Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday March 10, 2010

Volume 2, Number 8                                                                                      New Column Every Wednesday


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By Dave Dykes                                                                              CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE

This week opens on a somber-note as we mourn the loss of long-time Northeastern Midget Association car-owner and past club president Gene Angelillo, who passed-away on March 1. Long a supporter of Midget racing in New England, Gene’s cars won a record 14 NEMA championships. Our sincere condolences go out to his family & many friends. On a personal-note, I’ll forever miss Gene’s sincere hospitality during all my visits to his pit-side motorhome as Pete Zanardi and I followed the NEMA trail all-over New England for the last few seasons. Special-thanks go out to reader Mal Phillips for providing some of the shots used this week.  Email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com

Waterford, Plainville, Rhythm Inn, Etc….    

We open this week’s installment with a shot of a guy that accomplished just a thing-or-two in the realm of New England Modified racing. Captured here during the notorious “Cut-Down” era at the Connecticut shoreline’s “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl is our pal “Wild Bill” Slater. The car is one of the Congdon Bros. entries out of Salem, a small burg just up the road from the Bowl’. The team experienced unparalleled success at the track during the early days, enlisting the talents of only the most proficient of Waterford chauffeurs. Slater, a charter member of the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame later went-on to national success as the pilot of the famed Vitari-Bombaci V-8. Read more about Bill’s accomplishments at www.near1.com  (Shany Photo, Phillips collection).    

A couple of weeks-ago we ran an “unidentified” 1950’s-era Speedbowl shot of a driver seated behind the controls of a #266 Cut-Down (many-thanks to all of you that wrote identifying the racer in-question). That driver was none-other than Ray Moran. Here, he’s wheeling a “Full-Coupe”, and it’s one that bought him a great deal of success. Moran was one of the Speedbowl’s most-popular drivers during the formative years of the facility, which is presently gearing-up for its 60th-consectutive season. (Shany Photo, Phillips collection)    

Even guys as-good as the aforementioned Ray Moran have an off-night on occasion, and on this evening at the Speedbowl, he probably wished that he’d stayed home. His Coupe captured “belly-up” in the lens of long-time Speedbowl lensman Shany Lorenzent, note that the “fuel tank” has become dislodged and is laying on the track. If you ever doubt that racing safety has made great-strides over the years, remember this photo. Moran’s “tank” is actually a beer keg. It was common-practice to use them back-then (along with GI-issue “Jerry Cans”). It’s simply amazing that more of our sport’s pioneers weren’t injured as a result of fire. (Shany Photo, Phillips collection).   

It’s the fall of 1953, and the legendary Melvin “Red” Foote is captured here at a trackside ceremony celebrating his Speedbowl Sportsman championship. It was a banner-year for the man who was known to the Waterford faithful as the “Crafty Redhead.” He won an amazing seventeen features on-route to the title, defeating a stellar crop of New England standouts that included guys like Red Bolduc, Dave Humphrey, Fred Luchesi, and Don Collins. Presenting Red with the hardware is Rex Records, president of the United Stock Car Racing Club. At the left is a young Harvey Tattersall Jr., then club secretary. During New England’s pre-NASCAR days, United (started by Harvey Jr.’s father), was hands-down the most-powerful sanctioning body in the region. Both Foote and Tattersall are members of the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame. (Shany Photo).

It didn’t take a genius to recognize the extraordinary talent possessed by Bob Potter when he entered the sport as a Speedbowl Bomber class rookie back in the early-sixties. Within a few seasons, he was in the Modifieds, and winning – a tradition continuing for decades. This shot captures our friend Bob posing with the Modified Coupe that served as a springboard for the many successes to follow. The car was a beauty; maroon trimmed in gold – clearly one of the shoreline oval’s finest-looking pieces. A New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame Member, Potter scored multiple championships (6 at Waterford-alone), and hundreds of victories at Waterford, Thompson and Stafford. (Shany Photo coutesy of Ginny Potter-Gayton)

Here’s a real curiosity. Though the driver is recognizable as New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer Rene Charland during his days as a young Modified pilot, it’s the car that stands-out with its rather unorthodox design features (note the hood). Posing with his driver is innovative fifties-era car builder Arnold Delisle of Massachusetts. Rather than relying on conventional powerplants of the day, Delisle chose for his Coupe a war-surplus Lycoming aircraft engine. Air-cooled, the setup required no radiator which resulted in a lower-than-normal profile at the front. With its carburetor housed on the bottom of the engine (with no filter), dirt would find its way into the engine, requiring a ring-job every four races or-so. While the car was uncompetitive on the shorter tracks, it reportedly howled on the long ovals. The shot was captured at the Rhythm Inn Speedway, a Millers Falls, MA. dirt 1/3-miler that operated from 1951-1959. (Photographer Unknown).

We really like this early-70’s infield shot of Plainville Stadium strongman Dave Alkas in the Roland Cyr-owned Coupe. A longtime standout at the late Connecticut facility, he notched 5 track championships there in a 10 year period. Competing regularly against Plainville alumni like Reggie Ruggiero, Stan Gregor, and Ronnie Rocco, he routinely bested the field, notching eleven feature wins in one season-alone. He won regularly during those great Plainville mid-week 100-lap open competition shows, beating visitors like Ed Flemke, Sr., Ron and Ken Bouchard, Bob Stefanik, and Ron Wyckoff. The most successful Modified driver in Plainville Stadium history, Alkas was inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 2008. (Hoyt Photo).         

Though I literally grew-up at Connecticut’s Waterford Speedbowl, by the time I became old-enough to drive, it was time for a few “road trips” to places I’d long been reading-about in publications like Speedway Scene, Pro Speed Review, and of-course, Cavalcade of Auto Racing. Where’s the first place I headed? Why, Plainville Stadium, of course! It was because of colorful drivers and cars like the one seen here that I was so-attracted to the place. Coupes & Coaches were seemingly still the norm at Tinty’s place long-after they were abandoned at the other three Connecticut ovals. Captured here seated behind the controls of the Ron Beckman-owned Coupe is Stadium’ front-runner, Dennis “The Greek” Chavaris. As a bit of trivia, our webmaster Tom Ormsby (who correctly identified Dennis as the driver for me), states that he eventually ended-up with the neat lightweight aluminum wheels seen here for his own #60 Coupe. This car was eventually destroyed in an accident at Riverside Park with Fred Colassa behind the wheel. (Kennedy Photo).      

The bushy-haired youngster holding the cherished checkered flag in Plainville Stadium’s victory lane is none other than one Ronnie Rocco. Working his way-up though the Stadium’s support classes, he became one of the tracks most prolific winners during the ¼-miler’s waning seasons. After the Stadium’s closure at the dawn of the 1980’s, the popular Rocco became a sensation in the ranks of the SK Modifieds, scoring many wins particularly at the Waterford Speedbowl. Ronnie is the father Keith Rocco, one of today’s most successful New England Modified drivers. (Kennedy Photo).

By the time Waterford Speedbowl campaigner Jiggs Beetham debuted this beautiful entry dubbed the “Golden Hurricane” during the 1970’s the timeless profiles of the once-popular Coupes and Coaches were all-but-gone on the New England Modified racing landscape. Like everything-else Beetham constructed during his many decades in the sport, the car was absolutely-flawless, and a real head-turner. This one captures him on Connecticut’s Thompson Motor Speedway pit lane readying for some high-banked hot laps. Jiggs would later hang-up his helmet and team with driver Bob Potter to form one of the most successful Modified teams in the region. (Kennedy Photo).

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

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