Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday May 13, 2009

Volume 1, Number 20                                                                                       New Column Every Wednesday


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OK folks, bear with-me as I have a lot more photos than I do titles for the column (Yet Another Varied Assortment – original, huh?). Anyway, we’ve had some requests for 70’s & 80’s Waterford stuff, so here-you-go. Also included are some other choice tidbits – enjoy! Special thanks goes-out to friend and “Photog Supreme” Steve Kennedy for assisting me in filling some of the voids in the RTT archives. Email reaches me at foreveryounginct@yahoo.com   

Yet Another Varied Assortment…..            

Few Modified drivers have had more of an impact on the local racing scene over the years than this fellow, New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer, Bob Potter. Starting his career in the early-sixties at Waterford, the Taftville, Ct. native captured his first Modified checker in 1965 with an estimated 140 feature wins to follow along with multiple championships at Thompson, Stafford, and of-course, the Speedbowl. Never officially retired, Bob is seen here at the Bowl’ in June of 1979, a year in which he scored a convincing victory in the prestigious UNITED-sanctioned Waterford 200. (Steve Kennedy Photo).     

Won by invader Marty Radewick and serving as the opening event for 1980, “Blast-Off” was a 100-lap Modified grind that drew a stellar field to the Speedbowl, and among those mixing it-up with the locals was the pride of Long Island, the late “Chargin’ Charlie” Jarzombek. Seen here in one of his familiar #1 machines, he was an infrequent visitor to the shoreline oval, but always ran well when he ventured-out to 1080 Hartford Road. Tragically, Charlie lost his life in a crash at Martinsville, VA. in the spring of 1987. He was inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 2004. (Steve Kennedy Photo).

Captured here at Waterford in the spring of 1980 behind the wheel of the car that guided him to a convincing track title the year-before (when he won 10 of 14 scheduled events), is “Rapid Rick” Donnelly. His switch to a Troyer chassis (the first for a Waterford regular), in 79’ had yielded big-dividends. The winning continued the next season when this image was captured, as Rick scored a trio of victories, including a 100-lapper in June. It was none-other than Bob Potter that prevented Donnelly from scoring a second-consecutive championship. (Steve Kennedy Photo).

Speedbowl veteran “Jiggs” Beetham was always noted for building immaculate machines, but perhaps none were more-attractive than his “Golden Hurricane” Coupe. In an era when most teams were switching to the more modern stylings of the Pinto, Vega, and Gremlin, Beetham hung pre-war sheetmetal on a contemporary chassis resulting in the beauty you see here. That’s John Bunnell piloting his # 65 Vega in the low-groove. Today, the “Hurricane” remains well-preserved, running on the vintage racing circuit. (Steve Kennedy Photo).

While most-associated with the early endeavors of the Gada family, there were also other teams that “deviated from the norm” in fielding Ford-powered machines at the Speedbowl. Seen here is Keith Eves, a star racer amongst the full-bodied brigade at Waterford in the 70’s and early-80s whose Torino we ran a shot-of a few columns-ago. Captured here in June of 1979, he also did very-well with this Mercury Cougar-bodied creation, scoring a number of top-finishes and snagging a feature victory on the very-night that this shot was captured! (Steve Kennedy Photo).

Dennis Charette is a name well-known to today’s fans of area SK Modified racing. As one of the “Young Guns” of the division, he’s a popular and winning driver. Back in 1977 when Dennis was but a youngin’, his dad Carl Charette was wheeling this ex-Don Moon Pinto at Joe Tinty’s ultra-competitive little quarter-miler down in Plainville. Goes to prove that the old adage “The apple never falls far from the Tree” rings-true, huh? (Steve Kennedy Photo).

Seen here at Plainville Stadium in July of 1973 is veteran Modified racer Sherm Saunders behind the wheel of the Al Rhody owned coupe. Enjoying a long career, he competed during what many consider the “Golden Era” of eastern asphalt Modified racing. Starting his career at the long-gone West Haven Speedway with occasional jaunts to Riverside Park as well as the big open-shows of the day such as the Eastern States events, Sherm spent the later years of his career competing primarily at The Stadium. Note the muffler – Plainville was among the first tracks in the region to institute a noise-abatement program. That’s Ron VanNesse in his familiar # VO to the inside. (Steve Kennedy Photo).

This shot from May of 1975 captures Roland “Pappy” Lapierre during the autumn of his long, storied career. As one of the true pioneers of New England Modified racing, he ran (and won), at just about every one of the many small ovals that once dotted our region’s landscape. In later years, Pappy watched his son Roland Jr. become one of the regions top racers. His great-grandson Nick Teto also displayed a keen interest in the sport, creating YankeeRacer.com which today is one of the internet’s premier racing news sites. (Steve Kennedy Photo).        

Currently recognized as a seasoned competitor in the ranks of Waterford’s SK ranks, Don Fowler bought to his rookie season in the Bowls’ premier division a wealth of racing knowledge. As a 3-time Grand American champion, the “Racin’ Mason” was certainly no stranger to the spoils of victory. The switch to “fenderless” proved to be a rough-one for the affable veteran as this series of photos clearly illustrates. On the evening of July 9, 1977, something-funny happened on the way down the back-chute, resulting in some serious air-time for Fowler and his Brockett-owned machine. As seen here, Donnie nearly hit it out of the ballpark. Fortunately for the pitside denizens seen scattering, the catch-fence held-enough for him to make a landing (albeit a rough-one), back-out on the racing surface. (Steve Kennedy Photo).

Lastly, seen here at Seekonk in 1970 (AKA the Cement Palace), is a young Ronnie Bouchard, New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer and winner of the 1981 Talladega 500 in his rookie-year in the NASCAR big-leagues. Nicknamed “The Kid from Fitchburg”, he started his career at the old Brookline New Hampshire Speedway as a fourteen year-old. From there, it was onto success at all of the top Modified haunts, places like The Konk’, Stafford, Thompson, Waterford, etc. Bouchard concluded his storybook auto racing career in the late-80’s, returning to his native New England where he today runs an ultra-successful chain of auto dealerships. (Mercury Photo).

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

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