Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday November 25, 2009

Volume 1, Number 47                                                                                      New Column Every Wednesday


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By Dave Dykes                                                                              CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE


This week we present another varied mix from the archives. Here you’ll find a bit of everything from Modifieds to Midgets. We’ll keep the opening commentary to a minimum for this installment of  “RTT”, but we do want to send get-well wishes to our friends “Wild Bill” Slater and Jap Membrino who’ve both spent a bit of time in the “crash-house” as of late. Get well soon, guys!  
As always, enjoy!  Email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com 

More Memorable Moments From The Past…..

Few early Modified teams were more professional than that of “Wild Bill” Slater and his Bob Vitari & Vic Bombaci-owned #V-8. During an era in which the sport was still more than a little “rough-around-the edges”, these guys really shined. Their equipment was never-less than immaculate, and the driver and crew were always neatly-attired. This shot captures an early version of the #V-8 at a UNITED-sanctioned Eastern States event in Springfield, Massachusetts during the 1959 season. Slater, Vitari, and Bombaci are all members of the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame. (Photographer Unknown).

Another great shot of the legendary “Wild Bill” Slater-driven #V-8 team. Like mentioned-above, these guys simply epitomized professionalism during the early days of Modified racing in New England. As seen here, even the team’s hauler was a spiffy-looking unit. You have to wonder just how-many victories these two coupes were responsible-for, as Slater was definitely in his prime when this image was captured. (Photographer Unknown).   

And here’s an early-career shot of the memorable Anthony “Jap” Membrino. A top Modified shoe for over 3-decades, few were tougher than Jap during his era. Whether it was United haunts like West Haven, Riverside, or Joe Tinty’s glorious independently-sanctioned Plainville Stadium, he was always one of the guys to beat. Like Slater, Jap’s been a bit under-the-weather lately. Here’s a big “Get-Well” wish to ya’ Jap! (Faust Photo).

 

 

Over the years, I’ve been blessed in getting to know some of my childhood racing hero’s quite-well. Not unlike Slater, the guy you see here fit the bill as one of those heroes, and became a good friend. The late “Gentleman Dick” Watson was truly one of the sports class-acts. Dick started driving “cut downs” in the early 1950’s. He carved a name for himself, winning first in 1954 at Plainville Stadium with his own car, and continued regular wins for owners like John Lasier, One of Dick's most well known rides is the Bob Garbarino V-4, “Mystic Missile” which he ran at Waterford and in 1965 gained the Connecticut State Modified Championship. In 1966 the team started running the NASCAR Modified circuit. They moved up in a big way, winning the Thompson Speedway World Series and scoring top ten point finishes at Thompson in 1966 and '67, and at Stafford in '67 and '68 competing against some of the very best modified drivers of the era. He also competed in several Grand National (Sprint Cup) races. In 1969, at the Thompson 200 he was running fifth on lap 180, with eventual winner David Pearson, when a mechanical failure forced him out of the race with an 11th place finish. Dick hung-up his helmet in the 70’s following a bone-jarring crash at the Waterford Speedbowl. This shot captures the New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer celebrating a Thompson victory in a Garbarino coupe. (Smith Photo).     

Seen here flanked by Fred Luchesi and Joe McNulty is coupe-era car owner the late Bertha Small. One of the first-ever lady car-owners, she purchased a gas station in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, becoming involved in the sport as an owner. From 1950 to 1961, Bertha raced her #32 coupes at Seekonk, Norwood, Kingstown, Waterford, and Lonsdale. Jack Foley, Joe McNulty, Cy Yates, Red Bolduc and Hop Harrington were among the Modified greats to wheel her cars. Bertha raced at a time when many tracks still denied women access into the pits. As a result, she would often have to run the team from outside the pits, issuing orders to the men on her crew though the fence. Bertha was inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 2009. (R.A. Silvia Collection).   

Seen here in 1950 at Cherry Park in Avon, CT. is the late Bert Brooks, an early New England Midget racer of the first-degree. He started racing motorcycles then switched to midgets in the 1940’s. His first race was at Danbury CT. in 1945. In the early years, he drove a Ford-powered car and often won the non-Offenhauser championship. He joined the United Racing Club (URC) sprint car circuit in 1954 and won the championship four times, including three consecutive years - 1956, 1957 and 1958. He switched back to the ARDC midgets in 1959. In 1961 Brooks attempted to qualify for the Indianapolis 500. He passed the rookie test but was too slow to make the field in the Hall-Mar Curtis-Offy. He also tried to qualify at Milwaukee the week after Indy, but again was too slow, this time in the Eelco Custom Shaft Kuzma-Offy. Later that year he suffered a mangled arm in a wreck at Flemington. Sadly, Brooks, a New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer, perished in a multi-car crash during an ARDC Labor Day event at Hershey (PA) Stadium in 1968. (White Photo).

Captured here in the lens of racing photographer-extraordinaire (and buddy of “RTT”), Steve Kennedy is Rick Hart of Nassau, N.Y. It’s 1977 at the UNITED-sanctioned “New-London-Waterford Speedbowl, and the car is the Carl Kibbe-owned NEMA Midget. Still very-much involved with the club, Hart ran a number NEMA Lite Series shows in 2009. Owner Kibbe also remains on the scene, currently working with the Gene Angelillo team. As a side-note, Hart’s brother Rob Hart has had a very successful career with the world of outlaws as a crew chief. NEMA has long-been a part of the scene at Waterford, which is widely-recognized as one of the best Midget tracks in the region. (Kennedy Photo).     

Here’s an early shot of Johnny “Johnnyboy” Georgidas. A longtime coupe-era star in New England, Georgidas was particularly-tough at the Tattersall/United haunts of the day. We believe this ancient Shany image to have been recorded on the old 1/5-miler at the late Riverside Park Speedway in Agawam Massachusetts. (Shany Photo).

  

Ormie O’Hara was a young and popular mid-70’s Modified chauffer at Connecticut’s 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. As evidenced by the next photo, even the best drivers can have an off-night on occasion (Shany Photo).

And here’s Ormie and his little coupe again, this time in a less-than-flattering pose. Affectionately known by locals as the “shoreline oval” Waterford’s always been a tough-joint, and the racing is typical short-track stuff. Wheel-to-wheel action is the norm, and things happen really-fast as this photo attests-to. After departing the Speedbowl, Ormie later went-on to compete with the SNYRA at the late Danbury Fair Racearena. (Shany Photo).

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

 
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