan Harris. Known at the track as “Rebel” Harris owing to his South Carolina roots, he was an experienced chauffer by the time of his untimely demise at the old Onteora Speedway in Olive Bridge, New Jersey on June 21, 1963. According to newspaper reports of the day, his coupe flipped end-over-end several times going into the first-turn on the first circuit of the 25-lap main event. Harris was ejected in mid-flight, succumbing to his injuries at nearby Kingston Hospital only 15 min. after arrival. While it’s perhaps no-more than a racing “urban legend”, there are those that to this-day blame Rebel’s death on of all-things, his reluctance to wear a racing harness. (Photographer Unknown).

Here’s a nice 70s-era shot of Bobby Turner at what we believe to be Connecticut’s Stafford springs Motor Speedway. Turner began racing at age-16 at Maine’s Arundel Speedway and Hudson in New Hampshire and during his career, he successfully campaigned NASCAR modifieds throughout the New England region. As a note of interest, it was Turner who sat on the pole position for the original “Spring Sizzler” in 1972 at Stafford; indeed quite an accomplishment. Unfortunately, luck has lately turned sour for the popular Turner, as he was severely injured in a crash during a recent STARS vintage event at New Hampshire’s Hudson Speedway. Adding to the misfortune, Bobby’s wife Anne had broke her foot in 3-places while loading the car just a few weeks before. I’m sure I echo all of our sentiments in wishing both Bobby & Anne swift recoveries! (Mike Adaskaveg Photo Courtesy Tom Ormsby). NOTE: Bobby is currently in a body cast and will be for quite awhile.

Captured here in an extraordinary profile image is the late Joe Csiki. The celebrated open-wheel racer actually won his first-ever feature in a stock car on the 1/5-mile at Riverside Park Speedway in Massachusetts on May 4, 1957, Before that, he was turning heads as a talented competitor, being named the 1956 United Stock Car Club’s “Most Promising Driver.” Shortly after switching exclusively to midgets, he was crowned the 1958 NEMA Rookie of the Year. He was the 1961 NEMA Non-Offy Owner Champion, and the ’62 NEMA Non-Offy Driver Champion. He followed-up as the 1963 and ’65 NEMA Driver Champion.  In 1964, he was named United Racing Club Rookie of the Year, and he was the ARDC Driving Champion in 1966. Csiki listed two ARDC 100 lap races, one at Old Bridge and one at Wall Stadium, along with a 50 lapper at Trenton in 1966, as three of his bigger wins. Sadly, his life ended tragically from injuries sustained at Bedford, PA Fairgrounds in August of 1967. Fittingly, Csiki is a member of the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame. (Photo Courtesy Pete Zanardi from R.A. Silvia Archives).

Here’s another great shot of a true “Midget Maestro” during the heyday of a brilliant career; the late Johnny Kay (real name John Kapustinski). As a winner on both the NEMA & ARDC Midget circuits for many seasons (along with forays into AAA and USAC Indy & Champ Car competition), he was long-considered one of the best during a career that was unfortunately, compromised by a serious crash while still at the top of his game. He was inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 2006. As a side-note, after retiring from driving Kay became a talented racing photographer, staying close to the sport he loved. (Photo Courtesy Pete Zanardi from R.A. Silvia Archives).      

There’s not-much that I can write about this racer that hasn’t already been stated on this site, as he’s been featured here several times in the past. New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member the late “Gentleman Dick” Watson was a childhood hero of mine that in later years, became a valued friend. He was quick on the throttle but smooth-as-silk as a driver; one of those guys that you could trust while running alongside at 100 mph. His was an era of mutual-respect among competitors, a trait that sometimes seems to be in short-supply these days. Dick is seen here at Waterford behind the controls of the potent John Barnett-owned “Golden Scorpion” coupe, a ride that earned him many successes during the early stages of his career. (Shany Photo).    

Captured here when he was piloting the #500 Vega of Richard "Jarb" Beaudoin during one of Harvey Tattersall’s great Riverside UNITED 500-lap team events is Stan “Stash” Greger. His racing roots tracing back to the rough n’ tumble tarmac of Connecticut’s Plainville Stadium, he parlayed a modest start into one of the most-stellar careers in all of New England modified racing. After conquering his home-turf, it was on to the ultra-competitive Riverside Park in Agawam where he’d eventually record a trio of championships and nearly forty feature wins. The popular Greger remains perhaps one of the most-underrated drivers in our region, a winning history garnered during what many railbirds still consider to be our segment of the sport’s most-competitive period. Note Ben Dodge standing on the right in this shot. (Photo Courtesy Tom Ormsby).

We’re not sure who captured this image, but it’s the sometimes grainy shots like this one that often convey the history of the sport in the best light. Seen here in pits of Connecticut’s “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl of the 1960s seated behind the wheel of a coupe typical of the era is Bob Savard. A local team hailing from the Norwich area, the Savard family had strong ties to the shoreline oval, being a part of the competition for many seasons. We really like this one…. (Photo Courtesy Tom Ormsby).       

Coaches long seemed to be in-style during the early days at the Speedbowl, and this one was a beauty. We don’t know a whole-lot about this racer, and we’re not even quite-sure of the division. We suspect it was what was known as a “Bomber” a once wildly-popular support class at the shoreline oval. The guy sitting behind the wheel is Albert “Bert” Taylor. (Shany Photo).  

Last week we ran a nice shot of this guy in his signature #88. Here he is in another ride….. Lou Toro (real name Louis Conforte), was a fierce competitor for decades, no-matter what 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 as captured here. He was a popular chauffer with both fans and the guys he raced-against. (Shany Photo).   

If you were lucky enough to be around the sport when this guy was in his prime, you witnessed one of the best. Our friend and Webmaster Tom Ormsby of www.speedwaylinereport.com once stated that he was “Colorful, Controversial, and Popular” all at the same time. The truth-is, Anthony “Jap” Membrino helped 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 when he was chauffeuring the potent North End Auto coupe, Jap also won-big at many other New England venues including the UNITED-sanctioned West Haven Speedway & Riverside Park. Ronnie Berndt, the owner of this car, will be inducted into the prestigious New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame later his year. (Phil Hoyt Photo).



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