Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday November 6, 2013


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By Dave Dykes                                                                            CLICK ON PHOTOS FOR FULL SIZE

We start this week by sending Get Well wishes to our close friend Bruce Cohen who was recently hospitalized. Long a popular figure on our region’s racing scene, Bruce presently serves as the Chairman of the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame Selection Committee. As of this writing, he’s home and on the mend. I’m sure that I speak for all of us in letting him know that we’re thinking of him and wishing him a speedy recovery! For the first-time since we’ve been running our little weekly riddle in the form of an “unknown driver” image, we’ve apparently got you folks stumped! Nary a word on the pilot of the #27 3-window coupe at Stafford last week, which is a big surprise. It’ll be interesting to see how you readers fare with this weeks “mystery racer” (another Stafford image). And with-that, don’t forget, this weekend on Sunday, November 10th drivers Stan Meserve, Brian Ross, Drew Fornoro, Ralph Nason, the late Bob Stefanik, Bill Eldridge and Bob Sharp and car owner Ron Berndt will be inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame at the Banquet Facility at Manelley’s in South Windsor, CT. Doors open at 11:00 a.m. with dinner served at Noon. More information is available on The New England Antique Racers/Auto Racers Hall of Fame website at www.near1.org  Till’ next time, have a great week! As-always, email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com

November Notations & Get Well Soon Bruce!!!

Shown here with a coupe typical of the early-days of modified stock car racing is the well-traveled Francis “Frankie” Blum. A Unionville, CT. native and World War II veteran, he competed at a myriad of tracks in the New England & New York regions, and was widely-considered one of the better drivers of the post-war era. Like many racers of his generation, he also dabbled in the open-wheel wars and was known to pilot a midget on occasion. A United Stock Car Racing Club stalwart, he was proficient on dirt and asphalt, and recorded victories at Agawam, Massachusetts’ much-missed Riverside Park Speedway, once the crown jewel of United. Frankie passed-away in 2001 at age-79, but not before leaving a lasting legacy in the annals of our region’s racing history.

Here’s a nice coupe-era image from Connecticut’s Stafford Springs Motor Speedway. As a charter member of the “Long Island Gang” Fred “The Flying Dutchman” Harbach was always one of the drivers to watch whether it was on his home-turf, or at the big invitational modified shows. Competing at venues from Maine to Florida, “Flying Freddie” got the job done in rigs like this timeless-looking coupe for over 4-decades and is part of a select group of drivers that took titles at all-3 Long Island tracks, Islip, Freeport, and Riverhead. He was also successful elsewhere, notching championships at New Jersey’s Wall Stadium, New Egypt and Old Bridge. His career total of feature wins is estimated at over 400. (Burnham Photo)

Captured here at Joe Tinty’s former Plainville Stadium during the early days of his career is our pal, Dave Alkas. An absolute powerhouse at late Connecticut facility, he later teamed with car owner Roland Cyr to notch 5 track championships in a 10-year period. Competing against notable Plainville alumni like Reggie Ruggiero, Stan Greger, and Ronnie Rocco, he routinely bested the field, notching eleven feature wins in one season-alone. He won regularly during those great Plainville mid-week 100-lap open competition shows, beating visitors like Ed Flemke, Sr., Ron and Ken Bouchard, Bob Stefanik, and the late Dick Watson. The most successful modified driver in Plainville Stadium history, Dave was inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 2008. Joe Tinty and Reggie Ruggiero are also members of the HOF. (Faust Photo).   

Like so-many of the racers from his generation, the late Maynard Forrette saw no boundaries in the difference between running on dirt or asphalt. A big winner on both, he’s probably most fondly-remembered for his stunning dirt-slingin’ drives on the daunting Syracuse Mile where during the later stages of his career, he often bested competitor’s half-his-age. A master mechanic and innovative car builder, Forrette also ran Northern Speed Supply, a haven for racers seeking to get the most out of their equipment. This shot captures the New York State Stock Car Association Hall of Famer following a dirt era feature victory at Connecticut’s Stafford Springs Motor Speedway. (Shany Photo).

Here at “Racing Through Time” we really value these portrait-shots as they’re extremely-difficult to locate. This one is a dandy! Hailing from nearby Salem, Connecticut, Lou Tetreault was the 1955 Speedbowl Non Ford champion, recording over 30 career victories in the once-popular support class. Additionally, he notched a modified win during the 1956 campaign. He was one of the true pioneers at what was then officially-known as the “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl due to its close proximity to the shoreline burg known as the “Whaling City.” (Shany Photo).     

And here we have a nice victory lane shot of the guy referenced-above during his championship-winning campaign of 1955. It was a scenario that between Saturday & Wednesday night racing, was repeated on 13 occasions that season. To say that Lou Tetreault was an absolute-powerhouse within the tough Non-Ford division that year would simply be an understatement. (Shany Photo).

Captured here on Riverside Park’s old 1/5-miler is 1951 track champion, Benny Germano. Once the flagship speedway of the all powerful Tattersall-governed United Stock Car Racing Club, Germano competed against the very-best in the business to garner his title. Names like Krebs, Tappett, Flemke, Maggiacamo, Dixon, & Humiston come-to-mind. It was indeed, a star-studded field each & every week. To win a United championship in 1951 meant accomplishing something truly-extraordinary. Before NASCARS’s infiltration of New England (which for all intents & purposes really began at Norwood Arena), UNITED was king in this region. Germano scored a career-total of 17 Riverside feature victories, the first in 1950, the final in 1959. (Shany Photo).

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 the Tattersall families United Stock Car Racing Club 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 racing circuit before switching to stock cars. This one sees the immensely-popular chauffer ready-to-roll at Joe Tinty’s Plainville Stadium in the 1960s. Both Sparky and Joe Tinty are members of the prestigious New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame, and Ronnie Berndt, the owner of this North End Auto Parts #54 will be inducted this weekend.(Faust Photo).

Here’s another New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member captured at Plainville Stadium in stunning color. Seen here is the late Tony Mordino, simply one of the best-of-the-best. 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 also conquered Riverside Park, another 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. (Faust Photo).       

Though he’s captured here posing next to his classic coupe at Plainville Stadium, it was another Connecticut oval where this driver really excelled. Built within the confines of a baseball stadium and adjacent to an amusement park, Bobby Black was a big winner at West Haven Speedway (aka Savin Rock), which began as a 1/5-mile dirt oval in 1935. Paved the next year, the track operated running primarily midgets until World War II intervened. During the post-war era, it became a hotbed of action for the Tattersall’s United Stock Car Racing Club, and remained a successful venue until shuttered in 1967, a victim of the nationwide Urban Renewal movement. (Hoyt Photo).  

Connecticut’s “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl held it’s first-ever official racing event on Sunday April 15, 1951 under the sanction of the United Stock Car Racing Club, and George Landry was in the starting field as captured here. Unlike today’s asphalt, the track surface was comprised of a mixture of native crushed bluestone, and proved to be quite problematic. Following only a trio of events, the facility was closed for paving with action resuming in May. A native of Woodbury, CT., Landry was the first-ever track champion at Plainville Stadium in 1949, and was also a multi-time feature winner at Riverside. One of the more-versatile racers of his era, in addition to his exploits in stock cars, he was an exceptional midget racer campaigning with both ARDC & NEMA. He also competed in the Eastern USAC Sprint Car division. (Shany Photo).

UNIDENTIFIED DRIVER OF THE WEEK: Lastly, we present another of the “Mystery Drivers” from our files. It’s again the Stafford Springs Motor Speedway of old, and it’s yet-another coach-bodied creation (a body-style that must have been popular at the storied Connecticut ½-mile haunt, as we have dozens of shots just like this one!). Have any idea of the identity of this early chauffer? If you do, drop us a line at foreveryounginct@gmail.com (Shany Photo).

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