Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday February 5, 2014
 

 

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By Dave Dykes                                                                              CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE

We start this week on a somber note, as it was learned that New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member Reino Tulonen, 89, of Fitchburg, Massachusetts passed-away on January 26th. Featured here several times, Reino competed in big cars, midgets, sprint cars, jalopies, coupes, modifieds and super modifieds. In 1951 he drove the Custom Auto Body Henry J in 4 NASCAR Grand National (now know as the Sprint Cup Series) events. His many accomplishments include winning the 1951 New England Championship and the 1951 Seekonk Cutdown championship. Known as "The Flying Finn", he built, owned, drove, and worked on his own cars. Later in his career, he was successful making the transition to supermodifieds and NASCAR modifieds, winning the 1964 Westboro championship. Our sincere condolences are offered to his family, many friends, and fans. For more on Reino’s career visit www.near1.org  Lastly, one additional thing we’d like to mention is that our friends at the Northeastern Midget Association (NEMA) are presently offering a DVD tracking the clubs history from the “cageless era” to the contemporary machines of today. Containing 322 images, it’s simply a must-have for the New England open-wheel enthusiast. Cost is $25 each with all proceeds going directly to NEMA to help carry-on the rich traditions these early pioneers built. Payment can be made through PayPal to rewindles@sbcglobal.net or by sending a check or money order (payable to NEMA), as well as your name and address to Bill Van Slyke, 23 Horsestable Cir., Shelton, Ct. 06484.  This effort is fully-endorsed by “RTT” – it’s a great deal, folks! Email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com

More Mid-Week Meanderings Vintage-Style !!!

Twice a Riverside Park champion (1963 & 1966), New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member “Dangerous Dan” Galullo was one of the brightest stars of the powerful United Stock Car Racing Club headed-up by the Tattersall family. Also included in his accomplishments is the 1962 United Stock Car Racing Club Grand Championship, a feat he recorded by winning at the many UNITED-sanctioned tracks that once dotted Northeast. During his career he also recorded feature wins at Plainville Stadium, Waterford Speedbowl, and Cherry Park in Avon, Connecticut among others. He competed in at-least one documented NASCAR Grand National event (now know as the Sprint Cup Series) at New Jersey’s Old Bridge Stadium in 1956. Following a serious heart-attack, Galullo retired from driving while still in his prime. He passed-away in 1974, but not before witnessing the racing accomplishments of his sons, Richie and Danny Jr. (John Grady Photo)

As one of the premier drivers on the dirt tracks of the Eastern region, Eddie DelMolino enjoyed a long, successful career slinging-mud at joints like Fonda and Lebanon Valley. However, the coach he’s captured here with should stir some interest in nostalgically-minded pavement fans also. Owner “Sharkey” Gaudiosi fielded winning New England pavement modifieds for decades, employing only the best chauffeurs. Many don’t realize that Sharkey machines also enjoyed a winning tenure on the dirt. (John Grady Photo).

It seems as long as there’s been a Waterford Speedbowl, there’s been a member of the Gada clan entering victory lane. Captured at the historic Connecticut oval with his Daredevil entry during the early days of his career is Bob Gada Sr. He still holds-court pitside every week assuring that things with latest version of the team’s racing effort run smoothly. Few families can claim more track titles and victories at a single track than the Gada’s have at Waterford and their success continues today. Check-out the whitewall tires; these cars were pretty-much stock with the exception of a few rudimentary safety features. (Rene Dugas Photo).

Here’s a great shot of our pal Billy “Gramps” Greco taken at one of great mid-week open shows that were once staged at Connecticut’s former Plainville Stadium. A New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer, he was an absolute master of the short oval, honing his skills at tight little joints like the late West Haven Speedway and the much-missed 1/5-miler at Riverside Park. A darling of the old Harvey Tattersall-led UNITED circuit (once the most influential sanctioning group in New England), in later-years he also became a winner at the ultra-competitive Danbury Fair Racarena. The personable Greco is as popular today as he ever-was, and can really enlighten you on the history of the sport. If you get a chance to chat with him, please do! (Phil Hoyt Photo)  

New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member the late Ernie Gahan was one of the real travelers of his generation. Few put-in more road miles than “Ernie from Cow-Hampshire” with many of them coming in just the company of his race car & tools. His 28-year racing career started in 1948 at New Hampshire’s Dover Speedway, and by the time he ran his final event at Thompson in 1975, he’d amassed over 300 career victories. Perhaps his greatest achievement was being the first New Englander to win a NASCAR National Modified championship in 1966. He was equally successful on both dirt and asphalt. He won a record 21 features on the old dirt at Stafford Speedway in the late-50s and early-60s. Gahan had eleven starts in Grand National (now Sprint Cup) competition, and had two top ten finishes, one of which was in the 1962 Daytona 500. He also had competed at the old Daytona Beach course. In 1963 he was one of those credited with saving the life of Marvin Panch by pulling him out of a burning race car at Daytona. For his courage he won the Shuman Award and the Carnegie Medal for Bravery. (John Grady Photo).  

Meet New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member, the late Ralph “Hop” Harrington. Long one of the mainstays on the New England Modified circuit, Hop began his career in 1948 at the Kingston Rhode Island Fairgrounds piloting a nearly-stock 1934 Ford Coupe. From those humble beginnings came an estimated 300 victories, along with championships at places like Norwood Arena, Lonsdale, Kingston, and Westboro in naming just a few. Also a master car-builder, Harrington was instrumental in the success of Geoff Bodine’s winning reign while piloting the modifieds of Dick Armstrong during the 1970s. Harrington retired from driving in 1969, but stayed busy in the sport as the builder of Armstrong’s “Nu-Style” Jewelry entries. This is simply a beautiful photo from our friend John Grady! (John Grady Photo)

We’ve ran shots of this driver & car combination previously, but the black & white format really didn’t do this machine justice. The successful racing career of Howard “Jiggs” Beetham is well-documented at Connecticut’s Waterford Speedbowl as both a driver and owner, but perhaps one of the things he’s most-remembered for is creating simply beautiful race cars; this early Chevy Corvair edition of his familiar “Golden Hurricane” mount was one of them. He later put his helmet on the shelf to team with New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer Bob Potter in forming one of the most successful modified teams in the region. (Shany Lorenzent Photo).

Here’s a nice image of New York State Stock Car Association Hall of Fame member, Bernie Miller during an outing at Connecticut’s Stafford Springs Motor Speedway. From his HOF Biography; “Bernie Miller remains one of the true pioneer heroes in Central New York auto racing. In his early career during the mid 1950s, he raced at the now defunct Vernon (now known as Vernon Downs) and Lafayette Speedways. When Vernon Speedway went to horse racing, the Utica-Rome Speedway was built to replace it and Miller moved into racing there in the Sportsman class, where in 1967 he won the divisional championship. At Utica-Rome, Miller had three career feature wins in the Modified division, and he was one of the most well liked drivers in early speedway history. Miller raced all over the Northeast, chasing NASCAR points at tracks such as Utica-Rome, Albany-Saratoga, and Fulton. Miller’s biggest career victory came in 1971 at Martinsville, Virginia in the Dogwood 500, when he bested some of NASCAR’s greatest drivers of all time. Miller was frequently finishing in the top five in yearly NASCAR points, and he was always one of the most consistent drivers. He retired from racing in 1979.” (Mike Adaskaveg Photo).

Seen here behind the wheel of his familiar #24 is DIRT Motorsports Hall of Fame member and Tampa, Florida native Will Cagle. He started racing at age 15, and by the time the well-traveled speedster’s career had concluded he’d recorded over 900 feature victories and over 30 tracks championships on the ovals of the Northeast. He earned nicknames like “Wily Will" and the "Tampa Terror” during the formative stages of his career partly because of his ability to play mind games with the competition. Cagle learned early that he could gain an advantage if he made the other drivers think about something other than the race at hand. One of his best tricks was to cover his race car while in the pit area! (John Grady Photo).  

Here we have a nice 70s-era shot of New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member, Bob Polverari. From his NEAR HOF biography; Bob Polverari began racing in a soapbox derby car in 1948, and is now in his 7th decade of racing.  Bob began a storied career at Riverside Park when he debuted his infamous #711 in 1954, competing in both the Tuesday night jalopy races and Saturday night modified division.  He retired briefly in 1955, but returned to the novice division at Riverside in 1961.  He stayed in that division on and off until 1969, taking time off to race snowmobiles in ’63 and ’64.  In 1969 he tried his hand in the modified division, and continues to compete at that level. In 1975, he won Harvey Tattersall’s final United Stock Car Racing Association feature at Riverside. 1976 was also a standout year at Riverside Park. Bob started the year off by winning the first ever NASCAR feature at Riverside, then followed that up by taking down 7 more wins, 4 second place finishes, and 2 thirds in 16 appearances. Highlights of Bob’s career include five Riverside Park track championships and four Riverside 500 victories, including a 1978 win with teammate Jerry Cook, in which Polverari drove 487 of the 500 laps. Polverari lists the late Richie Evans as his most admired racer.  “He was a really likeable guy, a great racer. He always had something going on, he always managed to put a smile on my face” Bob remembers. Ironically Bob’s biggest victory came beating Evans by inches in the 1981 Sizzler.” (John Grady Photo).

UNIDENTIFIED DRIVER OF THE WEEK #1: Here we have the first of this week’s “mystery drivers” and the locale is Connecticut’s former Plainvlle Stadium of the 1970s. Quite the machine, it’s got Chevy Camaro sheet metal and an abundance of nerf bar material! Kinda’ looks like this fella’ was more than ready for some contact, and we all know that Joe Tinty’s little ¼-miler could be a rough joint! Any guesses as to the identity of this young chauffer from the past? If-so, email us at foreveryounginct@gmail.com (Phil Hoyt Photo).

UNIDENTIFIED DRIVER OF THE WEEK #2: Another Nutmeg State mystery, this one was captured by Shany Lorenzent at the “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl (as it was officially known-then). Can’t put our fingers on the dateline, but note that the driver is wearing an early “Cromwell” helmet. Not a youngster by any-means, this dude looks like he’d been at the racing game for a while by the time he stepped into the cockpit of this coupe with the neat “zoomie” headers! Give us a shout if you know him…. (Shany Lorenzent Photo).

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

 
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