Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday May 20, 2009

Volume 1, Number 21                                                                                       New Column Every Wednesday


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This week it’s another selection of our regions best from the “Good Old Days”. From Seekonk to Springfield and all points in-between, there’s a little bit of something for everybody…. Email reaches me at foreveryounginct@yahoo.com

More Tales From The “Good Old Days”...

It’s Wednesday evening July 15, 1978 at Joe Tinty’s Plainville Stadium, and having a smoke while waiting for the night’s race card to unfold is second-generation driver Richie Galullo. The Stadium’s open-comp shows routinely drew stellar fields, and young Galullo was on the top of his game. The “cent sign” Vega one of the premier rides of the day. (Kennedy Photo).      

Nicky Porto’s career can be traced back to the heyday of the Tattersall racing dynasty known as UNITED – once the top sanctioning body in the Northeast. When Steve Kennedy shot this image, he was wheeling this ex-Tony Dadio Coupe at Plainville Stadium. Porto was one of the premier drivers of his era at the Stadium and was no-doubt a contender when captured on film here, June 29, 1977. (Kennedy Photo).

Seen here at the Stadium is an interesting shot of a driver that unfortunately, is filed under the “Unknown” category. As Steve Kennedy notes, it looks suspiciously like a dirt car which would not have been uncommon in an era before such specialization in car construction. At Plainville, you never-knew who was going to pull into the pits for the open shows. This image was recorded in July of 1973, and if anyone knows the details, please feel-free to contact me! (Kennedy Photo).

Seen here in a 70’s-era Seekonk Speedway shot is New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member George Summers. As the most-winning driver in the history of the Massachusetts oval, he visited victory lane on over one-hundred occasions. Summers was actually one of the top-drivers in all of New England, enjoying a career that lasted over three-decades. Fittingly, he won the last event he entered before retiring, taking–down the 1983 Thompson World Series Modified event driving for fellow Hall of Famer, legendary car owner Art Barry. (Mercury Photo).

Another 70’s Seekonk Speedway image captures “Steady Eddie” Flemke and car-owner Bobby Judkins after a triumph at the track lovingly-known as the “Cement Palace”. Flemke of course, was fittingly among the first drivers inducted into the NEAR Hall of Fame during its maiden year in 1998. Owner Judkins followed-suit, bestowed the honor in 2003. The Pinto you see here helped “modernize” NASCAR Modified racing, replacing the much-loved Coupes & Coaches of yesteryear. (Mercury Photo).  

The field scatters at the “Cement Palace” as a bevy of Seekonk ARC regulars fight to keep things going in-front of what looks to be a packed-house. On occasion, a few Speedbowl regulars would make the trip north to join-in on the fun. If you look closely, you can see the #L&M coupe of Angie Cerease as well as the #86 Corvair of “Daring Dick” Caso, two of Waterford’s top-guns in the 1970’s. (Mercury Photo).

Seen here in 1980 is 5-time Waterford Speedbowl Modified champion, the much-missed George “Moose” Hewitt. Hailing from nearby Uncasville, Ct., he actually got his start via the two-wheeled route, having been a champion-caliber motorcycle racer before moving to stock cars. After departing the local scene for a time and enjoying a successful stint on the NASCAR Modified trail, he returned as a regular in 1975 to become one of Waterford’s dominate competitors. When he passed-away in 1997 Hewitt was still very- much a part of the action each and every week at the shoreline oval. (Kennedy Photo).

Veteran Speedbowl Modified campaigner Mark LaJeunesse is seen in this paddock image conversing with his old friend (and teammate), the late Fred “Fuzzy” Baer. Mark’s dad Al is seen on the right tending to his son’s Vega-bodied creation. When shown this shot recently, Mark said “It looks like we were having a motor-problem from the moisture on the exhaust header. I’m probably talking to Fuzz about what happened”. The date - July 5, 1980. Candid shots like this are always special, esp. when you’re fortunate-enough to get the story from the driver. (Kennedy Photo).         

Now retired, former Speedbowl Modified champion Jerry Pearl drove a myriad of different cars during his long, storied career. In this action image (another from 1980), he’s piloting a Chevette-bodied entry painted similar to the Coupe that carried him to his first Bowl’ Modified victory in 1975. While his machines carried different digits over the years, it’s his signature #43 that he’s probably most-associated-with. Winning runs in the family, as his son Jeff annexed the 1998 Speedbowl SK Championship and continues as a top-competitor today. (Kennedy Photo).

Captured here in a NEMA midget at Waterford on July 9, 1979, the following is an excerpt from this driver’s New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame Biography; Dave Humphrey has competed with, and beaten, the best. He’s raced sprint cars against men like A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, and Johnny Rutherford. In midgets, he’s run with Len Duncan, Gary Bettenhausen, and John Andretti. In supers, he’s competed against Eddie West, Howie Brown, and Ollie Silva. Driving stock cars, Dave has run with Ed Flemke, Fred DeSarro, Bugs Stevens, Richie Evans, Ron Bouchard, and Leo Cleary. His first race was at the Seekonk Speedway, in 1947. The next year, 1948, he won his first feature, driving a stock car. By the time he retired, Dave had won championships at Seekonk, West Peabody, Norwood, and Waterford. The Waterford championship came in the track’s first year, 1951. He beat “Moneybags” Moe Gherzi by two points, in what is still the closest point battle in Speedbowl history. And that my friends, is the low-down on the Waterford Speedbowl’s very-first Track Champion! (Kennedy Photo).

Lastly, here’s an “at-speed” shot of two of our sports most-celebrated competitors. The late, great Tony Mordino is seen leading one of his fiercest competitors, Billy “Gramps” Greco at one of the great Modified events that were once held yearly on the grounds of the Springfield Exposition Center in Massachusetts. While little has to be said about the career of NEAR Hall of Famer Greco that already hasn’t been written, Mordino remains perhaps one of the most-underrated drivers in all of New England Modified racing history. A big winner at virtually all the speedplants that once dotted our region’s landscape, the archives reveal Mordino as simply one of the best to ever strap-in behind the controls of a Modified. (Mordino Family Collection).

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

 
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