Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday April 15, 2009

Volume 1, Number 14                                                                                       New Column Every Wednesday


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By Dave Dykes                                                                              CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE

This week it’s another varied slice of New England racing history. Making the cut are a few personalities from the heyday of the late Riverside Park, a former Waterford competitor that circled the joint during it’s glory-years, and even a candid-shot of a couple of racin’ personalities that are still very-much on the scene. Even our webmaster Mr. Ormsby is here. Happy Birthday wishes go-out to NEMA Public Relations Guru and all-around good guy Pete Zanardi, who soon gets a year-older. As always, contact me at foreveryoung@yahoo.com

Another Varied Slice Of Racin’ History….     

The year is 1972 and that’s our webmaster, a young “Tommy” Ormsby taking the low-road to avoid a spinning Danny Gaudiosi in one of the famed Sharkey coupes.  The venue of course, is the much-missed Plainville Stadium. Ormsby relates that the shot was captured shortly after a rebuild of his car, which was demolished following a trip through the wall and into the pits a few weeks-before. “We changed the color and number (it had formally been a blue # V-O), hoping that it would bring better luck. I’m pretty-sure this was an open-show, as I don’t recall any full-bodied cars like the Chevelle seen here running with us weekly, but it was 37 years ago.” stated Ormsby recently. In the background is the Plainville Drive-In screen and the Sunoco station on then Rt. 72 (now 372), and Crooked St. (Phil Hoyt Photo, courtesy of Steve Kennedy).     

In a group as close-knit as the New England modified racing community, long-standing friendships are all part of the scene. However, few relationships have endured as long as the bond between these two New England Auto Racing Hall of Famers, renowned journalist Pete Zanardi, and “Wild Bill” Slater. Decades-ago, Zanardi was a young writer just getting his feet-wet in the business and Slater was in the midst of a brilliant career as the driver of the famed Vitari-Bombaci V-8 coupe. In this classic shot taken on a lazy afternoon at Zanardi’s long-time digs in Chester, Ct., Bill appears to be rubbing the “dome” of his buddy Peter for a bit of good-luck. Some things never-change, and that’s a good thing. (Dykes Collection). 

Captured here in the spring of 1974, Nels Wohlstrom piloted this ex-Mike Beebe creation to much-success at Waterford and other tracks in the region. As a driver that logged many side-by-side laps with him at the Speedbowl, veteran Mark LaJeunesse recalls Wohlstrom as being not-only a competent shoe, but also quite a showman. “He was good at Waterford, and also went like a bugger at Thompson. Nels put-on a good show, and was always-fast,” he recalled recently. Retired from racing, Wohlstrom now lives in Lake Wylie, South Carolina, presiding over a booming business installing boat lifts and docks. (Shany Photo). 

The late Parker Bohn piloted this memorable GMC six-cylinder entry to many wins during the heyday of the “Coupe Era”. Starting his career at the old Long Branch Speedway in New Jersey, Bohn scored-big at places like Wall Stadium and Old Bridge. The car is almost as memorable as Bohn himself to those who were lucky-enough to witness the duo in-action. With its huge exhaust-pipe and deafening roar, it was a crowd-pleaser of the first-degree. The big “Jimmy” emitted so-much heat, that competitors dubbed the machine “The Moustache Burner”. Three-digit numbers weren’t uncommon in the early days, but Bohn’s carried a special significance. When the team switched to running exclusively asphalt, they experienced reoccurring problem with a breaking drive-belt. 659 is the part number of the offending Gates-brand belt that KO’d their early efforts. Bohn’s son Eddie carried-on the family tradition becoming a fine modified racer in his own-right. Grandson Parker III became a huge success in another sport, his lofty accomplishments on the Pro Bowler’s Tour earning him a spot in the PBA Hall of Fame. (Grady Photo).

Before it took millions to compete at even a journeyman-level within the ranks of NASCAR’S premier divisions, many New England modified teams made the February pilgrimage to Florida to test their fortunes on the high-banks. This sixties-era image captures a youthful Bugs Stevens and storied modified car-owner, the late Lenny Boehler pitside at Daytona prepping for some high-speed “taxicab” racing. Both Stevens and Boehler are members of the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame. (Grady Photo).

The great Sal Dee remains one of the most fondly-remembered racers of his era. His relatively brief but spectacular career stalled by serious racing-related injuries, had longevity been in the cards, he would have undoubtedly accomplished even more. With roots tracing-back to the Waterford Speedbowl, Dee won-over a legion of fans undoubtedly fueled by his no-nonsense drives to the front during what many railbirds consider the most-competitive period in New England modified racing history. This image captures him during his post-Waterford period following one of many career checkers. (Grady Photo). 

If you’re a regular visitor to this website, than you probably already know who this driver is. It was indeed a sad day in the fall of 1978 when Rhode Island’s popular Fred DeSarro lost his life in a crash during warm-ups at the Thompson Motor Speedway. Long a fixture on the New England modified circuit, Fred became a multi-time champion at the regions toughest venues, garnering the national championship in 1970. At a time when big-dollars were funneling into the sport, he was teamed with the late Lenny Boehler in personifying a low-buck image with their shabby-looking but ultra-fast “Ole’ Blue” coupe (the car that won the first-ever Spring Sizzler in 1972). DeSarro was inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 1999. (Grady Photo).

Captured here in the sixties at one of the great yearly shows that were once held in Massachusetts at the track on the grounds of the Eastern States Exposition is “Big Ed” Patnode. The events were a highlight of the New England racing season, routinely attracting the “cream of the crop”. A supporter of the Tattersall families United Stock Car Racing Club, Patnode was a 2-time titlist (1968 & 1974) at Riverside Park, recording twenty-seven career triumphs at the club’s flagship speedway. Well-traveled, he also competed at several other tracks in the region during his long career, including Plainville Stadium and the Waterford Speedbowl. As a side note from someone who actually competed at this event, our webmaster Tom Ormsby offered the following; “The shot was taken at the last Eastern States race in 1969. That’s Johnny Cambino in the background in the #73. I was driving my #4x coupe (the only time I ran at Eastern States), and had to change my number to #14x because Ed had this car. You can see why they called him "Big Ed”.  He's the only guy I knew that was bigger than George Lombardo. This may have been the only year he drove this car.” (Grady Photo)   

Here’s the late Danny Galullo following his retirement from racing with the car of his son, Danny Jr. In the early-days, Sr. was part of the “Waterbury Gang” that routinely invaded that baseball stadium-turned raceway, the West Haven Speedway, doing battle with local heavies such as Johnny “King” Cambino, Billy Greco, and Tommy Sutcliffe. A two-time Riverside Park titlist, he recorded twenty Park’ victories, the first coming in 1960, the final in 1966. Adding to his stellar record is the 1962 United Stock Car Racing Club Grand Championship, a title earned by conducting a season-long point chasing blitzkrieg tour of the many Tattersall-sanctioned tracks in the New England region. At first-glance I believed this shot was taken at Riverside Park, but after discussing it with our webmaster, we came to the conclusion that it’s probably Malta. Tom noted that The Park’ didn’t allow fuel-injection during this era, and he’s absolutely correct! (Grady Photo)   

Lou Tabone is seen here at Riverside Park during the early days of his career. His best seasons as a member of United came in the mid-seventies, when he was a constant threat to win. Part of an influx of new-talent that began to unseat Agawam’s established old-guard during those years, Tabone scored 4-career victories within a 3-seasom spread. The first came in April of 1974, his last on June 5, 1976. (Grady Photo).

Your author knows very-little about this driver, Mike Allevo, other than friend and veteran racing lensman Steve Kennedy did some of the lettering on the Corvair-bodied entry. As I was going-through this weeks entries, the car garnered my attention mainly due to the rather exotic-looking exhaust setup, and the fact that it’s something other than a coupe. The date is April 3, 1977, and it’s Thompson’s season-opening Icebreaker. While I’m not-sure of what Allevo is up-to today, Steve Kennedy is a successful artist residing on Cape Cod, and is still capturing racing images around New England like he has for the last thirty-plus years. (Kennedy Photo)

The late Johnny “King” Cambino earned his nickname as one of the premier drivers at rough & tumble Connecticut ovals like the late West Haven Speedway, Plainville Stadium, and Cherry Park in Avon. In later years, he followed United to Riverside continuing his reign as one of the club’s top-competitors. This shot captures him ready-to-roll at the Thompson 300 in September of 1976. Only part of the story, the “King” came out of retirement while in his 60’s to become a winning driver in the Waterford Speedbowl’s Street Stock class of the 1990’s. (Kennedy Photo).

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

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