Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday July 14, 2010

 Volume 2, Number 25                                                                                      New Column Every Wednesday


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By Dave Dykes                                                                              CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE


Word reached us this week indicating that New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer Gene Bergin is presently experiencing some serious medical issues. One of the Northeast’s greatest Modified drivers of all-time could really use a bit of cheering-up. Drop Gene a card at Gene Bergin, Flagler Pines, 300 S Lemon St., Bunnell, Florida 32110. This week we welcome contributions from a couple of our pals, award winning auto racing journalist Bones Bourcier, and from the local scene, Rusty Sage. Before relocating to Indy, Bones was a part of the New England Modified scene for eons and remains an integral part of the New England Antique Racers (NEAR). Rusty was a longtime supporter of one of the Waterford Speedbowl’s premier racing clans, the
Bunnell family. Enjoy! As-always, email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com        

Another Week, Another Page From the Past….    

New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer Gene Bergin is captured here during the 1960s in the pits of Massachusetts’ much-missed Riverside Park Speedway. He was among the first HOF inductees back in 1998. From his NEAR HOF biography; Gene Bergin began and ended his career at the Stafford Motor Speedway. He qualified in the first race he entered but was disqualified when it was learned he was only 17 years old in 1949.He returned when he was of age to start a 29 year career competing and winning at all the southern New England race tracks. He was always a hard charger either on dirt or asphalt. He won the 1962 Riverside Park championship and the 1967 Stafford Motor Speedway championship in 67, the first year it was paved. One of his most significant wins was the 1971 Stafford 200. He started on the pole and led every lap to win in Bob Judkins 2X, the first ever NASCAR-legal Pinto-bodied modified. Other career highlights include winning an All Star race at Wall Stadium, and winning the Trenton qualifier at Thompson. Bergin was runner-up at the 1972 Race of Champions in Trenton. In addition to the 2X, he was mostly identified with driving Bebe Zalinski’s M6. (Grady Photo).

Flash-forward to the late 1970’s, and this one finds Gene Bergin at Connecticut’s Waterford Speedbowl wheeling the potent Smitty’s # 11 Pinto. As his NEAR biography implies, Bergin was simply one of the best to have ever emerged out of New England. During his long career, versatility was always a trademark – he won on both dirt and asphalt. A resident of Florida for a number of years now, Gene’s recently been going through a number of health-related issues and it’d be a nice gesture if he were to hear from some of his pals “Back-East.” Drop him a line at the address listed at the top of this week’s edition of “Racing Through Time.” (Kennedy Photo).   

Last week I received an envelope from Bones Bourcier containing a note, along with this Phil Hoyt Plainville Stadium shot. It’s simply a classic, and there’s nobody better than Bones, himself a student of Joe Tinty’s little palace of speed, to provide the accompanying commentary. He writes “Everybody remembers Reggie Ruggiero dominating Plainville in 1975 while subbing for Don Moon, who had a broken arm. But lots of folks forget that before Reggie got the seat, Stan Greger had a great one-night stand in Moonie’s Pinto. It went like this: Don broke his arm a day or two before one of Plainville’s wonderful “open-comp” Wednesday-nighters. Greger, an absolute maestro at Plainville before he left in ’75 to take a Riverside Park ride with Dick “Jarb” Beaudoin, didn’t have a ride for the Wednesday race because Jarb’s #500 rarely ran anywhere but the Park. So Moon offered Stanley his Pinto, and Greger simply decimated the field in that Plainville 100-lapper. Come Saturday, Stanley went back to Riverside, leaving Moonie’s #9 wide-open again. Reggie was between rides, so Don gave the young charger a shot. Together they won nine Plainville features before season’s end, and the rest is history. Anyway, here are Stan Greger and Don Moon, who together had a perfect record: One race, one victory.” How’s that for a little Plainville history? (Hoyt Photo).     

That Pinto assembled and expertly-wheeled by Don Moon (truly in the “Master Craftsman” category when speaking of Plainville Stadium car builders), later went-on to become one of the many Stadium’ rides campaigned by our friend and Webmaster, Tom Ormsby. This shot captures a youthful “Tommy” (as he was known-then), prior to the start of activities on a Saturday evening during the summer of 1978. Ormsby always ran good-looking equipment and his #1 was no exception. (Kennedy Photo).

This one’s simply a “Speedbowl Classic.” With the hills of their native Montville, CT. during the winter of 1969 serving as the backdrop, the Bunnell Team have wheeled-out from the shop their latest ride, a Chevy II-bodied creation to be chauffeured by a 21 year-old Donnie Bunnell. Come spring, Donnie went-on to record his first-ever victory in the Speedbowl’s premier class at the controls of this car on May 9, 1970. That’s Donnie seated behind the wheel with brother Ed (a former Bomber champion), on the left. In the middle is longtime crew member Joe Allen who played a significant role in the construction of the car. With graphics by local pin-striping artist Bob Mariani, the car was simply a knockout. (Photo courtesy Rusty Sage)

Here’s another early image from the place then-known as Connecticut’s “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl (they later shortened the handle, renaming it simply the “Waterford” Speedbowl). Meet Ron “Boots” Cote, a two-time champion in the Daredevil/Sportsman Sedan ranks. During the heyday of this division, it seemed as if the shoreline oval was awash with tri-five Chevy’s like this one (along with a few Ford’s of the same vintage). In the earliest days of the immensely-popular class there was often a B-Main due to the sheer number of these things on-hand! Cote was one of the best of the bunch, and also excelled at the state’s two other tracks, Thompson & Stafford. He later made a splash in the Modifieds during the mid-1970’s wheeling the Vega-bodied “L&M” of Angie Cerease. (Shany Photo).     

Last this week on our Waterford itinerary is a shot of the immortal Melvin “Red” Foote. Seen here at the Speedbowl of the 1950’s behind the controls of his familiar #J2, Foote’s long career was a colorful and well-traveled affair. A member of the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame, here’s an excerpt from his NEAR biography; Melvin “Red” Foote ran his first race in 1948, at Kingston, RI. Carl Morrow and Ralph LeGendre co-owned Foote’s first car, a silver #1 coach. It wasn’t long before the “racing bug” bit Foote, and he was competing at Norwood on Thursdays and Saturdays, and Lonsdale on Sundays, with regular visits to Westboro when time allowed. He won championships at the Waterford Speedbowl in 1953, and again in 1958. He also took down a championship in Plainville in the 50’s, competing in the United Stock Car Racing Club. The 60’s found Foote racing with NASCAR, winning races from New England to the Carolinas to Daytona. It was during this period that he became one of the “Eastern Bandits”, along with fellow “bandits” Ed Flemke and Rene Charland. Red took down a championship in North Carolina in 1965. (Shany Photo)               

Captured here on Riverside Park’s old 1/5-miler is 1951 track champion, Benny Germano. Once the flagship speedway of the all powerful Tattersall-governed United Stock Car Racing Club, Germano competed against the very-best in the business to garner his title. Names like Krebs, Tappett, Flemke, Maggiacamo, Dixon, & Humiston come-to-mind. It was indeed, a star-studded field each & every week. To win a United championship in 1951 meant accomplishing something truly-extraordinary. Before NASCARS’s infiltration of New England (which for all intents & purposes really began at Norwood Arena), UNITED was king in this region. Germano scored a career-total of 17 Riverside feature victories, the first in 1950, the final in 1959. (Shany Photo).  

Here’s another 1950’s-era shot from that much-missed Agawam, Massachusetts oval. Seen here is Manchester, Connecticut’s Gene White. Like the aforementioned Germano, White’s first winning season at Riverside was 1950, his last 1959. In the process he captured a total of 5 feature triumphs. Check-out Gene’s “driving uniform” here – safety had indeed, come a long way. As a side note, it’s worth mentioning that White later hooked-up with the ownership duo of NEAR Hall of Famers Bob Vitari & Vic Bombaci to become the very-first driver of the storied #V-8 coupe before another Hall of Famer, “Wild-Bill” Slater began his long & ultra-successful reign with the team. (Shany Photo).  

Lastly this week, celebrated racing photographer John Grady captured this rare image of dirt Modified racing legend the late Lou “Monks” Lazzaro serving as a hired-gun for a car owner & racer that would go-on to become just a bit accomplished in our sport. Just who was the regular shoe of this little #109? It was a young kid from Rome, New York by the name of Richie Evans…. (Grady Photo).

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

 
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