Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday June 27, 2012

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By Dave Dykes                                                                              CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE

Happy Wednesday! That means the work-week is on the run, and it’s time to offer-up another varied selection of photographic treasures courtesy of the “RTT” archives and our readers and friends. Extra-special thanks go out to longtime racing shutterbugs Steve Kennedy & John Grady for providing some of this week’s visual highlights. As-always, we can’t forget to send kudos to our Webmaster & old friend Tom Ormsby for dutifully getting the sight posted to the cyberwaves each & every Wednesday & also providing great extras like our ongoing video series. Don’t forget to visit the Plainville Historical Center at 29 Pierce Street in Plainville, CT. to view their 2012 Summer Display event featuring the history of Plainville Stadium. The exhibit runs for the next month, call 860.747.6577 for more info. and hours. Also on the agenda for the Plainville Stadium Racers group is an appearance at the July 1 Wings & Wheels show at Plainville’s Robertson Airport. Have a great week! Email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com   

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Wednesday Means More Modified Memories….!        

Here’s a classic shot from the final years at Connecticut’s much-missed Plainville Stadium where thankfully, coaches never seemed to go out of style. We’ll let our friend & Webmaster Tom Ormsby fill us in on the driver, the late Skip Zeigler. “Skip started racing at Plainville, CT. in the late 1950s and was a regular until the track closed. His trademark was the red & white coach-bodied #126. The last three seasons he ran the “Flying 0” coach owned by his brother Gene. He also raced at Riverside Park, Stafford, Thompson, Lebanon Valley, and a few other tracks in upstate New York.” This shot captures Skip ready-to-roll at the Stadium in 1979. (Steve Kennedy Photo).

And here we have a great color image of one of the real heavy-hitters at what was then-known as Connecticut’s “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl. The late Bill Scrivener burst upon scene in the early-60s, quickly becoming one of biggest stars of the then immensely-popular Bomber division. Christened "Wild Bill", his driving style was somewhat reminiscent of another shoreline oval luminary, the unflappable "Dirty Dick" Beauregard. While he was successful "right out of box" so-to- speak, his best season was 1965, the year he was crowned Bomber champion. Later advancing to the headlining Modifieds, he continued to frequent victory lane on a regular basis with his final feature triumph coming on Easter Sunday, 1974. (John Grady Photo).

We admit to having few-facts on this driver, Jack Geary except that he was a Danbury Racarena regular, but we sure do like his classic little coupe. It’s September of 1973 at Plainville, and the event was one of Joe Tinty’s great extra-distance shows, a 150-lapper. Our friend Steve Kennedy took this shot when he was just a kid that harbored a fascination with Plainville and its colorful cast of short track heroes. Years-later he’s still at-it, having built a reputation is one of our regions premier racing photographers. The multi-talented Kennedy is an artist by-trade, and adding to his endeavors is also an author. Look for his much-anticipated book “Northeastern Modified Stock Car Racing” to be published soon. Steve has been among the many photographers instrumental in the success of this site, willingly sharing his work for all of us to enjoy. (Steve Kennedy Photo).                

If New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer, the late Ernie Gahan looks a little tired in this shot, there’s a good reason. One of the real travelers of his generation, few put-in more road miles than “Ernie from Cow-Hampshire” with many of those miles coming in just the company of his race car & tools. His 28-year racing career started in 1948 at New Hampshire’s Dover Speedway, and by the time he ran his final event at Thompson in 1975, he’d amassed over 300 career victories. Perhaps his greatest achievement was being the first New Englander to win a NASCAR National Modified championship in 1966. He was equally successful on both dirt and asphalt. He won a record 21 features on the old dirt at Stafford Speedway in the late 50’s and early 60’s. Gahan had eleven starts in Grand National (now Sprint Cup) competition, and had two top ten finishes, one of which was in the 1962 Daytona 500. He also had competed at the old Daytona Beach course. In 1963 he was one of those credited with saving the life of Marvin Panch by pulling him out of a burning race car at Daytona. For his courage he won the Shuman Award and the Carnegie Medal for Bravery. (John Grady Photo).               

Charlie Centinaro was one of the real movers & shakers on Harvey Tattersall’s United Stock Car Racing Club circuit. Starting his stellar career at Connecticut’s West Haven Speedway, he later became a top-shoe at the much-missed Riverside Park Speedway in Agawam, Mass as seen here. First scoring in 1969, “Mr. Centinaro” racked-up a total of 5-victories at The Park’, his final visit to victory lane coming on the evening of June 2, 1973. (John Grady Photo).   

Captured here with the Lenny Plasse Coupe at Connecticut’s high-banked Thompson Speedway in 1975 is the late Roland “Pappy” LaPierre. Long one of New England’s most- active competitors, he was still running a hectic schedule after many of his contemporaries had called it a day. It was only after a serious crash in the Plasse Maverick-bodied mount at Stafford in the 1970s that he decided to retire. Pappy holds the dubious distinction of capturing the last-ever checkered flag for the modified division at Massachusetts’ storied Norwood Arena. On Saturday evening Oct 4, 1969, the 54 year old veteran bested Ed Flemke Sr., Bugs Stevens, and Fred DeSarro for the win. His son Roland Jr. also enjoyed a long & successful tenure in the Modifieds. Pappy was inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame earlier this year. (Steve Kennedy Photo).  

To those of us interested in Northeastern racing history, this is a truly-classic image on just so-many levels. The driver is the great Rene Charland. His career spanned nearly 4-decades starting at Massachusetts’ Riverside Park in 1949 and ended at Fonda Speedway in 1984. Estimates put his victory total at over 700. He won an unprecedented 4 NASCAR National Sportsman championships from 1962 through 65. His quest for a fifth title ended as he was seriously injured in the famous fire crash Memorial Day weekend at Malta in 1966. He was forced to sit out the rest of the season but at that point he had already earned 5700 points, enough for a third place finish. A member of the famed “Eastern Bandits” he won multiple track championships at a variety of tracks in both New England, and the South. In addition he won 4 Canadian National championships. He had a pair Grand National (now Sprint Cup) starts. In an event at Long Island New York’s Islip Speedway, he finished third behind David Pearson and Richard Petty. Known as “The Champ”, Charland was among the first racers inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 1998. (John Grady Photo).    

Here’s a nice 70s-era shot; this time it’s Brian Ross. Starting his career at New York State’s Albany-Saratoga Speedway during the 1960s (an era in-which the track was an absolute hotbed of action, routinely attracting the best racers in the business), he was long a top-driver on the New England Modified circuit recording many victories. He was also known as one of the most innovative car builders of his generation. Often not receiving the accolades he deserves, many involved in tracking the history of Northeastern modified racing deem this guy to be one of the most underrated drivers of all-time; he was that-good. (John Grady Photo).

If you frequent this website, you should already know who this guy-is, and if you don’t, shame on you! Here’s our longtime friend, New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member, “Wild Bill” Slater during his heyday as the chauffer of the potent Vitari-Bombaci (also Hall of Famers), coupe. Slater was simply one of the best racers to have ever emerged from New England, period. When he retired from driving, he stayed involved with the sport for many seasons as a respected official at both the Thompson & Stafford Speedways. Note Bill’s leather-sided “Cromwell” style helmet (often referred-to as “brain buckets”), in this shot, evidence that John Grady captured this image relatively-early during Bill’s reign as “Mr. V8.”  (John Grady Photo).    

The “Alkas Connection” at Plainville was a far-reaching affair and truly a “Brother Act” of the first-degree. As the undisputed “King Of Plainville” New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer Dave Alkas wasn’t the only family member to claim the checkers. Pictured here at The Stadium in July of 1973 is brother Fred Alkas who was also a very successful modified shoe winning many features. In addition to Dave & Fred, there were siblings Ed and George (both deceased), who were multi-time winners on the tricky ¼-miler. Though it now exists only in memory, Plainville Stadium remains a prime example of what New England short track racing is supposed to be all-about. (Steve Kennedy Photo). 

BONUS SHOT: Lastly this week, we have a shot of the late, great Ted Stack, absolutely one of the best of his time. Though he scored heavily at several other New England raceways, it was probably the “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl (as seen here), that garnered him the most success. A multi-time champion (1961 in the Modifieds, and 1957 & 60 in the Non Fords), Stack accumulated a combined total of 71 feature victories at the shoreline oval. Stack drove for many of the best teams to have ever competed at Waterford and his services were always in high demand. (Shany Lorenzent Photo).


New England Auto Racers Hall of Fame Nostalgia Weekend-Part 5.
An Interview with "The Lion" Leo Cleary.




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

(2 days ago) nels wohlstrom jr. said:


(3 days ago) Mike Ray said:

EXCELLENT!Thanks Tom,David and Leo!

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