Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday March 25, 2009

Volume 1, Number 11                                                                                      New Column Every Wednesday


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By Dave Dykes                                                                              CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE

This edition of “Racing Through Time” presents a myriad of images from the “old daze”. We’ll take a look at some Waterford Speedbowl stars from the past, as well as some members of the prestigious New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame. Get-Well wishes go out to noted former New England Modified shoe and NEAR member Don Moon, who spent a few days in the “Crash House”. And with that…..
 Email goes to foreveryoung@yahoo.com

Speedbowl Memories Sprinkled With A Few
Hall Of Famers….

First on this week’s agenda is a shot of Billy “Gramps” Greco. A New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer, he was an absolute master of the short oval, honing his skills at tight little joints like the late West Haven Speedway and the much-missed 1/5-miler at Riverside Park. A darling of the old Harvey Tattersall-led United circuit (once the most influential sanctioning group in New England), in later-years he also became a winner at the ultra-competitive Danbury Fair Racarena. He’s seen here at Riverside Park in his familiar # 43. Billy’s as popular today as he ever-was, and can really enlighten you on the history of the sport. If you get a chance to chat with him, please do! (Grady Photo).  

The second Hall of Famer this week is synonymous with the Waterford Speedbowl, but his accomplishments within the realm of New England Modified racing actually reach further than his legendary feats at the shoreline oval. Already a big winner by the arrival of the SK Modifieds, Bob Potter took full-advantage of the class in nailing multiple championships at all of Connecticut’s ovals. This shot captures a young Potter with car owner Norm Kies, who employed only the best chauffeurs to steer his creations. Never officially retired, the ever-youthful Potter could undoubtedly teach today’s racers a trick-or-two should he ever decide to don the Nomex again. (Dugas Photo).   

Classic car aficionados must cringe in pain when they recall the amount of “Tri-Five” Chevrolets that were cobbled-up in the name of racing at Waterford over the years, but they were once standard fare in the Speedbowl’s support divisions. Pictured here in the early-70’s is “Uncle Don” Steiner, a standout driver in the old Daredevil/Sportsman Sedan/Grand American classes. Also a proficient open-wheel racer, Don’s greatest career accomplishments came while behind the wheel of rigs like this. (Dugas Photo).    

Bob Tetreault made the scene at Waterford with this neat little Coupe back in the 1960’s. Note the homemade headers, street rubber on the left-front, and the stock frame. Instead of flipping-through the pages of a catalog and opening a check book, builders of this era relied on sheer Yankee Ingenuity and acquired garage skills to propel their creations to the winners circle. It was a far-cry from today’s situation where ever-increasing costs are forcing more and more teams to call it a day. (Dugas Photo).

It seems as long as there’s been a Speedbowl, there’s been a member of the Gada clan entering victory lane. Captured here with his early-70’s Daredevil entry is Bob Gada Sr. who still holds-court pitside every week, making sure things in the latest version of the family racing effort run smoothly. Few families can claim more track titles and victories at a single track than the Gada’s have at Waterford, and they just keep winning and winning and winning…. (Dugas Photo).

As captured here, Richard “Dick” Harlow debuted this “flat-roof” Coupe at Waterford in 1968, a year which saw the great Newt Palm claim his third Modified title while behind the wheel of the legendary L&M. Harlow had the foresight to hang-on to his old ride after hanging-up the helmet in the 70’s, and today campaigns it every summer with the New England Antique Racers. With the exception of some added modern safety features, the car remains as-raced, right down to the lacquer paint! (Dugas Photo).

For years, Don Lajoie dominated Southern New York Racing Association action at the now-shuttered Danbury Park Racerena. His son Randy went-on to fame with NASCAR. When this late Coupe-era shot was captured, he was a surprise visitor to the Speedbowl. Wielding a coach with a SNYRA-mandated flathead that was supposed to be underpowered in comparison to the overheads used by the Bowl’ troops, Ole’ Don went-out and showed em’. He took his heat by a wide margin, scoring the first Modified win by a “flattie” in years. (Shany Photo).

Seen here in the 1960’s, his Coupe sporting a racy primer coat finish is the affable Lou Caso. Never-quite reaching the level of success of that OTHER Speedbowl Caso (as in “Daring Dick”), Lou was nevertheless, a popular and winning shoe during his era. (Dugas Photo).   

Like “Uncle Don” Steiner mentioned earlier, Wayne “Mr. Mysterious” Smith claimed most of his Speedbowl success in the support-division classes, his full-fender endeavors of the championship variety. As this shot illustrates, “Mt. Mysterious” also turned some laps in the Modified wars, this sharp Coupe being one of his earlier efforts. (Dugas Photo). 

Anyone that was around during what’s widely considered the “Golden Era” of New England Modified racing is sure to recognize this guy. The late Booker T. Jones joined the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 2003. Upon his induction, award-winning racing journalist Bones Bourcier commented that “He drove NASCAR Modifieds around the Northeast for what seemed like a hundred years, and yet when he passed at the age of 74, it was not his racing you remembered. It was his friendly smile, his big right hand shaking yours. He was everybody’s buddy.” The consummate low-buck operator, Jones made-due with equipment that was often less than that of his competitors. He remained a popular figure at New England raceways long after his days behind the wheel were over. (Grady Photo).

Back in the early days when 3-digit car numbers were all the rage, Nick Dinsmore fielded this Coupe at the Speedbowl. While examining the photos for this edition of Racing through Time, I noticed that this is actually the same car as wheeled by Bob Tetreault, also featured in this installment. Again, check-out the skinny 78-series street tire on the left-front. If anyone knows the association between these two teams, please feel-free to drop me a line! (Dugas Photo).

During April of 1976, Stafford Springs Motor Speedway ran an open competition event dubbed “The Race”. An overwhelming success, the show drew competitors from a wide variety of tracks, including Waterford. Pictured here at “The Race” is a young Mark LaJeunesse, who for a time during the 70’s, made Stafford his team’s home-base. As youths, both he and his sister Donna had been successful Quarter Midget racers. Upon returning home from the Armed Services in 1972, he started his Modified career at Waterford in this car, a revamped ex-Ed Yerrington entry. Like Potter, LaJeunesse has never officially retired from the game. These days, he helps oversee the efforts of his son Danny’s team at the Thompson Speedway. (Kennedy Photo).

Two-words come to mind when writing about this driver. “Class Act” is the perfect term to use when extolling the career accomplishments of one Ray Miller. Inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 2002, here’s an excerpt from his HOF biography; Ray Miller grew up around racecars. His father teamed with Red Lataille to own the #1 Lataille/Miller Offy, which ran out of the Miller's garage in East Granby, CT. Ray's dad ran the ARDC circuit, often racing 7 nights per week, and finished 2nd to Nick Fonoro, Sr. in 1950. Ray's dad raced in the 1940's and '50's. Ray competed from the 1960's into the '80's. By the early 1980's, he was winning regularly at Stafford and Riverside, driving the familiar Rainbow Farm #01 for owner Mike Greci. He also won a Thompson 300, and finished 3rd in the Pocono Race of Champions. He drove the Bill Simons #9 to victories at area tracks, including a prestigious Mod Tour victory at the Waterford Speedbowl in 1985.” On a personal level, Miller was one of the first “Big Names” I latched-onto as a young fan first venturing-away from the Speedbowl. His son, the late and much-missed Jay Miller was a popular SK driver who conducted his career much in the same manner as his dad. Ray remains the same today as he did during his racing career – simply a “Class Act”. (Grady Photo#1)(Tom Ormsby Collection#2)

Last in this week’s column is a shot of a driver who in this scribes opinion, remains one of the most underrated drivers in Speedbowl history. Dale Holdridge started his career during the heyday of the Coupes, and ended it in the high-tech machinery of the modern era. Another of those racers that won both the respect of his peers and a legion of faithful fans, Holdridge simply showed-up, did his thing with little fanfare, and won a bunch of races along the way. This Coupe-era shot was donated by Chuck Bowen, son of the late and well-known builder/racer Owen Bowen. It was Owen who crafted the body on this radical little Coupe. (Dugas Photo).

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