Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday February 19, 2014
 

 

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By Dave Dykes                                                                              CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE

It’s something that’s been happening much too-often lately as again, we must report on the loss of one of the New England racing communities own. Respected flagman Earl Grant passed-away on Wednesday, February 12th at age 78. Well-liked and one of the absolute best-in-the-business, Earl waved the flags for over 3-decades being particularly recalled for his long association with the Northeastern Midget Association (NEMA). Following in his father’s footsteps, our friend Steve Grant also became an accomplished flagman, remaining active today. Sincere condolences are offered to Earl’s family & many friends on this somber occasion. On a brighter note, this week we present a true mix of our region’s racing celebrities of the past, and have included several hard-to-find portrait images. Enjoy!  One additional thing we’d like to mention is that our friends at the Northeastern Midget Association (NEMA) are presently offering a DVD tracking the clubs history from the “cageless era” to the contemporary machines of today. Containing 322 images, it’s simply a must-have for the New England open-wheel enthusiast. Cost is $25 each with all proceeds going directly to NEMA to help carry-on the rich traditions these early pioneers built. Payment can be made through PayPal to rewindles@sbcglobal.net or by sending a check or money order (payable to NEMA), as well as your name and address to Bill Van Slyke, 23 Horsestable Cir., Shelton, Ct. 06484.  This effort is fully-endorsed by “RTT” – it’s a great deal, folks! Email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com

Presenting Yet-More Memories……

Starting this week’s edition of “RTT” is a nice portrait image of a true racing hero. This New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member needs little introduction to those of us who recall the true “Glory Days” of New England short track racing. Captured here in the lens of Shany Lorenzent at Connecticut’s “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl of 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. (Shany Lorenzent Photo).

Here’s one for you aficionados of early Stafford Springs Speedway history….. Tom Cook ran this battle-scarred coupe at Stafford during the early-50s, a time in-which the Connecticut ½--miler was far from the polished facility it is today. Then, it was no-more than a rowdy country fairgrounds-style oval, complete with a covered grandstand and void of the cushy creature-comforts it features today. Reasonably well-traveled, Cook was a multi-time winner at Riverside Park, and regularly competed at several other speedplants in the area. Judging by the sponsor on the roof, could Cook have been subbing for New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member Roland Lapierre SR. on this day? (Shany Lorenzent Photo).

A member of the prestigious New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame, the late Donald “Hank” Stevens drove them all during his long career, modifieds, midgets and Cut-Downs; his exploits truly ran the gamut. Nicknamed “Hammerin’ Hank” for his determined driving style, he was particularly successful at the Speedbowl as captured here in the 1950s. As proof of just how-tough this guy was, he overcame a positively-devastating Speedbowl wreck in the 1950s in-which he received horrendous life-threatening burns to return as a winner. (Shany Lorenzent Photo)

Absolutely one of the best of his time and supremely underrated, here’s the late Ted Stack following a 50s-era Speedbowl victory aboard the famed Sharkey coupe. Though he scored heavily at several other New England raceways (again, a fact overlooked historically-speaking), it was probably Waterford that garnered him the most success. A multi-time champion (1961 in the modifieds, and 1957 & 60 in the Non Fords), he accumulated a combined total of 71 feature victories at the shoreline oval. Stack drove for many of the top teams, and his services were always in high demand. (Shany Lorenzent Photo).

We really like this image capturing our smiling friend George Lombardo at the Waterford Speedbowl of the 1950s. A winner all over New England during what would be today considered a relatively-brief career, he recorded a number of modified feature victories at the shoreline oval, and was particularly-tough at the late Plainville Stadium where he was twice a track champion, and also Riverside Park. In 2008 George took his place among the greats of the sport in the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame. (Shany Lorenzent Photo).

While pulling Waterford shots from the files for this week, something about this one peaked our curiosity. Seen here in the early-50s is a racer by the name of Al Kingsley. We know that a driver by the name of Wes Kingsley plays prominently in Speedbowl history, the Norwich, CT. native having won several feature events. Could Al & Wes have been siblings? Whatever the connection (if-any), you can’t help but note the packed grandstands in this image. During the early days of the sport that was the norm, rather than the exception at short tracks all over New England. (Shany Lorenzent Photo).

Meet the “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl’s first-ever Bomber class champion, Johnny Arrigoni. The year is 1958, and the support division had just been introduced to patrons of the shoreline oval. On-route to the title, Arrigoni scored an impressive 13 feature triumphs. As-with many secondary classes, the cost to build & maintain an entry continued to rise as time progressed. By the mid-60s starting fields were on the wane and the division was eventually given the axe. Very-popular during its reign, the Bombers were a proving-ground for many future modified stars including New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member Bob Potter. (Shany Lorenzent Photo).

Another classic Shany Lorezent portrait image, captured here at the Speedbowl of the 1960s is Bob Steadman. A feature winner and one of the era’s top modified division performers, at the time of this photo he was wheeling a #58 coach-bodied creation owned by Bill Sweet Sr. If that name sounds familiar to shoreline oval history aficionados, it should. Nicknamed the “Norwalk Nightrider” Sweet later began driving himself in the Daredevil class becoming a multi-time champion earning countless feature victories in the full-bodied division. Sadly, Bill left us in 2011. For a color shot of Bob & the coach, search the archives for the 05/22/2013 edition of “RTT.” (Shany Lorenzent Photo).

Captured here in the 1960s behind the wheel of his handsome coach-bodied entry is Malone, New York native, the ultra-popular Maynard Forrette. Nicknamed "The Cyclone" his record includes many wins in both small block and big block modifieds at the Fonda and Lebanon Valley Speedways. He was also a top competitor on the asphalt at the Albany-Saratoga Speedway and could always be counted on for an exciting run on the Syracuse Mile, where he was often more competitive than many drivers decades-younger. A master mechanic, Forrette was as talented in the garage or engine shop as behind the wheel. Also involved in the business-end of the sport, he ran Northern Speed Supply in Amsterdam, NY. A 2004 inductee into the New York State Stock Car Association Hall of Fame, Maynard passed-away in 2006. Note that he’s in some pretty-fast company in this shot; that’s Hall of Famers Bill Slater in the #V8, and Pete Corey in the #3. (Shany Lorenzent Photo).

His racing roots tracing back to the rough n’ tumble tarmac of  Connecticut’s Plainville Stadium as captured here, Stan “Stash” Greger parlayed that modest start into one of the most-stellar careers in all of New England modified racing. After conquering his home-turf, it was on to the ultra-competitive Riverside Park in Agawam, MA. where he’d eventually record a trio of championships and nearly forty feature wins. Greger remains perhaps one of the most-underrated drivers in our region, a winning history garnered during what many railbirds still consider to be our segment of the sport’s most-competitive period. (Phil Hoyt Photo, Tom Ormsby Collection)

UNIDENTIFIED DRIVER #1: This week’s first entry into our continuing series on “unidentified” drivers comes from the former Riverside Park Speedway in Agawam, Massachusetts. The number on this little coupe may seem familiar to fans of the Waterford Speedbowl, but I can assure you that it’s not the #110 campaigned at the shoreline oval by among-others, New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer Bob Potter (that car presently resides in the Pro-9 Racing Museum). Any ideas or information on this racer? If-so, don’t hesitate to contact us at foreveryounginct@gmail.com  (Shany Lorenzent Photo).

UNIDENTIFED DRIVER #2: The second-round of mysteries finds us at Joe Tinty’s much-missed Plainville Stadium in Connecticut. It was the height of the “coupe era” and this racer appears to have just picked-up a feature victory at the tough little ¼-miler. A Frank Faust photo, these early Plainville images are getting harder-to-find every day. Special thanks goes out to our friend Phil Hoyt (official Plainville track photographer from 1969 to 1980), for taking the time to locate & process some of the work of those that came before him! Again, know this driver? If-so, let us in on the facts! (Frank Faust Photo).

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

 
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