Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday August 7, 2013
 
 

 

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Volume 5, Number 32                                                                                    New Column Every Wednesday


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Sunday August 11th

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By Dave Dykes                                                                            CLICK ON PHOTOS FOR FULL SIZE

Putting it mildly, the last week has been a hassle for yours-truly speaking in computer- terms. Just as we were placing the finishing touches on the July 31st edition of “RTT” the “blue screen of death” reared its ugly head in the form of a very nasty virus. It was off to the experts for repairs that took much-longer than anticipated. Fortunately, our Webmaster & close friend Mr. Tom Ormsby stepped-in to put the site together last week (doing a stupendous job I might add); keeping a streak of consistency alive that dates back a number of years now. Many thanks to Tom for pinch-hitting in a crisis! Unfortunately, along with the good news comes some sad news. New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member Charles "Chick" Stockwell, 85, passed-away Monday, July 29, 2013 at his home in Woodbury, CT. For more on the Danbury Racereana star & popular pioneering New England modified racer, visit www.near1.com Our sincere condolences are offered to Chick’s family & many friends. As-always, many-thanks go-out to our pals JoJo Farone and Roger Liller for their contributions this week! Lastly, don’t forget this Sunday, August 11th; Hall of Famer Billy Greco is hosting a picnic & car show at the Polish American Club located at 194 W. Spring Street in West Haven, CT. The event serves as a fundraiser for the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame. Get your tickets early by contacting Billy at 203-378-7945 or emailing mod43@optimum.net  To be held under the pavilion on the grounds of the Polish American Club, it’s a rain-or-shine affair which runs from noon to 6pm. Tickets will also be available at the door.  As-always, email reaches me at foreveryounginct@yahoo.com

Finally……..We’re Back On-Track !!!!!!!!!!!!

Sadly, New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member Charles "Chick" Stockwell, 85, passed-away Monday, July 29th. Saying that he left an indelible mark on the history of New England modified racing would be an understatement. From his HOF Biography; Charles “Chick” Stockwell began racing in 1949, driving his own cars throughout the northeast. Although Chick considers the Danbury Arena to be “home”, he was a regular competitor at Waterford, Thompson, Plainville, West Haven, and Stafford. He raced at Lime Rock, Springfield, and Westboro. Venturing outside New England, he has driven at Albany-Saratoga, Orange County, JFK Stadium, and Lebanon Valley. Stockwell showed his versatility as a race driver by competing on both dirt and asphalt, often 3 to 4 times in the same week. He won the 1957 Rhinebeck Track Championship, racing on dirt. He took down the United Grand American Late Model Sportsman Circuit Crown in 1963 and 1964. He won the "Most Popular Driver" award at Danbury for six consecutive years. (1976-1981). The award was sponsored by the Racearena Revue magazine, and over 17,000 fans cast votes for Chick, who says that the Most Popular Driver awards meant even more to him than his many feature wins. Stockwell is in the record book as the all-time total race winner at the arena, with 51 feature wins, 51 semi features, 77 heats, 26 consi victories, and 2 “B” wins, for a total of 207 Danbury Arena victories, while winning nine championships. Chick retired from racing in 1981, when they closed down the Danbury Arena. Looking back, he remembers his career as a satisfying time. “It was fun back then”, Chick says. “Everything was right out of the junkyard, where nowadays everything is bought. We got a junk, gutted it out, and went after it.” This image captures Chick during the “Pinto Era” at the former SNYRA-sanctioned Danbury Fair Racerena where he was an absolute Superstar. Our sincere condolences are offered to his family and many friends on his passing. (Mannion Photo).

Truly one of the best New England modified racers to have ever completed a lap, our friend Billy Greco remains one of the sport’s favorites years following his retirement as a driver. His win total on our regions ovals is surpassed only by his great personality and the appreciation he expresses toward his many fans to this day. Inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 1999, there were few better on the short tracks of our region than this guy, esp. within the realm of the former United Stock Car Racing Club (once much-more powerful than NASCAR in New England). This one captures “Gramps” behind the controls of the Joe Zenga-owned Vega at Waterford in the 1970s when UNITED was at the helm of the shoreline oval. This Sunday August 11th, Billy is hosting a picnic & car show at the Polish American Club located at 194 W. Spring Street in West Haven, CT. The event serves as a fundraiser for the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame. Get your tickets early by contacting Billy at 203-378-7945 or emailing mod43@optimum.net To be held under the pavilion on the grounds of the Polish American Club, it’s a rain-or-shine affair which runs from noon to 6pm. Tickets will also be available at the door. Definitely an affair not to be missed, I know I’ll be there! (Rene Dugas Photo).

A huge part of the history of racing in our region as-well as a member of the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame, the late “Moneybags Moe” Gherzi earned his nickname for claiming some of the most-lucrative purses during the formative years of the sport. From his HOF biography; Following a short stint in the midgets, he became one of the drivers that helped define stock car racing in New England during the busy post-war era. Moe Gherzi, nicknamed “Moneybags” for his knack in capturing some of the highest-paying events of the day bought to racing a degree of class during a time when the disheveled look of tattered t-shits and jeans were often the norm in the way of driver “uniforms.”  With his fancy silk shirts, and requisite “victory salute” following each feature win, he was the consummate showman and goodwill ambassador for a segment of the sport still in its infancy and seeking legitimacy. He was extremely popular in his heyday, and remains a pivotal figure in the history of New England modified racing. Gherzi drove for some of the best teams of the day, not the least being the famed Garuti Bros. team, for which he won many events at places like the Waterford Speedbowl, Plainville Stadium, and Thompson Speedway all in Connecticut, and Massachusetts’ Riverside Park Speedway in naming just a few. He also competed frequently on the ovals of Long Island, NY during the early-stages of his career. At Waterford, he was particularly proficient scoring a career-total of 27 modified feature victories between the shoreline oval’s inaugural season in 1951 and his last year a regular competitor there in 1958. His best Speedbowl season came in 1954 when he won 15 main events. Success was also had at Riverside Park, an absolute hotbed of action for the Tattersall family’s all-powerful United Stock Car Club. Gherzi notched 8 featured victories (including a Riverside 500 teamed with Hall of Famer Ed Flemke Sr.), between 1949 and 1960 competing against the absolute best-in-the-business. His driving career concluded, he remained close to the sport he helped cultivate as the long-time Race Director at Plainville Stadium. Born in 1918, “Moneybags” left us in 1991, but not before leaving a lasting impression on both fans and his fellow competitors. This one captures “Moneybags” behind the wheel of the famed midget owned by the late Rich & Ray Garuti, also Hall of Famers. (Photo Courtesy JoJo Farone).

Here’s an early Plainville Stadium image of the guy responsible for providing many of the images that periodically appear on “RTT” from back when he was a weekly competitor at the much-missed Connecticut ¼-miler. Looking very-much the part of a teenager (which he was), our good friend JoJo Farone was fast right-out-of-the-box in this family-owned hulking pre-war sedan. Member of an accomplished Connecticut-based racing family that also included the late Butch “Seymour the Clown” Farone and standout ‘Stadium competitor Beetle Farone, JoJo progressed from humble beginnings in the Stadium’s Novice class as seen-here, to wheeling modifieds in the New England region. JoJo remains active in the sport today as a big supporter of vintage racing, displaying the original Garuti Bros. cars throughout the summer months at NEAR events. If you spot him at one of the shows, be sure to stop & chat; the guy is a walking history book on Plainville Stadium! (Photo Courtesy JoJo Farone).       

As a top New England modified chauffer, Jim Cash got his career kicked into high-gear at the former UNITED-sanctioned “ball field-turned-racetrack” West Haven Speedway in Connecticut during the hectic post-war stock car boom. Always a factor everywhere he competed, he later went-on to success at the former Plainville Stadium (where he’s seen here following a feature victory in the 1970s), and also at the late Riverside Park Speedway in Massachusetts where he was particularly proficient during that tracks glory years scoring multiple main event triumphs. Cash was also a regular competitor in the big UNITED events once held every summer on the expansive 5/8-mile track on the grounds of the Springfield Exposition Center in Massachusetts. (Phil Hoyt Photo).     

Connecticut’s Waterford Speedbowl nestled along the state’s shoreline communities has been in continuous operation since the spring of 1951, and all-things-considered, that’s an admirable record. The track has hosted everyone from the “famous” to the “not-so-famous” and continues to serve-up what many consider to be the best racing in the Nutmeg State; it’s close, gritty stuff every Saturday night. This early 70s-era paddock area shot captures Marvin Shaw, a local shoe hailing from the nearby seaport city of Mystic. Typical of the cars that lapped the “shoreline oval” at the time, it was a purely homebuilt-creation. Back-then just about anyone with a little mechanical aptitude and a desire to race could enter the game. Big wallets certainly helped, but they weren’t necessarily a requirement. It was indeed, a simpler and certainly more affordable era in the sport. (Rene Dugas Photo). 

And here we have another photographic treasure from our friend and frequent “RTT” contributor, New York State Racing Historian Roger Liller. A follower of this legendary driver’s career for many years, he had the following to say about this shot; “This is an Ed Ryan photo of the indomitable Tommy Corellis at Pine Bowl, New York in 1963 with 2 female admirers. Tom was always a bigger than life guy whom I would call the Frank Sinatra of dirt track racing. He always seemed to do things "My Way.” Whether you cheered him or booed him, you simply had to admit he was a really good driver, and, hey, the guy added a lot of color to racing.” Just a great rare image, wouldn’t you say? (Ed Ryan Photo Courtesy Roger Liller).         

A good friend at-speed…. So you say you like our little weekly foray into New England auto racings past? If-so, you owe a lot to this guy. Seen here circling the asphalt of Connecticut’s much-missed Plainville Stadium in the 1970s is Tom Ormsby, the Webmaster of this site. While I get to do the fun stuff like picking the photos and doing the writing, without his efforts in placing things in cyberspace every Wednesday there’d be no “Racing Through Time.” He’s also the guy behind two-other sites including his www.speedwaylinereport.comand www.vintagemodifieds.com  Adding still-more, he serves as the Webmaster of www.near1.org , home of the New England Antique Racers. Tom had a long career as one of Plainville’s top modified shoes. (Phil Hoyt Photo).

And here we have a nice color coupe-era paddock area shot at what was then known as the “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl. The late Johnny Savage campaigned this ride to many fine-finishes during a career that started in the mid-1960s. He was closely-associated with the team of shoreline oval Icon, the late Fred “Fuzzy” Baer and his father “Pops.” Sadly, Johnny passed-away a few years-ago at a relatively-young age. (Rene Dugas Photo).

This is just a great shot courtesy of our friend, former Plainville Stadium official track photographer Phil Hoyt…. Here’s Richie Galullo ready-to go at The Stadium in the “cent” sign coupe during the era in-which he was a top New England modified competitor. A “chip off the old block” Richie inherited a lot of skill from his late father Hall of Fame member Danny Galullo, and experienced many fine runs while behind the controls of this nifty little coupe. Brother Danny Jr. was also an accomplished racer. This car happened to be the ex Art Barry owned #09 of Bobby Santos and several other drivers.   (Phil Hoyt Photo).

The late Joe Tinty’s Connecticut ¼-miler could be a very-demanding little circle of asphalt as evidenced by the “body language” being displayed by this racer as he wrestles the wheel. Seen here during a 1975 outing at Connecticut’s much-missed Plainville Stadium is Fred Alkas behind the controls of a Pinto-bodied mount owned by George "Pete" Saunders. Along with his older brothers Dave (a New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer), and George, Fred enjoyed considerable success on the ovals of New England. He was particularly good at his home track of Plainville, recording a bevy of feature victories during his long career. (Phil Hoyt Photo).

Speaking earlier of our late friends Fred “Fuzzy” Baer (right), & his father “Pops” (left), here’s another nice shoreline oval image as captured through the lens of longtime racing photographer Rene Dugas. We just really like this shot. Few Waterford Speedbowl personalities were more popular with fans and competitors than Fuzzy. It was more than one rookie driver that sought advice from “Fuzz” as they started their careers. Though the record book reveals only four feature victories during a career that spanned nearly 4-decades, he was simply synonymous with the Speedbowl. To this day, when talk turns to former action at the decades-old Connecticut oval, it seems that everyone has at-least one fond memory of the much-missed Mr. Baer. (Rene Dugas Photo).

The Berndt family has a long & successful history in New England modified racing, their “North End Auto Parts” cars having been driven by some of the best in the business for decades at virtually every track in the region. This nice Steve Kennedy image captures one of the team’s familiar Vega-bodied entries at Plainville ready to roll on June 29, 1977 during one of Joe Tinty’s memorable mid-week 100-lap open competition shows. Timmy Berndt is at the wheel. Quite-fittingly, Ron Berndt, the man who started the family’s rich racing tradition will be inducted into the prestigious New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame later this year on Sunday, Nov. 10 at the Lodge at Manelley’s in South Windsor, CT. Visit www.near1.com for more information on this year’s HOF inductions. (Steve Kennedy Photo).

 
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