Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday June 6, 2012

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Volume 4, Number 23                                                                                     New Column Every Wednesday


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By Dave Dykes                                                                              CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE

This week we present a real potpourri of New England racing personalities from a number of our regions speedplants. Also on the agenda is the second installment of our video series which has proven to be a popular addition to our Wednesday forays into the sports history. Special thanks go-out to our Webmaster Tom Ormsby for the videos, and also to those who contributed to this week’s selection of photos. Have a great week! Email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com  

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Pacing The Past Yet Again…..       

Captured here at Connecticut’s Thompson Motor Speedway pitted next to his dad during the 1970s is Ed Flemke Jr. With a father like NEAR Hall of Famer the late, great “Steady Eddie”, this youngster had some mighty-big shoes to fill, and thus-far, he’s done a darned good job of carrying-on the family racing heritage. Much like his late father, Ed Jr. is viewed by many as a steady-shoe, utilizing experience to his advantage when required. Also not unlike his father, he’s a master car-builder. (Tom Ormsby Collection).

Here’s another shot from 70s-era action at the “Big T.” This time it’s New England Supermodified star and NEAR Hall of Fame Member Eddie West behind the wheel of a Vega-bodied Modified. From his HOF biography; Edward E. West began racing in 1961, and competed at tracks up & down the East coast, from New Brunswick, Canada to West Palm Beach, Florida. He competed regularly at Hudson, Oswego, Dover, Lee and Epping. He also ran at Thompson, Seekonk, Stafford, and Westboro. Eddie is well known behind the wheel of his own #61 jr. Supermodified. Vic Miller’s #11, Frank Barthell’s #55, and Buster Taylor’s #91 are only three of the cars that he drove during his career. Eddie won the final Supermodified races run at both Westboro and Vero Beach, Florida. He took down the Can-Am Classic at Lee in 1966, then at Star three times in 1966, 1973 and 1975. West won the track championship at Pines Speedway in Groveland, Mass. in 1963, then repeated in ’64. He also took down the Hudson championship the same year. Eddie is a six time track champion at the Star Speedway, winning titles in 1969, 70, 73, 74, 75, and 80. “Westie” became a charter member of the New England Super Modified Racing Assoc. in 1965. He ranks second in all time NESMRA feature wins with 106. (Tom Ormsby Collection)                  

Here’s a great shot of our pal Billy “Gramps” Greco taken at one of the UNITED Modified events that were once held every year on the grounds of the “Big E” in Massachusetts. A New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer, he was an absolute master of the short oval, honing his skills at tight little joints like the late West Haven Speedway and the much-missed 1/5-miler at Riverside Park. A darling of the old Harvey Tattersall-led UNITED circuit (once the most influential sanctioning group in New England), in later-years he also became a winner at the ultra-competitive Danbury Fair Racarena. The personable Greco is as popular today as he ever-was, and can really enlighten you on the history of the sport. If you get a chance to chat with him, please do! (Grady Photo)              

Here at “RTT” we continue to get tons of requests for images of this driver, the late Ollie Silva. Simply one of the greatest to sit behind the controls of a race car, he was both a huge winner, and one of the most-admired competitors in all of short track racing. Inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 1998, Silva recorded over five-hundred feature victories over the course of a career that started in 1949 at the long-shuttered Dracut, MA. Speedway and concluded in 1980. He was victorious in Modifieds, Supers, Sprint Cars, and Cut-Downs. Etched into the record books of Connecticut’s Waterford Speedbowl is an absolutely-dominating Modified win in the 1974 Hott Wheels 100 in which Silva lapped the entire field not once, but twice! This one captures him pitside at Thompson in the 1970s. (Tom Ormsby Collection)            

Seen here is a young Ronnie Rocco and crew during his days as a coupe-era pilot at tracks all over New England. Starting in the Novice class at Connecticut’s much-missed Plainville Stadium, Rocco was a quick-study when it was time to trade-in his fenders for the open-wheel wars. A big Modified winner at Plainville before its unfortunate closure in 1980, he later became a successful and popular racer within the ranks of the SK division. Ronnie is the father of current New England Modified standout Keith Rocco. (Tom Ormsby Collection).    

And here’s one of “Wild Bill” Slater receiving the spoils of victory from a pretty presenter 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. That’s longtime Waterford Race Director John Whitehouse on the left, and Simons on the right. (Shany Photo).                                           

It’s October of 1975, and that’s a young Mark LaJeunesse in his familiar #33 awaiting track-time at the World Series of Speedway Racing at Connecticut’s Thompson Motor Speedway. As a seasoned competitor at the Waterford Speedbowl, his accomplishments at the shoreline oval include snaring the United Stock Car Racing Club’s 1975 Sportsman-Modified Championship, and scoring a stunning victory in the 2000 Budweiser Modified Nationals. This is the car that started it all for the Norwich, CT. native. (Steve Kennedy Photo).  

The gentleman you see here is “Big Ed” Patnode, and his accomplishments in the sport loom as large as his stature. Seen here during an outing at Connecticut’s NASCAR-sanctioned Stafford Motor Speedway, his greatest achievements came within the realm of the United Stock Car Racing Club where he recorded twenty-seven feature victories and a pair of championships at the late Riverside Park in Massachusetts, the flagship venue of the powerful Tattersall/United promotional dynasty. (JoJo Farone Collection).    

Sometimes while perusing the “RTT” archives we come-upon a photo that simply says-it-all about a particular speedway; this is one of them. Though it was sometimes undeservedly viewed as a marginal facility by the racing press, Connecticut’s Plainville Stadium really was more than that. Quite-simply, it was grassroots New England short-track racing at its best level. It was a tight, flat ¼-mile bowl of asphalt that demanded the most out of its weekly combatants, some of who graduated to become the best in our region. This Phil Hoyt image of journeyman racer Rod Andrews in his classic 3-window coupe is typical of the cars that did battle on Joe Tinty’s oval each & every summer weekend during the late 1960s & early-70s. Great stuff….. (Phil Hoyt Photo).  

Racing lensman Rene Dugas has been a friend for more years than probably either of us wants to admit, and his photographs remain a very-important part of the “RTT” archives. One of the outstanding features of Dugie’s work from the 1960s is the fact that 99% of it is in color, culled from an era when black & white seemed to be the overwhelming choice of the pros in the business. Seen here in a nice “coupe-era” shot courtesy of Mr. Dugas is one Charlie Jurcik (left), who fielded this rig at what was then officially-known as the “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl. (Rene Dugas Photo).  

BONUS SHOT: Here’s one taken from our files on the storied Norwood Arena in Massachusetts. Seen here behind the controls of what we believe to be an early Bob Judkins creation is New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer, the late Gene Bergin. Some are simply born with a knack for driving race cars, and this guy was one of those gifted individuals. He saw action in everything from Modifieds to Midgets, and won in all of them. During a career that spanned three-decades, he was always one of the guys to beat whether it was asphalt or dirt. Among his many accomplishments is the distinction of being the first-ever Stafford pavement champion in 1967. Deservedly-so, Mr. Judkins is also a Hall of Fame member. (R.A. Silvia Collection).    


New England Auto Racers Hall of Fame Nostalgia Weekend-Part 2.
Interview with Ed Flemke, Jr. talking about his Legendary Father
Ed Flemke, Sr.




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

(4 days ago) Al said:

The video is great. One of NEAR's greatest moments. I wonder if we will ever do that type of event again.

6 days ago) nels wohlstrom jr. said:

(6 days ago) Ed P said:

How the heck did Patnode ever fit in that car? was this his last ride? I remmeber him in the white 4x but nothing after that.

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