Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday October 2, 2013


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By Dave Dykes                                                                            CLICK ON PHOTOS FOR FULL SIZE

Sadly, again begin “Racing Through Time” on a somber note, as it’s been learned that New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member Rene Charland passed-away on September 30th following a lengthy illness. Known as “The Champ” he was one of the absolute-best New England Modified racers, scoring multiple NASCAR championships and untold feature victories on both dirt & asphalt during his long, stellar career. In another blow to our close-knit racing community, it was also revealed that that former Waterford Speedbowl competitor & renowned engine builder Nick Dinsmoor passed-away last week at age 71. A popular figure at the shoreline oval, we’ve featured him several times here on “RTT.” Our sincere condolences are forwarded to the family, fans, and many friends of both of these pioneering racers. In happier news, many-thanks are offered to all of you that wrote to help identify our most recent “mystery drivers.” Again, always feel-free to email us if you’re sure of the identities of the racers in any of these shots (or other info.). In doing-so, you’ll be assisting in our continuing efforts to record the history of our sport in New England. Looking-ahead, don’t forget that on Saturday, October 12th it’s the Fifth Annual Plainville Stadium Reunion. To be held at the Berlin CT. Fairgrounds, the event is presented by the Nutmeg Kart Club in conjunction with the Berlin Lions Club. On the agenda is a day of fun for the entire family that includes a vintage race car display, an autograph session with the stars of Joe Tinty’s much-missed ¼-miler, and some great Kart racing on New England’s only WKA Dirt Master Track. The event runs from 10am-3pm with a rain date of Sunday October 13th. Family-priced, admission is only $5.00 with children 12 & under admitted free. Again, this is an event that we never miss! Also don’t forget, Drivers Stan Meserve, Brian Ross, Drew Fornoro, Ralph Nason, the late Bob Stefanik, Bill Eldridge and Bob Sharp and car owner Ron Berndt will be inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame on Sunday, Nov. 10 at the Lodge at Manelley’s in South Windsor, CT. Tickets are priced at 45.00 each and the doors open at 11:00 a.m. with dinner served at Noon. Ticket order forms and more information are available on The New England Antique Racers/Auto Racers Hall of Fame website at www.near1.org  Till’ next time, have a great week! As-always, email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com

The First Of Our October 2013 Offerings….

The New England racing community lost one of its greatest & most-loved competitors when this driver passed-away this week after a lengthy illness. The driver is the great Rene “The Champ” Charland. His career spanned nearly 4-decades starting at Massachusetts’ Riverside Park in 1949 and ended at Fonda Speedway in 1984. Estimates put his victory total at over 700. He won an unprecedented 4 NASCAR National Sportsman championships (now Nationwide Series) from 1962 through 65. His quest for a fifth title ended as he was seriously injured in the famous fire crash Memorial Day weekend at Malta in 1966. He was forced to sit out the rest of the season but at that point he had already earned 5700 points, enough for a third place finish. A member of the famed “Eastern Bandits” he won multiple track championships at a variety of tracks in both New England, and the South. In addition he won 4 Canadian National championships. He had a pair Grand National (now Sprint Cup) starts. In an event at Long Island New York’s Islip Speedway, he finished third behind David Pearson and Richard Petty. Known as “The Champ”, Charland was among the first racers inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 1998. (Photo Courtesy R.A. Silvia).

It really pays to have friends in this game, and here’s another example of that statement. From our pal the late Sparky Belmont’s nephew Rich (himself a former racer), comes this great Plainville Stadium victory lane image of Sparky & car owner Ronnie Berndt from 1964. Sparky (real name Michael Belmonte), was a Plainville track champion, and a big star on Harvey Tattersall’s UNITED circuit. Sadly, following a convincing victory in a 100-lap contest at Plainville in 1968, he collapsed during the post race celebration, and passed-away on the spot. He had been a star on the post-war Midget circuit before switching to stock cars. Car owner Berndt won in six different decades, most recently in 2012. Grandson Eric Berndt is on the end of a long list of drivers that include Sparky, Tony Mordino, Jap Membrino, Jimmy Cash, Danny Galullo, Ted Christopher and Timmy, Tommy Berndt and present day his grandson Eric Berndt. His win total is estimated to be well into triple figures and his championships were won at Plainville, Waterford, and Thompson Speedways. Berndt will join his former HOF drivers in the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame when he’s inducted this year on Sunday, November 10th. (Faust Photo Courtesy Rich Belmonte & Ronnie Berndt).

Here’s another one from our pal, New York State Racing Historian, Roger Liller. Once-again, we’ll let him explain the details of this fine image; “This is Rhode Island driver Ed Hill in a McDowell photo by Les King taken during the time when Ed Ryan promoted at Stateline, New York. I don't know much about Hill, but the name Trinque on the door is the Gene Trinque who raced big cars for many years at such places as Northampton and Weymouth, Mass., Huntington, Conn., Tiverton, RI. and Stormville, NY. Gene was one of those guys who rarely missed a race, even though he had only a fair amount of success.” As-always Roger, thanks for your contribution! (McDowell Photo By Les King Courtesy Of Roger Liller).

Here’s a nice shot of Matt Tinker with his “Flying 0” coupe at Connecticut’s Stafford Motor Speedway captured in the 1970s. While we don’t know a whole-lot about Tinker’s racing accomplishments, we do know that this car actually started life as the #87, and was driven to several feature victories by shoreline oval veteran George Allum at Waterford including the early-season 1973 Hott Wheels 100 open-competition event. (Photographer Unknown).      

Known primarily for his successes at Massachusetts’ former Riverside Park Speedway, S.J. Evonsion’s career began during the much-heralded “coupe-era” and concluded on the NASCAR Modified Tour. This image captures the 1972 Riverside champion ready to do-battle in a Pinto-bodied mount at a location unfamiliar to us (perhaps Monadnock, New Hampshire?). A fixture on the New England Modified scene for decades, S.J. had a large and dedicated fan-following and was a well-respected figure amongst his racing peers. (Photographer Unknown).  

Captured here following a 1957 feature victory at Connecticut’s former West Haven Speedway is the late Bert Brooks, one of the countries premier Midget drivers during the busy post-war era. He started racing motorcycles then switched to Midgets in the 1940’s. His first race was at Danbury CT. in 1945. In the early years, he drove a Ford-powered car and often won the non-Offenhauser championship. He joined the United Racing Club (URC) sprint car circuit in 1954 and won the championship four times, including three consecutive years - 1956, 1957 and 1958. He switched back to the ARDC midgets in 1959. In 1961 Brooks attempted to qualify for the Indianapolis 500. He passed the rookie test but was too slow to make the field in the Hall-Mar Curtis-Offy. He also tried to qualify at Milwaukee the week after Indy, but again was too slow, this time in the Eelco Custom Shaft Kuzma-Offy. Later that year he suffered a mangled arm in a wreck at Flemington. Sadly, Brooks, a New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer, perished in a multi-car crash during an ARDC Labor Day event at Hershey (PA), Stadium in 1968. (Shany Photo).

Here’s another one from the Tattersall family’s United Stock Car Racing Club-sanctioned West Haven Speedway in Connecticut (AKA “Savin Rock”). The “Mighty Midgets” were always a huge draw as a special event at the ¼-mile “ball park-turned-speedway”, and on this night in 1958 it was multi-time Northeastern Midget Association (NEMA), champion Al Pillion taking all the marbles. One of the absolute-best New England open-wheel racers of his generation, Pillion joined the ranks of the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 2012. (Shany Photo).

Captured here at Massachusetts’ still-thriving Seekonk Speedway during the 1970s is the late George “Moose” Hewitt. A 5-time Modified champion at Connecticut’s Waterford Speedbowl, he scored a career-total of twenty-three feature victories in the Modifieds, SK Modifieds, and Bomber divisions at the shoreline oval. In addition to those triumphs, he also won at the Stafford Springs Motor Speedway on multiple occasions, including a stunning victory in the 1975 Winston 100. Sadly, the popular Uncasville, CT. chauffer passed-away in February of 1997 while still very-much in his prime as a driver. Often-overlooked is the fact that before coming to auto racing, Moose was a champion Motorcycle racer. (Photographer Unknown).    

This one’s been in our files for a long-time, and we were hesitant to run-it because we weren’t quite-sure if we had the identity of the driver correct. We’ll give it a shot anyway, as scribbled on the back of the photo is “Marty Radewick.” If in-fact the driver of this neat coach is Marty, he carved out a respectable career in Modified racing in New England scoring several feature victories at a number of different speedways. Either-way, cool photo from an era in-which classic pre-war tin was still the way-to-go. (Photographer Unknown).       

Unlike the above image, we absolutely know the identity of this racer, and we also know that the locale is Massachusetts’ Seekonk Speedway of the 1960s. Seen here in a classic pose behind the controls of one of Freddy Beaber’s storied #716 coupes is the late Charlie Webster. This guy was one of the guys that literally helped put my home track of the Waterford Speedbowl on the map. There from the very beginning and amassing a career total of seventy-three feature victories in both Non-Ford and Modified competition at the shoreline oval, he was a champion in both classes (3 Non-Ford titles, and 1 Modified crown). He shocked our local racing community with his decision to retire at the dawn of the 1970s while still very-much in his prime. During the track’s Nostalgia Weekend festivities in 2000 Charlie was fittingly voted one of the Speedbowl’s “50 Favorite Drivers.” We really like this shot! (Photo Courtesy R.A. Silvia).

A couple of months-ago (and before our old neg. scanner crapped-out; we’ve yet to get the hang of the new one), we started developing some of our original Riverside Park negatives. This is one of them. Apparently, little is known about driver Lou Botticello, as a bit of research yielded almost nothing. We thought it was a nice shot very-representative of what was being campaigned at the much-missed UNITED-sanctioned Agawam, Massachusetts oval during the 1950s, so we figured we’d include it this week. Neat coupe, don’t you think? (Shany Photo).  


UNIDENTIFIED PHOTO OF THE WEEK; Yup, here’s another one that’s got us stumped! It’s obviously a fly-weight creation from our region’s notorious “cut-down era.” Not-only are we at a loss on the identity of the driver, but the same goes for the venue. If you have any information on this youthful chauffer, email us at foreveryounginct@gmail.com (Photographer Unknown).

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