Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday September 4, 2013


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By Dave Dykes                                                                            CLICK ON PHOTOS FOR FULL SIZE

We start this week on a somber note, as it’s been learned that New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member Reggie Ruggiero's father Jess has passed-away due to complications from a head injury suffered in a fall last week. Jess was a huge supporter of his son’s extraordinary career and I’m sure that I speak for the entire New England racing community in sending the Ruggiero family and Jess’s many friends our sincere condolences. In happier news, we’ll be attempting something different in the coming weeks. Within the “RTT” archives are a staggering number of images that are filed in the “Unknown” category. These shots are from virtually all-over the Northeast, with a heavy emphasis on the very-early history of Connecticut’s Stafford Springs Motor Speedway, New London-Waterford Speebowl, Cherry Park, and West Haven. Also in the mix is a large dose of Riverside Park in Massachusetts. Each week we’ll be running 1 or 2 of these shots. 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, don’t forget, 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! Till’ next time, have a great week! As-always, email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com

Heavy-Hitters (Plus A Couple Of Mysteries….) 

This photo was recently donated to the “RTT” archives by the man himself, 1971 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the year, our friend Dennis Zimmerman. Captured here early in his career at the former Riverside Park Speedway in Massachusetts, he parlayed his experience in modified coupes like this into a successful career on the USAC Indy Car circuit. A self-professed “student” of the late, great, Ed Flemke Sr., he conquered storied eastern modified haunts such as Norwood, Riverside Park, Plainville, and Waterford before taking-on the ovals of the South, where his accomplishments netted a pair of NASCAR State Sportsman titles. After a stint in URC Sprint Car competition it was on to Indy Cars, then the absolute pinnacle of American motorsport. A charter member of the famed “Easter Bandits” he was inducted into the prestigious New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 2001. However, the story does not end there. In recent seasons Dennis has returned to the sport wheeling a midget in a USAC Dirt Midget Association in a ride owned by fellow Hall of Famer, Skip Matczak. (Shany Photo, Zimmerman Collection).

One of the greatest of all Northeastern open-wheel stars, this driver will take his place in the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame on Sunday, November 12th when the 16th edition of the event is presented at Maneeley’s Banquet Hall in South Windsor, CT (go to www.near1.com for more information), Captured here when he was wheeling the New England Speed Equipment #19, Chelmsford, MA, native Bill Eldridge was the Northeastern Midget Association’s (NEMA), first champion (1953) and, some 40 years after retiring, is sixth on the club’s all-time win list with 32. Driving for the likes of Gibby Parmenter, Mike Scrivani, Bob Bahre and Rollie Lindblad, Eldridge, who began in the post World War II days, captured  four NEMA championships. (Photo Courtesy Pete Zanardi from R.A. Silvia Archives).

Here’s another great vintage image from our friend, New York State Racing Historian Roger Lillier. We’ll let him inform us of the details…. “This week I'm sending a Henry Ahlf photo of West Cornwall, CT. driver Ben Stone which was sent to me by our friend Bob Ellis. This image was captured at New York State’s Rhinebeck Speedway in the early-1960s. "Stoney" was a very popular driver and was always in the running winning lots of heats and semis, but no features at Rhinebeck. He won the big one at Arlington, though, in 1961, and possibly at Pine Bowl as he raced there also. Ben Stone and fellow "Nutmegger" Hal McCarty were very loyal to Ed Ryan's Mutual Racing Assn. and were great competitors.” We’ll take all of these gems we can get, Roger! (Henry Ahlf Photo Courtesy Roger Lillier & Bob Ellis).  

Our buddy John Grady took thousands of timeless racing images during his long career behind the lens, and this is definitely one of them. The late Bobby Santos was another driver whose roots are traced back to the former Norwood Arena in Massachusetts where he got his start in the Hobby Division of the early-fifties before becoming a dominant force in the New England modified wars. Driving for renowned car-owners such as Art Barry (as captured here), Billy Simons, and Joe Brady among others, he was always a threat to-win wherever he competed. Inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 2001, Bobby passed-away in December of 2006. (John Grady Photo).       

Courtesy of our friend & frequent contributor James Scott Haag we present this terrific victory lane shot of the late Pete Brockett Sr. at Massachusetts’ much-missed Riverside Park Speedway in the popular Tuesday night Non-Ford or Sportsman races. Also recording many career successes at Connecticut’s former West Haven Speedway & spending over three-decades behind the controls of a modified, his later efforts were centered on another Nutmeg State oval, that being the “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl where he also became a winner. His ride known as “Brockett’s Rocket” Pete was always a crowd-favorite, especially at Waterford. (Shany Photo Courtesy James Scott Haag).   

Admittedly, we don’t know a whole-bunch about this driver, but it’s vintage Plainville Stadium during its finest hour. Culled from the archives of our good friend & Webmaster Tom Ormsby, this early Frank Faust image captures Ralph Boehm with a decidedly-racy creation from the much-heralded “coupe era” of New England modified racing. For those of us with a deep appreciation of early racing machines, the multiple-carburetion and fancy graphics on Ralph’s ride make it simply-irresistible! Between 1959 and 1961 Ralph took down 4 features at Riverside Park. After quitting as a driver Ralh became a successful car owner with the number 101 modified with drivers like Bobby Bard, Jim Cash and a host of others.  (Faust Photo Courtesy Tom Ormsby).

Here’s one of New England Modified racing’s longest campaigners and a 2012 New England Racing Hall of Fame inductee, the late Roland “Pappy” LaPierre. Captured here during New England’s notorious “cut-down era” he was still running a hectic schedule after many of his contemporaries had called it a day. It was only following a serious crash at Stafford in the 1970s that he decided to retire. Pappy holds the dubious distinction of capturing the last-ever checkered flag for the modified division at Massachusetts’ storied Norwood Arena. On Saturday evening Oct 4, 1969, the 54 year old veteran bested Ed Flemke Sr., Bugs Stevens, and Fred DeSarro for the win. Pappy’s son Roland Jr. also enjoyed a long & successful tenure in the modifieds, and his great-grandson Nick Teto is the guy behind the successful Yankee Racer website (Photo Courtesy R.A. Silvia).      

Simply-stated, this New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member was one of the absolute-best during his long, successful career. Captured here behind the controls of period-perfect coupe at Connecticut’s former Plainville Stadium is the late Tony Mordino. 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 West Haven are stuff of regional racing legend. He later conquered Plainville 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. Big thanks go out to our friends the Mordino family for providing this shot of their dad for all of us to enjoy! (Faust Photo Courtesy Mordino Family).   

This New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member and Waterford Speedbowl pioneer needs little introduction to those of us who recall the true “Glory Days” of New England short track racing. Seen here at the shoreline oval during the 1950s, Fred Luchesi’s career started during the busy post-war era, and lasted until his retirement in the late-60s. During that time, he raced coupes, modifieds, midgets, and late models. In complementing his local exploits, he also ran against nationally known drivers like Fonty Flock, Red Byron, and Ted Tappett. In addition to multiple Speedbowl championships, he also took track crowns at Westboro, Lonsdale, and Norwood Arena. At the Speedbowl-alone, he scored a career total of 25 modified victories. Many-thanks to our friends Ted & Carolyn Grey for proving this timeless Speedbowl image along with many-more that will be featured in upcoming editions of “RTT.” (Shany Photo Courtesy Ted & Carolyn Grey).    

And here we have 2011 New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame Inductee Howard "Punky"Caron. From his HOF Biography; “Hailing from Goshen, New Hampshire where he served as Chief of Police, Howard "Punky" Caron began his extraordinary racing career at age 18 in 1964 and concluded it in 2004. During that time he captured an estimated 200 feature victories on both dirt and asphalt on tracks throughout the East. Recording a total of 18 track championships, he was particularly successful at a pair of speedways in his home state. At Monadnock Speedway he won a total of 79 feature victories and 9 track championships. Always considered a major force at Claremont, he also notched that track’s title on 9 occasions. Driving for the storied Wirkkala Brothers modified team for nearly three-decades, he traveled the modified trail extensively in the 1970's and was always considered a threat to win at tracks from Maine to New York State. In later years he switched to the NASCAR Pro Stock division at Claremont where he recorded numerous feature victories and the 2004 championship. Nicknamed the "Goshen Ghost" Caron will forever be remembered by New England racing fans for his stellar runs in the #121.” (Photo Courtesy Tom Ormsby).

UNIDENTIFIED PHOTO #1: As-promised, here’s one of two “unidentified” photos we’re running this week. Culled from our early Stafford Springs Speedway files, we have a ton of these from both the ½-mile dirt surface, and also the smaller paved oval that once occupied the inner section of the facility. While we can’t be entirely-certain, we suspect that this unknown competitor (at-least to us), was captured on this day ready-to-roll on the smaller track. Sure of the identity of the driver of this sharp coupe? If-so, email us at foreveryounginct@gmail.com (Shany Photo).

UNIDENTIFIED PHOTO #2: Same deal as the shot above, but this time it’s a nearly stock-appearing coach. Note the overall-condition of this rig, and the lack of rust. But then-again, at the time this early photo was captured by Shany Lorenzent this was simply a used car turned-into a race car, rather than what we’d now refer-to as an example of “classic” Detroit iron. Again, email us if you know the identity of the driver! (Shany Photo).

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