Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday January 14, 2009

 

Volume 1, Number 3

By Dave Dykes                                                                                      CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE

When the late Bobby Santos joined-forces with Preston, CT. car owner Art Barry, it was pure Modified Magic. Captured here in one Barry’s famous “Stump Jumper” Coupes during the much-heralded big-block era, the formidable duo won from coast-to-coast. Some years-ago, Barry noted that his former driver was particularly successful at the divisions Northern haunts, once annexing 7 features-in-a-row at New Hampshire’s Claremont and Monadnock Speedways. This particular car had a long, successful life after leaving the Barry shops. It served as a winning platform for both the late Ed Yerrington Sr. and later Mark LaJeunesse, the latter earning his first of many Speedbowl triumphs with the little Coupe in September of 1974. Master car-builder Barry joins his friend and former chauffer as a member of the New England Auto Racing Hall Of Fame later this month on January 25th. See www.near1.com  for details on this year’s HOF inductions. (John Grady Photo).

Now serving as Technical Inspector for the New England Antique Racers, Jim Torok was once a part of the Speedbowl’s weekly starting field. Captured here pitside in the early-70’s aside his ultra-sanitary Coupe (a hallmark of all Torok creations), the consummate low-bucker ended his career at the now-shuttered Danbury Fair Racarena at the dawn of the 1980’s. In addition to his official duties with NEAR, he still manages to put in some fast-laps every season with the club as the owner and driver of the restored Corky Cookman Pinto and Lou Funk Buick straight-8 powered Coupe. (Dugas Photo).

The LaJeunesse Race Team out of Norwich, CT. always prided themselves in doing things their-way, producing winning self-constructed race cars for decades. As the era of “store-bought” chassis entered the sport, they were content in using good old-fashioned Yankee Ingenuity to stay competitive – this Coupe is a perfect example. While it says “Howie” on the roof, it’s actually Mark LaJeunesse. A joint-venture between longtime team member and former drag racer Howie Nye, the car provided rookie Nye his first-taste of oval track racing during 1978. As with the Barry “Stump Jumper”, the car had a long-life. Early-on it presented primary driver LaJeunesse with a backup-ride should the need-arise. In subsequent years it served the late Fred “Fuzzy” Baer with what was certainly his most competitive ride during the autumn of a long, storied Speedbowl career. After being retired from active-duty, it was campaigned by your author on the vintage circuit for a brief stint in the late-80’s. The car was later purchased from a party up-North, and has since disappeared from the scene. (Steve Kennedy Photo).

With a resume of victories and top-finishes recorded all over the New England during what’s widely-regarded as the “Golden Era” of Modified Racing, Ronnie Wyckoff is quite possibly one of the most underrated drivers in the history of our little segment of the sport. Honing his skills as a young racer in Florida before moving East, he went-on to become a much sought-after chauffer among some of the top car-owners of the day. A Master in the art of negotiating the confines of a short-oval, the record book reveals him to be among the best to have ever-competed at compact joints like the late Riverside Park (multi-time victories in the Riverside 500), and of course, Plainville Stadium. This shot shows Ronnie during one of his infrequent Speedbowl visits during the 1960’s (dig the sideburns & Loafers). Now-retired from both racing and his longtime “Day Job” at HO Penn (where he worked for years with his pal NEAR Hall Of Famer Dave Alkas), Wyckoff is easy to spot at the races these days. He’s the guy with a smile and a ready handshake for anyone that wants to “shoot the bull” with a modest guy who once did a “little bit” of Modified racing. (Dugas Photo).

Like so-many others, Blaine Belz was there every-week, trying his best to snag that first-ever checkered flag. Guys like Belz often get lost in the record-books as the years progress, forgotten by time, and seemingly neglected by a racing press that unfortunately (though no-fault of their own), has only so-much space to use in reporting on the weekly happenings at your local short track. A consistent Speedbowl Modified competitor in the early-70’s, Belz recorded a number respectable finishes before hanging-it-up. This shot captures one of his earliest renditions of the Belz Brothers Coupe. In later years, he switched the color to silver, but always carried the rather-unique #Q. Early Waterford was always big on “letter cars”. (Dugas Photo).

It’s October 10, 1976, and a young Reggie Ruggiero has just annexed his third 35-lap Modified feature of the day at Joe Tinty’s Plainville Stadium. One of the great late-season extravaganzas that used to be so-much a part of racing in these parts, it was an impressive field that “The Reg” and storied car owner Mario Fiore defeated that day on the tight little quarter-miler. Victory Lane at “The Stadium” was not an unfamiliar haunt for Ruggiero, who scored his first-ever Modified win there in 1970 while driving his career-starting car, a self-owned #59 Coupe. After conquering Plainville where he once scored a record fourteen-features in one season, the still-active Ruggiero went-on to become one of the premier figures in New England Modified racing history. Not a bad career for a kid that began racing to have some Saturday night fun at his local bullring, huh? (Steve Kennedy Photo).

“Wild Bill” Scrivener

The late “Wild Bill” Scrivener was a staple of the competition at Waterford and in 1973, he was wheeling this rather-unique Rambler American-bodied Modified. A Dodge-powered entry in an era that saw most teams utilizing General Motors propulsion, the team responsible for its creation hailed from the Connecticut River Valley, a region known for originality and innovation in the technology of car construction. The area produced no-less than the formidable trio of the original “Connecticut Valley Rocket” team of driver “Wild Bill” Slater and owners Bombaci & Vitari, the famous L & M Coupes chauffeured by among others, Newt Palm, Billy Harman, and later Angie Cerease. I'd be remiss in not noting Seabury Tripler, who debuted what was arguably the first-ever Pinto in New England Modified competition, the #M. A former Bomber division champion and perennial front-runner in Bowl’ competition, Scrivener recorded his final career triumph on Easter Sunday in 1974 while behind the controls of this car. His return in 1975 wheeling the car of a different team was marred by near career-ending injuries suffered when he was t-boned at high speed on the back chute by an errant competitor who failed to heed a caution flag. A part of the conduit roll cage came-apart in the car, which was originally slated to be driven by Billy Harman who nixed the offer after having viewed the construction of the cage. 1976 saw Scrivener’s final appearance, wheeling yet another #27 entry shod by more contemporary Pinto tinwork. It was a brief-effort, and the final chapter in a career of one of the Speedbowl’s more colorful competitors. (Dugas Photo).

That's it for this Wednesday. You can Email me at:

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