Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday November 4, 2009

Volume 1, Number 44                                                                                      New Column Every Wednesday


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Recently, I stumbled-upon some shots that I’d not viewed in literally, years. Carefully squirreled-away in a box were some floppy disks and photos included in items that I’d apparently not unpacked years-ago when I purchased the house I’ve called home for several years. Some of those shots are included in this week’s installment. Also, don’t forget, this Saturday evening November 7th, it’s the 13th annual NEAR Movie Party held at the Dante Club 1198 Memorial Ave. in West Springfield (across from the Eastern States Expo Fairgrounds). For more details on the event, visit www.near1.com  As always, enjoy!    
Email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com 

Confessions Of A “Racing Packrat” (Or Stuff I Forgot I Had….)       

We start this week’s column with an early-career shot of a guy that was both a top competitor at the “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl and also a trendsetter in defining the “look” of Modified stock cars in the years following the “Coupe Era”. Seen here in an early “M” Coupe is Seabury Tripler. Along with talented fabricator the late Owen Bowen, “Trip” introduced New England’s first-ever Pinto-bodied Modified at Waterford on opening day of 1971. The event scantly pre-dated NEAR Hall of Famer Bob Judkins’ debut of his Pinto, which became the first NASCAR-legal mount sporting the then-new Ford subcompact tinwork. (Shany Photo).

Captured here on the old Riverside Park fifth-mile in Agawam, Massachusetts is Ronnie Wycoff. Starting his racing career in Florida, he joined the Sportsman ranks at Plainville Stadium after moving North in 1959. Success in the Modifieds quickly-followed, with wins at an assortment of New England speedplants. Included in those victories are multi-time triumphs in UNITED’s “Riverside 500” events, once a benchmark of the Northeastern racing season. Now retired from both racing and his long-time employment at H.O. Penn (where he worked with NEAR Hall of Famer Dave Alkas), Ronnie still enjoys attending the races. He can be found most Saturday nights at the Waterford Speedbowl, observing the action from the first-turn. (Shany Photo).    

Another image from the late Riverside Park, this one shows Johnny Lobo in the early-seventies. Lobo was a fixture on the regions Modified circuit for years, but is probably best-recalled for his triumphs at Agawam. Recording his first win at The Park’ on June 6, 1963, he managed a career-total of six feature victories, the last coming on May 3, 1975. One of the most successful tracks in our region’s racing history, Riverside unfortunately closed it gates in 1999 after 51-consectutive years of operation to make-room for expansion of the adjacent amusement park. (Shany Photo courtesy of James Scott Haag).

It’s the “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl in (we-believe) 1971 or 72, and the driver is a youthful Don Kibbe. One of the more-accomplished chauffeurs of his time, Kibbe was a winner and extremely-popular with the fans. Don’s family remains busy in racing today, the Kibbe name a familiar-one on the NEMA open-wheel circuit. As a side-note, check-out the absolutely-packed grandstands, which was once the norm on Saturday nights at the Speedbowl. Like so-many other short-tracks across the country, the shoreline oval has experienced a number of financial hardships over the past-few seasons. On Friday Oct 30th, the Speedbowl’s ownership group filed Chapter 11 Bankruptcy in federal court. On a brighter-note, a recent press release from the track claims that the 2010 racing season is safe. The Speedbowl (originally billed “New London Speedway”), has been in continuous operation since the spring of 1951. (Shany Photo).     

If you’re reading this column, you likely know the identity of this racer (if you don’t, shame on you!). Seen here at New York’s Lancaster Speedway in 1970, the late Richie Evans left his family's farm at age 16 to work at a local garage. After finding early success in drag racing, a friend suggested he try building a car to race at the nearby Utica-Rome Speedway. He ran his first oval-track car, a 1954 Ford Hobby Stock numbered PT-109 (after John F. Kennedy's torpedo boat in World War II), in 1962. He advanced to the Modifieds in 1965, winning his first feature in the season's final night. In 1973, Evans became the NASCAR National Modified Champion. In 1978 he won a second title and did not relinquish his crown during the next seven years. Evans took over four hundred feature race wins at racetracks from Quebec to Florida before he was fatally injured at age-44 in a practice crash at Martinsville in late 1985. Before his death, he’d already clinched the inaugural Winston Modified Tour championship (now known as Whelen Modified Tour). In 1979-alone, he started 60 NASCAR Modified races and posted 54 top-five finishes -- including 37 victories. Richie was among the first inductees into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 1998. Evans was, and will forever be-known as the “King of the Modifieds”. (Smith Photo).

Here’s a very-young Mark LaJeunesse during his first-ever Stafford Springs Motor Speedway outing. It’s the spring of 1973, and the Norwich, CT. native and former quarter-midget racer has recently started a successful Modified career that lasted over three-decades (though he’s still not officially retired). A seasoned competitor at the Waterford Speedbowl, his accomplishments at the shoreline oval include snaring the United Stock Car Racing Club’s 1975 Sportsman-Modified Championship, and scoring a stunning victory in the 2000 Budweiser Modified Nationals. On this day, Mr. LaJeunesse was in some pretty-elite company. Pitting to the left is 6-time NASCAR National Modified champion, Jerry Cook. In recent years, Mark’s son Dan has been a steady SK Modified competitor at the Thompson Speedway. (Smith Photo).

Another shot from Lancaster Speedway in New York State, seen here during the early 1970’s is Maynard Troyer. From a purely historical standpoint, Troyer is mainly recalled as a top Northeastern Modified racer, though he also competed at the NASCAR Grand National level. It was in 1971 however, that he garnered national-attention, and not for a good-reason. During a Daytona Speedweeks outing, Troyer’s Nagle-sponsored Ford Torino flipped an incredible 15-times. Amazingly, he emerged with only minor-injuries and was again racing within a short-time. Backtracking a-bit, Troyer’s career actually began in Sarasota, Florida in 1956. After relocating to Rochester, N.Y. in 1964 he paired with Dave Nagle, owner of Nagel Ford in forming a Late Model team. An ultra-successful union, the first season yielded twenty feature wins as well a track championship. Always the innovator, Troyer was the first to run 15" wide racing tires – a trend that helped to change short track racing. Following a spectacular career as one of the countries premier Modified shoes, he retired from driving in 1982 at age-44 to become the man behind Troyer Engineering, and the rest is history. Note the absolutely-flawless shape of this car. Maynard ALWAYS had some of the best-looking rides in the sport! (Smith Photo).  

As a race-crazy kid in the 1960’s and 70’s, I can vividly recall combing the classified section of “Cavalcade of Auto Racing” every-month looking for ads advertising “Photos for Sale”. I’d save my pennies (along with an occasional donation from my late mom, who was the person that got me-interested this game), and I’d send-off for a few shots from some faraway Modified haunt that I’d read-about. I believe this to be one of those photos. Pictured here in about 1970 is Dick Emerson, a weekly competitor at Lancaster Speedway. Lots of times, I’d pick shots because I simply liked the car, which is the case here. It was a Falcon-bodied Modified, and I was used to seeing mostly Coupes at the tracks I frequented with my family. Admittedly, I don’t know much about Emerson or his career, but I sure liked the looks of his Modified! (Smith Photo)

Seen here is 1960 Islip Speedway champion George Tet (real name Tetsio Futchiami). Born on April 1, 1923 and hailing from Ozone Park, NY., he was a premier Long Island, New York-area racer for decades. By-day, he earned his keep running a wildly-successful florist business. George's American family was actually from Hawaii, but of Japanese decent. Records indicate that he was the first-ever Japanese-American Modified driver. Note the “Geisha Girl” on the side of the car; it was a trademark on almost all of Tet’s machines. Not only a competitor at the short-track level, he also raced at Daytona on several occasions during the early 1960’s. (Photographer Unknown).

Lastly, from 1965 here’s a shot of an event that was once a HUGE yearly happening in New England. The races held on the ground of the Eastern States Exposition (The Big E), in Massachusetts every summer always drew a banner-crop of the best in the business. Teams pitted on the infield, and it was always close-quarters. Prominently seen here is Modified great “Lil’ Dan” Gaudioso behind the wheel of one of the famed “Sharkey” #44 Coupes. It was a Harvey Tattersall promotion, and anyone doubting that The United Stock Car Racing Club wasn’t once the most-powerful sanctioning body in New England needs only to peek at some of the records from these races. NASCAR was still small-potatoes in our region at the time. (Photographer Unknown).

 

BONUS VIDEO
Maynard Troyer flips an incredible 15 times during the 1971 Daytona 500. He would escape serious injury.

 
 

 

 
     

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

 
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