Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday October 27, 2010

 Volume 2, Number 40                                                                                      New Column Every Wednesday


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By Dave Dykes                                                                              CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE


First-off, a big HAPPY BIRTHDAY! goes out to our Webmaster Tom Ormsby who turned another lap on Tuesday. Also, our pal NEAR Hall of Famer Billy Harman entered the hospital for surgery last Friday, and is currently on the mend. Cards of cheer reach him at Billy Harman, 14 Bay In The Wood, Port Orange, FL. 32129-2302. As-always, enjoy these weeks’ offerings from the “RTT” archives! Email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com  
        

Seekonk, Waterford, Stafford Dirt, NEMA, etc….       

Captured here in 1978 is the Northeastern Midget Association (NEMA), team of the Kibbe family. Popular Joey Coy (center) was the driver that year. The Kibbe name remains a familiar one within NEMA today with Carl (right), still turning-wrenches on winning entries. Aficionados of Connecticut’s Waterford Speedbowl may recall the now-retired Don Kibbe as being a winning Modified driver at the shoreline oval. (Photo courtesy Pete Zanardi).  

Seen here celebrating a victory at Seekonk, Massachusetts in 1970 (AKA the Cement Palace), is a young Ronnie Bouchard, New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer and winner of the 1981 Talladega 500 in his rookie-year in the NASCAR big-leagues. Nicknamed “The Kid from Fitchburg”, he started his career at the old Brookline New Hampshire Speedway as a fourteen year-old. From there, it was onto success at all of the top Modified haunts, places like The Konk’, Stafford, Thompson, Waterford, etc. Bouchard concluded his storybook auto racing career in the late-80s, returning to his native New England where he today runs an ultra-successful chain of auto dealerships. (Mercury Photo)   

Pictured here in another 70s-era Seekonk shot is New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member George Summers. As the most-winning driver in the history of the Massachusetts oval, he visited victory lane on over one-hundred occasions. Summers was actually one of the top-drivers in all of New England, enjoying a career that lasted over three-decades. Fittingly, he won the last event he entered before retiring, taking–down the 1983 Thompson World Series Modified event driving for fellow Hall of Famer, legendary car owner Art Barry. (Mercury Photo).             

And here’s another image from the “Seekonk Files.” Looking poised for an evening at the front of the pack is Jon Astle during his 70’s-heydey as an American Racing Club standout. A member of a racing brood that also included Deke & Fred, this family accounts for a LOT of victories in the history of the “Cement Palace”. It’s a tradition that continues today as another generation of Astle family racers continue to be among the best at the Massachusetts 1/3-miler that’s been in continuous operation since May 30, 1946. (Mercury Photo)

The popular Ed Hoyle was long one of the top racers at Seekonk and a very-frequent visitor to victory lane for decades. This one sees him grabbing the checkers during the early 1970s behind the controls of a FORD-powered entry. Seekonk’s Modifieds of the 1970’s were unique-looking compared to the rest of the New England region with a” full-fender” style being the norm at the “Cement Palace.” (Mercury Photo).   

Here’s an early shot of New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member Billy Harman celebrating one of his early victories at the “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl as the driver of the fabled “L&M” coupe. That’s a smiling “Little Bill” (as he was called-then), in the background. Sharing the spotlight with the trophy-yielding young ladies is Anthony Albino, a local businessman who was among the first owners of the shoreline oval. (Shany Photo, Harman Collection).        

Seen here on the old dirt surface of the Stafford Springs Motor Speedway of the 1950s in the famed “Suffield 5” is Gene Bergin who like the aforementioned Harman, is a member of the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame. From his HOF biography; Gene Bergin began and ended his career at the Stafford Motor Speedway. He qualified in the first race he entered but was disqualified when it was learned he was only 17 years old in 1949. He returned when he was of age to start a 29 year career competing and winning at all the southern New England race tracks. He was always a hard charger either on dirt or asphalt. He won the 1962 Riverside Park championship and the 1967 Stafford Motor Speedway championship in 67, the first year it was paved. One of his most significant wins was the 1971 Stafford 200. He started on the pole and led every lap to win in Bob Judkins 2X, the first ever NASCAR-legal Pinto-bodied modified. Other career highlights include winning an All Star race at Wall Stadium, and winning the Trenton qualifier at Thompson. Bergin was runner-up at the 1972 Race of Champions in Trenton. In addition to the 2X, he was mostly identified with driving Bebe Zalinski’s M6. Gene is presently suffering some very-serious health issues, and could use a little cheering-up from his many racing friends. Mail reaches him at Eugene Bergin, c/o Avante, 170 North Old Kings Road, Ormond Beach, FL 32174. (Shany Photo).  

 This shot captured in the lens of our pal and racing photographer extraordinaire Steve Kennedy shows a young Mark LaJeunesse, one of the top Modified drivers at the Waterford Speedbowl for over 3-decades. The year is 1979, and the team’s primary car was a self-built (as-always), Vega-bodied creation crafted at their shop in Norwich, CT. In addition to scoring many feature victories in the Speedbowl’s premier division, LaJeunesse was crowned the UNITED Modified-Sportsman champion in 1975. (Kennedy Photo)                   

Another of the early top-shoes at Waterford was the ultra-popular Arthur “Red” Bolduc. Though he’s shown here in a conventional early Modified, he was widely considered one of the best of the notorious “Cut-Down” era. Bolduc experienced most of his success at a venue northward of the shoreline oval, the late Norwood Arena in Massachusetts. Unfortunately, that much-acclaimed speedplant would also be his undoing. On the evening of June 18 1960, Bolduc and his Coach slapped the Norwood wall with devastating impact. The unlucky Red passed-away the next day from his injuries, thus ending the life and career of one of our regions greatest racers. Life could be very fragile in the early-days of out sport. (Shany Photo, Courtesy Mal Phillips).             

 The late Tommy Van Epps was a standout Non-Ford division driver and fan-favorite in early action at the “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl. The 1954 season saw Van Epps capture twelve of his twenty career-wins in the division as well as the track championship. The Non-Fords were a highly-regulated alternative to the Modified/Sportsman class, the latter being overwhelmingly propelled by Ford “flathead” powerplants (then the standard of high-performance in stock car racing). It was very competitive racing, with many top Modified/Sportsmen guys also running in the class. (Shany Photo, Courtesy Mal Phillips).      

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

 
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