Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday December 30, 2009

Volume 1, Number 52                                                                                      New Column Every Wednesday


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By Dave Dykes                                                                              CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE


The final installment of “Racing Through Time” for 2009 - hard to believe, isn’t-it? This week we’ll take a peek at some past competitors that plied their trade at the “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl, a still-active 1/3-miler situated on the Connecticut shoreline. Also included for good-measure is a Stafford shot of one of our favorite Hall of Famers seated behind the controls of an absolutely-wild Corvair-bodied creation. May all of you have a happy & safe New Year! 
 Email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com

Speedbowl Memories (Plus One From Stafford)…    

We open this week with a shot of a pioneering figure in the history of what was then-known as the “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl, John “Cannonball” Baker. This hulking “Coach” entry was but-one in a succession of #314 creations that Baker campaigned at Waterford from the 1950’s until his final drive in 1974. In later years, he was one-half of a family team that also included his son, aptly-nicknamed “Musketball.” (Shany Photo).

Though his career was reasonably-brief by conventional standards, this guy had a huge-impact on the early history of the Speedbowl. Twice a Modified titlist (1952 & 62), Dick Beauregard’s flamboyant driving-style won-over a legion of fans, along with a few detractors. A true “stand-on-the-gas” competitor, his retirement in 1962 after only a decade yielded 62 victories in both Modified & Non Ford competition. This shot captures him shortly before he hung-up his helmet, quite-fittingly retiring as a champion. The driver to the right with the big-grin is none-other than New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer and pal of yours-truly, “Little Bill” Harman. (Shany Photo).     

One of the legendary figures in Speedbowl history during his prime; Here’s another shot of the guy mentioned-above in the “Black Panther” coupe, clearly one of Dick Beauregard’s more-memorable rides. Few drivers were able to coax-more out of one of these primitive pre-war creations than “Dirty Dick” during Waterford’s formative years. Win, lose, or draw, he was ALWAYS in the thick of the action! (Shany Photo).

What more can be said about this driver when speaking of the Speedbowl’s early days? The late Moe Gherzi was wildly-popular, won a ton of races, and with his fancy driving uniforms lent an air of class to the sports somewhat-raucous beginnings. Though his Bowl’ driving career was a relatively-short affair, he later stayed involved with the game serving as the longtime Race Director at the late Plainville Stadium. The record book shows that “Moneybags Moe” (a handle bestowed upon-him for a talent in notching big-dollar shows), recorded a total of 27 Modified victories at Waterford. (Shany Photo)    

No installment about the Speedbowl would be complete without a shout-out to this racer, “Wild Bill” Slater. Though he went-on to Herculean accomplishments at other venues (Langhorne ROC winner, titles at Norwood, Thompson, Stafford, etc.), his impact on the Speedbowl as the driver of the Vitari-Bombaci #V-8 is the stuff of legend. Twice a champion at Waterford, he’s seen here in 1959 with his team and well-wishers following a victory in Augusts’ “Mid-Season Championship” event. According to archival documents the show was witnessed by an overflow crowd of between 7,500 & 8,000 spectators. It was also noted that “For the first-time, a parking lot across the street was used as both regular lots were jammed.” Bill’s take for the evening was $2,000, while second-place finisher Don Collins pocketed $800. Note Bill’s clever use of a can of V8 vegetable juice! As a side-note, among the “invaders” present that night were Jim Hendrickson, and Japanese-American racer George Tett, both top Long Island shoes. Slater, Bombaci, and Vitari are all members of the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame. (Shany Photo).     

Mention the name Charlie Webster and it’s bound to garner a response from anyone even remotely-knowledgeable in the history of the Speedbowl. Seen here behind the controls of an early Non-Ford entry, from the get-go the late Mr. Webster was one of the real heavy-hitters as racing appeared in the then-rural burg of Waterford, CT. Scoring his first title in the class during the 1956 campaign, he repeated in 1958 & 59. Driving the Freddy Beaber “checkerboard” #716 from the Connecticut River Valley, he notched the 1966 Modified championship. Before calling it quits in 1970, he’d scored a combined total of over-80 victories in Modified, Non-Ford, and Claiming Car action. (Shany Photo)..  

Here’s a name that looms-large in both Waterford’s history, and on a national level. Southington, CT. native Melvin “Red” Foote won Speedbowl Modified titles in 1953 and 1959, also scoring at Plainville Stadium during the same era. Dependant on the archival source, his Speedbowl score-card yields a total of between 35-40 Modified triumphs, (it could very-well be more). A switch to NASCAR in the 1960’s saw him victorious from New England to the Carolinas to Daytona. It was also during this period that he became one of the famed “Eastern Bandits” along Ed Flemke, Rene Charland, and Denny Zimmerman. Red also took down a championship in North Carolina in 1965. Enjoying a particularly long & successful career, the “Crafty Redhead” as he was known by early track announcers, retired in 1980 following a stint in Virginia’s NASCAR Sportsman division. He was inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 1999. (Shany Photo).        

Now & then I’m lucky and get some information on a photo that helps “fill-in-the-blanks.” In this case, I hit pay-dirt and got the entire scoop on a rather-perplexing Speedbowl shot. It says “Bill” on the roof, but it’s clearly the late Ed Yerrington behind the wheel of this neat coupe. Here’s the story from the man who built and won with the car, New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer and friend, Ray Miller. He writes, “Dave, wanted to let you know a little history about the # 44 that you show with Ed Yerrington driving. That car was built by yours-truly. I ran it at Stafford for the very-first race on asphalt in 1967 which I was first alternate and did not make the main event. I ran the car as a yellow & black #17, winning my first Stafford feature with it in 1969 (Sal Dee was second with Bill Slater third). It had a 327 with fuel injection set up by Jerry Wheeler. I sold it in 1970 to a group at the Speedbowl, and they were going to have Bill Scrivener drive-it. Note the "Bill" on the roof. Not-sure why Ed was in-it in this shot.” Regards, Ray.  Thanks to Mr. Miller, another “Waterford Mystery” is solved! (Shany Photo).

By the time he’d secured a seat in the Gada Team’s Modified for the 1972 season, Joey Trudeau was a seasoned-veteran, having scored many feature victories as-well as the 1971 Modified Championship aboard “Big Smitty’s” #11 coupe. More triumphs followed after this Shany Lorenzent image was captured, his pairing with the Gada clan a long & advantageous affair. Note that this little number is all FORD in what had-become a sea of General Motors products at the shoreline oval. The Gada’s campaigned all “Blue-Oval” equipment during the early days. (Shany Photo).

OK, here’s that shot from Stafford Springs Motor Speedway that I promised. Meet Mr. Ray Miller, friend of “Racing Through Time” and member of the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame. Here’s a little information on a guy that’s truly-regarded as one of the sport’s “Class-Acts.” Competing from the 1960's into the '80's, Ray ran his first race at the late Plainville Stadium in 1965. By the next-season he was racing at Riverside Park, and also ran on the dirt at Stafford. One of his many career highlights was a 10th place finish in the 1971 NASCAR National Modified point standings. By the early 1980's, he was winning regularly at Stafford and Riverside. Ray also won a Thompson 300, and finished 3rd in the Pocono Race of Champions. He drove the Bill Simons #9 to many victories, including a prestigious Mod Tour victory at the Waterford Speedbowl in 1985. Ray of-course, is the father of the late & much-missed Jay Miller, who was a standout SK Modified driver. On a personal-level, the car pictured-here is one of my favorites of the many that Ray drove. It doesn’t get much-better than a wild Chevy Corvair-bodied Modified! (Adaskaveg Photo, Ormsby Collection).

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

 
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