Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday June 9, 2010

 Volume 2, Number 20                                                                                      New Column Every Wednesday


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By Dave Dykes                                                                              CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE

This week it’s a real “mixed-bag.” Hall of Famers, Midgets, and Modifieds – they’re all here. Special thanks go out to our friends “Wild Bill” Slater, Ed Duncan, Phil Hoyt, and RTT Webmaster Tom Ormsby for donating some of this edition’s images. As a Bonus at the bottom of the page are a couple of videos found on the web of the 1951 Langhorne Open which was won by Hully Bunn and Dick Eagan. As-always, email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com   

Hall Of Famers, Midgets, And Other Assorted Subject Matter….     

Captured here at the former Candlelight Stadium in Bridgeport, CT. during the height of his brilliant career is Raymond “Hully” Bunn, a native of New Britain, Connecticut. First climbing behind the wheel at the late Plainville Stadium in 1949, within two-years he had become one of the premier short-trackers in the country. In 1951, he emerged victorious in the first-ever Race of Champions at the storied Langhorne Speedway in Pennsylvania topping a field of over one-hundred top-notch Modified-Sportsman competitors. Friend & fellow competitor the late Dick Eagan drove relief for him during a segment of the event, a testament to just how grueling the early Langhorne shows were. A frequent winner from coast-to-coast, Bunn retired in 1965 following a serious crash at Lebanon Valley. Both Bunn and Eagan are members of the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame. (Photo courtesy Tom Ormsby).

And here’s a shot of the “relief driver” mentioned-above, Springdale, CT. native, Dick Eagan. Starting in Midgets during the busy post-war years, he also experienced great success within the emerging popularity of stock cars. He was second in United Stock Car Club points (then the premier sanctioning body in New England), in 1949 but it was on dirt driving Midgets where he really shined. He was a dominant force at Stafford Springs in the early 1950s and then took to the road scoring victories from the Carolinas to Canada. His record also includes 6 NASCAR Grand National starts. Injuries sustained in a crash at Vernon, NY ended his career. A resident of Florida in later-years, Eagan passed away at age 88 in May of 2007 only months following his induction onto the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame. (Photo courtesy Ed Duncan).   

Seen minus-driver in Connecticut’s Stafford Springs Motor Speedway pits during the late-1960s is the famous #V8 coupe of New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer, “Wild Bill” Slater. By this time, the ownership duo of Bob Vitari & Vic Bombaci (also HOF members), had left the sport, and Slater was running his own operation. Note listed among the pit crew there’s a guy by the name of “Peter Z.” That’s none other than our pal Pete Zanardi, award-winning auto racing journalist & yet-another NEAR Hall of Famer. “Wild Bill”& Pete have been the closest of friends for what seems like forever. (Photo courtesy Bill Slater).   

Slater is captured here leading the coach of Long Island legend Fred “The Flying Dutchman” Harbach down the long back-chute of Connecticut’s Thompson Motor Speedway. Both were among the greatest drivers of their generation and are responsible for a countless number of Modified victories in the Northeast. We believe this shot to be from the 1969 season, which was Bill’s last year as a driver. He later entered the promotional side of the sport at both Stafford and Thompson. (Photo courtesy Bill Slater).     

In the days before the Midget class adopted roll cages in the name of safety, it took an especially-brave guy to wheel one of these things. Sadly, many racers from this era paid the ultimate price. Pictured here (uncertain of the venue), is Walt Gale, the 1964 Northeastern Midget Association (NEMA), champion. Gale enjoyed a long and successful career as one of the premier drivers on the Midget circuit of New England, and NEMA is still going strong today. (Grady Photo).  

And here was have a rare Midget action-shot from New Hampshire’s former Manchester Motordrome. Actually located in the town of Londonderry, the track was a ¼-mile paved & steeply-banked affair that operated from 1947-1962. Not-sure who’s headed out of the place in the #43, but that’s NEAR Hall of Fame member Art Rousseau in the #19, Bob Boone in the #3, and Pat Thibault #12. (Photographer unknown).     

From his New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame biography; “In Southern New England, mention the number 51 and the immediate response is Bob Potter. Starting at Waterford Speedbowl in 1962, Potter began winning in 1966 and before it was over captured 11 championships an estimated 140 features at Stafford, Thompson and Waterford.  A model of consistency, he ran a streak of 37 straight top-six finishes at Stafford in 1994-95.” This one captures Bob taking yet another Waterford Speedbowl Modified victory on the evening of July 11, 1981. (Kennedy Photo).                

Simply another neat Waterford action-shot from the lens of Steve Kennedy. In the #38, that’s longtime Speedbowl Modified campaigner, the late Fred “Fuzzy” Baer. The car was actually owned by his longtime friends the LaJeunesse team, who he drove for until the end of his career in the mid-1980’s. The guy in the #54 Berndt family-owned North End Auto Parts Vega is popular Ronnie Wycoff, long a winning Modified driver on the ovals on New England. The date is Saturday evening, August 22, 1981. (Kennedy Photo).                 

Local shoe John Bunnell started in the Waterford Speedbowl’s old Sportsman Sedan class before progressing to Modifieds like the sharp creation seen here (a body-man by profession, John routinely campaigned very-attractive equipment). Always in the thick of the action, he was a staple of the competition within the shoreline oval’s premier division for nearly 3-decades. The date? - Saturday evening May 30, 1981. (Kennedy Photo).

Courtesy of Phil Hoyt, longtime track photographer at Connecticut’s late Plainville Stadium, we have a rather-rare image for aficionados of the Waterford Speedbowl. Captured here in the famed L&M coupe during a visit to The Stadium’ at one of Joe Tinty’s fondly recalled mid-week 100-lap open competition shows is 1970 Bowl’ Modified champion, Walt Dombrowski. (Hoyt Photo).


1951 Langhorne National Open Part 1 of 2




1951 Langhorne National Open Part 2 of 2




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

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