Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History


Wednesday December 21, 2011

 Volume 3, Number 49                                                                                     New Column Every Wednesday


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By Dave Dykes                                                                              CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE

It’s hard to believe, but the 2011 holiday season is upon-us. In no-time, we’ll all be ushering-in a new year! Within a few days of this latest edition of “RTT” hitting the Internet, it’ll be Christmas. I’d like to take a moment to thank everyone who’s made this site such a success, and I mean ALL of you. When our old friend & Webmaster Tom Ormsby offered to make the site a reality back in 2009, we had no-idea of just how-popular it would become. As I always tell everyone, without his selfless efforts (and computer expertise), there simply would be no “RTT.”  A big Kudos also goes-out to all of our readers, and esp. the many that have contributed photos; it’s sincerely appreciated. With that, here’s wishing everyone a safe & happy Christmas! Email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com              

Happy Holidays To All! (And A Few Extra Shots This Week….)  

At Connecticut’s “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl, George Allum was an absolute terror in this flawless coupe during the early-70s, and was a serious contender to break the stranglehold that Dick Dunn seemingly had on the era’s track championships. In addition to taking several weekly features, he also defeated a stellar field of outsiders to take the checkers in the Hott Wheels 100 on Sunday afternoon April, 22, 1973 as seen-here. Another of the many racers that hailed from nearby Norwich (once a veritable “Gasoline Alley” for successful Bowl’ teams), Allum is the brother-in-law of former Waterford Modified competitor Mark LaJeunesse, yet another resident of the “Rose City” that enjoyed great shoreline oval success. Today George is retired and along with wife Joyce, enjoying the warmer climate of the South. (Rene Dugas Photo).                        

As with any short track in the nation, the action can get violent in the blink-of-an-eye; it’s all part of the experience of weekly racing. This image of a heap of twisted modified- metal was captured at the Waterford Speedbowl. Facing-us is the #38 coupe of our late pal, Fred “Fuzzy” Baer. Our longtime friend & racer Mark LaJeunesse gave us the skinny on this shot. He says of his teammate at the time; “Fuzzy got out of the car REALLY-QUICK that night, as the #99 was leaking fuel all-over him!” On the left it looks to be the Pinto of Butch Perry. We’re not sure of the identity of the poor guy who got turned upside-down in this little altercation. (Steve Kennedy Photo).       

We NEVER tire of running shots of this driver, “Steady Eddie” Flemke. From his New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame biography;” Steady Eddie” Flemke started his driving career in 1948 in the early jalopy races. In the 1950’s he raced at all the United Stock Car tracks and won Riverside Park championships in 1956 and 58. In 1960 with the emergence of NASCAR in New England he became the leader of the famed Eastern Bandits as they raced and won up and down the East Coast. He was never considered a points chaser but he still finished runner-up in the NASCAR National Modified championship in both 1960 and 61.He was known as the best of the big dollar race winners. Among his estimated 500 victories is the 1972 Spring Sizzler, two Utica Rome 400’s, and the 1977 Thompson 300. Flemke was also well known for his chassis innovations and his ability to make a car handle. He obviously developed the Flemke front end. Eddie was very willing to teach and encourage other drivers such as Denny Zimmerman, Reggie Ruggerio, Ron Bouchard and Richie Evans. Pete Hamilton honored Eddie Flemke by inviting him up to the press box after his Daytona 500 win and telling the crowd that he owed his victory to “Steady Eddie.” After a thirty year driving career Eddie retired after driving his last race at Stafford in 1978. He was a founding member of NEAR in 1981. He died of natural causes in 1984. (John Grady Photo).               

Here’s a classic 1960’s Shany Lorenzent image of one of the “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl’s most fondly-remembered racers. The ultra-popular Newt Palm was twice a champion (1967 & 68) during what was no-doubt one of the track’s most competitive eras. His career cut-short by injuries sustained at Seekonk Speedway in Massachusetts, you can only wonder just how-much further he could have gone in the sport. He was that-good….. (Shany Lorenzent Photo).      

This guy’s name remains synonymous with the Waterford Speedbowl, and we never tire of featuring him on this site. Captured here in the early 1950s, nobody has more wins in the Modified division at that track than New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member Don Collins. Though he also competed at other venues, Collins spent much of his career at the Speedbowl where he scored more than 100 features in both Modified and Non-Ford competition along with five Modified championships. The first title came in 1955, the final in 1969. While he drove for a varied list of top teams, this shot captures him with his self-owned “Little Jewel” #106. Collins was pure-class; note his fancy “western shirt.” (Shany Lorenzent Photo).     

It’s a Saturday evening during the spring of 1974, and the guy behind the controls of this neat coupe is journeyman Speedbowl chauffer Bob Finkeldey. Another classic “Shany” image, “Fink” as he was nicknamed, remained a staple of the modified field at the shoreline oval for a number of seasons in the process recording a parcel of fine finishes. (Shany Lorenzent Photo).                                     

Here’s our pal, New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member, “Wild Bill” Slater at the Speedbowl during his heyday as the chauffer of the potent Vitari-Bombaci (also Hall of Famers), coupe. Slater was simply one of the best racers to have ever emerged from New England, period. When he retired from driving, he stayed involved with the sport for many seasons as a respected official at both the Thompson & Stafford Speedways. We really like this shot, as it captures everything that was so-great about the shoreline oval in the 1950s. Luckily, the Speedbowl is still going-strong, having completed a great 2011 season. (Shany Lorenzent Photo).                     

Back in the early days when 3-digit car numbers were all the rage, Nick Dinsmore fielded this sharp coupe at the Speedbowl. We really like this era of New England modified racing. It was a time when getting-involved in the sport was still based more on desire & mechanical ingenuity rather than the thickness of one’s bankroll. Cars like this were constructed entirely by the teams; no “store-bought” stuff here! (Shany Lorenzent Photo).       

Here’s a great shot of our good friend Billy “Gramps” Greco with the fondly-recalled "Pink Panther" of his signature #43. A New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer, he was an absolute master of the short oval, honing his skills at tight little joints like the late West Haven Speedway and the much-missed 1/5-miler at Riverside Park. A darling of the old Harvey Tattersall-led United circuit (once the most influential sanctioning group in New England), in later-years he also became a winner at the ultra-competitive Danbury Fair Racarena. The personable Greco is as popular today as he ever-was, and can really enlighten you on the history of the sport. If you get a chance to chat with him, please do! (John Grady Photo).                                           

Like every short track, the Waterford Speedbowl has had its share of real “stand on the gas” competitors over the years, and this guy was one of them. Glynn Shafer won a ton of races during his long career which started in the Bomber class and concluded in the Modifieds. As exciting a wheelman as ever witnessed at the shoreline oval, he ALWAYS coaxed the most out of his equipment. This nice Rene Dugas image captures Glynn in a Pat Doherty-owned Corvair-bodied creation during the autumn of his reign as a top Speedbowl chauffer. One of the highlights of my former working relationship with Waterford was meeting Glynn a number of years-ago at a “Heroes of the Bowl” event. Watching this guy as a kid was a big factor in sealing my fate as a Modified stock car fan. (Rene Dugas Photo).                  

The late Donald “Hank” Stevens drove them all during his long career, Modifieds, Midgets, Cut-Downs, it truly ran the gamut. Nicknamed “Hammerin’ Hank” for his determined driving style, he was particularly successful at the Waterford Speedbowl as seen-here while celebrating a feature victory with the potent Simons Bros. coupe. As proof of just how tough this guy was, he overcame a positively-devastating Speedbowl wreck in the 1950s in-which he received life threatening burns to return as a winner. (Shany Lorenzent Photo).                    

Captured here in September of 1976 at Connecticut’s much-missed Plainville Stadium is another former racer I’m proud to count as a friend, Ronnie Wyckoff. Starting his racing career in Florida, he joined the Sportsman ranks at Plainville Stadium after moving North in 1959. Success in the modifieds quickly-followed with numerous wins at an assortment of New England speedplants. Included in those victories are multi-time triumphs in UNITED’s “Riverside 500” events, once a benchmark of the Northeastern racing season. In this scribes opinion, historically-speaking this guy remains one of our region’s most-underrated competitors. (Steve Kennedy Photo).   

Current fans know the now-retired Jerry Pearl as a multi-time Connecticut SK Modified Champion. Back when this shot was taken in 1978 he was wheeling this Vega-bodied version of his familiar #43 at places like Stafford, Thompson, and Waterford where this victory lane shot was captured. Following a short break from the sport in the early-70s, he successfully campaigned a Daredevil entry at the Bowl’ in a car vacated by Bill “The Southern Gent” Grainger (a mammoth 57’ Plymouth no-less, with a giant Rebel flag across the roof). From there, it was back to the open-wheel wars, and the rest is history. Jerry is the dad of popular Jeff Pearl, the 1998 Speedbowl SK champion. (Steve Kennedy Photo).   

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

 
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