Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday September 18, 2013


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By Dave Dykes                                                                            CLICK ON PHOTOS FOR FULL SIZE

As-usual, we’ll be running a couple of images that are filed in the “Unknown” category of the “RTT” photo archives. This week, we have one from Oscar Ridlon’s former Pines Speedway in Massachusetts, and one of an unknown cut-down chauffer from a location that continues to baffle us. Please feel-free to email us if you’re sure of the identities of the racers in any of these pioneering early images. In doing-so, you’ll be assisting in our continuing efforts to record the history of our sport in New England. And as-always, a sincere thanks to all who contributed images this week; it’s appreciated. Lastly, it goes without-saying that if it were not for our friend & Webmaster Tom Ormbsy, this site would simply not be possible. Looking-ahead, don’t forget that on Saturday, October 12th it’s the Fifth Annual Plainville Stadium Reunion. To be held at the Berlin CT. Fairgrounds, the event is presented by the Nutmeg Kart Club in conjunction with the Berlin Lions Club. On the agenda is a day of fun for the entire family that includes a vintage race car display, an autograph session with the stars of Joe Tinty’s much-missed ¼-miler, and some great Kart racing on New England’s only WKA Dirt Master Track. The event runs from 10am-3pm with a rain date of Sunday October 13th. Family-priced, admission is only $5.00 with children 12 & under admitted free. Again, this is an event that we never miss! Additionally, coming-up is the 2013 Danbury Racearena Reunion to be held this Sunday September 22nd from 11 A.M. to 4 P.M. at the Danbury P.A.L. Building 35 Hayestown Rd, Danbury. Unfortunately we’ll miss that one, but it’s a great event more than worth attending! Till’ next time, have a great week! As-always, email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com

Yet-Another Wednesday Goes Into The Books….. 

We start this week with a shot of the late, great Kenny Shoemaker at the famed Langhorne, Pennsylvania oval. A member of the Dirt Motorsports Hall of Fame, there were few as talented as “The Shoe” on the tracks of the Northeast, especially Fonda, NY. If the number on this coupe seems familiar to you pavement enthusiasts, it-should. The car was owned & wrenched by New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member Bob Judkins, the man who initiated NASCAR modified racing’s “Pinto Revolution” in 1971. Judkins was a multi-faceted builder, excelling on any surface he decided to tackle. For more on the career of Shoemaker, check-out “They called me the Shoe”, available at Lew Boyd’s www.coastal181.com (Grady Photo Courtesy Tom Ormsby).

This one is culled from our early Stafford Springs Motor Speedway “dirt files.” Having recently acquired a number of Shany Lorenzent original hard-copy & negative images, we now have a lot of shots like this. Though we’ve heard of this driver (research revealed his name in early Stafford results), details on the career of Lou Ruggiero and his #2 Studebaker-bodied mount remain rather elusive. This style of tin-work was more-popular than one might think in early Northeastern dirt racing. Great photo, don’t you think? (Shany Photo).

Though he’s captured here seated behind the controls of a modified, here’s a guy that should be very-familiar to those of you astute in New England midget racing history. Born in 1925, Lou Fray began racing midgets in 1946 following his discharge from the US Navy. By the time he’d retired from over 4-decades of competition in 1988, he’d scored victories in NEMA, ARDC, ARC, and SMRC. He was the 1970 NEMA co-champion, sharing honors with the legendary Dave Humphrey. It’s interesting to note that Fray also occasionally competed on the old NASCAR Midget trail. And yes, Big Bill France & Company actually sanctioned a Midget division from 1953 until the early-1960s. In later-years, events were conducted primarily in Florida and California at tracks such as Daytona’s Memorial Stadium, and Irwindale’s San Gabriel Valley Speedway. New Englander Nick Fornoro Sr. claimed the first series title over famed open-wheel stars like Chuck Arnold, Fred Meeker, Johnny Coy and Fray in naming just a few. (John Grady Photo).

If you were lucky enough to be around the sport when this guy was in his prime, you witnessed one of the best. Our friend and Webmaster Tom Ormsby of www.vintagemodifieds.com once stated that he was “Colorful, Controversial, and Popular” all at the same time. The truth-is, Anthony “Jap” Membrino helped sell a lot of tickets during a stellar career that lasted over 3-decades. While he experienced incredible success at Plainville Stadium, Jap also won-big at many other New England venues. He’s captured here at the late & much-missed Riverside Park Speedway in Massachusetts. (Photo Courtesy Tom Ormsby).       

If there was ever a “King of Plainville Stadium” this guy was the man, and we never tire of running shots of him. Seen here is our friend Dave Alkas, 5-time modified champion at the former (& much-missed) Connecticut ¼-miler and the track’s all-time modified winner. This image captures him behind the controls of the much-feared Roland Cyr-owned entry. When Dave pulled out on the track wheeling one of Roland’s creations, his fellow competitors knew that they had their work cut out for them! Fittingly, Mr. Alkas was inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 2008. (Phil Hoyt Photo).       

Second-generation driver George Bouley is seen here following an early feature victory in Plainville Stadium’s tough Novice class. Having later advanced to the modifieds, George was a second-generation driver; his father was a noted racer with roots dating back to the earliest days of New England open-wheel racing. Adding yet-more to the family’s legacy in the sport, his son Scott was a successful driver on NASCAR Busch North Tour. (Faust Photo Courtesy Tom Ormsby).

Here’s another absolute-classic from our New York State Racing Historian friend, Mr. Roger Liller. We’ll let him provide the supporting commentary. Roger states; I've been going-through my old Rhinebeck, NY. Speedway programs recently, and find that I have quite a few pictures of New England drivers. I'll be digging them out and passing them along to you in the next few weeks. The enclosed photo is of Bridgeport, CT. driver Bill Kenison, and is a McDowell photo by Les King. I do not know much about him, but the picture is taken about 1950 during the Tattersall’s United Stock Car Racing Club era at Rhinebeck. Many drivers came from Bridgeport all the way to Rhinebeck to race in those days before the interstates were built. As we always say Roger, we’ll take all of these we can get! (McDowell Photo By Les King).

Not being an expert on the Southern New York Racing Association and the sorely-missed Danbury Fair Racearena, I don’t know a whole-lot about this driver. However, I do know that he was supremely-popular at the Racearena, one of its top-competitors, and a multi-time feature winner at the tough Connecticut oval. Carmine Benincasa is pictured here behind the wheel of his ultra-sanitary coupe, Note the flathead-power. The SNYRA stuck with the flatheads much-longer than the rest of the Connecticut ovals. Want to learn more about Danbury? Their annual Reunion will be held this Sunday September 22nd from 11 A.M. to 4 P.M. at the Danbury P.A.L. Building 35 Hayestown Rd, Danbury. (Mannion Photo).    

Popular Canadian modified star Dennis Giroux was in the throes of a brilliant career when tragedy struck and he was severely injured in a crash at Connecticut’s Stafford Springs Speedway during the 1974 season. In a coma for months after the accident, Giroux later recovered, but never returned to racing. Many in New England feel that he would have been the next to follow in the footsteps of former modified success and 1970 Daytona 500 winner Pete Hamilton in making-it within the big-leagues of the NASCAR Cup’ Series. This image captures a youthful Giroux with one of his early coupes at Malta, NY. (Grady Photo Courtesy Tom Ormsby).     

Few New England modified drivers had more going for them than the late Don MacTavish. Starting his career at the age of 15 racing at Massachusetts’ much-celebrated Norwood Arena, he quickly gained popularity as one of the regions brightest young upstarts. In 1963 he progressed to NASCAR’s Sportsman Division and in 1966 took the NASCAR National Sportsman Championship, his closest competitors being Ralph Earnhardt, "Wild Bill” Slater and Rene Charland. During his Daytona debut on February 22, 1969, “Mac” lost his life in a horrific crash during the Permatex 300. To say this regions racing community was stunned and saddened is an understatement. MacTavish was posthumously inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 2001. (Grady Photo Photo Courtesy R.A. Silvia).

UNIDENTIFIED PHOTO #1: OK, here’s one from Oscar Ridlon’s old Pines Speedway in Groveland, Massachusetts (always one of out favorite topics). Shuttered in the 1970s, it was once an absolute-hotbed of racing in the region; The Pines was simply the place-to-be for a generation of race fans every weekend & jaunty coupes like this were the featured attraction. Anybody care to take a shot at indentifying the driver of this classic & race-winning “square-top”? (Photo Courtesy R.A. Silvia).  

UNIDENTIFIED PHOTO #2: Now this one’s really got us stumped! It’s obviously a forward-thinking creation from our region’s notorious “cut-down era.” Not-only are we at a loss on the identity of the driver, but the same goes for the venue. If you have any information on this or the other “unidentified” shot this week, email us at foreveryounginct@gmail.com (Photographer Unknown).

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