Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday April 8, 2009

Volume 1, Number 13                                                                                       New Column Every Wednesday


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By Dave Dykes                                                                              CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE

Time for a little “Spring Cleaning” in the archive room as I continue the seemingly never-ending task of organizing my “stuff”. With that-said, this week’s edition of “Racing Through Time” presents a little bit of everything for everybody. On with the show! As always, contact me at foreveryoung@yahoo.com

Spring Cleaning In The Archive Room……     

Yeah, I know, we’ve ran shots of this car before (humor-me, it’s a personal favorite). It’s the early-seventies, and that’s Seabury Tripler flanking the Speedbowl’s infamous “Racin’ Rambler.” As reported here in an earlier column, Chuck Bowen, son of legendary fabricator Owen Bowen, is in the final stages of completing a replica of this car as a tribute to his late father. Owen worked his magic on the tinwork of an early-60s Rambler American to come-up with one of the most recognizable cars ever-ran at the shoreline oval. (Dugas Photo).     

The list of legendary chauffeurs that wheeled Fred Beaber-owned checkerboard 716 creations is a lengthy affair. During one of the longest associations with Waterford of any car-owner in the track’s history, the victories came frequently. In this late-sixties image, Jerry Glaude had one of his rare off-nights, balling-up the front suspension on Freddie’s little coupe. (Shany Photo).  

Admittedly, your author knows-little of the career exploits of this driver, Charlie Jurcik. However, the photo grabbed my attention as I was going-through this week’s selection. It’s a shot representative of an era when all the cars had their own unique “personality”. Unlike the cookie-cutter creations of today, the “coupe era” featured cars that truly displayed the innovations and personal tastes of the builder. This is another paddock image from the Bowl’. (Dugas Photo).  

As a champion in the Waterford’s Daredevil division, “Big Mike” Daignault had a massive fan-following. His Earl Passmore-owned racer shod in a novel “Spirit of 76” motif, it was hard to miss this big Ford slicing-through the pack. During Mike’s heyday in the late-sixties and early-seventies, it wasn’t unusual for the class to run four heats and two consolation events. Hugely popular, the Daredevils routinely drew enormous fields. (Dugas Photo).

While coupes were pretty-much the standard up until the much-heralded “Pinto Revolution”, some teams swayed-toward the unconventional. This 1971 shot of the Speedbowl’s Ed Barton shows what a Modified of the era looked-like when shod by that old Nemesis of Ralph Nader, Chevrolet’s much-maligned subcompact Corvair. Tinwork of the Ford Falcon, Studebaker Lark, and Plymouth Barracuda were also popular alternatives for teams seeking a “modern” aesthetic. (Shany Photo).

As a 3-time NASCAR National Sportsman Champion, a member of the famed “Eastern Bandits”, and an inductee of both the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame and the DIRT Motorsports Hall of Fame, little has to be said about the driver of this coupe that hasn’t already been written. Known as “The Champ”, Rene Charland won over 250 features and countless track titles races during a career that spanned 4-decades. Seen here is just one of the coupes “The Champ” guided to victory lane during the early days of his storied career. (Grady Photo). 

For a change-of-pace, here’s an ancient shot of the late Victoria Speedway in upstate New York. Once a hotbed of activity for coupe-era dirt shoes, Victoria was an early causality of progress during the booming post-war era. This was shot by a young John Grady, who still captures the action every weekend at his beloved Fonda Speedway, another New York State dirt haunt. (Grady Photo). 

Speaking of Fonda, here’s another vintage image as captured in the lens of Mr. Grady. You’d be hard-pressed to find a track with a richer dirt-modified history than this joint. Seen here are Jim Luke (32), Dutch Reed (90), Steve Danish (61), Cliff Kotary (12), and, Jeep Herbert (37). The endearing thing about Fonda is that it remains pleasingly much-the-same today as it did in the early days. The place is a real-throwback to the roots of our sport. (Grady Photo).    

The late “Moneybags” Moe Gherzi was a major-player in the early days at Waterford. One of the real “Stars” of the shoreline oval’s formative years, he went on to become the Racing Director at Plainville Stadium following the close of his brilliant New England Modified racing career. He’s seen here celebrating an early-win in one of his more familiar rides. (Shany Photo).  

Known as “The Travelin’ Man”, Pete Fiandaca seemed almost super-human in his efforts to race anywhere, anytime during his long and storied career. If there was a Modified show held somewhere in New England, chances were “Petah” would be there no-matter what the distance from his home-base. This shot captures him ready to take the green at the Plainville 200 of 1974. Check-out the neat “wing” on his well-traveled Pinto. (Steve Kennedy Photo).

John Anderson emerged as a major-force in the early days of the SK Modified division at places like Waterford, Stafford, and Thompson. In 1971 he was a journeyman driver just getting his feet-wet in the sport as witnessed by this Plainville Stadium shot of him seated behind the controls of the car that started his career. (Kennedy Photo).

Yet another shot from Plainville captures Stadium regular Ron VanNesse in a positively classic-looking Coach during the 1973 campaign. VanNesse was among the top-drivers at Joe Tinty’s fast quarter-miler, one of five oval tracks that operated weekly in  Connecticut when this photo was taken. (Kennedy Photo).

Gary Colturi was on the fast-track to success when news of his tragic death in a motorcycle accident both stunned and saddened the New England racing community in 1973. Teamed with legendary car owner Mario Fiore, Colturi drove this Pinto (dubbed “The Screaming Yellow Zonker”), to much-success during his short but stellar career. Reggie Ruggerio landed the ride with Fiore after Gary’s passing, and the rest is history. (Grady Photo).

Captured here during the fall of 1963 on the old 1/5-miler at Riverside Park, Jerry Humiston was one of the premier-players within Harvey Tattersall’s United Racing Club. Three-times a track champion (1954, 59, and 61), he raced at The Park’ during what many consider the tracks most-competitive era. Humiston’s prominent place in the history of the much-missed oval is rightly-deserved. (Shany Photo).

And lastly, here’s a guy that’s very-involved in today’s vintage racing movement. While serving as the president of the New England Antique Racers (NEAR), Al Fini was one of the real movers & shakers behind the creation of the NEAR Hall of Fame. When this shot was captured, he was a young fella’ wheeling this neat Coach on the ovals of the Northeast. Al remains on the scene the scene as an active NEAR member and the Editor of the club’s monthly newsletter. (Grady Photo).

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

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