Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday October 21, 2009

Volume 1, Number 42                                                                                      New Column Every Wednesday


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By Dave Dykes                                                                              CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE

This week’s column takes a peek at yet-more New England Modified racing personalities from the 1970’s. Here you’ll find some images from Connecticut’s  late Plainville Stadium, the Waterford Speedbowl (still-going strong!), and even a shot of “Daring Dick” Caso back-when he occasionally ran the dirt of New York State’s much-heralded Lebanon Valley and Fonda Speedways. As always, enjoy!    
Email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com 

Yet More Modifieds – 1970’s Style!      

We start this week’s installment with a photo of the fellow that’s not-only responsible for bringing you my weekly “Racing Through Time” endeavors, but also the site that’s become perhaps the most-popular spot on the Internet for keeping-abreast of the latest New England racing news. Seen here during his days as a young Modified driver is “Tommy” Ormsby, the guy behind www.speedwaylinereport.com and of course, the historically-rich www.vintagemodifieds.com Tom ran weekly at The Stadium’ for years, and was a well-liked and respected member of the “Plainville Gang”. Fortunately for-us, he took-up computers after leaving racing, his first endeavor being the Vintage Modifieds site which he started a number of years-ago. Now residing in Florida, Tom also stays active with the New England Antique Racers (NEAR), serving as the clubs webmaster www.near1.com  Busy guy, that Mr. Ormsby! (Hoyt Photo).

In the era before such-specialization in Modified car-construction, a guy like “Daring Dick” Caso could take the same ride he ran weekly on asphalt at places like Waterford and Thompson, change the tires, make a few adjustments, and Presto! – He had an instant “dirt machine”. Actually, in the earlier days of the sport this was a very-common occurrence, but not so-much when this shot was captured by John Grady in the 1970’s. Caso won a ton of races at Waterford in this neat Corvair-bodied entry and was extremely-popular driver at the shoreline oval. We believe this image to have been recorded at either Fonda or Lebanon Valley, both in New York State. My friend the late Ken Beemer restored this car campaigning it with NEAR, and it can still be-seen at various club events every summer. (Grady Photo).  

Here’s a nice “on-the-gas” shot of Tony Dadio from the early-1970’s. Starting his career during at the UNITED-sanctioned West Haven Speedway, Dadio was a winner and consistent front-runner at both Plainville (as seen here), and West Haven (often referred to as “Savin Rock” for the adjacent amusement park). Back-then, each car had a” look” of it’s-own! (Hoyt Photo)

Seen here at the “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl of the early-1970’s is the late Leo “Ace” Hill. A popular and accomplished driver at area tracks for many seasons, Leo once shared a garage in North Stonington, Ct. with another past-legend, his friend and Norwood Arena Modified champ, the late Johnny Thompson. At their modest digs, the duo would often compare notes and share secrets in crafting their race cars. The Hill name continued to be a part of the Speedbowl roster in later-years with Leo’s nephew Dave campaigning a former Mark LaJeunesse team Vega-bodied creation in the 1980’s. (Shany Photo).      

Drivers had to really-respect the former railroad-tie construction of the old retaining wall at the Waterford Speedbowl or it would really bite em’. Before former track operators the Korteweg family made the first major improvements at the Speedbowl in eons back in the 1980’s (one of-which was installing an Armco barrier), the wood-slivers often flew! As seen in this shot, up the road at Plainville Stadium it was much the same-situation for a lot of seasons. Like Waterford, track owner Joe Tinty eventually made improvements that included a sturdier wall featuring Armco and cement. It’s a miracle that more drivers weren’t injured in scenarios such as this! (Hoyt Photo).

Like every short track, the Waterford Speedbowl has had its share of real “stand on the gas” competitors over the years, and this guy was one of them. 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 shoreline oval, he ALWAYS coaxed the most out of his equipment. This nice Steve Kennedy image captures Glynn in a Vega-bodied creation during the autumn of his reign as a top Speedbowl chauffer. One of the highlights of my former working relationship with Waterford was meeting Glynn a number of years-ago at a “Heroes of the Bowl” event. Watching this guy as a kid was a big factor in sealing my fate as a Modified stock car fan. (Kennedy Photo).  

Seen here after fighting a loosing-battle with the infamous Plainville Stadium wall of the early-1970’s (a rare occurrence for this driver), is the late Johnny “King” Cambino. An absolute terror on the old Tattersall United Stock Car Racing Club circuit (especially West Haven), he was christened “King Cambo” for his legendary feats during the much-heralded “Coupe Era”. Adding to his legend is the fact that after many-years of retirement, he stepped into a Street Stock entry at Waterford becoming an almost instant-winner. The battles waged between Cambino and his buddy New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer Billy “Gramps” Greco remain a huge part of Eastern racing lore. (Hoyt Photo).

Ray Miller was inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 2002, and for good-reason. Growing-up around racecars, his father paired with Red Lataille to own the #1 Lataille/Miller Offy, running out of the Miller's garage in East Granby, CT. The team ran the ARDC circuit, often racing 7 nights per-week in the 1940’s and 50’s. Ray started his career at Plainville Stadium in 1965 before progressing to NASCAR haunts like Stafford and Thompson. A winning driver at the highest-echelon of New England Modified racing for many seasons, he retired in the 1980’s. This shot captures him behind the controls of his familiar Mike Greci-owned Vega during a 70’s-era Plainville Stadium open-competition event. Ray is the dad of the late Jay Miller, an accomplished and very popular young SK Modified driver who left-us much too-soon. (Hoyt Photo).

Like Miller, this guy is also a member of the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame and for good-reason. The ultra-popular Bob Potter started his career at Waterford in 1962 behind the controls of a Bomber class entry. Never officially retired, Potter went-on to win multiple Modified championships at Waterford (where alone, he claimed close to 100 career victories), Thompson, and Stafford. This shot captures him in the #110 Coupe celebrating a routine early-seventies Speedbowl victory. (Shany Photo).

We close this week’s edition of “Racing Through Time” with a shot of one of our regions most exciting Modified drivers-ever. Like the aforementioned Glynn Shafer of Waterford Speedbowl fame, Anthony “Jap” Membrino was a truly-exciting driver to watch. Seeing him fly-around Plainville Stadium in this wild-looking Walt Kuryn-owned Coach creation was often in-itself, worth the price of a ticket. Starting his career at the United-sanctioned West Haven Speedway, in later-years he went-on to become one of the region’s premier racers, and was especially proficient at The Stadium’ though he also tasted success at Riverside Park. This Phil Hoyt image captures him after yet-another Plainville victory in the early-1970’s. (Hoyt Photo).

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

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