Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday June 19, 2013


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Volume 5, Number 25                                                                                    New Column Every Wednesday

Updated 4-24-13


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At Coastal181.com

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By Dave Dykes                                                                            CLICK ON PHOTOS FOR FULL SIZE

Here it-is, the middle of the week has arrived. That means it’s time for a few-more laps into the past. Relax, kick-back for a few minutes, and enjoy the nostalgic ride. Many-thanks to our contributors this week, our pals New York State Racing Historian Roger Liller and of-course, old friend Tom Ormsby who not-only periodically submits photos, but also serves as this site’s Webmaster, Publisher & Editor. Want to contact us? As-always, mail reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com

And It’s Wednesday Again (Enjoy The Ride!)….  

Late model tinwork had really just become a part of the New England modified racing landscape when Lloyd Burnham captured this shot of our friend, New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer Billy “Gramps” Greco at Connecticut’s Stafford Springs Motor Speedway. This particular ride was the recipient of the “Best Appearing Car Award” at the big Martinsville, Va. modified event. It was a real beauty and a testament to the car building skills of the team. Billy will be hosting a New England Auto Racers Hall of Fame (NEAR), fundraiser later this summer on Sunday, August 11th at the Polish American Club, West Spring Street in West Haven, CT. from noon to 6 P.M. More details on the event are forthcoming. (Lloyd Burnham photo courtesy Tom Ormsby)

Here’s one from our friend, New York State racing historian, Roger Liller. Says Roger “This one captures 2013 Hudson Valley Historic Racing Association Hall of Fame inductee Doug Benjamin, and comes from the personal collection of his daughter Nancy. It captures her dad at Brewster, NY. In 1950 or '51, and we can clearly see the hilly terrain of this venue rising in the background. At the top of that hill was a stone wall and I remember sitting there and watching the action below. I was proud to induct into the Hall of Fame. He was a real pioneer of the sport, and won wherever he raced.” (Photo courtesy Benjamin family collection via Roger Liller).

We’ve ran photos of the late, great Dick Beauregard many times in the past, but we consulted our close family friend, longtime Waterford Speedbowl modified campaigner Mark LaJeunesse to get all the details. We’ll let him explain what’s behind the history of this great vintage ‘Bowl image. He says “This car was from the 1949-52 era and was owned by Chuck Korenkiewicz, brother of Ray at Rays Auto Body in Taftville, CT. It was kept in a huge garage down the road from Ray's at Nippy's Field (currently a golf range), both of-which still exist today. The garage was owned by Nippy Beauregard, Dick’s dad. When Chuck Korenkiewicz went into the service, my dad Al kind of took over the car. Of-course they went through several of the #60's with Dick. Sadly Chuck, Ray, Sparky, Dickie, Nippy, Harold Sevigny & Al Riley who all helped on the car have passed-on now. Though I may be missing a few people, I believe my father is the only one left. The team’s garage at one time-or-another housed a total of 4 race cars. Al Riley drove one of the entries for a short-while.” Al LaJeunesse was also a pivotal figure in his son’s long successful racing career and spent decades in the sport. Norwich, CT. was once a real hotbed of activity for teams that competed at the Speedbowl. (Shany Photo).

Also from our friend Roger Liller of the Hudson Valley Historic Racing Association comes this gem. We’ll let him provide the details; “This is a Henry Ahlf photo given to me by Bob Ellis picturing the late Hal McCarty of Georgetown, Ct. after a victory at Arlington, NY. Speedway in the early 1960s. Hal was one of a few New England drivers that raced primarily in New York possibly because of the proximity and the fact that there were limited openings In SNYRA at Danbury. He spent most of his career at Mutual Racing Associates tracks. He amassed quite a string of victories at Rhinebeck, Arlington, and Pine Bowl. His son Matt McCarty drove the car afterwards.” (Henry Ahlf photo courtesy Bob Ellis via Roger Liller).

From our files featuring the work of pioneering New England racing photographer Shany Lorenzent comes a really-early gem from the track formally-known as the “New London-Waterford Speedbowl” (later shortened to simply “Waterford Speedbowl”). Captured here at the venerable old Connecticut third-miler during the 1950s is Darwin “Bud” Matter. Notching an astounding total of 15 feature victories on-route to the 1953 Non-Ford title, he scored an impressive total of 26 main event triumphs during a relatively-short career behind the wheel. The Speedbowl continues to host weekly racing and is reportidly enjoying a great 2013 season in-terms of both competitor car-count and fan attendance. That’s a great thing considering the state of short track racing in many other parts of the country. (Shany Photo).

Known as the “Norwalk Nightrider” to dedicated fans of the “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl, few were better in the “fender” divisions than the late Bill Sweet. Seen here with family & friends in victory lane following a 1969 feature triumph, he managed to snag a pair of championships along with nearly fifty feature victories before calling it a day in the seventies. It should be noted that even qualifying for a feature in the class was an accomplishment when this shot was captured. So-many competitors filled the pits, that A and B main events were common. (Shany Photo)

They were ultra-light, supremely fragile, obviously dangerous, and above-all, FAST. The “Cut-Down Era” in New England produced some of the regions most memorable racing-ever but it was more than one driver of the time that paid a hefty price to sit behind the controls of one of these machines in competition. The guy you see here is the late Gavin Couper making a rare New London-Waterford Speedbowl appearance in a ride that was customarily-piloted at the shoreline oval by local drivers such as Joe McNulty among others. Couper was known as “The King of the Cutdowns” during the height of his successful career. As relayed by our pal Lew Boyd of Coastal 181 publications (himself a former racer of note), Couper once quipped that “There was nuthin’ like it, but, I’ll tell you, you could get hurt just lookin’ at one.” Rest-assured, these were scary machines. (Shany Photo).

Classic shot, Classic driver…… The name Bob Potter is synonymous with the Waterford Speedbowl, but his accomplishments within the realm of New England modified racing actually reach further than his legendary feats at the shoreline oval. Already a big winner by the arrival of the SK Modifieds, he took full-advantage of the class in nailing multiple championships at all of Connecticut’s ovals. When this image was recorded at the Speedbowl in August of 1968, he was a hired-gun for the late Norm Kies who employed only the best chauffeurs to steer his creations. Very deservedly, Bob was inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 2007. (Shany Photo).

While reviewing our Shany Lorenzent Speedbowl shots for this week’s edition of “RTT” this image of one of the shoreline oval’s most fondly-remembered combinations caught our eye. Newt Palm & the L&M modified were twice crowned track champion (1967 & 68). Walt Dombrowski also grabbed the title driving the potent little Willys-bodied coupe in 1970, cementing the car’s status as one of the most famous rides in ‘Bowl history. We just like this image; it kinda’ captures everything that the shoreline oval was all-about during the 1960s. On the inside of Newt is multi-time Speedbowl champion the late George “Moose” Hewitt. (Shany Photo).

“Daring Dick” Caso may have never won any popularity contests with track officials at Waterford, but he had more than his fair-share of fans among the Speedbowl’s grandstand patrons. A nickname well-earned, his driving style was of the “no-holds-barred” variety and when in his prime, a Caso-drive to the front was itself worth the price of a Saturday night ticket. In terms of finance, he was a low-bucker that got the ultimate out of equipment that was often less than that of his competitors. Nicknames were big during Caso’s tenure, as he was also christened “The Cromwell Comet” by the late, great John Small, one of the grandest announcers in Speedbowl history. The moniker was of course, a nod to his hometown. On the outside of Caso in his familiar #121 is the late Fred “Fuzzy” Baer, another of the most-popular drivers in Speedbowl history. Fuzzy was a friend of yours-truly and is sorely-missed. (Shany Photo).

BONUS SHOT: Here’s a final one this week from the Benjamin family collection as submitted by Roger Liller. Once again, we’ll let him elaborate; “Here’s another one of Doug Benjamin from his daughter Nancy. It captures him in a '38 ford sedan at the old Somers, NY Speedway. This and Valhalla was the birthplace of racing for the Southern New York Racing Association. They only raced a short time here as the track was near the golf course and the dust and noise upset the local gentry considerably, so sometime in 1949 they moved to Patterson, NY and from there to Brewster before winding up at the Danbury Fairgrounds track in 1952.” (Photo courtesy Benjamin family collection via Roger Liller).

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