Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday November 18, 2009

Volume 1, Number 46                                                                                      New Column Every Wednesday


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Thanks to some assistance from a few good friends, this week we present a truly-diverse selection of New England racin’ images. Our old buddy “Finch Fenton” (AKA Coastal 181’s Lew Boyd), and RTT Webmaster Tom Ormsby submitted some real gems for our viewing pleasure. Special thanks goes to reader George Blatt of Wentzville, MO. who sent-along a truly extraordinary recollection (complete with photos), of what it was like growing-up around the tracks of New York State during the 1960’s and 70’s. Look for a feature on Mr. Blatt’s remembrances in a future installment of RTT. Lastly, condolences to the Tinty family of Plainville Stadium fame on the loss of Don Tinty who passed-away recently. For many-years, Don was a presence at the track that his father Joe owned and promoted. He was 78  As always, enjoy!  Email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com 

Lakeville, West Haven, and More…..     

The late Tony Mordino is seen here following another memorable victory. It’s thanks to the diligence of people like RTT Webmaster Tom Ormsby that images like this gem still exist. He was one of the first guys to bring the history of New England’s glorious racing past to the masses via the internet. This photo remains one of his favorites, and I’ll let him explain the reason for all the extra smiles in this ancient West Haven Speedway shot. “The #78 which was owned by Bucky Membrino and driven by Tony Mordino lost a wheel on the last lap of a feature. Jap Membrino pushed the car over the finish line with the wheel off and Tony won the race.  If I recall the story right, UNITED’s Harvey Tattersall then made a rule that a car had to finish the race under its own power!” Along with the crew is (L-R), Jap, Bucky, and Tony. (Shany Photo, courtesy Tom Ormsby).

Ever hear of company known as Coastal 181 Publishing? If not, you should check it out at www.coastal181.com because if you’re reading this column, you’ll be sure to find something you like there. Anyway, a guy by the name of “Finch Fenton” runs the place and as his shot illustrates, he knows a bit about short-trackin’. Captured here in one of his early mounts is one Lew Boyd (AKA “Finch”), and the locale is the late Lakeville Speedway, a former dirt haunt up Massachusetts-way. Coaches were cool! (Boyd Collection).   

And here’s another one of “Finch” captured after a hard-day of mud-slingin’ at Lakeville back in the 1970’s. The pretty young lass is none other than his better-half, Cary Boyd. The youngster clenching the checkered flag is Jeff Horn’s son Michael. Lew of course, was a member of the “Jewish Lightning Racing Team” along with Bruce Cohn and Dr. Dick Berggren. To say the least, Lew Boyd has had an interesting career in the sport. Wheeling everything from Dirt Modifieds & Supers, to his writing and publishing endeavors, he’s managed to keep his finger on the pulse of the sport for decades. He’s also a veritable encyclopedia of facts on the late Lakeville Speedway. A ½-mile dirt oval originally opened in the late 1920’s and located near Middleborough and Bridgewater, it was also known as Middleborough Fairgrounds, Camp Joe Hooker and Golden Spur Speedway throughout its history. The location also once served as a horse training camp for the Army. Never a really a spit n’ shine facility, it was a true “old-time” dirt track. Fondly recalled by all who raced-there, Lakeville closed its gates in 1975. (Boyd Collection).

 

Anyone for some Lakeville-style aerial acrobatics? This shot of Bruce “Gomer” Taylor taking a nasty spill must have made every trade paper in New England (including the cover of a Cavalcade of Auto Racing Pictorial), when it occurred back in the early 1970’s. Lakeville was a no-holds-barred fun place to race, but like all tracks, it could be treacherous at-times as this photo clearly illustrates. One of the things that always intrigued me about this shot is the varied expressions on the faces of the crowd. Some react in sheer panic, some are plain-horrified, and a few even manage a smile. Taylor by the way escaped serious harm in this episdode to become one of the top racers in the region during later years. (Boyd Collection).      

Seen here “On the Gas” is John Richmond piloting his traditional Coupe and Dick Hansen in what looks to-be a more contemporary Falcon or Corvair. Note the “uneven” cement retaining wall as well as the rather-substantial rocks up in the cushion – both hallmarks at “Golden Spur”. Popular legend has-it that a murky concoction consisting of used motor oil was liberally spread on the racing surface to keep the dust in-check at Lakeville (remember, this was in the days before “Going Green” was all the rage across the nation). (Boyd Collection).   

Deke Astle was a Lakeville track champion as well as one of the most celebrated drivers in the history of New England auto racing. Another one of those guys that was comfortable on both dirt and asphalt, his name is prominently etched into the record books of places like the paved Seekonk Speedway too, where he is also listed as a champion. Affectionately recalled by fans as the “Little Man with the Big Cigar”, he was always in the hunt at Lakeville. Note the mufflers on Deke’s stout little Coupe in this shot. Like Connecticut’s Plainville Stadium, Lakeville was one of the earliest tracks in our region to mandate the sound-suppressing devices. (Boyd Collection)

Captured here before a packed-house at Connecticut’s “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl of the 1960’s in a nifty pair of Coupe “team cars” is the late George “Moose” Hewitt in the #11, and Walt Dombrowski in the #111 (in the background is Don Kibbe in the #14). Both Modified champions, Hewitt took the title on 5-occasions in the 1970’s and 80’s, while Dombrowski clinched in 1970 while behind the controls of the famed L&M Coupe. (Shany Photo).    

Here’s a 60’s-era Speedbowl pitside image that your author needed a bit of assistance-with. Shown is a car frequently associated with the great Newt Palm, a Speedbowl champion, and one of the shoreline oval’s all-time greatest. The name above the door really threw-me and I thought perhaps that “Donald” referred to New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer and Bowl’ legend, Don Collins. It was veteran Speedbowl Modified campaigner and friend Mark LaJeunesse informing me that “Donald” was in-fact, Donald “Hank” Stevens. After all these-years, I’d forgotten that the late Stevens (a celebrated racer in his own-right), had once wheeled this car, and that “Hank” was actually his nickname. Goes to show that in this business, you learn something new every day! (Photographer Unknown).  

Just a neat shot of two Connecticut Modified shoes that left their mark at places like Waterford, Thompson, and Stafford. On the left is the late Ed Yerrington Sr., and on the right is Art Moran Sr. After an accomplished career as a racer, Yerrington went-into the management segment of the sport and remained a respected figure within the sport. Moran competed with success for many seasons, most notably at the Waterford Speedbowl before calling it quits at the dawn of the 1980’s. As with Yerrington’s cars, his early rides (including a memorable Coach-bodied mount), carried the #66. Another generation of the Moran clan remain racers at the Bowl’ today. Not all early Modifieds were of the Coupe/Coach variety. Note that the little number pictured here carries Studebaker Lark sheet-metal. (Photographer Unknown).

Lastly, here’s a nice action-shot of Jim Torok at Connecticut’s late Danbury Fair Racearena. Starting his career at the “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl in the early 1970’s, he later moved to the SNYRA-sanctioned Racearena, once one of the most successful of all short track operations in the United States. After Danbury was shuttered in 1981, Torok became interested in the then-fledging vintage racing movement, eventually getting involved with the New England Antique Racers (NEAR). These days, Jim campaigns two restored racers with the club, the #009 Coupe of Lou Funk, and the #04 Pinto of the late Prentice “Corky” Cookman. A true low-buck operator during his days as an active Modified racer, Torok was popular among both his fellow racers and the fans. (Mannion Photo).

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

 
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