Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday April 28,2010

 Volume 2, Number 14                                                                                      New Column Every Wednesday


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By Dave Dykes                                                                              CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE


This week we touch on several different subjects, everything from the Sprint Car endeavors of a New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member, to some images from tracks that exist only in memory. Once again, special thanks go out to friend and “RTT” Webmaster Tom Ormsby for contributing some of this week’s images. As-always, enjoy!   Email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com

Yet More Stuff From The “Old Daze”….      

The car is the potent Allyn Tool & Auto Machine Sprint Car, and the guy seated behind the wheel is New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member Gene Bergin. Though he’s often recalled for his extraordinary career in the Modifieds, the Enfield, CT. native was actually a much-more versatile racer. In addition to his Sprint Car endeavors, he was successful in the NEMA Midgets with wins at Thompson in Aug. 1969 and Aug. 1973 at Lakeville Speedway (aka Golden Spur), in Massachusetts. His NASCAR Grand National (now know as Sprint Cup), career included starts at Darlington and Langhorne in 1956. It was Bergin who helped start the Modified division’s landmark “Pinto Revolution” in 1971 when he wheeled the #2x Pinto of fellow Hall of Famer Bob Judkins to a stunning victory in the 1971 Stafford 200. (Photographer Unknown, Ormsby Collection).  

In this shot culled from the early 1950’s, the starting field is assembled for one of the great yearly UNITED-sanctioned events that used to take place at the Eastern States Expo Speedway on the grounds of the “Big E” in Massachusetts. Originally constructed as a ½-mile dirt oval in 1920, it was enlarged to a 5/8-mile configuration following World War II. Paved in 1953, the track continued to host events every summer until 1968 when it was torn-down to provide parking expansion for the “Big E.” During its heyday, in addition to hosting stock cars the facility was also the site of events for many other divisions including the “Big Cars” of the AAA. The place had a reputation of being one of the fastest and most-picturesque tracks in the Northeast; a victory at Springfield was cause for bragging-rights within the New England Modified community. (Grady Photo, Ormsby Collection).

The Eastern States events attracted racers from all over the Northeast – to witness a race at the “Big E” guaranteed a peek at the absolute “cream of the crop” in Modified racing. Seen here during a 1950’s outing is Milford, Connecticut’s Charlie Glazier, the 1974 Riverside Park Speedway champion. One of the more well-traveled drivers of his era, Charlie hit the surface of just about every track in the region during his long career. Somewhere in the files we have shots of him at Connecticut’s Stafford Motor Speedway, Thompson, Waterford, and even Plainville. This guy got-around a LOT! (Grady Photo, Ormsby Collection).      

We think this is simply a priceless shot from an early Eastern States event. Seen here enjoying some infield-pitting downtime with his team is multi-time Riverside Park Speedway champion Jerry Humiston (fifth from-right with hat). Jerry of-course was wheeling the potent Ray’s Garage #28 of Ray & Richie Garuti, a car responsible for a whole-lotta’ wins in the early history of New England Modified racing. Note the simple trailer & tow-rig, and the fact that the doors-open on that neat little coupe. It was indeed, a less-complicated era. (Grady Photo, Ormsby Collection).  

If you’re going to write about the Eastern States Modified shows, you certainly have to mention the Tattersall families United Stock Car Racing Club. For everything’s that ever been penned about NASCAR’s long-standing association with New England, the fact-is, they played second-banana to UNITED in our region for decades following the bustling post-war era. Tattersall & company’s long-tenure as the sanctioning organization at Springfield is proof of just how-powerful the club was. With that said, captured here at the “Big E” is one of United’s brightest stars, the late Johnny “King” Cambino. As one of the ruling drivers at Connecticut’s former West Haven Speedway, he also posted multiple Modified victories at Riverside Park, the first in 1968, the final in 1975 (United’s last year at the track). Coming out of retirement in the 1990’s at age-65, Cambino returned to winning in the Waterford Speedbowl’s Limited Sportsman division. (Grady Photo, Ormsby Collection).  

Even drivers at the talent-level of the popular Stan “Stash” Greger have an off-night on occasion, and on this evening during the 1970’s at Connecticut’s Plainville Stadium Stan was certainly experiencing a bit of bad-luck in the # % Coupe. This shot is significant for a couple of reasons; A. It’s rare that you ever see a photo of Mr. Greger in a position such as this (he was known as one of the smoothest drivers in New England), and, B. The skinny kid-racer on the right holding his helmet & taking-in the situation is none-other than our pal and Webmaster, Mr. Tom Ormsby. Stan by-the-way, escaped serious injury in the mishap. Yup, they could pile them-up good at Tinty’s place sometimes! (Hoyt Photo, Ormsby Collection).     

Over-the-years, we’ve been fortunate to meet a lot of really neat New England racing personalities, and it’s been an unforgettable experience. From the big-winners to journeymen drivers, they all rate here at “RTT.” Pictured here is our pal Bobby Mikulak who was one of Plainville Stadium’s finest for over a decade in the 1960s & 70s. Bob owned this nifty coach, but also drove for other teams, most-notably wheeling the #1 of Merle “Spud” Cray. Note his fancy racing attire and the Budweiser beer can screwed to the roof (an item that was “knocked-off” on more than one occasion according to fellow competitor Tom Ormsby). These-days, Bobby is a frequent spectator at the Waterford Speedbowl. (Hoyt Photo).              

While the classic Coupes & Coaches seemingly had a longer presence at Plainville Stadium than at other venues in New England, by the mid-70s, they were quickly giving-way to the more modern stylings of subcompacts such as this Pinto. Pictured here in one of those “new” creations is Elliot Beveridge, one of the Stadium’s top shoes for many seasons. (Hoyt Photo, Ormsby Collection).         

Here we have an early-career shot of Danbury Fair Racearena standout, Bones Stevens. Ranked 12th on the Danbury all-time winners list, he actually got his start in the sport as a young drag racer. He first appeared at the Racearena wheeling the backup coupe of his friend and fellow Danbury star, Lou Funk Sr. That initial outing was a slam-bang affair, with the Funk machine a total-loss following a bout with the wall. It was not however, a scene of things to come; Stevens went-on to become one on the Southern New York Racing Association’s most successful & popular drivers. Sadly, the much-missed Connecticut third-miler closed at the conclusion of the 1981 season. A highly-successful venue, Danbury routinely drew capacity crowds and offered one of the highest weekly short track purses in the nation. (Mannion Photo).

Started in 1965 in-part to bolster a sagging car-count in the Bomber division, the “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl’s Daredevil class was an almost instant hit. Droves of novice competitors fielded cars like this neat tri-five Chevy campaigned by winning driver Bob Blanchette. Often-times, the fields were so-large that both A & B main events were the order of the evening. The division also served as a starting-point for many racers who went-on to great Speedbowl success in the headlining Modifieds. Guys like Donnie Bunnell, George Allum, and Jiggs Beetham in naming just a few, all began here. (Dugas Photo).

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

 
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