Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday March 17, 2010

Volume 2, Number 8                                                                                      New Column Every Wednesday


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By Dave Dykes                                                                              CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE


This week we again thank our friend and faithful “RTT” reader Mal Phillips for reaching into his collection and presenting us with a couple of first-class Shany shots from the “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl. On a sad note, it was learned that longtime Speedbowl competitor Dave Zemke passed-away on Sunday, March 7. Dave was a good-guy, and I’ll forever remember his smile and welcoming handshake whenever I visited his pit area during my days at Waterford. Also, please say a prayer for New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer. Richard “Moon” Burgess who’s been recently felled by a serious illness.  Email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com

Time Travel – “MODIFIED STYLE”    

Seen here in 1966 celebrating a victory at Owego, New York’s Shangri-La Speedway is the late Bobby Merz. That’s an early-60’s Rambler American body mounted on the rather-radical chassis. Fans of Connecticut’s Waterford Speedbowl may recall “Wild Bill” Scrivener once piloting a #27 American-bodied mount designed by Owen Bowen, though it was more cut-down. Merz and his little AMC experienced a number of triumphs on the ovals of New York State, once a hot-bed of activity for the asphalt Modified-set. (Smith Photo).     

And here’s a shot of another AMC-shod creation, this time chauffeured by the legendary Elton Hildreth and captured at Pennsylvania’s late Reading Fairgrounds Speedway. A New Jersey native, Hildreth’s status as one of his regions top dirt racers was a lengthy affair. He of course, also added numerous pavement successes to his portfolio. In addition to his Modified endeavors, his long career also included many early NASCAR Grand National starts in Nash products, a brand he knew-well having been a dealer for that once-popular independent automaker. (Photograper Unknown)    

The handsome young dude seen here pit-side posing with his Coach at Connecticut’s Plainville Stadium during the 1950’s is none-other than Richard “Moon” Burgess. Three years into a stock car racing career that began at the Thompson Speedway in 1948, Moon met a car builder named Joe Fontana and the rest is history. Wheeling Fontana’s legendary Flying Eagle #1 Coupe during a short career that lasted only 6-seasons, he claimed over 200 races including 63 features and a track championship. A founding-member of the New England Antique Racers (NEAR), Burgess was inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 2003. (Faust Photo).   

Middleborough Fairgrounds, Camp Joe Hooker, Golden Spur, Lakeville, whatever you want to call-it, the place was a hotbed of dirt-racing action in Massachusetts for eons (to be exact, the late 1920’s to 1975). This shot captures our friend “Finch Fenton” (known in mere-mortal terms as Lew Boyd, proprietor of www.coastal181.com ) motoring-along Lakeville’s tricky surface piloting the Coupe of Willy Charette. Lew and Willy also ventured to Lebanon Valley with this neat rig on occasion. (Photographer Unknown).

We just like this early-1970’s paddock area shot of Eddie Flemke Jr. Shown here with one of his earliest Coupes, he had big-shoes to fill from the get-go, his dad being legendary NEAR Hall of Famer, the late “Steady Eddie.” Junior developed into a fine driver in his own-right as well as a master car-builder. He remains a force on today’s NASCAR Modified Tour, (Adaskavage Photo)

What can be penned about this guy that’s not already been written? A New England Modified racing Icon, Billy “Gramps” Greco means a lot of things to many people, but here at “RTT” we’re most-proud to say that he’s our friend. The following is from his New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame biography; Billy Greco’s first race car was a Dodge 6 cyl. Powered car, running in the non-Ford division at West Haven. He debuted in the #1147, but the number was shortened to 147 at the urging of track announcer Tom Galon, who said that the number took too long to repeat. The following year, the number was changed again, this time to K9, because, according to Greco, “The car was a dog.” Greco began racing in 1951, and established himself in the sport early on, by taking track championships at West Haven in 1955, and again in ’56 and ’58. He won Saturday night championships at Riverside Park in 1965 and 67, and also took down several Tuesday night track championships a the Park. His combined feature win total at the Park is 68 including five 500 lap team races. Billy’ success was not limited to just driving for Harvey Tattersall’s United Stock Car club. He was a charter member for the All Star Racing league and had success on both dirt and asphalt. In the late sixties he tried his hand with NASCAR. Later in his career he was allowed to join NYSSCRA and he raced at the Danbury Racearena. With so many wins and so many championships, it’s hard to single any one out as being a highlight, according to Greco. (Adaskavage Photo).

This ancient Shany Lorenzent action photo captures some typical “Coupe-Era” action at the “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl (shortened to just the “Waterford Speedbowl” upon the purchase of the place by UNITED’s Harvey Tattersall Jr. in 1975). That’s the popular Johnny Sandberg in the #156 Coach getting some serious air-time. Note the old “sand safety-strip” that used to circle the shoreline oval. (Shany Photo).         

And here we have the late ArthurRed” Bolduc leading Leo “The Lion” Cleary on the high-banks of Massachusetts’ storied Norwood Arena in 1958. While Leo is thankfully still with-us, sadly, the popular Bolduc later lost his life at the track, the result of a grinding crash on the evening of June 18, 1960. As a side-note, a “Bolduc Memorial” event was run a few-weeks later on August 6 with proceeds going to his family (popular Joe McNulty won). Opened in 1948 and one of the first NASCAR strongholds in New England, Norwood closed its gates forever following the 1972 season. Both Cleary and Bolduc are members of the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame (White Photo).      

To a certain degree, the late George Pendergast gets short-changed when it comes to talking about the racing feats of drivers of his time. Pendergast was in-fact, a noteworthy winner grabbing checkers all-over New England during the much-heralded “Coupe Era.” Perhaps overshadowing his accomplishments was a fun-loving persona. Ever-the-Rogue (in a good-way), few escaped George’s practical jokes and desire to make racing an absolutely-entertaining endeavor both on & off the track (just ask his old pal, NEAR Hall of Famer, Billy Harman). This shot captures George at Connecticut’s New London-Waterford Speedbowl when he was chauffeuring the “Collins T-Bird Special.” (Shany Photo, Phillips Collection).

Lastly, here we have another Speedbowl shot from the archives of faithful “RTT” reader and friend, Mal Phillips. While many associate the Vitari & Bombaci-owned V-8 with Modified legend “Wild Bill” Slater (with good-reason, he was virtually unstoppable in this car), it was actually a driver by the name of Gene White of Manchester, CT. that wheeled the potent ride prior to Slater. By the time this image was captured, White was an old-hand at the game - he’d been at the Bowl’ since the beginning, having raced at the track’s inaugural event on April 15, 1951. Slater, along with Vitari & Bombaci, are all members of the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame. (Shany Photo, Phillips Collection).

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

 
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