Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday December 4, 2013
 

 

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By Dave Dykes                                                                              CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE

We start this week on a somber note, as it was learned through our longtime racing photographer pal Steve Kennedy (a contributor to this site since its inception), that mutual friend Kevin Lackey passed-away unexpectedly at age-54 on November 21. A gifted professional musician by trade, Kevin was a huge fan of the former Plainville Stadium and over the years had built an incredible stable of scale models representing the modifieds that as a youth, he had watched compete at the Connecticut ¼-miler. Each of his creations were truly masterpieces in miniature. Our sincere condolences are offered to his family and many friends. In brighter news, many-thanks are offered to our readers who have responded to our little “Unidentified Driver” series. This effort has afforded us the knowledge to “fill-in-the-blanks” on many images residing in the “RTT” archives. Until next time, have a great week! As-always, email reaches me at foreveryounginct@yahoo.com

More Memories As We Race Into December….

First-up this week, from our kindly Webmaster & pal Tom Ormsby comes this nice Phil Hoyt image of our friend Elliot Beveridge seated behind the controls of his classic 5-window coupe at Connecticut’s much-missed Plainville Stadium. Once one of the top competitors at the racy little ¼-miler, the popular Elliot has lately been facing some serious health issues. I’m sure that I speak for all of us in wishing him a speedy & complete recovery! (Phil Hoyt Photo, Courtesy of Tom Ormsby).

Captured here at Connecticut’s Stafford Motor Speedway in a radical full-bodied Chevy Corvair entry, Sal “Dee” Delucia remains one of the most fondly-remembered racers of his era. His relatively brief but spectacular career stalled by serious racing-related injuries, had longevity been in the cards, he would have undoubtedly accomplished even more. Dee won-over a legion of fans undoubtedly fueled by his no-nonsense drives to the front during what many railbirds consider the most-competitive period in New England modified racing history. Winner of the 1965 Waterford Speedbowl Modified title, this guy was truly one tough competitor! (Lloyd Burnham Photo).

Our friend New York Racing Historian Roger Liller continues to gift us with timeless vintage images from his region, and it’s much-appreciated. Here’s another gem in-which we’ll allow him to provide the commentary. He states about this one; “Here’s a shot from the collection of Don Beesmer of Kingston, New York driver Clyde Smith. He raced most of the circuits in the southeastern NY area and won features at Arlington, Middletown, Lebanon Valley, and Onteora that I know of, and possibly more at other tracks. This photo shows him after a win at Lebanon Valley in the late 1950s.” Roger also added that Clyde sometimes competed on the early dirt of Connecticut’s Stafford Springs Speedway, and on one notable occasion in 1959 finished a close-second to the great Don Rounds. (Photo From Don Beesmer Collection Courtesy Roger Liller).

Last week’s victory lane shot of the late “Wild Bill” Scrivener when he was piloting the Bonville #4 Bomber class entry at Connecticut’s “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl caused quite-the-stir. We normally receive a generous number of messages from our readers, but the email traffic related to that image was truly-exceptional. Sent to us by New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member the much-accomplished Dr. Dick Berggren, the reaction to the photo seems to signal a renewed historical interest in the Speedbowl’s Bombers, which were a relatively short-lived support division campaigned only from 1958-66. Here’s another one from Dick’s collection capturing “Wild Bill” and his car-owner Roger Bonville in the Speedbowl pits. Note Hall of Fame car owner Art Barry’s #909 modified in the backround. (Shany Lorenzent Photo Courtesy Dr. Dick Berggren).

In a recent phone conversation with old pal Bruce Cohen, the discussion turned to who we considered some of the most relentlessly-determined drivers we’d ever witnessed in our collective years of race-watching. This guy ranks at the top of our list. New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer Leo Cleary was aptly-nicknamed “The Lion” owing to his fearless driving style. It was more than one chauffer that became uneasy when they had a mirror-full of Cleary; he was one tough competitor. Leo competed at the Medford Bowl, Lonsdale, Norwood, Catamount, and Westboro. Among active tracks, he raced at Thompson, Seekonk, Stafford (as seen here), Martinsville, Oswego and Waterford, along with several others. In his 44 years behind the wheel, he took down 14 track championships, including the Norwood Arena, Seekonk, and Thompson. The winning-ways continued until he was 63 and finally retired in 1993. (John Grady Photo).

Sometimes you know the identity of the driver simply because his name is on the door and you did a bit of quick research through some well-worn editions of Speedway Illustrated or Speedway Scene (the days when the trade paper reigned-supreme; us “Oldsters” recall them, right?). Anyway, meet Dick Doyle who evidence reveals was a top-runner at Joe Tinty’s late Plainville Stadium up Connecticut-way back in the 1960s. Some photos just beg to be displayed don’t they? This is one of them! (Faust Photo).

If you’re at-all familiar with the history of modified stock car racing in New England, you have to know at-least a bit about this guy, Mr. Tony “Jap” Membrino. Our Webmaster Tom Ormsby once wrote that he was “Colorful, Controversial, & Popular” all at the same time.”  I’d have to agree, but above all, Jap was a big-time winner. A top driver at virtually all the speedplants that once dotted the New England landscape, he took a ton of checkers at places like West Haven, Plainville, Riverside Park, etc. Always a crowd-pleaser, his flamboyant driving style indeed sold a boatload of grandstand tickets (and rattled the cages of a lot of his fellow competitors). This ancient color shot captures him behind the controls of a self-owned creation at Plainville Stadium during the fondly-recalled “Coupe Era.” (Faust Photo).     

On occasion an image just jumps-out at you because the photographer created it utilizing a rather-unique angle. Our friend Phil Hoyt who served for years as Plainville Stadium’s official track photographer snapped this neat “rear-view” of New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer Dave Alkas in the Roland Cyr-owned coach. Evidenced by the amount of feature victories and championships that Dave & Roland accumulated at late Nutmeg State ¼-miler, it’s undoubtedly a view that most fellow competitors became accustomed-to. There’s a reason this guy is known-as “The King of Plainville Stadium! We just like this shot…. (Phil Hoyt Photo).

Holly Wilder was a capable journeyman modified racer in New England for a number of seasons enjoying varying degrees of success at many of the region’s speedways including Connecticut’s Stafford Springs Motor Speedway and Massachusetts’ storied Norwood Arena. Admittedly his career wasn’t a truly lengthy affair and his rides were not always of the highly-financed category, but again, he fared-well in what many railbirds consider to have been the “Golden Era” of modified stock car racing in the Northeast winning races at many northeast tracks including the tough Riverside Park Speedway. This John Grady image captures a youthful Holly aboard one of his earlier coupes at the West Springfield's Eastern States Exposition Fairgrounds 1/2 miler. (John Grady Photo).

Just another nice image from the days before things got so-damned expensive & complicated in our sport. Back in the early-70s when cars like this neat little pre-war coupe were campaigned by weekend warriors like Bobby Knox at places like Plainville (where Phil Hoyt captured this image), you could actually afford to race AND pay your mortgage! Salvage yards supplied the raw material, and the builder’s ingenuity provided the rest. Knox was a consistently-fine racer who called The Stadium home for a number of seasons before moving on to the dirt at Lebanon Valley Speedway. (Phil Hoyt Photo).

UNIDENTIFIED DRIVER #1: Two of the things that were common in the early days of the sport were packed grandstands & 3-digit car numbers; this photo has both! Connecticut’s “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl of the 1950s routinely drew record-setting crowds as captured here; it was truly a better time for America’s short tracks. Anyway, the purpose of presenting this image of a pioneering shoreline oval competitor is to try and determine his identity & get him out of the “unidentified” section of the files. Any ‘Bowl experts care to take a shot? If-so, contact me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com  (Shany Photo).

UNIDENTIFIED DRIVER #2: Another popular Connecticut haunt for the coupes of the early days was the Stafford Speedway. Back-then it looked a little-different though, fully mirroring the primitive “fairgrounds-style” oval it-was, complete with a massive covered grandstand. We have a lot of these early Stafford images, and this one is another that occupies the files of the “unidentified.” Any idea of the driver? Don’t be shy in letting us know! (Shany Photo).

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

 
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