Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday March 6, 2013


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By Dave Dykes                                                                            CLICK ON PHOTOS FOR FULL SIZE

Well, here we are, back for another week of racing memories! Over the years that we’ve been presenting “RTT” a number of people have come-forward with submissions making for a truly-diverse mix of visual treats. It’s thanks to all of them (and you know who you are), that have made doing this site such a supreme pleasure. Please know that it’s greatly-appreciated! This week for all to enjoy, we present images from the collections of our friends Bruce Riggio, Don Douville, and Racing Historians R.A. Silvia and Roger Liller. And lest we forget, it’s our Webmaster, Publisher & Editor Tom Ormsby that gets it all posted each & every Wednesday. Until next time, have a great week & thanks for stopping-by! Email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com

With (A Lot), Of Help From Our Friends….

Seem here at Connecticut’s Waterford Speedbowl during the 1970s in his Chevelle-bodied Grand American entry is our friend Bruce Riggio who donated several photos for this week’s edition of “RTT.”  Hailing from the Connecticut River Valley section of the state, he actually started his racing career as a car owner rather than a driver. He has deep roots in the sport, his involvement dating all the way back to the days of the Stafford dirt (as we’ll see later). Note the sponsor on the car, “Zanardi Oil.” That’s the family of our close friend Pete Zanardi, and they’ve maintained a long & successful business presence in their hometown of Chester, CT for many decades. Bruce relocated to Florida in later years, enjoying a winning career on the short tracks of his new home state. (Shany Photo courtesy of Bruce Riggio).

One again, thanks to our pal Mr. Riggio, we have a positively-classic image featuring Connecticut short track star Joe Tiezzi following a feature victory while wheeling this early coupe on the old dirt surface of Connecticut’s Stafford Speedway. As youngsters Riggio along with the Zanardi brothers Pete and Jimmy, were all involved with the successful efforts of the #230 team. Joe stayed in racing for many years and enjoyed a bushel of feature victories along the way at a variety of New England raceways. (Shany Photo courtesy of Bruce Riggio).

We just had to run this shot, another featuring a young Joe Tiezzi. It’s just such a cool image, and it really captures what the early days of the dirt at Stafford were all-about! As illustrated in the photo above, Joe was quite the shoe at the Connecticut ½-miler during the early days. Here, he’s ready to do battle in a classic coupe owned by John Narducci, New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member Ronnie Narducci’s father. Also note that it was sponsored by Hi-Way Motor Sales in Haddam, CT. which was the Tiezzi family’s business. You have to love the handkerchief that the young Joe is wearing over his face – running the Stafford dirt could be a tough deal! (Shany Photo courtesy of Bruce Riggio).

As mentioned earlier, our pal Bruce Riggio was actually a car owner before deciding to take over the wheel, and this was one of his earliest machines at what was then-known as Connecticut’s “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl. He would have been hard-pressed to find a better racer than this guy to put in his car. Our old pal Wayne “Mr. Mysterious” Smith was one of the best-ever at the ‘Bowl, earning many feature victories along with the 1977 Grand American championship, While he successfully dabbled in the open-wheel modifieds also, he was at his best in the full-fender classes. (Rene Dugas Photo courtesy of Bruce Riggio).

I became acquainted with New York State Racing Historian Roger Liller via the internet a few months-ago, and since then he’s become one of my many friends in the sport and a regular contributor to this site. To say that Roger knows his stuff would be an understatement! Here he presents a great shot of one of the best-ever racers from Connecticut’s much-missed SNYRA-sanctioned Danbury Racerena. We’ll let him provide the commentary; A lifetime resident of Pawling, NY and longtime friend of mine, Billy Boo started racing at Patterson, NY in 1950, and had a great career at the Southeastern NY tracks as well as the Danbury Racearena as-seen here. On this occasion he won the Memorial Day feature in the Hislop #56 during the 1978 season. Roger also added that unfortunately, Billy is presently in the hospital. Here’s wishing him a full & speedy recovery! (Mannion Photo courtesy of Roger Liller)

Speaking of friends, we’ve known this guy for a few years now having been introduced to him by my pal Pete Z. The very-youthful guy with the toothy grin seen here posing aside his classic coupe modified is none other than Don Douville. Having deep-roots in the sport, Don’s been at-it for probably more seasons than he’d like to remember, most recently involved with the NEMA midgets. The location is Connecticut’s “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl of the 1960s. (Dugas Photo).

I’ve always said that you meet some of the nicest people in this sport, and here’s one of them. This action shot captures our friend John Ferrell at speed in the 7x, which I believe was a joint venture with his longtime pal, the aforementioned Don Douville. Be it modifieds or NEMA midgets, these 2 guys have a long history in the sport. John’s daughter Kelly is also a dedicated racer, having experienced a lot of success the last few years. (Steve Kennedy Photo courtesy Don Douville).

Don Douville was nice-enough (told you he was a good guy), to lend Pete Zanardi and I these absolutely-timeless images of the first-ever race at Connecticut’s Thompson Motor Speedway. To say that these gems are rare would be an understatement! It’s May 26, 1940 and the open-wheel “big cars” of the era are the main attraction. The history-laden Thompson Speedway was constructed from the ruins of the farm of John Hoenig and his family following the devastating hurricane of 1938 that swept much of New England. The facility quickly earned the title of “Indianapolis of the East” and this shot shows where it all started. (Photo courtesy Don Douville).

New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member the late Joe Sostilio was present for that first-ever event at Thompson, and this image captures him perfectly during the prime of his storied career on that May 26th of 1940. Here’s a small excerpt from his Hall of Fame biography; Seventeen year-old Joe Sostilio won the first race he ever ran, in a Model A in 1932. By 1935, he won the New England Dirt Championship, driving the “big cars”, which were similar to today’s sprints. He successfully defended his championship in 1936, running at events mainly throughout New England, although he ventured to tracks as far south as Florida and as far west as California throughout his 30 year career. In 1938, Sostilio won the New England Midget Championship. The following year, in’39, he won the Vermont State Midget Championship. Joe stopped racing from 1941 to ’44, in order to serve his country during World War II. He returned to his midget roots in 1945, competing in the Bay State Midgets Racing Association, finishing second to Bobby Blair by a one point margin. 1946 found Joe driving the Koopman Offy, and he competed at tracks from Seekonk, Mass to Akron, Ohio. 1947 was a good year for Sostilio. Driving the 54 Leader Card Offy, he won 31 features, taking down 23 seconds and 12 third place finishes on his way to a BSMRA Championship. For the complete biography on this New England auto racing legend, visit the NEAR website at www.near1.com (Photo courtesy Don Douville). .

And now you know where the phrase “The high-banks of Thompson” came-from….. Our last in the trio of images from Thompson’s first-ever event courtesy of our pal Mr. Douville captures a pair of big-car jockeys vying for position at the “Indianapolis of the East.” The Hoenig family’s Thompson Motor Speedway has been a first-class facility from day-one and it’s list of winners reads like a who’s-who of the Northeast’s motorsports community. Fortunately for all of us, it’s a tradition that continues today. (Photo courtesy Don Douville).

BONUS SHOT: Another long-standing tradition within New England auto racing is New Hampshire’s paved ¼-mile Hudson Speedway. Opening the gates way back in 1946 as part of New England’s post-war short track boom, the old girl still survives today billed as “The original family fun track.” It really is bare-bones local racing at its best, and part of a vanishing breed. This early shot courtesy of our longtime friend, esteemed New England Racing Historian R.A. Silvia captures a pack of early iron ready to do battle. Among the racers seen here are New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member Wally Silva in the #172 and Don Lawler in the #10. Thanks for the memories, R.A.! (Photo courtesy R.A. Silvia).

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


Dave Dykes said:

Tony, glad you enjoyed the Thompson shots. Don Douville really came-through with these! And Wayne, I was super-happy to run the great shots that Bruce sent-me. I recall both of you guys in the #75 like it was yesterday!

ony Mordino said:

Those pics of Thompson are great.

? said:

Joes father was Art ,not Barney. Barney was Joes uncle

wayne mysterious said:

Thanks Dave & Bruce!! Bruce was the best car owner I ever drove for!!! Their was a great group of kids that helped that also fun! I'm in the virgin island and your column still is the highlight of the my day!
frank j said:

any pics of 84 in 1952?

Chris L. said:

Is that a six cylinder in the 7x coupe?
Don C. said:

I remember that night well, going home disppointed because the 271 was involved in that crash. still, great memories though !

Bob Freeman said:

I remember Bob Lord driving at the Speedbowl and can "see" Glynn Shafer's 6 in the 162. I just can't remember this car.

mike a. said:

great old pix once again. bring back the open trailers.

Don said:

Joe McNulty's #51 looks like it would have been one scary ride -no front bumper, the tin roof coverlooks like its barely hanging on, the drivers door looks to be a piece of sheet metal and it sure looks like the roll cage is wood. It must have taken a lot of guts to race these things !

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