Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday March 2, 2011

 Volume 3, Number 8                                                                                      New Column Every Wednesday


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By Dave Dykes                                                                              CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE


We start this week’s edition of “RTT” on a sad note, as it was learned that our friend New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer Gene Bergin has passed-away following a lengthy illness. Sincere condolences are extended to Gene’s family and many friends. Thanks go out to all the readers that responded to the call in identifying last week’s “mystery drivers.” Ed Pannoni revealed that it was Bob Marti in the #70 Plainville coupe and Chris Langer stated that Bob Flagg was the chauffer of the #06 Corvair at Waterford. Also, kudos to longtime Speedbowl car owner Pat Doherty for providing additional details on the shot of NEAR Hall of Fame member Bob Potter. Lastly, a huge round of appreciation to Jeff Gada of that renowned Connecticut shoreline area racing family for gifting me with a DVD containing 1965 racing footage from the “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl. And with-that, it’s on to another week! Email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com    

Remembering Gene Bergin Along With More From The Archives….          

Simply-stated, we lost a HUGE talent and a good friend when New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member Gene Bergin passed-away last weekend following a lengthy illness. Be it modifieds, sprint cars, or midgets on dirt or asphalt, he always found his way to the front of the pack. Upon hearing of his pal’s passing, fellow Hall of Famer Pete Zanardi stated that “Gene Bergin was the most naturally-gifted & versatile race driver that I’ve ever seen. He could win in anything.”  He’s captured here during the 1960s flanking the Beebe Zalinski M6, a car that he guided to the first-ever Stafford Motor Speedway asphalt championship in 1967. (Grady Photo).     

Again, what has to be written about this guy? If you’re at-all familiar with New England racing history, than you should already know a little about the career of the late Gene Bergin. A member of the first class inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 1998, he started his career in 1949 at the Stafford Motor Speedway, remaining one of our regions top-drivers for over three-decades. This shot captures him following a win at the Waterford Speedbowl on July 9, 1977 where for a brief-time that season, he was a weekly regular in the “Smitty’s” #11 Pinto. (Kennedy Photo).      

Another one from Waterford; the date is May 30, 1981, and Gene Bergin looks to be discussing something with a crew member. By this time his career was entering its twilight, but when provided with a good ride, he could still run with the best in the sport. Note the cap - Gene was always a big supporter of the New England Antique Racers (NEAR). (Kennedy Photo).        

Here’s a shot of one of the most-memorable modifieds to ever grace a Northeastern speedway. The brainchild of Potsdam, New York’s Ed Close, the “Hemi-Cuda” was as much spectacle, as it was thoroughbred race car. Powered by a Chrysler Hemi that produced monstrous amounts of horsepower, it was no-doubt a handful for its driver, the great Jean Guy Chartrand of Canada. Speedway Illustrated's Dick Berggren caught this dramatic action image of Jean Guy at work. (Berggren Photo, Zanardi Collection).                   

Another classic shot courtesy of our friend Mr. Zanardi. I’ve always told people that I’m truly-blessed in having met some of the giants in the history of New England modified racing (mainly due to the guy that donated this shot to us), and that’s a fact. Unfortunate for me, by the time I’d graduated to a more increased involvement in the sport this driver had left-us. Winner, mentor, and innovator, few individuals meant more to New England modified racing than the late “Steady Eddie” Flemke. Starting his career during the emerging popularity of stock cars in the post-war era, it’s estimated that he won over 500 feature events during a career which spanned 3-decades. Along the way, he helped many young drivers get their starts, including Daytona 500 winner Pete Hamilton. As an expert car builder, he designed the “Flemke Front End” a chassis component that remained the standard in modified construction for years. Fittingly, he was among the first inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 1998. You have to wonder what’s on Eddie’s mind in this candid Stafford infield shot. (Zanardi Collection).

If you’re reading this column, you likely know the identity of this racer. Seen here during the “Pinto Era”, the late Richie Evans left his family's farm at age 16 to work at a local garage. After finding early success in drag racing, a friend suggested he try building a car to race at the nearby Utica-Rome Speedway. He ran his first oval-track car, a 1954 Ford Hobby Stock numbered PT-109 (after John F. Kennedy's torpedo boat in World War II), in 1962. He advanced to the modifieds in 1965, winning his first feature in the season's final night. In 1973, Evans became the NASCAR National Modified Champion. In 1978 he won a second title and did not relinquish his crown during the next seven years. Evans took over four hundred feature race wins at racetracks from Quebec to Florida before he was fatally injured at age-44 in a practice crash at Martinsville in late 1985. Before his death, he’d already clinched the inaugural Winston Modified Tour championship (now known as Whelen Modified Tour). In 1979-alone, he started 60 NASCAR Modified races and posted 54 top-five finishes including 37 victories. Richie was among the first inductees into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 1998. Evans was, and will forever be-known as the “King of the Modifieds”. (Ivins Photo).            

Seen here during the early 1970s at Connecticut’s “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl with the potent G&M coupe is Guilford, Connecticut native Jerry Dostie and crew Going-on to become a big winner on the New England Modified circuit, he was also one of the pioneers behind the design & use of automatic transmissions in modified racing. Jerry is retired from driving these days, but the Speedbowl is still going-strong. (Dugas Photo, Rusty Sage Collection).     

Getting the chance to see this guy race was itself, often worth the price of admission. There are many that feel “Daring Dick” Caso ended his career prematurely, and there were more victories left for one of our regions most-thrilling drivers, Behind the controls of one of his memorable #86 creations, or acting as a hired-gun for one of the top car-owners of the day, it simply didn’t matter – the guy was just plain fun to watch! He’s seen here wheeling the potent Ted Marsh Monza at Connecticut’s Stafford Springs Motor Speedway. (Rusty Sage Collection).                

We admittedly don’t know much about this little “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl “Cut-Down” or its driver, but we thought we’d use the shot to illustrate just how hairy these cars could be. Bob Utz wheeled this number back in the 1950s at the shoreline oval, risking life & limb in the process. Notoriously light-weight & dangerous, Waterford was one of the first New England tracks to outlaw this style of modified after popular Jack Griffin lost his life in one on the evening of August 12, 1954. (Shany Photo, Mal Phillips Collection).         

Before becoming a New England Midget racing legend, Dave Humphrey was a winning stock car racer. In fact, he handily annexed the 1951 title at Connecticut’s “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl to become that track’s first-ever champion. His list of accomplishments a long-one, the “Quiet Man” from Massachusetts was one of the premier players in the New England circle game for decades. Seen here during his stock car period (not sure of the locale), he was honored for his lengthy and successful career with an induction into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 2000. Dave remains a class-act, and this scribe is proud to count him as a friend. (Photograper Unknown)

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

 
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