Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday June 8, 2011

 Volume 3, Number 22                                                                                     New Column Every Wednesday


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By Dave Dykes                                                                              CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE

This week we revisit the track that started it all for yours-truly, Connecticut’s “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl. Growing-up only a stones-throw from the 1/3-miler fondly known as the “shoreline oval,” saying I spent a lot of time there over the years is an understatement. “Racing Through Time” actually started as a feature in the track program back in 1996, and to my complete & humble surprise has remained popular for over 15-years. Huge thanks go out to our Webmaster Tom Ormsby for allowing us to continue the tradition with this online version which debuted in January of 2009. It’s enabled us to reach a wider audience (and make a lot of new friends in the process). Although I no longer frequent the Speedbowl on a weekly basis due to other commitments, the place will always occupy a very special (and expansive) spot in my archive collection. Enjoy this week’s column & have a great week! Email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com          

Every Picture Tells A (Speedbowl) Story…

Hailing from the Connecticut River Valley region, Mike Beebe enjoyed a long and successful career in the modified division at Waterford, notching a career total of 8 feature victories in the ‘Bowls premier division. He recorded his first in 1971, his final in 1979. When this shot was captured in the late-60s, Beebe was just starting-out in the Daredevil division, a once-popular support class that routinely drew a record number of entries each week. Originally conceived as a replacement for the struggling Bomber class, it was often that both A & B main events were run for the wildly-popular full-bodied Daredevils. After a period of inactivity, Beebe in later years returned to the sport wheeling a Legends car along with his son Mike Jr. (Dugas Photo).   

Though they remained essentially the same animal with the exception of a few performance-enhancing rule revisions, the Daredevils underwent a name-change becoming known as “Sportsman Sedans” for the 1971 season. While weekly fields would never again reach the expansive numbers of the formative years of the division, competition was still of the fierce-variety. Seen here with his “Tri-Five” Chevy in 1972 (overwhelmingly the body of choice at the time) is perennial frontrunner Dick LaFlesh. By 1978 he’d became a champion, tying for the title with Don Fowler. (Dugas Photo).  

Here’s one of the guys that fueled my early interest in the sport. The youngster you see posing with his team in the ‘Bowl pits during the 1975 campaign is Norwich, CT. native Brian McCarthy. Our friend Rusty Sage who’s been among one of our steady contributors over the years supplied the photo, one in-which he has a personal connection. We’ll let him relay some of the details. Says Rusty; “This was Brian's first real race car. It was purchased from Walt Avery over the winter in 1974, having previously been campaigned as the #52 driven by Dick LaFlesh for car owner Avery. In the front is Brian. In the back from left-to-right is myself, Dave Kennedy, Beave Pierce and Adam Miclette.  Adam went on as a crew member for Charlie Pasteryak during the Featherlite Modified Tour days.” From this modest start “Flyin’ Brian” really came into his own, going on to claim the 1986 Super Stock title along with a bushel of feature victories. During his prime, there were few drivers as exciting to watch in a full-bodied car at Waterford. He was named one of the Speedbowl’s “50 Favorite Drivers” in 2000. (Dugas Photo, Rusty Sage Collection).                               

Art Hall was a steady runner within the support divisions for years. Very popular with both fans and his fellow competitors, he often accomplished extraordinary deeds with an operation which was considerably less well-funded than many of his contemporaries. He’s seen here celebrating an early victory flanked by his crew and veteran New England area flagman Dick Brooks. (Shany Photo)      

Simply a classic shot harkening-back to the Speedbowl’s early days. Captured here is racer par-excellence Ray Moran on the right, and that’s Anthony Albino, a local businessman who was among the first owners of the shoreline oval on the left. Jack Brouwer, another member of one of the Speedbowl’s early ownership teams is seen in the background. The car was owned by longtime Speedbowl supporter Freddie Doolittle. Moran scored a total of 18 feature victories in both Modified & Non-Ford competition between 1954 and 1960. A fondly-recalled crowd favorite, he was voted one of the Speedbowl’s “50 Favorite Drivers” in 2000 during the track’s 50th Anniversary celebration. Special thanks to our close friend, Waterford modified veteran Mark LaJeunesse for the extra details on this shot.  (Shany Photo).                    

Among the most popular of support classes at the Speedbowl were the Bombers, which supported the modifieds weekly from 1958-1966. Some of the best-ever at the shoreline oval started in the class, guys like multi-time Speedbowl modified champion & New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member Bob Potter, and also the late George “Moose” Hewitt, another many-time modified titlist. Captured here in 1964 celebrating one of his 16 career Bomber feature victories is Ed Gladue in the Ted Gladue-owned #76. By the end of the season he was crowned champion. (Shany Photo).     

New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member Melvin “Red” Foote is captured here at New London, Connecticut’s Ocean Beach Auditorium on Saturday evening, November 23, 1953 receiving the hardware for winning that year’s Speedbowl United Stock Car Racing Club Sportsman championship. On-route to the title he scored a total of 17 feature event victories. Foote, one of the most-accomplished racers to have ever emerged from the Speedbowl also annexed the 1958 championship. For more on this extraordinary drivers long & his celebrated career go to the New England Antique Racers (NEAR) website at http://www.near1.com/HALL-OF-FAME/1999/Foote_Red.htm (Shany Photo).                  

Seen here pitside at the Speedbowl during the much-heralded “coupe era” is journeyman Speedbowl modified racer, Don Kibbe. Proving to be an ample shoe, he recorded multiple victories running against the likes of Bowl stalwarts such as Don Collins, Dick Dunn, Bob Potter, Dick Watson, etc. during what many deem to be one of the most competitive periods in the track’s long history. The Kibbe family later switched their focus to midget racing, carving-out a name for themselves within the ranks of the Northeastern Midget Association (NEMA). (Dugas Photo).                    

Over the years, neighboring Rhode Island has provided the Speedbowl with a myriad of competitors eager to taste the spoils of victory lane in Connecticut. Hailing from the Bradford area of the The Ocean State “Mac” MacDougal and his team were Waterford mainstays for years, starting their residency during an era in-which a prewar coupe was the hot-ticket. However, note that the tin on Mac’s little #M-1 is of the “late model” variety being a Studebaker Lark. (Dugas Photo).                     

Lastly, here’s another tremendous image from the collection of our pal Rusty Sage. We’ll let him relay the details; “This is a shot of Donnie Bunnell and his brand-new 1934 Dodge coupe taken at the Bunnell stable prior to the start of the 1972 season. That’s a young 22 year-old Donnie sitting with his new ride. In 1972 this car was built with the seat in the middle. Donnie could not get used to this and about halfway through the season he went back into the Chevy II for the remainder of the year. Over the winter this car was taken to Moose Hewitt's shop where the entire cage was cut and moved back 18".  The seat was then moved over to the left-hand side of the car and the comfort for Donnie was vastly improved as the wins began to multiply.” Easily one of the shoreline oval’s most-respected competitors and a true “racers-racer” Bunnell scored a career total of 33 Speedbowl feature wins (22 Modified, 5 SK Modified, and 6 Daredevil). This is also the ride that carried him to a stunning victory in the 1976 Bicentennial 200, at the time the longest modified feature ever staged at Waterford. Another of those racers that was popular with the fans, he was voted one of the Speedbowl’s “50 Favorite Drivers” during the track’s 50th anniversary celebration. (Rusty Sage Collection).

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

 
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