Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday October 20, 2010

 Volume 2, Number 39                                                                                      New Column Every Wednesday


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By Dave Dykes                                                                              CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE

First-off, congratulations to all of this years New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame inductees,
drivers Punky Caron, Dan Meservey, Russ Nutting and Jerry Dolliver, car owners Rich & Ray Garuti, Stanley “Skip” Matczak, Vic Kangas, and Speedway Scene publisher Val Lesieur. Further details on the HOF induction ceremony can be found at www.near1.com  As-always, please enjoy this week’s offerings from the “RTT” archives! Email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com         

Yet Another Trip Down Memory Lane….       

The track is Connecticut’s “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl of the 1950s, and the driver is New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer, George Lombardo. A winner all over New England during what would be today considered a relatively-brief career, he recorded a number of Modified feature victories at the shoreline oval, and was particularly-tough at the late Plainville Stadium where he was twice a track champion. To the delight of his many friends & fans, George was present at that tracks recent reunion. (Shany Photo)

He was known as “Gentleman Dick” Watson and in later years, simply as the “Silver Fox”. The late Dick Watson was one of the most-respected drivers of his era. A fellow competitor that raced against Watson during his heyday once stated that “He was a driver that you could run with lap-after-lap. You simply never had to worry about him doing something that would get the both of you in-trouble.” This image captures Watson during the 1965 season in the Bob Garbarino-owned “Mystic Missile” at Waterford. That year, the team captured the Connecticut Modified Championship before moving-on to success within the NASCAR circuit. Watson was inducted into the prestigious New England Auto Racing Hall Of Fame in 2003. (Shany Photo).    

Seen here in what was known as a “Cut-Down”, the late “Moneybags” Moe Gherzi was one of the guys defined our sport during its infancy. Already an established star when this shot was captured in the lens of Shany Lorenzent, he was one of the most-prolific winners in early “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl action. Often nattily-attired on race night, Moe bought a degree of class to the sport when greasy t-shirts seemed the norm. He earned his nickname via a penchant for claiming some of the biggest purses of the era. After vacating the driver’s seat, Gherzi served a long residency as the Race Director at the late Plainville Stadium. (Shany Photo, Mal Phillips Collection).            

Moe Gherzi was also a winner at other New England tracks as this great shot from Connecticut’s Thompson Motor Speedway illustrates. That’s the late Harvey Tattersall Jr. of the United Stock Car Racing Club (once much-more powerful in New England than NASCAR), on the left next to Moe. We’re not-sure who the other two gentlemen are. (Shany Photo, Mal Phillips Collection).  

Another early “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl shot, seen here behind the controls of what was certainly a colorful entry is Bill Coon. Note that this car has been sectioned up-the-middle. The “Cut Downs” were notoriously light and a whole-bunch of dangerous. Waterford’s only fatality occurred during this era when Jack Griffin perished during the 1954 season. (Shany Photo, Mal Phillips Collection).  

Here’s our pal, New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member, “Wild Bill” Slater at the Speedbowl during his heyday as the chauffer of the potent Vitari-Bombaci (also Hall of Famers), coupe. For a time, the team abandoned their signature black color in favor of white as seen-here. Slater was simply one of the best racers to have ever emerged from New England, period. When he retired from driving, he stayed involved with the sport for many seasons as a respected official at both the Thompson & Stafford Speedways. (Shany Photo, Mal Phillips Collection).         

It’s the 1965 season, and the late Ray Delisle (far left), and the Simons 9 crew have just captured another dirt victory at what looks to be Lebanon Valley Speedway. Delisle enjoyed a long and successful run in racing, but it was not without a few rough-spots along the way. Felled by serious injuries sustained in a Waterford Speedbowl crash when his Coupe was hit from-behind and the old-style “jerry can” fuel tank erupted in-flames, he endured a long, painful recovery before returning to the game. In 1964, his career reached its zenith when he waltzed-away with the Speedbowl Modified title driving for this team. (Photographer Unknown).

Here we have an early-career shot of Danbury Fair Racearena standout, Billy Boo. Ranked 14th on the Danbury all-time winners list, he was a routine winner and considered one of the drivers to beat during his long career. Sadly, the much-missed Connecticut third-miler closed at the conclusion of the 1981 season. A highly-successful venue, Danbury routinely drew capacity crowds and offered one of the highest weekly short track purses in the nation. Part of Danbury’s appeal was the cars; the track enforced an “appearance policy” that dictated teams keep their machinery looking tip-top. (Mannion Photo)                   

Yet-another of many victory lane shots of our friend Bob Potter that we have on file. A New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member and the guy still known at the Waterford Speedbowl as “The Master of the Modifieds”, to say he was good is an understatement. Bob’s ultra-smooth style behind the wheel garnered him hundreds of feature victories and multiple championships at Waterford, Stafford, and Thompson. This image captures a young Bob when he was winning for celebrated Speedbowl car owner Freddy Beaber of “Checkerboard #716” fame. (Shany Photo).        

Built within the confines of a baseball stadium and adjacent to an amusement park, Connecticut’s West Haven Speedway (aka Savin Rock), started out 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. Captured here is a frequent winner at “The Rock”, George Rzeszutek. In later years, he became a star driver of the Southern New York Racing Association at the Danbury Fair Racearena. (Herb Todd Photo).     

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

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