Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday January 8, 2014
 

 

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By Dave Dykes                                                                              CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE

First, we have some sad news to report this week, as it was learned Tuesday that our friend Margaret “Peg” Gaudreau has passed-away. Peg was the owner of the potent “Buddha’s Bullet” #3 that Dick Dunn drove to a boatload of championships & feature victories at the Waterford Speedbowl of the 1970s. With her late husband “Buddha” turning the wrenches, the team was virtually-unbeatable for many seasons. Our condolences are sent to the Gaudreau family and Peg’s friends (of-which she had many). Lastly, this week we’ll stray a bit from what’s lately been the norm & concentrate on competitors from a single raceway. Recently we’ve been receiving a lot of mail requesting material from Connecticut’s Waterford Speedbowl. It’s an easy thing to accomplish, as those of you that know me realize that the shoreline oval happens to be my home-track. As-always, enjoy our little mid-week voyage into the past! One additional thing we’d like to mention is that our friends at the Northeastern Midget Association (NEMA) are presently offering a DVD tracking the clubs history from the “cageless era” to the contemporary machines of today. Containing 322 images, it’s simply a must-have for the New England open-wheel enthusiast. Cost is $25 each with all proceeds going directly to NEMA to help carry-on the rich traditions these early pioneers built. Payment can be made through PayPal to rewindles@sbcglobal.net or by sending a check or money order (payable to NEMA), as well as your name and address to Bill Van Slyke, 23 Horsestable Cir., Shelton, Ct. 06484.  This effort is fully-endorsed by “RTT” – it’s a great deal, folks! Email reaches me at foreveryounginct@yahoo.com  

Once-Again In A Speedbowl State of Mind…..

Starting this week’s edition of “RTT” we have a great early victory lane image of one of the Waterford Speedbowl’s most fondly-remembered combinations; Newt Palm & Stan Majewski’s L&M modified. He was twice a champion (1967 & 68), while wheeling the potent little Willys-bodied coupe. The late Walt Dombrowski also grabbed the title driving the L&M in 1970, cementing the car’s status as one of the more famous cars in ‘Bowl history. Note the “wide-whitewall” tire on the left-front. (Shany Lorenzent Photo).

Speaking of Walt Dombrowski, here he is aboard the Gada Racing Team Mustang modified. Before graduating to the headlining division at the Speedbowl he had claimed the 1963 Bomber championship. The transition was a smooth-affair, with Walt scoring his first mod checkers in 1966. Having secured a seat in Stan Majewski’s potent L&M coupe for the 1970 campaign, he handily nailed-down the modified title that year. He was selected by fans as one of the Speedbowl’s all-time “50 Favorite Drivers” in 2000; a testament to his enduring popularity even after he’d retired from the sport. Sadly, Walt passed-away in November. (Shany Lorenzent Photo).

Local racer Gordon Page ran in the modified division at the Speedbowl for many seasons. Always fronting a team of modest-means, he was found in the thick of the action every week often competing against those with budgets that were far-above what he had to work-with. As I’ve often relayed in this column, it’s important to remember that it takes more than just a select-few winners to make the sport. Guys like Page are more than mere “field-fillers.” To a degree, they’re the very backbone of the sport. This nice color shot captures Gordon and his familiar coupe pitside at the dawn of the 1970s. (Rene Dugas Photo)

Seen here in victory lane flanked by a gaggle of young admirers during the 1970s at the shoreline oval is Guilford, Connecticut native Jerry Dostie. Going-on to become a big winner on the New England modified circuit, he was also one of the pioneers behind the design & use of automatic transmissions in modified racing. Jerry’s retired and residing in Florida these-days, but not-before having left his mark in the win column.(Shany Lorenzent Photo).

Introduced in late 1965 largely due to a flagging car-count in the once heavily-populated Bomber division, the full-bodied Daredevil class became one of the most-popular & enduring support classes in Speedbowl history. Essentially-stock sedans of the 1950s variety, it was a cheaper alternative to the Bombers, which by that time (as an entry-level division), had become increasingly more expensive for teams to build & maintain. Pictured here is Jack “Red” Barton, one of the big winners during the divisions early days. (Shany Lorenzent Photo)

Seen here celebrating an early Daredevil division feature victory, our friend Wayne “Mr. Mysterious” Smith claimed most of his Speedbowl success in the support-divisions, his full-fender endeavors of the championship variety. However, it should be noted that during his long career “Mr. Mysterious” also put in some impressive performances in the modifieds. Thanks to the burgeoning social media scene (namely Facebook), I’ve been able to stay connected with several of my old racing pals including Wayne. (Shany Lorenzent Photo). 

Though this one captures him in 1975, it was the season-before when New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member the late Ollie Silva really made his mark in Speedbowl history. On Sunday, May 5th of that season, he visited to compete in the Independent Racing League’s “Hott Wheels 100”, an open-competition race paying a handsome purse. When the checkers fell that afternoon, he’d bested an all-star field finishing 2-laps ahead of his nearest competition. It’s an event still talked-about by the folks that were present. (Rene Dugas Photo).   

Here’s an interesting image featuring a pair of the Speedbowl’s more-enduring personalities. Seated in the cockpit of Freddie Beaber’s legendary #716 coupe is the late Charlie Webster, one of the guys that literally helped put the shoreline oval on the map. Amassing a career total of seventy-three feature victories in both Non-Ford and Modified competition, he was a champion in both classes (3 Non-Ford titles, and 1 Modified crown). Holding a case of STP (not-sure what that’s about), is a young Mike Beebe who’s winning career spanned a period that saw great technological strides in the sport. While it all started during the much-heralded “Coupe Era” his run as a top modified chauffer concluded in an age of pre-fab chassis, ultra high-dollar motors, and contemporary tin-work. Like Webster, Beebe remained a class-act and a threat to win right-up until his retirement from the sport. (Shany Lorenzent Photo).    

Early in 1975 former Sportsman Sedan division chauffer Paul “Hawk” Fugener debuted this modified coupe to take a stab at Speedbowl open-wheel stardom. Experiencing only moderate success during his freshman campaign, he appeared the next season with a new ride; a rather unorthodox-looking American Motors AMX-bodied creation. This machine eventually ended-up in the hands of another competitor to be campaigned at the Danbury Fair Racarena under the banner of the Southern New York Racing Association. “Hawk’s” sophomore season was an abbreviated affair, and he soon faded from the scene entirely. (Rene Dugas Photo).

This one’s been in the files for what seems like eons, and quite-frankly we know little about driver George Young, but do know a bit about the car. Unique in the fact that it was 6-cylinder powered, previous to this it had been owned & campaigned by Fred Sentell Sr. as the #117 (see February 25, 2009 edition of “RTT”). We suspect it may have actually begun life as one of the checkerboard #716 creations of famed Speedbowl car builder Freddie Beaber. If that assumption is fact, Freddie would have been running a V-8. Interesting shot either-way….. (Shany Lorenzent Photo).

As relayed in this week’s opening comments, the New England racing community lost a key figure this week when Margaret “Peg” Gaudreau passed-away peacefully after having been in poor health in recent times. As for me, I lost a friend. At a time when ladies were not a familiar sight (if at-all), in the pits, Peg made damned-sure she was allowed to be with the winning car in-which she was listed as owner. For that, she will be remembered as one of our sport’s Pioneers. Peg’s husband and constant companion Al (known to many simply as “Buddha”) left us in April of last year. They had celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 2012. Speaking personally, saying that this couple and their team had an impact on what would lead to my lifelong interest in the sport would be an understatement. This 70s-era Speedbowl image captures Peg & Al with their longtime driver the great Dick Dunn along with a crew member on the left. Our heartfelt condolences are sent to the entire Gaudreau family on this sad occasion. (Shany Lorenzent Photo).

UNIDENTIFED DRIVER #1: While the lineage of the car above is somewhat uncertain, there’s no-mistaking where this shiny black coupe originated. Once one of the most-potent of all modifieds in New England the legendary V8 was piloted by New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member, the late “Wild Bill” Slater. Somewhere along the line it ended-up at the Speedbowl in the hands of this team. Any idea of who these fellows-are or specifically, the identity of the driver? If-so, drop us a line at foreveryounginct@gmail.com (Rene Dugas Photo).

UNIDENTIFED DRIVER #2: The “most-vintage” of all the images presented this week, this one goes all the way back to the Speedbowl of the early-50s. Of the cut-down persuasion, it must have taken some nerve to wheel one of these featherweight coupes around the shoreline oval. We’d really like to put a name with the image of this smiling early racer, so again if you have an identity, don’t hesitate to contact us! (Shany Lorenzent Photo).

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

 
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