Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday March 20, 2013


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Volume 5, Number 12                                                                                    New Column Every Wednesday

Updated 3-24-13


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By Dave Dykes                                                                            CLICK ON PHOTOS FOR FULL SIZE

Another week passes and it’s time for a liberal dose of Wednesday short track memories. We offer special thanks to our friends Carolyn Grey and Roger Liller for their terrific contributions to this edition, and as-always, kudos to our old pal & Webmaster Tom Ormsby for getting the goods posted every week from his home in the sunny state of Florida! Until next time have a great week, and as-always, email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com  

Yet-More Mid-Week Memories…..

Contributed by Carolyn Grey, daughter of legendary Waterford Speedbowl car owner the late Bill Congdon we have this extraordinary shot of her father’s first race car & driver at the shoreline oval. Its 1951 (the track’s first year of operation), and the guy behind the controls of the “Golden Goose” #76 is Windy Windbiggler. Bill Congdon went-on to become one of the most accomplished car owners in Speedbowl history notching both championships and many feature victories. His team also routinely competed upstate at Stafford Speedway, and at Massachusetts’ Seekonk Speedway. His list of drivers read like a “who-who” of some of the top names in New England modified racing. New England Auto Racing Hall of Famers “Wild Bill” Slater and Dick Watson both experienced success in Congdon machines, as-did Dick Beauregard, Dick Watson, Lou Tetreault, Jerry Wheeler, Ray Moran, and George Pendergast. (Shany photo courtesy Carolyn Grey).

From our friend and frequent contributor New York State Racing Historian Roger Liller comes this gem of a shot. We’ll let him give the details; “This week I have a photo of the great SNYRA driver Chick Stockwell with his ubiquitous #151 coupe after winning the 100 lapper at Arlington Speedway on Sat. Sept 8, 1956. Fred Leahey did not have the stocks at Danbury in 1956-57, and SNYRA moved to Arlington for the '56 season. The racing there was promoted by Bob Leonarggio and Kenny Webb as Leon and Webb enterprises, and Webb was the high point man that year although Joe Campanella led the feature win list with four. NASCAR had a midget division in those days, and ran 2 events. I talked with Kenny Webb at a SNYRA reunion many years ago, and he told me that Arlington's owners were anxious for SNYRA to buy the track because Tattersall's USC left in '53 and they had been running it since. The consensus was that the club was not happy there, and they didn't come back in '57. That year the drivers raced all over the circuit with Stockwell winning the laurels at Rhinebeck in his father's GMC-powered Chevy coupe. This photo was sent to me by Joe Saleem Jr.. Joe is a good friend of Bob Ellis and worked with me to document SNYRA's 1956 season at Arlington. It is used with his permission.”(Photo courtesy Joe Saleem Jr. via Roger Lillier).

Captured here following an early feature win is New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member, the late Jerry Humiston (third from right). He was one of the premier-players within the United Racing Club and three-times a track champion (1954, 59, and 61), at that sanctioning organizations flagship Riverside Park Speedway in Massachusetts during what many consider the tracks most-competitive era. The photo here is from the Eastern States Exposition Fairground 1/2 mile. One of the most-popular and accomplished drivers of his time, Humiston’s prominent place in the history of New England modified racing is rightly-deserved. United’s late Harvey Tattersall Jr. (seen here fourth from right), is also a member of the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame. (Shany Photo).

This shot kinda’ puzzled me when I pulled it from the files, as I don’t recall this driver/car combination at Waterford in the 70s, and that was a time that I rarely missed an event at the shoreline oval. We’re not exactly sure of the year, but we suspect that it’s early-1975. I have shots of this car with the late “Hammerin’ Hank” Stevens at the controls, but this is the only image I’ve ever seen with Ron “Boots” Cote at the helm (adding to the confusion is the name “John” on the door). Probably better-known for his accomplishments in the full-fender classes, Cote recorded over thirty career-victories and a duo of championships at the Speedbowl in those divisions. (Shany Photo).

As we’ve relayed several times, we have a large number of photos in the archives that are unfortunately, mired in the “unidentified” file; this is one of them. We can either refrain from running them at-all, or we can make an educated guess and present the image for everyone to enjoy. We’d rather do the latter in taking a chance and guessing that the guy leaning-up against this flathead-powered coach is a young Charlie Centinaro. If-so, he was one of the real movers & shakers on Harvey Tattersall’s United Stock Car Racing Club circuit. Starting his stellar career at Connecticut’s West Haven Speedway, he later became a top-shoe at Massachusetts’ much-missed Riverside Park Speedway. We’re not sure of the locale of this shot either. (Shany Photo).

We’ve ran shots of this driver previously, but the sheer amount of different images I have of him in my archives is testament as to just-how popular he was during his heyday. Canadian modified star Dennis Giroux was in the throes of a brilliant career when tragedy struck and he was severely injured in a crash at Stafford Springs Speedway during the 1974 season. In a coma for months after the accident, he later recovered, but never returned to racing. Many in New England feel that Giroux would have been the next to follow in the footsteps of former modified success and 1970 Daytona 500 winner Pete Hamilton in making it within the big-leagues of the NASCAR Cup’ Series. This image captures a youthful Giroux with one of his earliest Stafford rides. (Lloyd Burnham photo).

Sometimes it’s nice to select a “profile shot” and this is a dandy. If you’re a regular visitor to this website, than you probably already know who this driver is. It was indeed a sad day in the fall of 1978 when Rhode Island’s popular Fred DeSarro lost his life in a crash during warm-ups at the Thompson Motor Speedway. Long a fixture on the New England modified circuit, Fred became a multi-time champion at the regions toughest venues, garnering the national championship in 1970. At a time when big-dollars were funneling into the sport, he was teamed with the late Lenny Boehler in personifying a low-buck image with their shabby-looking but ultra-fast “Ole’ Blue” coupe (the car that won the first-ever Spring Sizzler in 1972). DeSarro was inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 1999. (Lloyd Burnham photo).

It’s June 1, 1967 at Connecticut’s Stafford Springs Motor Speedway, and history has just been made. Winning the first-ever event on the pavement at Stafford was the late “Steady Eddie” Flemke who’s captured here with his arm on the shoulder of fellow Eastern Bandit and 1970 Daytona 500 winner Pete Hamilton who grabbed the runner-up spot that night. Rounding-out the top-3 was our much-missed friend the late Dick Watson who’s seen on the right. Also in the photo holding the microphone is open-wheel racing hero the late Johnny Kay and former track owner Mel Barlow. In the back row is David Gagliardi, Bob Hutchinson, Jim Cagliantry, wearing glasses and Mike Dindra, who raced some in the novice division at Plainville Stadium and was killed in Vietnam in December of 1968. #2x Car owner Bob Judkins is behind Mel's left shoulder. Just how-much talent does this image represent? Consider this; Flemke, Hamilton, Watson, Judkins and Kay are all members of the prestigious New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame. (Lloyd Burnham photo).

Here’s an early one for you fans of Massachusetts’ former Riverside Park Speedway. Jimmy Little campaigned this cut-down coupe at the popular United-sanctioned fifth-miler during the 1950s. A popular style of modifieds for a time during the era, the cars were lightweight & dangerous. In Connecticut, they were outlawed following the death of Jack Griffin during the 1954 season at Waterford. Note the height-difference between Little’s ride and the “full-coupe” of Al Horvath in the background. (Shany Photo).

Pete Corey was simply one of the best of his time. Seen here following a coupe-era victory on the dirt, by this time he’d won hundreds of feature races all-over the Northeast. Popular legend dictates that it was fellow competitor, the late Kenny Shoemaker that dubbed him “The Crescent Hillbilly” after an on-track altercation left “The Shoe” stammering for the proper choice of words. Legend also has it that he actually rather-enjoyed the moniker that was a nod to his geographic origins in the capital district of New York State. In actuality, Corey and Shoemaker may have waged many battles on the track, but there was a vast degree of respect shared between the two legendary racers. Few came tougher than Corey; he was the real-deal. (Photographer unknown).

BONUS SHOT 1: Just for fun we thought we’d run an additional shot of Windy Windbiggler in another of the late Bill Congdon’s potent coupes at what was then officially known as the New London-Waterford Speedbowl. During the shoreline oval’s early days, the Congdon rides were considered the cream-of-the-crop. Note the license plate mounted on the roof; evidence that this car was probably flat-towed from the team’s race shop located in Salem, a few-miles up the road from the Speedbowl. (Shany Photo).

BONUS SHOT 2: The location is Connecticut’s “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl, and the guy receiving the big hardware and the cake in celebration of his 1952 track championship is none-other than the late Dick Beauregard, certainly one of the best-ever at the shoreline oval. Though his career was reasonably-brief by conventional standards, this guy had a huge-impact on the Speedbowl. Twice a Modified titlist (1952 & 62), his flamboyant driving-style won-over a legion of fans, along with a few detractors. A true “stand-on-the-gas” competitor, his retirement in 1962 after only a decade yielded 62 victories in both Modified & Non Ford competition. (Shany Photo).

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

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