Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday June 23, 2010

 Volume 2, Number 22                                                                                      New Column Every Wednesday


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By Dave Dykes                                                                              CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE


This week we offer another serving of vintage images with an emphasis placed on the Connecticut shoreline’s “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl. Also included are a couple of shots from Stafford, that historical ½-miler also located in the “Nutmeg State.” Special thanks go out to our pal Mal Phillips for contributing some of the shots used in this installment of “RTT.” As-always, email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com    

Another Helping Of Racin’ Memories….    

Seen here at Stafford Springs during the early-days of his career behind the controls of a positively scary-looking “Cut-Down” is our pal New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer, “Wild Bill” Slater. Bill recently relayed to us the story about winning with this Coupe on the old 1/5-miler that previously occupied the infield area of Stafford. Lou Young was the car owner. Notoriously light-weight & dangerous, it took nerves-of-steel to wheel one of these things. The Waterford Speedbowl was one of the first New England tracks to outlaw the “Cut-Downs” when popular Jack Griffin lost his life in one on the evening of August 12, 1954. (Shany Photo courtesy Mal Phillips).

And here’s another one of “Wild Bill” Slater, this-time at Waterford in 1956 - a year in-which he was crowned track champion with this “Baldy” Simons-owned Coupe. Though he stuck-around the Speedbowl long-enough to claim another title (in the potent Vitari-Bombaci #V-8), his career really took-off upon leaving the local scene. Success was found at Massachusetts’ storied Norwood Arena as-well as Connecticut’s Stafford and Thompson Speedways. He won the 400 mile race at Trenton, New Jersey four times, and is a 2-time winner of the Utica-Rome 400 in New York. His biggest career victory came at the Langhorne Penn. Race of Champions. He drove in The Daytona Permatex 300 four times from 1963 to 66. Bill drove his last race at Stafford in 1969 and then became involved in the promotional side of racing at Stafford and later Thompson. (Shany Photo).   

Meet Ted Dean, a standout Non-Ford division racer at the Waterford Speedbowl for many seasons. Recording his first of 19 career victories in 1952, he was extremely popular with the fans, and legend has-it that he was quite a “character” for his time. According to our pal Mal Phillips who knows a thing-or-two about Speedbowl history, “Ted used to grow his beard until he won a race, and then he'd shave it off.” One has to remember, this was during the ultra-conservative 1950’s – long, flowing beards were def. not the norm! (Shany Photo, courtesy Mal Phillips).   

Ted Dean also ran at tracks other than Waterford. We believe this to be a shot him of during the early years of the Stafford Springs Motor Speedway, but as Webmaster Tom Ormsby notes, it looks to be a paved surface and those are def. asphalt tires. Stafford was dirt until the 1967 season. Either-way, you’ve got to love this coupe, and the quaint covered grandstands that were so-much a part of racing’s early days. That’s a flathead under the hood – once the standard of Modified Racing in New England. Since he’s clean-shaven, one has to assume that Mr. Dean was in the midst of a pretty-successful season! (Shany Photo, courtesy Mal Phillips).     

The well-respected Dick Dunn was simply one of the greatest racers to have ever turned a wheel at the Waterford Speedbowl. Starting his career in the Bomber class as seen here, he later advanced to the Modifieds recording a career total (according to our research), of 43 feature victories. In the early 1970’s he joined-forces with Peg & Al Gaudreau wheeling their potent “Buddha’s Bullet” creations to 4-straight track championships. This shot is from the 1960 season. (Shany Photo).

While we customarily refrain from running shots of unidentified racers (and we have more than a few in the archives), this one just begged to be displayed. Seen here is a typical example of what the cars looked-like for a period in the 1950’s at Waterford as builders moved-away from the more traditional “Full Coupes” to the notoriously lower & lighter “Cut Downs.” As mentioned earlier, it was a sad-chapter in Speedbowl history; the death of driver Jack Griffin while racing one of these in 1954 prompted a move back to the more substantially-constructed “Full Coupes.” As a side note, if anyone can identify this driver, please do drop us an email…. (Shany Photo).     

It’s a debate that still rages today, decades after it occurred. Just who had the first Pinto-bodied pavement Modified in New England? New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member Bob Judkins of #2X fame often gets the credit in-print, but the truth of the matter is that it was this guy who beat him to the punch. Waterford Speedbowl regular Seabury Tripler debuted this car only weeks before Judkins unveiled his Pinto. Interestingly-enough, Judkins, who was a NASCAR regular, initially ran unsanctioned events-only. He had to wait for NASCAR to approve his Pinto – something that the late Jack Arute Sr. (another NEAR Hall of Fame member), of Stafford Motor Speedway was instrumental in making happen (Shany Photo).               

Seen here at Waterford during a 1970’s-era early-season open competition show is the popular (& much-accomplished), Ronnie Wyckoff. The car is the potent Simons Bros. Coupe, one of the most-coveted rides of the era. Most-certainly a star at Riverside Park and Plainville Stadium, he remains in this scribes opinion one of the most overlooked and underrated drivers in New England Modified racing history. He’s a multi-time co-winner of the former Riverside Park Speedway’s 500-lap contests – no small accomplishment considering the level of competition during his era. Constantly in-demand with the top car owners, the teams that the affable Wyckoff drove-for during his long career reads like a “Who’s-Who” of the sport. (Shany Photo)

Walt Perkins sported an eye-catching paint scheme on his Waterford Speedbowl Coach, and it was as fast as it was flashy. Before the days of assembly-line race cars, it seemed that each ride had its own unique “personality.” Walt’s creation really stood-out, and on a personal note I can recall really liking the way it looked when I was a kid sitting in the grandstands with my late parents. (Dugas Photo).  

This shot is from the old 1/5-miler at Riverside Park, when they ran Sportsman Division 6 cylinders on Tuesdays. Seen here behind the controls of one of the potent “Sharkey” #44’s is “Lil Dan” Gaudioso. These pink & white creations coupled with the talent of Dan were responsible for snagging a LOT of checkered flags in New England for nearly 3-decades. This shot remains a classic from the early days of Modified racing in our region. (Shany Photo, courtesy Mike Procko)

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

 
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