Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday October 10, 2012
   

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By Dave Dykes                                                                             CLICK ON PHOTOS FOR FULL SIZE

Once-again this week we take a peek at the early history of my old stomping-grounds, Connecticut’s “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl. Again, a HUGE thanks goes out to our longtime friend and renowned New England Auto Racing Historian R.A. Silvia for sharing with us these priceless early Shany Lorenzent images. And as-always, kudos to our Webmaster & pal Tom Ormsby for getting “RTT” posted to the cyberwaves every Wednesday without fail. Remember, THIS WEEKEND it’s the Fourth Annual Plainville Stadium Reunion which takes place on Saturday, October 13th from 10am – 3pm at the Berlin Fair Grounds located at 430 Beckley Road, East Berlin, CT. The event is presented by the Nutmeg Kart Club in conjunction with the Berlin Lions Club World of Wheels. Also approaching quickly, twenty racing pioneers considered central to the success of the sport in New England during its formative era will be inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame on Sunday, November 18 at the Speedway Clubhouse located on the grounds of the Thompson International Speedway in Thompson, Connecticut. Doors open at 10:00 am, with dinner to be served at 1:00. Tickets are economically-priced at $35.00. Reservations may be made by sending payment to NEAR Pioneer Banquet, Box 172, Milldale, Connecticut, 06467. For additional information, contact NEAR President Val LeSieur at 508.238.7797 or email vallesieur@aol.com As-always, reach me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com

With a Little Help From Our Friends (Special Extended Version)….

It’s opening day of the 1949 season at Connecticut’s former Plainville Stadium, and that’s New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer Ted Tappet (real name Phil Walters) and another Hall of Famer Dick Eagan right behind in the #1, leading-up a jaunty group of pre-war iron ready to wage battle on Joe Tinty’s demanding little ¼-miler. As mentioned-above, the memories will be relived at this weekend’s Fourth Annual Plainville Stadium Reunion in Berlin, CT. As-always, it promises to be another can’t-miss affair for those interested in the history of New England auto racing. I know I’ll be there! (Sam Solomone Photo courtesy Lew Boyd)

This NEAR Hall of Fame member and Waterford Speedbowl pioneer needs little introduction to those of us who recall the true “Glory Days” of New England short track racing. Seen here at the shoreline oval during the 1950s, Fred Luchesi’s career started during the busy post-war era, and lasted until his retirement in the late-60s. During that time, he raced coupes, modifieds, midgets, and late models. In complementing his local exploits, he also ran against nationally known drivers like Fonty Flock, Red Byron, and Ted Tappett. In addition to multiple Speedbowl championships, he also took track crowns at Westboro, Lonsdale, and Norwood Arena. At the Speedbowl-alone, he scored a career total of 25 modified victories. (Shany Lorenzent Photo, R.A. Silvia Archives).

One of the real chargers when Harvey Tattersall’s once influential United Stock Car Racing Club ruled the New England modified roost rather than NASCAR, Tommy Sutcliffe enjoyed a long-reign at the front of the pack. Twice a champion at Connecticut’s late West Haven Speedway, he was a top competitor all-over our region for decades winning a boatload of features. This one captures the guy nicknamed “Suitcase Sutcliffe” (for reasons unknown to this scribe), when he was a part of the starting field at the “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl during the days of the coupes. (Shany Lorenzent Photo, R.A. Silvia Archives).

Like so-many others, Mark Geer was a local kid who at a young age became seduced by the sites and sounds coming from race night at 1080 Hartford Turnpike, Waterford, CT. and it wasn’t long before he became part of the action. He’s seen here in the early 1970s behind the controls of the Champlin Crane Service coupe out of Rhode Island. In later years, Geer continued his association with the Speedbowl as an official. (Shany Lorenzent Photo, R.A. Silvia Archives).   

We really like this shot of our friend, New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member, Billy Harman. Captured here at the Speedbowl during the very-early days of his long career, he later branched-out running at Canadian tracks in the North, to Hollywood Speedway in Miami Beach, Florida. He raced as far West as Ohio, competing at 54 tracks, and winning at 14 different speedways.  From the Race of Champions in Trenton and Pocono to the Oxford Plains 250, he absolutely-thrived on the “big” races and was always a threat to win any event he entered. Bill retired in the late 1970s, following a successful stint behind the controls of the Joe Zenga Vega. (Shany Lorenzent Photo, R.A. Silvia Archives).

Ya’ gotta’ start somewhere, and it was within a Speedbowl support class that this driver began what would become a long & successful modified career on the short tracks of New England. Captured here in his Bomber entry, “Daring Dick” Caso possessed a driving style of the “no-holds-barred” variety and when in his prime, a Caso-drive to the front was itself worth the price of a Saturday night ticket. In terms of finance, he was a low-bucker that got the ultimate out of equipment that was often less than that of his competitors. A big modified winner in the early 70s, when not at the Bowl’ he’d often take-off to run the dirt tracks of Pennsylvania with his coupe or its stable-mate, a wild center-seat Corvair-bodied creation. (Shany Lorenzent Photo, R.A. Silvia Archives).

Yet another shot we’ve never seen courtesy of our pal R.A. Silvia, this one’s simply priceless. The late Benny Derosier was one of the racers that helped to cultivate the scene at the Speedbowl during its early years. In addition to his accomplishments at Waterford, Benny successfully competed at many other pioneering New England speedways including Riverside Park, Lonsdale Arena, Plainville Stadium and Cherry Park. Award-winning racing journalist and NEAR Hall of Fame member Pete Zanardi once stated that “Derosier was one of the first-drivers to make an impression on me,” further adding that “He was one of the racers that helped define my interest in the sport. I really centered-in on him as a young fan.” We’ve ran shots of Benny previously at the wheel of the Barney Tiezzi-owned #230 (the car that he’s most-associated-with at the Speedbowl), but didn’t realize he’d served a residency as the chauffer of the famed “4-Star” coupe. You learn something new every day in this game, that’s for-sure. (Shany Lorenzent Photo, R.A. Silvia Archives).

OK folks, as you know, we sometimes run images of the “unidentified variety” and this one is so-nice that we simply couldn’t resist. It’s obviously the Speedbowl, and we think the car is the potent #2A coupe campaigned by locals Pat & Ed Doherty. If anyone has any clue of the identity of the guy behind the wheel please free-free to email us. When Shany captured this image in his lens, there was no struggling for the short tracks of the region. Packed houses were the norm, rather than the exception; it was a great time in racing! (Shany Lorenzent Photo, R.A. Silvia Archives).

Absolutely one of the best of his era, here’s the late Ted Stack when he was wheeling the potent Sharkey #44 at the Speedbowl. Though he scored heavily at several other New England raceways (which is often overlooked historically-speaking), it was probably Waterford that garnered him the most success. A multi-time champion (1961 in the Modifieds, and 1957 & 60 in the Non Fords), He accumulated a combined total of 71 feature victories at the shoreline oval. Stack drove for many of the best teams to have ever competed at the Speedbowl and his services were always in high demand. (Shany Lorenzent Photo, R.A. Silvia Archives).

Here’s one for you “full-fendered” fans and I really like this shot for a couple of reasons. First, the late Warren Sipuleski Sr. was a good friend of mine, and second, it really captures the spirit of the old Daredevil class quite-nicely. A proving-ground for some of the Speedbowl’s best-ever, the early days of the popular support class that debuted in the mid-60s was a slam-bang affair with lots of cars and crowd-pleasing action. Just imagine a sea of basically-stock tri-five Chevys & Fords on street tires navigating the confines of the shoreline oval – it was quite a show! Warren was a feature winner. (Shany Lorenzent Photo, R.A. Silvia Archives).

Here we turn-back the clock to the earliest days of the shoreline oval. While he was perhaps not a huge name in the annals of Speedbowl history, he was nevertheless a feature winner. Dave Rogoff scored his singular main event triumph in 1953 during the tracks third-season of operation. He’s captured here during the shoreline oval’s short dalliance with the notoriously-dangerous “cut-down” style of modified and you can clearly-see why the lightweight design not for the faint-of-heart. Following Jack Griffin’s violent death in-front of a stunned crowd on Saturday evening August 12, 1954 while wheeling one of these cars, the cut-downs were banned at Waterford (and other tracks in the state), signaling a return to the more-substantial “full” coupes. (Shany Lorenzent Photo, R.A. Silvia Archives).

We’re not-sure of the identity of the young lady in this center of this 1950s image, but we do know that the shot is a showcase for some of the greatest talents to have ever emerged from the shoreline oval. Shown in some sort of a trackside ceremony in-which they received artwork depicting their rides are from left-to-right, the late Dick Beauregard, Don Collins, Fred Luchesi, and Melvin “Red” Foote. Consider this; shared between these racers, there’s a total of 10 track championships and well-over 200 feature victories at the Speedbowl. As an aside, note that Collins is the only driver in the image not smoking a cigarette – times have certainly changed! (Shany Lorenzent Photo, R.A. Silvia Archives).

Here’s simply a timeless image of one of the greatest talents to have ever emerged from the early days of New England Modified racing living up to his nickname. Inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame this year and seen here receiving a bag of cash at the Speedbowl of the early 1950s is the late, great, “Moneybags Moe” Gherzi. Already an established star when this shot was captured, he was one of the most-prolific winners during the sports infancy. 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, he served a long residency as Race Director at the late Plainville Stadium. (Shany Lorenzent Photo, R.A. Silvia Archives)

BONUS SHOT: Both R.A. and I have had this Speedbowl shot in our archives for a long-time, and it’s time to run-it and see if we have the drivers identity correct. After comparing it to several other shots in my files, I’m thinking that the driver may be Bob Duffy. Serving as a hired-gun for some of the Speedbowl’s top teams, Duffy excelled at the shoreline oval during what many railbirds consider the tracks most-competitive years. In addition to his endeavors in the modifieds, he was also a winner in the Bomber division. Ironically, he also drove for the Doherty team of-which we also featured this week with an unidentified driver. (Shany Lorenzent Photo, R.A. Silvia Archives).

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

THIS WEEKS COMMENTS

(4 days ago) John Kelley said:

Also pretty sure Bob Duffy built the Shamrock#1 car Dick Egan ran in the early days of Stafford dirt!

(4 days ago) Eric Marenghi said:

Saw Benny in the 4-Star at Plainville. Car was blue, ran great. I think he came in 3rd in the feature.

(5 days ago) Tom Ormsby (mod) said:

Denny, I don't know who it is, but it is not Jimmy. The Scambato's (sic) are on the other side of Moe.

(5 days ago) Denny Z. said:

Dave, In the photo with Moe, who are the two folks standing on Moe's left (looking at the picture the two guys on the right)the heavy set one looks a lot like I remember Jimmy Bosco and the other (in the suite with hat) I remember him but can't remember his name.
Thanks again for the memories, Denny Z.

(5 days ago) Bob Paine said:

Dave, I'm 99 44/100% certain tjhat is Bob Duffy. He and I went to the same church and it looks very much like him.

(5 days ago) Dave Dykes said:

Ooops, that last comment was from me. It's been a long day...lol.

(5 days ago) Anonymous said:

Thanks for the nice comments, guys. Like I always tell everyone, I owe a huge debt of gratitude my friend Tom Ormsby for serving as Webmaster; it'd simply not be possible without him. And that appreciation is also extended to friends like R.A. Silvia (and many others), who never fail to share their vintage photos for all of us to enjoy. I'll tell you this; you think you know it all until you come upon shots that you've never seen before. I've been around a long time, but I'm constantly learning!

(5 days ago) Pat D said:

Hi Dave ANOTHER EXCELLANT COLUMN. You hit home on this column. First the 2A was one of my first cars. the driver was 1st year modified ex-bomber driver from Westbrook area Bruce Wagner who was strongly recommended to my dad by Dick Watson. The #72 was my car first driven and built by Old Pro Leo Hill-then Bob Potter next then Mark Geer to Fred Desarro who ran for us in allstar league dirt racing. The # 5 car of Billy Harmon was a very storied car built by Fred Beaber and purchased by my dad and myself and changed to # 22 with Bob Duffy driving. Then I sold it to Carl Bradley (mystic) who updated with a new frame and put Joe Trudeau in it as # 15 in which I believe won his first mod. feature on a sunday afteroon (which I ave a film of) then Carl sold it to Bernie Deveau (Mystic) and turned it into the # white # 25. Bernie sold it to Hardy Miner (Pawcatuck Ct.)Hardy ran it the same#and color. From there I lost track of the Beaber Engineering car. Keep up the great columns Pat D.

(5 days ago) Phil Smith said:

Bob Duffy was the parts manager at the John Ahr Ford Co in Westerly RI and later at Whaling City Ford in New London. He built the Ford flathead V-8 that won the first Race of Champions at Langhorne in 1951

(5 days ago) Ed P said:

Al Kellar is on the outside pole in the openig day photo from Plainville and he won that day in one of the WO Taylor team cars out of Patterson NJ. I have the article out of Illustrated Speedway News and I'll try to remember to bring it Saturday.

(6 days ago) steve k said:

Doesn't that look a bit like Tommy Sutcliff in the 000?

(6 days ago) Anonymous said:

Yes it is, Rich...


(6 days ago) Rich Dupuis said:

Hi Dave, is that the same Warren Sipuleski that use to race RC cars with us in East Lyme?

 
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