Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday May 27, 2009

Volume 1, Number 22                                                                                       New Column Every Wednesday


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As always, another selection of choice images from the archives populate this week’s column, some old, some not-so old (relatively speaking, of course). At any rate, join us again as we attempt to showcase some of the racers who helped get the sport to where it is today. Enjoy! Email reaches me at  foreveryounginct@yahoo.com

And Yet More Images From The Past…..

The late Harvey Vallencourt was a pioneer on the New England Modified circuit that became an unfortunate statistic in a sport that can sometimes reveal a cruel side. Starting his career at the old West Haven Speedway, Harvey was known as a proficient chauffer enjoying many successes over the years. Sustaining severe head-injuries in a seemingly minor crash at Plainville Stadium in the mid-seventies, he was confined to a hospital bed for almost a decade before his passing from injuries received in the accident. The popular Vallencourt is seen here with starter Billy Dunn after a Plainville triumph decades-ago.  (Phil Hoyt Photo).     

Another driver that experienced early success at the old West Haven Speedway was this guy, the late Pete Brockett Sr. Spending over three-decades behind the controls of a Modified, his later efforts were centered-on the “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl where he also became a winner. His ride known as “Brockett’s Rocket”, Pete was always a crowd-favorite at the joint known as the “shoreline oval”. (Dugas Photo).

Before he hung-up his helmet to become a race official in the 1980’s, local boy-turned racer Mark Geer had a number of stellar runs in what’s always been the Speedbowl’s headlining division, the Modifieds. This paddock area image captures a youthful Geer ready-to-go during the much-heralded “Coupe Era” at Waterford. (Dugas Photo).

Back in the days before racers spent mega-bucks on big enclosed trailers to get their cars to the track, you could actually “see” the machines as they waited in-line at the pit gate (a big thrill for race-crazy kids like I was). Teams utilized open car trailers (some even used tow-bars), and if you were really stylin’ you had a ramp-truck as seen here. The car of course, is the famous L&M coupe piloted by Angie Cerease, it’s the early-seventies, and the venue is Joe Tinty’s Plainville Stadium. (Bob Thompson Photo).

The late Moe “Moneybags” Gherzi was one of the real headliners in early Speedbowl action. A big-winner in the formative years of the shoreline oval, this ancient Shany photo captures him ready for Saturday action standing beside a machine typical of the early-fifties. Moe of course, later became the Racing Director at Plainville Stadium. (Shany Photo)

As a champion in the full-fender ranks, Bob Gada Sr. established himself as one of the men to beat in Speedbowl action. As this image culled from 1982 clearly illustrates, he also did some time in the “open-wheel wars”. Bob of course is the dad of Dennis Gada, who’s made a shambles of the modern-day Speedbowl record book, owning a record seven Modified titles (actually, it seems like ALL of the Gada’s have won Waterford crowns at one point in the history of the joint). If ever pitside at the Speedbowl, be-sure to stop & see ‘Mr. Gada” as he’s a great guy to talk-racing with! (Grab Photo).

Though he’s often recalled as primarily as a Plainville Stadium competitor, this driver was really much-more. Elton Hill often departed the local scene during the early-days of his career to follow in the tire tracks of his friend and Mentor, the late Ed Flemke Sr. Hill was a quick-study, recording victories at such far-away venues as Utica Rome Speedway in N.Y. (once an absolute hotbed of activity for the best-in-the business). A young “Elty” is seen here in one of his familiar #74 Coupes, and that’s another youngster by the name of Dave Lape on the outside of him. (Grady Photo).

Like so-many other competitors that gave our game a whirl, Tim “Timski” Wilkinson wasn’t around for long, but when he was, it was in what was considered good equipment for the era. Seen here at Waterford in May of 1978 behind the controls of his ex-Glynn Shafer coupe, Wilkinson enjoyed several fine runs before disappearing from the sport at the dawn of the eighties. Shafer had put the car in victory circle on several previous occasions. (Kennedy Photo).         

Howard “Punky” Caron was an absolute-terror during the seventies at “Up North” venues like Monadnock and Claremont Speedways in this neat little coupe. Multi-time championships and scads of victories were the order of the day for Caron and his team, and they were one of the last to keep the once “traditional” sheet metal in victory lane on a consistent-basis. Caron was visiting the high banks of Connecticut’s Thompson Raceway when this image was recorded during the 1979 campaign. (Clint Lawton Photo).

New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer Leo Cleary is captured here at the famed Norwood Arena in Massachusetts, once an absolute hotbed of activity for the best in Modified racing. Cleary was a big winner a the much-missed oval, and it’d be great to see him at this years Norwood Reunion slated to take place on Sunday June 7 at Bezema Buick on RT. 1 in Norwood. For more info, go to www.norwoodarena.com (Grady Photo).  

And here we have what was known as a “Grand American” at the Speedbowl in 1978. The division actually endured a number of name-changes over the years, everything from “Daredevils” to “Sportman Sedans” to what’s captured here. Seen hustling his NAPA-sponsored 1964 Chevelle around the track is Bob Kleenman. The class was dropped from the slate in 1980 due in-part to escalating costs and poor car-counts. (Kennedy Photo).

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

 
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