Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday November 14, 2012
 


 

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By Dave Dykes                                                                            CLICK ON PHOTOS FOR FULL SIZE

This week we take another look at Connecticut’s much-missed Plainville Stadium and also the Waterford Speedbowl which is fortunately still going-strong. Special thanks go-out to our pal R.A. Silvia for again providing the photos, all culled from his expansive archives. Also, Get-Well wishes go-out to our friend, NEAR Hall of Famer & current NEAR President Val LeSieur who’s recently spent a little time in the “crash house.” Don’t forget, on his weekend Sunday, November 18, twenty racing pioneers considered central to the success of the sport in New England during its formative era will be inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame at the Speedway Clubhouse located on the grounds of the Thompson International Speedway in Thompson, Connecticut. Doors open at 10:00 am, with dinner to be served at 1:00. Visit the NEAR website at www.near1.com for more details. Forwarding to December, Hall of Famer Billy Greco will also be hosting a Racing Movie Party on Saturday December 8, 2012 at the Polish-American Club on 194 West Spring Street in West Haven, Connecticut. Doors Open at 7:00 PM. Raffle donations are currently being sought. Visit www.near1.com for directions and more details on this event. As-always, email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com

This Week; More From Plainville & Waterford….

Captured here following a coupe-era win at Plainville while aboard Bob Judkins potent #2x, few individuals meant more to New England modified racing than the late “Steady Eddie” Flemke. 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. As an expert car builder, he designed the “Flemke Front End” a chassis component that remained the standard in modified car construction for years. Both Eddie and Judkins are members of the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame. (Faust Photo, R.A. Silvia Archives).

This is simply a nice 1980s shot from Waterford. Meet Donnie Bunnell, one of the shoreline oval’s most popular drivers, well-respected by both the fans and his fellow competitors. Hailing from Montville, a mere stones-throw from the Speedbowl, he gained early career notoriety wheeling his family’s familiar #318. It was a number made famous at the Speedbowl by his brother Ed, a 60s-era Bomber champion. Smooth-as-silk behind the wheel, he was one of those racers seldom-involved in on-track trouble. His style echoed that of the Collins/ Potter/ Dunn standard. At the time of this image, he was wheeling the Pat’s Auto Center “Blue Knight” #73. To the disappointment of his many fans (this scribe among them), Donnie retired during the early-90’s while still in his prime. (Kennedy Photo, R.A. Silvia Archives).

Sadly, Plainville Stadium records are hard to come-by, even more-so when you’re speaking of the tracks midget racing history. Seen here taking the inside line at Joe Tinty’s former ¼-miler is New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member, the late Joe Csiki. Recalled primarily as an open-wheel racer of the first-degree, he actually won his first-ever feature in a stock car on the 1/5-mile at Riverside Park Speedway in Massachusetts on May 4, 1957, Before that, he was turning heads as a talented competitor, being named the 1956 United Stock Car Club’s “Most Promising Driver.” Shortly after switching exclusively to midgets, he was crowned the 1958 NEMA Rookie of the Year. He was the 1961 NEMA Non-Offy Owner Champion, and the ’62 NEMA Non-Offy Driver Champion. He followed up as the 1963 and ’65 NEMA Driver Champion.  In 1964, he was named United Racing Club Rookie of the Year, and he was the ARDC Driving Champion in 1966. Csiki listed two ARDC 100 lap races, one at Old Bridge and one at Wall Stadium, along with a 50 lapper at Trenton in 1966, as three of his bigger wins. Sadly, his life ended tragically from injuries sustained at Bedford, PA Fairgrounds in August of 1967. (Les King Photo, R.A. Silvia Archives).

Another Saturday night, another feature victory; this is how I like to recall my friend New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer, the late Dick Watson. From that first race in 1953 until his retirement in 1976, he competed at tracks across New England including; Waterford, West Haven, Plainville Stadium, Lonsdale, Seekonk, Langhorne (dirt & paved), Norwood Arena, Thompson Speedway, & Stafford Motor Speedway. His first victory came at Plainville Stadium. Among his most notable rides was the Bob Garbarino #V-4“Mystic Missile” and the Freddie Beaber #716 as seen-here. In 1966 he moved to the NASCAR modified circuit, winning the Thompson World Series. He scored top-ten point finishes at Thompson in 1966 and '67, and at Stafford in '67 and '68 competing against some of the very best drivers of the era. Dick also competed in several Grand National (now known as Sprint Cup) events. 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. In 1972 he returned to Waterford, again experiencing great success at his old haunt. Dick hung up his helmet after a violent crash during a qualifying heat at the shoreline oval in 1976, where he suffered a concussion, lower back injuries, and several broken ribs. (Shany Photo, R.A. Silvia Archives).

Here’s another shot of one of our pals. Like so many of the drivers that became premier players within Plainville Stadium’s weekly action, popular Don Spazano traces his “racing-roots” back to the old Novice Division. This shot however, captures him in later years as one of the top modified pilots at Joe Tinty’s late (and much-missed), Connecticut oval. Riding high on the tracks all-time winners list, the popular Spazano also competed with success at a number of other tracks in the region including Riverside Park. You gotta’ love this neat-looking coach, a body-style that always seemed popular at Plainville. Also note that it was the pre-firesuit era. (Hoyt Photo, R.A. Silvia Archives).

Here’s an image of one of the Speedbowl’s toughest-ever competitors. Like every short track, the Waterford has had its share of real “stand on the gas” competitors over the years, and this guy was one of them. Captured here at the shoreline oval during the 1970s, Glynn Shafer won a ton of races during his long career which started in the Bomber Class and concluded in the modifieds. As exciting a wheelman as ever witnessed at the Speedbowl, he ALWAYS coaxed the most out of his equipment. (Shany Photo, R.A. Silvia Archives)

Captured here during one of the great Plainville open competition show of the 1970s, when you think of New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member Charles “Chick” Stockwell, your mind immediately conjures-up images of overwhelming success as the all-time winner on the ultra-competitive surface of the late SNYRA-sanctioned Danbury Fair Racearena in Connecticut. Nine championships, 207 victories, and a stint as “Most Popular Driver” for six-years (1976-1981), are bound to sew-up his association with what was once considered one of the most-successful short track operations in America. Sadly, we lost Danbury at the conclusion of the 1981 season so a shopping mall could be constructed on the property. Like we needed another mall in Connecticut, right? (Steve Kennedy Photo, R.A. Silvia Archives).

While it seems that most of today’s fans don’t realize it, before stock cars took-over in popularity following the war years, midgets were THE short-track attraction across the nation. Many of our regions speedways were constructed with the intent of featuring the class on a weekly basis. Seen here at the Speedbowl during the 1970s following a victory aboard the Fusco VW is Johnny Mann, one of the best-ever. A multi-time Northeastern Midget Association champion, Mann scored heavily with multiple New England Midget sanctioning bodies and ranks 5th on the all-time NEMA winners list. (Steve Kennedy Photo, R.A. Silvia Archives).

It’s the 1972 season at Plainville Stadium, and that’s a young Reggie Ruggiero posing with starter Billy Dunn following a feature victory on Joe Tinty’s little ¼-mile circle of tarmac. You have to wonder if at this point in his career, “The Reg” ever dreamed that he’d become one of the most accomplished and admired drivers in all of New England modified racing. After subbing for an injured Don Moon one year at the Stadium and winning fourteen features in the process, Ruggiero so-impressed NASCAR Modified owner Mario Fiore (also a Hall of Famer), that he was pegged to replace the late Gary Colturi in the potent #44. As the old saying goes, “The Rest is History”. (Hoyt Photo, R.A. Silvia Archives).

Here’s 1993 Waterford Speedbowl modified track champion Jerry Pearl and his team celebrating a shoreline oval feature victory during the 1978 campaign. Long-before he appeared at the Speedbowl as a regular earlier in the decade, he had been wheeling modifieds all over New England. Plainville, Riverside, Stafford, Thompson, it ran the gamut. A super-consistent performer wherever he ran, he was particularly good at Waterford. Today, Jerry’s son Jeff carries on the family tradition and is himself a champion, taking the title Bowl’ modified title in 1998. (Kennedy Photo, R.A. Silvia Archives).

BONUS SHOT 1: Here’s a dramatic Steve Kennedy action-shot from the 1970s for you. Seen here circling the Speedbowl during a Yankee All-Star League event is none other than Ollie Silva and Richie Evans. It would take a lot more room than this column allows in listing the accomplishments of this pair of drivers. Both Hall of Famers, these guys represented the best New England short track racing had to offer during their eras. Many in the sport feel that with their passing, modified racing lost a great deal of its identity. Saying that they were both supremely-important to our segment of the sport would be an understatement. (Kennedy Photo, R.A. Silvia Archives)

BONUS SHOT 2: It’s the 1970s, and crossing the finish line for another Speedbowl feature victory is the late Bill Scrivener. He’d burst upon scene in the early-60s, quickly becoming one of biggest stars of the then immensely-popular Bomber division. Christened "Wild Bill" for a somewhat-unbridled driving style, he was called-upon to wheel some of the best rides of his era. While he was successful "right out of box" so-to-speak, his best season was 1965, the year he was crowned Bomber champion. After advancing to the headlining modifieds, he continued to frequent victory lane on a regular basis with his final feature triumph coming on Easter Sunday, 1974. (Shany Photo, R.A. Silvia Archives)

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

This weeks comments:

(1 days ago) Bill Sweet Jr said:

It might just be me but if you let your imagination run free for a few seconds,you could easily mistake "The Reg" in the #59 for a young Sid DiMaggio( with a goatee of course)

(1 days ago) Kirtland Belz said:

dave, great page, look forward to it every week. Blaine is my uncle, and looking for a photo of his pinto mod with the wing on it. he was never a picture taker.

(1 days ago) bob georgiades said:

does anyone have any shots of the yankee all star shows from the park? i can remember seeing Lou Lazzarro in a valiant or rambler bodied dirt car, Buzzie Reutimann in his famous 00 coupe, Evans, Cook. midweek show. way too cool.

(3 days ago) Anonymous said:

did anyone know that Blaine Belz's first "Q" modified was a Ron Narducci's #98 chevy coupe

(4 days ago) scott ayer said:

always great racing of the past thanks for this page & keep up the good work

(5 days ago) Walt Scadden said:

Dave, great shot of "Quick Silva in the Zero" Ollie was one of New Englands great Stars and certainly stood the Speedbowl on its ear a couple times, Thanks for the memories

(6 days ago) George Libby said:

I went up to see Chick this last August and he looks just like he did in the picture you showed this week. He never seems to age after all these years. Thanks Dave

(6 days ago) NELS said:

ANOTHER GREAT WEEK DAVE! THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES!

(6 days ago) Cal in Clinton said:

Richie never won at waterford . did he ever race or win at Plainville?

(6 days ago) John Perry said:

great memories

 
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