Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday October 14, 2009

Volume 1, Number 41                                                                                      New Column Every Wednesday


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By Dave Dykes                                                                              CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE

Inspired by last weekend’s ultra-successful Plainville Stadium Reunion (congratulations to all-involved), I was moved to dig even-further into the archives to make this week’s installment of “RTT” a truly-varied affair. There’s a lot here to take-in here. Also as a bonus there is a video I found at the bottom of the page, Tribute To Richie Evans   
Email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com 

Yet Another Dose of Racin’ Remembrances….     

This New London-Waterford” Speedbowl shot has been languishing in the files for what seems like eons. A gift from my friend the late Dan Pardi, I’ve been hesitant to run-it as I have no-clue as to the identity of this 1950’s-era Bomber pilot. Purely because it’s a kinda’ neat-looking car (a Hudson perhaps?), I decided to publish-it. Check-out the skinny whitewall on the left-front and the turn-signal located on the top of the trunk (evidence of it being flat-towed to the track?). The driver’s rudimentary safety-equipment includes a Cromwell helmet (the drivers often referred to these leather-sided Brit-inspired gems as Brain Buckets”), and a short-sleeved shirt. If any readers know this racers identity, please don’t hesitate to contact me! (Shany Photo)

Here’s another gem from when the shoreline oval was officially-known as the “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl. The year is 1963, the driver is Walt Dombrowski, and by seasons-end he’d be crowned Bomber division champion. Driving this Bill Moran-owned coupe, Walt won six features on-route to the title, edging-out Jerry Dostie by fourteen points. Both later went-on to great success in the Modifieds. (Shany Photo).  

Moving-forward a few years, here’s Bowl’ regular John Bunnell behind the controls of one of his 80’s-era Pinto Modifieds. The exact date is May 26, 1984, the event was the Memorial Day 100, and it was won by New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer and multi-time Waterford champion, Bob Potter. Bunnell advanced from the ranks of the full-bodied support divisions in the 1970’s earning “Rookie of the Year” honors in 1976. Member of a prominent Speedbowl racing family that includes cousins Donnie and Eddie (the latter a Bomber champ), John’s successful career continued for many seasons after this shot was captured. (Nickel Photo).

Though he ventured far-away from the confines of the shoreline oval as his career progressed, “Little Bill” Harman will forever be recognized as one of the best to have ever competed at the “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl. A local product, he started his racing career at the Bowl’ as a teenager during the “Coupe Era” and was quickly recognized by the top car-owners of the day as a competent chauffer. After almost immediate success at the shoreline oval, he hit the road, becoming one of New England’s premier NASCAR Modified racers. Retiring in the 1970’s while still in his prime, Harman was inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 2004. He’s pictured here at Stafford Springs Motor Speedway in the early-70’s with the Ted Marsh-owned coupe, one of the premier rides of the day. (Dugas Photo).    

Seen here being chased by the late Ray Hendricks in the potent Tant-Mitchell #11 at we believe to be New York State’s Albany-Saratoga Speedway, is the driver that will forever be known as “The Champ”, Rene Charland. His extraordinary career spanned 35 years starting at Riverside Park in 1949 and concluding at Fonda Speedway in 1984. During that time it is estimated that he won over 700 features. He raced with ease on either dirt or asphalt often running alternate nights on different surfaces with the same car. He was most closely-identified with the #3, as pictured here. Winning an unprecedented 4 NASCAR National Sportsman championships from 1962 through 65, his quest for a fifth title ended when he was seriously injured in a fiery crash on Memorial Day weekend at Malta in 1966. He was forced to sit out the rest of the season, but at that point he had already earned 5700 points, enough for a third-place finish. A member of the famed “Eastern Bandits” he won track championships at Stafford, Ct,(2), Norwood Arena, Mass., Millers Falls Mass., Keene N.H., Brattleboro Vt., Islip, N.Y., Manassas, Va., Fort Dix, N.J., and Utica Rome, N.Y. (3). In addition he won 4 Canadian National championships. “The Champ” was among the first inductees into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 1998. (Photographer Unknown).

Here’s a rare-shot from the lens of longtime racing lensman and Racing Through Time friend, John Grady. It’s the 1960’s, the venue is the famed Fonda Speedway in New York State, and the surface is dirt. Once-upon-a-time, before NASCAR’s top class (then known as the Grand National division), became so-specialized, the sanctioning body actually required those running the entire tour to race on dirt as-well as asphalt. Seen here with his Ford Galaxie entry is “Tiger Tom” Pistone. Making his Grand National debut in 1955, he won two races and finished 6th in championship points during the 1959 season wheeling the Carl Rupert entry. He was away from NASCAR in 1963 and 1964, but returned in 1965 to drive in thirty-three events for Glen Sweet and Emory Gilliam. His final Grand National race came in 1968. Pistone is also credited for inventing the screw jack. As an amusing side-note, legend has-it that he once wore a life preserver and oxygen tube in his car while racing at Daytona for fear of running into the lake in the middle of the speedway and drowning. The Batman t-shirt was a sign of the times, as the DC comic book hero was the subject of a wildly-popular ABC television series starring Adam West in the title role. (Grady Photo).   

Former Waterford Speedbowl champion Rick Donnelly was a young upstart on Harvey Tattersall’s UNITED circuit when this shot was taken during the mid-1970’s. The locale is Plainville Stadium during one of Joe Tinty’s great mid-week open shows. As noted here many times in the past, the 100-lap contests routinely attracted New England’s best Modified drivers. The guy on the outside of “Rapid Rick” is none-other than New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer and Plainville’s all-time Modified winner, Dave Alkas in the Roland Cyr-owned Vega. (Hoyt Photo).

The gentleman you see here is Plainville Stadium regular Freddie Colossa with the Buddy Rouleau-owned Coupe. Following this neat entry, Rouleau (formally a driver himself), again took the wheel to campaign a sleek Vega-bodied creation that was considered quite-radical for the time. In addition to his Stadium’ endeavors, he also occasionally ran at Waterford and Thompson. Though not evident in this black & white print, Buddy’s cars always carried a striking black & gold color combination. (Hoyt Photo). 

Seen here at a Plainville open show in the early-1970’s piloting what’s certainly one of the most-recognizable cars in the history of the Waterford Speedbowl is Angie Cerease in the Willys-bodied L & M coupe. Trailing close-behind is Stadium great, Nicky Porto. Note the “lever” sticking-up in the cockpit of the L & M – it served a hand-activated brake control. The late Owen Bowen is responsible for the tinwork on some of the most-radical designs to have ever-emerged from the Speedbowl. In addition to the L & M, he also crafted the revolutionary “M” Pinto of Seabury Tripler (arguably the first-ever Pinto Modified in New England), and the Rambler American bodied-mount of the late “Wild Bill” Scrivener. (Hoyt Photo).

This is simply a great action-shot of two members of the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame doing their thing. It’s Plainville Stadium, and on inside is late “Gentleman Dick” Watson in the Norm Kies coupe, and taking the high-line is all-time Stadium Modified winner & championship-holder, Dave Alkas piloting his Roland Cyr-owned coach. Note how-close these guys are running. Does it get any-better than this? By this stage of his career, Watson was running close-to-home weekly, making Waterford his regular Sat. night haunt. However, he also experienced great success at Plainville’s mid-week open shows, winning a number of the fondly-recalled 100-lappers. (Hoyt Photo).






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