Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday February 8, 2011

 Volume 4, Number 6                                                                                     New Column Every Wednesday


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By Dave Dykes                                                                              CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE

One-more Wednesday rolls-around, and it’s time we present another “visual feast” of images from New England’s racing past. Special thanks go out to noted New England Racing Historian R.A. Silvia, our Webmaster & pal Tom Ormsby, and longtime friend Ms. Linda Watson for donating some of this week’s images. As-always have a GREAT week! Email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com                    

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It’s Wednesday Again (And We Know What That Means)…...    

Opening in 1947, the former Westboro Speedway in Massachusetts could be a daunting joint for racers. Featuring ultra-high banks, it was a blisteringly-fast venue that demanded the ultimate from its competitors. The Falconi family expertly guided it throughout most of its history showcasing everything from midgets to stock cars. John Falconi Sr. also helped field cars for legends like Joe Ross, Billy Tibbert and Fred Borden and later Reino Tulonen and Joe Cast at Thompson, Westboro, West Peabody, Medford, Norwood, and Hudson among others. In addition to his Westboro endeavors, he also promoted at Brookline and Thompson Speedways in the early-1960s, with Thompson’s World Series of Auto Racing was but one of his many innovations. John was inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 2007. Sadly, Westboro closed in 1985, but not before hosting some of the most-notable drivers in New England auto racing history. (R.A. Silvia Collection).    

Another member of the new England Auto Racing Hall of Fame, this competitor is synonymous with Connecticut’s Waterford Speedbowl, but his accomplishments within the realm of our region’s modified racing actually reach further than his legendary feats at the shoreline oval. Already a big winner by the arrival of the SK Modifieds, Bob Potter took full-advantage of the class in nailing multiple championships at all of Connecticut’s ovals. This shot captures a young Potter with the coupe of owner Norm Kies at the Speedbowl during the waning-days of the “coupe era.” Never officially retired, the ever-youthful Potter could undoubtedly teach today’s racers a trick-or-two…. (Rene Dugas Photo).                    

This NEAR Hall of Fame member needs little introduction to those of us who recall the true “Glory Days” of New England short track racing. From his HOF biography; Fred Luchesi’s career in racing started in the late 1940’s, and lasted until his retirement in the late 1960s.  During that career, Fred drove coupes, modifieds, midgets, and late models.  He competed against nationally known drivers like Fonty Flock, Red Byron, and Ted Tappett, and raced against local drivers like Moon Burgess. Fred is modest when asked about championships. “Oh, I dunno. Three at Westboro, 2 or 3 at Lonsdale, 1 at Norwood, oh, and 3 at Waterford”, Fred recalls.  One year at Lonsdale, Fred "Lead Foot” Luchesi took down every main event of the season but one, finishing 2nd to NEAR Hall of Farmer Dave Humphries in that race. Fred recalls those early days in racing, when he’d load up his car with race tires, tools, and his two man pit crew, and drive the race car from Pawtucket, RI. all the way up to Victoriaville in Canada for that day’s race.  Another early memory is those Sunday mornings driving the race car to Thompson to compete.  He would roll the car down Slater Street in Pawtucket, and fire it up at the bottom of the hill, in front of the St John the Baptist church.  It wasn’t until sometime later that a friend informed Fred that every Sunday, when he fired up the car, the service would be halted, and the priest would take time to “bless that race car out in front of the church”. (Tom Ormsby Collection).     

Captured here in the 1950s, when you think of 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 shopping mall could be constructed on the property. Like we needed another mall in Connecticut, right? (Tom Ormsby Collection).        

Not everyone utilized pre-war tin as a style palette during those halcyon days of the much-heralded “Coupe Era.” Seen here in a Chevy II-bodied mount is Montville, CT. speedster Donnie Bunnell. A Speedbowl Superstar throughout the 1970’s (the era in-which this image was captured), the popular Bunnell was known as a steady and sportsman-like chauffer. Perhaps his biggest moment in the sun was a stunning victory in the 1976 UNITED-sanctioned “Bicentennial 200”, then the longest-ever event staged at the shoreline oval. Note the “Psychedelic” numbers – a sign of the times! Personally-speaking, this is one of the racers that your author rooted-for when he was a kid….. (Shany Photo).                  

A familiar sight in the Waterford Speedbowl’s victory lane; “Daring Dick” Caso may have never won any popularity contests with track officials at Waterford, but he had more than his fair-share of fans among the shoreline oval’s grandstand patrons. A nickname well-earned, his driving style was of the “No-Holds-Barred” variety and when in his prime, a Caso-drive to the front was itself worth the price of a Saturday night ticket. In terms of finance, he was a low-bucker that got the ultimate out of equipment that was often less than that of his competitors. A big-winner in the early 70s, when not at the Bowl’ he’d often take-off to run the dirt tracks of PA with this coupe or it’s stable-mate, a center-seat Corvair-bodied creation. Nicknames were big during Caso’s tenure, as he was also christened “The Cromwell Comet” by the late, great John Small, one of the grandest announcers in Speedbowl history. The moniker was of course, a nod to his hometown. (Shany Photo).   

Another of the top-shoes during the early days of New England stock car racing was the ultra-popular Arthur “Red” Bolduc. Though he won virtually all-over the region, Bolduc experienced most of his success at the late Norwood Arena in Massachusetts as captured here. Unfortunately, that much-acclaimed speedplant would also be his undoing. On the evening of June 18 1960, Bolduc and his Coach slapped the Norwood wall with devastating impact. The unlucky Red passed-away the next day from his injuries, thus ending the life and career of one of our regions greatest racers. Life could be very fragile in the early-days of out sport. (R.A. Silvia Collection).           

And here we have the late Bobby Santos. Yet another driver that traces his roots back to Massachusetts’ former Norwood Arena where he got his start in the Hobby Division (as-seen here), he went-on to become a dominant force in the Modified wars. Driving for renowned car-owners such as Art Barry, Bill Simon, and Joe Brady among others, he was always considered a threat to win and did-so on MANY occasions. Inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 2001, Bobby passed-away in December of 2006. However, the Santos racing legacy continues through his grandchildren with Bobby III and Erica both becoming successful drivers. (R.A. Silvia Collection).       

Another Saturday night, another victory…. He was known as “Gentleman Dick” Watson and in subsequent years, simply as the “Silver Fox.” The late Dick Watson was one of the most-respected drivers of his era. A fellow competitor that raced against Watson during his heyday once stated that “He was a driver that you could run with lap-after-lap. You simply never had to worry about him doing something that would get the both of you in-trouble.” This image captures him during the early 1970s at Waterford behind the controls of the Norm Kies coupe, a ride that bought him much-success. Watson was inducted into the prestigious New England Auto Racing Hall Of Fame in 2003. I was fortunate to become good friends with Dick in later-years, and much-enjoyed his personal recollections of what it was like to compete during the formative days of modified racing in our region. (Shany Photo Courtesy Linda Watson).     

Lastly this week, pictured here during the late-70s at Seekonk Speedway is New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member George Summers. As the most-winning driver in the history of that Massachusetts oval, he visited victory lane on over one-hundred occasions. His “Cement Palace” accomplishments-aside, Summers was actually one of the top-drivers in all of New England, enjoying a career that lasted over three-decades. Fittingly, he won the last event he entered before retiring, taking–down the 1983 Thompson World Series Modified event driving for fellow Hall of Famer, legendary car owner Art Barry. (R.A. Silvia Collection).     


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

Comments for the week of 2/8/12
 

(4 days ago) SONNY O said:

ALWAYS APPRECIATE you and Tom Ormsby's pictures and write ups thanks!

(4 days ago) BChat said:

Your efforts are much appreciated. I remember "Tinty's Place" all too well, Tony Mordino in the 52, and a cast of others.

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(5 days ago) Rich Dupuis said:

Thank you Dave, I can't believe how much time I've spent looking at all the great photos from the past and really appreciate your time and effort you put into this column.

 (5 days ago) Jack VanDelft said:

I remember the legendary battles between Fred Luchesi and Henri "Red" Barbeau at Lonsdale Arena in the 50s. Fred drove the No. 2 "Cut-Down" and Red drove the famous L1 car.

 

(5 days ago) Dave Dykes said:

Mike & Mike, thanks very-much for the compliments. As-long as my pal & Webmaster Tom Ormsby can put-up with me, I'll continue to do the site. It's great fun!

(6 days ago) mike said:

I  look forward every week for years to see the pix and stories about the BEST time in stock car racing. keep it coming. and thank you.

(6 days ago) Mike Ray said:

Thank you Dave for another great week of photos!

 
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