Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday July 22, 2009

Volume 1, Number 29                                                                                      New Column Every Wednesday


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By Dave Dykes                                                                              CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE

We’re back at the helm after a well-deserved vacation by our Webmaster, the honorable Mr. Ormsby. Actually, Tom was roaming his old Connecticut stomping-grounds visiting with friends including yours-truly. By the time you read this, he’ll be back in his adopted state of sunny Florida once-again doing all he does for the New England racing community via his fine family of websites. Tom, come-back & visit soon, OK? We also have a couple of photos from the Jay Miller Memorial Party which was attended by well over 100 of Jay and Ray's friends and fans. Email reaches me at

Ray & Jay's friends came out in full force!

If you were wondering why Reggie Ruggiero was not at Spencer Speedway, he was at the Jay Miller Party. Also included in photo are racers Lou Prior, Ray Miller, Tom Ormsby and Ronnie Wyckoff.

Left to Right, Ray Miller, Elton Hill, Journalist Pete Zanardi, Tom Ormsby, Ronnie Wyckoff, Billy Harman, Bobby Mikulak and Mr. Moonified, Don Moon.

More Weekend Warriors (New England-Style)…             

Rhode Islander Fred DeSarro was one of the truly-gifted racers of his era. Seen here following a victory in the Sonny Koszella “Woodchopper Special” he was a top New England Modified shoe for what seemed like eons. The racing media had a field day with the much-publicized “driver-switch” in 1971 when the great Bugs Stevens took the wheel of Koszella’s car, and Fred climbed aboard Bugs’ vacated Lenny Boehler “Ole’ Blue”. Truth-be-told, there were no hard-feelings. Fred and Bugs were great friends and remained-so until Fred’s death following a tragic 1978 Thompson Speedway crash. Both are members of the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame, as are Boehler and Koszella. (Grady Photo).

Few drivers of the much-heralded “Coupe Era” were more traveled than New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer, Billy Harman. Growing-up in the shoreline community of New London, Ct. it was only natural for the speed-crazed young kid to get-involved with the happenings at the “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl. After many successes in his backyard, Harmon took to the road, maintaining a hectic schedule that rewarded him accolades at venues from coast-to-coast. In later-years, “Little Bill” centered his efforts closer-to-home again, experiencing several triumphs at local tracks in this car, the “Coventry Racing Enterprises” entry. He was an absolute-terror in the potent little Coupe, particularly back at Waterford where it all-began. This shot captures Billy ready-to-roll at Thompson in 1975. For more on the accomplishments of Mr. Harman, visit Tom Ormsby’s “Racing Remembrances” at www.racingremembrances.net  (Kennedy Photo).

Captured here at Waterford in 1981 is Fred Sentell. Another local product, he grew-up at the Speedbowl watching his father Fred Sr. tour the third-miler in the Daredevil and Modified divisions. When Harvey Tattersall introduced the Street Stocks in 1977, the second-generation racer got his shot at the “circle game” debuting a six-cylinder powered Chevelle. The switch to a beefier V-8 the next season did the trick, bringing his singular feature victory at the shoreline oval. Later campaigns saw a dalliance with the Grand American class as well as a stint in the headlining Modifieds. This Mustang II-bodied entry actually started life as a Gada Team #271, later being sold to Rod Tulba before Sentell campaigned it. Back in the “Old Daze” cars often lasted several seasons before becoming outdated. (Kennedy Photo).

When Rick Donnelly debuted a Troyer Engineering Pinto at Waterford in the late-seventies, it was a glimpse of things-to-come. Quickly fading from the scene were the homebuilt creations that utilized stock frames and classic pre-war sheet metal. It was the dawn of a new-era at the Speedbowl, and things would never be quite the same again. As for “Rapid Rick” the level of success while aboard his new ride was nothing-less than stupendous. In 1979, he simply dominated the proceedings at Waterford with ten feature victories, easily taking the championship. This shot captures him pitside a couple of years-later in 1981 with the car that made him a star at the RT. 85 oval. (Kennedy Photo).

Another local guy that spent a childhood watching his heroes hustle-around the Speedbowl was Larry Lamphear. As written here previously, he got started in the mid-seventies after purchasing a car from his friend, the late Terry Peabody. While the little coupe served Larry-well in his earliest of adventures, by 1980 he’d switched to the more advanced stylings of the Pinto-bodied mount you see here. No longer active, but never officially retired, Larry has two career feature wins at Waterford, last landing-in victory lane in 1982. (Kennedy Photo).

If you’ve been-around stock car racing for any real length of time (esp. in this region), you should know who this guy-is, and if not, shame on you! Long-before his days as a racer in the highest echelon of NASCAR, Geoff Bodine was just another Northeastern Modified shoe wheeling a coupe like the one pictured-here. Though he was successful on his-own, the New York State native’s fortunes really improved upon his 1970’s pairing with legendary Modified car-owner, the late Dick Armstrong. Wheeling the “Nu-Style Jewelry” Pinto, Bodine went on a New England victory rampage that old-timers still talk-about today. The result of his deeds in the open-wheel wars bought a successful career at the top including a stunning victory in the 1986 Daytona 500. (Grady Photo).  

One of the real pioneers of the New England Modified scene, Buddy Krebs was simply among the greatest racers to ever strap-in behind the wheel, especially at the late Riverside Park. Inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 2000, Krebs started racing in 1947, and before it was over, won an estimated two-hundred features while competing in Modifieds, Sportsman, and Grand Nationals. Among his accomplishments were six Riverside 500 victories – a record never broken. Known primarily for his feats during the Tattersall/United era, he won at virtually all the tracks that once dotted the New England landscape including the late Plainville and Candlelight Stadiums in Connecticut, and Millers Falls and Westboro Speedways in Massachusetts. A founding member of the New England Antique Racers, Buddy passed-away in January of 2006 at 74. (Grady Photo).

Getting the chance to see this guy race was itself, often worth the price of admission. There are many that feel “Daring Dick” Caso ended his career too-early, and there were more victories left for one of our regions most-thrilling drivers, Behind the controls of one of his memorable #86 creations, or acting as a hired-gun for one of the top car-owners of the day, it simply didn’t matter – the guy was just plain fun to watch! Long-before Jimmy Spencer was nicknamed “Mr. Excitement” by the Modified racing community, Caso was thrilling crowds in classic coupes like this one, the famed Simons Brothers #9. The location is early-seventies Waterford. (Shany Photo)     

As one of the most-recognized racers of his era, Lou Carangelo had a massive fan-following. Another of the drivers that made a name for himself during the days in-which NASCAR was a minor consideration in our region, Lou was among those perched firmly atop the heap within the realm of the Tattersall-led United Stock Car Racing Club. This shot captures him at the old West Haven Speedway (AKA Savin Rock for the adjacent amusement park of the same name), in Connecticut. Kind of a dual-purpose venue, West Haven’s oddly-shaped 1/5-mile oval sat within the confines of a baseball stadium and was but one of a number of UNITED sanctioned tracks during the post-war era. The speedway closed in 1967. Lou also managed to nail down a 1961 Modified Championship at the Plainville Stadium. (Shany Photo).  

Lastly, here we have a driver that your author really knows very-little about other than his name is Jack Proulx and that’s one classic-looking Coupe! However, I do know a bit about the venue. Its Joe Tinty’s late, great, Plainville Stadium in Connecticut, and the year is 1973. Shot by a young Steve Kennedy (a racing photog that would go-on to become one of New England’s best-ever), the image captures “Tinty’s Place” just perfectly. An almost-flat quarter-miler, The Stadium’ placed a premium on handling, and a big-motor didn’t matter if you couldn’t keep the horsepower on the ground. Over the years, the track played-host to some of the best-in-the-sport, and the Wednesday Night Opens drew car-counts that would make today’s promoters green with jealousy. It was a sad-day in the early-eighties when the announcement finally came that the gates would shutter forever. (Kennedy Photo). .

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

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