Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday February 11, 2009

Volume 1, Number 7                                                                                       New Column Every Wednesday


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By Dave Dykes                                                                                      CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE

With the Waterford Speedbowl facing an uncertain future, this week we present an assortment of vintage images from the Eastern Connecticut third-miler known as “The Action Track”. Opening in the spring of 1951 with advance-publicity billing it “New London Speedway”, financial issues have made it a tough-go for the historically-rich speed plant in recent years. Hopefully, the gates will again swing- open in the spring to present shoreline fans with their fifty-ninth consecutive season of racing at the Bowl’.

Early in 1976 former Sportsman division chauffer Paul “Hawk” Fugener debuted this rather unorthodox-looking American Motors AMX-bodied Modified. His second-season in the Bowl’s headlining division, Fugener’s rookie entry was a much-more conventional Coupe. That machine eventually ended-up in the hands of another competitor to be campaigned at the Danbury Fair Racarena under the banner of the Southern New York Racing Association. “Hawk” ran an abbreviated sophomore year, soon fading from the scene entirely. (Kennedy Photo).

New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member the late “Steady Eddie” Flemke is pictured here with one of the more-successful rides of his legendary career, the Manchester Sand & Gravel Pinto. Though he mainly competed within the upper-echelon of the sport his appearances at Waterford were many, especially in the early days. After retiring as a driver to concentrate on “Raceworks”, the chassis-building business he’d formed with his son Ed Jr. (himself a top racer), he accepted a post at the Speedbowl as a Pit Steward in 1983. His tenure at the Bowl’ was a great success. Fellow Hall of Famer Bob Potter is quoted in the book “Steady Eddie” as saying “We got to the point where even two-yellows a night was unheard of.” For more on the Flemke legend, the book is a must-read. Edited by Bones Bourcier, you can get it from Lew Boyd’s Coastal 181 Publishing at www.coastal181.com (Kennedy Photo)

It seems like as long as there’s been a Speedbowl, there’s been a Gada in the winners circle. Long before second-generation racer Dennis claimed his record-setting 7th Modified championship in 2008, his uncle Chris “Wally” Gada was wheeling this neat little Falcon-bodied creation in the Bowls’ top division. When in the Waterford paddock, stop-by to see Dennis and his dad Bob (a former champion himself). You’d be hard-pressed to meet a nicer racing family than the Gada clan. (Dugas Photo).
* Many-thanks to those that contacted me regarding the error this week in identifying the driver of the # 27 Gada Falcon-bodied Modified as Chris “Wally” Gada. Best-guess now is that it was in-fact, Speedbowl veteran Bob Duffy rather than Wally. Keep those messages coming!

Local product Ed Reed Sr. (father of former SK champion Ed Jr.), had long-been involved with the Speedbowl, spending much of his life around racing. In 1977 when Harvey Tattersall introduced a new budget-minded division known as Street Stocks, he was there with this Ford Galaxy entry. The class was a huge success with a banner crop of cars and plenty of slam-bang action. Bob Faiella took the title that year, but Reed rebounded in 78’ to claim his first championship. Interestingly enough, this modest class eventually morphed-into today’s ultra-sophisticated ACT-based Late Model division. (Kennedy Photo).

Yet another “local boy” was John Bunnell. A member of one of the Bowls’ premier racing families (a cousin to Bomber champ Ed, and Modified standout Donnie Bunnell), this shot captures him during the early years of his career. After a residency within the support division ranks, he later became one of the Bowls’ top Modified pilots. A body-man by trade, the sponsor on the flanks of this Monte Carlo was also his employer. Retired from racing, John now has his own auto body business. (Dugas Photo).

As a freshman Modified racer in 1974, Lou Herman had quite a season wheeling this ex-Marvin Shaw Mustang. By the end of the campaign, he’d scored an impressive victory along with a string of top-5 finishes. The great Dick Dunn reigned as champion that year. (Dugas Photo). 

New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member Paul “Ricochet” Richardson made only sporadic visits to the Bowl’, but when he was there, he made his presence-known. This shot is from a Yankee All-Star League event on August 9, 1978 and shows him lined-up for the feature. Shortly-after, Paul was probably wishing that he’d stayed home. (Kennedy Photo).

Ever-hear of the movie “When Harry Met Sally”? The photo before you is from a Bowl’ screenplay entitled “When Paul Met Dick”. Seriously, this is the result of a tangle that occurred between Richardson and the ever colorful “Daring Dick“ Caso in the All-Star feature mentioned above. It was a wild-ride for “Ricochet”. (Kennedy Photo).

And here’s Caso’s side-of-the-story. That’s him in the helmet trying to figure-out how the Cohanzie Safety Crew and the wrecker service is going to upright what’s left of his John Stygar-owned Pinto. Future Winston Cup star Geoff Bodine took the win that night wheeling the Dick Armstrong mount. (Kennedy Photo).

No historical piece on the Bowl’ would be complete without mention of this guy, the late Fred “Fuzzy” Baer. A fixture at the shoreline oval for decades and certainly one of its most- beloved competitors, “Fuzz” was a huge-part of what gave the Speedbowl it’s personality during the best years of the joint. The rather-rare image before you captures him early in his career on one of the few occasions when he wasn’t behind the controls of his familiar # 121 wrenched by him and his dad “Pops”. A longtime friend of your author, I still miss the Friday night “bull sessions” with Fuzzy at his favorite racing haunt, the LaJeunesse race shop up in Norwich, CT. (Shany Photo).

A little digging and some assistance from Speedbowl Modified veteran Mark LaJeunesse helped me piece-together some info on this neat little Coupe dubbed “The Fugitive”. Seems that it wasn’t on the scene at Waterford for long, but nevertheless, had quite a “checkered past” (pun-intended). As a former Garbarino Mystic Missile entry, the car enjoyed a great deal of success as piloted by among others, New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer “Gentleman Dick” Watson. LaJeunesse noted the “flex pipe” header extensions as one clue to the cars lineage (a rule at the larger venues such as Trenton and Langhorne where the exhaust was required to exit past the driver). Not much is known about the driver other than his name was Bud Jackson and as noted-above, his Speedbowl participation was a short-lived affair. Note the early Daredevil division entries in the foreground. (Dugas Photo).

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