Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday September 1, 2010

 Volume 2, Number 32                                                                                      New Column Every Wednesday


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By Dave Dykes                                                                              CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE

Last week I arrived home after work one day to find a package at my door from old pal Dave Roode. Opening-it, I was pleased to find several vintage shots from the Waterford Speedbowl as-well as a few other tracks. Dave and I became friends a number of years-ago when I was working for the Waterford Speedbowl finding that we shared an interest in all-things related to local racing’s past. A big THANKS goes out to Mr. Roode for enabling us to share his collection! Also, congratulations to Bill Grote for nailing the driver of the “unidentified” #71 coupe featured last week as none-other than New England Modified star, Johnny Thompson in 1953. Bill noted that also in the shot are the #20 of Harold “Curly” Lemay and the #0 of Sy Yates. As always, email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com   

With A Little Help From Our Friends – Thanks Mr. Roode!      

We open this week’s edition of “RTT” with a real classic. Known as “Gentleman Dick” Watson as well as “The Silver Fox”, the late Watson was inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 2003. Dick began and ended his career at Waterford. From that first race in 1953 until his retirement in 1976, he competed at tracks across New England including; West Haven, Plainville Stadium, Lonsdale, Seekonk, Langhorne (dirt & paved), Norwood Arena, Thompson Speedway, & Stafford Motor Speedway. His first victory came at Plainville Stadium. Among his most notable rides were the Bob Garbarino #V-4“Mystic Missile” and the Congdon #76. In 1966 he moved to the NASCAR Modified circuit, winning the Thompson World Series. He scored top-ten point finishes at Thompson in 1966 and '67, and at Stafford in '67 and '68 competing against some of the very best drivers of the era. Dick also competed in several Grand National (now known as Sprint Cup) events. In 1969, at the Thompson 200 he was running fifth on lap 180, with eventual winner David Pearson, when a mechanical failure forced him out of the race with an 11th place finish. In 1972 he returned to Waterford, again experiencing great success at his old haunt. Dick hung up his helmet after a violent crash during a qualifying heat at the shoreline oval in 1976, where he suffered a concussion, lower back injuries, and several broken ribs. Dick’s pictured here on the left with the Garbarino team at Waterford in the 1960’s. (Dugas Photo, Dave Roode Collection).     

Here’s yet-another great image from Connecticut’s “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl. It was 1964 when official track photographer Shany Lorenzent captured the “Black Panther” #1 of journeyman racer Vinnie Cerritto in his lens. By the mid-60’s the cars had started getting lower & leaner as evidenced by this neat little number. Note that up by the old railroad tie wall, the “sand safety strip” is still in-place. Within a few seasons after this shot was taken, the Speedbowl underwent a number of renovations including the removal of the sand safety strip which was originally devised to slow the cars before impact with the wall though it rarely worked-out that way! (Shany Photo, Dave Roode Collection).      

He’s ranked 4th on the all-time winners list at the SNYRA-sanctioned Danbury Fair Racerena, and that my friends, is a big accomplishment considering the level of competition that took place each and every Saturday night at the late & much-missed Connecticut oval. Pictured here behind the controls of a 427-powered coupe is “Big Ev” Pierce. We’re unsure of the location of this John Grady image, but it looks as-though Ev was taking-in a dirt show on this night. Sadly, Danbury which was the site of so-many of this driver’s victories, closed at the conclusion of the 1981 season ending decades of racing at what was known as one of the most-successful short track operations in the United States. (Grady Photo).        

As a charter member of the “Long Island Gang”, Fred “The Flying Dutchman” Harbach was always one of the drivers to watch whether it was on his home-turf, or at the big invitational Modified shows. Competing at venues from Maine to Florida, “Flying Freddie” got the job done in rigs like this timeless-looking coupe for over 4-decades and is part of a select group of drivers that took titles at all-3 Long Island tracks, Islip, Freeport, and Riverhead. He was also successful elsewhere, notching championships at New Jersey’s Wall Stadium, New Egypt and Old Bridge. His career total of feature wins is estimated at over 400. (Grady Photo).  

Andy Romano broke into the sport at a time when legends roamed the tracks of the Northeast, and he routinely beat the best of them after his career got rolling. For instance, on any given night at New York’s Fonda Speedway, you could expect at least 3 NASCAR National Champions to be pitside, plus guys like Lou Lazzaro, Kenny Shoemaker, Pete Corey, Steve Danish, Jeep Herbert, Harry Peek, and Ernie Gahan. The "Track of Champions" was a tough place in the 1950’s & 60’s, plus you could expect a visitor or two, like Dutch Hoag, Cliff Kotary, Ed Ortiz or Ken Meahl to make even qualifying a real chore. This one captures Romano (center) and crew with a Mustang-bodied pavement entry during the 1970’s. (Grady Photo).

As a kid, I always loved the Bomber class at Connecticut’s Waterford Speedbowl. Colorful cars, colorful drivers, and a slam-bang show that was sure to keep the attention of any race-brained adolescent. Another one from Dave Roode, this 1964 image captures the Bill Trask-owned #353 of Jerry Glaude, and that’s Charlie Krashen on the inside. This duo recorded 3 feature victories-each that season, while it was Ed Glaude notching the championship. (Dave Roode Collection).    

By its sophomore season in 1966, the new Daredevil division had really started to flourish at the Speedbowl – that’s the year that Rene Dugas snapped this pitside shot of a driver by the name of Arnie Johnson (he’s the dude with the old-style crash helmet on). Though the class consisted of primarily 1955-57 Chevys & Fords, Mr. Johnson chose to take a path less well-traveled in the art of race car construction. Note that his ride is a “Bullet Nose” Studebaker…. (Dugas Photo, Roode Collection).            

Christened the “Norwalk Nightrider” early in his career as a nod to his hometown, Bill Sweet was one of the real movers & shakers of the Speedbowl’s full-bodied support classes. A multi-time Daredevil titlist, he was wildly-popular with the fans. This one captures Bill (3rd from left), during the 1966 campaign, a year in-which he claimed the checkers on 5 occasions. By the next season, he was a champion. (Dugas Photo, Dave Roode Collection).

Nicknames were once all-the-rage in local short track racing, and Ken “Fatman” Davis had one befitting his grand physical stature. Seen here in 1967 behind the wheel of his Ford creation, note the bias ply 78-series tires (whitewalls no-less), and the unadulterated stature of the car. The early Daredevil class was truly a “stock” deal. Oh yeah, Snoopy was a big-deal that season (note cartoon on side of car), with The Royal Guardsmen’ rendition of “Snoopy vs. The Red Baron” having recently been a huge hit on the Billboard charts. It surely was a more carefree era….. (Dugas Photo, Dave Roode Collection).     

Given the “full-contact” nature of the Speedbowl’s Daredevil class, there were few teams that took the time to really pretty-up their machines. Bob Blanchette unveiled this ’55 Chevy in 1969, which was one of the sharpest machines in that season’s field. Note that by then, the class had somewhat progressed in a technical-sense. Teams had taken to modifying the suspension geometry to get the cars to handle-better, and in this case, the Blanchette crew had installed a heavy-duty truck hub on the right-front (also known as a “safety hub.”). Bob was another of the top-runners in the division. (Dugas Photo, Roode Collection). 

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

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