Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday May 29, 2013


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Volume 5, Number 22                                                                                    New Column Every Wednesday

Updated 4-24-13


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By Dave Dykes                                                                            CLICK ON PHOTOS FOR FULL SIZE

This time-around we present a little bit of everything ranging from coupes, to some later stuff for you “younger” readers. Extra-special thanks go-out to our contributors to this week’s installment including Bob Ellis, Roger Liller, R.A. Silva, and JoJo Farone for providing the variety. And of-course, Mr. Ormsby can’t be forgotten for getting this thing up & loaded to the cyberwaves every Wednesday! Till’ next time, have a great week! Email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com

It’s Wednesday Again…..

Seen here celebrating a victory at Connecticut’s former (and greatly-missed), Danbury Fair Racarena is a young Daniel Duncan “Rebel” Harris. The year is 1954, and the car was owned by Don Hibeck of Georgetown, CT. Originally hailing from South Carolina, Harris was a big winner in the Northeast before meeting his untimely demise at the old Onteora Speedway in Olive Bridge, New Jersey on June 21, 1963. According to newspaper reports of the day, his car flipped end-over-end several times going into the first-turn on lap-1 of the 25-lap main event. He was ejected from his coupe in mid-flight, succumbing to his injuries at nearby Kingston Hospital only 15 min. after arrival. While it’s perhaps no-more than a racing “urban legend” there are those that to this-day blame Rebel’s death on his reluctance to wear a racing harness. Many thanks to our friends Bob Ellis and Roger Liller for this great image! (Bob Ellis Collection Via Roger Liller).

Here’s another classic image from the files of our pal, racing historian Roger Liller. We’ll let him provide the details; “This is Dick Hansen who was a formidable driver around the dirt tracks of NY State. He started his career at Rhinebeck and raced Pine Bowl, Onteora, Mid-State, and Lebanon Valley. I saw him win a track championship at Lebanon Valley in the early- eighties. He was good friends with Ed Ryan and raced Accord for many years. He was inducted into the N. Y. State Stock Car Hall of fame at Saratoga year before last. Still wiry as ever, today he runs a heavy equipment business in his home town of Red Hook, New York.” As a side note, if you ever want to know even-more about Hansen’s career, talk to our friend Lew Boyd of Coastal 181 Publishing as they were good buddies during their racing careers…. (Roger Liller Collection).

Here’s yet one-more from Bob Ellis via Mr. Liller. He states about this one; “This is DD “Rebel” Harris in Joey Lawrence's #AAA leading the #17 Hudson of Ernie Beemer at Onteora. The #AAA was supercharged and really moved-along. As you know, Rebel succumbed to injuries after being ejected from this car at this track in 1963. He had a promising career ahead of him having raced at Langhorne. At Accord a few years-ago I met Red Davis, the fellow who later bought the #AAA He re-painted it and re-numbered it #82, but didn't have much luck.” (Bob Ellis Collection Via Roger Liller).

Starting during the emerging popularity of stock cars in the post-war era, it’s estimated that new England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member the late, great “Steady Eddie” Flemke won over 500 feature events during a career which spanned 3-decades. Along the way, he helped many young drivers get their starts, including Daytona 500 winner Pete Hamilton, and Indy 500 veteran Dennis Zimmerman (also Hall of Famers). As an expert car builder, he designed the “Flemke Front End” a chassis component that remained the standard in modified construction for years. This one captures Eddie at Massachusetts’ Seekonk Speedway during the twilight of his brilliant career when he was wheeling the potent Manchester Sand & Gravel Pinto. (R.A. Silvia Collection).

This one remains a personal favorite of yours-truly, as I was a huge fan of this driver when I was growing-up around my home track, Connecticut’s “New London-Waterford” (as it was called-then), Speedbowl. Seen here during the early 70s behind the wheel of the late Dick Duff’s radical Rambler American bodied-creation, the late “Wild Bill” Scrivener had burst upon the shoreline oval scene in the 1960s quickly becoming one of biggest stars of the then immensely-popular Bomber division where he became a champion. Later advancing to the headlining modifieds, he continued to frequent victory lane on a regular basis, scoring his final main event on Easter Sunday of 1974. (Clint Lawton Photo).

Captured here celebrating a feature win at Massachusetts’ Seekonk Speedway is none-other than the “Travelin' Man” himself, Peter Fiandaca. Doing “more-with-less” was a way of life during his modified career, and geographically-speaking, few traveled-more than Fiandaca and his often 1-man show as he criss-crossed New England on a weekly-basis racing at every opportunity. A legendary “Little Guy” that excelled during an era when big-money had become a factor in the sport, “Petah” is a very-deserving member of the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame. (R.A. Silvia Collection).

This guy was both a top competitor at the “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl and also a trendsetter in defining the “look” of modified stock cars in the years following the coupe-era. Seen here at the controls of one of the late Norm Kies potent creations is Seabury Tripler. Along with talented fabricator the late Owen Bowen, “Trip” introduced New England’s first-ever Pinto-bodied Modified at Waterford on opening day of 1971. The event scantly pre-dated NEAR Hall of Famer Bob Judkins’ debut of his Pinto, which became the first NASCAR-legal mount sporting the then-new Ford subcompact tinwork. (Shany Photo).

Seen here at Seekonk Speedway in the late-70s when he was wheeling the Tom Dunn #T-5 is Fred Schulz. Kind of a modern-day “coach” a few modified car builders of the era took to using 2-door wagon versions of both the Ford Pinto and the Chevy Vega. This was one of the more significant of those entries, as the Dunn team was quite-successful. Always considered one of the drivers to beat wherever he competed, Fred’s career ran the gamut from the days of the notoriously dangerous “Cut-Downs” to more contemporary mounts like the Dunn creation. He won just about everywhere in New England and truly was one of the pioneers of the sport in this region. (R.A. Silvia Collection).

It’s just before the start of the Sportsman feature on Saturday evening August 21, 1954 at Connecticut’s “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl, and John "Jack" Griffin is all-smiles while posing for track photographer Shany Lorenzent. Sadly, things would go tragically-wrong just a scant few minutes after this shot was captured. During a particularly-messy event that had already experienced two red flag periods, Griffin swerved in trying to avoid a wreck, but clipped the wheel of another competitor and violently rolled-over several times. Sadly, he died of his injuries in the early hours of the next day at Lawrence & Memorial Hospital in New London, CT.  The tragedy (the singular fatality in the history of the Speedbowl), effectively ended the “cutdown era” at the shoreline oval, with a return to the full-coupes for the 1955 season. Griffin, who was a close associate of our friend New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member George Summers, was a WWII veteran serving as an air corps crew chief at Westover, MA. air base, and also at Grenier Field in Manchester, NH. Raised in Massachusetts, he had moved to Groton, CT. shortly before his death to work as a burner at the Electric Boat Shipyard. He was an experienced competitor, having achieved good results racing in Massachusetts, including a track championship at Westboro Speedway in 1949 and also many victories campaigning throughout the East Coast and Canada. (Shany Photo Courtesy R.A. Silvia).

A final entry from Seekonk…. As seen-here, when a young upstart by the name of Geoff Bodine from New York State teamed with well-heeled car owner the late Dick Armstrong and his “Nu-Style Jewelry Team” in the late-70s, the New England modified racing hierarchy had little choice in taking notice. Once the “Big Red #1” machine started rolling, it got pretty brutal. The guy won & won and kept winning. Truthfully, he was already a very-well accomplished racer by the time the deal was inked for him to maintain and drive Armstrong’s stable of high-end equipment. Bodine is a member of the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame. (R.A. Silvia Collection).

BONUS SHOT: In the days before NASCAR gained a presence in New England, it was the Tattersall family’s United Stock Car Racing Club that reigned-supreme. One of the organizations earliest stars was “Moneybags” Moe Gherzi. He’s seen here celebrating an early-50s victory at Massachusetts’ former Riverside Park Speedway flanked by (left-to-right), United’s Harvey Tattersall Jr., car owner Rich Garuti, and starter Al Parent. Gherzi, Garuti, and Tattersall are all members of the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame. (Shany Photo Courtesy JoJo Farone).

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