Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday June 17, 2009

Volume 1, Number 25                                                                                       New Column Every Wednesday


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This week we cover a wide-variety of racers, touching on everyone from a few “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl throttle-jockeys to some guys that made quite the impact on a national level. Join us as we “Race Through Time” yet again! Best Wishes for a speedy recovery go out to Peg & Al Gaudreau of “Buddha’s Bullet” fame following their recent stints in the “crash house”. Last we heard, Peg & “Buddha” were doing-well, and that’s a great-thing!  Contact me at foreveryounginct@yahoo.com

This Week, It’s “A Little Bit Of Everything…..”.         

This guy is a Hall of Fame member of the following; The New York Stock Car Association, Fonda Speedway, Dirt Motorsports, Eastern Press Association, and of course, was a 2002 inductee of the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame. He’s also a member of Daytona's Living Legends of Auto Racing – no minor accolade. Pictured here during a coupe-era outing in his signature # 33, the career of the much-celebrated Bill Wimble began during the early-fifties in New York State. The winner of the 1960 NASCAR National Sportsman Championship, like many of his contemporaries he maintained a super-hectic schedule. During 1967-alone, Wimble competed every weekend at three New York tracks, Utica-Rome, Albany-Saratoga, and Fonda. Amazingly-enough, he was crowned track champion at all of them! Also a force to be reckoned-with in Connecticut, Wimble was particularly-successful on the former dirt-surface of the Stafford Springs Motor Speedway. (Grady Photo).    

While mostly associated with the famed Vitari & Bombaci #V-8 Coupes of New England short-track fame, “Wild Bill” Slater also excelled on the super-speedways of the era. However, that’s not to say that the much-feared # V-8 wasn’t up-to-snuff on the tarmac of the longer venues. He did, after-all, snare the prestigious Langhorne Race of Champions and four events at Trenton for his pals Bob & Vic. As a departure, he also piloted this immaculate Studebaker-bodied mount on the high-banks. This photo was taken at Daytona in the early 60's. One of the most-heralded racers of his time, he was among the first to be inducted into the New England Auto Racing hall of Fame in 1998. (Photographer unknown).

The late Tommy Van Epps was a standout Non-Ford division driver and fan-favorite in early action at the “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl. This ancient Shany Lorenzet image captures him during the summer of 1954.  That year saw Van Epps capture twelve of his twenty career-wins in the division as well as the track championship. The Non-Fords were a highly-regulated alternative to the Modified/Sportsman class, the latter being overwhelmingly propelled by Ford “flathead” powerplants (then the standard of high-performance in stock car racing). It was very competitive racing, with many top Modified/Sportsmen guys also running in the class. (Shany Photo).  

Seen here is a young Don Moon during the sixties at Malta in upstate New York. Moon, one of the best-ever at the late Plainville Stadium, traveled extensively during the early days of his career tasting success at a number of venues miles-away from his Nutmeg State home base. One of the few former Plainville regulars that can also lay-claim to scoring victory with the fabled Southern New York Racing Association of the Danbury Fair Racearena, today Moon pilots a replica of his famed “Flying 9” Pinto Modified on the NEAR circuit. (Grady Photo).

Sometimes getting-there is half the fun….. In the days before high-dollar enclosed trailers became the norm for even support-division competitors, guys had to improvise in getting their stuff to the race track. In this case, that “guy” is none-other than the late, great Pete Cory (AKA “The Crescent Hillbilly”). Pete simply hitched an open trailer to his already heavily-laden ramp truck, and Presto, instant Multi-Car-Team Hauler! One of the true greats of Modified racing, Corey rebounded from a devastating early-career injury in-which he lost a leg to keep on winning, winning, and winning. His battles on the dirt of the legendary Fonda Speedway in upstate New York with Billy Wimble are still talked-about today (Grady Photo)

Another of the early top-shoes at Waterford was the ultra-popular Arthur “Red” Bolduc. Widely considered one of the best of the notorious “cut-down” era, Bolduc experienced most of his success at a venue northward of the shoreline oval, the late Norwood Arena in Massachusetts. Unfortunately, that much-acclaimed speedplant would also be his undoing. On the evening of June 18 1960, Bolduc and his Coach slapped the Norwood wall with devastating impact. The unlucky Red passed-away the next day from his injuries, thus ending the life and career of one of our regions greatest racers. Life could be very fragile in the early-days of out sport. (Shany Photo).

Seen here during one of his infrequent dirt Modified outings (though he did capture a title at Rolling Wheels in 1970), is Syracuse, N.Y. native Jim Shampine, simply one of the best-ever Super Modified racers in the history of our sport. It was the half-mile Oswego Speedway in upstate New York that made him a star. He captured a record eighty-seven Super features along with five Modified shows in a career at the “Steel Palace” that saw him annex the championship seven-times. Tragically, Jim also lost his life at Oswego, perishing in a Modified crash on Labor Day weekend in 1982. Note the rather radical-appearance of this Pinto. “The Pine” was always known to push-the-envelope in the art of car-construction. (Grady Photo).

My long-time friend, noted Racing Historian RA Silvia and I have always good-naturedly teased each other about the “weird-looking” cars at the tracks we most frequent, Waterford (my former Sat. night post), and Seekonk (his current weekly haunt). Fact-is, both venues have always had great-looking machines. Ole’ RA is going to love this-one. Caught pitside at Waterford sometime during the Nixon administration is the positively-radical Coach of journeyman Modified shoe Walt Perkins. If the eye-popping paint scheme doesn’t grab your attention, that unconventional front-suspension certainly will. That’s “Uncle Don” Steiner in a Corvair-bodied mount in the foreground. (Dugas Photo).       

Here we have UNITED standout and New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer, Billy “Gramps” Greco and crew prior to the start of one of the great Modified events that were formally staged each season on the grounds of the Springfield Exposition Center in Massachusetts. Note the “STP” outfits. You gotta’ wonder if that purveyor of all-things STP, Andy Granatelli, was somewhere in the massive crowd that used to converge on these shows. (Grady Photo).

The final entry on this week’s docket captures the late “Hammerin’ Hank” Stevens behind the controls of a car that’s sure to be familiar with historically astute sixties-era Speedbowl fans, the “Campanali Four-Star” Coupe. Stevens was there from the very-start, and overcame a devastating accident in the fifties in-which he received life-threatening burns to return as one of Waterford’s finest. A versatile shoe, Hank also tasted success within the ranks on the Midget circuit. (Shany Photo).

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

 
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