Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday November 11, 2009

Volume 1, Number 45                                                                                      New Column Every Wednesday


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By Dave Dykes                                                                              CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE

As-usual, this week we present another assortment from the archives. No-particular theme, just a nice assortment of memorable images from the past. Congratulations to NEAR on a great-job in presenting their annual Movie Party last weekend. As-always, the joint was packed and a wonderful time was had by-all!  As always, enjoy!    
Email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com 

Hall of Famers & More…..      

During its sixties-era heyday, the “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl routinely played-host to capacity crowds and some of the best racing in New England. This victory lane shot captures the late Marvin Chase along with New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer Bob Potter (check-out Bob’s fancy “driving boots” and celebratory cigar). Potter of-course, became a multi-time champion with close-to 100 victories at the shoreline oval in addition to many Stafford and Thompson accomplishments. Chase enjoyed a long career as one of the area’s top drivers. The Speedbowl will reportedly open again in 2010, celebrating its fifty-ninth consecutive-season of operation. (Shany Photo).

Seen here during the early days of his career is Paul Richardson, who like the aforementioned Bob Potter is a member of the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame. It all started in 1965 at Oscar Ridlon’s Pines Speedway in New Hampshire. The next year, he bought Al Riley’s “Little Princess” cutdown, and won the Hudson (NH), points championship. Moving to the Super Modifieds during the early years of NESMRA, he became a superstar in the division, and is 5th on the all-time winners list. He was also a winning Modified driver. Nicknamed “Ricochet” for his thrilling driving style, he completed his career driving in the BUSCH East division. (Photographer Unknown).   

A couple-more NEAR Hall of Fame members; captured here at the Charlotte Motor Speedway in the 1970’s is “The Champ”, Rene Charland, and 1970 Daytona 500 winner, Pete Hamilton. Charland’s career spanned 35 years starting with his first race at Riverside Park in 1949 and concluded at Fonda Speedway in 1984. It’s estimated that he won over 700 races. A member of the famed “Eastern Bandits” he won track championships at Stafford, Ct,(2), Norwood Arena, Mass., Millers Falls Mass., Keene N.H., Brattleboro Vt., Islip, N.Y., Manassas, Va., Fort Dix, N.J., and Utica Rome, N.Y. (3). In addition he won 4 Canadian National championships. Hamilton’s career started in 1962 at the Norwood Arena. He went on to be the Thompson World Series Twin 50’s champion in 1965, and won the NASCAR National Sportsman championship in 1967 driving the Worcester Sand & gravel #69. Moving South in 1967, he was the 1968 Grand National Rookie of the Year and went on to win 12 of 26 Grand American Division in 1969. The 1970 season saw Hamilton notch three Grand National (now known as Sprint Cup), events, the Daytona 500, and both Talladega events. He retired in 1971. (Photographer Unknown).  

Few New England Modified drivers had a larger grandstand-following than this guy, and there’s a reason behind that statement. Win, lose, or draw, Billy “Gramps” Greco always made time for the fans. It remains the same today, as evidenced by the crowd that he attracted at last Saturday evening’s annual NEAR Movie Party. Seen here in the potent Suffield #5 Coupe, Billy began racing in 1951 establishing himself in the sport early-on. He took track championships at West Haven in 1955, and again in ’56 and ’58. He won Saturday night titles at Riverside Park in 1965 and 67, and also nailed several Tuesday night track championships at The Park’. His combined feature win total at Riverside is 68 including five 500 lap team races. His success was not limited to just Harvey Tattersall’s United circuit; he was a charter member of the All Star Racing League enjoying success on both dirt and asphalt. In the late sixties he tried his hand with NASCAR. Later in his career he was allowed to join NYSSCRA and he raced at the Danbury Racearena. Billy was inducted into the NEAR Hall of Fame in 1999. (Shany Photo).      

Here’s a REAL oldie! Walk-into Connecticut’s Stafford Motor Speedway today and it’s easy to realize why it’s considered one of the premier short track facilities in the country. The place is modern, spotless, and professionally managed. It wasn’t always that-way, though. As seen here, “Stafford Springs Speedway” as it was once-called started life as a typical “fairgrounds-type” dirt half-miler complete with an old-time wooden covered grandstand. This 50’s-era shot captures a bevy of cut-downs racing to get a piece of former track-owner Mal Barlow’s purse. NEAR Hall of Famer the late Jack Arute Sr. purchased the track in 1969, eventually transforming it into the showplace it remains today. (Benton Photo).  

Before the advent of “cookie-cutter” racecars, each machine was a decided expression of the builder. They all looked-different, each seeming to possess a unique “personality”. Seen here is the Coach-bodied creation of popular New York State-area Modified shoe, Mike Loescher. We believe this to be Lancaster Speedway in the early-1970’s. Coaches, by-the-way, once rivaled Coupes in terms of popularity as the choice of tinwork for the “Mod Squad”. (Smith Photo).

Here’s a neat 70’s-era color shot of Plainville Stadium competitor, Bob Vivari. A big-winner at the The Stadium’ for many seasons, he was one of the first at the late Connecticut ¼-miler to successfully campaign a Modified sporting “late model” sheet-metal. Previous to the Pinto pictured here, Vivari’s mount sported a Chevy II body, rather unique in a field that overwhelmingly consisted of the more traditional Coupes n’ Coaches of the day. (Hoyt Photo).   

The late “Hammerin’ Hank” Stevens was a fixture on the bullrings of New England for decades. Modifieds, Midgets, or Late Models, ole’ Hank drove about all of them with a level of success. One of the true racing pioneers of our region, he got his start during the busy post-war era of the late 1940’s, and continued to be competitive until the early 1980’s. This image captures him lined-up on the tarmac of Plainville Stadium at one of that tracks fondly-recalled 100-lap mid-week open competition events. (Hoyt Photo).  

One of the real heavy-hitters in the Connecticut Modified wars of seasons-past, John Anderson got his start wheeling rides like this at the late Connecticut speedplant known as Plainville Stadium. Typical of the times, John’s car sported a pre-war body and a stock production frame. It was an era in the sport when guys still built & designed their own rides in home garages and sometimes in backyards under the stars. Big-changes were on the horizon, and within a few seasons a car like this would be considered all-but obsolete. Enter the “professional” chassis builders, and the sport changed forever. (Hoyt Photo).

Yup, a common sight at Plainville Stadium for probably more seasons than his fellow competitors will ever want to remember. Pictured here from left-to-right are Stadium’ owner Joe Tinty, all-time Plainville winner and New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member Dave Alkas, and car-owner Roland Cyr. After joining forces, Alkas & Cyr were virtually-unbeatable at the demanding little oval and remained-so until the unfortunate closure of the facility at the dawn of the 1980’s. It was simply another day at the track for Alkas & Cyr when Phil Hoyt captured this in his lens. (Hoyt Photo).

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

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