Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday October 30, 2013


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By Dave Dykes                                                                            CLICK ON PHOTOS FOR FULL SIZE

Unfortunately we again begin this week on a sad-note, as it was learned that veteran New England modified racer Charlie Centinaro passed away on Tuesday, October 22nd. Charlie won widely throughout his career, and was particularly-proficient within the Tattersall family’s United Stock Car Racing Club. Our sincere condolences are sent to his family & many friends on this somber occasion. The first person to correctly identify last week’s “unidentified” driver as Gene White was our old pal, long-time New England auto racing writer Phil Smith. He adds; “That's Gene White behind the wheel. The Falcon was owned and built by Leo Donahue of Pawcatuck, Connecticut. It was powered by a 289 Ford.” Thanks for the extra-info. Phil! Once-again, a huge thanks is extended to all who emailed us with their guesses, many of-which agreed with Phil’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-Usual, More Wednesday Wanderings……..

It was sad news when word filtered-down that pioneering New England modified racer Charlie Centinaro had passed-away at age-80 on Tuesday, October 22nd. Before his career concluded he’d won widely in our region, and was particularly-good within the United Stock Car Racing Club (once the most-powerful & influential sanctioning body in New England). A United champion, this one captures him at Connecticut’s West Haven Speedway in the 1950s behind the wheel of "Jarb" Beaudoin’s ultra-potent #500, one of the most-heralded rides of the era. (Shany Lorenzent Photo).

Our friend Warren Sentivany currently serves as Crew Chief on the Skip Matczak-owned USAC Dirt Midget chauffeured by Denny Zimmerman (talk about a talented duo, both Denny & Skip are celebrated New England Auto Racing Hall of Famers!). Warren was also a driver. We’ll let him explain this shot that he sent us recently. He says; “I just found this old Stafford picture from 1954. It was the start of a CORA (Car Owners Racing Association), race. CORA was short lived, lasting only a few years, I think. That's me in the center on the front row. The only other driver I can identify is Whitey Brainard in a Buick powered car on the outside front row. There is just the tip of the old covered grandstands on the left. I thought you might enjoy this.” We do indeed appreciate this shot Warren, and I’m sure our readers will enjoy it also. It’s a great glimpse of your early career and also the “old” Stafford Springs Motor Speedway! (Shany Lorenzent Photo Courtesy Warren Sentivany).

If you’re at-all familiar with the history of New England modified racing, we’re pretty-sure you’ll know the identity of this dude. From his New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame Biography; Born Carl Steven Berghman, he assumed the alias Bugs Stevens when he drove his first race at the Pan American Speedway in Texas in 1957 while he was stationed in the service and his racing was unauthorized. He kept the name when he returned to a New England racing career that eventually lead to his winning 3 NASCAR National Modified championships in 1967 through 69 driving the Len Boehler #3. Along the way he went on to become Stafford Motor Speedway’s most-winning driver with 72 modified feature victories. He often ventured down to Martinsville Va. where he had 7 wins. His numerous track championships include Stafford Motor Speedway (4), Seekonk Speedway, (3), Norwood Arena, (2), Albany Saratoga, Catamount and Thompson. His big wins include the 73 Spring Sizzler, a pair of 500 lappers at Thompson and several victories at Trenton and Martinsville. His sudden switch in rides with fellow Hall of Famer Fred DeSarro, to the Koszella #15 was a major media event. Bugsy was a darling of the media and his last modified race at Stafford in 87 was a premier event. In 1970 Stevens tried his hand at Grand National (now Winston Cup), driving at the Atlanta, Darlington, and Charlotte super speedways. His sixth place finish at the World 600 earned him rookie of the race honors.” This Steve Kennedy image captures Bugsy at Connecticut’s Stafford Motor Speedway in 1977. (Steve Kennedy Photo).

Seen here prior to the start of the 50-lap “NAPA Fall Classic” on Sunday, October 22, 1978 at Connecticut’s Waterford Speedbowl when he was wheeling the Tom Dunn #T-5 is Fred Schulz. Kind of a modern-day “coach” a few modified car builders of the era took to using 2-door wagon versions of both the Ford Pinto and the Chevy Vega. This was one of the more significant of those entries, as the Dunn team was quite-successful. Always considered one of the drivers to beat wherever he competed, Fred’s career ran the gamut from the days of the notoriously-dangerous “cut-downs” to more contemporary mounts like the Dunn creation. He won just about everywhere in New England and truly was one of the pioneers of the sport. On this day however, it was NEAR Hall of Famer Carl "Bugs” Stevens taking the checkers at the shoreline oval. (Steve Kennedy Photo).

Here’s another great Phil Hoyt shot from Connecticut’s late Plainville Stadium (it wouldn’t be an installment of “RTT” without at-least one Plainville shot, right?). The gentleman you see here is Buddy Rouleau. Following this neat coupe, he campaigned a sleek Vega-bodied creation that was considered quite-radical for the time. In addition to his Stadium endeavors, he also occasionally ran at Waterford and Thompson. Buddy’s “Z” cars always wore this striking black & gold color combination. We really think this image captures the spirit of “Tinty’s Place” quite-nicely! (Phil Hoyt Photo)   

They began as the Waterford Speedbowl’s “Daredevil” class in 1965, were rechristened “Sportsman Sedans” for 1971, and under Harvey Tattersall’s UNITED-sanction were named the “Grand Americans” in 1975. The class was phased-out following the 1979 campaign due to a sagging car-count and several other factors. Seen here with his Chevy II-bodied Grand Am in the mid-1970s is Walt Whistling, a Grand American feature winner and one of the division’s top competitors. (Steve Kennedy Photo). 

It’s 1977, and the driver you see here is one Blaine Belz. A mainstay of the competition at the Waterford Speedbowl for numerous seasons, he scored many fine-runs in this neat little coupe. He was never a huge-winner, but was there every week giving it his best-effort. Always known as a steady-chauffer, in later-seasons the popular Belz served as a “hired gun” for a number of different Speedbowl teams. (Steve Kennedy Photo).

Here’s a nice paddock area shot of the late Marvin Chase. Known by Connecticut fans as primarily a Waterford Speedbowl competitor (as captured here in the 1960s), he also tasted success at the storied Norwood Arena in Massachusetts – an easy feat by no-means. After hanging-up his helmet, Marvin became involved with the New England Antique Racers, heavily contributing his time to the club. Fondly remembered, “Marv” had many friends at the shoreline oval, including this scribe. (Rene Dugas Photo).

OK, we’ll be honest; we don’t know a hoot about Norm Daniels, the driver of this early coupe except for seeing his name in some old Waterford results within our vintage Illustrated Speedway News files. We simply like the photo, reveling in its “period quality.” We’re thinking it’s a Bomber or Non-Ford division entry judging by the rubber and the powerplant under the hood, but again, we can’t be certain. Just another neat “Shany” image captured during the early days of the Connecticut track known as the “Shoreline Oval.” (Shany Lorenzent Photo)     

Captured at Connecticut’s Waterford Speedbowl, here’s two extremely-talended racers doing their thing….. It’s August of 1977 and the race is event-three of that year’s United Yankee All-Star League Series. The guy in the #1 Vega is the late, great Charlie Jarzombek out of Baiting Hollow, New York, and the other dude is 4-time Speedbowl modified track champion, the much-celebrated Dick Dunn wheeling the famed “Buddha’s Bullet” Capri owned by Peg Gaudreau and her late (& much-missed), husband Al. Charlie took the win that night with Dick right on his bumper. The All-Star shows drew the best in the business, they were truly great events! (Steve Kennedy Photo).  

One from Thompson; “Daring Dick” Caso may have never won any popularity contests with track officials, but he had more than his fair-share of fans among the grandstand patrons. A nickname well-earned, his driving style was of the “no-holds-barred” variety and when in his prime, a Caso-drive to the front was itself worth the price of an admission ticket. The guy was simply blessed with talent. 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-winner in the early 70s, he’d often take-off to run the dirt tracks of PA with this Corvair or its stable-mate, a coupe-bodied creation. 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 Waterford Speedbowl history. The moniker was of course, a nod to Dick’s hometown. (Steve Kennedy Photo).

UNIDENTIFIED DRIVER OF THE WEEK: From our “Early Stafford” files comes this neat decades-old trackside image captured at the historically-rich Connecticut ½-miler. As we relayed in previous editions of “RTT” when time permits we’ll be running a number of shots converted from the original Stafford/Shany Lorenzent negatives in our collection. As-always, if anyone has any information on this driver, please feel-free to contact us at foreveryounginct@gmail.com . In doing-so, you’ll be assisting in the preservation of New England racing history! (Shany Lorenzent Photo).

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