Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday February 1, 2011

 Volume 4, Number 5                                                                                     New Column Every Wednesday


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By Dave Dykes                                                                              CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE

We start this week’s installment of “Racing Through Time” with hearty congratulations to all that were inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame last Sunday. For a complete rundown of the affair along with photos, visit the NEAR website at www.near1.com Special thanks to our Webmaster Tom Ormsby, old pal racing photographer Steve Kennedy, and NEAR’s Jim Torok for donating some of this week’s images. Right now, let’s get-on with the latest batch of oldies! As-always, enjoy! Email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com                  

NOTE: We have now put a comment box at the end of the web site. Please feel free to leave your comments.

Another Week In The Books, More Old Stuff…!    

Simply a nice early-1970s shot captured at Connecticut’s former Plainville Stadium through the lens of our pal, veteran racing photographer Steve Kennedy. In the #59 Pinto is a young Reggie Ruggiero, who just last weekend, became a member of the prestigious New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame. You don’t have to look a whole-lot to find his list of accomplishments, he’s simply one of the greatest modified racers New England ever produced, and Plainville is the place where it all started for him. In the neat coupe on the inside is Warren “Elmer” Lee, a guy who called “Tinty’s Place” home every Saturday night for many seasons. (Steve Kennedy Photo).   

We continually get requests for images of this car, and this is a nice one. Seen here seated behind the controls of the classic Bunnell Bros. coupe at Connecticut’s Waterford Speedbowl is Eddie Bunnell. Before advancing to the modifieds as seen-here, Ed had been a Bomber division champion. The entire Bunnell family including his younger brother Donnie & cousin John remained a vital part of the shoreline oval scene for many seasons. With Donnie at the wheel, this ride won a TON of feature events at Waterford, including the “Bicentennial 200” in 1976, then the longest race to have ever been run at the ‘Bowl. Today, this car has been restored by Don Murphy and runs the NEAR circuit. (Steve Kennedy Photo).                

Seen here at Waterford in the 1970s at the helm of the Tom Dunn #T-5 is who we believe to be Fred Schulz. Kind of a modern-day “coach”, a few modified car builders of the era took to using 2-door wagon versions of both the Ford Pinto and the Chevy Vega. This was one of the more significant of those entries, as the Dunn team was quite-successful. (Steve Kennedy Photo).

Some guys are just born with a knack for driving race cars, and this fellow was a real “Natural.” The multi-talented late Gene Bergin saw action in everything from modifieds to midgets, and darned if he wasn’t able to win in all of them. During a career that spanned three-decades, he was always one of the guys to beat whether it was asphalt or dirt. Among his many accomplishments, is the distinction of being the first-ever Stafford pavement champion in 1967. Bergin was among the first drivers inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 1998. (Photo Courtesy Tom Ormsby). 

We really, really like this shot. Not only does it illustrate the winning-ways of our pal NEAR Hall of Famer Billy “Gramps” Greco, but it also showcases what was an obviously more-innocent era in New England short track racing. Chauffeuring the famed “Sharkey’s #44” to another victory, Billy is being pursued by the “Track Clown” once a staple of the program at many tracks. We believe this shot to have been taken at either the former Pines Speedway in Massachusetts, or New Hampshire’s Hudson Speedway (still going strong!). Check-out the wide grin on Billy’s face – he seems to be enjoying the fun! (Photo Courtesy Tom Ormsby).               

The Speedbowl’s George Allum was an absolute-terror in this 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 of 1973. Another of the many racers that hailed from nearby Norwich (once a veritable “Gasoline Alley” for successful shoreline oval teams), today George is retired and along with wife Joyce, is enjoying the warmer climate of the South. (Shany Photo).

We’ve ran shots of this driver before, but we thought we’d share another. 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).           

The feature victory floodgates may not have swung wide-open for journeyman modified pilot Neil Bickford during his tenure as a Waterford Speedbowl wheelman, but there were a number of heat & consi wins, along with a host of respectable main event finishes. Extremely popular with both fans and his fellow competitors, the long-retired Bickford remains today, one of the sports true “Nice Guys.” He’s captured here at the controls of his “Red Baron” entry, the Corvair-bodied creation that became a familiar & popular sight with the Bowl’ faithful of the early-seventies. (Shany Photo).      

Seen here celebrating a victory early in his career is the late, great, Richie Evans. Universally-regarded as the best modified racer to have ever turned a lap, Evans left his family's farm at age 16 to work at a local garage. After finding early success in drag racing, a friend suggested he try building a car to race at the nearby Utica-Rome Speedway. He ran his first oval-track car, a 1954 Ford Hobby Stock numbered PT-109 (after John F. Kennedy's torpedo boat in World War II), in 1962. He advanced to the Modifieds in 1965, winning his first feature in the season's final night. In 1973, he became the NASCAR National Modified Champion. In 1978 he won a second title and did not relinquish his crown during the next seven years. Evans took over four hundred feature race wins at racetracks from Quebec to Florida before he was fatally injured at age-44 in a practice crash at Martinsville in late 1985. Before his death, he’d already clinched the inaugural Winston Modified Tour championship (now known as Whelen Modified Tour). In 1979-alone, he started 60 NASCAR Modified races and posted 54 top-five finishes -- including 37 victories. Richie was among the first inductees into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 1998, and was just a few weeks-ago inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. NOTE: Our friend Bruce Cohen wrote to fill-us-in on the details of this photo. Says Bruce; “The picture of Richie Evans this week is from the night he won the Don MacTavish Memorial race at Malta, NY. Don's mom is on the right, and his sister Marsha is on the left.” Thanks Bruce! (Grady Photo)

As one of the oldest continually-operating short tracks in the country, the Vendetti family’s Seekonk Speedway in Massachusetts has a long & colorful history. The “Cement Palace” as its known has also had some sharp-looking machines circling its confines over the decades, and this was certainly one of them! Seen here is Eddie Hoyle in his feature-winning FORD entry, a Falcon-bodied creation no-less. Seekonk’s modifieds of the 1970s were unique-looking compared to the rest of the New England region with a” full-fender” style being the norm. (Mercury Photo).    

BONUS SHOT: Jim Torok of the New England Antique Racers and your author have been buddies for quite-some-time now. As a valued member of NEAR, he’s best-known for his restorations of both the #04 Pinto of the late Prentice “Corky” Cookman, and the straight-8 powered #009 coupe of Danbury Racarena standout Lou Funk. In the 1970s he was a racer, wheeling an immaculate #13 coupe of his own creation primarily at the Waterford Speedbowl. That coupe was one of my favorite cars and I’ve asked him often over the years what became of-it. I’d kinda’ known it met its demise on the high-banks of Thompson Speedway, but never got the details. Anyway, at last weekends New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame Inductions, ole’ Jim provided me with this image of him and his little coupe as it appeared in the trade papers of the day. Lucky for us, he emerged unscathed from this Thompson adventure to race another day, but this version of his trusty #13 was all-done! (Photo Courtesy Jim Torok).            

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

This Weeks Comments
 

(3 days ago) Dave Dykes said:

Thanks, Pete. That was a great-looking car, I recall it very-well. Speaking of Westboro, I wish I could get my hands on more shots from there, as I have fond memories of the place. Plus, I get a LOT of requests asking for shots from there; people really miss-it.....

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(3 days ago) Pete Falconi said:

You are right Dave, That is Freddie Schultz in the T-5. He was fierce in that car at Westboro. Among other drivers in that car over the years included Leo Cleary, Jeff Fuller and Bentley Warren. Tom went on to create a pro-four modified version of that car that Tony Lorusso drove.

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(4 days ago) Mike Ray said:

Great photo's Dave;Thank you.

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(5 days ago) Lary Pincince said:

T-5 was also driven by Leo Cleary

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(5 days ago) Bob Freeman said:

Love to see pictures of Eddie Hoyle's F"O"rd entry. Seekonk was home when I was a youngster and that was one of my favorites!

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(6 days ago) Ed P. said:

Dave - Sharkey picture is Pine Bowl which was near Troy NY.

 
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