Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday February 12, 2014
 

 

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By Dave Dykes                                                                              CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE

This week we’ll keep the opening comments short and get right to the business at-hand. As-always a big THANKS goes out to our Webmaster & old pal Tom Ormsby for getting this thing out of the pits & unto the track each & every week. In-closing, one additional thing we’d like to mention is that our friends at the Northeastern Midget Association (NEMA) are presently offering a DVD tracking the clubs history from the “cageless era” to the contemporary machines of today. Containing 322 images, it’s simply a must-have for the New England open-wheel enthusiast. Cost is $25 each with all proceeds going directly to NEMA to help carry-on the rich traditions these early pioneers built. Payment can be made through PayPal to rewindles@sbcglobal.net or by sending a check or money order (payable to NEMA), as well as your name and address to Bill Van Slyke, 23 Horsestable Cir., Shelton, Ct. 06484.  This effort is fully-endorsed by “RTT” – it’s a great deal, folks! Email reaches me at foreveryounginct@yahoo.com

One More For The Books……

First on the slate this week is an early-60s image from what was then officially-known as the “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl. One of the most successful drivers in the history of the Connecticut track was this guy, our late friend “Gentleman Dick” Watson. At the time he was driving the potent “Golden Scorpion” #711 owned by fellow Connecticut River Valley resident John Barnett, seen on the right. In the center is one of the early track owners, Jack Brouwer. During his pairing with Barnett (who emerged from a drag racing background), Watson wheeled the Chevy Corvette-powered coupe to several feature victories and top point finishes. Dick’s career included victories all over New England, and even a stint in Grand National racing (now known as the Nextel Cup). Fittingly, he was inducted into the prestigious New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 2003. (Shany Lorenzent Photo).

Seen here during the formative years of his career is George Tet (real name Tetsio Futchiami). Born on April 1, 1923 and hailing from Ozone Park, NY., he was a premier Long Island-area racer for decades. By-day, he earned his keep running a wildly-successful florist business. George's American family was actually from Hawaii, but of Japanese decent. Records indicate that he was the first-ever Japanese-American modified driver. Not only a great competitor at the short-track level (he was an Islip Speedway champion), he also raced at Daytona on several occasions during the early 1960s. (Charles Zulla Photo).

We really like this shot of our late pal, Johnny “King” Cambino. He earned his nickname as one of the premier drivers at rough n’ tumble Connecticut ovals like the late West Haven Speedway (as seen-here) Plainville Stadium, and Cherry Park in Avon. In later years, he followed United to Riverside continuing his reign as one of the club’s top-competitors. This shot captures him ready-to-roll in a coupe typical of the fare offered-up at West Haven. Stated above is really only part of the story. In the 1990s “The King” came out of retirement while in his sixties to become a winning driver in the Waterford. Speedbowl’s Street Stock class – that’s when I got to know him. Some guys just possess a natural talent in the racing game; this guy was one of them. (Shany Lorenzent Photo).

Another Speedbowl image, this one captures popular Donnie Bunnell in his familiar #318, a car sure to be familiar to those that know their shoreline oval history. The Bunnell family fielded winning rides for decades at Waterford. Brother Ed earned a Bomber title in 1966 wheeling a machine crafted in the team’s modest shop located in nearby Montville, CT. It was this coupe that carried Donnie to a stunning victory in the 1976 Bicentennial 200 which was then, the track’s longest event to-date. (Rene Dugas Photo).     

Before becoming a modified regular at Plainville Stadium, Prospect, CT. native Sherm Saunders was one of the top-performers at the UNITED-sanctioned West Haven Speedway as seen here in Jarb Beaudoin’s #500 Non-Ford entry. Saunders had a number of victories at The Stadium’ and sometimes competed at Riverside Park. He also ran-well in the big star-studded shows once held yearly on the picturesque 5/8-miler on the grounds of the “Big E” in Massachusetts.  (Shany Lorenzent Photo).

We’ve ran shots of this driver many-times before, but we thought we’d share another. Few New England modified racers had more going for them than the late Don MacTavish. Starting his career at the age of 15 racing at Massachusetts’ 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, and NEAR Hall of Famers "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 (John Grady Photo).

We’ve said this before, and we’ll say it again; there was once a glorious time in New England modified racing that that bred ingenuity, and the way to the winners circle was to construct the “Better Mousetrap” rather than simply opening your wallet. All the cars looked-different and were an expression of the builder’s originality….  Such is the case here with the positively wild-looking fuel injected Ford Falcon of one Dick Elliot. Captured at Connecticut’s Stafford Motor Speedway, he’s another racer whose roots can be traced back to Massachusetts’ fabled Norwood Arena. Elliot was also active with the Northeastern Midget Association (NEMA), during his career. We really like this shot. (Lloyd Burnham Photo). 

Here’s an image we’ve had for eons, but just got-around to scanning. In addition to their modified & Non-Ford classes, the Tattersall family’s United Stock Car Racing Club ran a popular full-fender class called the Grand Americans. A touring division, it was on this night in the 1960s that the late Dick Dixon visited the New London-Waterford Speedbowl for an event (he has one Grand Am victory at the shoreline oval). Seen here with his wife and crew, Dixon was one of division’s most successful chauffeurs in addition to his incredible amount of modified triumphs. Sadly, Dick lost his life in 1967 while competing at Thompson Speedway in a car normally driven by Billy Harman. Dixon and Harman (as-well as promoter the late Harvey Tattersall Jr.), are all members of the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame (Shany Lorenzent Photo).

From our longtime Rhode Island friend R.A. Silvia (and fellow Portuguese person), here’s a nice coupe-era shot from Massachusetts’ Seekonk Speedway. The late Tex Barry was ultra-popular at the Bay State oval and won many features at “The Action Track of the East” during a decades-long career. Ironically, he also passed-away at the raceway that was such a huge part of his life for so-long. A number of years-ago and following his retirement as a driver, Tex was cheering his son on to winning a Pro Stock feature at Seekonk. Just as his boy was passing the checkered flag for the win, Tex collapsed of a fatal heart attack. Talk about an ironic (and truly-sad) twist of fate. What’s the body on this car? It’s a Henry J…. (R.A. Silvia Collection).   

Both this coupe and its driver should be familiar to historically-astute Waterford Speedbowl fans. The pilot is the late “Wild Bill” Scrivener, and though it’s shown in a different livery, the car is the former “Crown 7” of Jerry Dostie. Bill took the seat in this car in early-1975 after it was vacated by NEAR Hall of Famer Billy Harman and ran it primarily at the Speedbowl. Later that season, he received injuries after being t-boned by a fellow competitor during a UNITED Yankee All-Star League show at the ‘Bowl. The car was finished, and though he returned in 1976 for a short-stint in a #27 Pinto similar to his “Racin’ Rambler” of prior seasons, Bill retired shortly-thereafter. His Waterford record reveals 1 Bomber championship and a combined career total of 35 feature victories in 3-different classes. As a side-note, many of the mechanical parts of the wrecked #5 lived-on as components of a LaJeunesse racing team car at Waterford. (Rene Dugas Photo).

UNKNOWN DRIVER #1: From the heyday of Connecticut’s former West Haven Speedway comes this Non-Ford entry in-which we haven’t the slightest idea of its driver. Judging from the amount of mail that we get from fans of the former “Racetrack within a Baseball Stadium” there’s got to be someone out there that recognizes this Cromwell-helmeted racer. Have a clue? If-so, email reaches us at foreveryounginct@gmail.com  (Shany Lorenzent Photo).

UNKNOWN DRIVER #2: Like West Haven, a lot of our readers seem to have an association with Joe Tinty’s former Plainville Stadium, also a Nutmeg State facility. In an era when coupes were the norm, this Mustang-bodied creation must have stood-out somewhat in a starting field. Care to take a guess on the identity of its driver? (Phil Hoyt Photo).

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

 
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