Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday November 23, 2011

 Volume 3, Number 45                                                                                     New Column Every Wednesday


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By Dave Dykes                                                                              CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE

        It’s unfortunate, but this week we must open with the report of another New England racing personality leaving us. Walt Renner, a pioneering New England auto racing journalist and past recipient of the prestigious NEAR Jack Ratta Memorial Media Award passed away on November 16, at age-90. Our sincere condolences are offered to Walt’s family and many friends on this somber occasion. In happier news, tickets for this year’ s New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame induction slated for Sunday, January 29th are now on-sale. Visit www.near1.com to reserve your spot at this always sold-out affair. As-always, a big thanks to all that contributed photos to this week’s edition of RRT and above-all, everyone please have a HAPPY THANKSGIVING!  Email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com        

Sharing A Few More Modified Memories The Day Before Thanksgiving…..     

Starting-off this week’s edition of “Racing Through Time” we have a vintage shot sent-in by reader Bill Flood of Tampa, Florida. Bill writes “This is Ken Dayton who raced at Seekonk Speedway in Massachusetts. This picture was taken in 1963 when Seekonk ran flatheads. Ken raced in the 1950s with his friends from Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Guys like Hop Harrington and Andy Anderson. He also raced at Norwood Arena and the Kingston Fairgrounds. He retired when Seekonk went modified.” Special thanks to Mr. Flood for sharing his memories of the driver of this sharp little coupe! (Bill Flood Collection).               

Captured here during the 1960s at the former Riverside Park Speedway in Massachusetts is the late, great Ed Flemke Sr. Starting during the emerging popularity of stock cars in the post-war era, it’s estimated that he won over 500 feature events during a career which spanned 3-decades. Along the way, he helped many young drivers get their starts, including Daytona 500 winner Pete Hamilton, and Indy 500 veteran Dennis Zimmerman (also HOF members). As an expert car builder, he designed the “Flemke Front End” a chassis component that remained the standard in Modified construction for years. Ed was among the first inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 1998. On the outside of Eddie in this shot is yet-another Hall of Fame member, Billy Greco. (Tom Ormsby Collection).

Here’s another great image of “Steady Eddie” Flemke, this time from the Stafford Motor Speedway in Connecticut courtesy of our Webmaster and friend, Tom Ormsby. From Flemke’s HOF biography; “Steady Eddie” Flemke started his driving career in 1948 in the early jalopy races. In the 1950’s he raced at all the United Stock Car tracks and won Riverside Park championships in 1956 and 58. In 1960 with the emergence of NASCAR in New England he became the leader of the famed Eastern Bandits as they raced and won up and down the East Coast. He was never considered a points chaser but he still finished runner-up in the NASCAR National Modified championship in both 1960 and 61.He was known as the best of the big dollar race winners. Among his estimated 500 victories is the 1972 Spring Sizzler, two Utica Rome 400’s, and the 1977 Thompson 300. Flemke was also well known for his chassis innovations and his ability to make a car handle. He obviously developed the Flemke front end. Eddie was very willing to teach and encourage other drivers such as Denny Zimmerman, Reggie Ruggerio, Ron Bouchard and Richie Evans. Pete Hamilton honored Eddie Flemke by inviting him up to the press box after his Daytona 500 win and telling the crowd that he owed his victory to “Steady Eddie.” After a thirty year driving career Eddie retired after driving his last race at Stafford in 1978. He was a founding member of NEAR in 1981. He died of natural causes in 1984. (Tom Ormsby Collection)     

Captured here in the Lenny Plasse Coupe at Connecticut’s high-banked Thompson Speedway is the late Roland “Pappy” LaPierre. Long one of New England’s most- active competitors, he was still running a hectic schedule after many of his contemporaries had called it a day. It was only after a serious crash in the Plasse Maverick-bodied mount at Stafford in the 1970’s that he decided to retire. Pappy holds the dubious distinction of capturing the last-ever checkered flag for the modified division at Massachusetts’ storied Norwood Arena. On Saturday evening Oct 4, 1969, the 54 year old veteran bested Ed Flemke Sr., Bugs Stevens, and Fred DeSarro for the win. His son Roland Jr. also enjoyed a long & successful tenure in the Modifieds. Pappy will be inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame this year. (Dugas Photo).

Seen here pitside behind the controls of the Gada Racing Team Pinto is 1971 Waterford Speedbowl track champion Joey Trudeau. After taking the title in the “Smitty’s” #11 Coupe, Trudeau joined forces with the Gada’s enjoying a long successful run with one of the Speedbowl’s first families of racing. As with all of the team’s early equipment, this one was Ford-powered all the way…. (Dugas Photo).         

Recently serving as a Technical Inspector for the New England Antique Racers, our old pal Jim Torok was once a part of the weekly starting field at Connecticut’s “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl. Captured here pitside in the early-70s at the controls of his ultra-sanitary Coupe (a hallmark of all Torok creations), the consummate low-bucker ended his career at the now-shuttered Danbury Fair Racarena at the dawn of the 1980’s. In addition to his official duties with NEAR, he still manages to put in some fast-laps every season with the club as the owner and driver of the restored Corky Cookman Pinto and Lou Funk Buick straight-8 powered Coupe. (Dugas Photo).                    

Pictured here following a victory during the 1960s, the late Ray Delisle was one of the earliest of stars at the “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl. After recovering from serious injuries sustained in a fiery crash, he returned in 1964 to claim the Modified championship piloting the potent Simons Excavating #9. His last Waterford checker scored in 1965, he notched a career-total of 24 victories in both Modified and Non-Ford competition. In 2000 Delisle was voted one of the shoreline oval’s “50 Favorite Drivers” as part of the track’s 50th Anniversary celebration. (Shany Photo, Langer Collection).                 

Ed McAvoy was one of the premier performers at Connecticut’s “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl of the 1950s. A multi-time winner in both the Bomber and Non-Ford divisions, he’s seen here with a young fan celebrating one of his many feature victories that occurred during the formative years of the track affectionately-known as the “shoreline oval” by local race fans. (Shany Photo, Mal Phillips Collection).               

Lots of times, I look through my files and find multiple shots of the same car & driver; this is one of them. The driver is Art Michon, a talented shoe who during the 1970’s recorded a number of fine modified finishes at Waterford. I recall his neat-looking little coupe quite-well, and distinctly remember liking the way it looked. Like Plainville Stadium, Waterford still had some cool pre-war tin in its modified fields at a time when the Pinto/Vega invasion was in full-swing. It’s hard to beat tradition, and Art’s ride certainly fit that bill! (Shany Photo, Chris Langer Collection).                             

Last this week we have a nice shot of our friend New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member Billy Harman celebrating one of his many Speedbowl victories with UNITED’s Harvey Tattersall III. It’s the 1970s, and Billy was piloting the potent Coventry Racing Enterprises #11 coupe. From his Hall of Fame biography; At age 21, Billy Harman began racing a modified 312 Ford at Waterford New London.  He won a feature in his first year, as well as taking down Rookie of the Year honors.  He continued at the Speedbowl for the next 7 years, recording many wins and holding four different track records, including the fastest 10 lap heat, 25 lap feature, 50 lap feature, and non-stop 100 lap feature.  He dominated there, especially in 1965 and 1966, driving the L & M for owners Stanley Loskowski and Stanley Meczewski. After 1966, Bill felt it was time to move on to more and bigger challenges. He went on to win races for many car owners, including Freddie Beaber in the 715 and 716, Tuck Hoffman and Kevin Coan in the 73, and Bob Judkins in the 2x.  In 1971, driving the #55 for Ted Marsh, Billy finished 6th in the National Modified Championship.  He has raced from Canadian tracks in the north to Hollywood Speedway in Miami Beach, Florida.  He has raced as far west as Ohio, competing at 54 tracks, and winning at 14 different speedways.  From the Race of Champions in Trenton and Pocono to the Oxford Plains 250, Harman has thrived on the ‘big’ races.  He also competed in the 1st Thompson 500 ever run, running 2nd to Fred DeSarro in Ted Marsh’s 55 with only 10 laps to go before running blowing a motor. Harman belongs to the Racing Legends of the New London Waterford Speedbowl, where he is also a member of the Most Popular Drivers group.  He has been awarded the NASCAR Award of Professionalism by Jack Arute. (Dugas Photo).                          

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

 
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