Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday March 9, 2011

 Volume 3, Number 9                                                                                      New Column Every Wednesday


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By Dave Dykes                                                                              CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE

This week we send a special thanks to Tony Bonadies Jr. for sending us some extraordinary photos of his father, the late Tony Bonadies. Also contributing is friend and regular “RTT” reader Chris Langer, who took the trouble to mail a big box of memorabilia right to my door for all of us to enjoy! Lastly, longtime contributor Rusty Sage came through with a few more tasty images from his archives. Guys, please know that all of your contributions are greatly appreciated by those of us striving to keep the history of our sport alive! As-always, enjoy. Email reaches me at  foreveryounginct@gmail.com     

More “With A Little Help From Our Friends…”          

Born on December 16, 1916 in the Bronx, New York, the late Tony Bonadies was one of the East Coast’s all-time midget racing greats. Extremely popular, his career spanned almost three decades during which he competed in more than a thousand races. Although he never captured an ARDC Midget Championship, he was ranked among the top six in seven out of his last eight seasons in the series' final classification table, and was twice the runner-up. A 3-time Indy 500 entrant, he was running in an ARDC midget show at Williams Grove, PA. on July, 5 1964 when his right-rear axle snapped; the car got airborne and violently barrel-rolled several times. Sadly, he was thrown to the ground and died instantly. This shot captures Bonadies celebrating yet-another victory during the height of his illustrious career. (Bonadies Family Collection).      

In addition to his extraordinary open-wheel efforts, Tony Bonadies also experienced success in the early days of NASCAR. Captured here behind the controls of a Nash, his debut came at Darlington in 1952. Starting 11th in the sixty-four car field, he raced his way to a solid 27th place effort in the little AMC. Later that year, he scored victory in a 400-lap NASCAR Grand National event at Lanham, Md. Running a 6-cylinder flathead, Bonadies was able to run the distance against the more powerful V-8 machines without the aid of a single pit stop. (Bonadies Family Collection).       

Captured here decades-ago at Connecticut’s “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl in the famed L&M is “Little Bill” Harman. Nickname-aside, there was nothing diminutive in stature about this guy when he got behind the controls of a coupe like this; he was one tough competitor! From humble beginnings at Waterford, he became one of the premier drivers in all of modified racing. Ironically, after spending decades chasing victories all over the country (and Canada), it was at the Speedbowl where he concluded his stellar career in the late-70s. The result of a grinding-crash while wheeling the Joe Zenga-owned Vega, he received serious injuries including a shattered scapula and several broken ribs. Though he thankfully recovered, at only 42-years of age he called-it-a-day leaving us to wonder just how-many more checkers would have waved his way had he continued. Harman was inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 2004. (Shany Photo, Chris Langer Collection).         

Captured here in a midget at the former Ponta Delgada Motor Speedway in Tiverton, Rhode Island is the late Oscar “Cannonball” Ridlon. Also known as “Ponta Delgada Motor Stadium” and “Tiverton Speedway” the track was built as a 1/5 mile dirt oval around a soccer field debuting in 1939. For the 1941 season, it was paved. Events were held through July 26, 1942 when WW2 intervened. Racing resumed after the war, and continued (on a somewhat inconsistent basis in later years), until the facilities demise in the early-50s. As for Ridlon, he was one of the truly-legendary “characters” within the annals of New England racing history. After a colorful career racing open-wheelers, he became promoter of both the Pines Speedway in Groveland, Massachusetts (also gone now), and New Hampshire’s Hudson Speedway. (Photographer Unknown).                    

Seen here celebrating a modified a victory at Connecticut’s “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl is Stan Spencer. Another of those drivers in the 60-year history of the shoreline oval that we know precious-little about, we believe the photo to be from the 1971 campaign. If anyone has any further information on Stan, feel-free to contact us! (Shany Photo, Chris Langer Collection).    

Here’s one from the old 1/5-miler at Agawam, Massachusetts’ much-missed Riverside Park Speedway. Joe Wilcox was a winner in the early 1970s, his Hudson coupe typical of the great-looking cars campaigned at The Park’ during its glory years under the sanction of the Tattersall family’s United Racing Club. Though he was always in the hunt, Joe’s lone Riverside modified feature victory occurred on the evening of June 12, 1971, making him among the last guys to grab a main event on the old fifth-mile oval. For 1972 the track was expanded to a ¼-miler. Sadly, after 50-years of continuous operation, Riverside was shuttered forever following the conclusion of the 1999 season. (Shany Photo, Chris Langer Collection).               

Here’s an image captured in the early-1970s of a true Icon within the ranks of the “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl’s support classes. Extremely-popular and a huge winner, “Big Mike” Daigneault handily scored the 1973 Sportsman Sedan title and endeared himself to the fans with his patriotic red, white & blue “Spirit of 76’” Ford entries. Mike ranks 7th on his divisions all-time win list with a total of 27 career feature victories. (Shany Photo, Chris Langer Collection).     

Call em’ Daredevils, Sportsman Sedans, Grand Americans, Late Models, or whatever, when it came to “full-fender” racing, this guy was one of the absolute-best. Plainfield, Connecticut’s Ron “Boots” Cote had few equals when in his prime, excelling at a trio of his home-state ovals. At the Speedbowl-alone (as seen here in the early 1970s), he recorded over thirty career-victories and a duo of championships. (Shany Photo, Chris Langer Collection).

One-third of a brother-act that also included siblings Bob “Allie” Gada and the late Larry “Insta” Gada, Chris “Wally” Gada wheeled this unique Falcon-bodied Modified in Bowl’ action. Famous for their loyalty to products of a FORD-nature, the team fielded winning entries for years at a track that was overwhelmingly populated by entries propelled by “The General” during their generation. It was no-fluke, as the Gada’s won big. They fielded this car simultaneously with their winning (Bob being a multi-time track champ), full-bodied entries. Following Larry, veteran Joey Trudeau got-behind the controls, going-on to grab the 1971 Modified championship. Today, the winning Gada tradition continues at Waterford. (Shany Photo, Chris Langer Collection).           

For many years Norwich, Connecticut’s Mark LaJeunesse made the weekly trek down Route 395 to Waterford exit #77 from the burg known as “The Rose City”. Starting his career as a youth in the Quarter Midget ranks, he returned from the armed forces in the early-1970s to begin a Modified career spanning over thirty seasons. The first victory came in 1974 with many-more following including a triumph in the 2000 Budweiser Modified Nationals. Under the Tattersall UNITED sanction of 1975, he garnered the Sportsman-Modified title. This shot captures him ready to go at the Bowl’ in one of the teams many self-built creations. This coupe was initially campaigned by LaJeunesse team driver Howie Nye, who annexed “Rookie of the Year” honors in 1978. It was also driven to many fine finishes by the late Fred “Fuzzy” Baer. (Kennedy Photo, Rusty Sage Collection). 

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

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