Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday June 16, 2010

 Volume 2, Number 21                                                                                      New Column Every Wednesday


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By Dave Dykes                                                                              CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE

It’s another new week, and another helping of “old stuff.” In this installment of “RTT” we’re kind of focused on the Waterford Speedbowl (had a lot of request as of-late), with a few other shots tossed-in for good measure. Enjoy! As-always, email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com   

Another Week, More Vintage Views…..    

The “old days” at Connecticut’s Waterford Speedbowl were no-different than what goes on currently at the track fondly referred-to by locals as the “Shoreline Oval.” Quite-frankly, the place has always been a rough n’ tumble affair. This ancient Shany Lorenzent image captures a gaggle of early chauffeurs piled-up on the “sand safety strip” that previously circled the track surface. Note the railroad-tie walls also. The sand was removed in the 1960’s, and the wall was backed-up an Armco barrier in the late-1980’s. (Shany Photo).

Another coupe-era shot from what was then-known as the “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl captures Bob Tatro & crew pitside at the Rt. 85 oval. Typical of the times, Bob’s racer sported a nifty vintage body, stock frame, and probably 99% of the components used in its construction where products of good old-fashioned Yankee ingenuity, rather than a fat-wallet. Sadly, Modified racing has become prohibitively-expensive for many would-be competitors and has also forced many veteran teams out of the sport. It remains a truly-disturbing trend. (Dugas Photo).   

The year is 1974, the venue is again the “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl, and the driver is one Nels Wohlstrom Sr. A graduate of the old Sportsman Sedan ranks and one of the Modified division’s true “Gentleman Racers,” Nels recorded many a fine finish wheeling this ex-Mike Beebe Pinto at places like the Speedbowl, and up the road at the Thompson Speedway. (Dugas Photo).    

Here’s an image captured in the late-1970’s of a true Icon within the ranks of the Waterford Speedbowl’s support classes. Extremely-popular and a huge winner, “Big Mike” Daigneault handily scored the 1973 Sportsman Sedan title and endeared himself to the fans with his patriotic red, white & blue “Spirit of 76’” Ford entries. Mike ranks 7th on his divisions all-time win list with a total of 27 career feature victories. (Dugas Photo).     

Drivers of the fairer-sex are nothing-new at the Waterford Speedbowl as this shot of Rae Williams illustrates. Along with pioneering racers like Emma Coates among others, Williams was in the thick of the action every week with this Nova-bodied entry back in 1981 when this shot was captured by Steve Kennedy. At the time, her division was known as the “Super Stock” class. They were a direct descendant of the original Street Stocks (which debuted in 1977), and they eventually morphed-into today’s Late Models. (Kennedy Photo).  

Seen here on opening day at the Waterford Speedbowl in 1978 (the “Spring 100” which was won by Ron Bouchard), is the late Prentice “Corky” Cookman. Starting his career as a member of the SNYRA at the former Danbury Fair Racerena, he eventually branched-out, becoming one of the first regulars on the NASCAR Modified Tour. A career highlight while running the Tour was a stunning win in the 1982 edition of the Manchester Oil Heat 100 at the Stafford Springs Motor Speedway. Sadly, the popular Cookman perished in a wreck at the Thompson Speedway in 1987. (Kennedy Photo).     

Here’s another one from Waterford’s 1978 “Spring 100.” The late Don Dionne is captured on the starting-grid in a Vega-bodied entry. Though he raced all over New England, he was particularly successful at Massachusetts’ Seekonk Speedway where he was a long time fan favorite capturing over thirty-wins during a career spanning nearly 3-decades. He won his first show at the “Cement Palace” on September 23, 1967 in the B division. His final feature victory was celebrated on July 15, 1989, wheeling John Tyler's Sound Marine Special. His first championship came in 1970 in the B division. In 1979 he became the very-first Seekonk Pro Stock Champion, driving for the Manfredo Brothers, and repeated the feat in 1981. Sadly, we lost Don at age-70 just last January. (Kennedy Photo).               

We’ve ran shots of this driver previously, but the sheer amount of different images I have of him in my archives is testament as to just-how popular he was during his heyday. Canadian Modified star Dennis Giroux was in the throes of a brilliant career when tragedy struck and he was severely injured in a crash at Stafford Springs Speedway during the 1974 season. In a coma for months after the accident, he later recovered, but never returned to racing. Many in New England feel that Giroux would have been the next to follow in the footsteps of former Modified success and 1970 Daytona 500 winner Pete Hamilton in making it within the big-leagues of the NASCAR Cup’ Series. This image captures a youthful Giroux with one of his early Coupes. (Grady Photo).                  

Before becoming a regular at Plainville Stadium as seen here, Prospect, CT. native Sherm Saunders was one of the top-performers at the UNITED-sanctioned West Haven Speedway. Saunders had a number of victories a The Stadium’ and sometimes competed at Riverside Park. He also ran-well in the big star-studded shows once held yearly on the 5/8-miler on the grounds of the “Big E” in Massachusetts.  (Kennedy Photo).

Here’s another shot from one of those great mid-week 100-lap Plainville Stadium Open Comp. shows. The date is July 13, 1974, and the driver of the Jarbs #500 Pinto on this evening is none other than our pal, New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer, Billy “Gramps” Greco. A fixture on the ovals of New England since 1951, Greco established himself in the sport early-on. He took track championships at West Haven in 1955, and again in ’56 and ’58. He won Saturday night titles at Riverside Park in 1965 and 67, and also nailed several Tuesday night track championships at The Park’. His combined feature win total at Riverside is 68 including five 500 lap team races. His success was not limited to just Harvey Tattersall’s United circuit; he was a charter member of the All Star Racing League enjoying success on both dirt and asphalt. In the late sixties he tried his hand with NASCAR. In the closing years of his career he joined the SNYRA to become a winner at the late Danbury Fair Racerena. (Kennedy Photo). 

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

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