Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday March 30, 2011

 Volume 3, Number 12                                                                                      New Column Every Wednesday


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By Dave Dykes                                                                              CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE

This week we present yet another helping of images from the archives. Special thanks go to longtime New England racing photographer & friend Rene Dugas for digging deep into his archives to bring some of these timeless images to light for all of us to enjoy. A nod also goes to another renowned racing shutterbug, our pal Steve Kennedy for once again contributing! Hope to see all of you at the Waterford Speedbowl opener this weekend! Email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com        

With A Little Help From Our Friends (Again)…..            

From November 4, 1978, we open this week’s edition of “RTT” with a shot of the late, great Richie Evans at Connecticut’s Thompson International Speedway. A native of Rome, NY., Evans left his family's farm at age 16 to work at a local garage. After finding early success in drag racing, a friend suggested he try building a car to race at the nearby Utica-Rome Speedway. He ran his first oval-track car, a 1954 Ford Hobby Stock numbered PT-109 (after John F. Kennedy's torpedo boat in World War II), in 1962. He advanced to the Modifieds in 1965, winning his first feature in the season's final night. In 1973, he became the NASCAR National Modified Champion. In 1978 he won a second title and did not relinquish his crown during the next seven years. Evans took over four hundred feature race wins at racetracks from Quebec to Florida before he was fatally injured at age-44 in a practice crash at Martinsville in late 1985. Before his death, he’d already clinched the inaugural Winston Modified Tour championship (now known as Whelen Modified Tour). In 1979-alone, he started 60 NASCAR Modified races and posted 54 top-five finishes -- including 37 victories. Richie was among the first inductees into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 1998. Evans was, and will forever be-known as the “King of the Modifieds.” Note the “wing”; it must have been an open-comp show. (Kennedy Photo).        

Here’s another one from November 4, 1978 @ Thompson, and like the Evans machine, it sports a little-help in the “aero-department”! When a young Modified upstart by the name of Geoff Bodine from New York State teamed with well-heeled car owner the late Dick Armstrong and his “Nu-Style Jewelry” team in the late-70s, the New England racing hierarchy had little choice in taking notice. Once the “Big Red #1” machine started rolling, it got pretty brutal. The guy won & won and kept winning. Truthfully, Bodine was already a very-well accomplished racer by the time the deal was inked for him to maintain and drive Armstrong’s stable of high-end equipment. Like Evans, Bodine is a member of the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame. (Kennedy Photo).  

Here’s a nice shot from 1977 of Nels Wohlstrom, a top-flight Modified driver at the Waterford Speedbowl and other New England area tracks for many seasons. A popular shoreline oval chauffer and graduate of that track’s Sportsman Sedan class, Wohlstrom notched a bevy of fine finishes while behind the controls of this slick Chevy Monza-bodied creation. (Kennedy Photo).   

Seen here celebrating a victory in 1978 during his days in the late model division, Jerry Lilliquist was also an accomplished modified driver, wheeling cars for among-others, Norm Kies at Waterford. In the early heyday of the late models, full-fields and often A & B main events were the norm, and merely qualifying for the feature was an accomplishment. Lilliquist was a multi-time winner in the division. As a side-note, the correct spelling of this driver’s first name is actually “Jari” rather than “Jerry.” (Kennedy Photo).                    

Caught through the lens of our friend Steve Kennedy, here’s some Yankee All-Star League action at Waterford! It’s Wednesday evening, August 9, 1978 and taking the low-groove is New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member, Pete “The Traveling Man” Fiandaca. On the outside is veteran modified campaigner, popular Larry Lafayette. The Yankee All-Star League was a popular mid-week series for many years, appearing at a number of New England raceways. On this night, it was Geoff Bodine taking the win in Dick Armstrong’s potent “Nu-Style Jewelry” Pinto. In-fact, he swept the series that year, winning all 6 events. (Kennedy Photo).   

Yet-another unique shot from Mr. Kennedy, and a personal favorite of mine. Sandwiched between the LaJeunesse Racing team cars of 1978 Speedbowl Rookie of the Year, Howie Nye in his trusty coupe, and 1975 Modified-Sportsman champion Mark LaJeunesse wheeling his familiar #33 Vega, is Rick Donnelly in the #111 Pinto. “Rapid Rick” simply dominated in 1979 when this image was captured, winning 10 features and the championship. With a few-exceptions such as the teams of LaJeunesse and the late Moose Hewitt, the season ended the era of successful “home-built” modifieds at Waterford with the #111 being the first Troyer creation to capture a title at the shoreline oval. Times were changing quickly…. (Kennedy Photo).                       

The year is 1981, the location is the Waterford Speedbowl, and the driver is Rod Tulba. It was a particularly productive season for popular local chauffer, as he recorded a pair of modified division feature victories. As a close associate of the Gada clan, Tulba had begun his Speedbowl career hustling Daredevil division entries around the shoreline oval, advancing to the headlining modifieds in 1978. Long after retiring, he returned to his old stomping-grounds as a winner in the “Heroes of The Bowl” events once held in conjunction with Nostalgia Weekend.  (Kennedy Photo).            

It’s 1953 at the “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl and New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer Red Foote looks to be receiving some-sort of confectionary delight from a pretty young lady as Speedbowl Vice President Anthony Albino looks-on. Foote was the Sportsman champion that season, notching a total of 16 feature victories wheeling the Paul Smith J-2. His career was much further-reaching than his accomplishments at the shoreline oval. From his Hall of Fame biography; Melvin “Red” Foote ran his first race in 1948, at Kingston, RI. Carl Morrow and Ralph LeGendre co-owned Foote’s first car, a silver #1 coach. It wasn’t long before the “racing bug” bit Foote, and he was competing at Norwood on Thursdays and Saturdays, and Lonsdale on Sundays, with regular visits to Westboro when time allowed. He won championships at the Waterford Speedbowl in 1953, and again in 1958. He also took down a championship in Plainville in the 50’s, competing in the United Stock Car Racing Club. The 60’s found Foote racing with NASCAR, winning races from New England to the Carolinas to Daytona. It was during this period that he became one of the “Eastern Bandits”, along with fellow “bandits” Ed Flemke and Rene Charland. Red took down a championship in North Carolina in 1965. (Shany Photo Courtesy Rene Dugas).     

One of the Waterford Speedbowl’s first legitimate “Super Stars”, the late Moe Gherzi found his niche in the management-side of the sport after hanging-up his helmet. He went from driving to organizing in later years, accepting a post working for Joe Tinty as Race Director at the late Plainville Stadium, a position he held for years. This decades-old Speedbowl image captures Moe in the early 50s during the height of his shoreline oval popularity. Usually nattily-attired on race-night, he was one of the true Showmen of his era. A successful racer at virtually every venue in New England during his career, if there was ever a candidate for the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame, this guy most-certainly fits the bill. (Shany Photo Courtesy Rene Dugas).             

Here’s an early career shot of one of the Speedbowl’s more consistent competitors of the late 1960s & early 70s. Don Phaneuf campaigned this little “square-roof” entry during the later-years of the much-heralded “coupe era” at the Connecticut 1/3-miler. Though he never notched a feature victory, he did score several qualifying heats and a number of top main event finishes. (Dugas Photo).          

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

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