Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday October 26, 2011

 Volume 3, Number 41                                                                                     New Column Every Wednesday


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By Dave Dykes                                                                              CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE

We start this week out on a somber note, as it was learned last week that Kathleen "Kathy" Brady LaJoie, wife of New England Auto Racing Hall of fame member Don LaJoie and mother of noted racer Randy LaJoie passed-away on October 15th. Our sincere condolences are sent to the family & friends of Mrs. LaJoie. In good-new notes, we’d like to wish our Webmaster & friend Tom Ormsby a big Happy Birthday! “Tommy” (as he was known during his days as a Plainville Stadium modified racer) turns another year-young today! Lastly, big thanks are offered to our pal Chris Langer for donating the Waterford Speedbowl images that grace this week’s edition of “RTT.” And with that, have a great week! Email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com             

More Connecticut Racing History Speedbowl Style     

Captured here in the early 1970s at the Speedbowl is our much-missed friend, the late Dick Watson, who passed away 7 years ago this week on Oct. 24th 2004. Known as “Gentleman Dick” Watson as well as “The Silver Fox”, he was inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 2003. Dick began and ended his career at Waterford. 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) Tom Ormsby Collection        

“Daring Dick” Caso may have never won any popularity contests with track officials at Waterford, but he had more than his fair-share of fans among the Speedbowl’s grandstand patrons. A nickname well-earned, his driving style was of the “No-Holds-Barred” variety and when in his prime, a Caso-drive to the front was itself worth the price of a Saturday night ticket. In terms of finance, he was a low-bucker that got the ultimate out of equipment that was often less than that of his competitors. A big-winner in the early 70’s, when not at the Bowl’ he’d often take-off to run the dirt tracks of PA with this coupe or it’s stable-mate, a center-seat Corvair-bodied creation. Nicknames were big during Caso’s tenure, as he was also christened “The Cromwell Comet” by the late, great John Small, one of the grandest announcers in Speedbowl history. The moniker was of course, a nod to his hometown. Get-well wishes go-out to Dick, who remains laid-up following an unfortunate accident suffered earlier this year. (Shany Photo, Chris Langer Collection).                

Here’s Preston, Connecticut’s Art Moran Sr. seated behind the controls of the Curt Chase-owned coupe at the shoreline oval. Moran was a steady-competitor at Waterford for many seasons, recording a number of feature victories. As a side-note, he was one of the first racers in Waterford history to successfully employ power-steering, a feature of the memorable #66 Coach that he campaigned during the 1970’s. Art’s family remains a presence in local racing circles today, with both his children and grandchildren having become winners. (Shany Photo, Chris Langer Collection).    

Many fans don’t realize-it, but before switching to competition of the 4-wheeled variety, multi-time Waterford Speedbowl Modified titlist the late George “Moose” Hewitt was a champion motorcycle racer. Captured here with a crewmember following a 1968 feature victory, he’d started in the Bombers, scoring multiple feature victories. His venture into Waterford’s premier class proved a success to the tune of five track titles between 1977 and 1984. Worth mention is the fact that the fiercely-independent Hewitt was one of the few shoreline oval competitors that during an era of “store-bought” cars later in his career, continued to craft machines of his own design at his shop in nearby Uncasville, CT. (Shany Photo, Chris Langer Collection).             

An image culled from the 1968 campaign, we’ve run shots of this car & driver before, but never get tired of looking at this tasty coupe. It’s illustrative of some of the really-neat modifieds that came-out of Waterford before the advent of the clone-like creations of today. One of the New England region’s longest-running performers, Dale Holdridge’s career lasted over 3-decades. Known as a gentleman on & off the track, he was one of those drivers that you seldom saw involved in any controversy; just a good, steady shoe that fellow competitors enjoyed racing wheel-to-wheel with. Mr. Holdridge was also a skilled and innovative car builder. Today, Dale’s son Mike is a winner on the Valenti Modified Racing Series trail. (Shany Photo, Chris Langer Collection).

It’s a debate that still rages today, decades after it occurred. Just who had the first Pinto-bodied pavement Modified in New England? With all due-respect, New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member Bob Judkins of #2X fame often gets the credit in-print, but the truth of the matter is that it was this guy who beat him to the punch. Captured here in the spring of 1971, Waterford Speedbowl regular Seabury Tripler debuted this car only weeks before Judkins unveiled his Pinto. Interestingly-enough, Judkins, who was a NASCAR regular, initially ran unsanctioned events-only. He had to wait for NASCAR to approve his Pinto – something that the late Jack Arute Sr. (another NEAR Hall of Fame member), of Stafford Motor Speedway was instrumental in making happen. (Shany Photo, Chris Langer Collection).             

It’s 1970, and here we have a youthful Bob Potter, New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member and 6-time Speedbowl Modified champion. That year, he was driving for storied Waterford car owner Freddie Beaber. As we all know, Bob’s ultra-smooth style behind the wheel garnered him hundreds of feature victories and multiple championships at Waterford, Stafford, and Thompson. As for Freddie, God only-knows how many victories his fondly-remembered checkerboard #716 creations took at the shoreline oval! (Shany Photo, Chris Langer Collection)

Like so-many others, Blaine Belz was there every-week, trying his best to snag that first-ever checkered flag. Guys like Belz often get lost in the record-books as the years progress, forgotten by time, and seemingly neglected by a racing press that unfortunately, has only so-much space to use in reporting on the weekly happenings at your local short track. A consistent Speedbowl modified competitor in the early-70s, he recorded a number of respectable finishes in the division before moving to the Pro Stock class where he experienced great success at tracks throughout New England. This Speedbowl shot captures one of his earliest renditions of the “Q” Belz Brothers coupe. Waterford was always big on “letter” cars. (Shany Photo, Chris Langer Collection)     

Bill Scrivener burst upon the Waterford Speedbowl scene of the early-60s, quickly becoming one of biggest stars of the then immensely-popular Bomber division where he became a champion. Christened "Wild Bill” his driving style was reminiscent of another shoreline oval luminary, the unflappable "Dirty Dick" Beauregard. Later 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. He’s captured here in 1965 as the pilot of the potent Simons Brothers #9. Both “Wild Bill” and “Dirty Dick” have left us, but rest-assured that both were major players in the history of the Speedbowl. (Shany Photo, Chris Langer Collection).        

The year is 1969, and if you’re at-all familiar with racing in these-parts, not much has to be said about the formidable duo behind the success of this neat Speedbowl coupe. As a driver, the late Ed Yerrington was a big winner, and in subsequent years as an official became one of the most-respected figures in the sport. Car owner Bob Johnson after leaving the local scene went-on to NASCAR Modified fame with Ronnie Bouchard. In 1981, Johnson “crew-chiefed” Bouchard to a stunning upset victory in the Talladega 500. (Shany Photo, Chris Langer Collection).

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

 
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