Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday December 1, 2010

 Volume 2, Number 45                                                                                      New Column Every Wednesday


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By Dave Dykes                                                                              CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE

First of all, here’s hoping that everyone had a happy & blessed Thanksgiving holiday! This week we present our usual helping of historical tidbits from the archives. Special thanks go out to all of you that have been sharing your collections lately for all to enjoy, as it’s sincerely appreciated. Don’t forget, the 2011 New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame Induction ceremony is right-around the corner (January 30th will be here quicker than you think!). For info on reserving your tickets to what’s usually a sold-out affair, visit www.near1.org Email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com     

Our Usual Helping Of Racing History (New England-Style)….       

Here’s one of the New England region’s longest-running performers. The career of Dale Holdridge (left) lasted over 3-decades. Known as a gentleman on & off the track, he was a driver that you seldom ever saw involved in any controversy; just a good, steady shoe that fellow competitors enjoyed racing with. As evidenced by this sharp and somewhat-radical coupe, he was also a skilled and innovative car builder. The place is the “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl, and it’s the spring of 1971. Holdridge was recently presented the “Dedication to Racing Award” by the Modified Racing Series where he presently oversees his son Mike’s career.  (Dugas Photo).         

Captured here very-early in his career during the 1950’s, Joey “Pops” Trudeau was a fan-favorite at the Speedbowl for decades, and his winning reputation kept him in-demand with all of the shoreline oval’s top teams. After coming-close to notching the championship on several occasions, he finally scored in 1971 wheeling a Mustang-bodied creation for the Gada team. Curiously-enough, Trudeau took the title without the benefit of a single feature victory. For the Gada clan it was a banner-season, as Bob Sr. also scored, winning the Daredevil title. (Shany Photo, Ormsby Collection).  

As a Thanksgiving Day guest at the home of my friend longtime Waterford Speedbowl Modified competitor Mark LaJeunesse and his family, I figured the talk would turn to racing following the day’s feast, and it did. Luckily for me, Mark pulled-out a few of his vintage photos, and this is one of them. Seen here in a candid shot is the team of one of the “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl’s best-ever, Dick Beauregard. Says Mark about the photo, “Second from right is Dickie, 3rd from right is George Sevigny, and far right is Harold Sevigny. My father doesn't know who the guy on Dickie's left-is. The business is on Norwich Avenue in Taftville, CT. where it still operates today. The photo was taken May of 1952, Dickie's first year as track champion. Notice that back- then, they just rolled the windows down before the rules mandated removal of all glass except windshields.” Beauregard of-course went on to score another title in 1962 and an estimated career total of 42 Modified feature victories at the Speedbowl. (LaJeunesse Family Collection).           

Another candid image from Mark’s collection, this one again captures Dick Beauregard in 1952. Seen here ready to do battle at the Speedbowl, it was indeed a season for the sometimes-controversial chauffer to remember. Displaying a patented “no-holds-barred” driving style, on-route to the title he took the checkered flag on 3 occasions. Undoubtedly one of Waterford’s most notable racers, this was one of the guys that helped put the track on the map during the early days. (LaJeunesse Family Collection).       

And here’s the final entry from the LaJeunesse archives; With an impish grin and a practical joke waiting for anyone in spitting-distance, the late George Pendergast was one of the really good-things about the formative years of our sport. Not to be portrayed as simply a “Character”, he was also a skilled and accomplished racer. He was not-only a winner at the Speedbowl (as captured here in the 1950s), but also excelled at many other New England raceways. For instance, in the 1960’s, a win at the famed Norwood Arena meant that you had really arrived. As relayed in “Hot Cars, Cool Drivers” by Lew Boyd www.coastal181.com the wild revelry in the Pendergast pit area following his first-ever triumph at the fabled Massachusetts speedplant somehow resulted in ole’ George breaking his arm. They simply don’t make em’ like George anymore! (Shany Photo, LaJeunesse Family Collection).

Here we have a nice shot of Bobby Bard from the late & much-missed Riverside Park Speedway in Massachusetts. Captured here in 1961 on the old 1/5-mile circuit, Bard recorded a total of ten Park’ feature victories, the first in 1964, and the final in 1974. That resume also includes a victory in the 1974 Riverside 500 in which he was teamed with multi-time winner of that prestigious event, Ronnie Wyckoff. Mr. Bard ran-well all over New England and was always a threat to win during the much-heralded “Coupe Era.” (Shany Photo, Ormsby Collection).              

As a frequent contributor to this site, Rusty Sage has sent us a number of memorable images; this one is no exception. Rusty got the facts on this shot right from the source, our friend NEAR Hall of Famer, Billy Harman. Billy says “This is opening day in 1968 at the Speedbowl. On the left is owner Dick Brooks. I drove this car for about half that season. I showed up at Brooks’ garage one day, and there was no race car. I asked what was going-on, and Brooksie told me that some guy from Long Island, New York was driving-by, saw the race car out front, and bought it on the spot!” And that’s the skinny on this shot! (Dugas Photo, Rusty Sage Collection)       

We’ve ran shots of this driver before, but this one just begs to be seen. Few New England Modified drivers had more going for them than the late Don MacTavish. Starting his career at the age of 15 racing at the much-celebrated Norwood Arena, he quickly gained popularity as one of the regions brightest young upstarts. In 1963 he progressed to NASCAR’s Sportsman Division and in 1966 took the NASCAR National Sportsman Championship, his closest competitors being Ralph Earnhardt, "Wild" Bill Slater and Rene Charland. During his Daytona debut on February 22, 1969, “Mac” lost his life in a horrific crash during the Permatex 300. To say this regions racing community was stunned and saddened is an understatement. MacTavish was posthumously inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 2001 (Grady Photo, Ormsby Collection).

Another heavy contributor to our site is Mal Phillips, and he’s sent us a number of early gems from the track formally-known as the “New London-Waterford Speedbowl” (later shortened to simply “Waterford Speedbowl”). Captured here in the infield of the venerable old Connecticut 1/3-miler during his Non Ford division championship season of 1953 is Darwin “Bud” Matter. Notching an astounding total of 15 feature victories on-route to the title, he scored an impressive total of 26 main event triumphs during a relatively-short career behind the wheel. (Shany Photo, Phillips Collection).             

Lastly, another treasure from the Phillips archives; the late Ray Delisle was there from the start, and was winning early in his Waterford career. Felled by serious injuries sustained in a Speedbowl crash when his Coupe was hit from-behind, his old-style “jerry can” fuel tank erupting in-flames, Delisle endured a long, painful recovery before returning to the game. In 1964, his career reached its zenith when he waltzed-away with the Modified title wheeling the famed Simons Bros. #9. This image sees him in one of the earliest of his many rides. A quiet and unassuming man who let his throttle-foot do the talking, he was always in-demand with the top car owners of the day. (Shany Photo, Phillips Collection).              

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

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