Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday January 13, 2010

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By Dave Dykes                                                                              CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE

This week’s it’s another varied assortment of some of our favorites from the “Mod Squad.” It’s all here - a little Waterford, a bit of Plainville, and even one of “The Lion” at Stafford. Get-well wishes go-out to New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member and friend Bob Potter who’s been feeling a bit under-the-weather as of late. Following a short hospital-stay, he’s presently at home recuperating and his spirits are good. Cards of cheer reach him at Bob Potter, 34 Nashua Street, Norwich, CT. 06360. Here’s hoping one of New England’s all-time Modified greats makes a speedy-recovery and is back in “race-trim” in short-order!   Email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com

More “Mod Squad” Memories (Minus Pete, Link & Julie)…    

Seen here at Waterford in the 1970’s is New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer and pal of your author, Bob Potter. Responsible for hundreds of victories and scads of championships at Waterford, Thompson and Stafford, few drivers from this region had more of an impact on the sport for as long as this guy did. A local kid with humble beginnings in the Speedbowl’s Bombers, he emerged to become one of the real movers & shakers in the Modified class, doing-so for close to 4-decades. The car is the potent Art Barry-wrenched Capri, and the duo was virtually unbeatable during their pairing at the shoreline oval. Barry by-the-way is also a member of the Hall of Fame. They were a true “dream team.” (Dugas Photo).  

And the Hall of Famers continue; This is Leo Cleary, aptly nicknamed “The Lion” owing to his fearless style behind the wheel of “ground-pounders” like this wild little Mustang-bodied creation. It was more than one chauffer that became uneasy when they had a mirror-full of Cleary – he was one tough competitor. Leo competed at the Medford Bowl, Lonsdale, Norwood, Catamount, and Westboro. Among active tracks, he raced at Thompson, Seekonk, Stafford, Martinsville, Oswego and Waterford, along with several others. In his 44 years behind the wheel, he took down 14 track championships, including the Norwood Arena, Seekonk, and Thompson. The winning-ways continued until he was 63 and finally retired in 1993. This shot is believed to be from Stafford Motor Speedway. (Adaskaveg Photo).    

Both this coupe and its driver should be familiar to historically-astute Waterford Speedbowl fans. The pilot is the late “Wild Bill” Scrivener, and though it’s shown in a different livery, the car is the former “Crown 7” of Jerry Dostie. It’s early 1975, and the locale is the high-banks of the Thompson Speedway. Bill took the seat in this car after it was vacated by NEAR Hall of Famer Billy Harman and ran it mainly at the Speedbowl. Later that season, he received injuries after being t-boned by a fellow competitor during a UNITED Yankee All-Star League show at the Bowl’. The car was finished, and though he returned in 1976 for a short-stint in a #27 Pinto similar to his “Racin’ Rambler of prior seasons, Bill retired shortly-thereafter. His Waterford record reveals 1 Bomber championship and a combined career total of 35 feature victories in 3-different classes. As a side-note, many of the mechanical parts of the wrecked #5 lived-on as components of a LaJeunesse team car at Waterford. (Kennedy Photo).  


 Though he can also lay-claim to success at the late Danbury Fair Racerena during the early-stages of his career and occasionally traveled with the fabled “Eastern Bandits”, the bulk of this guy’s success was enjoyed at Connecticut’s late, great, Plainville Stadium. When the stats of Joe Tinty’s tight little quarter-miler are finally compiled (an on-going project), Don Moon is going to be right-there among the tracks best-ever. Known for his quick & ultra-sanitary machines (remember, this was an era when “pretty-don’t-go” was often the norm), Moon was also the guy that helped jump-start the career of New England Modified great Reggie Ruggiero. From our webmasters www.vintagemodifieds.com site; Don is credited by many with bringing Reggie Ruggiero to prominence when in 1975 he put him behind the wheel of his #9 after breaking his arm in a work-related accident.  Reggie went on to win 10 out of 11 features during the rest of the season, placing him as the 1st choice to take-over the Mario Fiore #44 following Gary' Colturi’s untimely death in a motorcycle accident.” (Hoyt Photo).    

The image captured at one of Plainville’s great 100-lap open-competition mid-week shows of the 1970s, this is the “Travelin' Man” himself, Peter Fiandaca. Doing “more-with-less” was a way of life during his Modified career, and geographically-speaking, few traveled-more than Fiandaca and his often 1-man show as he criss-crossed New England on a weekly-basis racing at every opportunity. A legendary “Little Guy” that excelled during an era when big-money had become a factor in the sport, “Petah” will take his place amongst the greats of the sport when he’s inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame on January 31. (Hoyt Photo).       

Continuing our tradition of showcasing all of the sports personalities’ no-matter what the notoriety-level, seen here in glorious Phil Hoyt-shot color is one Pud Nobel. Historically-speaking, when you think of a #2X in New England Modified racing, your mind automatically conjures-up images of the famed Bob Judkins-owned cars. Well, here’s proof that Connecticut’s Plainville Stadium also had a #2X, and ole’ Pud was quite the chauffer in his own-right. It was an era when Nomex wasn’t mandatory, a pair of well-worn work boots served as “driving shoes”, and anybody with a little mechanical savvy and skill behind the wheel could become a Saturday Night Hero. (Hoyt Photo).

As a youthful chauffer on the late Harvey Tattersall’s UNITED circuit, “Rapid Rick” Donnelly began making strides during the tail-end of the “coupe era.”  Following a host of former Riverside Park (once a UNITED stronghold), regulars to Waterford in 1975 after Tattersall’s purchase of the facility, he raced this Vega-bodied mount to the 1977 Sportsman-Modified title. However, the best was yet-to-come. Debuting a sleek Troyer Engineering Pinto at the onset of the 1979 campaign, Donnelly dominated the Speedbowl for the entire season, notching the championship along with 10 feature victories. This shot of Rick and his “pre-Troyer” Vega was captured at a Plainville Stadium 100-lap open show. (Hoyt Photo).     

By the time longtime racing photographer Rene Dugas captured this 60’s-era image of Dick Dunn (right), in his lens, Mr. Dunn had already proven himself to be a skillful Waterford chauffer with several feature victories on his resume. However, it was a pairing with car owners Al and Peg Gaudreau a few seasons-later that would cement his status as one of the best-ever in the history of the Speedbowl. We’re talking-about pure “Icon-level” notoriety in what was 1970’s Waterford action. (Dugas Photo).

And here’s the coupe and one-half of the ownership duo that helped catapult Dick Dunn to an amazing shoreline oval run of 4-straight championships between 1972 & 1975. This is an early version of the #3; later editions carried an eye-catching blue & silver color scheme. That’s a smiling Al “Buddha” Gaudreau (so-nicknamed for a commanding stature and outgoing personality), standing behind the car that would become forever-known in Speedbowl folklore as the “Buddha’s Bullet.” (Dugas Photo).

He was a farm-kid raised in the once-rural Cohanzie district of Waterford, Connecticut, a mere stones-throw away from the RT. 85 oval then-known as the “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl. Like so-many other local youngsters, at an early age he was drawn to the sights & sounds of the 1/3-miler, which once shared billing with the old Waterford Drive-In Theater as the town’s top entertainment venues. By the 1960’s, the late Terry Peabody had graduated from spectator-to-racer, landing in rides like this Freddie Beaber-owned coach. Sadly, his life ended unexpectedly and much-too early, but not before he’d become a respected and popular competitor at the shoreline oval. At the conclusion of his driving career in the 1970’s, he stayed involved in the sport as the proprietor of “Peabody Performance” supplying power to many local race teams. (Shany Photo).

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

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