Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday December 16, 2009

Volume 1, Number 50                                                                                      New Column Every Wednesday


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By Dave Dykes                                                                              CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE

This week brings some unfortunate news, as it’s been learned that multi-time Waterford Speedbowl champion Dennis Gada and his family suffered a serious fire at their home in Salem, CT. The good-news is that there were no injuries. Among the losses were the families Christmas gifts, etc. For those interested in helping-out, a bank account has been set up at Groton, Connecticut’s Chelsea Bank. Additionally, there’s a Benefit Spaghetti Dinner to be held on Thursday December 17th at the Gardner Lake Fire Department in Salem, CT. from 5:30 to 8:00. Tickets are $5 for children, $10 for adults and $25 for a family. For more detailed information, visit the forum section of www.jeff-pearl.com .
 Email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com

Faces From The Past (Continued)…..

We open this week’s column with an action-shot from the former Cherry Park Speedway located in Avon, Connecticut. A truly-picturesque facility (complete with an old-time covered grandstand), Cherry Park opened in 1882 as a horse track and in 1933 began presenting auto racing on the original half-mile dirt circuit. Closed for the war-years, it reopened in 1946 as a fifth-mile, being paved shortly thereafter. A hotbed of action for the Midgets, it also hosted the then-new stock cars. It lay dormant from 1954 to 1959 when it was razed for development. Seen here are early Midget racing standouts Dee Toran, George Rich, Bert Brooks, and Len Duncan. (Photographer Unknown).

Here’s a dramatic 70’s-era Seekonk action-shot of a pair of New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame members. That’s George Summers in the #31 leading Ronnie Bouchard in the #35. Seekonk remains one of the most historically-significant ovals on the East Coast, having first opened its gates on May 30, 1946. The tradition continues today, as the Vendetti family readies for another season of competition in 2010 at the Massachusetts oval affectionately-known as the “Cement Palace.” (Mercury Photo).      

It’s close-quarters on Connecticut’s Plainville Stadium back-chute during an early-1970’s open competition show for New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame members Billy “Gramps” Greco, and Stadium’ strongman, Dave Alkas. Greco of course, traces his roots back to the old United/West Haven circuit, and went-on to become one of New England Modified racings most legendary figures. Alkas was simply “The King” of all-things Plainville, being that track’s all-time victor – the guy simply owned the tough little quarter-miler. (Hoyt Photo)

Seen here is a young Ronnie Rocco during his days as a coupe-era pilot at Plainville Stadium. Starting in the track’s old Novice class, Rocco was a quick-study when it was time to trade-in his fenders for the open-wheel wars. A big Modified winner at Plainville before the tracks unfortunate closure in 1980, he later became a successful and popular racer within the ranks of the SK division. Ronnie is the father of current New England Modified standout Keith Rocco. (Kennedy Photo).    

It’s an overcast Sunday afternoon in the spring of 1969 at Plainville Stadium, and that’s Nicky Porto snap-spinning his wild-looking Coach as Jack Proulx takes the low-groove. Like the aforementioned Greco, Porto was a successful driver at the United-sanctioned West Haven Speedway before taking-up residency at Plainville to become one of that track’s most-celebrated racers. Note the low-slung stance of Porto’s car – the Stadium’ boasted of some truly-unique creations during its heyday! (Hoyt Photo).     

Seen here during the early-stages of his career on (what we believe), to be the old dirt of Stafford Springs Motor Speedway is New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member, Gene Bergin. One of the regions premier racers for decades, there’s wasn’t much that Bergin didn’t drive – he was that versatile. The Suffield Auto Center entry was rather-novel at the time, sporting late model tin-work while the vast majority of competitors were still relying on the more traditional-stylings of the pre-war Coupes & Coaches. (Shany Photo).  

Another shot from the annals of Northeastern dirt racing history, here’s the late, great Kenny Shoemaker. A member of the Dirt Motorsports Hall of Fame, there were few as talented as “The Shoe” on the tracks of the Northeast, especially Fonda, New York where this image was captured. If the number on this coupe seems familiar to you pavement enthusiasts, it-should. The car was owned & wrenched by New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member Bob Judkins, the man who initiated Modified Racings “Pinto Revolution” in 1971. Judkins was a multi-faceted builder, excelling on any surface he decided to tackle. For more on the career of Shoemaker, check-out “They called me the Shoe”, available at Lew Boyd’s www.coastal181.com (Grady Photo).       

Here’s one-more for the dirt-slingin’ fans. Seen aboard his positively classic-looking Coupe, is one “Big John” Richmond. As one of the Northeast region’s premier chauffers, a lot of success came to Richmond while he was at the controls of this little number. He’s captured here during an outing at “The Track of Champions”, AKA Fonda Speedway. (Grady Photo).

Here’s a nice “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl shot from 1965. New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member the late Dick Dixon was a top Modified competitor in Harvey Tattersall’s United Stock Car Club in the 1950’s and 1960’s, also competing in their Grand American class. One year, he won all-but two GA features run by United. He earned several wins on the old Big E racetrack in both the coupes and the late models. Dixon raced in several Grand National (Sprint Cup) events, including races at Charlotte, Lime Rock, Daytona, and Islip Speedways. Sadly, Dick lost his life in 1967 while competing at Thompson Speedway in a car normally driven by fellow New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member Billy Harman. On the inside in the #88 is Lou Toro, and in the #43 is another Hall of Famer, Billy “Gramps” Greco. (Shany Photo).

The last entry in this installment of “RTT” is a bit of a mystery. Long-ago, the late (and much-missed) Danny Pardi gifted yours-truly with a number of vintage Waterford Speedbowl images, this being among-them. Unfortunately, some remain in the “unidentified” file, and what you see here is one of them. We’re guessing that this is a Non-Ford entry (a Speedbowl support class), judging from the powerplant. Note the license plate bracket attached to the rear of the body – evidence that this little Coupe was flat-towed to the shoreline oval. Information on the identity of the chauffer? - email me and help clear-up a mystery! (Shany Photo).

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

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