Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday November 9, 2011

 Volume 3, Number 43                                                                                     New Column Every Wednesday


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By Dave Dykes                                                                              CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE

This week we present another very-varied assortment from three popular Connecticut ovals plus one from Massachusetts’ Riverside Park. Don’t-forget, coming-up this weekend on Saturday evening is the annual NEAR movie party to be held at the Dante Club in West Springfield, Massachusetts. For more information on the event, log-on to www.near1.com Until next-time, have a great week! Email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com                

Waterford, Plainville, Stafford, (And One From Riverside) ...     

Pictured here at Connecticut’s “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl during the early days of the Daredevil class (and immensely-popular support division started in the 1960s), is one Roger Charbonneau. Among the more accomplished racers in a class that seemed to be made-up of a sea of “Tri-Five” Chevy’s & Fords, Roger scored a career total of 8 feature victories within full-bodied at the track affectionately-known as the “shoreline oval.” (Shany photo, courtesy Bobby Lee).             

Here’s another great photo taken through the lens of our pal & former Plainville Stadium Official Track Photographer, Phil Hoyt. Seen here behind the controls of an-absolutely neat coupe is Bob Vivari, track champion and big-winner at Joe Tinty’s much-missed Nutmeg State ¼-miler for many seasons. Bob remained one of the best at Plainville right-up until its untimely closure at the dawn of the 1980s. (Phil Hoyt photo)                

This is an early-70s shot that will certainly stir the memories of those who miss the late, great Riverside Park Speedway in Agawam, Massachusetts. Pictured from left-to-right are legendary New England car owner Mario Fiore, driver the late Gary Colturi, and chief mechanic Jay (Nutsy) Hundley. 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. Teamed with Fiore, he piloted this Pinto (dubbed “The Screaming Yellow Zonker”), to much-success during his short but stellar career. Reggie Ruggerio landed the ride after Gary’s passing, and the rest is history. Both Fiore and Ruggerio are slated for induction into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame early next year. (Frank Faulkner photo courtesy Steve Kennedy).     

Action shots simply don’t get any better; all the planets must have been aligned-perfectly when Chris Hawkins snapped the shutter on this one. Seen here in- motion at Connecticut’s Stafford Springs Motor Speedway is the legendary Ollie Silva. For a generation of New England racing fans, watching this man compete in either a Super or a Modified was in-itself, worth the cost of an admission ticket. Though he staged a brief comeback in 1980, his career effectively ended in 1978 following a devastating crash at New Hampshire’s Monadnock Speedway that resulted in life-threatening injuries. Silva, the pioneering star of the New England Super Modified Racing Association and a member of the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame quietly passed-away of natural causes in 2004 at age-75. (Chris Hawkins photo).

For this scribe, there was always a certain “mystique” surrounding Connecticut’s Plainville Stadium and my interest in the history of the track remains high. “Tinty’s Place” always seemed to operate a bit out of the limelight not unlike its upstate cousin, the “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl. There were many similarities shared between the two; both had reputations as being tough tracks to master – grabbing a feature at either was never an easy task considering the colorful group of “regulars” each track laid claim-to. Here’s another great early 70s image courtesy of Steve Kennedy. That’s the great Reggie Ruggerio in his own #59, and in the #6 is Plainville crowd-favorite Warren “Elmer” Lee. This shot brings-back a lot of memories of some of my first trips to Plainville. (Steve Kennedy photo).     

Pictured here with one of his earliest open-wheel rides, Mike Beebe remained a faithful Waterford Speedbowl Modified competitor for ages. His winning career spanned a period that saw great technological strides in the sport. While it all started during the much-heralded “Coupe Era” his run as a top Modified chauffer concluded in an age of “store-bought” chassis, ultra high-dollar motors, and contemporary tin-work. He remained a class-act and a threat to win right-up until his retirement from the division. More recently, he’s been involved in Legends racing. This neat yellow Mustang-bodied mount remains one of the most fondly-recalled rides of Beebe’s career. (Photo courtesy Steve Kennedy).                  

We never tire of running images of this driver as his career was a fascinating story in-itself, though somewhat tinged with sadness. Sparky Belmont (real name Michael Belmonte), was a Plainville track champion, and a big star on Harvey Tattersall’s UNITED circuit. After a convincing victory in a 100-lap contest at Plainville in 1968, he collapsed during the post race celebration, and passed-away on the spot. “Sparky” had been a star on the post war Midget circuit before switching to stock cars. This one sees the immensely-popular chauffer ready-to-roll at Connecticut’s “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl of the 1950s. (Shany photo courtesy of Rich Belmonte).              

Though Connecticut’s Plainville Stadium was only a ¼-miler, it was a tough joint to negotiate and when the snarling modifieds took to the track, it could get a bit dicey even for the most-talented of regulars. Seen here following a typical Saturday night “mix-up” at “Tinty’s Place” are the cars of Bob Vivari, Bob McKenna, and Don Moon (seen exiting his Pinto). Take my word for-it when I tell you that these 3-guys were some of the best-ever at Plainville…. (Hoyt Photo)

The Berndt family has a LONG history in New England modified racing, their “North End Auto Parts” cars having been driven by some of the best in the business for decades at virtually every track in the region. This nice Rene Dugas image captures one of the team’s familiar Vega-bodied entries at the Waterford Speedbowl in the mid-1970s. We’re not sure, but we think it’s either Timmy or Tommy Berndt at the wheel. (Rene Dugas photo)                          

Captured here in the early-70s at the Waterford Speedbowl behind the controls of a Roger Bonville big-block coupe is our friend New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer, Bob Potter. The ultra-popular Taftville, CT. native started his career at shoreline oval in 1962 behind the controls of a Bomber class entry. Never officially retired, he went-on to win multiple Modified championships at Waterford (where alone, he claimed close to 100 career victories), Thompson, and Stafford. (Shany photo).     

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

 
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