Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday January 15, 2014
 

 

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By Dave Dykes                                                                              CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE

This week we’ll again keep the opening comments short & sweet as we’re running a bit late in our schedule. Customarily completed by Sunday evening, here it is late Monday night & we’re just finishing-up. Special thanks are in-order to our friends R.A. Silvia & Roger Liller for contributing images to this week’s edition. And, let’s not forget Webmaster & pal Tom Ormbsy. Without his continued efforts in the technical department, our mid-week trips into the past would not be possible As-always, email reaches me at foreveryounginct@yahoo.com

Another Wednesday In The Books…..

Thanks to Racing Historian & longtime friend R.A. Silvia we begin this week with an absolutely-classic Shany Lorenzent image that harkens back to the early days of Connecticut’s Stafford Springs Motor Speedway. It’s 1954 and the driver of this cutdown is the late Charlie Webster, one of the greatest drivers to have ever emerged from the “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl, another notable Nutmeg State oval. He was known primarily for his many accomplishments at the Speedbowl where he amassed a career-total of 73 feature victories in both Non-Ford and Modified competition, and was a champion in both classes (3 Non-Ford titles, and 1 Modified crown). He shocked the local racing community with his decision to retire at the dawn of the 1970s whiles still very-much in his prime. Contrary to what’s sometimes suggested, Charlie did compete widely at other tracks other than the Speedbowl, especially early in his career. (Shany Lorenzent Photo Courtesy R.A. Silvia).

Here’s another image from New England’s “cutdown era.” This time it’s the “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl and the driver is Ray Moran. Another of the shoreline oval’s greatest early competitors, he scored a total of 18 feature victories in both Modified & Non-Ford competition between 1954 and 1960. A fondly-recalled crowd favorite, he was voted one of the Speedbowl’s “50 Favorite Drivers” in 2000 during the track’s 50th Anniversary celebration. Here’s a historical footnote on Waterford’s association with the notoriously light & dangerous cutdowns: On Saturday evening August 12, 1954, Jack Griffin was driving in the Sportsman feature (a particularly-messy event that had already produced multiple red flag periods), when another accident occurred directly in-front of him. He tried to avoid the wreck, but clipped the wheel of another competitor and rolled several times. Sadly, Griffin died of his injuries in the early hours of the next day at Lawrence & Memorial Hospital in New London, CT.  The tragedy effectively ended the “cutdown era” at the Speedbowl, ushering-in a return to the full-coupes for the 1955 season. (Shany Lorenzent Photo).

Seen here posing in the lens of noted New England racing photographer Shany Lorenzent at Connecticut’s “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl is Stan Spencer. Another of those drivers in the celebrated history of the shoreline oval that we know precious-little about, we believe the photo to be from the 1970 or 1971 campaign. Although we can confirm that he was a feature winner (those vintage ‘Bowl programs sure come in handy), anyone that has any further information on Stan, feel-free to contact us! At any-rate, we really like his little coupe! (Shany Lorenzent Photo)

Everyone has to start somewhere, and in the case of the Speedbowl’s Donnie Bunnell, it was within the support classes that be began his career. After a short period wheeling machines like this full-bodied Daredevil class entry it was on to the headlining Modifieds. He went-on to become one of the Speedbowl’s most-accomplished open-wheel stars, respected by his fellow racers and certainly well-liked by the fans. High on the list of the Waterford’s modified feature winners, perhaps his crowing achievement was a stunning victory in the 1976 Bicentennial 200 which was then the shoreline oval’s longest event to-date. Talk to any racer that this guy ever competed-against and you’ll always get a positive response. Personally-speaking he was one of my favorite drivers, and it’s always a pleasure to feature him in “RTT.” (Shany Lorenzent Photo).

Next on the agenda we have another classic Shany image (circa 1969), featuring Ricky Taylor, a standout competitor in the Speedbowl’s Daredevil division. Introduced in 1965 to shore-up a sagging car-count in a failing Bomber class, it was a slam-bang show with cars-aplenty. Even qualifying for the feature could be a supreme chore. Mostly populated by tri-five Chevys & Fords, they were essentially-stock vehicles with the only modifications made in the name of safety. Taylor won a bunch of features in the division’s rough n’ tumble early era. The owner of this ride was our friend Angie Cerease who later became the driver of the iconic L&M coupe, one of Waterford’s most fondly-recalled modifieds. (Shany Lorenzent Photo)

Just like today, some Speedbowl Saturday nights are better than others and this one definitely wasn’t fun for racer Seabury Tripler. Seen seated on the wall watching the track wrecker crew attending to his steaming wreck of an “M” coupe “Trip” was probably wondering how-many nights in the garage with his team this little misadventure was going to cost him. Also in the shot & looking directly into Shany’s lens is noted New England racing personality Dick Brooks. Waterford’s old railroad-tie wall could do a number on a race car! (Shany Lorenzent Photo).

Our friend New York State Racing Historian Roger Liller continues to send us a myriad of dynamite shots and here’s another one. States Roger about this entry; “This week's photo is of the incomparable Chick Stockwell at Bridgeport, Connecticut’s Candelite Stadium sent to us by Bob Ellis. The Southern New York Racing Association held a series of events there in 1954, and Chick won the Sunday afternoon opener in March. Bob tells us that almost 3,000 people attended this race. They had 40 to 45 cars, so SNYRA opened up their membership to new cars and drivers, however, these new members could not race at Danbury because of the 60 car limit. Stockwell won the circuit championship that season with Ev Pierce the high point man at Danbury. Chick, indeed, is the most-winning driver in SNYRA history with a total of 207 wins at Danbury alone plus Rhinebeck, Candelite, Peekskill, and probably many other tracks. We'll miss you Chick.” Thanks to Bob & Roger for this gem! (Bob Ellis Collection Photo Courtesy Roger Liller)

Another one from the early days at Connecticut’s Stafford Springs Motor Speedway, we had to contact our friend & Webmaster Tom Ormsby for a bit of information on this driver. See here is Charlie Richards in 1954. Tom states; “Charlie Richards was an early track champion & multi-time feature winner at Connecticut’s Plainville Stadium, and also ran the Tattersall’s United Stock Car Racing Club circuit. He regularly raced at places like Riverside Park, Waterford and Stafford, in-addition to all of the other Connecticut tracks and several in the New York State area. He was a native of Bristol, Connecticut. He was all & all a very successful driver during his era.” As-always, thanks for the information, Tom! (Shany Lorenzent Photo Courtesy R.A. Silvia).

Here’s a nice image of a friend captured back in 1975 at the Speedbowl. Honestly, I thought I had pulled from the files just about all of the shoreline oval shots of Jim Torok in his #13, so again finding this one was a pleasant surprise. Jim was a consummate low-bucker who actually concluded his career at the much-missed Danbury Fair Racearena before that track’s untimely closure. A longtime member of the New England Antique Racers (NEAR), he still manages to put in some fast-laps every season with the club as the owner and driver of the restored Corky Cookman Pinto and Lou Funk Buick straight-8 powered Coupe. We’ve known this guy for a lot of years & we’re pretty-sure he’ll be pleased to see this one appear! (Rene Dugas Photo).

Here at “Racing Through Time” we’ve always made an effort to showcase racers of all accomplishment levels, not just the big winners. After-all, while there can be only one victor, that’s not-to-say that the rest of the pack wasn’t trying just as hard to grab that elusive checkered flag. Lee Hardy was a journeyman modified racer at the Speedbowl for much of the late-60s and early-70s, recording a number of decent finishes in the process. His equipment was often somewhat-less than that of the top teams, but he remained competitive all-the-same. He’s seen here during his final year of competition in 1974. (Shany Lorenzent Photo).

UNIDENTIFIED DRIVER #1: Here’s another shot we’ve had in the files for a lot of years. Quite-honestly, I can’t recall when I added it to my collection. I could have purchased it at Shany’s Speedbowl photo stand when I was a kid, or it could be one of the prints that was generously given to me by our late (& much-missed), friend Danny Pardi. Either-way, it’s obviously the shoreline oval, and its one immaculately-prepared coach! Any idea of the identity of this driver? If-so, contact us at foreveryounginct@gmail.com (Shany Lorenzent Photo).

UNIDENTIFIED DRIVER #2: OK, this one represents triple the amount of mystery. We don’t know the identity of the driver, and on-top of that, we’re lost as-to the track & photographer! If any of you readers have a clue (which I obviously don’t), fire-off an email. In doing-so, you’ll be helping with our ongoing (and seemingly never-ending), project. I’m waging that our pal R.A. Silvia can ID this one, as it looks like a car from his neck-of-the-woods! (Photographer Unknown).

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

 
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