Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday May 25, 2011

 Volume 3, Number 20                                                                                     New Column Every Wednesday


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By Dave Dykes                                                                              CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE

This week we present another “visual feast” of images from New England’s racing past. Special thanks go out to our Webmaster Tom Ormsby who contributed some images from the collection of our friend, the late Danny Pardi. New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member, Speedway Scene’s Val LeSieur also pitched-in for this installment and to him, we also express our appreciation! As-always, email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com       

Another Week, Another Peek At The Past….

This one from Connecticut’s late Plainville Stadium comes from the files of our pal, New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member Val LeSieur. No-doubt having appeared in Val’s fondly-recalled Speedway Scene weekly, the caption on the back reads; A jam-up on the back chute sent Stan Greger flipping end-over-end in one of the most spectacular accidents-ever at Plainville Stadium during the 1974 season. Although the car was demolished, Greger received only minor injuries. The Stadium will open the 1975 season on Saturday night, April 19th. (Hoyt Photo, Courtesy Val LeSieur).

Portrait images of drivers are kinda’ rare, so we just had to run this one, The guy you see here is Dick Dunn, absolutely one of the best racers to have ever turned a lap at Connecticut’s Waterford Speedbowl. Wheeling a modified owned by our friends Peg & Al “Buddha” Gaudreau and adding to an already impressive resume, during the four-straight seasons that he was crowned champ (1972-75) Dunn recorded an impressive 18-feature victories including a number of extra-distance shows. This guy was simply “The Man” at the shoreline oval of the early-to-mid 1970s. (Dugas Photo, Courtesy Val LeSieur).                              

Even great drivers like the aforementioned Dick Dunn have bad days, and this was one of them for the multi-time Waterford Speedbowl champion. During the days before cement retaining walls circled the entire racing surface at Connecticut’s Thompson Speedway, they had sand-banks on the turns. When you got into them, the outcome looked like this. No-doubt the “Buddha’s Bullet” team had their work cut out for them later removing all that sand from their potent little coupe. (Photo Courtesy Val LeSieur).      

Here’s another one from Thompson. The driver is our pal, New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member Ray Miller, and the fellow doing the trackside interview is another old friend, Joe Golas. Miller of-course, is one of the best-ever to have come out of New England, his career spanned decades and it would take more room than allotted here to list all of his accomplishments. Golas was a skilled announcer and media personality holding positions at several Connecticut raceways during his days in the sport. Miller (along with fellow Hall of Famers Dennis Zimmerman and Skip Matczak), has returned to the sport just recently wheeling a midget with the Dirt Midget Association. Visit their website at www.dmaracing.org  (Photo Courtesy Val LeSieur).                  

Local racer Gordon Page ran in the Modified division at Waterford for many seasons. Always fronting a team of modest-means, he was found in the thick of the action every week often competing against those with budgets that were far-above what he had to work-with. As I’ve often relayed in this column, it’s important to remember that it takes more than just a select-few winners to make the sport. Guys like Page are more than mere “field-fillers.” To a degree, they’re the very backbone of the sport. This shot captures Gordon and his familiar Coupe pitside at the Speedbowl in the early 1970s. (Dugas Photo).                      

Seen here at the “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl during the early days of his career in 1973, is 1978 Sportsman Sedan champion Dick Laflesh. Actually crowned co-champion with Don Fowler that season, LaFlesh enjoyed a reign as one of the shoreline oval’s top “full-bodied” chauffeurs that started during the days when classic “Tri-Five” Chevys like this one were the overall choice. He scored a career-total of 13 feature victories in the division. (Dugas Photo).                  

Pictured here at Massachusetts’ much-missed Riverside Park Speedway during the early 1970s, the late Tony Mordino was one of the absolute-best during the stock car boom of post-war New England. 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 the old West Haven Speedway are stuff of legend. He later conquered Plainville Stadium 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. (Shany Photo, Courtesy Tom Ormsby).                 

And here we have Kenny Bouchard,  the younger brother of New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer and the winner of the 1981 Talledega 500, Ron Bouchard. Like his brother, Kenny experienced great success in New England modified racing, and this #35 Camaro-bodied creation was one of the more recognizable rides of his early career. On a sidenote, Ron and Ken are the only brother combination to earn Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year honors. (Dan Pardi Collection Courtesy Tom Ormsby).                  

Captured here during the later stages of his career, anyone that was around during what’s widely considered the “Golden Era” of New England Modified racing is sure to recognize this guy. The late Booker T. Jones joined the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 2003. Upon his induction, award-winning racing journalist Bones Bourcier commented that “He drove NASCAR Modifieds around the Northeast for what seemed like a hundred years, and yet when he passed at the age of 74, it was not his racing you remembered. It was his friendly smile, his big right hand shaking yours. He was everybody’s buddy.” The consummate low-buck operator, Jones made-due with equipment that was often less than that of his competitors. He remained a popular figure at New England raceways long after his days behind the wheel were over. (Dan Pardi Collection Courtesy Tom Ormsby).                   

Lastly, we have a shot of New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member Chick Stockwell during the latter stages of his long brilliant career. From his Hall of Fame Biography; Charles “Chick” Stockwell began racing in 1949, driving his own cars throughout the northeast. Although Chick considers the Danbury Arena to be “home”, he was a regular competitor at Waterford, Thompson, Plainville, West Haven, and Stafford. He raced at Lime Rock, Springfield, and Westboro. Venturing outside New England, he has driven at Albany-Saratoga, Orange County, JFK Stadium, and Lebanon Valley. Stockwell showed his versatility as a race driver by competing on both dirt and asphalt, often 3 to 4 times in the same week. He won the 1957 Rhinebeck Track Championship, racing on dirt. He took down the United Grand American Late Model Sportsman Circuit Crown in 1963 and 1964. He won the "Most Popular Driver" award at Danbury for six consecutive years. (1976-1981). The award was sponsored by the Racearena Revue magazine, and over 17,000 fans cast votes for Chick, who says that the Most Popular Driver awards meant even more to him than his many feature wins. Stockwell is in the record book as the all-time total race winner at the arena, with 51 feature wins, 51 semi features, 77 heats, 26 consi victories, and 2 “B” wins, for a total of 207 Danbury Arena victories, while winning nine championships.Chick retired from racing in 1981, when they closed down the Danbury Arena. Looking back, he remembers his career as a satisfying time. “It was fun back then”, Chick says. “Everything was right out of the junkyard, where nowadays everything is bought. We got a junk, gutted it out, and went after it.” (Dan Pardi Collection Courtesy Tom Ormsby).  

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

 
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