Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday October 23, 2013


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By Dave Dykes                                                                            CLICK ON PHOTOS FOR FULL SIZE

This week we’ll keep the opening comments short & sweet, letting our selection of images from the “RTT” archives do the talking. However, we will add that the first person to correctly identify last week’s “unidentified” driver as veteran New England racer Don Flynn was faithful “RTT” reader Don Pontarelli of El Cajon, California. Once-again, a huge thanks is extended to all who emailed us with their guesses, many of-which agreed with Don’s answer! Lastly, 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  Ticket purchase deadline for the event is November 1st. Requests for reserved tables of 10 must be received by October 25th. There will be no ticket sales at the door. Till’ next time, have a great week! As-always, email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com

As We Race Through Another Week….

The late Ray Delisle was a major player within New England’s post-war racing boom, and became a prolific winner. Felled by serious injuries sustained in a horrendous crash at the Connecticut shoreline’s New London-Waterford Speedbowl when his coupe was hit from-behind and it’s old-style “jerry can” fuel tank erupted in-flames, he endured a long and supremely-painful recovery before returning to the sport. In 1964, his career reached its zenith when he waltzed-away with the Speedbowl Modified title wheeling the famed Simons Bros. #9. This image recently developed from an original Shany Lorenzent negative captures him at another Nutmeg State oval in 1967, the Stafford Springs Speedway. The car unfamiliar to us, we’re not sure of its owner, (Shany Photo).

We just love these old UNITED shots, and this one’s a dandy! 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 (as captured here), he was a top competitor all over our region for decades winning a boatload of features. This one shows the guy nicknamed “Suitcase Sutcliffe” (for reasons unknown to this scribe), during the height of his lengthy career. (Shany Photo).

Captured here sharing victory lane with a young fan, “Daring Dick” Caso may have never won any popularity contests with track officials at Connecticut’s New London-Waterford Speedbowl, but he had more than his fair-share of grandstand disciples. A nickname well-earned, his driving style was of the aggressive-variety and 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. Well-travelled, when not at the Bowl’ he’d often take-off to run the dirt tracks of New York & Pennsylvania. Nicknames were big during Caso’s tenure, as he was also christened “The Cromwell Comet” by the late, great John Small, one of the grandest announcers in Speedbowl history. That moniker of-course, was a nod to his CT. hometown. (Shany Photo).  

Here’s a rare John Grady image of New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member, the late Dick Dixon, He was a top Modified competitor in Harvey Tattersall’s United Stock Car Club in the 1950s and 1960s, also competing in their Grand American class. One year, he won all-but two GA features run by United. He earned several wins on the old Big E racetrack in both the coupes and the late models. He raced in several Grand National (Sprint Cup) events, including races at Charlotte, Lime Rock, Daytona, and Islip Speedways. Sadly, Dick lost his life in 1967 while competing at Thompson Speedway in a car normally driven by fellow New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member Billy Harman. (Grady Photo).    

Captured here at Connecticut’s much-missed Plainville Stadium, Lou Toro (real name Louis Conforte), was a fierce competitor for decades, no-matter where the venue. Like many other racers from his era, running as much as 4-times weekly was commonplace. He was particularly-good at UNITED haunts like West Haven and Riverside, but also excelled at the independently-sanctioned New London-Waterford Speedbowl. He was a popular chauffer with both fans, and his fellow racers. We find this to be simply an outstanding image; the color registration remains superb after decades. A recent addition to our files thanks to friend former official Plainville photographer Phil Hoyt, this is one of the nicest photos in our archives. (Faust Photo).    

Here’s something a little-different for this week’s edition of “RTT.” Seen here at-speed in 1979 at the Connecticut shoreline’s Waterford Speedbowl is Grand American competitor, Andy Guimond. That season would be the swan-song for the once-popular full-fendered support class, as they were no-longer a part of the ‘Bowl racing card for 1980. Crowned the final Grand American track champion was our pal, veteran Bob Gada Sr. As-for Guimond, he was a multi-time feature event winner. (Kennedy Photo).  

Captured here seated behind the controls of the legendary & ultra-potent Don House XL1 (which stood for Experimental Lincoln Number One), is the late Tommie Elliot. The location is Connecticut’s Stafford Speedway, its 1967 & the first year of the pavement, and Mal Barlow is still the track owner. Elliot, a native of Bloomfield, New Jersey was long-considered one of Jersey’s greatest racers and had began his career at the young age of 15 at New York’s old Altamont-Schenectady Fairgrounds. The XL1 reached legendary status early-on. In addition to Elliot, House employed the likes of guys like Wally Dallenbach Sr., Joe Kelly, Tommie Elliott, Lee Roy Yarborough, Johnny Coy and Don MacTavish to wheel his creation. Former championship-winning NASCAR crew chief and team owner Ray Evernham located & purchased the car in 2011 and began its lengthy restoration. (Shany Photo).

The much-missed & fondly-remembered Gary Colturi was on the fast-track to success when news of his tragic death in a motorcycle accident both stunned and saddened the New England racing community in 1973. He was extremely popular with both fans & his fellow competitors. Teamed with legendary car owner & New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member Mario Fiore, he raced to great-success at Massachusetts’ former Riverside Park Speedway. This shot captures Gary at the Agawam oval early-on during his short-but-spectacular career. (Shany Photo).

Here’s a great shot of the late Bobby Santos Sr. during his early days in the Modifieds. From his New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame biography; Bobby Santos began racing in 1952, driving a ’47 Plymouth at the Norwood Arena. The venture was short-lived, and Bobby quit racing for several years. One night, however, Don MacTavish asked Bobby if he would take his wrecked racecar home and repair it. He did, with the help of friends George Colwell, and Ira Tucker. Santos took that car to Norwood, and won 3 Sportsman races and 23 Hobby Division races between 1961 and 1967. He mounted dirt tires and drove the same car at Stafford, taking down 3 championships there. In 1968, Bobby was so dominant in the Norwood Hobby Division that he was “invited” to leave. He, Colwell, and Tucker returned to Norwood, however, after building themselves a modified, which he quickly managed to park in victory lane. Over the next several years, Bobby drove for Ray Spognardi, Ray Stonkis, Bill Simon, and Joe Brady, competing at Westboro, Thompson, and Seekonk. He then went to work for fellow Hall of Famer Art Barry, driving the Preston, CT based #09 and then the #21. Santos and Barry competed at Stafford, Thompson, Claremont, and Monadnock. “Bobby was the “King” up in New Hampshire,” remembers Barry. There was one year nobody could touch him up there. He won 7 consecutive races up there once.” Bobby took the Barry cars outside New England, and was a threat to win every time out at Trenton, Pocono, Lancaster, Malta, and Utica Rome. “Win, lose, or draw,” states Barry, “Bobby was a ton of fun. We won a lot of races. The thing about Bobby was that he drove his heart out, from the first lap to the last. He drove for me for 7 or 8 years, and we won a LOT of races.” (Shany Photo).      

We admittedly don’t know much about this Riverside Park driver, Jim McCavanaugh, but we sure-do like the photo. An image that captures both the essence of the “coupe era” and the spirit of the fondly-recalled Agawam, Massachusetts oval, this is what modified stock cars looked-like during the reign of the Tattersall family’s once-powerful United Stock Car Racing Club. Fans of New England modified racing owe a great deal to United. Long-before NASCAR moved-into the region it was the Tattersall’s that really got things organized. (Shany Photo)

UNIDENTIFIED DRIVER OF THE WEEK: OK kids, here we go with another mystery to test your knowledge of our region’s racing history. The location is Connecticut’s Stafford Springs Motor Speedway, and the car is a “full-bodied” Ford Falcon entry sponsored by Backus Motors which was located right in-town. To the outside is none-other than everybody’s pal, “Gentleman Lou” Austin in his coupe, and on the right & barely-showing is Maynard Forette in his #88 (also a Falcon). Pretty-sure of who this racer-is? If-so, email us at foreveryounginct@gmail.com In doing-so, you’ll be helping to preserve New England auto racing history (and assisting us in properly organizing our archives!). (Shany Photo).

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