Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday July 3, 2013

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Volume 5, Number 27                                                                                    New Column Every Wednesday


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Billy Greco's NEAR
Fundraiser Picnic

Sunday August 11th


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By Dave Dykes                                                                            CLICK ON PHOTOS FOR FULL SIZE

Among our offerings this week are a number of images captured by our old friend, longtime New England auto racing photographer Steve Kennedy. Starting at Connecticut’s former Plainville Stadium in the 1970s, he remains a vital part of the sport today, shooting the action at the Waterford Speedbowl every week alongside official ‘Bowl photographer Keith Cyr. A renowned professional artist by trade, read more about Steve’s career in the fine arts by visiting www.stevekennedyfinearts.com Adding-still to his resume is a recently-published book on New England modified racing, “Modified Stock Car Racing of the 60’s & 70s” available at Lew Boyd’s www.coastal181.com Lastly, don’t forget, Hall of Famer Billy Greco is hosting a picnic & car show on Sunday, Aug 11th at the Polish American Club located at 194 W. Spring Street in West Haven, CT. The event serves as a fundraiser for the NEAR mobile museum. Get your tickets early by contacting Billy at 203-378-7945. To be held under the pavilion on the grounds of the Polish American Club, the event is a rain or shine affair which runs from noon to 6pm. Tickets will also be available at the door. Email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com

Some From Steve K. (And A Few Other Gems)….  

Growing-up a stones-throw from Connecticut’s Waterford Speedbowl, it wasn’t until I got my driver’s license in the mid-70s that I was able to branch-out a bit and visit some of the other short tracks in New England. Here’s one from the first “away” speedways that I ever attended. It was an unforgettable experience, and I headed-back to Joe Tinty’s Plainville Stadium again & again. It was simply modified racing at its finest grassroots level. Pictured here behind the controls of his uncle Eddie Mack's Pinto is Dave Germano. One of Plainville’s top modified shoes, at the time Dave was an Industrial Arts teacher at Southington High School. Now retired from the sport, he later became the Assistant Principle at Southington, Connecticut High School. Plainville Stadium was all-about local heroes; Dave was one of them. See that #4x Pinto in the background? That’s none-other than our Webmaster, Publisher, and Editor, Tom Ormsby who was also a long-time ‘Stadium modified competitor. (Steve Kennedy Photo).

Captured here following a midget victory in the 1960s at Connecticut’s “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl is the late Joe Csiki. The celebrated open-wheel racer actually won his first-ever feature in a stock car on the 1/5-mile at Riverside Park Speedway in Massachusetts on May 4, 1957, Before that, he was turning heads as a talented competitor, being named the 1956 United Stock Car Club’s “Most Promising Driver.” Shortly after switching exclusively to midgets, he was crowned the 1958 NEMA Rookie of the Year. He was the 1961 NEMA Non-Offy Owner Champion, and the ’62 NEMA Non-Offy Driver Champion. He followed-up as the 1963 and ’65 NEMA Driver Champion.  In 1964, he was named United Racing Club Rookie of the Year, and he was the ARDC Driving Champion in 1966. Csiki listed two ARDC 100 lap races, one at Old Bridge and one at Wall Stadium, along with a 50 lapper at Trenton in 1966, as three of his bigger wins. Sadly, his life ended tragically from injuries sustained at Bedford, PA Fairgrounds in August of 1967. Fittingly, Csiki is a member of the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame. (Shany Photo).

Another one from the Speedbowl, here we have the late Howard “Curly” LaMay, a Claming Car champion during the shoreline oval’s sophomore season of 1952. He later joined the ranks of the headlining modifieds as captured here. LaMay’s entry is typical of the notorious “Cut Down Era” at Waterford; note the lowered-stance and lightweight construction when compared to the more conventional “full-coupes” being run elsewhere in the region at the time. The reign of this lighter, lower, and inherently more-dangerous style of modified came to an abrupt-end at Waterford on August 21, 1954 when John “Jack” Griffin lost his life in a grinding crash. Track management almost immediately mandated a return to the full-coupes following Griffin’s tragic demise. (Shany Photo).

The Waterford Speedbowl has always hosted some of the greatest Saturday night support division action in New England. From the Claming Cars of the early 1950s to today’s Late Models, Street Stocks and Mini Stocks, much of the shoreline oval’s most-dramatic racing can be found in these classes. Steve Kennedy lent a bit of artistic license to this 70s-era Grand American image in capturing the Mercury Cougar-bodied #19 entry of Keith Eves, and the #70 Chevelle of Wayne “Mr. Mysterious” Smith (whose evening looks to have concluded in an unfortunate trip into the old railroad-tie wall). Both of these drivers were big winners, with Smith having recorded the championship in 1977. (Steve Kennedy Photo)

When Steve Kennedy became the Speedbowl’s official track photographer he upped-the-ante, adding an artistic & often dramatic flair to the weekly images recorded at the shoreline oval; this is one of them. Putting his Ford Torino Grand American entry though its paces in 1978 is our friend Bob Gada Sr. It was a good year for the multi-time champion, as he recorded 5 feature victories including the season-ending 50-lap NAPA Fall Classic event. Bob still holds-court pitside every week, making sure things in the latest version of the family racing effort run smoothly. Few families can claim more track titles and victories at a single track than the Gada’s have at Waterford and their success continues today. (Steve Kennedy Photo). 

Part of the beauty of Plainville Stadium throughout the 1970s was the fact that coupes & coaches remained somewhat the norm, rather than the exception. Though Detroit subcompact tinwork has began to seep into the consciousness of ‘Stadium car builders, there was still plenty of pre-war fare competing weekly to satisfy purists of the classic ilk. This shot captures the 5-window entries of Dick Thibeault #58, and #15 Elliot Beveridge. (Steve Kennedy Photo).   

“Lil Dan” Gaudiosi – the name was magic for what seemed like eons within the realm of New England modified racing. A mainstay of the old Tattersall/United dynasty (West Haven being particularly fortuitous for him), he started winning during the post-war stock car boom, and kept-on collecting checkers after many of his contemporaries had hung-up their helmets. Closely-aligned with the famous pink & white racers of his brother “Sharkey” Gaudiosi, he’s captured here ready-to-roll at Plainville during the 1975 season. (Steve Kennedy Photo).

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. It’s 1975, and the locale is the high-banks of the Thompson Speedway. Bill took the seat in this car 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. (Chris Hawkins Photo).

The Joe Palmieri #VO team was certainly a successful operation at Plainville as seen here, but they also did well at many other tracks in New England such as Waterford, Riverside Park, and on the expansive high-banks of Thompson Speedway. Veteran modified shoe Ronnie VanNesse was behind the controls of Joe’s always sharp-looking coupe when a young Steve Kennedy captured this image in the 1970s on a sunny weekend afternoon at Joe Tinty’s racy little ¼-miler. (Steve Kennedy Photo).

Another popular driver at the “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl was this guy, Charlie “Chuggy” Savage. Seen here in the early-1970s behind the controls of a classic 3-window coupe creation, he was one of the shoreline oval’s “Top-Guns” in the modified division for eons. Savage was one of the benefactors of the cost-cutting standards set-forth with the advent of the SK Modified, doing quite-well in the early-days of the division winning a number of main events. (Shany Photo).  

BONUS SHOT: In 1977, UNITED’s Harvey Tattersall started a new class at Waterford, dubbing them “Street Stocks”. Engineered to address both the issues of the ever-rising cost of racing (sound familiar?), and also to give beginners a place to start, the division was an immediate hit. Seen here at-speed in late-1978 is Paul Jutila, whose ride was typical of what was being built at the time. A full-size Ford with a simple roll cage, a sprinkling of other rudimentary safety features, and 78-Series street tires was all you needed to mix-it-up with other Dick Dunn wannabes. Paul constructed this rig after selling his prior car to some kid by the name of Dave Dykes, who by the way, wasn’t much of a racer, but had a lot of fun! (Steve Kennedy Photo).

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