Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday December 5, 2012
 

 

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By Dave Dykes                                                                            CLICK ON PHOTOS FOR FULL SIZE

This week we present a selection of photos from a variety of New England raceways including the former ½-mile dirt of the Kingston, Rhode Island Fairgrounds. Once-again, thanks to our pal Racing Historian R.A. Silvia for digging-deep into his archives and pulling these rare images for all of us to enjoy, and also, much-appreciation to our Webmaster & friend Tom Ormsby for getting the site posted each & every week! On a sad note, we learned that our longtime friend Tony Leckey lost his mom last week. Many of you who frequent this site know Tony, as he’s served in several key positions at area tracks over the years including Starter and Race Director. Our sincere condolences are offered to Tony and his entire family. Lastly, Hall of Famer Billy Greco will be hosting a NEAR Racing Movie Party to benefit the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame on this Saturday evening December 8, 2012 at the Polish-American Club on 194 West Spring Street in West Haven, Connecticut. Doors Open at 6:00 PM. Raffle donations are currently being sought. Visit www.near1.com for directions and more details on this event. To all, have a great week! Email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com

Yet-More From The R.A. Silvia Files….

Shots like this can be rare, but R.A. Silvia comes-through with the goods again! What you’re viewing is a nice overhead image of the former Kingston Fairgrounds dirt half-miler located in North Kingston, Rhode Island. The track didn’t have a really-long life in terms of auto racing, active only from the late-1940s to the early-50s. However, records reveal that some of the biggest names in the sport competed there during its short history. It was typical of the rudimentary dirt tracks of the era, complete with a covered grandstand. For whatever-reason, statistics on this raceway seem somewhat hard to find. One it’s earliest sanctioning bodies was an outfit called the “Speed Corporation of America.” The entire facility was leveled in 1958 to make-way for the construction of an Industrial Park. (R.A. Silvia Archives)

Here’s a nice action shot from the Kingston Fairgrounds illustrating the pedigree of the machines that competed there regularly. Coaches always seemed to be a popular choice among dirt track chauffeurs, and this one looks not-unlike one of the rides you might have seen competing in early dirt action at Connecticut’s Stafford Speedway, or one of the of the many NY/PA tracks of the era. Unfortunately, we’re unsure of the identity of the driver. (R.A. Silvia Archives).

It was pretty gritty stuff at Kingston as illustrated in this image of a typical pileup on the expansive ½-miler. That’s the pre-war tin of longtime New England modified star the late Bob Sprague #40, and looking like his ride got the worst of it was New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member the late Hop Harrington #11. Sprague and Harrington were just two of the big-name New England drivers that lapped the old fairgrounds oval during the early days of their careers. (R.A. Silvia Archives).

Frank “Rebel” Mundy, one of the biggest stock car racing stars in the early days of the sport also paid a visit to Rhode Island to compete at Kingston as-seen here. He won-big in AAA, USAC, and NASCAR competition. In addition to his stock car racing endeavors he also attempted to qualify for the 1954 Indy 500, just missing the cut. A decorated veteran, Frank served as the personal driver for General George S. Patton during World War II. One of the more personable fan-friendly drivers of his time, Frank passed-away at age-90 in 2009. (R.A. Silvia Archives).

Here’s one from Kingston that holds an unfortunate distinction for fans of Connecticut’s Waterford Speedbowl. When he was wheeling this coupe on the Rhode Island dirt, Jack Griffin was already an experienced competitor having achieved good results racing in Massachusetts including a track championship at Westboro Speedway in 1949 and also many victories campaigning throughout the East Coast and Canada. On Saturday evening August 12, 1954 at the Speedbowl he was driving in the Sportsman feature (a particularly-messy event that had already experienced 2 red flag periods), when another accident occurred directly in-front of him. He tried to avoid the wreck, but clipped the wheel of another competitor and rolled several times. Sadly, he died of his injuries in the early hours of the next day at Lawrence & Memorial Hospital in New London, CT. It remains the saddest chapter in the history of the Speedbowl. (R.A. Silvia Archives).

Here’s another famous name in the history of the Kingston Fairgrounds dirt. A native of Trenton, New Jersey, Wally Campbell began his stock car career at Flemington Fairgrounds in New Jersey in 1947. By the end of that season he was the champion of the newly formed American Stock Car Racing Association (ASCRA). He finished 6th in points in 1948, then won the title in both 1949 and 1950. 1951 brought the NASCAR Modified title and in 1952 he finished second in points to Buck Baker in the NASCAR Speedway Division. In 1953 he won five AAA sprint car races after getting a late start in August. He attempted qualifying at Indianapolis in 1954 but was sent home to get "more experience". He made two AAA Champ Car race starts later that year at Langhorne and Darlington, but failed to finish in either. Sadly, Campbell perished while practicing for an AAA Midwestern Division sprint car race at Salem, Indiana on July 17, 1954. He was one day past his 28th birthday. (R.A. Silvia Archives).

OK, we’ve covered a bit of Rhode Island racing history and we don’t want to forget her neighbor, Massachusetts. Captured here are a couple of early machines circling the 1/3-mile asphalt of the former Medford Bowl which was located on the Revere Beach Parkway in Medford. Another New England speedplant that endured a short but very-racy history, it was torn-down following the 1954 campaign to make-way for the construction of a drive-in movie theatre. Like Kingston, Medford hosted some very famous names, many of-which are members of the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame. (R.A. Silvia Archives).  

Here’s a nice early image of late Carroll Sleeper, one of the more-noted New England racers of his generation. The location is Hudson, New Hampshire, and fortunately for all of us, the Hudson Speedway is still chugging-along today (you really need to visit this fun old-time “roots” track if you’ve not already). Sleeper was proficient on both dirt and asphalt recording a number of victories during his career. Ya’ gotta’ love these coupes! (R.A. Silvia Archives).

Short caption, but the photo kinda’ does the talking. This is just another nice action image from the banks of New Hampshire’s great Hudson Speedway. We’ll take all of these photos we can - thanks Mr. Silvia! (R.A. Silvia Archives).

Caught here in the aftermath of a 1959 pileup (an unfamiliar spot for this driver), at Massachusetts’ former Pines Speedway is the #24 of New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer, the late Jerry Dolliver. An excerpt from his HOF biography; Jerry was born in 1929 in Melrose, Mass., and as a young man, set up automotive shop in Kingston, N.H.  He never ventured far. Instead, he was always there, steady as the morning sun, always warming customers with a smile. His Sunoco pumps were the epicenter of town talk for decades. Jerry's racing was the same: nearby, competent, reliable, fan-friendly. It all started in a hulking wire-wheeled ice machine in 1949, and just five years later, he defeated Ollie Silva and Oscar Ridlon's finest to become Champion at The Pines Speedway. Eight championships were to follow, along with scores of victories at more than 15 New England venues.  There were cutdowns, modifieds, supermodifieds, sprinters, and midgets. Probably Jerry's most telling accomplishment, though, was his unparalled success with one engine - a flathead built by Hall of Famer Bill Welch. Ever so smoothly, Jerry coaxed that old-time power plant along to over 100 feature wins, right when the vastly lighter and more powerful overheads were sweeping the pit area. (R.A. Silvia Archives).

BONUS SHOT 1: And here’s New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member, the late Nathan “Smokey” Boutwell following a win at Hudson while aboard the Ed Bowley Flyin’ 5. This driver had a long & distinguished career in a myriad of classes, everything from Midgets, Sprints, Supers and Modifieds, to the NASCAR Grand National Series (now known as Sprint Cup). He won championships all-over New England and was a Canadian/American titlist as-well as annexing the 1960 Empire State title. During one of his best seasons, in 1956 he took an astounding 56 wins. Three-years later he was inducted into the Oilzum Hall of Fame, one of the most prestigious honors of the era. Were these early Supers the very- definition of “brutish” or-what?  (R.A. Silvia Archives).

BONUS SHOT 2: Yeah, yeah, we know – we’ve ran a lot of shots of him, but the career and life story of this New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member continues to fascinate us. Meet the late Oscar Ridlon, once a very-influential figure within the realm of New England auto racing, and especially in the formation of a class that would eventually become known as the Super Modifieds. A former big car & midget racer of epic proportions (as-seen here), he later became the owner & promoter of the former Pines Speedway in Groveland, Massachusetts, and also New Hampshire’s Hudson Speedway. At one time, his URDC circuit was one of the most successful of sanctioning bodies, producing talent that would become household names in our region. Guys like Hall of Famers Ollie Silva, Don MacLaren, Bentley Warren and Paul Richardson in naming just a few, all raced for Ridlon early in their careers. Also at the helm of Maine’s Arundel Speedway for a time, Ridlon was the personification of an old-time promoter, ruling his tracks with an often-controversial “Iron-Fist” mentality. Some of the stories told by the drivers that raced for him are truly the stuff of our region’s racing folklore. Oscar passed-away in 1973, but not before making several important contributions to the sport he was involved-with for decades. For more history on Oscar and the URDC circuit pickup a copy of our pal Lew Boyd’s great book “Hot Cars, Cool Drivers” at www.coastal181.com   (R.A. Silvia Archives).

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

THIS WEEKS COMMENTS

Dave Dykes said:

I'll tell you guys, this was a fun installment of the website to-do thanks to R.A. & Tom making-it-possible. I learned a LOT about Kingston after borrowing the shots from R.A. Sadly, I was never able to attend any of the tracks posted this week - wish I could have!

Dave Dykes said:

Actually, I forgot about Hudson - I DID go there several times in the 70s & early 80s. Cool little track....

bruce b cohen said:

Bill Welch's race car shop and home is located about 1/4 mi from my Ranch 112.

Bob Paine said:

Those are REAL racing cars.

George Libby said:

Just look at the amount of people that are in the stands in these early pictures, then look in the stands at any NASCAR Sprint race in the last couple of years. That should tell anybody why it was so popular. Hell, you or your neighbor could have afforded to get out there on the track and have fun. Sad days these are. Thanks for the memories Dave. I look forward to Wednesday nights every week.

Dave Dykes said:

You guys are all very-welcome. I consider myself very-blessed to have a good friend like Tom Ormsby as Webmaster and also to have you guys as readers. As-long as you like "RTT" we'll keep doing it. Many, many thanks to those of you that take the time to write-in, we appreciate it! - Dave.

Dave Dykes said:

Guys, thanks for all the nice comments this week. Thanks to R.A.(and of-course Tom), I guess we hit a sweet-spot. One of the images that amazes me the most is the Hudson shot of Boutwell - look at the crowd in the stands! I'm sure today's promotors would KILL for a grandstand that full....

Mike Harelik said:

Dave, I always enjoy the great old shots you come up with every week and the interesting commentary that you include with the pictures. Thanks for the effort....

ron d said:

kingston fair grounds was in kingston r.i. not north kingstown r.i.

Anonymous said:

Thanks, Mike - I appreciate your comment. Mistakes are made sometimes (as in the case with Kingston). Different sources list the Fairgrounds track as being located in West, East, and North Kingston! Not-really-sure where it was, but as racing columnist Phil Smith states, American Power Corporation sits there now. It's a tough place to find info. on, but thanks to our friend Mal Phillips, I did come-up with one-more santioning body; Interstate Stock Car Racing Association.

Denny Zimmerman said:

I remember Burt Brooks telling stories about Wally Campbell they called him Crazy Wheels Campbell.

Phil Smith said:

American Power Conversion sits on the site of the former Fairgrounds.I went there as a young kid with my dad many times. Tom Fenley in the Flying Zero was one of the top dogs too along with Hop,Sprague and Don Rounds

 
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