Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday August 5, 2009

Volume 1, Number 31                                                                                      New Column Every Wednesday


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Once-again, this week’s search of the RTT archives yields a bountiful haul for our readerships viewing pleasure. Eleven images that include everything from a smattering of Hall of Famers, to some shots of a dirt track once located in the wilds of Massachusetts. As always, enjoy!  Email reaches me at foreveryounginct@yahoo.com

New England Dirt Trackin’, Hall of Famers, etc..

Captured here during the height of his brilliant racing career is one Raymond “Hully” Bunn, a native of New Britain, Connecticut. First climbing behind the wheel at the late Plainville Stadium in 1949, within two-years he had become one of the premier short- trackers in the country. In 1951, he emerged victorious in the first-ever Race of Champions at the storied Langhorne Speedway in Pennsylvania topping a field of over one-hundred top-notch Modified-Sportsman competitors. A frequent winner from coast-to-coast, he retired in 1965 following a serious crash at Lebanon Valley. Bunn was inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 2001. (Photographer Unknown)

Massachusetts’ glorious Lakeville Speedway! Seriously, the old girl would have never aced a beauty contest or rated highly in a poll of the nation’s premier dirt-tracks, but more than one New England racer will tell you that the place was just tons of fun! Originally opening in the late 1920’s, the facility underwent a number of name-changes during its long history – Middleborough Fairgrounds, Camp Joe Hooker Raceway, Golden Spur Speedway, and lastly, Lakeville Speedway. A half-miler located near the Middleboro/Bridgewater area with a tricky oil-soaked dirt surface, it was a career-springboard for some pretty-notable racers, and also served as a Sunday playground for many of our regions top-pavement shoes. Dan Meservey Sr., founder and multi-time champion of the Pro-4 Modified Series took-over the promotional reigns in the seventies, going-on to make several much-needed improvements. Despite Dan’s sincere efforts to make it a “serious” racing venue, Lakeville ceased-operation in 1975. This shot captures a gaggle of Dirt Modifieds roaring-down for the green during the waning-years of the decades-old track. (Photo Courtesy Lew Boyd).

And here we have another Lakeville Speedway image, this-time from the 1960’s. It’s early in the career of one of those guys I mentioned above that managed to make a bit of a name for himself in New England racing circles, and according to him, “This is an ancient Super Modified that I converted to dirt, and I tried very hard to hurt-myself in it!” All kidding-aside, the guy seen at-speed in this dirt “Super” is none-other than “Fast Finch Fenton”, known in mortal-terms as Lew Boyd, the proprietor of Coastal 181 Publishing www.coastal181.com Boyd has done a little-bit of everything in the sport - driver, owner, writer, and now publisher of some of the finest racing books available. In its heyday, Lakeville hosted a truly diverse selection of divisions as this shot attests-to. (Photo Courtesy Lew Boyd).

Canadian Denis Giroux was on the fast-track to success when a tragic near-fatal Stafford Spring Sizzler crash in the early-seventies put the brakes on his promising career. He had been a top-driver in his native province before coming to the Northeast to race Modifieds. Well-liked by his fellow competitors and a fan-favorite, he’s seen here at Stafford behind the controls of the Emerick Associates Coupe with fellow Modified shoe and friend, New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer Billy Harman. According to Billy who often competed against the young racer, Giroux possessed the talent to truly-become one of the sports best. (Photo Courtesy Billy Harman).

While we’ve ran shots from the late West Haven Speedway before, it’s always been of the Modified-variety. Like all the tracks that fell-under the promotional umbrella of the once-mighty Tattersall family-led United Stock Car Racing Club, West Haven had a thriving support class, in this case known as the “Novice Division”. Seen here in a car typical of the offerings is Carl Finer. Note the “snow-tread” on the left-rear. Campaigning one of these cars was truly a “run what you brung” endeavor. (Shany Photo).  

Albany-Saratoga Speedway in New York State was once a hotbed of asphalt Modified racing, hosting the best drivers in the division and this guy was one of them. Leo “The Lion” Cleary didn’t earn his nickname by being a passive chauffer – he was one tough competitor! This shot captures the New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer following one of the many visits to victory lane during his long career. Note his “All Star” helmet – only the top drivers of the era competed in that storied series and Leo was certainly one of its biggest names. (Grady Photo).

By the determined look on his face, Dave Alkas is obviously concentrating on the task-at-hand. Chances-are, he’s out in the lead at Joe Tinty’s Plainville Stadium, a spot that he was certainly familiar-with as the “King of Plainville Stadium”. Teamed with car owner Roland Cyr, there were few drivers that managed to unseat him as “The Man” when it came to notching victories on the tricky ¼-miler. The all-time winner at the Stadium’ as well as the only to score five Modified championships, Alkas was awarded his spot in the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 2008. This image captures Dave in his familiar Cyr-Engineered #54 Vega during June of 1977. (Steve Kennedy Photo).  

It’s Sunday afternoon April 30, 1978 at the Waterford Speedbowl, and New England Auto Racing Hall of Famers Ronnie Bouchard and car owner Bob Judkins have just notched the season-opening Modified show and first-ever event sanctioned by Dick Williams’ Coastal Racing Association (that’s Dick on the right). Bouchard had a banner early-season at the shoreline oval, not only winning the opener, but also taking the next two features before moving-on to other venues. His career reached its pinnacle with a stunning victory in the NASCAR Winston Cup Talladega 500 just three seasons after this shot was captured. (Steve Kennedy Photo)    

Few drivers have had more of an effect on the record books of the Waterford Speedbowl than this guy, Bob Potter. Yet another New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame alumnus, his career accomplishments read like a history of the shoreline oval. For nearly 4-decades, Potter was in the thick of the action, recording nearly 100 victories and 6 championships at the historic third-miler. Add-in titles and multiple victories at Stafford and Thompson, and you have one of the most accomplished careers in all of New England Modified racing. Wheeling the Hank Olszewski-owned Pinto in 1980, Potter topped the Waterford field on six-occasions, waltzing-away with his second track title.  This shot is from his fourth win of the year on Saturday evening, July 19th. (Steve Kennedy Photo).

Old vs. New. It’s Saturday June 9, 1979, and that’s multi-time Speedbowl Modified champion the late George “Moose” Hewitt in his Pinto taking the high-road around 60s-era Bomber champion Ed Bunnell who’s wheeling what is perhaps one of the most recognizable Coupes to have-ever competed at Waterford, the Bunnell Bros. #318. The 1970’s were a real transitional period in New England Modified racing, and the new stylings of the Pinto/Vega movement were rapidly replacing the tinwork of the pre-war classics. Ed’s car, along with the #38 of the LaJeunesse team, were among the last of the truly-competitive Coupes in weekly Bowl’ competition. Just three-seasons prior to this shot, Ed’s brother Donnie had defeated a stellar field piloting this car in was then the tracks longest event-to-date, the 1976 Bicentennial 200. The Modified scene in New England was changing, and quickly. NEAR member Don Murphy currently campaigns a restored version of the #318 on the vintage race car circuit. Then as now, it’s a beauty! (Steve Kennedy Photo).

Here’s a “bonus-shot” for this week as we deviate from our customary total of ten images (hey, I’m more-wordy than usual tonight). Seen here is a driver that rarely ever got-into situations like this, as he was simply “smooth-as-silk”. Donnie Bunnell (the youngin’ of the racing brothers), had earned a reputation as a racer that you could run side-by-side against without worry. He was a gentleman competitor in every sense of the term. On May 13 1978, something happened on the way down the back-chute which resulted in his Frank Konopka-owned Vega slapping the wall and flaming-up. Overall, it was a rough-season for the Montville, Ct. chauffer, being the first-time in many campaigns that he’d not enter the win column. (Steve Kennedy Photo).

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

 
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