Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday December 18, 2013
 

 

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By Dave Dykes                                                                              CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE

This week we open with Get Well wishes sent to our good friend, New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member Bob Potter. Recently hitting a rough spot, Bob unfortunately ended-up doing some time in the hospital. Thankfully, he’s now home and on the mend. Personally-speaking, as a racer that helped foster my lifetime interest in the sport he’s definitely one of the guys to blame for this little weekly foray into the past. I’m sure that I speak for all of us in wishing Mr. Potter a speedy recovery for what ails-him! Next week at this time it’ll be Christmas, and I’d like to take an early opportunity to offer a sincere thanks to all of our readers, contributors, and especially someone who works quietly behind the scenes. It was Tom Ormsby who volunteered to serve as Webmaster for his computer-illiterate pal’s site back around this time in 2008, and he’s been here since (along with answering my endless trail of stupid technical questions!). Simply-stated, without Tom’s efforts “RTT” would never have become a reality. For that I’m sincerely thankful. Here’s wishing everyone a happy holiday season!  Till’ next time, have a great week! As-always, email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com

Another Week In The Books…..

As mentioned-above our friend New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer Bob Potter is home and on the mend following a recent stay in the hospital. Seemingly ageless, his career reaches back to the days of the coupes when he was a fast-rising star at Connecticut’s “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl (as it was officially-known until 1975). An excerpt from his HOF biography; “In Southern New England, mention the number 51 and the immediate response is Bob Potter. Starting at Waterford Speedbowl in 1962, Potter began winning in 1963 and before it was over captured 11 championships an estimated 140 features at Stafford, Thompson and Waterford.  A model of consistency, he ran a streak of 37 straight top-six finishes at Stafford in 1994-95.”  This one captures a youthful Bob following one of his earliest shoreline oval triumphs during the 1960s. Flanking him is legendary Speedbowl flagman Loren Card. (Shany Lorenzent Photo Courtesy Tom Ormsby).

From our friend & frequent “RTT” contributor New York State Racing Historian Roger Liller presented is this seldom-seen gem. It should be of particular interest to Connecticut-based fans. As-is customary we’ll let him provide the details. States Roger; “I've been going through a lot of Rhinebeck photos these days and I came up with some great Bob McDowell/Les King photos of Bridgeport, Ct. driver Jerry Golden. Jerry was an early star at Rhinebeck Speedway in New York, and this early-50s shot shows him with the "diamond" car. Jerry won 1 feature on 6-28-52 when the track was under NASCAR sanction. Photographer Bob McDowell always kept on the cutting-edge of his art, stopping off at New York City camera shops when he made weekly visits to deliver his photos to Illustrated Speedway News. Many good action shots are the result, although after so-many passing years the identities of some of the drivers are now lost to time. My thanks always go out to Les King for the use of these pictures which are the last survivors of McDowell's work. All his negatives save for the midgets (which were purchased by King), were destroyed in a fire in a small barn behind his house. Many of us regret that Les King did not purchase them also.” Echoing Roger’s sentiments, racing photographers remain true unsung heroes of the sport. Without their efforts, tracking the visual history of racing would obviously be impossible. It’s something to remember in today’s Internet age when unfortunately, proper credit is not always given to their work (something we at “RTT” always strive to accomplish whenever possible). (Bob McDowell/Les King Photo Courtesy Roger Liller).

Here’s another rare one from our old friend, renowned New England Racing Historian R.A. Silva., and it should be of interest to fans of Connecticut’s Waterford Speedbowl. Seen taking a victory lap aboard his “Little Jewel” coupe is New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member, the great Don Collins. The location is Avon, Connecticut’s former Cherry Park Speedway. Constructed as a horse track prior to the turn of the century and first utilized for auto racing in the early-1930s, it was transformed into a 1/5-mile paved oval in 1946 to showcase the burgeoning popularity of the midgets during the post-war era. It continued operation until the conclusion of the 1954 season, by-then hosting stock cars on a regular basis. Sitting dormant, it was finally razed in 1959 to make-way for a housing development. As for Collins, this photo is particularly significant as it readily-confirms that he did-indeed, enjoy success at tracks other than his home base of the Speedbowl; it’s fact that’s often overlooked when his name arises. During what would be considered a brief career (1948 to early-1970) by today’s standards, he won more than 100 feature races and five track championships at Waterford-alone, but also competed successfully at places such as at Connecticut’s Stafford, Thompson, Cherry Park, and Plainville, Norwood & Seekonk in Massachusetts, and New York State’s Malta. (Frank Smith Photo Courtesy R.A. Silvia).

We realize that the condition of this image is a bit-rough, but considering who donated-it for use we really wanted to include it this week (plus, it really captures the “feel” of the venue). Direct from the scrapbook of New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member Billy Greco & scanned by our mutual friend, NEAR member Rich Belmont comes this period-perfect slice of Connecticut’s West Haven Speedway history. The driver is a fellow by the name of Stan Johnson, and according to Billy, he raced only at that track. Once a cornerstone of action for the Tattersall families’ all-powerful United Stock Car Racing Club, West Haven was often referred-to as “The Rock” owing to its close proximity to the old Savin Rock Amusement Park. It was a paved 1/5 mile oval located on the waterfront. Somewhat unusually-configured, it was built around a baseball diamond named Donovan Field (after "Wild Bill" Donovan, a manager of the NY Yankees). Some of New England’s finest modified racers (including several Hall of Famers), called West Haven home during its celebrated history. Greco, Tony Mordino, Johnny Cambino, Danny Gaudiosi, Sal Dee, and Danny Galullo are just a few. Falling victim to the national urban renewal movement, it closed in 1967. (Shany Lorenzent Photo Courtesy Billy Greco).  

Though he experienced success at a number of other speedways in the Northeast, when you think of the late Charles “Chick” Stockwell, your mind immediately conjures-up images of overwhelming success as the all-time winner on the ultra-competitive surface of the late SNYRA-sanctioned Danbury Fair Racearena in Connecticut. Nine championships, 207 victories, and a stint as “Most Popular Driver” for six-years (1976-1981), are bound to sew-up his association with what was once considered one of the most-successful short track operations in America. Sadly, we lost Danbury at the conclusion of the 1981 season so a Mall could be constructed on the property. Like we needed another mall in Connecticut, right? (Mannion Photo).

Here’s another one that’s lurked in the files for an extended period of time after being shared with us courtesy of our Webmaster, Tom Ormsby. The location is Connecticut’s Stafford Springs Motor Speedway, and behind the wheel of this neat full-bodied modified (a style that was all-the-rage for a short period), is Plainville Stadium standout, the late Freddie Colassa. Another significant aspect surrounding this photo is that the fellow owning this rig played a supremely-important role in the history of New England modified racing. Who was it? Why, none-other than New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer, the much-celebrated “Moneybags” Moe Gherzi. Like Colassa, Moe has left us, but not before leaving his mark as one of the best to have ever emerged from our region. To read more about “Moneybags” and his fellow Hall of Fame Members, be sure to visit NEAR at www.near1.org  (Lloyd Burnham Photo Courtesy Tom Ormsby).

Captured here during the really early days of Connecticut’s Stafford Motor Speedway at the height of his brilliant career is Raymond “Hully” Bunn, a native of New Britain, CT. First climbing behind the wheel at the former 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. Friend & fellow competitor the late Dick Eagan drove relief for him during a segment of the event, a testament to just how grueling the early Langhorne shows were. A frequent winner from coast-to-coast, Bunn retired in 1965 following a serious crash at Lebanon Valley. Both Bunn and Eagan are members of the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame. (Shany Lorenzent Photo).     

Its bittersweet images like this that truly make you wonder just what might-have-been…. Seen here in 1963 at the former (& much-missed), Riverside Park Speedway in Agawam, Massachusetts during his early days behind the wheel, Gary Colturi was on the fast-track to success when news of his tragic death in a motorcycle accident both stunned and saddened the New England racing community in 1973. Late in his career, Colturi had teamed with legendary car owner Mario Fiore, racing to phenomenal success and certainly wasn’t done at the time of his passing. Reggie Ruggerio landed the ride with Fiore after Gary’s death, and the rest is history. Both Reggie & Mario are members of the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame. (Shany Lorenzent Photo Courtesy Mario Fiore).

We really like this shot, which comes from the collection of our close friend, New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer, Pete Zanardi. This is the late Jerry Wheeler at a locale we’re unsure-of (if any of you readers know, do drop us a line!). He was successful at a number of New England raceways, and was considered among the top-tier of his generation. Research reveals that he also competed in several of the big events of the day, including those at Langhorne, PA. (once THE crown-jewel in all of modified racing). As a side-note, Wheeler was the first-ever driver employed by New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member, car-owner Bob Judkins of #2x fame – he was Bob’s brother-in-law. (Photo Courtesy Pete Zanardi, Photographer Unknown).

Here’s a timeless John Grady shot of one of the most-memorable drivers to ever grace a Northeastern raceway. Seen here behind the controls of a coupe on the legendary dirt of New York State’s Fonda Speedway during the earlier stages of his celebrated decades-long career is Canada’s great Jean Guy Chartrand. In later years, Jean would be identified with a creation christened the “Hemi-Cuda.”  The masterpiece of Potsdam, New York car owner Ed Close, it was as much spectacle as thoroughbred race car. Shod with radical Plymouth Barracuda tinwork and powered by a thumping Chrysler Hemi that produced monstrous amounts of horsepower, it was no-doubt a handful for Jean while he masterfully guided it to great success. (John Grady Photo).

UNIDENTIFIED PHOTO #1: And here we go with another round of drivers hailing from our “unidentified files” – it’s a weekly exercise that’s proven to be a favorite with you guys! This week we’ll again focus on one of the “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl’s most enduring support classes, the Bombers. A part of the shoreline oval’s racing card from 1958-66, the division was extremely-popular and gave many future modified stars their starts. First-up we have a neat 5-window coupe entry piloted by a chauffer who’s identity has been lost to time. Any ideas? If-so, contact us at foreveryounginct@gmail.com (Shany Lorenzent Photo).

UNIDENTIFIED PHOTO #2: Second on the slate is a husky (may we say “round”?), machine. With his old-style Cromwell helmet and a facial expression indicating that he seemed none-too-impressed with the evening’s activities, this guy might have been experiencing an off-night. Essentially stock & sporting only rudimentary safety features, these things must have been a handful to drive. The Bombers customarily sported large starting fields (esp. during the formative years of the class), and were quite the spectacle for fans. Again, know who he-is? Don’t hesitate to contact us! (Shany Lorenzent Photo).

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

 
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