Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday May 11, 2011

 Volume 3, Number 18                                                                                     New Column Every Wednesday


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Downtown Barre, Vermont, on April 30. (ACT/Leif Tillotson Photo)

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By Dave Dykes                                                                              CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE

Once again, “hump day” has rolled-around, and that means it’s time for a few more “golden oldies” from the archives. Special thanks go out to all of this week’s contributors for making available some of the vintage offerings we’re featuring in this installment. As always have a great week! Email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com      

Yet More Wednesday Wanderings….  .              

Seen here during the 1960s during an outing at Connecticut’s Thompson Speedway is Frank Manafort. Associated primarily with the late Plainville Stadium (another Nutmeg State oval where he experienced great success garnering several championships), Manafort was a top New England modified competitor in the mid 60's to the early 70's retiring to help run the family business  In later years, he came back to compete in the Legends division where he continued winning. (Photo Courtesy Steve Kennedy).

Gary Colturi was on the fast-track to success when news of his tragic death in a motorcycle accident both stunned and saddened the New England racing community in 1973. He was extremely popular with both fans & his fellow competitors. Teaming with legendary car owner Mario Fiore later in his career, he raced to much-success at Massachusetts’ former Riverside Park Speedway. Courtesy of his friend & one-time car owner Mario, we’re able to present this shot of Gary at Riverside Park Speedway in Massachusetts during the 1965 season. (Shany Photo Courtesy Mario Fiore).                            

Seen here in victory lane at Connecticut’s Waterford Speedbowl is Hugh McAvoy, the shoreline oval’s 1961 Bomber champion. Truly a “thinking mans driver,” McAvoy won the title via a route of consistency, rather than sheer victories. During his title year, he snagged only one checkered flag. Ironically, Ed Moody who placed second in the chase won a staggering 16 feature events! (Shany Photo Courtesy Mal Phillips).   

Once again, here’s Hugh McAvoy receiving his 1961 Bomber track championship laurels at the Speedbowl’s annual awards banquet. Doing the presenting is longtime Speedbowl Racing Director, the late John Whitehouse. (Shany Photo Courtesy Mal Phillips).             

Here’s Richie Galullo making an appearance at Riverside Park Speedway in Massachusetts during the era in-which he was a top modified competitor at that much-missed Connecticut oval known as Plainville Stadium. A “chip off the old block”, Richie inherited a lot of skill from his late father Hall of Fame member Danny Gallullo, and experienced many fine runs while behind the controls of this coach-bodied entry. Brother Danny Jr. was also an accomplished racer. Upon viewing this shot, our Webmaster Tom Ormsby (himself a former modified racer), added that “This is an early-season shot, when we all headed for Riverside before Plainville opened for the season.”(Shany Photo).                      

Captured here celebrating a Seekonk Speedway NEMA victory on May 31, 1965 is New England Midget racing great and NEAR Hall of Famer Joe Csiki. Truly an open-cockpit legend, he actually won his first-ever feature in a stock car on the 1/5-mile at Riverside Park Speedway in Massachusetts on May 4, 1957. Before that, he was turning heads as a talented driver, being named the 1956 United Stock Car Club Most Promising Driver. Shortly after switching exclusively to Midgets, he was crowned the 1958 NEMA Rookie of the Year. He was the 1961 NEMA Non-Offy Owner Champion, and the ’62 NEMA Non-Offy Driver Champion. He followed up as the 1963 and ’65 NEMA Driver Champion.  In 1964, he was named United Racing Club Rookie of the Year, and he was the ARDC Driving Champion in 1966. Csiki listed two ARDC 100 lap races, one at Old Bridge and one at Wall Stadium, along with a 50 lapper at Trenton in 1966, as three of his bigger wins. Sadly, his life ended tragically from injuries sustained at Bedford, PA Fairgrounds in August of 1967. Seen in this shot with Joe is his wife Betty, Seekonk Speedway’s late D.A.Venditti, and that’s NEMA’s Len Poe on the right. (Mailhot Photo From R.A. Silvia Collection Courtesy Pete Zanardi).             

It’s a debate that still rages today, decades after it occurred. Just who had the first Pinto-bodied pavement Modified in New England? New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member Bob Judkins of #2X fame often gets the nod, but the truth of the matter is that it was this guy who beat him to the punch. Seen here at-speed during a visit to the Seekonk Speedway, Waterford Speedbowl regular Seabury Tripler debuted this car only weeks before Judkins unveiled his Pinto. Interestingly-enough, Judkins, who was a NASCAR regular, initially ran unsanctioned events-only. He had to wait for NASCAR to approve his Pinto; something that the late Jack Arute Sr. (another NEAR Hall of Fame member), of Stafford Motor Speedway was instrumental in making happen (Photo From R.A. Silvia Collection Courtesy Pete Zanardi).   

The date is November 3, 1968 and Waterford Speedbowl regular Newt “Mr. Lightning” Palm has just captured the checkers at Seekonk Speedway.  A champion at the Speedbowl and one of the most-popular drivers to have ever competed at the shoreline oval, Palm’s career was later cut-short due to serious injuries received at Seekonk during an open competition event at the Massachusetts oval in this car. During a brief career (by today’s standards), Palm captured a total of 4 track titles at Waterford, two in the Modifieds, and two in the Bomber division. (Photo From R.A. Silvia Collection Courtesy Pete Zanardi).               

Seen here behind the controls of a midget on November 11, 1967 is New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer, Dennis Zimmerman. He parlayed his midget and modified racing experience into a successful career on the USAC Indy Car circuit. A self-professed “student” of the late, great, Ed Flemke Sr., he conquered storied eastern Modified haunts such as Norwood, Riverside Park, Plainville, and Waterford before taking-on the ovals of the South, where his accomplishments netted a pair of NASCAR State Sportsman titles. After a stint in URC Sprint Car competition it was on to Indy Cars, then the absolute pinnacle of American motorsport. He continued his success there, qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 in 1971 & 1972. His best finish in the May extravaganza was eighth, a feat earning him honors as Indy Rookie of the Year. Zimmerman departed the sport in 1974 following an event at Long Island’s Islip Speedway where ironically, he was wheeling a car owned by his “teacher” and fellow NEAR Hall of Famer, the late Ed Flemke Sr. Emerging from retirement recently, he now competes with the newly-formed Dirt Midget Association at venues through New England. (Photo From R.A. Silvia Collection Courtesy Pete Zanardi).                

Lastly, here’s a nice shot of one of the most popular drivers to have ever competed at the former Riverside Park Speedway in Agawam, Massachusetts. Three-times a track champion (1970, 71, and 73), the late Bobby Stefanik recorded a total of 21 modified division wins between the years 1969-79. Universally admired by both fans and his fellow competitors, he’s seen here behind the controls of the famed Czarnecki Brothers coupe, a car that bought him many victories. (John Grady Photo).              

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

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