Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday January 12, 2011

 Volume 3, Number 2                                                                                      New Column Every Wednesday


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By Dave Dykes                                                                              CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE

Another week and another dose of oldies. For this installment we again play heavily on the racin’ history of my former haunt, the Waterford Speedbowl. Add-in a couple of shots from other places, and you have a nice little selection (with even a dirt car & a midget for good measure). Special thanks go-out to all of you that emailed me last week to solve the mystery of the “unidentified” driver in the #266 Cut-Down. It was in-fact Ray Moran! Also, Kudos to our pals Rusty Sage, Tom Ormsby, and R.A. Silvia for contributing many of the images featured this week. Email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com           

More Wednesday Wanderings (Vintage-Style)…..     

We open the latest edition of “Racing Through Time” with a 60s-era Modified division shot of Johnny Sandberg, one of the best-ever at Connecticut’s “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl. Claiming the 1952 Non-Ford championship, he scored a career-total of 19 feature victories at Waterford in both Non-Ford and Modified competition. Sandberg’s final shoreline oval triumph came during the 1961 campaign. (Dugas Photo, Courtesy Rusty Sage).

And here we have another image from the Speedbowl, this time it’s Bill Staubley during the 1964 campaign. It was a particularly-good season for the talented chauffer, as he’d racked-up an impressive 8 Bomber class feature victories by seasons-end. Staubley later advanced to the headlining Modified division where he remained a steady competitor for many seasons. (Shany Photo, Courtesy Rusty Sage).

Anyone that was around during what’s widely considered the “Golden Era” of New England Modified racing is sure to recognize this guy. The late Booker T. Jones joined the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 2003. Upon his induction, award-winning racing journalist Bones Bourcier commented that “He drove NASCAR Modifieds around the Northeast for what seemed like a hundred years, and yet when he passed at the age of 74, it was not his racing you remembered. It was his friendly smile, his big right hand shaking yours. He was everybody’s buddy.” The consummate low-buck operator, Jones made-due with equipment that was often less than that of his competitors. He remained a popular figure at New England raceways long after his days behind the wheel were over. (Grady Photo Courtesy Tom Ormsby).

Here’s a great shot of 1966 Speedbowl Bomber champion Ed Bunnell. Captured in the lens of legendary New England auto racing photographer Shany Lorenzent, this one is from 1964. After conquering the once wildly-popular support division, Ed later went on to the Modifieds where he enjoyed a long, steady career as one of Waterford’s finest. (Shany Photo, Courtesy Rusty Sage).      

For the majority of his career, Mark LaJeunesse wheeled Modifieds designed and constructed at his shop in Norwich, Connecticut. This shot however, captures him at the controls of a Vega fielded by veteran Speedbowl car owner Norn Kies during the 1970s. A seasoned competitor at Waterford, LaJeunesse’ accomplishments at the shoreline oval include notching the United Stock Car Racing Club’s 1975 Sportsman-Modified Championship, and scoring a stunning victory in the 2000 Budweiser Modified Nationals. (Kennedy Photo).

New Jersey’s Elton Hildreth was one of the true chargers of his era, his name weighing heavily in the auto racing history of his native state. Though this shot captures him with a classic dirt coupe, he also added numerous pavement successes to his portfolio. In addition to the Modified endeavors, his long career also included many early NASCAR Grand National starts in Nash products, a brand he knew-well having been a dealer for that once-popular independent automaker. (Photograper Unknown).       

Seen here in the late-60s behind the wheel of the Bonville Brothers Mustang Modified, the late “Wild Bill” Scrivener was a popular “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl chauffer for his entire stint at the wheel. One of his patented drives-to-the-front was often in itself, worth the price of a ticket. A Bomber champion and Modified standout, he won his final feature on Easter Sunday of 1974. This car was one of the prettiest of its era and actually quite-revolutionary in a field that overwhelmingly consisted of pre-war Coupe & Coach tinwork. (Shany Photo, Courtesy R.A. Silvia).     

Captured here following an ARDC win at Waterford on Sunday, October 6, 1969 is the late Johnny Coy (real name John Barbaro). He excelled in everything from stock cars to midgets, sprint cars, TQ's, and champ cars. Winning hundreds of features during his career, he also dabbled in Indy cars, passing his rookie test at the Indianapolis 500 but failed to qualify for the race. He was the 1958 NASCAR midget champion and was a four time ARDC champion, 1968-69, and 1971-72. (Shany Photo, Courtesy R.A. Silvia).     

Known as the “Norwalk Nightrider” to the dedicated fans of the “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl, few were better in the “fender” divisions than Bill Sweet. Seen here during the early days of the Daredevil division, he managed to snag a pair of championships along with nearly fifty feature victories before calling it a day in the seventies. It should be noted that even qualifying for a feature in the class was an accomplishment when this shot was captured. So-many competitors filled the pits, that A and B main events were common. Fast-forward to today, and you’ll see most tracks struggling to even complete a feature starting grid! (Shany Photo, Courtesy R.A. Silvia)     

John “Cannonball” Baker had been on the scene at the Speedbowl for eons by the time Rene Dugas captured this pitside image of the personable chauffer and his coach-bodied entry. Though he was never a big winner and always a low-buck operator, Baker competed with his signature #314 creations from the 1950’s right up until 1974 when he took his final laps before quietly fading from the scene. Guys like this may seem like “field-fillers” to some, but in many ways they’re the backbone of the sport. (Dugas Photo, Courtesy R.A. Silvia).

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

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