Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday January 20, 2010

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By Dave Dykes                                                                              CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE

Another week passes, and it’s time for our usual trip to the archives and one-more edition of “Racing Through Time.” Being short on introduction comments this-week, let’s just let the photos do the talking!   Email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com

Pavement Pounders & Denizens of Dirt….     

New England Modified racing has produced many heated rivalries over the years, but it’s also resulted in a lot of lasting friendships. The late George Pendergast and New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member Billy Harman (middle) were buddies for-sure, and on this night when George scored a victory, he was there to help his pal celebrate the occasion. Pendergast is fondly-recalled as being one of the sports true “characters”, but as this shot shows, he was no slouch behind the wheel either! Harman, who’s recuperating from recent shoulder-surgery, is expected to be at this year’s Hall of Fame inductions later this month on Jan 31. Go to www.near1.com for more details on the event. (Grady Photo)

Seen here during the 1950s behind the controls of a Plymouth coupe, the late Ray Delisle was one of the earliest of stars at the “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl. After recovering from serious injuries sustained in a fiery crash, he returned in 1964 to claim the Modified championship piloting the potent Simons Excavating #9. His last Waterford checker scored in 1965, he notched a career-total of 24 victories in both Modified and Non-Ford competition. In 2000 Delisle was voted one of the shoreline oval’s “50 Favorite Drivers” as part of the track’s 50th Anniversary celebration. (Shany Photo).     

While there’s been a plethora of different support divisions at the Speedbowl during its long history, the Modifieds have always been at the top of the marquee. Nobody has more wins in the division than this-guy, New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member Don Collins. Though he also competed at other tracks, Collins spent much of his career at the Speedbowl where he scored more than 100 features in both Modified and Non-Ford competition along with five Modified championships. The first title came in 1955, the final in 1969. While he drove for a varied list of top teams, this 60’s-era victory shot captures him behind the wheel of his self-owned “Little Jewel” #106. (Shany Photo). 

We really like this shot. Few Waterford Speedbowl personalities were more popular with fans than the late Fred “Fuzzy” Baer. He’s seen here during the 1960’s with crew member & future racer the late Johnny Savage (middle) and his dad “Pops” (right). It was more than one rookie driver that sought advice from “Fuzz” as they started their careers. Though the record book reveals only four feature victories during a career that spanned nearly 4-decades, Baer was simply synonymous with the Speedbowl. To this day, when talk turns to past-action at the shoreline oval, it seems that everyone has at-least one fond memory of the much-missed Mr. Baer. (Dugas Photo).    

Many fans don’t realize-it, but before switching to competition of the 4-wheeled variety, multi-time Waterford Speedbowl Modified titlist the late George “Moose” Hewitt was a champion motorcycle racer. Captured here with his crew at the dawn of his Modified career in the mid-1960’s, he’d started in the Bombers, scoring multiple feature victories. His venture into Waterford’s premier class proved a success to the tune of five track titles between 1977 and 1984. That’s him to the far-left. Worth mention is the fact that the fiercely-independent Hewitt was one of the few shoreline oval competitors that during an era of “store-bought” cars later in his career, continued to craft machines of his own design at his shop in nearby Uncasville, CT. (Dugas Photo).  

We’ve had a few requests for a shot of this driver, Andy Rock. He’s seen here in the 1950’s at Connecticut’s West Haven Speedway (AKA Savin Rock). Once a flagship venue of the Tattersall families United Stock Car Racing Club (then the most-powerful sanctioning body in New England), The Rock’ was a flat, tight, paved 1/5-miler laid-out within the confines of a baseball stadium (Donovan Field, named in-honor of “Wild Bill” Donovan, once a manager of the New York Yankees). Originally opened in 1935 and hosting Midget racing, the track reopened following World War II with the then-new stock cars as the main draw. Mr. Rock was among a group of drivers that emerged as some of the region’s top racers, guys like Billy Greco, Tony Mordino, Jap Membrino, and Johnny “King” Cambino among others. The track closed in 1967, a victim of the era’s urban renewal movement. (Todd Photo, courtesy Tom Ormsby)

Seen here behind the wheel of an early Sonny Kozella “Wood Chopper Special” is New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer, the late Ernie Gahan. 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 50’s and early 60’s. 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 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. Ernie passed-away of natural-causes last November. (Grady Photo).      

Hailing from Zephyrhills, Florida, Emil Lloyd “Buzzie” Reutimann started his racing career at age-13. An absolute terror on the short tracks of the Southern-tier region, he was a familiar site on the Modified tracks of the Northeast for many seasons, especially for the big-money shows of the “coupe era.” A multi-faceted competitor, he also ran with NASCAR, making his first start with that organization on November 11, 1962 on his home state turf of Tampa’s Golden Gate Speedway. He traditionally ran the #00 as seen-here, and his son David also carried the number to the Sprint Cup Series. For his long-time contributions to the sport, Reutimann was inducted into the Dirt Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1997 and the Eastern Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame in 2006. (Grady Photo).   

One of our all-time favorite John Grady shots; Seen here celebrating one of many career victories is New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member, Ron Narducci. During his long racing career, he competed at an estimated 60 race tracks, starting in New York State while he served in the Air Force. Stationed in New York, he took down 17 feature wins and won 2 track championships at Waterloo, NY. Upon returning to Connecticut, he won the Sportsman Championship at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl in 1958. From 1959-66, he ran with NASCAR, winning multiple championships. 1960 saw him finish 2nd in sportsman points at Norwood, and he finished 3rd in Modified points at Menands, NY. During this time, he won many features, including 6 in 1963 with Sharkey Gaudiosi’s #44. With the paving of Stafford in 1967, he again started running the NY State circuit. He won 5 features at Fonda, his home track that year, including a 100 lap Championship race. In 1967, he joined the All-Star League, becoming a 6 time victor on the Winning Track Team, representing Fonda, Albany-Saratoga, and Catamount Stadium. The final years of his career were spent in the Fingerlakes of NY, where he finished 4th in Modified points at Weedsport in 1975. From that point until his retirement in 1982, Ron ran on the DIRT circuit. (Grady Photo).

To those of us interested in Northeastern racing history, this is a truly-classic image on just so-many levels. The driver is the great Rene Charland, and the victory lane venue is the “Track of Champions” - AKA Fonda Speedway in New York State. His career spanned nearly 4-decades starting at Massachusetts’ Riverside Park in 1949 and ended at Fonda Speedway in 1984. Estimates put his victory total at over 700. He won an unprecedented 4 NASCAR National Sportsman championships from 1962 through 65. His quest for a fifth title ended as he was seriously injured in the famous fire crash Memorial Day weekend at Malta in 1966. He was forced to sit out the rest of the season but at that point he had already earned 5700 points, enough for a third place finish. A member of the famed “Eastern Bandits” he won multiple track championships at a variety of tracks in both New England, and the South. In addition he won 4 Canadian National championships. He had a pair Grand National (now Sprint Cup) starts. In an event at Long Island New York’s Islip Speedway, he finished third behind David Pearson and Richard Petty. Known as “The Champ”, Charland was among the first racers inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 1998. (Grady Photo).

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

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