Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday January 30, 2013
 

 

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We open this edition of “RTT” on a somber note, as it was learned last week that we’ve lost a couple of our own. Longtime New England racing official Carl Merrill passed-away at age 88 on January 23rd, and we also said goodbye to popular former modified competitor Charlie Jones on the same day. Our sincere condolences are offered to the family & friends of both. On a brighter note, we have several photos to enjoy this week contributed by our pals Roger Liller, Walter Jablonski, and site Webmaster, Tom Ormsby. Lastly, Get-Well wishes go out to our very-close friend, NEAR Hall of Famer Pete Zanardi who’s recently had to spend a little-time in the “crash-house” for some required routine maintenance. Also a BONUS this week is a video tribute to Bill Greco that Tom Ormsby put together for Billy's Movie Party in December. Until next-time, have a great week! Email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com

Another Week, More Modified Memories….

It’s with great sadness that we report the passing of former Riverside Park modified competitor Charlie Jones who left us at age 71 on Wednesday, January 23rd while in the care of VA Boston Healthcare in West Roxbury, MA. Jones was a popular long-time competitor at the late Massachusetts oval, racing during the heyday of much-missed facility. He also ventured-out to several other tracks in the region during his career. Our pal veteran racing lensman John Grady captured Charlie in this one when he was the chauffer of the potent #18 coupe. Our sincere condolences are offered to Charlie’s family and many friends. For additional information visit our Webmaster Tom Ormsby’s Speedway Line Report at www.speedwaylinereport.com (John Grady Photo Courtesy Tom Ormsby).

From our friend and frequent contributor New York Racing Historian Roger Liller comes this great early image of New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member, the late Chauncey "Jocko" Maggiacomo. The location is the former Arlington Speedway in Poughkeepsie, New York. Says Roger about Arlington; “This quarter-mile clay track opened in 1951 on the site of a former brickyard in the Arlington section of Poughkeepsie. The late Ed Ryan promoted it in 1951 and '52. NASCAR took over Rhinebeck Speedway from UNITED in 1952, but left at the end of the season after only one year of promotion, and in 1953 they came to Arlington. Ed Ryan and his Eastern Mutual Racing Associates then went to Rhinebeck where they had a long and successful program there until it closed at the end of 1962. UNITED had a very busy 7-day-a-week schedule that year, so Arlington got Wednesday nights. Wednesday night was not optimum for fans, and UNITED drivers such as Jocko and the Disbrow Brothers were not overly-fond of racing on the dirt at Arlington when they could be making more money at the fast higher-paying tracks of New England (raceways which drew more of the big-name drivers). Tattersall announced the suspension of racing by UNITED at Arlington shortly after Labor Day, and Ed Ryan, since Rhinebeck was closed, came in and held 2 events in late September and early October (one of which was a great midget race). Arlington then had several promoters until the end came at the close of the '62 season.” (McDowell photos by Les King, courtesy Roger Liller).

Here’s another one from Mr. Liller, this time it’s early SNYRA standout Lou Judson at Rhinebeck, New York. An absolute-authority on the history of auto racing in his region, Roger states the following on this rare gem; “Pictured here is well-known Danbury Racerena driver Lou Judson at Rhinebeck during the 1957 SNYRA non-season. “Promoter Eddie Ryan was glad to have these drivers there, and their challenge to the "locals" really boosted the track's popularity. Rhinebeck had other New England drivers such as "Hoppy" Jensen, Hal McCarty, Russ Truelove, Ben Stone, and Harry Brazee as regulars, and it was great watching them mix it up with the likes of Chick Stockwell and Judson.” (McDowell photos by Les King, courtesy Roger Liller).

In decades of collecting photos from all of the short tracks located in New England, we’ve been very-fortunate to have secured a slew of Shany Lorenzent originals. In our Riverside Park archives we have several images of drivers that unfortunately, we know little-about (the same can be said for our Stafford dirt-era files). Even-tougher are the shots minus a driver name on the car, which was not always a common-practice in the old-days. Anyway, here’s a nice one of Lou Rogers in his jaunty little coupe on the old 1/5-mile surface of the Agawam, Massachusetts oval. If anyone has information Lou’s career, please feel-free to write! (Shany Photo).

We just really-like this 50s-era shot from what was then officially-known as Connecticut’s “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl. Opening in 1951 and still going-strong, over the years the track has always attracted a number of teams from neighboring Rhode Island. During the days in-which a Brit-inspired Cromwell-style helmet and a sweater were considered the norm in driver attire, Ashaway, Rhode Island’s Ronnie Kennedy is ready to do battle at the track known simply as The Bowl’ to local patrons. (Shany Photo).

OK gang, here’s another one that we need some assistance in figuring-out. The venue looks to be Connecticut’s Thompson Speedway during the early 1950s, but unfortunately the driver of this prototypical flathead-powered coupe remains in the “unidentified file.” Anyone ever recall seeing a Red Keiger touring the ovals of New England? Bob Brooks of Longmeadow, Massachusetts was the photographer. We have a ton of these shots in the archives…. (Brooks Photo).

Here’s a classic Shany Lorenzent “portrait shot.” Popular, young, and talented; Ed Moody was the 1962 track champion in the “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl’s Bomber division, once an immensely-popular class at the shoreline oval, and certainly a fertile training-ground for some of that tracks greatest modified drivers. Winner of 44 main events in the class, he also scored a pair of modified features before calling-it-a-day. (Shany Photo).

One-more portrait image from Shany, and it’s a dandy! Meet Ted Dean, a standout Non-Ford division racer at the Speedbowl for many seasons. Recording his first of 19 career victories in 1952, he was extremely popular with the fans, and legend has-it that he was quite a “character” for his time. According to our friend Mal Phillips who knows a thing-or-two about Speedbowl history and has frequently contributed to this site, “Ted used to grow his beard until he won a race, and then he'd shave it off.” One has to remember, this was during the ultra-conservative 1950s; long, flowing beards were def. not the norm! (Shany Photo)

Here’s a great shot of our pal Billy “Gramps” Greco taken at one of the UNITED Modified events that were once held every year on the grounds of the “Big E” in Massachusetts. A New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer, he was an absolute master of the short oval, honing his skills at tight little joints like the late West Haven Speedway and the much-missed 1/5-miler at Riverside Park. A darling of the old Harvey Tattersall-led UNITED circuit (once the most influential sanctioning group in New England), in later-years he also became a winner at the ultra-competitive Danbury Fair Racearena. Billy also has the distinction of being the only driver to win on all 8 ovals that existed one time in the State of Connecticut. The personable Greco is as popular today as he ever-was, and can really enlighten you on the history of the sport. If you get a chance to chat with him, please do! (Grady Photo).

Charlie Centinaro was one of the real movers & shakers on Harvey Tattersall’s United circuit. Starting his stellar career at Connecticut’s West Haven Speedway, he later became a top-shoe at the much-missed Riverside Park Speedway in Agawam, Mass. First scoring in 1969, “Mr. Centinaro” racked-up a total of 5-feature wins at The Park’, his final visit to victory lane coming on the evening of June 2, 1973. (Shany Photo).  

My Generation…… OK, those of you that know me personally realize that I was introduced to the sport by late parents at an early-age. Growing-up a stones-throw from the Waterford Speedbowl, attending the races was what my family did on the weekends; we were race fans! This shot illustrates what the great open competition shows of the 70s offered fans of the shoreline oval. It was an opportunity to see how the “invaders” did against our locals. See here leading the pack is multi-time Speedbowl modified champion Dick Dunn in Peg & Al Gaudreau’s potent “Buddha’s Bullet” #3 coupe. Then it’s Gene Bergin in Bob Garbarino’s “Mystic Missile” #4, followed by Ronnie Bouchard in the Bob Johnson #17, Fred DeSarro in Lenny Boehler’s “Old Blue” #3, and our friend Dick Watson in the #716 owned by Freddie Beaber. Sadly, some of these drivers (and their car owners), have left-us, but not before many of them became members of the prestigious New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame. Watching these guys perform was heady-stuff for a youngster, and it left a lasting impression on this New England modified fan. (Shany Photo Courtesy Walter Jablonski).

BONUS SHOT: As with other short tracks, sometimes the action at the Speedbowl can get downright-violent as evidenced by this image of what was once one beautiful modified. The Bunnell family hailing from nearby Uncasville always fielded potent, great-looking equipment. On this night in the 1970s, things went terribly-wrong for popular Donnie Bunnell. Not to worry though, like always the team came back stronger-than-ever following this mishap. Ed Bunnell was a champion in the Bomber division, and younger sibling Donnie carved a niche for himself in the modifieds scoring a boatload of feature victories within the shoreline oval’s premier class. (Shany Photo Courtesy Walter Jablonski)

 

A Video Tribute to "Wild Bill" Greco

 
 

 

 
     

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

COMMENTS
Ray said:

Not sure who's car...but would say Dan Devoe is the driver

Mikepa said:

I believe the driver of the 7 to be Lou Carangelo.

Dave Dykes said:

You guys could be right about the #7 - I was going-by what Shany had written on the back of the shot (it's an original print). Either-way, it's a great image! I just wish I could get some info. on Red Keiger!

Cal said:

Did anybody else hear Waterford has been seized for 3/4 of a mill in back taxes. I hope its not true

vic said:

The 7 car looks like
Danny Devoe driving
Sam Pearls car.

Tom Ormsby (mod) said:

Dave I looked at the photo of the 7 a little closer, it's not Charlie. It looks to me it may be Dick Dixon.

NELS said:

GREAT SHOT OF DONNIES 318 DAVE. I WAS THERE THAT NIGHT.

Don said:

Great shot of the old Chevy 2 bodied 318 - I remember that night well-Do you stil have the picture I sent you of it upside down ?

ed p said:

The guy in #7 looks familiar but it doesn't look like Centinaro and that ain't no 6 banger. LOL I thought it was Jack Lucuyer.

Jack Van Delft said:

I saw "Jocko" Maggiacomo take the checkered flag at Thompson in May of 1956 when he beat out NASCAR's elite Grand National drivers in what I think was a 200 mile event!

 
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