Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday September 25, 2013


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By Dave Dykes                                                                            CLICK ON PHOTOS FOR FULL SIZE

We start this edition of “Racing Through Time” on a somber note as it was learned last week that accomplished New England racer Jim McCallum passed-away following a long illness. With over 80 feature victories during his lengthy career, MacCallum was a multi-time Pro Stock champion at Thompson, Stafford, and Riverside Park. He also successfully competed in several regional touring series. Our sincere condolences are sent to his family and many friends. Special thanks go out to readers Rick Eastman and Lary Pincince for forwarding some valuable information on last week’s “unidentified” photos. And, Bob Goulet positively-identified the driver of the #1 cutdown as Rhode Island chauffer Bob Hawk. With the staggering amount of these images we have on file, the help is greatly-appreciated! Again, please feel-free to email us if you’re sure of the identities of the racers in any of these shots (or other info.). In doing-so, you’ll be assisting in our continuing efforts to record the history of our sport in New England. 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! Also don’t forget, Drivers Stan Meserve, Brian Ross, Drew Fornoro, Ralph Nason, the late Bob Stefanik, Bill Eldridge and Bob Sharp and car owner Ron Berndt will be inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame on Sunday, Nov. 10 at the Lodge at Manelley’s in South Windsor, CT. Tickets are priced at 45.00 each and the doors open at 11:00 a.m. with dinner served at Noon. Ticket order forms and more information are available on The New England Antique Racers/Auto Racers Hall of Fame website at www.near1.org  Till’ next time, have a great week! As-always, email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com

Yup, Another Serving Of “Modified Memories”

When a young Modified upstart by the name of Geoff Bodine from New York State teamed with well-heeled car owner the late Dick Armstrong and his “Nu-Style Jewelry” team in the late-70s as seen here, the New England racing hierarchy had little choice in taking notice. Once the “Big Red #1” machine started rolling, it got pretty brutal. The guy won & won and kept winning. Truthfully, Bodine was already a very-well accomplished racer by the time the deal was inked for him to maintain and drive Armstrong’s stable of high-end equipment. Bodine is a member of the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame, inducted in 2010. (Photo Courtesy Tom Ormsby).

Captured here at Middletown, NY in we believe, 1978, the late Lou “Monks” Lazzaro raced an incredible six decades on dirt and asphalt on tracks from Canada to Daytona and scored 250-plus feature wins. He was supremely versatile and won with the same car on dirt and pavement with only minor changes. His Saturday night home track was Fonda Speedway, where he amassed 113-career feature wins over four different decades and four track championships (1964, 1969, 1977, and 1978). Lou's final Fonda Speedway feature win came on May 15, 1999, less than a year before his untimely death. A lifetime guaranteed starter at Fonda, he was described many times as "The Embodiment of Fonda Speedway.” His greatest win was Orange County Fair Speedway's Eastern States 200 in 1978. He was also track champion at Victoria Speedway (1962, 1964) and Albany-Saratoga Speedway (1969). He was New York State NASCAR champion once in the Sportsman division (1964), and three-times in the Modified division (1969. 1971, 1972). He also won the prestigious All-Star League title twice (1968, 1971). One of his favorite tracks, besides Fonda, was the Utica-Rome Speedway, where he won 27 career asphalt modified features and three track championships (1963, 1970, 1971). He was a three-time winner of the prestigious New Yorker 400 (1963, 1968, 1969), race held on the old Utica-Rome asphalt track. In addition, Lazzaro has two career Utica-Rome dirt modified feature wins, the first being the first ever dirt race held at Utica-Rome. (Photographer Unknown).

Like clockwork, our friend New York State Racing Historian Roger Liller has been submitting some absolute gems from his neck of the woods. Here’s another one, and we’ll let him do the talking; “This week I'm sending along some pictures from the old Stateline Speedway which was on the NY/VT border just west of Bennington. Ed Ryan promoted this track in the early-50s, and he gave me these great views. Here’s a classic photo of Ed with driver Bob Mott following a feature victory.” Great stuff, Roger! (Roger Liller Collection).

From the archives of our friend & Webmaster Tom Ormsby comes this absolutely-breathtaking action image from Connecticut’s former West Haven Speedway (AKA “Savin Rock”). The late Johnny “King” Cambino is captured here leading Sherm Saunders in his #500 Hudson-powered entry at the “ballpark-turned-raceway” (the other competitor in the shot remains unidentified). Reopened in 1945 following World War II under the tutelage of Harvey Tattersall’s United Stock Car Racing Club (once the premier sanctioning body in the Northeast), “The Rock” made regional stars out of drivers like Billy Greco, Cambino, Tommy Sutcliffe, and Tony Mordino – the list goes on. While it wasn’t anticipated at the close of what was the final season, West Haven Speedway became a causality of the era’s widespread urban-renewal movement, hosting its last event during the fall of 1967. Many of the top-stars of the tiny 1/5-miler went-on to similar success at Riverside Park Speedway in Agawam, MA. (another cornerstone of UNITED), and Joe Tinty’s Plainville Stadium. Ironically, both of those tracks are also memories now. (Shany Photo Courtesy Tom Ormsby).       

Another Saturday night, another checkered flag (we’re not sure of the locale)…… Here’s a nice victory lane shot of Deke Astle, a big winner for decades throughout the Northeast. Multi-talented and often-dominate on the asphalt (esp. at Seekonk Speedway in Massachusetts where he was a multi-time champion), he was another one of those guys that was comfortable on the mud also, having many victories at Lakeville Speedway (a former MA. dirt oval). Affectionately recalled by fans as the “Little Man with the Big Cigar”, he was always in the hunt wherever he ran! (Photo Courtesy R.A. Silvia).

The late Booker T. Jones joined the ranks of the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 2003. Upon his induction, award-winning racing journalist Bones Bourcier commented that “He drove NASCAR Modifieds around the Northeast for what seemed like a hundred years, and yet when he passed at the age of 74, it was not his racing you remembered. It was his friendly smile, his big right hand shaking yours. He was everybody’s buddy.” The consummate low-buck operator, Jones made-due with equipment that was often less than that of his competitors. He remained a popular figure at New England raceways long after his days behind the wheel were over. (John Grady Photo).

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 at Plainville Stadium 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 Courtesy Tom Ormsby).

Seen here following one of his many feature victories aboard the Falconi Brothers coupe is Westboro Speedway Modified chauffer, Freddie Borden (aka “The Nashoba Valley Rocket”). A multi-time titlist at the high banked Massachusetts ¼-miler, he stunned attendees at the season-ending 1967 awards banquet by announcing his retirement while still in his prime. As with so-many other speedways in New England, Westboro succumbed to the march of progress and increasing property values, closing its gates forever in 1985. (Balser Photo Courtesy R.A Silvia).    

Like every short track, Connecticut’s New London-Waterford Speedbowl (as it was called when this image was captured), has had its share of real “stand on the gas” competitors over it’s long history, and this guy was one of them. Seen here at the shoreline oval with his crew in a unique Dave Shippee image during the early-1970s, Glynn Shafer won a ton of races during his long career which started in the Bomber class and concluded in the Modifieds. As exciting a wheelman as ever witnessed at the Speedbowl, he ALWAYS coaxed the most out of his equipment. (Dave Shippee Photo)     

One of the real pioneers of the New England Modified scene, Buddy Krebs was simply among the greatest racers to ever strap-in behind the wheel, especially at the late Riverside Park as captured here. Inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 2000, Krebs started racing in 1947, and before it was over, won an estimated two-hundred features while competing in Modifieds, Sportsman, and Grand Nationals. Among his accomplishments were six Riverside 500 victories – a record never broken. Known primarily for his feats during the Tattersall/United era, he won at virtually all the tracks that once dotted the New England landscape including the late Plainville and Candlelight Stadiums in Connecticut, and Millers Falls and Westboro Speedways in Massachusetts. A founding member of the New England Antique Racers, Buddy passed-away in January of 2006 at 74. (Shany Photo Courtesy Tom Ormsby).

UNIDENTIFIED PHOTO: OK readers, here’s this week’s mystery photo, and it’s a really-early one. We think the location may be Connecticut’s Thompson Speedway, but again, we can’t be certain. By the appearance of this coach, we’re assuming that it’s from the days in-which the “stock” in the term “stock car racing” really meant-something. Is he perhaps a Rhode Island chauffer judging by the sponsor? Guesses, confirmations, etc. go to foreveryounginct@gmail.com (Photographer Unknown).  

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