Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday August 26, 2009

Volume 1, Number 34                                                                                      New Column Every Wednesday


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By Dave Dykes                                                                              CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE

The Waterford Speedbowl, in constant operation since the spring of 1951 and the late Plainville Stadium, silenced in 1980 after a thirty-one year run, share many similarities. Truly “neighborhood short tracks” in a classic-sense, both for the most-part were (and remain in Waterford’s case), dependant on a truly-local audience unlike the states two larger venues, Thompson & Stafford Speedways. While the Stadium is gone, the shoreline oval soldiers-on weekly, her pulse somewhat-weakened over the years due to various issues including a recently stagnant economy. Join us this week as we take a peek at some of the personalities that over the years, circled these truly-great little Connecticut tracks.
Get-well wishes go-out to 1988 Waterford Speedbowl Modified champion Dick “Dickie Doo” Ceravolo, who was seriously injured last week in an accident at his home. As of this writing, Dick is presently hospitalized in critical condition at Yale-New Haven Hospital. Cards reach the family at Dick Ceravolo, 1348 Baldwin Hill Road, Gales Ferry, CT. 06335.
NOTE: Received this update last night from Dick's long time friend Phil Smith - As of Tuesday evening Joyce Ceravolo stated that Dick is showing signs of improvement. If all goes well Doctors hope to operate on Thursday to reconstruct his chest and rib cage that was severely injured last Friday, Aug 21.    
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Plainville Pioneers & Waterford Warriors….    

Captured here in the lens of famed New England racing photographer Shany Lorenzent is former Speedbowl Modified racer, Dick “Dickie Doo” Ceravolo. By the time he posed for this shot in 1972, he’d already established himself as a Waterford winner having taken his first checker in 1971 as a top shoe in the full-fendered Daredevil class. This coupe (his first Modified), was a former # V4 “Mystic Missile” entry originally campaigned by famed car owner Bob Garbarino who still runs cars on today’s NASCAR Modified Tour. The little 1935 Chevy coupe served the popular racer well, providing a springboard to success in the shoreline oval’s premier division. In 1988, the career of “Dickie Doo” reached its zenith, as he and longtime racing associate Dana Gerry waltzed-off with the championship. A surprise to everyone, Ceravolo then announced his retirement, going-on to oversee the career of his son Todd. Like-father, like-son, Todd became a Waterford Modified champion in 1997. (Shany Photo).  

Backing-up a bit, here’s another shot of the man affectionately known by Waterford Speedbowl aficionados as “Dickie Doo” Ceravolo, This is where it all-began for the affable Groton, CT. chauffer years-before he became an open-wheel champion. A 1955 Chevy, street tires, and safety appointments that included his old-style “Cromwell”-style helmet, this is one of the early rides that started him on his ride to Bowl’ success. As mentioned earlier in the column, Dick recently suffered serious injuries in an accident at home. Prayers go-out to the entire Ceravolo family during this trying time. (Shany Photo).

Seen here during the earliest days of his career as a Plainville Novice division pilot is the ever-smiling Jo Jo Farone. Member of a Connecticut racing family that also included the late Butch “Seymour the Clown” Farone and standout Stadium competitor Beetle Farone, Jo Jo progressed from these humble beginnings to wheeling Modifieds in the New England region. Today, he’s retired from driving and can sometimes be found at the Waterford Speedbowl where he holds-court on Saturday nights within the shoreline oval’s unofficial beer garden (AKA “Alcohol Alley”), located down around the first-turn. Some weeks it’s a scene not unlike a Plainville Stadium reunion, and that’s a good-thing! (Courtesy Tom Ormsby, Photog. Unknown).

Simply a classic shot. This is George Hotchkiss, the 1963 Plainville Stadium Modified champion. The level of competition at the Stadium was at a fever-pitch in the early-sixties, and some of the biggest names in the business often appeared to try their luck on the tight ¼-miler (not to discount the regulars, a thoroughly-stout bunch themselves). Though George was considered a regular winner, it was consistency that rewarded him rather than victories during his climb to the top of the point ladder. Oddly-enough, he scored not a single feature checker on-route to the title. (Courtesy Tom Ormsby, Photog. Unknown).

Like the aforementioned Jo Jo Farone, the guy you see here got his Plainville start within the confines of that wild n’ wooly support class known as the Novice Division. This is Dennis “The Greek” Chavaris. It was an era when track announcers bestowed catchy nicknames upon competitors, and a guy could flat-tow his flathead-powered Ford to the track (note the license plate in the back window). Spending over five decades in the sport, in addition to his early Novice class endeavors “The Greek” went-on to become a multi-time Modified feature winner at Plainville, later enjoying a stint in the SK Modifieds. (Faust photo courtesy Tom Ormsby).

There’s a neat story tied-in with this one. The racer captured in this image is popular Plainville chauffer, Harry Bliss. Or is it? Here’s the low-down from Tom Ormsby, our Webmaster, former Stadium Modified racer, and historian of all-things Plainville. “This is the Flying 8 of Harry Bliss in 1963,” states Tom. “His real name was Harry Sargent, and he was a Sergeant on the Hartford Police Force who used the name “Harry Bliss” so they wouldn’t know he was racing. He was always fast and won several features, but didn't run every week, having to miss the events when he had to work. I believe the Hartford Police Dept. had rotating weekends off and Harry could only make the races those nights he had off.” As Tom attests-to, back-then the local Authorities apparently frowned-upon one of their own taking-part in any speed contests as the powers that be considered race car drivers unsavory characters, but it didn’t stop Harry! (Faust photo courtesy Tom Ormsby).

A faithful Speedbowl competitor for over three-decades, few drivers had a better reputation than Norwich, Connecticut’s Mark LaJeunesse. Known as a true “Gentleman Racer” in the Watson, Dunn, and Collins ilk, he was the guy you never minded being on the outside-of in tight situations. Starting his career in 1972 and first entering victory lane two-season later, the 1975 UNITED Modified/Sportsman championship and a 2000 victory in the season-opening Modified Nationals rate among his shoreline oval accomplishments. This shot captures him ready-to-roll in his familiar # 33 during the 1979 campaign. (Kennedy Photo).

Even the smoothest drivers sometimes put their equipment through some harrowing episodes. Seen in here in 1980 being held-captive by the Speedbowl’s dreaded “double-hook maneuver” is another shot of the Vega of Mark LaJeunesse. A bit-twisted to say the least, the carnage of this episode undoubtedly resulted in the burning of some midnight-oil for Mark and his crew of “Rose City Speedsters.” As a side-note, it’s interesting to mention that these guys  remained one of the few teams to complete all work in-house from their modest Norwich, Ct. digs long-after many competitors had began relying on outside engine builders and chassis manufacturers. (Kennedy Photo).     

Captured here in the 1970’s as one of the top-drivers of the Southern New York Racing Association at Connecticut’s former Danbury Fair Racerena is the late Prentice “Corky” Cookman. After departing the SNYRA, Cookman became a winner during the early days of the NASCAR Modified Tour. Tragically, he lost his life on July 19, 1987 while competing in an event at the Thompson Speedway. The popular racer was only 43 years- old. Sadly, his death occurred within a bleak multi-season period that claimed the lives of several other regional Modified stars including the great Richie Evans, Charlie Jarzombek, Tony Jankowiak and Tommy Druar. Those events prompted NASCAR to address concerns within the division resulting in several revisions made in an attempt to increase the safety of its competitors. (Mannion photo courtesy Tom Ormsby).

Here’s another shot of the late Corky Cookman at the Waterford Speedbowl. The date is March 23, 1980, and the event was the season-opening 100-lap “Blast-Off”. Marty Radewick went-on to win over a star-studded field of top New England Modified racers. The Speedbowl has truly hosted some of the “Great Ones” during its long history. (Kennedy Photo).

Seen here in another action-shot from Waterford’s “Blast-Off” 1980, is New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member George Summers wheeling the Pinto of fellow Hall of Famer, storied car owner Art Barry. Teaming-up in the 1980’s, the duo recorded many wins. Fittingly, they triumphed in the last race of George’s stellar 32-year career, scoring the 1983 World Series at Thompson Speedway. Responsible for hundreds of victories all-over New England, Summers was particularly dominant at the Seekonk Speedway in Massachusetts where over two-decades after bowing-out of the sport, he remains that tracks all-time winner. (Kennedy Photo).

For the company he kept, this guy was vastly under-funded, his machines were often aesthetically-unappealing, and he was the very definition of a “small fish in a big pond.” In the 1970’s, few guys put more miles on the Modified trail than the original “Travelin’ Man”, one Pete Fiandaca. Miles meaning from Maine to Florida, just like many of the well-heeled teams he raced against. Working without even the luxury of a garage during his Modified days, “Petah” managed to mix-it-up pretty well with the Big Dogs recording some memorable victories, each a triumph for the sports many “Little Guys”. Later switching to the ranks of Late Model & Pro Stock competition, the still-active Massachusetts native has recorded a documented 320 victories during a career that started in 1967. Here he’s seen at the Waterford Speedbowl in 1979. (Kennedy Photo).

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

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