Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday January 21, 2009

Volume 1, Number 4                                                                                       New Column Every Wednesday


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By Dave Dykes                                                                                      CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE

When the New London-Waterford Speedbowl opened to the public in 1951, the racing surface consisted of a crushed bluestone concoction that was trucked-in from the Millstone Point area of town. Contrary to what’s been written, the track was never comprised of clay or dirt. In short-order, pavement took the place of the dusty original surface. This image captures what was known as the “Sand Safety Strip” that was in-place until the 1960’s. It was originally devised as a safety feature to help slow-down errant racers before decent into the infamous railroad-tie wall. Unfortunately, ever-increasing speeds over the years had just the opposite-effect. Once a competitor got a wheel into the “sand”, it almost always yielded disastrous results. (Photographer unknown).

New York State produced some of the best Modified shoes to ever turn a wheel, and Maynard Troyer was one of them. Along with multi-time NASCAR Champions Richie Evans and Jerry Cook, Troyer was part of the “Big Three” of the region during his era as a driver. Widely regarded as a master craftsman in the art of race car construction, his rides were always immaculately-prepared (check-out this pristine Falcon), during a time in the sport when most teams subscribed to the old adage that “Pretty Don’t Go.” Though he’s long-retired from active-competition, his Troyer Race Car Shop (founded in 1977), continues to provide state-of-the-art machinery for today’s Modified racers. (Grady Photo).

One of the Waterford Speedbowl’s first legitimate “Super Stars”, the late Moe Gherzi found his niche in the management-side of the sport after hanging-up his helmet. He went from driving to organizing in later years, accepting a post working for Joe Tinty as Race Director at the late Plainville Stadium, a position he held for years. This decades-old Speedbowl image captures Moe in the early 50’s during the height of his shoreline oval popularity. Always nattily-attired on race-night, he was one of the true Showmen of his era. (Shany Photo).

Few Waterford racers struck more fear into the hearts of fellow-competitors than this guy did in the 1970’s. Dick Dunn was absolutely “The Man” when behind the controls of the legendary “Buddha’s Bullet” notching 4-straight championships starting in 1972. Though he was a winner piloting self-built creations before pairing with owners Al (Buddha) & Peg Gaudreau in late-1971, the relationship yielded records that to this-day remain unbroken. This shot captures him at-speed in the Gaudreau Pinto during the final stages of a brilliant career. (Steve Kennedy Photo)

As “The Kid from Fitchburg”, Ronnie Bouchard burst-upon the 70’s New England NASCAR Modified scene in a big-way. Starting at age-14 hustling around slam-bang joints like the Brookline & Pines Speedways and later Seekonk, he eventually hooked-up with often-controversial Modified owner Bob Johnson, and the rest is history. Captured here in an early Johnson Camaro, Bouchard was one of the first youngsters to legitimately challenge the well-established Modified hierarchy of the era. He became a huge winner, as well as an instant-hit with the press and fans at established Mod haunts like Stafford Springs Motor Speedway where he notched a career record of 35 victories and 2 track titles. A New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer, the Winston Cup-bound Bouchard arrived at the pinnacle of his career when he emerged victorious as the winner of the 1981 Talladega 500. (Grady Photo).

“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 Speedbowl’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 70’s, 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 Dick’s hometown.  (Shany Photo)

Stan “Willy” Wildermuth may have never been a big-winner, but as a teammate to the late Fred “Fuzzy” Baer, he won the respect of his peers as a predictable, consistent chauffer – a guy you could race wheel-to-wheel with, no problem. A back-marker by no-means, Stan was always in the thick of the battle, recording a number of up-front performances during his career. His reputation as a capable racers was an enduring affair, as during the old ‘Heroes of the Bowl” events (a race where former drivers climbed into Street Stocks during Waterford’s annual Nostalgia Weekend), he was always in-demand with present-day teams. This shot captures Stan in the pits early in his career. That’s Fuzzy’s dad “Pops” peering over the roof. (Rene Dugas Photo).

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

 
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