Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday May 19, 2010

 Volume 2, Number 17                                                                                      New Column Every Wednesday


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By Dave Dykes                                                                              CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE

Lots happening in the next few weeks for those of us interested in the history of our sport. First on the slate is the 20th Annual Vintage Celebration at NHIS which runs from 5/18-5/23. Then it’s the 25th annual Westboro Speedway Reunion on Sat. May 22 at the Knights of Columbus Hall, 17 Willow Street in Westboro from noon to 6pm. On Sunday June 6, the Norwood Arena Reunion goes-green at Bezema Buick-GMC located at 402 Providence Hwy. (US Rt. 1) in Norwood, MA. Be sure to visit www.speedwaylinereport.com for more info. on these great events!  As-always, enjoy this week’s little trip back in time - reach me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com   

Another Week, Another Visit To The Archives…         

Back in the “old daze”, teams got really-creative when it came to getting to the races. Seen here is the operation of Danbury Fair Racearena car owner, John Spada with his driver Kenny Webb leaning on the car. If you look close in the passenger seat is another outstanding driver, John's brother Gino Spada. Note that the tow-rig is a hearse! Sadly, the Racearena closed at the conclusion of the 1981 season after having been one of the most-successful tracks in New England since 1952. (Mannion photo courtesy Tom Ormsby).  

And here we have the Studebaker Hawk-bodied “Flyin’ 5” of New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member, Nathan “Smokey” Boutwell (not-sure of the venue). This guy had a long & distinguished career in a myriad of classes, everything from Midgets, Sprints & Modifieds, to the NASCAR Grand National Series (now known as Sprint Cup). He won championships all-over New England and was a Canadian/American champion as well as annexing the 1960 Empire State title. During one of his best seasons, in 1956 he took an astounding 56 wins. Three-years later he was inducted into the Oilzum Hall of Fame, one of the most prestigious honors of the era. (from the Tommy Kimball Collection).  

We really like this color shot of former Plainville Stadium track champion Gary Membrino, but then-again, we’re kinda’ partial to anything related to that much-missed Connecticut bullring. This guy had a lot to live-up to considering the feats of his legendary Uncle Anthony “Jap” Membrino, who for decades was one of the top Modified racers in New England. Gary did-so in fine style, becoming for a time one of the best drivers at Joe Tinty’s little palace of speed. That’s the popular Warren “Elmer” Lee on the inside. (Hoyt Photo).    

Like most tracks in New England, the Modifieds always received top-billing at Plainville Stadium. However, that’s not to say that there wasn’t some tough competition within the support classes. Seen here in a Sportsman/Late Model-type entry (not-sure what they were called at the time), is Carl Charette, father of current SK Modified competitor Dennis Charette. Note the “Baby Dennis” adorning the front fender of Pop’s tri-five Chevy. Guess the old adage “The apple doesn’t fall-far from the tree” fits with this Connecticut racing family, huh? (Hoyt Photo).     

The year is 1969 and the guy behind the controls of this mean-looking Jim Carter-owned Coach at New York’s Oswego Speedway is New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer, Bentley Warren. Notching his first career feature in 1957 at West Peabody, Mass, he’s won races at 34 tracks in the United States and Canada. His first championship came in 1962 in the B-class at Hudson. Since-then, he’s scored multiple Super Modified titles at Oswego Speedway and Star Speedway. In the 1970s, he competed on the Indy Car circuit with 37 career starts, including the 1971 and 1975 Indy 500. Other notable victories include the Little 500 twice, the Copper World Classic, the Star Classic, The Thompson World Series, and an East-West showdown between the best of the Super Modified drivers. This guy is simply one of the BEST to ever have emerged from the Northeast! (Grady Photo).   

It’s 1979 at Connecticut’s Waterford Speedbowl, and piloting the Pat’s Auto Center Vega is Deke Astle, another big New England winner for decades. Though often-dominate on the asphalt (esp. at Seekonk Speedway in Massachusetts where he was a multi-time champion), he was another one of those guys that was comfortable on the mud also, having many victories at Lakeville Speedway (a former MA. dirt oval). Affectionately recalled by fans as the “Little Man with the Big Cigar”, he was always in the hunt wherever he ran! (Kennedy Photo)     

And here’s another Waterford Speedbowl shot of one-more member of the racing Astle family, Deke’s brother Fred. The year is 1974, and the exact date is Wednesday evening, August 28. The event was the open-competition “Southern New England 100” which was won by Rochester, New Hampshire resident, Jim Landry. Like his brother, Fred was also a top-runner at the Seekonk Speedway, and his son Fred Jr. is a multi-time champion at the still-active Massachusetts oval. (Shany Photo).               

A final image from the Waterford Speedbowl; it’s the 1950’s and the driver is “Dirty Dick” Beauregard, one of the biggest names in the early history of the track affectionately-known by locals as 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).               

This guy was one of the absolute-best racers during the “Golden Era” of Modified racing in the Northeast, is a member of the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame, and more important to us on a personal-level, we’re pleased to say that we consider him a good friend. Growing-up around racecars, Ray Miller’s father paired with Red Lataille to own the #1 Lataille/Miller Offy, running out of the Miller's garage in East Granby, CT. The team ran the ARDC circuit, often racing 7 nights per-week in the 1940’s and 50’s. Ray started his Modified career at Plainville Stadium in 1965 before progressing to NASCAR haunts like Stafford and Thompson. A winning driver at the highest-echelon of New England Modified racing for many seasons, he retired in the 1980’s. I was a Ray Miller fan as a kid, and can recall when he was piloting this neat Coach-bodied creation. He was always in the thick-of-the-action! (Photographer Unknown).

Lastly, here’s a shot of another one of New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer Fred “Sharkey” Gaudiosi’s famous Coupes (I seem to have a million of em’ in my files – there were so-many!). Not-sure of the venue, but on this day in 1964 Don Wayman was the driver. Recalled as a true dirt-specialist, Wayman started his career during the post-war stock car boom of the late-forties in 1947 at the old Clearview Speedway in South Westerloo, New York (a short-lived and dusty 1/3-mile dirt oval that operated for only three-seasons). Particularly-successful on the pre-tarmac surface of the old Mal Barlow-owned Stafford Fairgrounds in Connecticut, he was always in-demand with the top car-owners of his era. He maintained a hectic (and winning), three-track schedule in the sixties, running weekly at Fonda, Victoria, and Stafford. (Grady Photo).

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

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