Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday May 22, 2013


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Volume 5, Number 21                                                                                    New Column Every Wednesday

Updated 4-24-13


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By Dave Dykes                                                                            CLICK ON PHOTOS FOR FULL SIZE

We start this week’s edition of “RTT” on a sad note, as it was recently learned that early United Stock Car Racing Club champion Frank Belbusti passed-away on May 7th at age-85. Sincere condolences are extended to Frank’s family and many friends. And with-that, we’ll let this edition of “RTT” stir some more New England short track memories. As-always, special-thanks go to our Webmaster & old friend Tom Ormsby for making the publication of this site every week possible and adding his "Two Cents" this week, a video of the 1999 New England Auto Racers Hall of Fame Induction Banquet!  To all, have a great week! Remember, email is welcome, and always reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com

Another Wednesday In The Books….

Here’s a nice early-50s-era image of a young Frank Belbusti in victory lane at Connecticut’s former West Haven Speedway. A United Stock Car Racing Club-sanctioned tight fifth-miler, the track was on the grounds of the old Savin Rock amusement park. Frank, who passed-away on May 7th at age-85, was a United circuit and West Haven Speedway champion during that track’s ultra-competitive heyday. Our sincere condolences are offered to the entire Belbusti family and Frank’s many friends on this somber occasion. (Shany Photo).

He was one of the more popular & enduring figures during the early days at the Connecticut shoreline’s “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl. Captured here celebrating one of his many triumphs in the Robert "Slim" Ross #222 is the late Joe McNulty. Widely-recognized by racing historians as one of the region’s most underrated drivers, he was a top modified racer of the 1950s & 60s. “Joe Mac” recorded victories at a variety of the region’s speedplants, and was particularly-proficient at the ‘Bowl where he claimed a career-total of 16 modified division feature triumphs. Also in the shot is Waterford starter Loren Card who was a celebrity in his own-right as an early flagman. Special thanks go out to our friend John Divis for unearthing this treasure! (Shany Photo Courtesy John Divis via Pete Zanardi).

His racing roots tracing back to the rough n’ tumble tarmac of Plainville Stadium where he’s captured here following a 70s-era triumph in Ronnie Berndt’s Vega, Stan “Stash” Greger parlayed a modest start into one of the most-stellar careers in all of New England modified racing. After conquering his home-turf, it was on to the ultra-competitive Riverside Park in Agawam where he’d eventually record a trio of championships and nearly forty feature wins. Greger remains perhaps one of the most-underrated drivers in our region, a winning history garnered during what many railbirds still consider to be our segment of the sport’s most-competitive period. (Phil Hoyt Photo).

We admittedly don’t know a lot about driver Bob Steadman, but the results show that he was always in the thick-of-the-action in 60s-era competition at Connecticut’s “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl. Seen here with his crew at the shoreline oval flanking their nifty #58 sedan, it’s obvious the guys ran a clean-operation when other cars of the era could look a bit on the ragged-side. Coaches always seem to be popular fare at the ‘Bowl! (Rene Dugas Photo).

Seen here during the 1970s at Massachusetts’ former (& much-missed), Riverside Park Speedway is our friend, New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member Ray Miller. Still a winner today within the ranks of the USAC Dirt Midget division, he grew-up around race cars, his father pairing 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 1940s and 50s. Ray started his career at Plainville Stadium in 1965 before progressing to NASCAR haunts like Stafford and Thompson. He was a winning driver at the highest-echelon of New England Modified racing for many seasons. This shot captures him behind the controls of the familiar Mike Greci-owned Vega. Ray is the dad of the late Jay Miller, an accomplished and very-popular young SK modified driver who left-us much too-soon. (Shany Photo).

We just love these old UNITED shots, and this one’s a dandy! One of the real chargers when Harvey Tattersall’s once influential United Stock Car Racing Club ruled the New England modified roost rather than NASCAR, Tommy Sutcliffe enjoyed a long-reign at the front of the pack. Twice a champion at Connecticut’s late West Haven Speedway (as captured here), he was a top competitor all over our region for decades winning a boatload of features. This one shows the guy nicknamed “Suitcase Sutcliffe” (for reasons unknown to this scribe), during the height of his lengthy career. (Shany Photo).

Seen here on the left early during his career the late Keith Armbrust drove for a number of seasons at Connecticut’s Waterford Speedbowl recording a singular modified victory on September 19, 1966 beating Walt Dombrowski & Newt Palm to the checkers. Keith was a close associate of multi-time Speedbowl modified champion the late George “Moose” Hewitt early-on, along with guys like the Craig Kirchoff (who later owned cars campaigned by both Moose, and Gordon Page), and of-course, George Brennan who was there all of the championship years. (Dugas Photo).

Connecticut’s former Plainville Stadium could be a tough-joint. Though it was only a ¼-miler and basically-flat, the competition was always very-close and it could produce some epic action. Among the drivers involved in this little snafu during the early-70s at “Tinty’s Place” are our friend Don Moon who was chauffeuring his familiar #9 coupe, and that’s  Nicky Porto’s #69. Think the competitors look a bit animated in this one? (Phil Hoyt Photo).

Classic driver, classic car….. Seen here at the “New London-Waterford” Spedbowl of the 1960s behind the wheel of Freddy Beaber’s famed checkerboard #716 is the late Charlie Webster. This racer was one of the guys that literally helped put Waterford on the map. Amassing a career total of seventy-three feature victories in both Non-Ford and modified competition, he was a champion in both classes (3 Non-Ford titles, and 1 modified crown). He retired at the dawn of the 1970s while still very-much in his prime. (Shany Photo).

As-stated previously, the former Plainville Stadium may have only have been a ¼-miler, but as this early-70s photo illustrates, the joint produced some simply-awesome racing! Among those seen here taking-it 3-wide on the backchute of “Tinty’s Place” are Elton Hill in the Farone #43, New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer Dave Alkas in his Roland Cyr-owned #54 coach, Nicky Porto in the #69 coach, and captured just coming into the frame on the right is another Hall of Famer, a young Reggie Ruggiero piloting his self-owned #59 coupe. (Phil Hoyt Photo).

BONUS SHOT: Captured here pitside at Connecticut’s historically-rich Thompson Motor Speedway is one Nels Wohlstrom. A graduate of the Waterford Speedbowl’s old Sportsman Sedan ranks and one of the modified division’s true “Gentleman Racers,” Nels recorded many a fine finish wheeling this radical ex-Mike Beebe Pinto throughout the 1970s. Note the yellow “Rubber Ducky” on the roof. It was a lighthearted trademark feature on all of his modifieds….(Dugas Photo).



1999 New England Auto Racers Hall of Fame Induction Banquet



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