Taking A Look At Northeast Auto Racing History

Wednesday March 21, 2012

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By Dave Dykes                                                                              CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE

Greetings again from the cyber-speedway my friends! This week our selection of subjects runs the gamut of both dirt & asphalt oval personalities. Short on introduction this time-around, let’s instead get directly to the latest edition of our weekly “racing rewind.” As-always, email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com                          

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Yet-Another (Very) Varied Selection….!        

It’s the 1970s, and the guy behind the wheel of this Ford Pinto modified at Connecticut’s Waterford Speedbowl was customarily seen capturing checkered flags in the track’s full-bodied divisions. Bob Gada Sr. was a champion in the Sportsman Sedan class, notching a boatload of feature victories during his long career. His family team also fielded modifieds, with most-notably Joey Trudeau at the controls. For a great video interview piece with Bob (and a number of other notable Speedbowl personalities), visit Tom DiMaggio’s “Sid’s Vault” site at www.sids-vault.com Bob’s sons David & Dennis account for a stellar 9 modified titles at the shoreline oval. (Dugas Photo).   

Classic Driver, Classic Coach…. Meet Prentice “Corky” Cookman. He began his career as a member of the SNYRA at Connecticut’s former Danbury Fair Racerena. He eventually branched-out, becoming one of the first regulars on the NASCAR Modified Tour. A career highlight while running the Tour was a stunning win in the 1982 edition of the Manchester Oil Heat 100 at the Stafford Springs Motor Speedway. Sadly, the popular Cookman perished in a wreck at the Thompson Speedway in 1987. (Grady Photo).                    

Gone but not forgotten. It would take more than the space allowed here to list the accomplishments of this racer. Let’s just say that the late Doug Garrison was a coupe-era “Dirt Slinger” of the first-degree. He’s captured here through the lens of our old pal John Grady at Lebanon Valley, New York, a track where he was champion. It’s the 1960s, and the car is the Gordon Ross-owned Chevy, a mount that bought him much-success. So-dominate at this track for a period, Garrison became known as “Mr. Lebanon Valley” by the fans. Retiring in 1979, Doug passed-away in 1985 after fighting a long-battle with cancer. (Grady Photo).                                

If you were lucky enough to be around the sport when this guy was in his prime, you witnessed one of the best. Our friend and Webmaster Tom Ormsby of www.speedwaylinereport.com once stated that he was “Colorful, Controversial, and Popular” all at the same time. The truth-is, Anthony “Jap” Membrino helped sell a lot of tickets during a stellar career that lasted over 3-decades. While he experienced incredible success at Plainville Stadium Jap also won-big at many other New England venues. He’s captured here at the late & much-missed Riverside Park Speedway when he was the chauffer of the potent North End Auto Parts coupe. (Grady Photo).

Once in a while, we run-across a shot in our archives that’s just so-unique we have to present it here. Captured at the controls of the Angie Cerease-owned Vega modified sometime in the 1970s is 2012 New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame inductee, Joey “Kid” Kourafas who did the vast-majority of his winning wheeling full-bodied race cars. From his HOF bio; “Tabbed “The Kid” after winning the prestigious Oxford 250 as a youngster at age 21, Bay State product Joey Kourafas went on to an outstanding career. Coming out of Norwood Arena, he became a NASCAR North stalwart with championships at Airborne and Thunder Road Speedways. The 1974 NASCAR Late Model Sportsman North championship and the 1987 Busch Grand National title and some 50 victories up and down the Atlantic Coast top his list of accomplishments.” (Grady Photo).         

Captured here with his daughter celebrating a feature win when he was wheeling the potent Freddy Doolittle #23 coupe is the late George “Moose” Hewitt. A 5-time Modified champion at the Waterford Speedbowl, he scored a career-total of twenty-three feature victories in the Modifieds, SK Modifieds, and Bomber divisions at the shoreline oval. In addition to those triumphs, he also won at the Stafford Springs Motor Speedway on multiple occasions, including a stunning victory in the 1975 Winston 100. Sadly, the popular Uncasville, CT. chauffer passed-away in February of 1997 while still very-much in his prime as a driver. Often-overlooked is the fact that before coming to auto racing, Moose was a champion Motorcycle racer. (Grady Photo).                 

Courtesy of our friend John Divis, last week we were able to present a shot of this racer during the early days of his Waterford career as a Bomber division winner. Here he is a couple of seasons-later following a triumph in the Speedbowl’s headlining Modifieds. The ultra-popular Newt Palm was twice a champion (1967 & 68) in the class during what was no-doubt one of the track’s most competitive eras. His career cut-short by injuries sustained at Seekonk Speedway in Massachusetts, you can only wonder just how-much further he could have gone in the sport. He was that-good….. (Shany Photo).         

A frequent visitor to Connecticut’s “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl open shows of the early 1970s (as seen here), this guy would set the Connecticut racing community on its ear a couple of seasons after this shot was captured. On Sunday afternoon May 5, 1974 New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member the late, great Ollie Silva won the open-competition “Hott Wheels 100” at the shoreline oval. Taking the victory in convincing-style, Silva thrilled the crowd by lapping the field multiple times and setting a new 1-lap record of 16.48.  The people that were present on that chilly, overcast afternoon (your author included), still talk about Silva’s absolutely over-the-top performance. (Shany Photo).          

Though this shot captures him on the early pavement of New York’s Utica-Rome Speedway, Robby Kotary’s greatest accomplishments occurred on dirt. As one of the earliest stars of Fonda Speedway, another of that states famed ovals, he successfully competed weekly against the absolute best-in-the-business. Fonda routinely drew Modified fields in upwards of forty cars, and included in that equation were top dirt-slingers like Pete Corey, Bill Wimble, Kenny Shoemaker, and Lou “Monks” Lazzaro in naming just a few. It truly was an All-Star cast each & every week. We really like this John Grady image – it’s a Studebaker! (Grady Photo).       

Here’s one of New England Modified racing’s longest campaigners and a 2012 New England Racing Hall of Fame inductee, the late Roland “Pappy” LaPierre. Captured here in the Lenny Plasse-owned mount, he was still running a hectic schedule after many of his contemporaries had called it a day. It was only following a serious crash in this car at Stafford in the 1970’s that he decided to retire. Pappy holds the dubious distinction of capturing the last-ever checkered flag for the Modified division at Massachusetts’ storied Norwood Arena. On Saturday evening Oct 4, 1969, the 54 year old veteran bested Ed Flemke Sr., Bugs Stevens, and Fred DeSarro for the win. Pappy’s son Roland Jr, also enjoyed a long & successful tenure in the Modifieds, and his great-grandson Nick Teto is the guy behind the successful Yankee Racer website (Grady Photo).

BONUS SHOT: Here’s just a wonderful image from the early days of Connecticut’s former West Haven Speedway courtesy of this drivers son. Seen here is Tony Mordino, simply one of the best-of-the-best. A leading member of the legendary “Waterbury Gang” that also included guys like the late Danny Galullo, the battles he waged with established UNITED stars such as Billy Greco and Johnny “King” Cambino at West Haven are stuff of New England racing legend. He later conquered Plainville and Riverside Park; certainly two of the toughest bullrings in the Northeast. Tony retired following the 1975 Thompson 300, an event in which raced to a top-10 finish after having started 50th in the field. Big thanks go out to Tony Jr. for providing this special shot of his dad for all of us to enjoy! (Photo Courtesy Tony Mordino Jr.).        

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


(2 days ago) Jim rondeau said:

NICE....i forgot to put nice in my sentence.

(2 days ago) Jim rondeau said:

Freddie Doolittle always had some stuff. Great pic of Moose.

(5 days ago) Lary Pincince said:

another great week! Garrison shot, classic 60's dirt modified, check out the big driver friendly window and the mirror box on the roof.

(5 days ago) Dave Dykes said:

Hi Tony, Thanks for the kind words! As Tom says, that's Bob Sr. in the #271. Take a close look at the seat in the car also, as that's the one that ended-up in my Street Stock back in '78 courtesy of the Gada's....

(5 days ago) Tom Ormsby (mod) said:

That is Bob Gada, Sr. in the car

(5 days ago) Tony Leckey said:

Great job as always Dave. Look forward to your articles. One quick question, I love the shot of the 271 but is that Joey in the car?

(5 days ago) Bob DeAngelis said:

Looks like Angie Cerease couldn't afford headers. Gotta love the flex pipe!

(6 days ago) Gerry Bennett said:

Gotta love the nerf bar on the #1 of Tony Mordino. Looks to be part of a car bumper!

(6 days ago) nels wohlstrom jr. said:


(6 days ago) nels wohlstrom jr. said:


(6 days ago) mike a. said:

these are great pix of the old days. it would be great if you could make DVD's of all the pictures you have shown over the years. keep them coming.

(6 days ago) Dave Dykes said:

Thanks, JC. I was never aware that Joey ran Angie's Vega at one time. I just think is a great shot! Thanks for taking the time to write, and above-all for looking at the site!

(6 days ago) JC said:

Great vintage Joey Kourafas pic!

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