Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday November 20, 2013
   

 

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By Dave Dykes                                                                              CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE

This week we’ll keep the opening comments short & sweet, letting you weekly visitors get to this edition’s featured stars a bit sooner than usual. We’d like to send former Plainville Stadium modified star Elliott Beveridge Get-Well wishes. Elliot, who’s been featured here several times, is presently undergoing some serious health issues and I’m sure that I speak for all of us in wishing him a swift & complete recovery. Till’ next time, have a great week! As-always, email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com

More November Notables (Vintage Style!!!)….

First on the slate this week, we present a wonderful image of New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member, the late Bobby Santos Sr. From our friend John Bisci and used with his permission, this one finds Santos behind the controls of fellow Hall of Fame member Art Barry’s legendary #909 coupe. Profile shots like this are extremely difficult to find, and this one is absolutely-extraordinary! (John Bisci Collection)

The late Moe Gherzi was one of New England’s first real racing heroes. Captured here in the 1950s at Connecticut’s “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl posing with a young fan (note the child’s “Money Bags Moe” Racing Team t-shirt), he was a pivotal figure in the success of stock car racing’s beginnings during the post-war era. From his New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame biography; “Nicknamed “Moneybags” for his knack in capturing some of the highest-paying events of the day, he bought to racing a degree of class during a time when the disheveled look of tattered t-shits and jeans were often the norm in the way of driver “uniforms.”  With his fancy silk shirts, and requisite “victory salute” following each feature win, he was the consummate showman and goodwill ambassador for a segment of the sport still in its infancy and seeking legitimacy.” Following his retirement as a driver, he became the longtime Racing Director at Joe Tinty’s Plainville Stadium, another Nutmeg State oval. Deservedly, Moe became a member of the HOF in 2012.  (Photographer Unknown).

And here’s another great image from our friend, New York State Racing Historian & frequent “RTT” contributor, Roger Liller. As-always, we’ll let him provide the commentary; “After seeing the photo of George Landry in your recent installment of “RTT” I dug out this great McDowell photo by Les King taken of him at Rhinebeck, New York during the USC days of the early early-50s. Hot flatheads were the specialty of the house in those days, and the one under George's hood looks the part. Indeed, it carried him to 4 feature victories at the tight fifth-mile oval, good enough to earn him 10th place in all time feature wins although in a 5-way tie. Racing was very competitive at Rhinebeck with 19 drivers in the top 10 all-time slots.” (McDowell Photo By Les King Courtesy Roger Liller)  

No, it’s not a Conga-Line, its typical 3-wide Speedbowl action during the waning years of the shoreline oval’s much-heralded “coupe era.” Jerry Glaude in Freddy Beabers’s checkerboard #716 looks to be trying to get out of town as a fast-approaching Glynn Shafer in the #6, a crossed-up Walt Dombrowski in the L&M,  Jiggs Beetham piloting his “Golden Hurricane #18, Dave Spence #206, and NEAR Hall of Famers Bob Potter #110 & Dick Watson #21 follow. Wonder how the featured ended-up that night? (Shany Photo).

Seen here during those heady racing days of the 1960s is the great Donald “Dutch” Hoag. His roots tracing back to the old Naples, Speedway in New York State where he bought an old coupe from a friend, readied-it for racing, and pulled it to the track with a chain, Hoag went-on to become a 5-time Langhorne National Open winner. His influence on fellow racers was widespread. For instance, Geoff Bodine’s first taste of Modified driving came in Dutch Hoag's car at Shangri-La Speedway, when Hoag let him try it in a practice session. Bodine worked on Dutch Hoag's crew in 1968 and 1969. In the 1969 Race of Champions, Bodine handed the wrong tire over the wall during a pit stop. This was a time when modifieds ran very different tire sizes among the four corners, so Hoag had to make an extra pit stop loosing his chance at a second-consecutive victory. Bodine later make his teacher proud, winning the first Race of Champions after it was moved from Langhorne to Trenton in 1972. Hoag is an inductee of several Hall of Fames, including the DIRT Motorsports Hall of Fame, the New York State Stock Car Association Hall of Fame and the FOAR Score Hall of Fame. (Grady Photo). 

This one’s for you, Peg…  Here’s a nice trackside shot from 1971 of 4-time Speedbowl Modified Champion, Dick Dunn. Owned by our friends Peg & her husband, the late & much-missed Al “Buddha” Gaudreau, Dunn reigned supreme during the early-1970s with this rig which was appropriately christened the “Buddha’s Bullet.” 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. Note that this image shows the “Bullet” before the team adopted the distinctive two-tone blue & silver paint scheme that became their trademark. (Shany Photo).

Yeah, yeah, we know we run a lot of shots of this guy, but he was one of our earliest of racing heroes, and he still fits in that “hero category” for us today. And besides, is there a “RTT” reader out there that doesn’t like seeing Riverside Park photos of Billy “Gramps” Greco? From his New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame biography; Billy Greco’s first race car was a Dodge 6 cyl. powered car, running in the Non-Ford division at West Haven. He debuted in the #1147, but the number was shortened to 147 at the urging of track announcer Tom Galon, who said that the number took too-long to repeat. The following year, the number was changed again, this time to K9, because, according to Greco, “The car was a dog.” Greco began racing in 1951, and established himself in the sport early on, by taking track championships at West Haven in 1955, and again in ’56 and ’58. He won Saturday night championships at Riverside Park in 1965 and 67, and also took down several Tuesday night track championships at The Park. His combined feature win total at Riverside is 68 including five 500 lap team races. Billy’s success was not limited to just driving for Harvey Tattersall’s United Stock Car Club. He was a charter member for the All Star Racing league and had success on both dirt and asphalt. In the late sixties he tried his hand with NASCAR. Later in his career he was allowed to join NYSSCRA and he raced at the Danbury Racearena. With so many wins and so many championships, it’s hard to single any one out as being a highlight, according to Greco.” (Shany Photo).        

Pictured here pitside with a cut-down entry typical of the earliest days of Connecticut’s “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl is local driver, Joe Couillard. A fixture at the shoreline oval, Joe became a member of the racing staff after his days as a driver concluded. Very-personable, he was well-liked by both his fellow competitors and the fans. He remained an integral part of the scene at the shoreline for many seasons. (Photographer Unknown).

Simply a classic shot harkening-back to the “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl’s true glory days of the 1950s. Captured here ready-to-roll before a packed grandstand is Ray Moran. He was quite a shoe, having scored a total of 18 feature victories in both modified & Non-Ford competition between 1954 and 1960. A fondly-recalled crowd favorite, he was voted one of the Speedbowl’s “50 Favorite Drivers” in 2000 during the track’s 50th Anniversary celebration. We just really like this photo! (Shany Photo).             

By the mid-1970s, pre-war tinwork was much-less prevalent on the New England modified circuit; it was a tough-sell for racing traditionalists such as yours-truly. A mass movement to the contemporary stylings of Detroit’s current subcompact offerings was in full-swing. One of the major players in this “modernization” (besides the Ford Pinto of-course), was Chevrolet’s little Vega. Though it made for a street car of dubious distinction with various quality issues and recalls during its 1970-77 production run, this action shot of Jerry Pearl at Waterford in 1977 clearly illustrates that the Vega looked good as a modified! Now retired, Jerry was the Speedbowl’s 1993 modified champion, and his son Jeff claimed the crown in 1998. (Steve Kennedy Photo).

UNKNOWN DRIVER #1: Here we go-again with a couple of mysteries for you veteran New England race fans to try & figure-out. This week’s offering are from Connecticut’s “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl of the 1960s. Seen here seated behind the controls of a modified coupe typical of the era is….? (Shany Photo).

UNKNOWN DRIVER #2; Moving-on, up second this week is what looks to be a Bomber class entry. Kind of a neat shot in the fact that the driver is posing outside of his racer during what looks to be a break in the action. As-always, if you think you know the identity of either of these early chauffeurs, don’t hesitate to email us your findings at foreveryounginct@gmail.com. (Shany Photo).

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

 
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