Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday June 30, 2010

 Volume 2, Number 23                                                                                      New Column Every Wednesday


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By Dave Dykes                                                                              CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE

This week we present the usual fare of images from New England’s auto racing past, plus a couple of “mystery shots” to jog the memories of our readers. Get-Well wishes go-out to our longtime pal “Wild Bill” Slater, who’s still feeling a bit under-the-weather. Cards of cheer reach him at 12 Bluefield Drive, Apt. B., Manchester, CT. 06040. As-always, email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com      

More Memories & Mysteries….    

Admittedly, we don’t know much about this driver, a gentleman by the name of Bernie Deveau. We do know however, that it’s a 1960’s-era image at Connecticut’s “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl, and he’s obviously just grabbed a victory. It could be a Bomber entry from the latter-days of the division, or it could be a Modified – again, we’re not sure. If any readers happen to have some information on this car & driver, please feel-free to contact me. (Shany Photo).

Yet-another shot from the “unknown files.” It’s again the “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl, and judging from the “I Like Ike” bumper stickers plastered on the side of this Coupe, it’s the 1950’s. Probably a support-division entry judging by the 6-banger power, we’ve got tons of these types of shots in the “RTT” archives. Every competitor deserves recognition no-matter what the level of accomplishment in the sport, and we’d really like to find-out who these racers are. (Shany Photo).   

Unlike the previous pair of entries this week, if you’ve been around New England Modified racing for any measurable length of time, you should know this guy. The year is 1960, the car the potent Vitari-Bombaci #V8, and the youthful driver is our good friend, “Wild Bill” Slater. This is kind of a rare image, as the white V8’s weren’t around for long. Black was the standard color for this much-celebrated team’s winning machines. Bill drove his first race at Lonsdale R.I. in 1949 and for the next twenty years he won at tracks from Maine to New Jersey. A four time champion at the Norwood Arena and a two-time Sportsmen champion at Thompson, he won on the dirt at Stafford and on the pavement everywhere. Bill’s list of accomplishments includes winning 8 straight features at Norwood, and 7 straight wins at Stafford. In 1959 he posted twenty wins at Waterford. He also took down two championships at Waterford and one at Stafford. He won the 400 mile race at Trenton New Jersey four times, and is a two time winner of the Utica-Rome 400 in New York. Bill’s biggest career victory was in his win at the Langhorne Race of Champions the first year it was paved. Bill, along with his former car owners Bob Vitari & Vic Bombaci are members of the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame. (Innes Photo).   

Seen here at one of the big Modified events once held on the track at the “Big E” in Massachusetts, is the late Danny Galullo. In the early-days, he was part of the “Waterbury Gang” that routinely invaded that baseball stadium-turned raceway, the West Haven Speedway, doing battle with local heavies such as Johnny “King” Cambino, Billy Greco, and Tommy Sutcliffe. Also a two-time Riverside Park titlist, he recorded twenty Park’ victories, the first coming in 1960, the final in 1966. Adding to his stellar record is the 1962 United Stock Car Racing Club Grand Championship, a title earned by conducting a season-long point chasing blitzkrieg of the many Tattersall-sanctioned tracks in the New England region. Galullo was certainly one of the best of his generation. (Grady Photo)

They nicknamed him “The Lion” and it was a fitting handle. One of the toughest New England Modified drivers to ever strap-in behind the wheel, Leo Cleary was-indeed, an exciting driver to watch in his prime. He competed at Medford Bowl, Lonsdale, Norwood, Waterford, Stafford, Thompson, Catamount, Westboro, and just-about every other track in the Northeast. During a stellar career that seemingly lasted forever, he notched an impressive 14 track championships, including crowns at Norwood Arena, Seekonk, and Thompson. Cleary was inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 1999. (Grady Photo).

Captured here in the lens of our friend longtime racing photographer Steve Kennedy is New England Modified campaigner Blaine Belz. A standout driver at Connecticut’s Waterford Speedbowl for many seasons, this image captures him up the road at the 5/8-mile Thompson Motor Speedway during the mid-1970’s. Though he was never a huge winner, Blaine enjoyed a respectable career recording many fine finishes. Normally associated with his self-owned #Q creations, during the latter-stages of his career he often served as a hired-gun for some of the better teams. (Kennedy Photo).     

Here’s another one from the “Big T”…. The driver is New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member, the late Dick Watson. Starting his career in 1953, Dick competed at tracks across New England including; West Haven, Plainville Stadium, Lonsdale, Seekonk, Langhorne (dirt & paved), Norwood Arena, Thompson International Speedway, & Stafford Motor Speedway. Watson quickly carved a name for himself, winning first in 1954 at Plainville Stadium with his own car, and continued the tradition for owners like John Lasier of Middlefield, Ct. Notable Waterford Speedbowl rides included the John Barnett #7-11 “Gold Scorpion” and the Condon's #76. One of his most well-known rides was the Bob Garbarino V-4 “Mystic Missile” which he ran at Waterford winning the Connecticut State Modified Championship in 1965. The next season the team joined the NASCAR Modified Division. They moved up in a big way, winning the Thompson Speedway World Series. He scored top-ten point finishes at Thompson in 1966 and '67 and at Stafford in '67 and '68, competing against some of the very best modified drivers of the era. Dick competed in several Grand National (Winston Cup) races, in a car owned by E.J. Trivette out of Atlanta, GA. In 1969, at the Thompson 200 he was running fifth on lap 180, with eventual winner David Pearson, when a mechanical failure forced him out of the race with an 11th place finish. In 1972 Watson turned back to Waterford Speedbowl driving Norm Kies’ #21 and Fred Beaber’s Checker Board #716. His career concluded following a violent crash during a qualifying heat at Waterford Speedbowl in 1976, where he suffered a concussion, lower back injuries, and several broken ribs. (Kennedy Photo).               

Popular legend dictates that it was fellow competitor, the great Kenny Shoemaker that dubbed him the “Crescent Hillbilly” after an on-track altercation left “The Shoe” stammering for the proper choice of words. It’s also been said that Pete Corey rather-enjoyed the moniker that was a nod to his geographic origins in the capital district of New York State. In actuality, Corey and Shoemaker may have waged many battles on the track, but there was a vast degree of respect shared between the two legendary racers. This classic John Grady image captures Pete with his Rock Garden Pharmacy-sponsored Coupe at what we believe to be New York State’s Fonda Speedway. (Grady Photo).  

And here’s one from Connecticut’s late & much-missed Danbury Fair Racarena. The late Charles “Dutch” Hyatt ran with the SNYRA from the 1950’s to the mid 1970’s. A Connecticut State Trooper, Hyatt ran for many car owners during his career, often using the alias “Dutch Reese” to avoid any hassles with his employer who at the time, frowned-upon their Troopers partaking in the sport of auto racing. This image captures Hyatt following a “semi-final” victory on August 24, 1968. Note the flathead-power. It was the standard for the SNYRA long-after everyone else had switched to the overheads. (Mannion Photo).  

Lastly, seen here in the 1950’s during the formative years of his career at Connecticut’s “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl is a very-young Joe Tiezzi. He’s seated behind the controls of his Uncle Barney’s potent Hudson Coupe, one of the hottest rides of the era at the shoreline oval. Joe went-on from here to become quite the chauffer, recording a healthy parcel of wins at the track in-which it all began for him as a teenager. (Shany photo courtesy Pete Zanardi).

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

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