Connecticut’s West Haven Speedway
Haven Speedway (AKA ”Savin Rock” for its close proximity to amusement park
of the same name), started life in 1935 as a 1/5-mile dirt oval. The track
was constructed within the confines of Donovan Field, a baseball coliseum
named in honor of “Wild Bill” Donovan, a popular early manager of the New
The following season saw the track paved, continuing in that configuration
until the gates closed during the war-years. During its formative era,
West Haven was celebrated as a top venue for the wildly-popular Midgets,
once the “Road to Indy” for any driver aspiring to advance to the
big-leagues of racing. Open cockpit Maestros such as Bill Schindler,
Johnny Thomson, Ted Tappet, and the Brothers Rice, George and Johnny,
bought capacity crowds to the track located close to the warm sea breezes
of the Connecticut shore.
With peacetime restored and Americans returning to leisure-time pursuits,
the speedway reopened in 1945. While the “Mighty Midgets” were still
considered the top short-track draw in the country, a new brand of racing
was on the horizon. Stock Cars presented a slam-bang show with full-fields
of young chauffeurs looking to become the next local hero. Under the
tutelage of Harvey Tattersall’s United Stock Car Racing Club (once the
premier sanctioning body in the Northeast), “The Rock” made stars out of
drivers like Billy Greco, Johnny “King” Cambino, Tommy Sutcliffe, and
Bobby Black – the list goes on.
While the coupes became standard-fare, the Midgets remained a popular
attraction. The Speedway continued to host them on a “special event”
basis. However, the division also provided “The Rock” with its darkest
hour when Al Herman perished in a crash on the evening of June 18, 1960.
In addition to being a successful Midget racer, Herman was also a veteran
of the AAA and USAC Championship Series. As an Indianapolis 500
competitor, his best finish was a seventh in 1955, earning him Rookie of
the Year honors at the “Brickyard”.
While it wasn’t anticipated at the close of what was the final season,
West Haven Speedway became a causality of the era’s widespread
urban-renewal movement, hosting its last event during the fall of 1967.
Many of the top-stars of the tiny 1/5-miler went-on to similar success at
Riverside Park Speedway in Agawam , MA . (another cornerstone of UNITED),
and Joe Tinty’s Plainville Stadium. Ironically, both of those tracks are
but memories now.
Some Images From Savin Rock
Savin Rock Amusement Park with the race track on the right marked
West Havens 4th turn.
The 4th turn and front straight covered grandstands.
Tommy Sutcliff the 1962 & 63 Track Champ.
Bill Schindler & Ted Tappet battle it out in West Haven's Midget
Bobby Black a perennial West Haven winner.
Johnny "King" Cambino the 1966 Champion, the last year of operation
of The West Haven Speedway.
Billy Greco, the 1955. 56 & 58 Champion.
Danny Gaudiosi, the 1957, 60 & 64 Champion. Along with Billy Greco,
the only 3 time champions in the tracks 17 year existence of running
Phil Salerno and the “Banana Wagon”
One of the more colorful characters in the
history of Connecticut’s late Plainville Stadium, Phil Salerno
wheeled this hulking coach in the Sportsman division during
the early days of Joe Tinty’s tight quarter-miler.
He was an accomplished racer and was linked to some pretty big
names during the “Days of the Coupes”. None other than New
England Auto Racing Hall Of Famer “Steady Eddie Flemke” once
drove a Salerno team car to victory at Riverside Park Speedway
in Agawam, MA. (also a memory now).
His ride known affectionately as the “Banana Wagon”, he gained
the affection of fans not only via his racing endeavors, but
also for his habit of hurling fresh-bananas into the crowd. A
win-win situation, it provided patrons with a healthy
race-night snack and it was also great advertisement for
Salerno, who happened to be the proprietor of a local produce
And they say today’s big-buck sponsors know how to pitch a
Salerno’s era was indeed, a more innocent (and some say
better), time period in the annals of New England racing
Bobby Mikulak, One Of Plainville’s Finest…..
short track has them. The guys that ply their trade
season-after-season, perhaps winning on occasion, but mostly just
being there out of a love for the sport. They’re not the big
headline-grabbers, and mostly fly under-the-radar of the racing
Bobby Mikulak was one of those guys for years at Connecticut’s
I was introduced to the now-retired Bobby a number of years-ago by
our webmaster Tom Ormsby (once a fine racer in his own right). Seems
that Tom and Bobby go-back a few years, having traded their share of
paint together at the “House That Tinty Built”. Word has it that
they also shared more than a few beers together during the wee-hour
post-race celebrations that remain a part of Staduim’ lore….
While his buddy Ormsby has since relocated to sunny Florida, Mikulak
can often be found these days at the Waterford Speedbowl sharing a
race-night brew with another Plainville alumnus, Ronnie Wyckoff. The
more things change, the more they stay the same….
The accompanying image captures the little Coupe that started it all
for Mikulak back in the late-1960’s.
Richie Evans At “The Monster Mile”
author has had this photo of the late nine-time NASCAR National
Modified Champion Richie Evans in his archive for eons, but could
never place the venue or year. After quizzing New England Auto
Racing Hall Of Fame member Pete Zanardi to no-avail, his suggestion
was to contact our mutual friend, award-winning racing journalist
Bones’ reports that the image was captured at Dover International
Speedway (AKA “The Monster Mile), circa 1970. The Modfieds ran only
ran a pair of races at the track before NASCAR deemed it a tad-too
risky for its open-wheel brethren.
Veteran fans may recall seeing a spectacular and widely-circulated
shot of the late Charlie Jarzombek up on the high-banks, absolutely
destroying the catch fence in his familiar Coupe during one of the
events. Though he escaped serious injury, Charlie’s scary encounter
probably contributed in the decision to discontinue the event – at
least for a while.
When the Mods finally returned to Dover in 1977 during the ill-fated
“Super Speedway Modified” era, Geoff Bodine relieved an ill Maynard
Troyer to win the event. Evans notched a top-5.
The car seen here was actually one of Evans’ familiar “Rusty Nail”
Coupes with full-bodied Camaro tinwork – a great example of one of
the earliest of Super Speedway Modifieds.
Special thanks to Mr. Bourcier for the information on this classic
shot of the “King of the Modifieds”!
That's it for this edition of Racing Through Time. You can email me