Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday October 24, 2012

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By Dave Dykes                                                                             CLICK ON PHOTOS FOR FULL SIZE

This week please pardon me for again being a bit self-indulgent, as featured are images from the pair of tracks that really got my interest in the sport started many moons-ago. The Speedbowl is still going-strong but sadly, we lost Plainville as the 1980s began. Special thanks again to R.A. Silvia for supplying this week’s shots! Also on the agenda and 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. Log on to www.near1.com for ticket forms and more information. Also, our sincere condolences go out to the family and friends of former Waterford Speedbowl competitor Glen Reilly who passed-away last week. Glen and his wife Cheryl both raced at the shoreline oval and had many, many friends in the sport. Glen will be sorely missed by the entire Speedbowl Family. Email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com

It’s Wednesday; More Old Stuff !!!!

This shot is simply a classic slice of early New England modified racing and we’re very happy to be able to present it here. Posing at Plainville Stadium in the early 1950s when they were team drivers for fabled car owner Fred “Sharky” Gaudiosi is Billy Greco on the left and Moe “Moneybags” Gherzi on the right. All-three are members of the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame. There are a lot of victories represented in this photo! (Solomone Photo, R.A. Silvia Archives).

“Profile shots” are some of the hardest to find in the realm of vintage racing photos, and here we present a dandy. Smiling for the camera of longtime photographer Shany Lorenzent is the late Benny Derosier. This one’s from the “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl of the 1950s and Benny was then driving the Hi-Way Motor Sales #230 Hudson of Barney Tiezzi. Benny was one of the top drivers during the early days at Waterford, and Barney’s son Joe also enjoyed a distinguished career in the modifieds. Our close friend NEAR Hall of Famer Pete Zanardi used to work on the #230 when he was a youngster. (Shany Photo).

Here’s a great early-1970s color shot of Plainville Stadium competitor Bob Vivari taken by our friend Phil Hoyt. A popular track champion and perennial winner for many seasons, he was one of the absolute-best at Joe Tinty’s former Connecticut ¼-miler. Longtime Plainville participant Eddie Mack was the owner of this period-perfect little coupe. (Hoyt Photo, R.A. Silvia Archives).

We’ve been searching for this one from the Speedbowl for eons as it used to be in our collection (one of the few we’ve lost over the years). For whatever-reason we recall this image like it was captured yesterday, rather than during the much-heralded “coupe era.” Only on the scene for a short period, “Musketball” Baker was the son of New London-Waterford Speedbowl veteran John “Cannonball” Baker who had been a part of the shoreline oval scene since the early days. Dad’s car was #314, and he last appeared at the Bowl’ during the 1974 campaign. (Shany Photo, R.A. Silvia Archives).

Here’s the Tony Mordino, simply one of the best-of-the-best. A leading member of the legendary “Waterbury Gang” that also included guys like the late Danny Galullo, the battles he waged with established UNITED stars such as Billy Greco and the late Johnny “King” Cambino at West Haven are stuff of legend. He later conquered Plainville (as seen-here), and Riverside Park; certainly two of the toughest bullrings in the Northeast. Tony retired following the 1975 Thompson 300, an event in which raced to a top-10 finish after having started 50th in the field. Tony will join Greco & Galullo as a member of the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame next month. (Faust Photo, R.A. Silvia Archives).

Last week we ran a black & white shot of this driver at one of the legendary mid-week open shows at Plainville. Here he is at the Speedbowl as the subject of an absolutely-beautiful Shany Lorenzent color print. Following this coupe Seabury Tripler along with talented fabricator the late Owen Bowen, introduced New England’s first-ever Pinto-bodied modified at Waterford on opening day of 1971. The event scantly pre-dated NEAR Hall of Famer Bob Judkins’ debut of his Pinto, which became the first NASCAR-legal mount sporting the then-new Ford subcompact tinwork. (Shany Photo, R.A. Silvia Archives).

The gentleman seated behind the controls of this ultra-sanitary coupe in this Plainville shot is Russ Faust, son of Frank Faust, the man responsible for capturing so many of the very-early Plainville images often seen on this website. Our friend Phil Hoyt took over in 1968 as the official track photographer until it closed. Russ was a top-runner during the heyday of Joe Tinty’s fiercely-competitive (and much-missed), Connecticut ¼-miler. (Faust Photo, R.A. Silvia Archives).

The support classes have always been very-popular at the Speedbowl, and here’s one of the best “full-fendered” drivers in the shoreline oval’s history. Seen here celebrating a victory in the 1970s surrounded by a huge crowd of excited fans, family and crew members is the late Bill Sweet AKA “The Norwalk Nightrider.” Bill copped the Daredevil division title for 2 consecutive seasons in 1967 & 68. Along the way, he scored a total of 40 feature victories in Daredevil, Sportsman Sedan and Grand American competition, the first in 1966, the final in 1975. He ranks first on the list of all-time Daredevil feature winners, with 31 trips to victory lane. (Shany Photo, R.A. Silvia Archives).

Here’s a neat image from Plainville of Bobby Knox behind the wheel of the Skip Ziegler 65. Typical of the rides that circled Joe Tinty’s ¼-miler every Saturday night, it was more about function than form for a lot of entrants. This little coupe may appear to be a bit battle-scarred, but you can bet it got-around well. Skip was one of the more well-traveled of the Plainville regular cast, Skip also occasionally competed at Riverside Park, Stafford, Thompson, Lebanon Valley, and a few other tracks in upstate New York. Sadly Skip passed-away just last year. (Hoyt Photo, R.A. Silvia Archives).

It’s the Speedbowl on Saturday evening July 24, 1976 and George Allum and the Pat Doherty team are celebrating the spoils of annexing a 35-lap modified feature. George, who retired shortly after this win, had been a huge winner earlier in the decade and was a serious contender to break the stranglehold that Dick Dunn had on the track title. In addition to notching a bushel of weekly features, he also defeated a stellar field of outsiders to take the checkers in the Hott Wheels 100 on Sunday afternoon April 22, 1973. Another of the many racers that hailed from nearby Norwich (once a veritable “Gasoline Alley” for successful Bowl’ teams), Allum is the brother-in-law of former Waterford Modified competitor Mark LaJeunesse, yet-another resident of the “Rose City” that enjoyed great shoreline oval success. Today George is retired and along with wife Joyce, enjoying the warmer climate of the South and Pat Doherty is still messin’ with race cars. (Dugas Photo, R.A. Silvia Archives).

BONUS SHOT: Seen here at Plainville during the 1960s is Bobby Bard Sr.  Notching many wins at both The Stadium and Riverside Park (where he ranks 26th on the all-time winners list), he was a hugely-popular New England modified racer for decades. For a time, he also ran weekly at the Waterford Speedbowl when the facility assumed a UNITED sanction in 1975. (Faust Photo, R.A. Silvia Archives).

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

(5 days ago) Bob G. said:

Speaking of cool looking Mods from the past does anyone remember " The Woodchopper Special's" owned by Sonny Kozella and driven by the late Fred Dessaro, Ernie Gahan,Bugs Stevens and others? IMO they were awsome looking and usually very fast.

(6 days ago) Anonymous said:

take your girl sit in the 4th turn and watch the movie at the plainville drive in also .what a place tinty had i often look for that screen in some of the photos thanks

(6 days ago) Gene Zeigler said:

The 65 was owned by Skip's dad, Frank Zeigler, Sr.

(6 days ago) ctbill said:

I don't remember Jay being involved when Dad drove the #81 for owner Norm Button(the tall gentleman near the l/r of the car) but I suppose it's possible.I remember those golden days with fondness,they were great times.

Bill Sweet Jr

(6 days ago) mike a. said:

the "M" modified is one of the best looking coupes of all time.

Cal in clinton said:

Joe Tiezzi,s Dads name was Art, Barny was his uncle

(6 days ago) Gene Zeigler said:

That photo is from 1970. Booby Knox is at the wheel. Dad debuted the car mid season. Bobby, Don Spazano, and Dave Alkas all drove the car when their regular ride met with mayhem in the heat races. Don Spazano had a serious wreck in the home stretch wall bending the top of the steering wheel over prompting the addition of shoulder harnesses to the rule book. I took the ride over full time in 1971.

(6 days ago) DAN said:


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