Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday May 1, 2013
 

 

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Volume 5, Number 18                                                                                    New Column Every Wednesday



Updated 4-24-13

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By Dave Dykes                                                                            CLICK ON PHOTOS FOR FULL SIZE

Unfortunately, we once-again start this week’s installment of “RTT” on a somber note, as it was learned last weekend that our friend Al “Buddha” Gaudreau passed-away after suffering ill-health in recent times. As a husband & wife team, Al and his wonderful wife Peg provided modified veteran Dick Dunn with the ride required to notch scads of feature victories and four consecutive modified track crowns from 1972-75 at the Waterford Speedbowl. Al was well-liked by all in the local racing community having been a part of the scene for decades. On a personal-note Al’s passing signals the end of an era for me racing-wise, as it was during that time in the early-1970s that the sport truly began to become a major part of my life. Our sincere condolences are offered to the entire Gaudreau family and all of Al’s many friends. Email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com  

Yup, More Mid-Week Modified Memories……

Here’s a victory lane shot of our late and much-missed friend, New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member “Wild Bill” Slater at Connecticut’s “New London Waterford” Speedbowl during his heyday as the chauffer of the potent Vitari-Bombaci (also Hall of Famers), coupe. Slater was simply one of the best racers to have ever emerged from New England with wide-reaching accomplishments within the sport. When he retired from driving, he stayed involved for many seasons as a respected official at both the Thompson & Stafford Speedways. For more on the history of this team, visit the NEAR website at www.near1.com and read their HOF biographies. (Shany Lorenzent Photo).

Like Slater, this driver is also a member of the prestigious New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame. Taking his place among the best in our region’s modified racing history Ron Narducci was inducted in 2000. Quite-fittingly the late Fred "Sharkey” Gaudiosi the owner of this potent pink & white #44, also joined the ranks of the HOF a few years-later in 2006. This shot, culled from the dirt era at Connecticut’s Stafford Speedway captures Narducci in his prime picking up the checkers at a track in-which he was a multi-time champion. With the paving of Stafford in 1967, he started running the NY State dirt circuit. Among his many accomplishments were 5 feature wins at Fonda that year, including a 100 lap championship event. 1967 also saw Narducci join the All-Star League, where he was a 6-time victor on the winning track team representing Fonda, Albany-Saratoga, and Catamount Stadium. Following his retirement from driving he served as a Pit Steward for DIRT for a number of years. (Shany Lorenzent Photo).

With an impish grin and a practical joke waiting for anyone who happed to be in spitting-distance, the late George Pendergast was one of the really good-things about the formative years of our sport. Not to be portrayed as simply a “Character,” he really-was a skilled and accomplished racer as-well. George won at virtually all the tracks in New England, including places like Norwood Arena which was once the venue for the NASCAR modifieds. This classic image captured through the lens of our old friend John Grady shows George in his prime during the days of the coupes. If you ever want a firsthand account of just-what it was like to be around George in his heyday, just look-up his good pal, NEAR Hall of Fame member Billy Harman. (John Grady Photo).

As we’ve stated on several occasions, within the “RTT” archives reside a number of images in-which we can’t fully-identify or offer a lot of information on the competitor. This is particularly-true of our Speedbowl files as during the shoreline ovals long, proud history a LOT of different drivers have passed-through the pit gate. We do know that this 60s-era shot features a driver by the name of Ron Crabtree and that we love his sanitary flathead-powered 3-window coupe (with multiple carburetion, no-less). With a sponsor from neighboring East Lyme, we’re betting it’s likely that Ron was local racer. (Shany Lorenzent Photo).

Captured here at the 1978 Thompson 300, Mark LaJeunesse actually started his racing career as a youth in the quarter midgets. He returned from the armed forces in the early-1970s to begin a modified career that spanned over 3-decades. The first victory came in 1974 with many-more following including a triumph in the Speedbowl’s 2000 Budweiser Modified Nationals. Under the Tattersall UNITED sanction of 1975, he garnered the Sportsman-Modified title. This self-built coupe (as were all of this team’s cars), was initially campaigned by LaJeunesse team driver Howie Nye, who annexed “Rookie of the Year” honors in 1978. It was also driven to many fine finishes by the late Fred “Fuzzy” Baer. (Steve Kennedy Photo).

See here taking in an event at the high banks of the Thompson Motor Speedway is Ormie O’Hara who was a young and popular mid-70s modified chauffer at the “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl. Wheeling this sharp little coupe, he recorded a number of top finishes, and was considered to be one of the shoreline oval’s more-consistent competitors of the era. He later raced with the SNYRA at the former (and much-missed), Danbury Racearena. (Photographer Unknown).  

It’s a debate that still rages today, decades after it occurred. Just who had the first Pinto-bodied pavement modified in New England? With all due-respect, New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member Bob Judkins of #2X fame often gets the credit in-print, but the truth of the matter is that it was this guy who beat him to the punch. Captured here is “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl regular Seabury Tripler who debuted this car only weeks before Judkins unveiled his Pinto. Interestingly-enough, Judkins, who was a NASCAR regular, initially ran unsanctioned events-only. He had to wait for NASCAR to approve his Pinto – something that the late Jack Arute Sr. (another NEAR Hall of Fame member), of Stafford Motor Speedway was instrumental in making happen. (Shany Lorenzent Photo).

If you’re at all familiar with New England modified racing, not much has to be said about this fellow. As a driver, the late Ed Yerrington (left), was a big winner, and in later years as an official became one of the most-respected figures in the sport. He’s captured here pitside during the 1960s at what was then officially-known as the “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl with of one of his familiar #66 creations (with Studebaker Lark tinwork no-less), Seen second-from-right is Art Moran Sr. who later went-on to become a big winner in the modifieds at the shoreline oval. (Rene Dugas Photo).

It’s a fact that his statistics prove-otherwise, however Ronnie Wyckoff remains one of the most overlooked and underrated drivers in New England modified racing history. He’s a multi-time co-winner of the Riverside Park Speedway’s 500-lap contests, and recorded victories at just-about every modified track in the region. He was always in-demand with the top car owners of his era, and the teams that the affable Wyckoff drove-for during his long-career reads like a veritable “who’s-who” of the sport. That era by-the-way is deemed by many with a historical knowledge of the sport to have been the most-competitive period in our region’s modified wars. The ever-smiling Wyckoff is captured here at the Waterford Speedbowl in August of 1978. (Steve Kennedy Photo).

Captured here in-front of an absolutely packed-house at the Speedbowl in 1980 is the late George “Moose” Hewitt. A 5-time Modified champion at the shoreline oval, he scored a career-total of twenty-three feature victories in the modifieds, SK modifieds, and Bomber divisions at the ‘Bowl. In addition to those triumphs, he also won at the Stafford Springs Motor Speedway on multiple occasions, including a stunning victory in the 1975 Winston 100. Sadly, the popular Uncasville, CT. chauffer passed-away in February of 1997 while still very-much in his prime as a driver. Often-overlooked is the fact that before coming to auto racing, Moose was a champion Motorcycle racer. (Steve Kennedy Photo).

Hall of Fame member Charles "Chick" Stockwell has been battling cancer for several months and is pretty much bed ridden at his home. Chick began racing in 1949, driving his own cars throughout the northeast. Although Chick considered the Danbury Racearena to be “home”, he was a regular competitor at Waterford, Thompson, Plainville, West Haven, and Stafford. He raced at Lime Rock, Springfield, and Westboro. Stockwell showed his versatility as a race driver by competing on both dirt and asphalt, often 3 to 4 times in the same week. He won the 1957 Rhinebeck Track Championship, racing on dirt. He took down the United Grand American Late Model Sportsman Circuit Crown in 1963 and 1964. Cards can reach Chic at: Chick Stockwell, 27 Peter Rd. Woodbury, Ct. 06798

 
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