Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday August 19, 2009

Volume 1, Number 33                                                                                      New Column Every Wednesday


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This week’s trip through the RTT archives sees us presenting another selection of favorites from the 60’s & 70’s. A big salute goes-out to the dedicated racing lensmen responsible for recording these timeless images, as without them, tracking the history of the sport would be a much-more difficult (and certainly less-entertaining), endeavor. Also, condolences to the entire Gada family on the loss of Larry “Insta” Gada who passed-away last week. Larry had been a Daredevil class standout at the Waterford Speedbowl as a member of the fondly-remembered “My Three Sons” racing team that also included brothers Bob & Chris.  Email reaches me at foreveryounginct@yahoo.com

More Racing Personalities From The Past…..   

By the time this Waterford Speedbowl paddock image was captured in August of 1978, Rod Tulba was already an experienced-hand at the “circle-game”. Years-before as a youngster, he’d entered competition in the Daredevil class as a close associate of the Gada team. This Vega was part of a multi-car team fronted by Paul Giguere (seated on tire), who also fielded entries in the Street Stock class. Tulba went-on to become a winning Modified shoe, recording a pair of victories at the shoreline oval in 1981. (Kennedy Photo) 

What has to be written about this guy? If you’re at-all familiar with New England racing history, than you should already know a little about the career of Gene Bergin. A member of the first class inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 1998, Bergin excelled in everything from Modifieds, to Midgets and Sprint Cars. Starting his career in 1949 at the Stafford Motor Speedway, he remained one of our regions top-drivers for over three-decades. This shot captures him following a win at the Waterford Speedbowl on July 9, 1977 where for a brief-time that season, he was a weekly regular in the “Smittys” #11 Pinto. (Kennedy Photo).

Back in the seventies when the Thompson 300 truly attracted every-level of Modified competitor from throughout our region, a number of New England raceways held “Thompson 300 Qualifier” events. In 1978, during the Dick Williams/Coastal Racing promotional reign, the Waterford Speedbowl was one of those tracks. Seen here waiting to take a stab at getting-into the show at the “Big T” is journeyman racer Blaine Belz. Those familiar with Bowl’ history may best-recall Belz as the pilot of a series of snazzy-looking #Q Coupes when he’d first made the scene a few-years earlier. (Kennedy Photo).

Had he not lost his life due to injuries sustained in a 1987 Martinsville Speedway crash while still in his prime, there’s no-telling how many-more checkers would have been captured by “Chargin’ Charlie” Jarzombek. Honing his skills on the tight ovals of Long Island, New York, he later branched-out to become one of the countries premier Modified racers recording nearly two-hundred victories on tracks from Massachusetts to Florida. On this day in March of 1980, he was lapping the Waterford Speedbowl in his familiar white #1. The event was the annual season-opening “Blast-Off” and it was captured by Marty Radewick. (Kennedy Photo).

Yet another NEAR Hall of Famer (class of 1999), seen here is the late Ralph “Hop” Harrington. Long one of the mainstays on the New England Modified circuit, Hop began his career in 1948 at the Kingston Rhode Island Fairgrounds piloting a nearly-stock 1934 Ford Coupe. From those humble beginnings came an estimated 300 victories, along with championships at places like Norwood Arena, Lonsdale, Kingston, and Westboro in naming just a few. A master car-builder also, Harrington was instrumental in the success of Geoff Bodine’s winning reign while piloting the Modifieds of Dick Armstrong in the seventies. Harrington retired from driving in 1969, but stayed busy in the sport as the builder of Armstrong’s “Nu-Style” Jewelry entries. This shot captures him with one of his more memorable rides, the # M2 Coach. (Grady Photo).

Winning an event (even a qualifier), at the big United races once held yearly on the grounds of the Springfield Exposition Center in Massachusetts was indeed, quite a feat. The gentleman you see here is “Big Ed” Patnode, and his accomplishments in the sport loom as large as his stature. Seen here at the “Big E”, he was truly one of United’s brightest stars, recording twenty-seven feature victories and a pair of championships at the late Riverside Park, once the flagship venue of the powerful Tattersall/United promotional dynasty. Only the best reigned-supreme at these shows and on this day “Big Ed” was on the top of his game. (Grady Photo).

His racing roots tracing back to the rough n’ tumble tarmac of Plainville Stadium, Stan “Stash” Greger parlayed that modest start into one of the most-stellar careers in all of New England Modified racing. After conquering “Tinty’s Place” it was on to the ultra-competitive Riverside Park in Agawam where he’d eventually record a trio of championships and nearly forty feature wins. Known as one of our sports true “Nice Guys”, Greger remains perhaps one of the most-underrated drivers in New England, a winning history garnered during what many railbirds still consider to be the most competitive era was in our region. This shot captures him during his early days at Plainville. (Hoyt Photo).

A native of Prospect, Ct., seen here is Sherm Saunders, in the Al Rhode owned modified, one of the star performers in what was once a weekly matinee of racing at the ¼-miler known as Connecticut’s Plainville Stadium. By the time that this image was captured in July of 1973, Saunders was already a seasoned-veteran of the sport, his earliest endeavors having taken-place at the old United-sanctioned West Haven Speedway. Note the mufflers on Sherm's rather battle-scarred little Coupe. Plainville Stadium was among the first of our regions tracks to mandate the sound-suppressing devices. (Kennedy Photo).     

Is this a classic image, or what? The driver is NEAR Hall of Famer the late Nathan “Smokey” Boutwell, and the car is the famed Garuti # 14 Coupe. Typical of rides of the era, it’s powered by a big-block, and it’s injected. Constructed before power-steering was widely utilized and chassis were designed with the aid of computer technology, these things were a real handful to drive, and it took brute-strength to do it successfully. Boutwell won hundreds of races from coast-to-coast, and notched multiple championships at places like Thompson and Stafford in Connecticut as well as venues further North such as Hudson, and the Pines Speedway. A multi-talented chauffer, Smokey also excelled in Supers, Midgets, and Sprints – he was truly one of the most versatile racers of his time. (Burnham Photo).

Ed Reed Sr. had been around the sport for a number of years as a car-owner & builder, chief-wrench, and just about everything-else before he donned the Nomex in 1977 to become a full-time racer. When the Street Stocks debuted at the Waterford Speedbowl that season, it was just the ticket for would-be racers looking to get-into the sport without mortgaging the farm. In 77’ Ed managed a single late-season victory wheeling his big sixties-era Ford Galaxie (a real “boat” by today’s standards), but the next year saw his fortunes improve immensely. In 78’ he debuted a Ford Torino entry (handing the Galaxie to team-driver “Pappy” Martin), and darned if he didn’t win the championship. This shot is from the evening of June 17, 1978, and was the first of four victories scored on-route to the title. (Kennedy Photo).

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

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