Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday July 8, 2009

Volume 1, Number 28                                                                                       New Column Every Wednesday


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By Dave Dykes                                                                              CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE


A holiday weekend well-spent saw New England play host to some welcomed DRY weather. The break in the clouds even allowed local tracks to get in some laps during a season wrought with cancellations. As usual, we’re stuck in the “Good Old Days”, again offering some choice shots for this week. Get-well wishes go-out to our friends John Spence Sr. of the TVMS, and famed Bowl’ car-owner Al “Buddha” Gaudreau. Both are on the mend after recent stays in the old “crash-house”.
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Vintage Thoughts On A Holiday Weekend….         

Captured here at Stafford in an absolutely classic-looking coupe during the early days of his career is Ed Flemke Jr. With a father like NEAR Hall of Famer the late, great “Steady Eddie”, this youngster had some mighty-big shoes to fill, and thus-far, he’s done a darned good job of carrying-on the family racing heritage. A veteran of the NASCAR Modified Tour, Flemke Jr. won the title in 2002 after years of coming close. Much like his late father, Ed Jr. is viewed by many as a steady-shoe, utilizing experience to his advantage when required While following what looked to be a wreck-in-the-making, Flemke wisely used his head (and saved his equipment), in averting disaster when the leaders tangled on the last-lap at this years New England 100 at New Hampshire, finishing a fine-second to Donnie Lia. (Danny Pardi Collection)

Few did more-with-less than Ernie Gahan did during his twenty-eight year career as one of the nation’s top Modified drivers. Virtually a one-man show for a good part of his career, the winner of the 1966 NASCAR National Modified Championship started racing in the 1940’s at New Hampshire’s old Dover Speedway. Well-before the days of the much-heralded “Eastern Bandits” he won over three-hundred features on a well-traveled road that stretched from his home state of Maine, to the coast of Florida. A multi-time NASCAR Grand National (now the Nextel Series), starter, his resume also includes two top-10 finishes, one in the Daytona 500. It was during his Grand National days in 1963 that 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 – that’s the type of racer Ernie Gahan was. This coupe-era image captures him following a win on the dirt of the Stafford Springs Motor Speedway, a facility where he grabbed the checkers on twenty-one occasions. Ernie retired from driving following an event at Thompson in 1975 and was inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 1998. (Photo courtesy of Gahan collection).

Seen here during the early-seventies are the easily-recognizable team cars of Modified racings greatest-ever, the late Richie Evans. For a time during the period, Evans had the two-car operation in full-swing and put none-other than his buddy the late “Steady Eddie” Flemke behind the controls of his signature-orange # 61x team car. The move paid-off, as Eddie rewarded the “Rapid Roman” with victory. If you look closely at this shot you can see Eddie on the left at the door of the hauler getting-ready for the evenings festivities and Eddie Jr. in the center in the tan pants. (Grady Photo).

As one of the earliest stars on the dirt of New York State’s famed Fonda Speedway, Robby Kotary successfully competed weekly against the absolute best-in-the-business. The track routinely drew Modified fields in upwards of forty cars, and included in that equation were top dirt-slingers like Pete Corey, Bill Wimble, Kenny Shoemaker, and Lou “Monks” Lazzaro in naming just a few. It truly was an All-Star cast each & every week. As it remains today, it was no easy-feat to conquer Fonda, and Kotary managed to do it on multiple occasions. (Grady Photo).

When Howard “Jeep” Herbert passed-away back in 2002, the Fonda Speedway lost one of its most-beloved former competitors. Jeep scored a total of twenty-five checkers at “The Track of Champions”, the first coming in 1953, the final a decade-later. He notched the track title in 1959 and was the New York State Champion in both 1956 & 1957 in the Bob Whitbeck built #37 (as pictured here). Compared to some of his contemporaries of that rough & tumble era, Herbert’s career was a relatively brief-affair. With the mid-sixties came great technical-strides in the realm of dirt racing (particularly in the manner of tires). When participating in the sport became prohibitively-expensive, Jeep simply put his helmet on the shelf opting instead to spend more time with his family. Who knows how many more victories would have been scored had he kept at-it? (Grady Photo).

Shown here is New York State Hotshot “Irish Jack” Murphy who began his career on the dirt tracks of his home state during the late-forties. Successful in both Modifieds (as pictured here), and Supers, he was well-known for his green & white creations each adorned with a shamrock (no-doubt a nod to his families heritage), and his signature #6. Particularly successful at Oswego, Murphy scored multiple championships as well as the International Classic of 1957 (out-dueling a determined Nolan Swift to the checkers). A multi-purpose shoe, he was one of his era’s perennial winner on both dirt and asphalt. Retiring in the late-sixties, he staged a brief comeback to finish a solid eighth in the 1970 Langhorne Race of Champions while wheeling a supposedly-outdated straight-axel Coupe. (Grady Photo).

Skip Barna was a noted Coupe-Era racer at the late Riverside Park Speedway in Agawam, Massachusetts. One of the top drivers during the Tattersall/United reign at the famed quarter-miler, his singular feature victory at “The Park” came on the evening of June 20, 1970. This one captures a smiling Skip with one of his earlier rides. (Grady Photo).

Seen here in the mid-sixties at what’s believed to be Utica-Rome or Malta is none-other than the popular Gaston Demarais, a journeyman driver from the wilds of Tupper Lake, NY. During that period, pavement Modified racing in the region was at an all-time high in popularity. Joints like Utica Rome & Malta routinely hosted the best the division had to offer with guys like Ed Flemke Sr., Gene Bergin, Donnie Mac, and the like all frequent competitors. A win at any of these New York State ovals was an accomplishment-indeed, and on this evening Gaston bested the field. (Grady Photo)     

Here’s kind of a rare-one. According to the photographer who captured this image, the esteemed Mr. John Grady, this was the only time that Johnny Lobo wheeled this ride, a car owned by the late Walt Kuryn and usually associated with Jap Membrino who guided it to many wins at the late Plainville Stadium. The locale of Lobo’s successful cruise aboard the classic little Coach is the tarmac of the former oval on the grounds of the Eastern States Exposition in Massachusetts. Once the site of one of Modified racing’s real seasonal “happenings”, grabbing a checker during “Eastern States Weekend” was a real accomplishment. Lobo was a successful New England Modified racer for years, particularly at Riverside Park where he holds a career-total of six feature wins. (Grady Photo).  

They don’t make em’ like this anymore. The drivers name is Bobby Pickle, and he was known as the “Flying Carpenter” at dirt joints like Fonda and Flemington back in the sixties and seventies. Extremely popular with the fans, Bobby’s car was one that you obviously couldn’t miss. Just check-out the roof on this neat Coach. It was indeed a different, more carefree era in racing and a little-bit of fun went a long-way when laying-down the paint scheme of your new racer at the start of a season. The cars back-then were truly an expression of the builder and they all had a unique look of their own. (Grady Photo).

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

 
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