Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday June 29, 2011

 Volume 3, Number 25                                                                                     New Column Every Wednesday


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By Dave Dykes                                                                              CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE

This week we’re kind of “all over the map” with our selection of featured images. Seekonk, Danbury, Waterford, and even Stafford appear. Once-again special thanks are sent to our pals R.A. Silvia & Rusty Sage for providing this week’s shots. Also, in something that seems to be occurring at a sadly-alarming rate lately, it was learned that New England lost yet-another of its pioneers of the sport. Former Danbury SNYRA star, the popular Jimmy Smith passed-away on Sunday, June 12 at the age of 72. Our sincere condolences are sent to Jimmy’s family & many friends. As always, email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com

More Wednesday Wanderings…..

Seen here in 1963 capturing one of his many feature victories at Connecticut’s former Danbury Fair Racearena is popular Jimmy Smith. One of the Southern New York Racing Associations (SNYRA) best-ever, he recorded 5 track championships, the first in 1965, his final in 1973. He was a founding member of the SNYRA and ranks 5th on Danbury’s all-time winners list. Sadly, Jimmy passed-way on Sunday, June 12 at the age of 72. Our condolences go out to his family and many friends. (Mannion Photo)

Here’s a real oldie from the annals of Connecticut auto racing history. Seated behind the controls of a unique-looking specimen from the region’s cut down period of the 1950s is one Whitey Brainard. The location is the small paved oval that resided in the infield section of the larger half-mile dirt oval of Stafford Speedway (paved to its present configuration in 1967). Note that Brainard’s car is powered by a Buick straight-8, which must have made it a handful! (Silvia Collection)  

Here at “RTT” we remain fascinated with New England’s dalliance with the cut-down coupes of the sports early days. It was truly a period worthy of remembering, although it was relatively-brief especially in Connecticut. The Nutmeg State actually banned the inherently dangerous class prior to the 1955 season following a spat of fatalities which included the death of Jack Griffin, who succumbed from injuries suffered in a cut down crash at the Speedbowl in August of 1954. Seen here with his cut down during the early stages of his long career is noteworthy New England racer Ed Hoyle. He was a big winner at Massachusetts’ Seekonk and Norwood and in later years became one of the regions best in the Pro Stocks. (Silvia Collection).                                

On the inside in the “Leaning 2” is New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member, the great Fred Luchesi, and on the outside is the celebrated Red Sequin in the L. The location is Seekonk Speedway in Massachusetts during the 1950s. Sadly, during the early days of the sport, fatalities were more commonplace. Though Luchesi went-on to many more victories wrapping-up his career in the late-1960s, the popular Sequin wasn’t as lucky. On August 19, 1961 Red was wheeling the “Flyin 5” owned by Ed Bowley of Tewksbury, Massachusetts at Oswego Speedway in New York State. On the 15th lap of the feature, Irish Jack Murphy spun his car in front of Sequin. To avoid hitting Murphy, he turned right, but clipped the spinning car and was sent head-on into the outside wall. The car did not overturn, but a nerf bar apparently came off and struck Sequin in the head, just below his open-face helmet. He was rushed to the Oswego hospital, but died two hours later. (Silvia Collection).          

Here’s another one from the days of the cut downs at the track affectionately known to New England race fans as “The Cement Palace” (AKA Seekonk Speedway in Massachusetts). It’s the mid 1950s, and the hot ticket at the Venditti family’s center of speed was a lightened & channeled little 3-window coupe like this one. The dude behind the wheel and suited-up in a Cromwell helmet is Norm Canuel. (Silvia Collection).              

Before all the cutting, channeling, and weight-reduction started happening, the typical New England stock car of the post-war era looked a lot like this. Seen here at Seekonk with his “full coupe” in either 1950 or ’51 is Jesse Medeiros. Our pal R.A. Silvia reports that in addition to his stock car endeavors, Medeiros was a motorcycle & midget racer. Sharp ride, don’t you think? (Silvia Collection)       

Bobby Sprague was a top-runner at a number of New England tracks, but was particularly proficient at bullrings like Massachusetts’ Seekonk & Westboro Speedways. Starting his career during the cut down era, he was always known for wheeling sharp-looking equipment (I personally recall a #42 mustang-bodied ride he campaigned with the ARC that was just dynamite-looking). He’s seen here with his crew in 1964 celebrating a Seekonk feature victory. (Silvia Collection).                          

Coaches were once almost as popular as their”coupe cousins” one would think when taking a trip though the archives. Here’s one of the prettiest of all of them captured at the Stafford Motor Speedway of the early 1970s. The driver is Virginia native Jimmy Griffin who was a successful competitor on both the NASCAR modified & late model circuit for many years. (Silvia Collection).                          

Candid-style shots are always cool, and here’s a great one. Captured here surveying the front suspension of his potent Rambler American-bodied modified at the “New London Waterford” Speedbowl in what we believe to be 1973 or ’74 is the late “Wild Bill” Scrivener, former Bomber champion & many-time modified winner. One of the shoreline ovals best-ever, “Wild Bill” notched his final career feature victory with this little machine, and it was no-fluke. The date was Easter Sunday of 1974, and completing the top-10 were defending track champion Dick Dunn, NEAR Hall of Famer the late “Gentleman Dick” Watson, Jerry Dostie, Art Moran, Joey Trudeau, Nels Wholstrom, Donnie Bunnell, Mark LaJeunesse, and Lou Herman. (Silvia Collection).

We really like this shot from our friend & regular contributor, Rusty Sage. Few Waterford Speedbowl personalities were more popular with fans than the late Fred “Fuzzy” Baer. He’s seen here ready to roll in the pits with one of what was a long-line of signature #121 creations. Universally well-liked & respected for his entire career, it was more than one rookie driver that sought advice from “Fuzz” when they got started in the game. Though the record book reveals only four feature victories during a career that spanned nearly 4-decades, Baer was simply synonymous with the Speedbowl. To this day, when talk turns to past-action at the shoreline oval, it seems that everyone has at-least one fond memory of the much-missed Mr. Baer. (Sage Collection).   

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

 
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