Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday February 9, 2011

 Volume 3, Number 6                                                                                      New Column Every Wednesday


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By Dave Dykes                                                                              CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE

We open with good-news this week, as it’s been learned that NEAR member Cho Lee is fast on the mend, and should be home as you read this. Cho was stricken with a serious illness on the eve of the recent New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, and was forced to spend some time in the old “crash house.” And with-that, it’s on with the show! Email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com

Another Helping Of Modified Memories…..        

Captured here on the high-banks of Connecticut’s Thompson Speedway is our pal, Coastal 181’s Lew Boyd. The year is 1976, and he had this to say about his ride on that day; “This was “The Stang” we were running mostly at Fonda. We had rebuilt the car completely over the winter, changed it from #181 to No Cents, and put in a 482 big block. It was pretty fast, but we were definitely behind the curve. Manufactured cars (Tobias, Schwinning, Weld, etc) had come on the scene big time, and we ate some dust!” Boyd’s racing partner Bruce Cohen added that “We were having some steering/heating problems with the car and so it was off to the Big T for some trouble shooting.” When’s the last time you saw a dirt-car at Thompson? (Photographer Unknown).   

Here we have a nice Plainville Stadium shot of Johnny Lane in what was undoubtedly one of that tracks more sanitary-looking coupes - it was a beauty! Starting his career in the Novice class at West Haven Speedway, Lane went on to become a top contender in the modifieds at many notable New England speedplants including Danbury, and of course, Plainville. (Hoyt Photo)   

His ride looking a bit-battered, we really like this early-70’s victory lane shot of Plainville Stadium strongman Dave Alkas in the Roland Cyr-owned coach (that’s Roland on the left). A longtime standout at the late Connecticut facility, he notched 5 track championships there in a 10-year period. Competing regularly against Plainville alumni like Reggie Ruggiero, Stan Gregor, and Ronnie Rocco, he routinely bested the field, notching eleven feature wins in one season-alone. He won regularly during those great Plainville mid-week 100-lap open competition shows, beating visitors like Ed Flemke, Sr., Ron and Ken Bouchard, Bob Stefanik, and the late Dick Watson. The most successful Modified driver in Plainville Stadium history, Alkas was inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 2008. (Hoyt Photo).      

Built within the confines of a baseball stadium and adjacent to an amusement park, Connecticut’s West Haven Speedway (aka Savin Rock), started out as a 1/5-mile dirt oval in 1935. Paved the next year, the track operated running primarily Midgets until World War II intervened. During the post-war era, it became a hotbed of action for the Tattersall’s United Stock Car Racing Club, and remained a successful venue until shuttered in 1967, a victim of the nationwide Urban Renewal movement. Captured here is Bobby Black, a frequent winner at the track locals referred to as “The Rock.” (Herb Todd Photo).               

Hailing from Wrightstown, New Jersey, Gil Hearne was another “multi-purpose” driver, excelling on both dirt & asphalt during a decades-long career laden with victories. A member of the Garden State Vintage Stock Car Club Hall of Fame, Hearne won at virtually all of the Northeast’s short tracks, and was particularly-good at New Jersey’s Wall Stadium where he was an 8-time champion. He also competed at the NASCAR Grand National (now Sprint Cup), level in the 1960s. We believe this shot is from one of Gil’s dirt outings at Fonda, NY. (Grady Photo).

Captured here at New York State’s Shangri-La Speedway in 1966 is the great Donald “Dutch” Hoag. His roots tracing back to the old Naples, Speedway in New York State where he bought an old coupe from a friend, readied-it for racing, and pulled it to the track with a chain, Hoag went-on to become a 5-time Langhorne National Open winner. His influence on fellow racers was widespread. For instance, Geoff Bodine’s first taste of Modified driving came in Dutch Hoag's car at Shangri-La Speedway, when Hoag let him try it in a practice session. Bodine worked on Dutch Hoag's crew in 1968 and 1969. In the 1969 Race of Champions, Bodine handed the wrong tire over the wall during a pit stop. This was a time when modifieds ran very different tire sizes among the four corners, so Hoag had to make an extra pit stop loosing his chance at a second-consecutive victory. Bodine later make his teacher proud, winning the first Race of Champions after it was moved from Langhorne to Trenton in 1972. Hoag is an inductee of several Hall of Fames, including the DIRT Motorsports Hall of Fame, the New York State Stock Car Association Hall of Fame and the FOAR Score Hall of Fame. (Grady Photo).          

Norwich, CT. racer Mark Lajeunesse made the weekly trek down Rt. 395 to the Waterford Speedbowl for decades. Starting his career as a youth in the Quarter Midget ranks, he returned from the armed forces in the early 70’s to begin a modified career that spanned over thirty seasons. The first victory came in 1974 with many-more following including a triumph in the Speedbowl’s 2000 Budweiser Modified Nationals. Under the Tattersall UNITED sanction of 1975, he garnered the Sportsman Modified title. This shot sees him visiting the high-banks of the Thompson Speedway on September 9, 1977 for that tracks 300-lap event. (Kennedy Photo).  

Known primarily for his accomplishments in the realm of midget racing where he’s recalled as one of the Northeastern Midget Associations (NEMA), most prolific winners, Butch Walsh also spent some time behind the controls of a modified as illustrated here in this shot from Thompson in 1976. The 1973 NEMA champion’s coupe is a former Will Cagle #24, and was also campaigned by Jim Landry as the #34. (Kennedy Photo).              

Captured here at the Waterford Speedbowl on August 9, 1978 is journeyman modified racer Rich Tufano. By this time, the coupes were becoming a rare sight on the short tracks of the Northeast, the division having yielded to the more contemporary stylings of the modern Pinto, Vega, Gremlin, etc. Tufano recorded a number of respectable finishes during a season that saw the late George “Moose” Hewitt notch his second-consecutive Waterford championship. The track was then under the sanction of Dick Williams and his Coastal Racing Association. (Kennedy Photo)   

Lastly, here’s another one from our pal Steve Kennedy. Ed Bunnell is seen here during the early 1980’s in a car sporting a number that’s sure to be familiar to all of you Waterford Speedbowl history aficionados. A former Moose Hewitt championship ride, the elder of a racing brother duo that also included younger sibling Donnie, the 1966 Bomber division champion recorded a number of top finishes while at the controls of this machine. (Kennedy Photo).

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

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