Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday September 5, 2012

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Volume 4, Number 36                                                                                     New Column Every Wednesday


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By Dave Dykes                                                                             CLICK ON PHOTOS FOR FULL SIZE

This week we present a bit of a “Plainville Primer” in-honor of the upcoming Fourth Annual Plainville Stadium Reunion which takes place on Saturday, October 13th from 10am – 3pm at the Berlin Fair Grounds located at 430 Beckley Road, East Berlin, CT. The event is presented by the Nutmeg Kart Club in conjunction with the Berlin Lions Club World of Wheels. Simply-stated, it’s the perfect opportunity to mingle, and perhaps get an autograph from the personalities that made Joe Tinty’s much-missed Connecticut oval so-special. Many former Stadium competitors including Don Moon, Dave & Fred Alkas, the colorful Tony “Jap” Membrino, Richie Galullo, Danny Galullo, Jr. 1963 Champion George Hotchkiss, George Lombardo, Don Spazano, Jo-Jo Farone, Bill Harman, and a host of others are expected to attend. Previous versions of the affair have been wildly-successful; it’s become one of the regions most-anticipated racing reunions of the year! Extra-special thanks go out to our Webmaster & pal Tom Ormsby for digging-deep into his archives for some of this week’s historical images, and also to our longtime friend & frequent “RTT” contributor James Scott Haag for the use of some of extraordinary shots. As always, have a great week! Email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com  

NOTE: We have now put a comment box at the end of the web site. Please feel free to leave your comments.

This Week; A Plainville Stadium Primer…!

Plainville Stadium always had its share of spiffy-looking rides, and this little gem of coupe is no exception. The driver is the late Bart Rocco, one of the real movers & shakers of the late Connecticut ¼-milers heyday. Bart was a long time journeyman driver at the Stadium in the 60's in first the Novice Division and then the Modifieds. (Faust Photo, Ormsby Collection).

For anyone believing that Plainville Stadium didn’t host the best-of-the-best in modified racers at different periods during its long history, here’s an absolutely-outstanding shot that clearly illustrates the caliber of driver that once landed in victory lane at “Tinty’s Place.” A member of the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame, the legendary Dick Dixon was a top modified competitor all over New England, and particularly within Harvey Tattersall’s United Stock Car Club of the 1950s and 1960s. He also competed in their Grand American class. One year, he won all-but two GA features run by United. He earned several victories on the old Big E racetrack in both the coupes and the late models. Dixon 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. (Faust Photo, Haag Collection).

Typical of the machines that once competed weekly at Plainville during the 1950s & 60s, Ralph Boehm proudly poses pitside with his Bumble Bee #23 5-window hot rod sometime during the 1960s. Ralph was also a 4 time winner at Riverside Park Speedway between 1959 and 1961. Ralph later stepped-out from behind the wheel to become a very-successful car-owner at a number of New England raceways. Shots like this remain an important part of any racing library; not every driver was a prolific feature winner, but their important contributions to the sport should always be recognized. (Faust Photo, Ormsby Collection).

Here’s another nice paddock-area image from the days when Plainville really packed its grandstands each & every week. The young racer you see here is the late Carl Splettstoeszer, brother of our friend & present New England Antique Racers (NEAR) Board of Directors member Jim Splettstoeszer. We’re not sure of Carl’s statistics at Plainville (sadly, Stadium records are not widely-available), but we sure like his coupe and the Cromwell-style crash helmet he’s wearing. Just a period-perfect shot! (Faust Photo, Ormsby Collection).         

Many of Plainville’s Saturday night stars branched-out successfully to other tracks in the New England area; this guy is a perfect example. Seen here following one of his feature victories at The Stadium, Jerry Wheeler was one of those racers. Jerry was the first to wheel his brother-in-law, Bob Judkin's famed 2x. Jerry had a great deal of success at many northeast tracks. (Faust Photo, 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 racer the late 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 following a Plainville Stadium feature triumph with his multi-carbureted #87. Note the old “Cromwell” helmet Johnny’s wearing. That, my friends was state-of-the-art safety equipment in those days. (Faust Photo, Ormsby Collection).

Here’s a great color shot of “Little Johnny” Manafort during his days as a Plainville Novice division competitor. The Manafort family had a long, successful tenure at Joe Tinty’s demanding little ¼-miler, earning many checkered flags. Though it doesn’t always get its due historically-speaking, Plainville Stadium was one of the most- competitive tracks in New England, and was responsible for jump-starting the careers of some of the best modified drivers in the business. As-stated earlier, the track’s annual reunion will be coming-up on Saturday, October 13, so watch for more information here in the coming-weeks. (Faust Photo, Ormsby Collection).

Seen here in-front of a packed grandstand during a 1960s outing at The Stadium is another member of the family mentioned above, this time Frank Manafort. Associated primarily with Plainville, Frank was a top New England modified competitor from the 1960s to the early-70s retiring to help run the family business. In later years, he came back to compete in the Legends division where he continued winning. Now a car owner within the Northeast Midget Association (NEMA), Frank’s team with our friend & former Plainville modified star Elliot Beverage serving as crew chief scored a stunning NEMA Lites win at Waterford last Saturday night. Their driver? None-other than young modified hotshot Keith Rocco, son of former Plainville champion Ronnie Rocco. Still in a cast from an accident earlier this year, Rocco accomplished the feat driving one-handed after having started deep in the field. It was the young drivers first-ever ride in a NEMA Midget. Impressive, to say-the-least! (Faust Photo, Ormsby Collection).

Here’s a really early shot of our old pal Don Moon, one of the primary organizers of the Plainville Reunion. In addition to his residency at the much-missed Connecticut ¼-miler, Moon competed at a number of other Eastern modified haunts during his long career, compiling a stellar record of triumphs. As a member of the “closed-club” Southern New York Racing Association at Danbury Fair Racearena, he notched two victories in 1966, including the Conrad Memorial Trophy event. An admired car-builder, he’s also credited with helping jump-start the career of a young Reggie Ruggiero. With a broken-arm putting a premature end to his Stadium’ season, Moon placed “The Reg” behind the wheel of his potent #9 in 1975 resulting in ten feature wins for the young upstart. These days, Moon campaigns an immaculate version of his former Pinto Modified on the NEAR circuit. When attending the Plainville Reunion this year, be sure to stop-by & chat with Don - tell him Dave sent you! (Faust Photo, Ormsby Collection).

The location is of-course Plainville Stadium, and the big dude behind the controls of this absolutely-classic coupe is none-other than our friend, New England Auto Racing Hall of Farmer, George Lombardo. A winner all over New England during the early days of the sport before retiring in 1964 or 65, he recorded a ton of modified feature victories, and was particularly-tough at Plainville where he was twice a track champion. George of-course is one of the many former modified stars slated to appear at this years Plainville Reunion. (Faust Photo, Ormsby Collection).

BONUS SHOT: Here’s a GREAT early action shot from Plainville courtesy of our friend James Scott Haag. We’re not sure who’s leading this trio in the #207 (could be Ray Brown or Hall of Fame member Rene Charland), nor are we sure who’s wheeling Norm Kie’s much-celebrated Red Ram #21, but we do know that it’s Hall of Famer the late Dick Dixon in his signature “8” Ball entry rounding-out this image. Again, this photo illustrates the quality of drivers and machines that once circled Joe Tinty’s pancake-flat little ¼-miler. (Faust Photo, Haag Collection).

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

This Weeks Comments

(4 days ago) Dave Dykes said:

Guys, Once-again, thanks for all the participation on the message board - it's really appreciated! I hope that you guys can all make it to the Reunion, as it's again going to be a great affair. And Bob Paine; ANY scan of my late friend Bill Slater is always welcomed!

(4 days ago) clayton murphy said:

the 23 car with Ralph Boehm was an old V1 team car to the VO owned by Jimmy Jorgenson, I believe this was a one night ride for Ralph.
Ralph owned his own 101 car out of Simsbury, note the guys in the picture have 101 jackets on.

(5 days ago) Gene Zeigler said:

The other car in the background of the Bart Rocco picture is the 126 of Skip Zeigler. Looking forward to my first visit to the reunion all the way from Liberty, SC!

(5 days ago) Steve K said:

Dennis Chavaris proudly called himself "The Greek" and won at least one feature at Pville with his 0 coach!

(6 days ago) Rich Belmont said:

Dave, the red coupe behind the Bart Rocco car is #45 of Sparky Belmont, which was formerly the DeLena/Lombardo car

(6 days ago) Bob Paine said:

Dave, I have a June 5, 1955 Speed Bowl program with Bill Slater on the cover. Did I send a scan of this to you? If not, do you want it?

(6 days ago) Dave Dykes said:

Guys, Thanks for all the positive comments as it's greatly-appreciated. As long as you continue to enjoy the site, my Webmaster & friend Tom Ormsby and I will present it every week (it truly is a joint-effort).

(6 days ago) NELS said:


(6 days ago) Tom L. said:

Nice job guys! keep up the good work.

(6 days ago) Tom Ormsby said:

Denny, you are right. I put the wrong name when I sent it to Dave.

Ed, I think George may have retired after 1964 as he won his last feature on September 12, 1964 and I can't imagine that he went through the entire 65 season without a win.

(6 days ago) dave dykes said:

Ed, George officially retired in 1967 - as stated from the man himself...

(6 days ago) Denny Zimmerman said:

Are you sure that's Charlie Brayton in the 62? My memory's not to good but it looks a lot like the Jerry Wheeler I remember. Denny Z.

(6 days ago) Ed P said:

I may be wrong but I thought George Lombardo retired after the 65 season after Plainville discontinued the modifieds in favor of headlining the bombers in 66. When modifieds came back in 67 i don't recall him driving and I was there every week. i do remember seeing him in the pits though for many years after he retired.

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