Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday January 11, 2011

 Volume 4, Number 2                                                                                     New Column Every Wednesday


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By Dave Dykes                                                                              CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE

This week we present a real potpourri of vintage racing images, kinda’ a little-bit of everything. Special-thanks go out to our friends Tom Ormsby, Chris Langer, and Steve Kennedy for sharing some of their visual memories for all to enjoy! Lest we forget,  condolences go out to the family & friends of veteran modified campaigner Roger Hill and also Joe Gerber who along with his father Al promoted the Race of Champions, both of whom the racing community lost recently. GOOD NEWS NOTE: As reported here a few months-ago, former modified great “Daring Dick” Caso had been critically injured in a Moped accident. It was learned at Sunday’s NEAR Annual Meeting that Dick has made a full-recovery and is doing great! As-always, 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.

More… Vintage Views! 

It’s with great sadness that we report the passing of Westfield, North Carolina modified racing veteran Roger Hill last week following a brief illness. A fixture on the NASCAR Modified Tour since the 1980s, he stepped out from behind the wheel to become a car owner in 1996. A well-liked and respected member of the racing community, his “Hillbilly Racing Team” had employed some of the brightest talent on the circuit over the years. This photo from what we believe to be Martinsville captures Roger at the controls of his Capri-bodied creation during his driving days. (Tom Ormsby Collection).  

Here’s a nice pitside shot of the late Marvin Chase. Known by Connecticut fans as primarily a Waterford Speedbowl competitor, he also tasted success at the storied Norwood Arena in Massachusetts – an easy feat by no-means. After hanging-up his helmet, Marvin became involved with the New England Antique Racers, heavily contributing his time to the club. Every year, a NEAR member is presented the “Marvin Chase Contribution Award” in honor of this late racer. Fondly remembered, “Marv” had many friends at the shoreline oval, including this scribe. (Dugas Photo, Tom Ormsby Collection).      

If you were lucky enough to be around the sport when this guy was in his prime, you witnessed one of the best. Our friend and Webmaster Tom Ormsby of www.vintagemodifieds.com once stated that he was “Colorful, Controversial, and Popular” all at the same time. The truth-is, Anthony “Jap” Membrino helped sell a lot of tickets during a stellar career that lasted over 3-decades. While he experienced incredible success at Plainville Stadium Jap also won-big at many other New England venues. He’s captured here at the late & much-missed Riverside Park Speedway in Massachusetts in the Eddie Oles Gremlin. The 78 year old Jap has been in the hospital with a 90% artery blockage and should be home tomorrow, but, will be laid up awhile. Cards can reach him at Tony Membrino 328 Bassett Rd., Watertown, Ct. 06795. (Shany Photo?).

Here’s a driver that was successful in both the “fendered” divisions and the Modifieds. Shown here at Connecticut’s Waterford Speedbowl in 1972 is “Uncle Don” Steiner at the wheel of his neat little Chevy Corvair-bodied entry. The crossover to late model tinwork from the traditional coupes produced some really memorable Modifieds, and Steiner’s ride was one of them. (Shany Photo Courtesy Chris Langer).             

As with the aforementioned Don Steiner, not all teams utilized pre-war tin as a style palette during those halcyon days of the much-heralded “Coupe Era.” Seen here in 1970 at Waterford celebrating a feature victory aboard his Chevy II-bodied mount is Montville, CT. speedster Donnie Bunnell. A Bowl’ Superstar for many seasons, the popular Bunnell was known as a steady and sportsman-like chauffer. Perhaps his biggest moment in the sun was a stunning victory in the 1976 UNITED-sanctioned “Bicentennial 200”, then the longest-ever event staged at the shoreline oval. Note the “Psychedelic” numbers – a sign of the times!  (Shany Photo Courtesy Chris Langer).           

Call em’ Daredevils, Sportsman Sedans, Grand Americans, Late Models, or whatever, when it came to “full-fender” racing, this guy was one of the absolute-best. Plainfield, Connecticut’s Ron “Boots” Cote had few equals when in his prime, excelling at a trio of his home-state ovals. At the Speedbowl-alone (as seen in this 70’s-era victory lane image), he recorded over thirty career-victories and a duo of championships. (Steve Kennedy Photo).                            

 Here we present a nice “at-speed” shot captured at the Waterford Speedbowl by our longtime friend & veteran New England racing photographer, Steve Kennedy. Seen here doing his thing is local shoe, John Bunnell. Starting in the old Sportsman Sedan class before progressing to modifieds like the sharp Vega creation seen here (a body-man by profession, John routinely campaigned very-attractive rides), he was a part of the action within the shoreline oval’s premier division for nearly 3-decades. We believe this shot to be from the 1981 season. (Steve Kennedy Photo).

It’s the 1979 Thompson 300, and the chauffer of this neat little number is none-other than Geoff Bodine. Extremely successful in the modifieds (particularly when he was teamed with owner Dick Armstrong of Nu-Style Jewelry Team fame) the result of his deeds in the open-wheel wars bought a successful career at the top including a stunning victory in the 1986 Daytona 500. A member of the prestigious New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame, it’s reported that the 62-year-old Bodine will return to the NASCAR Sprint Cup series this year to compete in at-least 15 events. (Steve Kennedy Photo).              

Another 1979 shot from Connecticut’s Thompson Speedway, this time it’s the man fondly-recalled as the “King of the Modifieds” the late, great Richie Evans. A native of Rome, NY., 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 will join the NASCAR Hall of Fame this year. (Steve Kennedy Photo).

Here’s a great late-70’s Thompson Speedway victory lane shot of one of everybody’s favorite low-buck New England modified shoes, Bruce “Gomer” Taylor. Often tasked with competing against teams that possessed much-greater financial resources, he managed to win his fair-share of events during a long, colorful career. One of the sports true “Good Guys” his easygoing & likable demeanor endeared him to both his fellow competitors and the fans. Even today, its guys like this that remain the heart & soul of our sport. (Steve Kennedy Photo).                     

Here’s a nice Thompson Speedway shot from 1978 of 4-time Waterford Speedbowl Modified champion Dick Dunn during one of his visits to the track known as the “Indianapolis of the East.” Wheeling the appropriately-christened “Buddha’s Bullet” for our friends Peg & Al “Buddha” Gaudreau, he reigned supreme at Waterford during the early-1970s. Adding to an already-stellar resume, during the four-straight seasons that he was crowned champ (1972-75), Dunn recorded impressive 18-feature victories including a number of extra-distance shows. Historically-speaking, Dunn remains one of the best-ever to have competed at the Speedbowl. (Steve Kennedy Photo).    

Close-quarters at The Bowl’….. Captured here motivating down the front-chute at the Speedbowl eons-ago are veteran Modified campaigners Mark LaJeunesse in his familiar #33, and Roland Lapierre Jr. in his equally well-recognized #134. Both of these drivers had long-histories in the sport by the time Steve Kennedy snapped this shot. Before becoming a modified winner, LaJeunesse had been a championship-caliber quarter midget racer in his youth, and his father Al had been involved with the sport since the early days with multi-time Speedbowl champion Dick Beauregard. Also a winner, Lapierre grew-up around the burgeoning days of New England Modified racing, his late father being the much-celebrated Roland Lapierre Sr. (who incidentally will be inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in a couple of weeks on Sunday, January 29). Go to www.near1.com for more information on this year’s HOF Induction Ceremony. (Steve Kennedy Photo).     

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

Comments

(5 days ago) Dave Dykes said:
Folks, thanks for all the wonderful comments. I read each & every one of them, and your input is truly appreciated!

(5 days ago) Nick Fontaine said:
Keep up the great work Dave, love looking at all these great pictures. They always take me back in time, to the great times I always had!!

(6 days ago) Pete Newsham said:

Every Wed. this website brings a big smile to my face :) love it !

(6 days ago) Phil Smith said: Geoff Bodine and Hop Harrington built the No.1 for Allen Whipple
(6 days ago) Steve Kennedy said:
Am wondering if Jap's Gremlin was the 00 before or after it was VO. Am assuming that 35 connection relates to Jap's ride in a blue Guida sponsored Pinto, ran around 1976. Same owners I'd imagine. Unique looking racer. Get well soon Jap!!

(6 days ago) Sonny O said:
I believe the 35 car Jap is in is the old VO of Ron Vanness

(6 days ago) Tom Ormsby said:
Eddie Oles was the owner of the #35. Jap has been hospitalized with a 90% artery blockage and shoud be home tomorrow, 1/12/12.

(6 days ago) frank said:
1952 photos of united cars 14 94 84?

(6 days ago) Jimcamp said:
Who's car is that Jap is in???

 
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