Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday November 2, 2011

 Volume 3, Number 42                                                                                     New Column Every Wednesday


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By Dave Dykes                                                                              CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE

This time-around we present an assortment of New England racing personalities that really run the gamut. From the dawn of the region’s supermodified racing, to midgets, to stock cars, there’s a little something for everyone on this early November Wednesday. As-always, many-thanks to those who donated images this week! Email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com              

More Wednesday Wanderings…..     

Seen here early following a cut down victory early in his career is Fitchburg, Massachusetts’ Reino Tulonen. He competed in big cars, midgets, sprint cars, jalopies, coupes, modifieds and super modifieds. In 1951 he drove the Custom Auto Body Henry J in 4 NASCAR Grand National (now know as the Sprint Cup Series) events. His many accomplishments include winning the 1951 New England Championship and the 1951 Seekonk Cutdown championship. Known as "The Flying Finn", he built, owned, drove, and worked on his own cars. Later in his career, he was successful making the transition to supermodifieds and NASCAR modifieds, winning the 1964 Westboro, MA. title. Fittingly, Reino was inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 2005. (Photo Courtesy R.A. Silvia).            

We’re not-sure of the identity of the driver in this photo (I’ve been told that it’s Wes Moody), but we know it’s likely from Massachusetts’ late Pines Speedway, or Hudson in New Hampshire. On occasion, we’ll run-across “mystery-shots” and this is one of them. Either-way, we like the image, and it’s a great example of a typical Northern New England cut down coupe from the era when Oscar Ridlon’s URDC circuit was a real factor in the region. Feel-free to write if you have any information! (Photo Courtesy R.A. Silvia).                 

We really, really like this shot. Seen here in his garage during happier times is the late & much-missed Jim Cheney. Getting his career started on Oscar Ridlon’s old URDC circuit, he went on to become one of the greatest supermodified drivers in the Northeast. At the height of his career in 1977, he crashed at Oswego and was trapped inside the Holinski Roadster, upside-down and on fire. He was savagely burned and endured months of painful therapy over that winter. In storybook fashion, he returned the next season to win the season-opening 1978 Thompson Icebreaker. Sadly, this popular & extremely-gifted racer took is own life in December of 1996. (Photo Courtesy R.A. Silvia).     

Sully Sullivan was a constant on the supermodified circuit of northern New England for many seasons, and was a frequent winner. Their origins steeped in the days of the cut down coupes, these cars were overpowered, absolutely-brutish to drive, and extremely dangerous. Sullivan is captured here behind the controls of the Bob Edwards #444, one of the truly-choice rides of the era. (Photo Courtesy R.A. Silvia).             

From Connecticut’s Waterford Speedbowl; Wayne “Mr. Mysterious” Smith claimed most of his Speedbowl success in the support-division classes, his full-fender endeavors of the championship variety. As this shot illustrates, “Mr. Mysterious” also turned some laps in the modified wars, this sharp Corvair-bodied being one of his earlier efforts. (Dugas Photo).   

It’s the 1970s, and the location is Connecticut’s Waterford Speedbowl. The driver is Rod Tulba, a winner in the modifieds at the track affectionately-known by locals as the “shoreline oval.” As a close associate of the Gada clan, Tulba had begun his Speedbowl career hustling Daredevil division entries around the shoreline oval, advancing to the headlining modifieds in 1978, the year in-which this image was captured. Long after retiring, he returned to his old stomping-grounds as a winner in the “Heroes of The Bowl” events once held in conjunction with Nostalgia Weekend. (Kennedy Photo).               

Another Speedbowl image, this one captures New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member the late Gene Bergin behind the controls of the “Smitty’s #11” Pinto during the 1970s. From his HOF biography; Gene Bergin began and ended his career at the Stafford Motor Speedway. He qualified in the first race he entered but was disqualified when it was learned he was only 17 years old in 1949. He returned when he was of age to start a 29 year career competing and winning at all the southern New England race tracks. He was always a hard charger either on dirt or asphalt. He won the 1962 Riverside Park championship and the 1967 Stafford Motor Speedway championship in 67, the first year it was paved. One of his most significant wins was the 1971 Stafford 200. He started on the pole and led every lap to win in Bob Judkins 2X, the first ever NASCAR-legal Pinto-bodied modified. Other career highlights include winning an All Star race at Wall Stadium, and winning the Trenton qualifier at Thompson. Bergin was runner-up at the 1972 Race of Champions in Trenton. In addition to the 2X, he was mostly identified with driving Bebe Zalinski’s M6. (Kennedy Photo).          

Like the aforementioned Gene Bergin, this guy is also a member of the prestigious New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame. Seen here at the former Riverside Park Speedway in Agawam, Massachusetts celebrating one of his many, many, Northeastern Midget Association (NEMA) victories is Dave Humphrey. His list of accomplishments a long-one, the “Quiet Man” from Massachusetts was one of the premier players in the New England circle game for decades. Before becoming a New England midget racing legend, Dave did some time in the coupes. His name should be familiar to fans of Connecticut’s Waterford Speedbowl, as he was crowned that track’s first-ever modified champion in 1951. (Photo Courtesy R.A. Silvia).         

Another midget racing image from Riverside Park, seen here celebrating in victory lane is the legendary Ed “Dutch” Schaefer. A pre-war powerhouse, he was the 1940 champion at Cedarhurst, New York. Following World War II won the 1946 and 1948 track championships at Philadelphia’s Yellow Jacket Speedway. He was a four-time American Racing Drivers Club (ARDC) champion (1956, 1957, 1960, and 1965). He served as President of that East Coast regional racing organization from 1952 to 1968. Schaefer once won a USAC national midget event at Hershey, Pennsylvania by lapping the entire field. He later became the President of the Super Midget Racing Club, and won the series' title in 1973. He passed-way in 1978. (Photo Courtesy R.A. Silvia).        

Here’s just a wonderful color image from the early days of Connecticut’s much-missed Plainville Stadium courtesy of our friend & Webmaster, Tom Ormsby (himself a former modified racer at the track). Seen here is Tony Mordino, simply one of the best-of-the-best. A leading member of the legendary “Waterbury Gang” that also included guys like the late Danny Galullo, the battles he waged with established UNITED stars such as Billy Greco and Johnny “King” Cambino at the old West Haven Speedway are stuff of legend. He later conquered Plainville and Riverside Park; certainly two of the toughest bullrings in the Northeast. Tony retired following the 1975 Thompson 300, an event in which raced to a top-10 finish after having started 50th in the field. (Photo Courtesy Tom Ormsby).     

Bonus Shot; we just like this photo so-much, we figured we’d add it as an extra entry to this week’s edition of “RTT.” Captured here in the lens of our good friend & longtime Plainville Stadium official track photographer Phil Hoyt is our pal, Dave Alkas and the Roland Cyr-owned coach. An absolute powerhouse at late Connecticut facility, teamed with Cyr he notched 5 track championships in a 10-year period. Competing regularly against Plainville alumni like Reggie Ruggiero, Stan Greger, and Ronnie Rocco, he routinely bested the field, notching eleven feature wins in one season-alone. He won regularly during those great Plainville mid-week 100-lap open competition shows, beating visitors like Ed Flemke, Sr., Ron and Ken Bouchard, Bob Stefanik, and the late Dick Watson. The most successful Modified driver in Plainville Stadium history, Dave was inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 2008. (Hoyt Photo).            

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

 
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