Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday October 5, 2011

 Volume 3, Number 38                                                                                     New Column Every Wednesday


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By Dave Dykes                                                                              CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE

This week we present the last of our installments on the late, great Plainville Stadium. Remember, the history of Joe Tinty’s much-missed Connecticut ¼-miler comes-alive this Saturday, October 8th as the Nutmeg Kart Club in conjunction with the Berlin Lions Club World of Wheels presents the Third Annual Plainville Stadium Reunion. The event takes-place from 10am – 4pm at the Berlin Fair Grounds located at 430 Beckley Road, East Berlin, CT. Coming-off another successful season of competition on the Berlin Lions Club 1/12-mile World Karting Association dirt oval, the two organizations have teamed to make the day a family-priced event. Adult admission is only $5.00, with kids under-12 free. The rain date is Sunday, October 9. For more information, contact Gary Beinkowski of the Nutmeg Kart Club at garybien@snet.net. To all, have a great week and I’ll see you this Saturday at the reunion! Email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com             

In-Honor Of This Weekend’s Reunion, We Present More Plainville Stadium Memories!!!   

Here’s a really-early shot of one of Plainville Stadium’s most-colorful track champions, and according to the guys he raced-against, One Tough Competitor! Long-before NASCAR’s late Dale Earnhardt St. picked-up his ”Intimidator” nickname, the gutsy AnthonyJap” Membrino was rattling the cages of his fellow competitors all over New England. Not-only did this guy put on a show; he also won races, and a whole-lot of them! Jap is scheduled to be present at Saturday’s Third Annual Plainville Stadium Reunion at the Berlin Fair Grounds. Be-sure to stop-by and say hello! (Photo Courtesy Tom Ormsby).                   

The much-accomplished Don Moon is one of the former Plainville Stadium competitors that we have to thank for helping to stage the track’s annual reunion. Don won a ton of races at Plainville, and was also very-successful at a number of other New England raceways during his traveling days. Known as a master craftsman in the realm of car builders, his rides were always super-fast and immaculate-looking. This shot captures him behind the controls of his familiar #9 coach with starter Billy Dunn's assistant the late Richard Biggie following one of his many Plainville feature victories. (Phil Hoyt Photo)      

One-night on the way to the front of the pack at ‘Tinty’s Place”…… No, it’s not a Conga Line; it’s another Saturday night during the 1970s at Plainville! See here following a little high-speed mishap is the #1 of our Webmaster, young “Tommy” Ormsby, the #54 of 7-time Stadium’ champion & NEAR Hall of Famer Dave Alkas, and the “OZ” coach of Dennis "The Greek" Chavaris. Tom seems to be wondering how he got turned-around, Dave is thinking “How’d they do that?” and Dennis is probably asking himself how he’s going to get un-hooked…..? (Phil Hoyt Photo).  

Here’s one of Plainville’s most accomplished alumni. From humble-beginnings at the tight Connecticut ¼-miler, he went-on to become one of the greatest modified racers that New England ever produced. Seen here early in his career celebrating a Stadium’ feature victory at the wheel of a self-owned creation is the much-celebrated Reggie Ruggiero. Starting at Plainville in 1969, he went on to score well over 200 feature wins, including 44 on the Modified Tour and a record 93 at Riverside Park. Reggie will be among the drivers inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame early next year. (Hoyt Photo, Photo Courtesy Tom Ormsby).      

This guy was also clearly one of the best to have-ever emerged from Plainville Stadium. Simply-stated, the career accomplishments of Elton Hill are impressive. As a racing prodigy of the late, great Ed Flemke Sr., he traveled extensively during the 1960’s, picking-up feature victories at places like Riverside Park as well as Utica-Rome in New York State (once a hotbed of NASCAR Modified competition). This great Phil Hoyt image captures “Elty” following one of his many Plainville triumphs along with car owner Helen Farone. (Photo Courtesy Tom Ormsby).              

As one of the best New England Modified shoes of his era, Ronnie Wyckoff never had to do much ride-shopping, The multi-time Riverside 500 winner (among many other accomplishments), was usually considered a hot commodity among the best of car owners. This one captures him following one of his many Plainville victories when he was the chauffer of the potent Billy Zenobi, Rick Sutherland -owned “%” coupe. Ronnie is expected to be at Saturday’s Plainville Reunion. Stop-by & say hello - tell him Dykes sent you! (Photo Courtesy Tom Ormsby).    

In the colorful early-days of our sport, nicknames were all-the-rage and a nod to one’s ethnic linage was all part of the fun. In today’s politically-correct atmosphere, some of this stuff might seem a bit out-of-place, but it was another era, after-all. Just as the great Ronnie Narducci became the “Top Wop” owing to his family’s roots, pioneering Modified driver Johnny Georgiades was proudly known as “The Flying Greek”. A fixture on the ovals of New England for decades, he was one of the top-draws in the days of the coupes. This shot captures him (right), ready-to-roll at Plainville one Saturday evening many-moons ago. (Photo Courtesy Tom Ormsby).            

When you’re fighting for position on a tight, demanding ¼-miler, even the best in the business can get in trouble. This one captures the Roland Cyr-owned #54 of New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer and 7-time Plainville champion Dave Alkas on its roof and leaking a BUNCH of high-octane fuel unto the track. Fortunately, Dave emerged unscathed in this 70s-era mishap; that’s him rounding the car, helmet-in-hand. (Photo Courtesy Tom Ormsby).   

We’re not entirely-sure that this is Plainville, but it could-be. We simply wanted to run this shot as it’s such a great image, and Eddie did win a lot of features at Plainville. Winner, mentor, and innovator, few individuals meant more to New England Modified racing than the late “Steady Eddie” Flemke pictured here with Dan Dalena. Starting during the emerging popularity of stock cars in the post-war era, it’s estimated that he won over 500 feature events during a career which spanned 3-decades. Along the way, he helped many young drivers get their starts, including Daytona 500 winner Pete Hamilton, and Indy 500 veteran Dennis Zimmerman. As an expert car builder, he designed the “Flemke Front End” a chassis component that remained the standard in Modified construction for years. Ed was among the first inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 1998. (Photographer Unknown).

Here’s a great Plainville shot of our pal George Lombardo following one of his many triumphs at the Connecticut ¼-miler. A 2-time Stadium’ track champion, he was inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 2008. From his HOF bio; George Lombardo raced from the late 1940’s through the mid 1960’s.  During that span, he took down over 125 wins, at Riverside Park, Waterford Speedbowl, West Haven Speedway, and Plainville Stadium.  At Plainville, he won a pair of track championships, in 1962 and ’63. Running in the United Stock Car Club, George drove for several owners, including Leo Woitja, Norm Keis, Bob Oliver, and the Nogiec brothers.  He also had success driving the Dalena Auto Parts #XD-2. One race George remembers fondly is a race that he didn’t win.  Teaming with Dan Gaudiana, George drove the Jake Mosher owned #439 for almost 490 grueling laps in the Riverside 500, after the #999 broke an axle early in the race.   “We (George and Dan Guadiana) ended up as good friends”, George chuckled.  “It wasn’t always that way.  We were fierce rivals early on.”  George remembers an on track incident with George Clark in the #999 at Plainville, where Lombardo and Clark started a fight that turned into a riot when the fans in the stands emptied onto the track.  “People fighting everywhere, the police firing their guns in the air……it was a mess!  Danny and George and I laughed about it afterwards….Well, several YEARS afterwards”, George laughed. The guy on the right holding George’s checkered flag? That’s “Moneybags Moe” Gherzi, who in addition to being a legendary New England racer himself, also served at Race Director at Plainville for many, many years, starter Chick Carr and Dan Delana.. (Faust Photo).

Lastly, here’s a bonus shot for this week that I simply couldn’t resist running! It’s the early 1960s, and New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer George Lombardo is celebrating one of his pair of Plainville Stadium championships. That’s George in the center with his hand on the shoulder of his pal, Race Director “Moneybags Moe” Gherzi, who as mentioned-above was himself a New England coupe-era racer of great renown. On each side of George are the XD-2 car owners the Dalena brothers. Sadly, the identities of the other gentleman in this image are lost to the tides of time. (Faust Photo).

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

 
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