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Semi-Monthly Racing Commentary with
JUNE 28 BEEF
By Dave Dykes CLICK ON PHOTOS FOR FULL SIZE
Sunday, I received another of those calls that you hope you’ll never get.
Not entirely-unexpected, it was learned that our friend “Wild Bill” Slater
had passed-away after suffering ill-health in recent years. Anybody who
knows me realizes that I’ve benefited tremendously from my relationship
with award-winning journalist Pete Zanardi who’s first, been a
supremely-valued friend over the years, and second, afforded me many
opportunities to meet my childhood heroes personally (why he took such an
interest in an untalented trade paper hack such as myself remains one of
my life’s pleasant mysteries). Anyway, Slater & Zanardi, both members of
the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame, remained close over the years,
and Bill was the first driver from what could only be considered the
“Golden Age of New England Modified Racing” that I was introduced-to
courtesy of Mr. Zanardi. The original “Connecticut Valley Rocket” will
certainly be missed by many of us in the New England racing fraternity.
Our sincere condolences are offered to his family & many friends.
And Thanks goes to my friend and Webmaster Tom Ormsby for burning the
mid-night oil putting together the Photo Video Tribute to our mutual
friend Bill Slater. Email
me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Calling Hours are Monday July 23rd from 4:00 to 7:00 P.M.
Tierney Funeral Home
219 West Center Street
Burial will be Private
NOTE: We have now put a comment box at the end of
the web site. Please feel free to leave your comments.
Another Week In The Books, And We Bid Farewell To An
Icon Of New England Modified Racing….
the photos of the late “Wild Bill” Slater in the Racing Through
Time archives (and there are many), this one remains a personal
favorite. After quite-handily conquering the ovals of his native New
England, Slater has just reached the zenith of his career in what
could only be considered the era’s crown jewel of Modified racing.
Gazing skyward flanked by the trophy queen and his car owners Bob
Vitari & Vic Bombaci, driving the potent #V8 coupe Slater has just
defeated a stellar field to take the 1965 Race of Champions at
Pennsylvania’s storied Langhorne Speedway. He was among the first
inductees into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 1998, while
Vitari & Bombaci took their places among our regions greatest in 2006.
(Photo Courtesy Tom Ormsby).
In the days before NASCAR gained a presence in New
England, it was the Tattersall family’s United Stock
Car Racing Club that reigned-supreme. One of the
organizations earliest stars was New England Auto
Racing Hall of Fame member the late “Moneybags”
Moe Gherzi seen here celebrating a victory.
Overwhelmingly recalled for competition of the
modified-variety, United also sanctioned a
successful “Late Model” division not-unlike what
NASCAR was busy developing in the Southern states.
Many of United’s top stars took a turn successfully
wheeling the full-fendered rides, and Moe was one of
them. That’s United’s late Harvey Tattersall Jr.
(also a Hall of Famer), on the right and Riverside
Park owner Ed Carroll, Sr. (Shany Photo).
Here’s another neat United shot which we think
was captured at old 1/5-miler at the late &
much-missed Riverside Park in Agawam, Massachusetts.
The driver is the much-accomplished Hoppy Jensen,
and the car is one of the famous #44 machines of New
England Auto Racing Hall of Famer
Fred "Sharkey” Gaudiosi
that play so-heavily in the history of modified
racing in New England. We really like the old
coach-bodied creations, and this one is a gem! (Shany
Not a scene often recorded at what was then known as the
“New London-Waterford” Speedbowl. See the guy
putting that nifty coupe on its nose? That’s none-other
than Don Collins, another New England Auto Racing
Hall of Fame member and absolutely one of the best to
have ever emerged from the Connecticut track
affectionately-nicknamed “The Shoreline Oval.”
Nobody has more wins in the Modified division at
Waterford than this racer. Though Collins also competed
at other venues, he spent much of his career at the
Speedbowl where he scored more than 100 features in both
Modified and Non-Ford competition along with five
Modified championships. The first title came in 1955,
the final in 1969. (Shany Photo).
It ranked among the most-terrifying accidents ever witnessed
in the Speedbowl’s then-short history, and during the last
event of 1954 the driver inside this flaming cut-down nearly
paid the ultimate price. Alas, the late “Hammerin’ Hank
Stevens” was from the old-mold; he overcame the results
of this accident in-which he received life threatening burns
and endured months of healing to return as a Speedbowl
winner. A flyweight-style of modified definitely not for the
faint of heart, Hank’s car was what was known as a
“cut-down” and this occurred when he was hit from behind and
his jerry-can fuel tank exploded. Earlier that season, poor
Jack Griffin had perished from injuries sustained when his
cut-down went into a violent series of flips in August. The
cut-downs were subsequently outlawed at all Connecticut
tracks prior to the start of the 1955 campaign, signaling a
return to the more-substantial full-coupes. (Shany Photo).
Captured here early in his career at Riverside Park, New
England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member, the late
Jerry Humiston was one of the premier-players within
Harvey Tattersall’s United Racing Club. Three-times a
track champion (1954, 59, and 61), he raced at The Park’
during what many consider the tracks most-competitive
era. One of the most-popular and accomplished drivers of
his time, Humiston’s prominent place in the history of
New England modified racing is rightly-deserved (Shany
This New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member needs
little-introduction to those of us who recall the true
“Glory Days” of New England short track racing. From his
HOF biography; Fred Luchesi’s career in racing
started in the late 1940’s, and lasted until his
retirement in the late 1960s. During that career, Fred
drove coupes, modifieds, midgets, and late models. He
competed againstnationally known drivers like
Fonty Flock, Red Byron, and Ted Tappett, and raced
against local drivers like Moon Burgess. Fred is modest
when asked about championships. “Oh, I dunno. Three at
Westboro, 2 or 3 at Lonsdale, 1 at Norwood, oh, and 3 at
Waterford”, Fred recalls. One year at Lonsdale, Fred
"Lead Foot” Luchesi took down every main event of the
season but one, finishing 2nd to NEAR Hall of
Farmer Dave Hunphrey in that race. Fred recalls those
early days in racing, when he’d load up his car with
race tires, tools, and his two man pit crew, and drive
the race car from Pawtucket, RI. all the way up to
Victoriaville in Canada for that day’s race. Another
early memory is those Sunday mornings driving the race
car to Thompson to compete. He would roll the car down
Slater Street in Pawtucket, and fire it up at the bottom
of the hill, in front of the St John the Baptist
church. It wasn’t until sometime later that a friend
informed Fred that every Sunday, when he fired up the
car, the service would be halted, and the priest would
take time to “bless that race car out in front of the
church”. (Shany Photo).
We really enjoy these early Shany “portrait shots”
of the pioneers of the sport, and this one’s a dandy!
One of the real chargers when Harvey Tattersall’s once
influential United Stock Car Racing Club ruled the New
England modified roost rather than NASCAR, Tommy
Sutcliffe enjoyed a long-reign at the front of the
pack. Twice a champion at Connecticut’s late West Haven
Speedway, he was a top competitor all over our region
for decades winning a boatload of features. This one
captures the guy nicknamed “Suitcase Sutcliffe”
(for reasons unknown to this scribe), when he was a part
of the starting field at Connecticut’s “New
London-Waterford” Speedbowl of the early 1960s.
As we all know, stock car racing can be a dangerous
business, and during its decades-long history, the
Waterford Speedbowl has not been immune to tragedy.
Pictured here early in his career (at a venue we’re
unsure-of), is John “Jack”K. Griffin who
holds the unfortunate distinction of being the shoreline
ovals singular racing fatality. On a Saturday evening in
August of 1954, he was racing his “cut-down” style coupe
in the Speedbowl Sportsman feature (a particularly-messy
event that had already experienced 2 red flag periods),
when another accident occurred directly in-front of him.
He tried to avoid the wreck, but clipped the wheel of
another competitor and rolled several times. Sadly, he
died of his injuries in the early hours of the next day
at Lawrence & Memorial Hospital in New London, CT. (Shany
Popular, young, and talented; Ed Moody was the
1962 track champion in the “New London-Waterford”
Speedbowl’s Bomber division, once an immensely-popular
class at the shoreline oval, and certainly a fertile
training-ground for some of that tracks greatest
modified drivers. Winner of 44 main events in the class,
he also scored a pair of modified features before
calling-it-a-day. (Shany Photo).
Captured following a win at Riverside in the potent
Czarnecki coupe, here’s a New England Modified shoe
who’s accomplishments in the sport have kind of
“slipped through the cracks”; he remains a
highly-underrated racer historically-speaking, and
the numbers prove-it. Starting his career in
Florida, Ronnie Wyckoff quickly became one of
the regions premier drivers after relocating
Northward in the early 1960s. A 3-time Riverside 500
champion, he found success at virtually all of New
England’s Modified venues during his long career,
and drove for the some of the best in car-owners. As
evidenced by his triple in the Riverside 500 events,
he was particularly good at the long-distance shows.
Though Plainville Stadium records are incomplete at
this time (we’re working on-it), it’s estimated that
Ronnie’s win-total at that track-alone approaches
40. Couple that with a parcel of victories at
Riverside Park between 1974-1980, and you have what
could only be considered a stellar career. (Shany
Speedway Line Report & Racing Through Time
Photo Video Tribute to our Friend Bill Slater
Note: Part 8 of the
2003 Nostalgia Weekend Video will return next week.
This was terrific,usta watch him race at Albany-Saratoga,we
never get to know the drivers as well as we should. A
character,for sure. Thanks guys,this was terrific.
(4 days ago) Nick Fontaine said:
Thanks for the great video tribute memories of one of
the greatest race car driver of all time, Wild Bill
Slater. Will be missed, remembered, but never
(4 days ago) Sonny Koszela said:
What a wonderful tribute. Thanks, Sonny and Henriette
Tony Mordino said:
Great Bill Slater Video & Column
The Web contributors (Tom & Dave) deserve recognition
and credit for their efforts. There are many people
including myself who look forward to their column every
week. This site has allowed us to re-live many precious
moments from Racing's past.
(5 days ago) Greg Goodspeed said:
Very nice! Bill won the first race that I went to,
(5 days ago) ray cote said:
great stuff. thanks
(5 days ago) Malcolm Phillips said:
I remember the night that Bill got out of the 11 car and
went right into the V 8. Thanks for the memories!
Gone...but not forgotten.
(5 days ago) Cal in clinton said:
(5 days ago) Marge Litteral said:
Great tribute to a "Great" driver
(5 days ago) Judy A. said:
Tears are flowing. Thank you for creating such a
beautiful tribute for one of our "Great" drivers. I
truly appreciate everyones dedication in keeping all the
history alive for all of us fans.
Larry F. said:
Great job guys. I remember going to the races at the
much missed Riverside park back in the early 60's. These
race car drivers were as tough as nails and had no fear.
They deserve a lot of respect which is what you did with
this video of Wild Bill Slater
thanks for the memories, bill. one of the ALL TIME
GREATS. a real race car driver!
(5 days ago) Dave Dykes said:
Folks, a special-thanks goes out to my friend &
Webmaster Tom Ormsby for putting-together the wonderful
video tribute on Bill for all of us to enjoy. Tom's been
a great partner in "RTT" for the last 3-plus years, and
it's def. been a joint-effort.
(5 days ago) Anonymous said:
(5 days ago) Mike Guerette said:
Thanks for the outstanding tribute for a true gentleman
and racer.I miss the stories he told at the pit gate at
(5 days ago) Ed P said:
Dave - that picture of the 44 has to be from about 1949.
notice the car doesn't even have the truck rear end with
the beefier axles yet, which didn't catch on until a few
(5 days ago) Mike Ray said:
Thank you;Brought tears to my eyes!What a great tribute!