Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday February 27, 2013


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By Dave Dykes                                                                            CLICK ON PHOTOS FOR FULL SIZE

Another week passes, more “Modified Memories”…. This installment of “RTT” really runs the gamut, presenting a number of images from New England short tracks both large & small. Special thanks go out to contributors Roger Liller & Bob Ellis for sharing with us all, and of-course we’re all very- fortunate to have our pal & webmaster Tom Ormsby getting everything posted each & every Wednesday! Until next-time, have a great week! Email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com  

Yet-Another Selection of Short Track Stormers…

We open this week with another terrific submission from our friend, New York State Racing Historian Roger Liller. From the archives of Bob Ellis, this one captures the late Joe McNulty at Connecticut’s “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl. One of the shoreline oval’s more enduring figures and a top New England modified racer of the 1950s & 60s, “Joe Mac” recorded victories at a variety of the region’s speedplants, but was particularly-proficient at the ‘Bowl where he claimed a career-total of 16 modified division feature triumphs. (Shany photo from Bob Ellis archives via Roger Liller).

He was most-certainly a star at Connecticut’s former Plainville Stadium, but was also one of the best in New England, period. Ronnie Wyckoff remains in this scribes opinion, one of the most overlooked and underrated drivers in our region’s modified racing history. In addition to his many triumphs close to home at Plainville, he’s a multi-time co-winner of the Riverside Park Speedway’s 500-lap contests. Always in-demand with the top car owners of his era the teams that the affable Wyckoff drove-for during his long-career reads like a “who’s-who” of the sport. Captured here at Plainville in October of 1976, he always did it with a smile – he remains the same today. (Steve Kennedy Photo).

Long-before fancy enclosed haulers became commonplace in New England modified racing teams either flat-towed during the really-early days of the sport, or they used open car trailers like the one pictured here. Seen here prior to some Plainville Stadium coupe-era action is the nifty #2x coupe of Pud Noble who was a top regular at Joe Tinty’s tricky ¼-miler for a number of seasons. These tow rigs had a charm all of their own, don’t you think? (Steve Kennedy Photo).

Anthony “Jap” Membrino was a truly-exciting driver to watch. Seeing him fly-around the tight ¼-mile confines of Joe Tinty’s Plainville Stadium in this wild-looking Walt Kuryn-owned Coach creation was often in-itself, worth the price of a ticket. Starting his career at the United-sanctioned West Haven Speedway, in later-years he went-on to become one of the region’s premier racers, and was especially proficient at The Stadium’ though he also tasted success at Riverside Park. This Phil Hoyt image captures him celebrating with family following yet-another Plainville victory in the early-1970s. This car is one of the most well-remembered of all Plainville rides. It was also wheeled to success by among others, the late Sparky Belmont and the late Tony Mordino. (Phil Hoyt Photo).

And here’s a great 50s-era shot of the late Tony Mordino. Another of the best that New England had to offer, Tony enjoyed a long, storied career that included many triumphs at places like Riverside Park, Eastern States, Waterford, West Haven, and Plainville. It’s a LONG trail of victories! Tony took his place among the true Greats of the sport when he was inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame last November. For more information on the NEAR Hall of Fame, visit the club’s website at www.near1.com  (Shany Photo).

Another member of the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame, the late Donald “Hank” Stevens drove them all during his long career, modifieds, midgets and cut-downs; his exploits truly ran the gamut. Nicknamed “Hammerin’ Hank” for his determined driving style, he was particularly successful at the Speedbowl as seen-here in the 1960s. As proof of just how-tough this guy was, he overcame a positively-devastating Speedbowl wreck in the 1950s in-which he received horrendous life-threatening burns to return as a winner. (Shany Photo).

Here’s one for you fans of late-1970s & early-80s Waterford Speedbowl action. Captured here in the pits by our good friend & esteemed New England auto racing photographer Steve Kennedy is Bob Lord, who campaigned this former Glynn Shafer Vega creation at the shoreline oval. By this time, the early coupes were being replaced by more-modern tinwork. The date is Saturday evening, May 30, 1981. (Steve Kennedy Photo).

Here’s another Pinto & Vega-era Speedbowl shot; this time it’s our good friend Mark LaJeunesse. A faithful Speedbowl competitor for over three-decades, few drivers had a better reputation than this Norwich, Connecticut native. Known as a true “Gentleman Racer” in the Watson, Dunn, and Collins ilk, he was the guy you never minded being on the outside-of in tight situations. After starting his career in 1972 and first entering victory lane two-season later, the 1975 UNITED Modified/Sportsman championship and a 2000 victory in the season-opening Modified Nationals rate among his shoreline oval accomplishments. (Steve Kennedy Photo).

Recently, we’ve acquired a ton of images from the early days of Connecticut’s famed Stafford Motor Speedway; this is one of them. Known-then simply as “Stafford Springs Speedway” this image captures a ride typical of the times, a cut-down 5-window coupe featuring flathead power (then the gold-standard in racing mills). We believe this shot to have been taken at a CORA event; an early somewhat short-lived New England-based sanctioning body. Unfortunately this photo remains in the “unidentified file” the name of the driver lost to time. If anyone can reveal who this young racer-is, please don’t hesitate to drop us a line! (Shany Photo).

Like all short tracks across the nation, a typical evening at Connecticut’s Waterford Speedbowl can produce some pretty hair-raising events; it is after-all, close-quarters racing! Receiving some splinters from the shoreline oval’s old wooden railroad-tie wall on this night in 1973 was the L&M coupe of Angie Cerease (that’s him with his back to the camera), the Mustang #9 of that “Mystic Speedster” Marvin Shaw, and that’s the Gada Team #271 Pinto entry chauffeured by 1971 modified champ, Joey Trudeau. (Shany Photo).

BONUS SHOT #1: Known historically as the “Indianapolis of the East” Connecticut’s Thompson Speedway has long-been one of the tracks that almost every New England racer would like to conquer. With its high-banked 5/8-mile layout, the venue is beyond-fast. This 60s-era shot captures accomplished Rhode Island racer the late Leo Hill leading New England Racing Hall of Fame member the late “Wild Bill” Slater in his signature #V8 coupe. Note the dirt banks that served as retaining walls back-then. To say that it was a daunting place would be an understatement. (Photographer unknown).

BONUS SHOT #2: From our old pal, esteemed racing photographer John Grady we have this gem of an image…. Captured here during an early modified outing, Richard "Toby" Tobias was a tremendous race car driver, an innovator, and remarkable fabricator. His career spanned nearly 3-decades, ending tragically with his death in a USAC sprint car race in 1978. His lifetime win total of over 300 races was celebrated in several different types of open wheel race cars. He became nationally known for his exploits on the USAC sprint car circuit, notching their 1972 "Rookie of the Year" title. However, he is perhaps known best to those of us in the Northeast as one of the greatest modified drivers of his generation. (John Grady Photo).

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


Don C. said:

I remember that night well, going home disppointed because the 271 was involved in that crash. still, great memories though !

Bob Freeman said:

I remember Bob Lord driving at the Speedbowl and can "see" Glynn Shafer's 6 in the 162. I just can't remember this car.

mike a. said:

great old pix once again. bring back the open trailers.

Don said:

Joe McNulty's #51 looks like it would have been one scary ride -no front bumper, the tin roof coverlooks like its barely hanging on, the drivers door looks to be a piece of sheet metal and it sure looks like the roll cage is wood. It must have taken a lot of guts to race these things !

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