Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday September 7, 2011

 Volume 3, Number 34                                                                                     New Column Every Wednesday


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By Dave Dykes                                                                              CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE

We’re back, did you miss us? The hurricane that roared into coastal Connecticut recently took it’s toll on the “RTT” headquarters knocking the power out for what seemed like a long, long time (in reality, just a few days). Special thanks go-out to all of you that wrote & called to see if we remained standing following the “Big Wind of 2011.” Unfortunately, today also brings some sad news. It was learned that Hall of Famers Raymond “Hully” Bunn & Moran “Sonny” Rabideau have passed away. We also found out as reported from our Webmaster Tom Ormsby that New England Modified racing standout Dan Rocke took his last lap in March of 2010. In-closing, get-well wishes go out to our friend Donna Harman (wife of Hall of Fame member Billy Harman), who’s recently been hospitalized with a serious illness. Also still on the mend are our pals & NEAR Hall of Famers “Wild Bill” Slater and Val LeSieur. Lastly, special thanks to all who contributed photos this week. And with-that, it’s on with the show! Email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com          

Catching-Up After Hurricane Irene (A Hard Act To Follow….)

Here’s a nice shot of the late Raymond “Hully” Bunn who passed-away at age 91 on August 25. Inducted into the prestigious New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 2001, here’s an excerpt from his HOF biography; Raymond “Hully” Bunn of Bristol, CT, built his first racecar, a ’37 Ford Coupe, in 1949. Beginning at the Plainville Stadium, he soon was competing all over New England. While he drove his own equipment in the early part of his career, he later drove for many owners, including Johnny Ross, John Melnick, and Steve Danish. He began to compete outside New England, traveling to Tampa, Florida and Bainbridge, Ohio, as well as down the East coast into Pennsylvania and New Jersey, where he continued to be a frequent winner. “Those were fun days”, says Hully. “You could build a car for $1000, and most features paid at least $300 or $400 to win. Langhorne paid $1000, so you could really make a living at it back then.” In 1951, driving the #X coupe, Bunn beat out over 100 cars to win the Inaugural Race of Champions, a 100 mile race at Langhorne, PA. He returned to Langhorne in the spring of’51, when he took the same car to victory lane, after battling a field of 60 modifieds. Hully also has the distinction of winning the inaugural race at Lebanon Valley. Hully retired in 1965, following a crash at Lebanon Valley, in a 100 lap Sunday Night Open Competition race. “A kid went into the turn with no brakes, rolled me over”, remembers Hully. “It hurt my shoulder….It still bothers me today. I had a machine shop to run, and kids at home, so I decided it was time to retire.” (Photo Courtesy R.A. Silvia).             

Like the aforementioned Hully Bunn, NEAR Hall of Famer Moran “Sonny” Rabideau also left us recently, passaing-away at age 82 on August 3. From his HOF biography;  Moran “Sonny” Rabideau began his racing career in 1952 at the Hinsdale, NH Airport Speedway, before moving on to the West Brattleboro Speedway in nearby Vermont.  In 1954 and ’55, he took down 4 feature wins, and expanded to the Chesire Fairground track. By the time the ‘60’s rolled in, Sonny was an established veteran.  He won the first of his championships, the New England Dirt Championship, in 1961.  He repeated by winning the New England Dirt Championships in 1964, ’65, and ’66, before winning it again in 1970. A member of the Claremont Speedway Hall of Fame, Sonny’s 71 dirt wins makes him the all time Claremont dirt winner.  He was the man to beat wherever he raced, including Hinsdale, Devil’s Bowl, Lebanon Valley, Millers Falls, and Stafford Springs. He also raced at Mallets Bay, Colchester, Vermont. (Photo Courtesy R.A. Silvia).     

Seen here following a feature victory on the old 1/5-miler at Riverside Park is the late Dan Rocke who we recently discovered left us on March 10, 2010. For the last 2-decades, he had resided in Florida. Says Ormsby who competed against Dan at both Riverside Park; “Dan was a multi-time winner at Riverside beating the higher-powered Modifieds, as he ran a Sportsman which ran with the Modifieds. He was a perennial winner of the Sportsman Bonus for the first Sportsman over the line, which if I remember-right was about $300.00. I remember he won at least one Sportsman championship, it may have been more.” (Photo Courtesy Tom Ormsby). 

Before he came to the stock cars, Sparky Belmont (real name Michael Belmonte), was a celebrated Midget racer as seen in this shot from Connecticut’s former Cherry Park Speedway captured in 1948. A Plainville Stadium track champion and a big star on Harvey Tattersall’s UNITED circuit, 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. “Sparky” was one of best to have emerged from the busy post-war era of racing in New England. Special-thanks go out to Sparky’s nephew Rich Belmonte (himself a former racer), for providing us with this timeless image. (Photo Courtesy Rich Belmonte).   

Captured in the” New London-Waterford” Speedbowl pits during the early 1970s, here’s another member of the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame. The ultra-popular Bob Potter started his career at shoreline oval in 1962 behind the controls of a Bomber class entry. Never officially retired, Potter went-on to win multiple Modified championships at Waterford (where alone, he claimed close to 100 career victories), Thompson, and Stafford. Also in the shot are longtime ‘Bowl competitor Ted Eaton on the left, and on the right is storied Speedbowl car owner Roger Bonville. (Photo Courtesy Rusty Sage).           

Here’s a great shot of one of the most popular drivers to have ever competed at the former Riverside Park Speedway in Agawam, Massachusetts. Three-times a track champion (1970, 71, and 73), the late Bobby Stefanik recorded a total of 21 modified division wins between the years 1969-79. Universally admired by both fans and his fellow competitors, he’s seen here with the famed Czarnecki Brothers coupe, a car that bought him many victories. (John Grady Photo).                           

Just how daunting were the high banks of Massachusetts’ former Westboro Speedway? Take a peek at this shot and then ask yourself that question again….. An ultra-fast ¼-miler with a fence that would seemingly “reach-out and grab’ an errant competitor, Westboro could be a scary place for any racer, even those in the support classes. This photo from the 1979 season shows our old friend Bobby Lee motoring past a Camaro pilot that’s pushed the envelope just a bit-too-far. Bobby was a winning racer at the Waterford Speedbowl down Connecticut-way in the Street Stock division and on this day was probably at the Falconi family’s jaunty little speedplant for an open-comp show. Sadly, we lost Westboro in 1985. Ironically, something called the “Speedway Mall” was built on its remains. (Photo Courtesy Bobby Lee).    

Before Hurricane Irene saw-fit to interrupt our reputation of consistency, we’d run a few “modern” shots culled from the Waterford Speedbowl portfolio of our friend, veteran racing photographer Ed Grab. Proving very-popular with our patrons, we thought we’d run a few more this week. Seen here at the Speedbowl during the “Vega Era” of the early 1980s is second-generation racer Johnny Georgidas Jr. The family had a long New England racing history, with Johnny Sr. being one of the premier stars of the much-heralded coupe era. (Photo Courtesy Ed Grab)                

Just as the vintage coupes were replaced by Pinto’s, Vega’s and other more modern Detroit stylings as the era wore-on, the next big thing to capture the fancy of Modified car builders was the Chevy Cavalier, and here’s a nice example of an early one. See here at Connecticut’s Thompson Speedway is the “Sweet 16” of the late Rick “Sleepy” Knapp a popular chauffer who came to the Modified division following a reign as one of the region’s top full-fendered racers. (Photo Courtesy Ed Grab).

Another supporter of Chevy’s subcompact Vega tinwork was Mike Gero, captured here at the Speedbowl again, in the early 1980s. Gero is the son-in-law of the late & much-missed multi-time ‘Bowl track champion George “Moose” Hewitt. This car is typical of the fare offered in the Modified division all over New England during that time period. (Photo Courtesy Ed Grab).

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

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