Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday October 12, 2011

 Volume 3, Number 39                                                                                     New Column Every Wednesday


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By Dave Dykes                                                                              CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE

This week we’ll start-out by congratulating everyone involved with staging last week’s “Third Annual Plainville Stadium Reunion” on a job well-done! This year’s event really topped all expectations, and a super-time was had by all that attended. This edition of “RTT” features both Midgets & Modifieds from all-over the Northeast. As-always, ENJOY! Email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com            

Regarding Midgets & Modifieds….    

Here’s a wonderful shot of the late Al Keller, one of the post-war era’s greatest open-wheel stars. In 1949, he also began competing occasionally in NASCAR’s Strictly Stock (later Grand National) division. From 1949-54 he ran in 29 races, winning twice. In 1954, Keller turned his complete attention to the AAA & USAC Championship Car Series. He raced Champ Cars, Sprints, and Midgets over the next several seasons, and also competed in the Indianapolis 500 scoring a best finish of fifth in 1961. Sadly, later that year he perished in a fiery crash at the Arizona State Fairgrounds. The attrition-rate was often of staggering proportions during the early days of open cockpit racing (Smith Photo).

New Jersey native Art Cross captures another victory at Bronx, New York’s Kingsbridge Armory during the late 1940s. The castle-styled building was constructed in 1912-17 to house the Eighth Artillery Rainbow Division but has had various civilian uses right into the 1990s. Famed midget car promoter Jack Kochman leased 180,000 square feet of the armory and reopened it as Kingsbridge Speedrome on Dec. 4, 1946. Spectators filed into the 4,000 box seats to watch midgets and even NASCAR-sanctioned stock cars compete on a concrete one-fifth-mile oval under the armory’s 121-foot-tall roof during winters until 1962. Cross began racing midgets in 1938. He received a purple heart for his conduct during the Battle of the Bulge in World War II. He returned to midget cars following the war. Following a move to Indy cars, among his accomplishments was winning the first-ever Indy 500 Rookie of the Year Award following a fifth-place finish in the 1952 event. (Smith Photo).          

Classic race car, classis driver; Bob Disbrow was a successful pilot during the post-war midget boom, winning many races in the Northeast. During that period, racers could make a handsome living with these cars, essentially running seven days a-week if they wanted to do a bit of traveling. Before the stock cars came into the picture, this WAS short track racing in the Northeast! (Smith Photo).   

Here’s another early one from the indoor races at the Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx, New York. Pictured here is Bud Tatro, one of the Northeast’s premier Midget racers. Hailing from Norwalk, CT., Tatro was a pivotal figure in the early days of the New England’s former Bay State Midget Racing Association winning many feature events. (Smith Photo).      

This is simply a timeless image of the great Dee Toran. Racing with both ARDC and Bay State, Toran was an absolute terror during the 1940s & 50s. He was no youngster by the time this image was captured behind the controls of his “Dice” midget. Toran had been involved in the sport during the years before WWII and among other ventures, had served as a riding mechanic for Floyd Davis. During the 1937 Indy race, he nearly lost his life after being tossed unto the track as Davis crashed into the northwest turn wall. There’s another footnote to Toran’s career that’s worthy of mention, though it’s a rather dark chapter. In 1947 he and Jeep Colkitt were regulars in the very busy ARDC midget circuit and were in the midst of a rather nasty long-running feud. At Bridgeport, Connecticut’s Candlelight Stadium one night, Toran put a wheel under Colkitt’s midget and he flipped. Colkitt died in the crash and Toran was prosecuted for manslaughter, one of the few times a race driver had ever faced such charges. He was convicted. (Smith Photo)        

Known as “The Flying School Master” as a nod to his daytime gig, Connecticut’s Johnny Carpenter was actually one of the better-traveled midget racing stars of his generation. In addition to winning many races close to his Nutmeg State headquarters at places like Cherry Park and Candlelight Stadium (both in Connecticut), he also tasted success in New York State. In our “RTT” archives, we have a press clipping from the Schenectady (NY), Gazette that reports him finishing in the top-5 at an “Eastern States Midget Championship” event on the old half-mile dirt of the Altamont-Schenectady Fairgrounds Speedway on July 4, 1948. (Smith Photo).       

Though we’re not sure of the locale or year, captured here behind the wheel of his midget is the late Oscar “Cannonball” Ridlon. This guy was one of the truly-legendary “characters” within the annals of New England racing history. After a colorful career racing open-wheelers, he became promoter of both the Pines Speedway in Groveland, Massachusetts (closed in the early 1970s), and New Hampshire’s Hudson Speedway. (Smith Photo).

For our stock car fans; it’s the 1950s, and the place is Connecticut’s “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl. Fortunately, the track fondly known by locals as “The Shoreline Oval” is still very-much alive & kicking, and reportedly just celebrated one of its best seasons in recent memory. That’s New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member the much-celebrated Don Collins experiencing an unfortunate visit with the Speedbowl’s old railroad-tie retaining wall, and speeding-by are the equally-legendary Dick Beauregard in the “Black Panther” #1, and Sparky Belmont in the #123. Sadly, Dick passed-way earlier this year, and Sparky (who started his career in the midgets), left-us in 1968. (R.A. Silvia Collection)  

Another shot that we really like, and thanks to our pal R.A. Silvia, we were able to add it to the “RTT” archives. Seen here on the old 1/5-mile at the former Riverside Park Speedway in Agawam, Massachusetts is Sparky Belmont (real name Michael Belmonte). He 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 July of 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. (R.A. Silvia Collection).       

We admittedly don’t know much about Plainville chauffer Bill Brown, but we sure do like the looks of his sanitary little coach-bodied creation. A typical late-60s, early-1970s creation, his ride is a good representation of the machines that called “Tinty’s Place” home every Saturday night. Plainville always had some great-looking cars, and this was one of them! (Phil Hoyt Photo).

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

 
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