Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday August 12, 2009

Volume 1, Number 32                                                                                      New Column Every Wednesday


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Here’s dirt in-your-eye! All silly sayings-aside, this week we continue our look at the late “Lakeville International Motordrome” (aka Lakeville Speedway), up Massachusetts-way. Also on the docket are a few well-known Modified guys, and even the past airborne-antics of a still-active Speedbowl veteran. A special thanks goes-out to our friends Lew Boyd of Coastal 181 Publishing as well as RTT webmaster Tom Ormsby for their photo contributions this week.  
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More Lakeville Dirt, And Fowler Takes A Flyer…    

They appeared on the scene at the Waterford Speedbowl during the early years of what was known as the “Daredevils”, a class developed in the sixties to replace a floundering Bomber division. The three gentleman you see here are (left to right), Larry "Insta” Gada, Chris “Wally” Gada, and Bob “Allie” Gada, and yes, this is the brother-act responsible for starting what became no-less than a racing dynasty at the shoreline oval. There’s now a second and third generation of the family winning at the Bowl’. In looking back at the history of the Daredevils, you’d be hard-pressed to find three more popular chauffeurs than these guys, and during the real heyday of “fendered” racing at the Bowl’ they were all winners. One thing setting the Gada boys apart from the rest of the field was their penchant for running FORD products within a field that was overwhelmingly populated by machines of the General Motors-variety. Novel nicknames-aside, rest assured that Mrs. Gada’s boys were true “stand-on-the-gas” racers with the trophies and championships to prove-it. Also captured in this shot is car owner and future Speedbowl Street Stock champion, Ed Reed Sr. (Shany Photo)

Seen here is another image of the eldest of the Gada brothers, Larry “Insta” Gada during the early-seventies. Via a slew of e-mails, your author was informed that Larry’s been recently hospitalized with a serious illness. Over the years, the Gada family has helped many fellow-racers (yours-truly included during his brief & unspectacular career), and those messages from the local racing community relayed just how well-liked and respected Larry remains years after his retirement as an active competitor. Then, as now, he remains a winner to those who have called The Bowl’ home for so-many seasons. (Shany Photo).

Respected in New England as one of the premier drivers at the late Plainville Stadium during the sixties and seventies, Nicky Porto’s career actually harkens back to an earlier era in the history of short-track racing in Connecticut. Nicky and crew (along with “Pops” Tattersall in his trademark Stetson cowboy hat), are seen here celebrating a victory at the old West Haven, CT. Speedway. Known as “The Rock” for its close proximity to the Savin Rock Amusement Park, it was an oddly-shaped and pancake-flat fifth-mile oval located within the confines of a baseball stadium (Donovan Field). As this shot illustrates, in addition to his Plainville endeavors Porto was a solid performer within the Tattersall families United Stock Car Racing Club, once the most powerful sanctioning body in the Northeast. Porto’s career continued for many seasons after this image was captured, and also included a Riverside Park victory in 1975 during what was arguably that tracks most competitive era. (Shany Photo).

Seen here wheeling a Dirt Super at Lakeville during the early days of his racing career is New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer, Dr. Dick Berggren. Note that “Spring Sizzler” flanks the side of Bergies ride – there’s a reason for that. Looking for money to support his race car in the early 1970’s, Dick teamed up with friends Russ Conway and Bruce Cohen to co-promote the original Spring Sizzler at the Stafford Motor Speedway in 1972 – it was a rousing success! Dick of-course went-on to become one of the most recognizable personalities in American auto racing as a television commentator, writer, racer, and publisher of Dick Berggren’s Speedway Illustrated. That’s Dick Hansen in the Bruce Carmen-owned Coach – an absolute classic! (Lew Boyd Collection).

As mentioned in last week’s column, Lakeville hosted some pretty-famous drivers during its long-history, and was often visited by the biggest names of the pavement Modified circuit. Seen here ridin’ the cushion during one of his sojourns to the oil-soaked surface of The Ville’ is none-other than 3-time NASCAR Modified champion and New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer, Bugsy Stevens. That’s Walter Scott in a Pinto on the inside. “Da’ Bug” was always fast, no-matter what the venue! (Lew Boyd Collection).

Here’s a cool (and rare), shot. Don Rounds is captured at Lakeville following victory in an ex- Holman & Moody NASCAR Grand National Ford Galaxy. As previously-noted, few tracks boasted a more diverse collection of racing machinery than Lakeville. Another member of the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame, Rounds was a dirt track sensation in the Northeast for decades. Among his many triumphs was notching the last-ever event ran on the pre-pavement crushed-bluestone surface of the Waterford Speedbowl on Sunday, April 29th 1951. Various historical sources have erroneously listed a “Bill Thompson” as the shoreline oval’s winner that day, but it was Rounds in his #101 Coupe taking the checkers. (Lew Boyd Collection).

And here we have a Stafford Speedway “coupe-era” image of a young Lou Toro. A mainstay on the New England Modified circuit for decades, the popular Toro was particularly successful as one of the top competitors within Harvey Tattersall’s United Stock Car Racing Club. Claiming multiple victories at old United haunts such as Savin Rock’s West Haven Speedway, and the much-missed Riverside Park Speedway in Agawam, Toro was also a winner at the “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl, coastal Connecticut’s still-operating 1/3- mile oval. (Burnham Photo, Ormsby Collection).

One of Joe Tinty’s checkered flag in-hand, the grinning young fella’ behind the wheel of this hulking Coach at is none-other than our buddy, Ronnie Wyckoff. Starting his racing career in Florida, he quickly became one of the area’s premier drivers after relocating northward in the early 1960’s. A multi-time Riverside 500 winner, Wyckoff found success at virtually all of New England’s Modified venues during his long career, and historically-speaking, remains perhaps one of our region’s most underrated drivers. This early image captures him in a Plainville Novice class entry owned by the late Eddie Alkas. Eddie was the older brother of all-time Plainville Stadium winner and NEAR Hall of Famer, Dave Alkas. Now retired, Ronnie is a frequent spectator at the Waterford Speedbowl and attends a number of NEAR functions. (Hoyt Photo, Ormsby Collection).     

Another image culled from the files of the late Plainville Stadium, captured here is Frank Manafort in the Tony Alteri Sr.-owned entry. Manafort was a standout driver in the Stadium’s premier division for many-seasons. Long-involved in Modified racing, the Alteri family has deep roots in the sport, with Tony Alteri Jr. being the proprietor of T/A Engines, a major horsepower-supplier in the New England circle-game. As a side-note, the younger Alteri was once a partner in the team of our webmaster when young “Tommy” was wheeling the #4X Pinto weekly at Plainville. (Hoyt Photo, Ormsby Collection).

As a Grand American champion at the Waterford Speedbowl, Don Fowler was simply at the top-of-his-game during the mid-seventies. Deciding to test-the-waters in the speedier Modifieds while still maintaining his status as a “Top Dog” in the taxicabs,  the “Racin’ Mason” signed-on as the chauffer of this Vega owned by former driver, the late Pete Brockett Sr. Let’s just say that his humble beginnings in Waterford’s premier division were less that fortuitous (but spectacular none-the-less). On the evening of July 9, 1977, Fowler nearly vaulted the back-stretch fence during what had already been a yellow-laden feature. Seen in this Steve Kennedy sequence is Mr. Fowlers “Flight of Fancy”, indeed a scary-moment for those on both-sides of the track. Uninjured and undeterred by the episode, Don would later master the art of “fenderless” racing to become a routine winner in the division. (Kennedy Photos).

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

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