Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday June 2, 2010

 Volume 2, Number 19                                                                                      New Column Every Wednesday


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By Dave Dykes                                                                              CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE

The big-news this week is the 6th Annual Norwood Arena Reunion slated for Sunday, June 6 at Bezema Buick-GMC on the Auto-Mile. The show runs from 11-4 and is a not-to-be-missed event. For further information call the Bezema dealership at 781.769.4700 or contact our pal, organizer Lou Modestino, at 781.784.7857. Bezema Buick-GMC is located at 402 Providence Hwy. (US Rt. 1) in Norwood, MA. See you all there!!!! Special thanks go-out to our Webmaster Tom Ormsby and former Plainville Stadium lensman Phil Hoyt for contributing from their collections to this week’s edition of “RTT.” Contact me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com    

Early Indy & More Short Track Stormers….     

This week we start with something different. By now, the world knows that it was Dario Franchitti winning this year’s edition of that great Memorial Day weekend classic, the Indianapolis 500. However, at the conclusion of the first-ever staging of the event on May 30, 1911, it was Ray Harroun taking the checkers. Wheeling a Marmon Wasp engineered by Harry Goetz, his average speed was a blistering 74.602 mph. Ralph Mulford driving a Lozier was second, and in a Fiat, it was young upstart David Bruce Brown notching third. Worth mentioning is the fact that Harroun was the only driver in the race without a riding mechanic and his Marmon also featured the world’s first rear-view mirror. The mirror was enough to satisfy officials that he had a reasonable field of vision without the aid of a mechanic, but in reality it vibrated so-much that it was virtually useless. (Photographer Unknown).

And now we go from the bricks of Indianapolis to a slightly-smaller venue, that being Connecticut’s former West Haven Speedway (AKA “Savin Rock”). Seen here ready to roll at ‘The Rock” is one Tony Daddio. A big-winner at the United-sanctioned West Haven (it seems as-if the Tattersall family controlled about everything in New England back-then), Daddio later went-on to become one of the top racers at another Connecticut oval, Joe Tinty’s Plainville Stadium. Sadly, West Haven Speedway ceased operation in 1967, and Plainville was shuttered by the dawn of the 1980’s. (Shany Photo, Ormsby Collection).  

Seen here in the early 1950’s seated behind the controls of an entry owned by Don Baldwin at either West Haven or Candlelight Stadium is the late Johnny “King” Cambino. He earned his nickname as one of the premier drivers at rough & tumble Connecticut ovals like the late West Haven Speedway, Plainville Stadium, Cherry Park, and Candlelight. In later years, he followed United to Riverside continuing his reign as one of the club’s top-competitors. Only part of the story, the “King” came out of retirement while in his 60’s to become a winning driver in the Waterford Speedbowl’s Street Stock class of the 1990’s. (Ormsby Collection).    

The late Bert Brooks was one of the countries premier Midget drivers during the busy post-war era. He started racing motorcycles then switched to midgets in the 1940’s. His first race was at Danbury CT. in 1945. In the early years, he drove a Ford-powered car and often won the non-Offenhauser championship. He joined the United Racing Club (URC) sprint car circuit in 1954 and won the championship four times, including three consecutive years - 1956, 1957 and 1958. He switched back to the ARDC midgets in 1959. In 1961 Brooks attempted to qualify for the Indianapolis 500. He passed the rookie test but was too slow to make the field in the Hall-Mar Curtis-Offy. He also tried to qualify at Milwaukee the week after Indy, but again was too slow, this time in the Eelco Custom Shaft Kuzma-Offy. Later that year he suffered a mangled arm in a wreck at Flemington. Sadly, Brooks, a New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer, perished in a multi-car crash during an ARDC Labor Day event at Hershey (PA), Stadium in 1968. (Ormsby Collection).      

Like many of the open-wheel specialists of his era, Bert Brooks also spent a limited amount of time wheeling stock cars, a division whose popularity was on the rise when this early shot was captured. Due to a variety of reasons (mostly cost factors – the Midgets were never a cheap race car), the Coupes would become the main weekly fare all across New England with the “Mighty Midgets” becoming primarily a traveling circuit. (Ormsby Collection).  

Captured here on the old fifth-miler at the late Riverside Park in Massachusetts is Luke Scanlan. Another shot courtesy of our Webmaster Tom Ormsby, he states that “Scanlan was a multi-time champion in Riverside's figure eight division. He also ran well at West Haven, winning several races there. I’m not sure how he did in the Modifieds at Riverside.” Scanlan’s car is typical of the early Modifieds found at the Park’ in the fact that it’s super-sanitary. It seems as-though they always had some of the best-looking rides in all of New England esp. during the Tattersall/UNITED-santioned “Coupe Era.” (Shany Photo, Ormsby Collection).    

John Ferrell remains one of racing’s true “Nice Guys.” Nowadays, he campaigns a Midget on the Northeastern Midget Association (NEMA) tour with his daughter Kelly handling the driving chores. When Steve Kennedy snapped this shot on Saturday evening August 22, 1981, John (far-left) was the wheelman behind the controls of this Plymouth Duster-bodied Modified at Connecticut’s Waterford Speedbowl. (Kennedy Photo).                 

Unfortunately, later that evening during the feature things kinda’ went-sour for Mr. Ferrell during a typical Bowl’ skirmish. Never one to get discouraged, its s sure-bet that he had his ride ready to roll again the next week!  By the way, if the car looks familiar, it had been campaigned in previous seasons by top Waterford shoe Jerry Glaude as the #29. (Kennedy Photo).                 

Steve Kennedy always had a knack (and still does), for getting great action-shots, and this one is no exception. Seen here piloting the #21 Vega “Wagon” during the 1979 Fall Stinger open competition event on November 4, 1979 (John Rosati was victorious on that day), is New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer, George Savary. From his Hall of Fame biography; George Savary started racing in the 1960’s at Norwood Arena. George raced from 1971-1974 in the NASCAR International Late Model Sportsman Division. But his life would change in 1975, when he drove the Pete Hamilton built kit car – a Vega wagon. Winning on Friday night at Westboro Speedway then again on Saturday at Seekonk Speedway was the norm for him in the late ‘70s. He was unstoppable in the Vega Wagon and in 1980, NASCAR outlawed the car. George then drove the Mello Yellow modified and in 1985, went Pro 4 Racing. (Kennedy Photo).

It simply wouldn’t be an installment of “RTT” without a shot from Plainville Stadium (hey, I’m partial to the late Connecticut ¼-miler). Courtesy of Mr. Phil Hoyt who was the track photographer there for many-moons, we have a nice rare-one for you folks this week. Seen here seated behind the controls of a car that’ll probably be unfamiliar to most of his fans is the undisputed “King of Plainville,” Mr. Dave Alkas. Spending the majority of his ultra-successful career wheeling the potent Roland Cyr #54, Dave was inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 2008. He won 5 track championships at The Stadium’ in a 10 year period, competing against standouts like Reggie Ruggiero, Ronnie Wycoff,, Stan Gregor, and Ronnie Rocco, Dave beat the field regularly, taking down 11 feature wins in one season alone.  He also won frequently in Plainville’s storied mid-week open competition 100-lappers, routinely beating the best New England Modified drivers in the business. (Hoyt Photo).

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

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