Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday March 16, 2011

 Volume 3, Number 10                                                                                      New Column Every Wednesday


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By Dave Dykes                                                                              CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE

We begin this week by reminding everyone that this Saturday evening March 19, Louie’s Bar & Grill located at 119 Broad Street, in New London, Ct. plays host to the “2011 Area Auto Racing Kickoff Party.” Organized by our longtime friend veteran New England racing official Tony Leckey, all proceed go to benefit the New London Homeless Shelter, an especially worthy cause during today’s tough economic climate. Included in the evening’s agenda is a free buffet from 7 to 8pm and dancing to tunes spun by popular DJ Ron Donovan from 8 to 1. Raffle prizes including race tickets and dinner-for-two at Louie’s are also part of the fun. Hope to see some of our readers there! Special thanks to our pals Pete Zanardi, R.A. Silvia, Mal Phillips, and Paul Watrous for donating this week’s photos for all of us to enjoy. And with that, have a great week! Email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com     

Another Week, Another Very-Varied Selection….           

Seen here in the 1960s behind the controls of a full-bodied “Tri-Five” Chevy celebrating victory at the former Westboro Speedway during the early days of his career is “Fast Finch Fenton” (known in mere-mortal terms as Lew Boyd). As the proprietor of Coastal 181 www.coastal181.com Lew brings to us the best in racing-related reading, video, and artwork. This guy has been-around the sport for a long-time, and saw success during his driving days in just about every division in New England, dirt & asphalt. You gotta’ love this neat Chevy and it’s period-perfect “Batman” inspired paint-scheme! (Photo Courtesy R.A. Silvia).       

“Dynamite” Ollie Silva - what else has to be said? For a generation of New England racing fans, watching this man compete in either a Super or a Modified was in-itself, worth the cost of an admission ticket. Shown here following an early victory, he claimed over 500 feature triumphs during his career. To Connecticut race-goers, one victory stands-alone in illustrating a typical show of “Silva Dominance” when the man was in his prime. At the Waterford Speedbowl’s early-season open competition Hott Wheels 100 Modified event in 1974, Silva lapped the field not once, but twice to take the win aboard his signature #0 Pinto. Though he staged a brief comeback in 1980, his career effectively ended in 1978 following a devastating crash at New Hampshire’s Monadnock Speedway that resulted in life-threatening injuries. Silva, the pioneering star of the New England Super Modified Racing Association and a New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member, quietly passed-away of natural causes in 2004 at age-75. (Photo Courtesy R.A. Silvia).

And here we have a coupe-era shot of New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member, the late Mario “Fats” Caruso. An excerpt from his HOF biography; Mario “Fats” Caruso began racing in 1949, with his brothers Tony and Funzie, and close friends Al Mattress and Vince Abdella. The team’s first car was a Class B Ford sedan. After cutting his racing teeth with this car, Frank White offered Caruso a ride in his Circle 2, a cut down, which he drove to many feature wins, and eventually the NEARA championship. Fats had made a name for himself locally, at tracks like Seekonk, Thompson, Westboro, and Norwood. When he got the ride in the #69 coupe, sponsored by Worcester Sand and Gravel, his career really started to take-off. He began competing at tracks like Old Bridge and Trenton in New Jersey, Utica-Rome and Oswego in New York and Dover and Hudson in New Hampshire. Caruso was a consistent top five finisher, and a regular threat to win wherever he competed. (Photo Courtesy R.A. Silvia).

And here we have a great 1950s-era shot of Johnny Sandberg, one of the best-ever at Connecticut’s “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl. Claiming the 1952 Non-Ford championship, he scored a career-total of 19 feature victories at the Speedbowl in both Non-Ford and Modified competition. Sandberg’s final shoreline oval triumph came during the 1961 campaign though he continued as a top competitor into the later years of the decade. (Photo Courtesy Mal Phillips).                   

Seen here “turning-turtle” in an early Shany action shot at the “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl is John Savage Sr. piloting one of New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member Art Barry’s early coupes. Savage was a consistent winner in the Non-Ford division (an early support class), and was an extremely popular racer at the Speedbowl of the 1950’s. For over fifty-years, Art Barry creations have been landing in victory lane with drivers like Bob Potter, Leo Cleary, George Summers, Bobby Santos, Ed Flemke, Sr., and Reggie Ruggiero aboard – it’s a long list. (Photo Courtesy Mal Phillips).

In another image from the formative years of the Speedbowl, we find a pair of New England Auto Racing Hall of Famers. That’s our pals “Wild Bill” Slater on the inside and holding-down the outside is the much-missed “Gentleman Dick” Watson. These are two of the guys that inspired my interest in the sport from an early age, and I feel fortunate to have gotten to know them well over the years. Dick & Bill accounted for a LOT of Waterford victories during their stellar careers. They were two of the absolute best! (Photo Courtesy Mal Phillips).               

Once-upon-a-time-ago, there was a little ¼-miler located in Plainville, Connecticut that hosted some of the best short track action in New England every Saturday night. It was the first “away-track” that your author ever attended after getting his driver’s license, and to this day, Joe Tinty’s joint holds a special place in my bank of racing memories. Seen here is one Bob Ellis. His spiffy-looking little coupe was typical of the colorful creations campaigned at Plainville over the years, a place where coupes seemingly never went out of style. (Phil Hoyt Photo).      

The guy seated behind the wheel of a NEMA midget is our late friend, New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member Gene Bergin. Though he’s often recalled for his extraordinary career in the Modifieds, the Enfield, CT. native was actually a much-more versatile racer. He was spectacular in the NEMA Midgets with wins at Thompson in Aug. 1969 and Aug. 1973 at Lakeville Speedway (aka Golden Spur), in Massachusetts where this shot was captured, and also successfully piloted Sprint Cars. His NASCAR Grand National (now know as Sprint Cup), career included starts at Darlington and Langhorne in 1956. It was Bergin who helped start the Modified division’s landmark “Pinto Revolution” in 1971 when he wheeled the #2x Pinto of fellow Hall of Famer Bob Judkins to a stunning victory in the 1971 Stafford 200. (Photo Courtesy Pete Zanardi).  

Captured here in the O’Hara Ford, New England Midget racing great and NEAR Hall of Famer Joe Csiki actually won his first-ever feature in a stock car on the 1/5-mile at Riverside Park Speedway in Massachusetts on May 4, 1957, Before that, he was turning heads as a talented driver, being named the 1956 United Stock Car Club Most Promising Driver. Shortly after switching exclusively to Midgets, he was crowned the 1958 NEMA Rookie of the Year. He was the 1961 NEMA Non-Offy Owner Champion, and the ’62 NEMA Non-Offy Driver Champion. He followed up as the 1963 and ’65 NEMA Driver Champion.  In 1964, he was named United Racing Club Rookie of the Year, and he was the ARDC Driving Champion in 1966. Csiki listed two ARDC 100 lap races, one at Old Bridge and one at Wall Stadium, along with a 50 lapper at Trenton in 1966, as three of his bigger wins. Sadly, his life ended tragically from injuries sustained at Bedford, PA Fairgrounds in August of 1967. (Photo Courtesy Pete Zanardi).           

From the shop of our friend and regular “RTT” reader Paul Watrous comes something a little different to close things out this week. Seen here is just one of the handcrafted replicas that the former Waterford Speedbowl staff member artfully assembles during the off-season. Using a combination of kit parts and resin components available from cottage industry suppliers, Paul is able to recreate small scale some of the most significant cars in the history of the sport including this incredible “Rusty Nail” #61 of the late, great Richie Evans. I’m sure the “Rapid Roman” would have been impressed! (Photo Courtesy Paul Watrous)

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

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