Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday June 1, 2011

 Volume 3, Number 21                                                                                     New Column Every Wednesday


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By Dave Dykes                                                                              CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE

And here we go for another lap around the “old daze.” The big news this week for all of us interested in the history of our sport happens this Sunday, June 5, as the 7th Annual Norwood Arena Reunion takes the green flag. To be held at Bezema Motors on US Rt. 1 in Norwood, Mass. on the Auto Mile, for more information visit our friends at the Norwood Arena Speedway Historical website at www.norwoodarena.com Hope to see all of you there! As-always, email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com        

Yup, It’s Wednesday And You Know What That Means; More Old Stuff

Starting this week’s column we have a nice shot of New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member George Summers during his days as a Cut-Down chauffer at Norwood Arena. Silenced forever in 1972, the fondly-remembered Massachusetts ¼-miler was a hotbed of racing action featuring the biggest names in the sport for decades. This weekend on Sunday June 5, the memories will be rekindled at the 7th Annual Norwood Arena Reunion to be held at Bezema Motors on US Rt. 1 in Norwood, Mass., the Auto Mile. For more information visit our friends at the Norwood Arena Speedway Historical website www.norwoodarena.com I know I’ll be there Sunday! (White Photo).  

Its Memorial Day 1949, and things are about to get underway at Joe Tinty’s Plainville Stadium in Connecticut. That’s Ted Tappett on the pole, followed by Tommy Coates, Dick Eagan, Ray Nester, Ray Brown, and Ernie Gessell. Sadly, Plainville closed at the dawn of the 1980s, but not before gaining its reputation as one of the most competitive ¼-milers in New England. In looking at the archives, it seems that just-about all of the best drivers of modified racing competed at Plainville during its long history. In-particular, the mid-week open competition shows routinely drew the biggest names in the sport. (Solomone Photo, Courtesy R.A. Silvia).  

And here we have a nice early shot of New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member, the late Chauncey "Jocko" Maggiacomo. From his HOF biography; Chauncey "Jocko" Maggiacomo won the first race he started, driving a motorcycle in Milbrook, N.Y., in 1931. In 1937, he drove his first midget, then switched to stock cars when he returned from serving in World War II. Jocko was so successful that in 1948, his first year back to racing, he won over $13,000. In the 1930’s racers had few of the safety features available for today’s stock cars. In a NEARNEWS interview in 1995, Jocko recalled strapping into his racer with an extra wide leather belt, while wearing a leather helmet that “wouldn’t do much more than hold my hair in place.” Finding that milk delivery tires were more durable than standard passenger tires, Jocko ran them until tires were made specifically for racing application. Jocko was equally successful on both dirt and asphalt. He achieved great success on the 1/5 mile asphalt bull ring at Riverside Park Speedway where he was an early winner. He is credited with winning 31 Saturday night features and three championships in 1952, 53, and 55. He was also very successful in the late model Grand American division of Harvey Tattersall’s United Stock Car Racing Club. Most of his wins came while driving cars owned by Gordon Ross, Bob Oliver, and the Garuti bros. He retired as a driver after competing in the 1965 Riverside Park 500 lap race. (McDowell Photo, Courtesy R.A. Silvia).                            

Phil Walters, AKA Ted Tappett, is another New England racing legend, and like the aforementioned Maggiacomo, he too is a member of the Hall of Fame. From his bio; Phil Walters, AKA Ted Tappett, was born in 1916 in New York City. After running street rods as a teenager, Walters turned to midget racing. He won in his first outing in a midget, and then finished his "rookie" season by taking down 11 victories and 11 second place finishes in 45 starts. His second year saw him in victory lane for 26 consecutive races. He dominated at the Riverside Park Speedway, becoming their first track champion in 1949. An innovative car builder as well as racer, Walters and partner Bill Frick built Fordillacs, a kind of customized Cadillac powered Ford. He met one of his customers, Briggs Swift Cunningham II, at Watkins Glen in 1949. Cunningham talked to him about racing at the 24 Hours of LeMans, and the two teamed up in June of 1950. Walters and Cunningham finished a respectable 11th at LeMans in their Northstar LMP endurance racer. Walters had set the standard for auto racing by 1955, when tragedy struck. Phil had signed to drive for Ferrari, and was 2 hours into the 24 hours at LeMans when he saw a Mercedes fly off the track and into a crowd of fans. 83 people died instantly, and another 16 died later, in the worst tragedy in the history of racing. "I decided at that point", Walters said later, "that if that's what can happen in this business, I think it's time to get out. So I retired right there on the spot." Walters operated the Walters Donaldson VW-Audi dealership in Hicksville, N.Y. for several years after retiring from racing, and took up sailing as an avocation, becoming a very accomplished sailor. He retired to Florida with his wife, Sheila in the early '90s. He passed- away on February 6, 2000 at the age of 83. (McDowell Photo, Courtesy R.A. Silvia).       

Here we have a nice shot of car owner Roland Cyr, who teamed with driver Dave Alkas simply dominated the action at Plainville Stadium for years with his potent #54 creations (to the tune of 5 track championships in a 10-year period). A resident of Burlington, CT. Cyr’s mechanical innovations placed him among the most successful car builders to have ever called Plainville home. Alkas was inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall if Fame in 2008. (Phil Hoyt Photo)                  

Something you didn’t see very often at Plainville; Dave Alkas involved in a wreck. On this Saturday night in the 1970s, Ronnie Rocco (father of 2010 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series National champion Keith Rocco), landed right in the door of Dave’s Roland Cyr-owned coupe. The action within the confines of the fast little ¼-miler could often get pretty-intense as this shot illustrates (Phil Hoyt Photo).     

The “Alkas Connection” at Plainville was a far-reaching endeavor, as Dave wasn’t the only family member to claim the checkers. Pictured here following a coupe-era feature victory is brother Fred Alkas who was also a very successful modified shoe. In addition to Dave & Fred, there was yet-another brother named George, who was a modified winner at The Stadium. Sadly, the popular George perished in a highway during the early 1980s before reaching his full potential as a racer. (Phil Hoyt Photo).                  

We admittedly don’t know much about Plainville chauffer Bill Black, but we sure do like the looks of his sanitary little coupe. A typical early-1970s creation, his ride is a good representation of the machines that called “Tinty’s Place” home every Saturday night. Plainville always had some great-looking cars, and this was one of them! (Phil Hoyt Photo).                 

It’s a balmy August Saturday evening at Connecticut’s “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl during the 1958 season, and the shoreline oval is hosting a special guest. Standing 5th from the right is 1952 NASCAR National Modified champion Frankie Schneider. Considered one of the best in the business, Schneider won an estimated 750 feature races during a career that spanned over 3-decades. At the height of his career, he routinely ran eight races per week (in several classes). He reportedly scored at least 100 wins in 1958. He won the Langhorne National Open, the country's most noted event for Sportsman and Modified racers, in 1954 and again in 1962. He scored his last feature win in 1977 at the 1/2-mile dirt track Nazareth Speedway. Among the Speedbowl drivers celebrating Schneider’s visit in this timeless image are Don Collins, Red Foote, “Wild Bill” Slater, Hank Stevens, Ron Narducci, Dick Beauregard, Ray Delisle, and Johnny Thompson. (Shany Photo).                     

Popular legend dictates that it was fellow competitor, the great Kenny Shoemaker that dubbed him the “Crescent Hillbilly” after an on-track altercation left “The Shoe” stammering for the proper choice of words. It’s also been said that Pete Corey rather-enjoyed the moniker that was a nod to his geographic origins in the capital district of New York State. In actuality, Corey and Shoemaker may have waged many battles on the track, but there was a vast degree of respect shared between the two legendary racers. This classic John Grady image captures Pete with his Rock Garden Pharmacy-sponsored Studebaker at what we believe to be New York State’s Fonda Speedway. (Grady Photo).

Lastly, we have a nice Stafford Springs Motor Speedway “at-speed” shot of our friend “Big John” Jarush. A familiar sight on the speedways of New England for a number of seasons, John started his career at Plainville behind the controls of a straight-axle modified coupe that he purchased for the princely sum of $800.00 with trailer (try doing that today!).  Says John about his racing career; I will say racing the modified with Richie, Bugsy, Brett, Charlie J, and all the rest of the guys that ran then was the best racing. It was the most fun I had. Maybe I didn’t beat the best, but I can always say I raced with the best!” John retired from driving in the early 1990s, but stays active in the sport today as the crew chief on the Peter Portante Allison Legacy team. (Photo Courtesy Tom Ormsby). 

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

 
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