Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday October 3, 2012

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By Dave Dykes                                                                             CLICK ON PHOTOS FOR FULL SIZE

This week we take a peek at the early history of my old stomping-grounds, Connecticut’s “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl. 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. Rest-assured R.A., you’re going to make a lot of people happy with these shots! And as-always, thanks also to our Webmaster & pal Tom Ormsby for getting “RTT” posted to the cyberwaves every Wednesday without fail. Remember, in a couple of weeks 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 (Speedbowl Style!)…

You’re looking at where it all began for the track that was then officially-known as Connecticut’s “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl. If I had a nickel for every hour I’ve spent there during my lifetime, I’d be a considerably-richer man today! Bob Swift was the first-ever feature winner at the Speedbowl, defeating a stellar field on Sunday afternoon, April 15, 1951, the date in-which Shany Lorenzent captured this image of him. It should be noted that the racing surface was first made-up a curious mix of dirt & crushed bluestone. It was paved by May of that first season. While the name has been shortened to just “Waterford Speedbowl” the place is still jumping every weekend presenting some of the best short track racing in all of New England. (Shany Lorenzent Photo, R.A. Silvia Archives).

One of the Speedbowl’s more popular & enduring figures, captured here is the late Joe McNulty behind the wheel of a cut-down. A top New England modified racer of the 1950s & 60s, “Joe Mac” recorded victories at a variety of the region’s speedplants, but was particularly-proficient at the shoreline oval where he claimed a career-total of 16 Modified division feature triumphs. That’s yet-another great driver, Johnny Thompson in the #71. (Shany Lorenzent Photo, R.A. Silvia Archives).

Another image from the cut-down era of the 1950s at the Speedbowl, here’s a nice one of New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member, the late “Moneybags Moe” Gherzi. One of the region’s first legitimate “Super Stars” Moe found his niche in the management-side of the sport after hanging-up his helmet. He went from driving to organizing in later years, accepting a post working for Joe Tinty as Race Director at the former (and much-missed) Plainville Stadium, a position he held for years. (Shany Lorenzent Photo, R.A. Silvia Archives).

Slated for induction into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame this year on Sunday, November 18, the late Donald “Hank” Stevens drove them all during his long career, Modifieds, Midgets and Cut-Downs; his exploits truly ran the gamut. Nicknamed “Hammerin’ Hank” for his determined driving style, he was particularly successful at the Speedbowl as seen-here in the 1950s. As proof of just how-tough this guy was, he overcame a positively-devastating Speedbowl wreck in the 1950s in-which he received horrendous life-threatening burns to return as a winner. (Shany Lorenzent Photo, R.A. Silvia Archives).    

We really like this shot. The late Ray Delisle enjoyed a long and successful run in racing, but it was not without a few rough-spots along the way. Felled by serious injuries sustained in a Speedbowl crash when his coupe was hit from-behind and the old-style “jerry can” fuel tank erupted in-flames, he endured a long, painful recovery before returning to the game. In 1964, his career reached its zenith when he waltzed-away with the Speedbowl Modified title wheeling the famed Simons Bros. #9 as seen here. A quiet and unassuming man who let his throttle-foot do the talking, Ray was always in-demand with the top car owners of the day. (Shany Lorenzent Photo, R.A. Silvia Archives).

And here we have a great shot of a driver whose name became synonymous with the “New London Waterford” Speedbowl, the much-accomplished Don Collins. Arguably the greatest driver to have ever emerged from the shoreline oval he set the standard from his debut in the early-fifties, until his retirement at the dawn of the seventies. He was the first driver to amass over one-hundred victories (including both Modified & Non-Ford competition), the first to garner five championships, and perhaps more importantly, he was among the first to set an example in true-sportsmanship and class. Inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 2005, his career actually began at the Thompson Speedway in 1948 when he’d built a car for another would-be racer. When the guy didn’t show-up, a young Collins took the wheel, and we all know the rest of the story. His career was actually a relatively brief-affair by today’s standards. It’s anyone’s guess how many more checkers waited had he not called-it-quits in 1970 while still very-much in his prime. (Shany Lorenzent Photo, R.A. Silvia Archives).

Another Saturday night, another checkered flag…. Norwich, Connecticut native the late Dick Beauregard was one of the absolute-best during the formative years at what was then-known as the “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl. Simply-stated, he was another of the drivers that really put the Speedbowl on the map during its early days. Scoring a total of 65 feature victories and a pair of track championships in 1952 & 1963, it leaves one to wonder just how much-more success lay ahead had he not bowed out of the sport following his final track crown. Do ya’ think his supporters look pleased in this shot??? (Shany Lorenzent Photo, R.A. Silvia Archives). 

Here’s the same car as above with a different driver. Stepping into the cockpit of the potent Wilcox Fuel #53 coupe following Beauregard’s retirement, Newt “Mr. Lightning” Palm was a multi-time titlist and certainly one of the most-popular drivers to have ever competed at the shoreline oval. Sadly, his career was cut-short due to serious injuries received at Seekonk during an open competition event at the Massachusetts oval. During a brief reign (by today’s standards), Palm captured a total of 4 track titles at Waterford, which also included 2 in the Bomber division. (Shany Lorenzent Photo, R.A. Silvia Archives).

Norm Kies owned modifieds for decades and employed some of the best drivers. His signature #21 creations won all over the place and were considered very desirable rides to get hooked-up with. In this shot, his wheelman is the young & talented Ed Moody who before advancing to the headlining modifieds, was the 1962 Bomber champion (once an immensely-popular support class at the shoreline oval). Winner of 44 main events in the class, he also scored a pair of modified features before calling-it-a-day. (Shany Lorenzent Photo, R.A. Silvia Archives). 

Mention the name “Dick Dunn” around anyone with even a remote knowledge of Speedbowl history, and you’re bound to get a response. Even-before he hooked-up with legendary car owners Peg & Al Gaudreau of “Buddha’s Bullet” fame in the 1970s and became one Waterford’s huge marquee heroes, he was a winner piloting self-owned creations like this neat entry. Dick recorded a combined total of nearly fifty career victories in both Bomber & Modified competition as well as four-straight Modified championships (1972-75), before quietly retiring from the sport. Harboring a style that was always smooth-as-silk and lighting-fast, the record book clearly defines Mr. Dunn as one of the best to have ever circled the shoreline oval. (Shany Lorenzent Photo, R.A. Silvia Archives).

BONUS SHOT: Here’s yet-another shot from Mr. Silvia’s archives that we really like! Seen here at the Speedbowl in a classic 3-window coupe is journeyman shoreline oval modified racer, Don Kibbe. Proving to be an ample shoe, he recorded multiple victories running against the likes of ‘Bowl stalwarts such as Don Collins, Dick Dunn, Bob Potter, Dick Watson, etc. during what many deem to be one of the most competitive periods in the track’s long history. The Kibbe family later switched their focus to Midget racing, carving-out a name for themselves within the ranks of the Northeastern Midget Association (NEMA). (Shany Lorenzent Photo, R.A. Silvia Archives).

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

(5 days ago) jackb said:

As I have said before,I love these old shots.I started going to the bowl on opening day I was 10 so this started my love for cars & racing which is still going today
Thank you

(6 days ago) Bob Paine said:

Richer with a nickel for every hour spent at the Speedbowl? You and me both, Dave!

(6 days ago) Jack V. said:

Keep those pics of the cut-downs coming! I remember that era well with guys like Fred Luchesi and Red Barbeau at Lonsdale Arena in he early '50s.

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