Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday March 4, 2009

Volume 1, Number 10                                                                                       New Column Every Wednesday


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By Dave Dykes                                                                              CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE

For week-one of March, we offer a varied selection of subject matter. Everything from the efforts of a son to recreate a car that was crafted by his late father, to a little snippet on a Canadian driver that was certainly bound for greatness before his brilliant racing career was cut-short by a devastating accident. As always, enjoy your stay at my little slice of cyberspace. Email goes to foreveryoung@yahoo.com

The “Racin’ Rambler” Makes A Return,
And Other Vintage Topics

Chuck Bowen, son of celebrated Speedbowl car builder and driver the late Owen Bowen (see his profile in last week’s installment), contacted me recently to report that he’s in the process of replicating a car that was crafted by his father and driven to much Speedbowl success by the late “Wild Bill” Scrivener. Chuck had been searching for the “Racin’ Rambler” for quite some-time, and finally hit pay-dirt via placing an ad in the NEAR newsletter. The former owner had already started the project, so Chuck has a great canvas to work-with. It’s seen here in its present-state. His plans are to finish the car and campaign it with NEAR as a tribute to both his dad, and “Wild Bill” who scored his final Waterford career victory with the car on Easter Sunday of 1974. (Bowen Photo).

And here’s a great shot of the exciting “Wild Bill” Scrivener during his early-70’s heyday driving that “Racin’ Rambler”.  As relayed above, he notched his last win with the little AMC-bodied machine, and it was no-fluke on that chilly Easter afternoon in 1974. Completing the top-10 was defending track champion Dick Dunn, NEAR Hall of Famer “Gentleman Dick” Watson, Jerry Dostie, Art Moran, Joey Trudeau, Nels Wholstrom, Donnie Bunnell, Mark LaJeunesse, and Lou Herman. Ron “Boots” Cote won the accompanying Sportsman Sedan feature (his third-straight). The next week however, it was an outsider taking the laurels. The Great Ollie Silva displayed a history-making performance in winning the Hott Wheels 100 open-comp show, lapping the field several times and setting a new lap record of 16.48. (Shany Photo).   

George Allum was an absolute terror in this flawless coupe during the early-70’s, and was a serious contender to break the stranglehold that Dick Dunn seemingly had on the era’s track championships. In addition to taking several weekly features, he also defeated a stellar field of outsiders to take the checkers in the Hott Wheels 100 of 1973, the year in which this image was captured. Another of the many racers that hailed from nearby Norwich (once a veritable “Gasoline Alley” for successful Bowl’ teams), Allum is the brother-in-law of veteran Waterford Modified competitor Mark LaJeunesse. Today George is retired, and along with wife Joyce enjoying the warmer climate of the South. (Shany Photo). 

In later years, hometown driver Terry Peabody gained notoriety as a top motor-builder via his successful “Peabody Performance” endeavor. When this early shot was taken, he was a Speedbowl wheelman for veteran car-owner Sonny Brooks. The car was built and maintained in neighboring New London. Ironically, even though the “Whaling City” is just over the town-line, with few exceptions it was never-known as a hotbed of activity for things-racing. The local motorsports community was saddened when the popular Peabody passed-away at a relatively young-age just a few seasons-ago. (Dugas Photo).

Like Peabody, Mark Geer was a local kid who at a young age became seduced by the sites and sounds coming from race night at 1080 Hartford Turnpike. He’s seen here with another version of the Brooks Corvair. In later years, Geer continued his association with the Speedbowl as an official. (Dugas Photo).

Nicknamed the “The Southern Gent”, Bill Grainger was just-fine with the moniker bestowed upon him by the Speedbowl’s announcing team. Hailing from North Carolina, he’d garnered an impressive racing resume by the time of his arrival in CT. courtesy of Uncle Sam’s Navy. While stationed at the Sub Base in nearby Groton, Grainger & crew ran a seemingly-massive 1957 Plymouth entry in early-70’s Daredevil division action. This victory lane shot captures him surrounded by family. With his number a nod to “The King” and a roof adorned with a giant Rebel flag, there was no mistaking the fact that this Southern boy meant business! (Shany Photo).

Think they didn’t pile-em’-up in the old days? Think again….. In another Coupe-era skirmish of epic-proportions at the Bowl’, the late “Fred “Fuzzy” Baer found himself on-top of the heap (and not in a good-way). The other guys involved in the mess are Seabury Tripler (M), and Glynn Shafer (6). Just another Saturday night at Waterford! (Shany Photo).

Now don’t get me wrong, Glynn Shafer certainly won a ton of races at Waterford, and I count him as one of the guys that inspired me to become involved in this game. Meeting him a few years-ago remains a truly-cherished memory. But boy, he could tear-up his share of equipment! Fans were no-doubt shocked to see the engine of his #6 bouncing down the track after he’d managed to shear the entire front-clip off of his Coupe. Not to worry, Glynn emerged unscathed from this early-70’s debacle, and in short-order was once-again visiting victory lane on a routine-basis! (Shany Photo).

Another view of Shafer’s sacrificed Coupe. Think his crew burned some “Midnight Oil” in putting this one back-together? (Shany Photo).

Though it says “Jay” on the door, the young throttle-jockey behind the controls of this cool little Plainville Coupe is actually our Webmaster, “Tommy” Ormsby (known as “Tom” now that he’s a grownup). Let’s have him elaborate on the origin of the #Vo; “The "Jay" on the car is Jay "Jags" Palmer, who pretty-much was my entire pit crew at the time. I recall he painted the number on the car and put his name on the door,” he says. “I'm pretty sure this is the first time I had this car out as the #Vo. I ended-up going through the wall with it in June of 72’. I had just got out of the Air Force a couple of months earlier and purchased it from "Spud” Cray, it was his #1.

Spud and Bob Mikulak drove it, and I raced it a few times. Jay painted-over the #1 and put the #Vo on it. If you look good at the driver’s suit, it’s one of the several "flight suits" I confiscated from the Air Force. It had a thousand zippers & pockets. The helmet has a "peace sign" on the front, and I bought it at W.T. Grants choosing it because it was the only one with a visor. This was probably the first race of the season. The Getty sticker came from Fred Haddad, who had Freddy's Getty for years, located up the street from the track. He sponsored us, giving me free gas.” Now retired and living in Florida, Tom is the man behind a number of successful racing websites including www.vintagemodifieds.com , www.speedwaylinereport.com , www.racingremembrances.net , and of course, the one you’re visiting right now. Few contribute more to the New England racing scene via the Internet than Mr. Ormsby. (Phil Hoyt Photo).

Pictured here with one of his earliest rides, Mike Beebe remained a faithful Waterford Modified competitor for ages. His winning career spanned a period that saw great technological strides in the sport. While it all started during the much-heralded “Coupe Era” as captured here, his run as a top Modified chauffer concluded in an age of “store-bought” chassis, ultra high-dollar motors, and contemporary tin-work. He remained a class-act and a threat to win right-up until his retirement from the division. More recently, he’s been involved in Legends racing (Dugas Photo).

Popular Canadian Modified star Dennis Giroux was in the throes of a brilliant career when tragedy struck and he was severely injured in a crash at Stafford Springs Speedway during the 1974 season. In a coma for months after the accident, Giroux later recovered, but never returned to racing. Many in New England feel that he would have been the next to follow in the footsteps of former Modified success and 1970 Daytona 500 winner Pete Hamilton in making-it within the big-leagues of the NASCAR Cup’ Series. This image captures a youthful Giroux with one of his early Coupes. (Grady Photo).

And here we have a shot of a young Rod Sellar behind the controls of his families Vega Modified at Waterford in 1982. Rod is the son of Bob Sellar, who campaigned one of the first-ever Speedbowl Street Stock entries when the class debuted in 1977 (look for a feature on him soon). Today, the Sellar clan is very involved with The New England Antique Racers (NEAR), in an administrative capacity in addition to campaigning a vintage Pinto-bodied Modified with the club. (Kennedy Photo).

Speaking of Waterford’s Street Stock class of the 70’s, it’s interesting to note that the class produced a number of entries that fell outside the realm of the usual “All-Chevy Parade”. Pictured here is the Ford Fairlane machine of Gary Deleah, one of the earliest competitors in the division. These things were true STOCK cars. Note the 78-series rubber and factory body panels, Most of these machines ran a “Jerry Can” setup rather than a fuel-cell like today’s machines. Experiencing many a fine-run, Deleah and his Ford were regular fixtures at the front of the pack. (Kennedy Photo). 

OK, perhaps Fords were a bit more common as Street Stocks than earlier stated (come to think of-it, Ed Reed Sr. garnered a championship while behind the controls of one of Henry’s creations). This guy is well-known as a multi-time Mini Stock champ, but back in 1978 he employed the stylings of a Fairlane to wage-war in the Street Stocks. In my brief and unspectacular career as a racer in the summer of 78’, Bruce Thomas Sr. was the first guy to spin me-out in the car pictured here. Winning runs in the family, as Bruce Jr. has emerged as a multi-time Late Model champion. (Kennedy Photo).

Tom Fox has skillfully raced everything from Street Stocks as captured here in the late-70’s, to today’s SK Modifieds. That’s a young “Tommy” on the left, and his dad Ron “Sly” Fox on the right. Like Thomas, the Fox clan hailed from across-the-river in Groton. At the time of this shot they were at the top of their game, successfully fielding a 3-car team that also included Ed Yerrington Jr. Sly is still a fixture in the Speedbowl paddock, and Tom has assumed a management role in the current Eames-led administration at the shoreline oval. (Kennedy Photo).

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