Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday March 3, 2010

Volume 2, Number 7                                                                                      New Column Every Wednesday


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By Dave Dykes                                                                              CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE


Once again this week, our opening comments will remain minimal, and we’ll let the pictures do the talking. Congratulations and many-thanks to those of you that identified Ray Moran as our “mystery driver” of the #266 Cut-Down last week. My original intent was to list all of you, but the response was so-great that I simply don’t have the space! As-always, enjoy.   Email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com

Another (Very) Varied Assortment!   

New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member the late Joe Sostilio is seen here about to push-off in the Frank Curtis Offy at Pennsylvania’s Williams Grove Speedway in May of 1958. Starting his career during the pre-war era, by 1935, he’d notched the New England Dirt Track Championship for “Big Cars” (precursors of today’s Sprint Cars).  Also an exceptional Midget racer, following World War II he became one of the Bay State Midget Association’s star drivers. The early 1950’s found him running the AAA Big Car circuit. Paired with Indy 500 winner Johnnie Parsons, the duo became one of the most-feared teams of their era. Winning the 1953 Eastern Sprint Car Championship, throughout his years with AAA he was considered a standout driver along with fellow topnotch competitors such as Joie Chitwood, Lee Wallard, Bill Holland, and Tony Bettenhausen. It’s estimated that Sostilio scored over 300 career victories in Midgets and Big Cars, as well as many Stock Car triumphs.  (Young Photo).   

Here’s a guy that should be very-familiar to those of you astute in New England Midget racing history. Born in 1925, Lou Fray began racing Midgets in 1946 following his discharge from the US Navy. By the time he’d retired from over 4-decades of competition in 1988, he’d scored victories in NEMA, ARDC, ARC, and SMRC. He was the 1970 NEMA co-champion, sharing honors with the legendary Dave Humphrey. It’s interesting to note that Fray also occasionally competed on the old NASCAR Midget trail. And yes, Big Bill France & Company actually sanctioned a Midget division from 1953 until the early-1960’s. In later-years, events were conducted primarily in Florida and California at tracks such as Daytona’s Memorial Stadium, and Irwindale’s San Gabriel Valley Speedway. New Englander Nick Fornoro Sr. claimed the first series title over famed open-wheel stars like Chuck Arnold, Fred Meeker, Johnny Coy and Fray in naming just a few. (Photo courtesy Pete Zanardi).    

Likely shot at Williams Grove, PA. in the 1950’s, the driver before you is Indianapolis 500 veteran Al Herman. He’s captured here behind the controls of the potent Frank Curtis Offy. A native of Topton, PA., Herman was an extraordinary talent during the post-war era, excelling in Sprint Cars, Midgets, and Indy Cars. He qualified for the Indy 500 on five occasions, his best finish in the Memorial Day classic coming in 1955 when he crossed the finish line in 7th earning “Rookie of the Year” honors. Bob Sweikert was the winner that year. Sadly, Herman’s definitive tie to racing in New England is of the grim-variety. He perished on June 18, 1960 as a result of injuries sustained in a crash during a 100-lap “New England Midget Championship” event at Connecticut’s UNITED-sanctioned West Haven Speedway. Former NEAR President Al Fini was there, and witnessed the entire unfortunate episode unfold. “I was at West Haven for that event and was sitting directly in front of the accident,” states Fini. “There was no fire, and it was a relatively low-speed crash, not one you’d think would result in a fatality. It was lengthy getting him out of car because of his neck injury.” The “pre-cage” era in Midget racing was indeed a dangerous chapter in the sport, and many great drivers paid the ultimate price. (Photograper Unknown)   

Seen here in 1967 is Westboro Speedway Modified chauffer, Freddie Borden (aka “The Nashoba Valley Rocket”), The car sports a Chevy Corvair body, and as reported in Lew Boyd’s (www.coastal181.com) excellent book “Hot Cars, Cool Drivers” Rick Falconi and crew built it with a nod to the design of Lebanon Valley dirt cars of the era. Already a multi-time titlist at the high banked Massachusetts ¼-miler, his dedicated team’s innovation paid-off, as he was again crowned track champion that year. It was the popular Borden’s final accomplishment at Westboro. He stunned attendees at the season-ending awards banquet by announcing his retirement while still in his prime. As with so-many other speedways in New England, Westboro succumbed to the march of progress and increasing property values, closing its gates forever in 1985. (Balser Photo Courtesy Lew Boyd).     

Here’s another shot of the duo responsible for so-many of those Westboro Speedway victories. It’s the 1965 awards banquet, and all suited-up in their finest duds for the occasion is Freddie Borden on the left, and flanking him is car-owner Rick Falconi. I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Rick last weekend at the Racers Expo Trade Show in Marlborough, MA. when Lew Boyd introduced us. His family synonymous with what was once the great Westboro Speedway, Rick’s no-different than the rest of the Falconi clan – simply a great guy to talk racing-with! (Balser Photo courtesy Lew Boyd).

Just a nice shot of the late, great Ollie Silva in his Gremlin-bodied “Big 0” captured during the twilight of his brilliant career. Getting started in 1949 at the former 1/4-mile Dracut Speedway in Massachusetts, he scored over 500 documented victories before retiring in 1980. Driving Cut-Downs, Modifieds, Super Modifieds, Pro Stocks, Late Models & Sprint Cars, he won events in 12 states including Florida, California, & Ohio. He was the NASCAR champion at Star Speedway in 1967, 68, & 78, and the Can-Am Classic champion in 1969, 70, 71, and 74. Other career highlights include being a four-time US Winter National (Florida), champion and winning the 1972 Thompson World Series. During an event your author vividly recalls, in the 1974 “Hott Wheels 100” at Connecticut’s New London-Waterford Speedbowl he lapped the entire field, not once, but twice. One of the absolute-best racers to ever have come out of New England, he was among the first inductees into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 1998. (Photographer Unknown).

Seen here at Thompson in 1975 is Plainfield, Connecticut’s Ron “Boots” Cote. A Late Model standout for years, upon jumping into the cockpit of this Angie Cerease-owned Vega he experienced a fair-degree of success in the Modifieds during his rookie campaign. Though it had the #24 flanking its doors & roof, owner Cerease had the trunk adorned with a big “L&M” – a nod to his days as the driver of that famous little Waterford Speedbowl-based coupe of the same livery. (Dugas Photo).        

If you’re at-all familiar with the history of Modified racing in the Northeast, you have to know at-least a bit about this guy, Mr. Tony “Jap” Membrino. Our Webmaster Tom Ormsby once wrote that he was “Colorful, Controversial, & Popular.” I’d have to agree, but above all, Jap was a big-time winner. A top driver at virtually all the speedplants that once dotted the New England landscape, he took a ton of checkers at places like West Haven, Plainville, Riverside Park, etc. Always a crowd-pleaser, his flamboyant driving style indeed sold a boatload of grandstand tickets (and rattled the cages of a lot of his fellow competitors). This ancient shot captures him behind the controls of a self-owned creation at Joe Tinty's much missed Plainville Stadium during the late-1950’s or early-60’s. Ole’ Jap’s been a bit under-the-weather lately and could use some cheering-up. Cards reach him at Tony Membrino 328 Bassett Road, Watertown, CT. 06795. (Faust Photo courtesy Tom Ormsby).    

And here’s another early image from Connecticut’s Plainville Stadium. Posing for the camera with his Novice Division entry in the Stadium’ infield is Ron Mayer. A multi-time winner (a truly notable accomplishment considering the fields that the journeyman class drew every week); he later advanced to the Modifieds enjoying triumphs at Plainville and Riverside Park. He also ran-well at those stellar events once held yearly on the 5/8-miler at the Eastern States Exposition in Massachusetts. Our Webmaster Tom Ormsby notes that “Mayer took a great deal of pride in his cars and they were always among the best-looking at the track.” (Faust Photo).

The last image this week shows one of New England Modified racing’s longest campaigners, the late Roland “Pappy” LaPierre. Captured here in the Lenny Plasse Coupe at Connecticut’s high-banked Thompson Speedway, he was still running a hectic schedule after many of his contemporaries had called it a day. It was only after a serious crash in the Plasse Maverick-bodied mount at Stafford in the 1970’s that he decided to retire. Pappy holds the dubious distinction of capturing the last-ever checkered flag for the Modified division at Massachusetts’ storied Norwood Arena. On Saturday evening Oct 4, 1969, the 54 year old veteran bested Ed Flemke Sr., Bugs Stevens, and Fred DeSarro for the win. Pappy’s son Roland Jr, also enjoyed a long & successful tenure in the Modifieds, and his great-grandson Nick Teto is the guy behind the successful Yankee Racer website (Dugas Photo).

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

 
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