Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday January 22, 2014
 

 

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By Dave Dykes                                                                              CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE

And here we are at another Wednesday – time passes quickly when you’re having fun, right? This week we’ll try to mix-it-up a bit with some emphasis on that much-missed Connecticut ¼-miler, Joe Tinty’s former Plainville Stadium. As-always, special thanks are offered to those who have been responding to our “Unidentified Driver” section of the site. It’s truly been an enormous help in getting the files updated, but above-all it’s been great getting to know some of you historically-astute readers! Lastly, 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@gmail.com

Racing Past Another Wednesday…..

Starting out this week, we have a nice 70s-era image from Massachusetts’ Seekonk Speedway. Seen here posing on the infield of the celebrated New England oval also known as “The Cement Palace” is longtime competitor Johnny Tripp. In a career spanning over three-decades, he snared over 30 feature victories and was crowned the Seekonk Pro Stock champion in 1988. Also a modified competitor in years-past, he successfully wheeled cars for some of the division’s most notable teams at a variety of the region’s speedways. (Johnny Mercury Photo).

Just a super Rene Dugas “profile shot” of our friend, New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member Bob Potter when he was wheeling Freddie Beabers’s famed checkerboard #716 coupe. Here’s an exerpt from his HOF biography; “In Southern New England, mention the number 51 and the immediate response is Bob Potter. Starting at Waterford Speedbowl in 1962, Potter began winning in 1966 and before it was over captured 11 championships an estimated 140 features at Stafford, Thompson and Waterford.  A model of consistency, he ran a streak of 37 straight top-six finishes at Stafford in 1994-95.” (Rene Dugas Photo).

Like many Plainville Stadium competitors, Pud Noble began his career in the track’s wildly-popular Novice Class as recorded here. There was a time at “Tinty’s Place” when it was populated by scads of drivers like the colorful Pud – the place was really rockin’ when he topped the field on this Saturday night. It’s only been in recent years that people have realized just how-important the little Connecticut ¼-miler really-was in the scheme of things. As I’ve stated previously, it was the first track I ever attended after I got my drivers license and was able to stray from my home base of the Waterford Speedbowl. I loved the place along with its colorful drivers and competition that was second-to-none! (Frank Faust Photo Courtesy of Tom Ormsby).

Here’s just an excellent early-70s shot from our friend Phil Hoyt who served as Plainville’s official track photographer for many seasons. Posing in the infield (and looking quite proud), is one of the track’s top modified racers, Nick Reese. A tightly-confined and demanding ¼-miler with pancake-flat turns, Plainville placed a premium on driver skill and ability to negotiate traffic. Even when high-dollar monster motors started creeping into the sport and putting journeyman teams at a disadvantage, you could still run competitively there without mortgaging the farm if you had the goods behind the wheel & knew the proper setup. (Phil Hoyt Photo).

Nicky Porto remains one of the best to have ever-competed at Plainville Stadium. Spending the formative years of his career at the United Stock Car Racing Club-sanctioned West Haven Speedway where he scored multiple victories, his reign at Plainville was nothing-less than spectacular. Leaving the local scene for a brief period in the mid-70s, he headed to Riverside Park during what was arguably one of that track's most-competitive eras to become an almost-instant feature winner (May 17, 1975 to be-exact). He later returned-home to “Tinty’s Place” picking-up where he’d left-off as a winner. Isn’t this Camaro-bodied ride sweet-looking? (Phil Hoyt Photo).  

Its 1972, the sun is setting over Connecticut, and Fred DeSarro wheeling Len Boehler’s #3 coupe has just won Stafford’s first-ever Spring Sizzler. Rounding-out the top-5 in the 33-car starting field were Denis Giroux, Bugs Stevens, Leo Cleary, and Jerry Cook. The ultra-successful event was promoted by our friends Bruce Cohen, Lew Boyd, and Dr. Dick Berggren. As a side-note, it was Ed Flemke Sr. who had the race won until with only ten circuits remaining he was forced pitside, the victim of a broken water pump. DeSarro, Boehler, Stevens, Cleary, and Flemke are all members of the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame – talk about an All-Star cast! (Rene Dugas Photo).

Courtesy of our pal JoJo Farone, here’s a dandy of a shot of the late, great Eddie Flemke Sr. when he was driving for the Garuti Brothers team (that’s Richie on the right). When this image was captured it was the Tattersall family’s United Stock Car Racing Club that ruled the roost in New England modified racing, rather-than NASCAR. United once held court at a staggering number of raceways in the Northeast and included in its ranks were the biggest stars of the day. Deservedly-so, Flemke, the Garuti’s, and Tattersall are all members of the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame. For more on their careers, visit www.near1.org  (Photo Courtesy JoJo Farone).  

Yet-another Plainville Stadium shot that we really like & feel extremely-fortunate to have added to our files in 2013. Seen here following a feature victory is New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member, Sparky Belmont (real name Michael Belmonte). He was a Plainville track champion, and a big star on Harvey Tattersall’s UNITED circuit. Sadly, following a convincing victory in a 100-lap contest at Plainville in July of 1968, he collapsed during the post race celebration, and passed-away on the spot. “Sparky” had been a star on the post war midget racing circuit before switching to stock cars. He won a ton of races during his career and is recalled as being highly-respected by his competitors and well-liked by the fans. (Frank Faust Photo).

The late, great, Ed Flemke Sr. once told our Webmaster & pal Tom Ormsby that “If you could learn to master Plainville Stadium, you could win just about anywhere-else in New England.” As recited here many times, Joe Tinty’s homespun little Connecticut oval put a premium on handling & tested a drivers ability to handle heavy traffic. It was a tough-joint in every-sense of the word. Seen during a break in the action with his trusty coupe is popular regular Warren “Elmer” Lee. A scan of the tracks archival records reveal that he was a top-runner & always in the thick-of-the-action. (Phil Hoyt Photo).

Here at “RTT” it’s always been our practice to feature racers of all levels – not just the big winners & legends of the sport. We admittedly know little about driver Bob Gendron, but do recall his Chevy Corvair-bodied mount circling the shoreline oval in the early-1970s. As a kid sitting in the grandstands the car kind of caught my eye at an early-season event, as it was rather “different-looking” almost resembling a dirt car sitting higher than most of the other rides of the time. Either-way, it was memorable in its “uniqueness.” I don’t recall it as having been around very long, at-least at the Speedbowl. (Photographer Unknown).

UNKNOWN DRIVER #1: This week we’ll present a couple of mysteries from the earliest days of the “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl. On these early Shany Lorenzent images, we’re completely clueless as to who the drivers are behind the controls of these ancient coupes (not even a hint!). On this one, we do recognize the driver in the background – that’s “Big Butch” Caswell who has been featured in a previous edition of “RTT.” (Shany Lorenzent Photo).

UNKNOWN DRIVER #2: Here’s another Speedbowl “full coupe” sporting a 3-digit number (once a common practice). What we really found intriguing about this shot is what the driver is wearing on his noggin’ which looks not-unlike a football helmet! As-always, if you have any idea as to the identity of this pair of early chauffeurs, don’t hesitate to shoot us an email at foreveryounginct@gmail.com ! (Shany Lorenzent Photo).

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

 
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