Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday September 8, 2010

 Volume 2, Number 33                                                                                      New Column Every Wednesday


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By Dave Dykes                                                                              CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE

This week we present a selection of shots from the archives of our good friend and Racing Through Time Webmaster, Tom Ormsby. A former Modified racer himself, Tom is also the guy behind the popular http://www.speedwaylinereport.com and http://www.vintagemodifieds.com sites. Now retired and living in Florida, “Tommy” (as he was called during his racing days), was the  first to launch a site dedicated to the historical aspect of short track racing in New England when he debuted his Vintage Modifieds site back in the nineties. On a more-serious note, Get Well wishes go- out to our pal Al “Buddha” Gaudreau who is presently hospitalized. Al and his wife Peg virtually owned the Waterford Speedbowl’s victory lane for a period in the 1970s claiming several championships and a multitude of victories with the great Dick Dunn as the chauffer of their potent “Buddha’s Bullet” Modifieds.  As-always, email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com    

Images From The Tom Ormsby Collection….      

This 1970s paddock area shot from Connecticut’s Stafford Springs Motor Speedway captures Roland “Pappy” Lapierre during the autumn of his long, storied career. As one of the true pioneers of New England Modified racing, he ran (and won), at just about every one of the many small ovals that once dotted our region’s landscape. In later years, Pappy watched his son Roland Jr. become one of New England’s top Modified racers. His great-grandson Nick Teto also displayed a keen interest in the sport, creating YankeeRacer.com which today is one of the internet’s premier racing news sites. (Adaskaveg Photo, Tom Ormsby Collection). 

When today’s fans hear the name Berndt announced over the PA at the Modified haunts of New England, it’s in reference to popular young Modified chauffer, Eric Berndt. Showing that the old adage “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” often rings-true in our sport, this image captures Eric’s dad Tim at Connecticut’s Thompson Speedway back when he was a youthful Modified chauffer himself in the 1970s. The Berndt family’s involvement in racing has been a decades-long (and very successful), affair. (Kennedy Photo, Tom Ormsby Collection).     

 As the man behind KGM Video http://www.kgmvideo.com Ken Meisenhelder has spent years documenting the images of our sport. Additionally, he’s amassed a huge library of historical footage from virtually all of the tracks in the Northeast. When this 1970s shot was captured at Stafford Springs Motor Speedway, he manning the controls of a big-block Vega Modified. Ken started his career in the Novice Division at Massachusetts’ late (and much-missed), Riverside Park during the 1960’s. (Adaskaveg Photo, Tom Ormsby Collection).         

I believe this is the oldest photo I have of Tony Mordino. I'm pretty-sure it's West Haven, or it could be Bridgeport,” states Tom Ormsby of this shot. The late Tony Mordino was one of the absolute-best during the stock car boom of post-war New England. A leading member of the legendary “Waterbury Gang” that also included guys like the late Danny Galullo, the battles he waged with established UNITED stars such as Billy Greco and Johnny “King” Cambino at the old West Haven Speedway are stuff of legend. He later conquered Plainville Stadium and Riverside Park –certainly two of the toughest bullrings in the Northeast. Tony retired following the 1975 Thompson 300, an event in which raced to a top-10 finish after having started 50th in the field. (Photographer Unknown, Tom Ormsby Collection).  

And here’s an early Plainville Stadium shot of one of New England’s truly-legendary Modified racers; Tony “Jap” Membrino scored scads of checkers at a variety of the region’s tracks including West Haven, Riverside Park, and of-course, Plainville Stadium where he was particularly-successful. Fast, colorful, and at-times controversial during a career that eclipsed 3-decades, Jap was always a fan-favorite providing fans with the type of excitement that seems to be sometimes absent in today’s world of Modified racing. If you beat this guy on a Saturday night you worked for-it! This remains Ormsby’s favorite image of the guy he raced-against for so-long at Joe Tinty’s little palace of speed. (Faust Photo, Tom Ormsby Collection).

The driver is Skip Ziegler, the track is Connecticut’s late Plainville Stadium during the 1960s, and the class was known as the “Novice Division.” His ride typical of the entries in the class, Ziegler was one of the popular support division’s top drivers scoring many triumphs before advancing to the Modifieds and continuing his tradition of winning. Skip mostly wheeled self-owned entries. (Faust Photo, Tom Ormsby Collection).    

Here’s a GREAT shot! Twice a Riverside Park champion (1963 & 1966), “Dangerous Dan” Galullo was one of the brightest stars of the once powerful United Stock Car Racing Club headed-up by the Tattersall family. Also included in his accomplishments is the 1962 United Stock Car Racing Club Grand Championship, a feat he recorded by winning at the many UNITED-sanctioned tracks that once dotted Northeast. During his career he also recorded feature wins at Plainville Stadium, Waterford Speedbowl, and Cherry Park in Avon, Connecticut among others. He competed in at-least one documented NASCAR Grand National event (now know as the Sprint Cup Series) at New Jersey’s Old Bridge Stadium in 1956. Following a serious heart-attack, Galullo retired from driving while still in his prime. He passed-away in 1974, but not before witnessing the racing accomplishments of his sons, Richie and Danny Jr. The car that Dan is wheeling in this rare image was owned by his friend and fellow competitor, multi-time Plainville Stadium champion, Don Spazano. Dan won 1 or 2 features while driving for his pal. (Grady Photo, Tom Ormsby Collection).            

Mr. Ormsby outdid-himself with this one in terms of rarity – I’m not-quite sure where to start! It’s obvious that the guy seated behind the controls of this Chevelle is New England Modified legend and NEAR Hall of Famer Carl “Bugs” Stevens, but the division and locale is unknown. Could it be an early NASCAR North deal? Some sort of Late Model? If anyone has any info. on this shot of “Da’ Bugman” please feel-free to drop us a line. (Photographer Unknown, Tom Ormsby Collection).

In the colorful early-days of our sport, nicknames were all-the-rage, and a nod to one’s ethnic linage was all part of the fun. In today’s politically-correct atmosphere, some of this stuff might seem a bit out-of-place, but it was another era, after-all. Just as the great Ronnie Narducci became the “Top Wop” owing to his family’s roots, pioneering Modified driver Johnny Georgiades was proudly known as “The Flying Greek”. A fixture on New England ovals for decades, he was one of the top-draws in the days of the coupes. This shot captures him “at the office” possibly readying for a night of racing at one of the many ovals that previously dotted the landscape of our region. Upon seeing this photo, New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer & 1972 Indy 500 rookie of the year Dennis Zimmerman smiled, and said to Ormsby, “Hey, that’s me in the window with the t-shirt on!” That, makes this photo even-more special! (Photo By Wally Post), Ormsby Collection).     

I always liked the looks of this car, but never knew who the driver was until Ormsby gave me the scoop. Seen here in his positively-immaculate Capri-bodied entry at Martinsville is Rodger Hill. Ormsby states; “Today, Rodger is the car owner James Civali is presently driving-for, and he was also the long time car owner for Eddie Flemke Jr.” Personally-speaking I learn something new about this stuff every time I put an installment of “RTT” together! (Adaskaveg Photo, Ormsby Collection). 

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

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