Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday July 29, 2009

Volume 1, Number 30                                                                                      New Column Every Wednesday


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By Dave Dykes                                                                              CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE

This week we present a real mixed-bag of sorts. Fallen heroes that left us much too-soon, Hall of Famers that thankfully still grace our presence, and even a coupe of guys that may not have won many races, but were there battling  for that cherished checkered flag each week. As always, enjoy your trip as we “Race Through Time” via the cyberspace trail!  Email reaches me at foreveryounginct@yahoo.com

Mixing-It-Up MODIFIED Style!                 

Pictured here in the fifties at New York State’s Empire Raceway (AKA Menands Speedway), is the late, great Dick Dixon with his signature 8-ball Coupe. Dixon was one of New England’s brightest racing stars particularly within the once-mighty United Stock Car Racing Club. A standout Modified competitor, he was also extremely successful within the ranks of United’s Grand American Late Model division, where one season he captured thirteen of fifteen scheduled events. While still very-much in his prime, he perished in a grinding Thompson Speedway crash during the 1967 season. Dixon was inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 2004. As for Empire Raceway, it was a ¼-mile paved affair located near Troy, which closed at the conclusion of the 1961 season to make-way for development of a shopping plaza. (Photographer Unknown).  

Who’s the handsome young fella’ behind the controls of this mean-looking dirt Modified you ask? Why, it’s none-other than Billy “Gramps” Greco! Known primarily for his stellar feats on the asphalt ovals of New England, like many other drivers from his era (who could forget “Daring Dick” Caso’s thrilling runs in his Corvair at Lebanon Valley?), Billy was one versatile dude. Back-then, there was more cross-over in the ranks of Modified racing, and guys like Billy often took-in dirt shows as their pavement schedule allowed. One of New England’s true racing legends, and just a great guy to-boot, Billy was inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 1999. (Grady Photo).

And here we have yet-another New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer. It’s early April of 1975, and Ray Miller is ready-to-roll at the Waterford Speedbowl in an immaculate Vega-bodied creation. During an era in which the sport was still considered a little “rough-around-the-edges”, Miller was a picture of professionalism both on & off the track. A real “thinking mans driver”, his cool style rewarded him with victories in some of the most-celebrated events of his era, including a stunning victory in the 1981 Thompson 300, and a 1985 NASCAR Modified Tour win at Waterford. Ray is the father of the late and much-missed Jay Miller, a popular young racer who was poised to further his family’s tradition of winning in the Modified wars of New England. (Steve Kennedy Photo).

Seen here at the dawn of his career is one Red Bolduc, certainly one of the premier chauffeurs during the formative years of our sport. His name prominently etched into the record books of the late Norwood Arena in Massachusetts (the raceplant of his greatest drives), in-truth, Bolduc excelled at virtually all of the tracks that once dotted the New England landscape. During a time when nicknames were all-the-rage, “The Crafty Redhead” was bestowed upon the fan-friendly racer. It all came to an unfortunate conclusion on the evening of June 18, 1960 when his Coach made heavy-contact with Norwood’s unforgiving wall. The popular Bolduc passed-away the next day, thus ending the career of one of the most colorful & popular drivers of the “Coupe Era”. (Photographer Unknown).

Even-if you’re less than historically-astute regarding New England auto racing history, you should know who this driver-is. Winning racer and car-owner, respected official, and a member of the first class of inductees into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame, there’s not-much “Wild Bill” Slater failed to accomplish during his long, storied career. Here’s an excerpt from his NEAR HOF biography; “Wild Bill Slater” drove his first race at Lonsdale R.I. in 1949 and for the next twenty years he won at tracks from Oxford Plains Maine to Trenton New Jersey. Slater is a four time champion at the Norwood Arena and a two-time Sportsmen champion at Thompson. He won on the dirt at Stafford and on the pavement everywhere. He was often a top three finisher in the NASCAR National Sportsman championship run, even though he raced against full time drivers while he held down a weekly job. Bill’s list of accomplishments includes winning 8 straight features at Norwood, and 7 straight wins at Stafford. In 1959 he posted twenty wins at Waterford. He also took down two championships at Waterford and one at Stafford. Slater won the 400 mile race at Trenton New Jersey four times, and is a two time winner of the Utica-Rome 400 in New York. His biggest career victory was in his win at the Langhorne Penn. Race of Champions the first year it was paved. He drove in The Daytona Permatex 300 four times from 1963 to 66. He is most known for his long time association with the Vitari-Bombacci owned V8.He drove his last race at Stafford in 1969 and then became involved in the promotion side of racing at Stafford and later Thompson.” This “Shany” shot captures Bill (check-out that stylish silk-shirt), at the “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl in victory lane with car-owner “Baldy” Simons (L). The formidable duo teamed to capture the 1956 championship. (Shany Photo).


Before becoming a New England Midget racing legend, Dave Humphrey was a winning stock car racer. In fact, he handily annexed the 1951 title at the “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl to become that track’s first-ever champion. His list of accomplishments a long-one, the “Quiet Man” from Massachusetts was one of the premier players in the New England circle game for decades. Seen here during the Speedbowl’s tumultuous “Cut-Down” era, he was honored for his lengthy and successful career with an induction into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 2000. Not unlike the aforementioned Ray Miller, Dave was a class-act during his time behind the wheel, and this scribe is proud to count him as a friend. (Shany Photo)

Not a “Hall of Famer”, but the determination was there all-the-same. Often times we forget that it takes more than just a select-few standouts to fill a starting field, and that the “little guys” of the sport work just as hard trying to reach that elusive checkered flag. Buddy Rullo was a Plainville competitor that sometime traveled outside of the confines of “Tinty’s Place” to test the waters at other tracks. He campaigned this neat-looking Vega at Waterford and Thompson (as pictured here), in the mid-70’s. The car caused quite-a-stir at the Bowl’ when it first-appeared with its rather-radical appearance, and Buddy recorded some fine runs at the shoreline oval. (Kennedy Photo).

Simply a classic shot. Seen here celebrating victory in the 1956 Riverside Park 500 lap team-race is the duo of “Steady Eddie” Flemke and “Moneybags Moe” Gherzi along with car owners the Garuti brothers and their crew. The Garuti cars were some of the most-feared of their era, and it was only the best drivers that were called-upon to wheel them. The late Flemke of-course, carved a career as one of the greatest-ever in New England , and was one of the first inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 1998. The late Gherzi turned his attention to officiating after climbing-out from behind the wheel, serving as the long-time Race Director at the former Plainville Stadium. (Shany photo courtesy of Jo Jo Farone).      

The Waterford Speedbowl has been in continuous operation since the spring of 1951, and all-things-considered, that’s an admirable record. The track has hosted everyone from the “famous” to the “not-so-famous”, and continues to serve-up what many consider to be the best racing in Connecticut. This sixties-era paddock shot captures the team of Marvin Shaw, a local shoe hailing from the nearby seaport city of Mystic. Typical of the cars that lapped the “shoreline oval” at the time, it was a purely homebuilt-creation. Back-then just about anyone with a little mechanical aptitude and a desire to race could enter the game. Big wallets certainly helped, but they weren’t necessarily a requirement. It was indeed, a simpler and certainly more affordable era in the sport. (Dugas Photo) 

Closing this edition of “Racing Through Time” is a trio of characters that truly epitomize what the “Good Old Days” in New England Modified racing were all-about. When Fred DeSarro teamed with storied car owner Lenny Boehler, they set the world-afire with their outwardly shabby-looking “Ole’ Blue” racing team (a perfect example of “looks can be deceiving”), Thumbing their noses at the slick high-dollar equipment that had started seeping-into the sport, the duo won, and kept on winning-big. Long a part of our racing landscape, there’s not-much that Bruce Cohen hasn’t done in the sport. Car owner, sponsor, crew member, and sometimes outspoken critic of the sport he loves so-much, his role in the history book of the sport is secure. Both Hall of Famers, Fred and Lenny are gone now, but Bruce is thankfully still with-us and remains a driving-force behind the success of the New England Antique Racers (NEAR). This shot captures the guys during a lighthearted break in the action during the seventies. (Dick Berggren Photo).

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

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