Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday September 16, 2009

Volume 1, Number 37                                                                                      New Column Every Wednesday


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This week, we’ll borrow a quote from our old cinematic pal Forrest Gump as a trip through the RTT archives yields another “varied-assortment” of racin’ personalities from the past. Strap-in, and enjoy the ride. Lastly, get-well wishes go out to “Dickie Doo” Ceravolo, and Charlie Pasteryak, both recently affected by some unfortunate circumstances.     
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“Like A Box of Chocolates, You Never Know What You’re Going To Get…….”        

Seen here in the sixties at the late Plainville Stadium during his reign as a New England Modified standout, Dennis Zimmerman parlayed his Coupe experience into a successful career on the USAC Indy Car circuit. A self-professed “student” of the late, great, Ed Flemke Sr., he conquered storied eastern Modified haunts such as Norwood, Riverside Park, Plainville, and Waterford before taking-on the ovals of the South, where his accomplishments netted a pair of NASCAR State Sportsman titles. After a stint in URC Sprint Car competition it was on to Indy Cars, then the absolute pinnacle of American motorsport. (Photo courtesy Tom Ormsby).   

Zimmerman continued his success in the Indy Cars, qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 in 1971 & 1972. His best finish in the May extravaganza was eighth, a feat earning him honors as the Indy 500 Rookie of the Year. This image captures him at Pocono’s Schaefer 500 on July 3, 1971 with the Fiore Racing Enterprises Offy. Starting 17th, he finished 24th after a clutch-failure felled the team after only eighty-eight circuits (the late Mark Donahue won). A 2001 inductee of the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame, Zimmerman departed the sport in 1974 following an event at Long Island’s Islip Speedway where ironically, he was wheeling a car owned by his “teacher” and fellow NEAR Hall of Famer, the late Ed Flemke Sr. Emerging from retirement just this season, Dennis has recently been competing in the Sprint class at Whip City Speedway in Westfield, MA. (Grady Photo).

“Dynamite” Ollie Silva – what else has to be said? For a generation of New England racing fans, watching this man compete in either a Super or a Modified was in-itself, worth the cost of an admission ticket. This image captures the late New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer on the sands of an infield in Florida, the state where he sought racing-refuge every winter to get-away from the cold Northern winds (and to add a few more victories to his legendary record of over five-hundred feature triumphs). To Connecticut race-goers, one victory stands-alone in illustrating a typical show of “Silva Dominance” when the man was in his prime. At the Waterford Speedbowl’s early-season open competition Hott Wheels 100 Modified event in 1974, Silva lapped the field not once, but twice to take the win aboard his signature #0 Pinto. Though he staged a brief comeback in 1980, his career effectively ended in 1978 following a devastating crash at New Hampshire’s Monadnock Speedway that resulted in life-threatening injuries. Silva, the pioneering star of the New England Super Modified Racing Association, quietly passed-away of natural causes in 2004 at age-75. (Day Photo).

Another Plainville Stadium image, this one captures the much-traveled Don Moon during his heyday in the early-seventies. In addition to his residency at the much-missed Connecticut ¼-miler, Moon competed at a number of other Eastern Modified haunts during his long career, compiling a stellar record of triumphs. As a member of the “closed-club” Southern New York Racing Association at Danbury Fair Racerena, he notched two victories in 1966, including the Conrad Memorial Trophy event. An admired car-builder, he’s also credited with helping jump-start the career of a young Reggie Ruggiero. With a broken-arm putting a premature end to his Stadium’ season, Moon placed “The Reg” behind the wheel of his potent #9 in 1975 resulting in ten feature wins for the young upstart. These days, Moon campaigns an immaculate version of his former Pinto Modified on the NEAR circuit. (Kennedy Photo)

Synonymous with the Waterford Speedbowl, the late Fred “Fuzzy” Bear remained one of the most beloved figures of the shoreline oval many-years after his retirement from the sport. Known as a skilled & steady chauffer, “Fuzz” was another of those guys that you seldom saw in any trackside-trouble. Though his long career yielded feature victories seemingly low in-number (four), at-least one of them was a major-event. On August 20, 1966, Baer topped a field of Waterford’s best in snagging a 75-lap Championship race. This shot captures him as a “Hired Gun” for the team of fellow Bowl’ veteran, Mark LaJeunesse. Though it was late in his career, he recorded a number of outstanding finishes in the car, which had been previously chauffeured by longtime LaJeunesse associate & former drag racing standout, Howie Nye. (Kennedy Photo). 

Call em’ Daredevils, Sportsman Sedans, Grand Americans, Late Models, or whatever, when it came to “full-fender” racing, this guy was one of the absolute-best. Plainfield, Connecticut’s Ron “Boots” Cote had few equals when in his prime, excelling at a trio of his home-state ovals. At the Speedbowl-alone, he recorded over thirty career-victories and a duo of championships. This shot captures “Boots” (second from right), and crew at the high-banked Thompson Speedway. Located in Norwich, CT., Automotive World was a long-time supporter of the sport, sponsoring not-only Cote, but also the Dick Dunn-chauffeured “Buddha’s Bullet” Modified of storied Bowl’ car owners, Peg & Al Gaudreau. (Dugas Photo).

Seen here at the much-missed Riverside Park Speedway in Massachusetts during the sixties is Coupe-era pioneer, Bobby Bard. Long a standout in the Tattersall families United Stock Car Racing Club (once THE racing sanctioning body in New England), he recorded ten Park’ triumphs, the first on June 27, 1964, the final on July 13, 1974. In addition to his Riverside endeavors, the popular racer scored-big at Joe Tinty’s Plainville Stadium during his long career. When United moved to a residency at Waterford in 1975, Bard was there, becoming one of the top-competitors of the period at the shoreline oval. (Grady Photo).

One-third of a brother-act that also included siblings Bob “Allie” Gada and the late Larry “Insta” Gada, Chris “Wally” Gada wheeled this slick Mustang-bodied Modified in Bowl’ action. Famous for their loyalty to products of a FORD-nature, the team fielded winning entries for years at a track that was overwhelmingly populated by entries propelled by “The General” during their generation. It was no-fluke, as the Gada’s won big. They campaigned this car simultaneously with their winning (Bob being a multi-time track champ), full-bodied entries. Following Larry, veteran Joey Trudeau got-behind the controls, going-on to grab the 1971 Modified championship. Today, the winning Gada tradition continues at Waterford. (Shany Photo).    

At the dawn of the seventies, Walt Perkins ran this neat Coach-bodied creation at what was then-known as the “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl. Note the eye-catching paint scheme, and its rather-radical stance. Waterford always had a reputation for car builders willing to push-the-envelope, and the Perkins entry illustrates that sentiment perfectly. Before the days of mass-produced “cookie-cutter” race-cars, builders were able to take more design liberties in their creations, resulting in a much-greater amount of mechanical individualism. (Shany Photo).

Jerry Glaude was a Speedbowl Bomber class standout that found success in the Modifieds almost immediately. Seen here after grabbing the checkers while behind the wheel of one of legendary Waterford car owner Freddy Beaber’s famed “checkerboard” specials, the popular Glaude recorded a combined total of nineteen feature victories before quietly retiring from the sport. Note the absolutely-packed grandstand on this long-ago Sunday afternoon. The sixties & early-seventies were indeed, very-kind to the Speedbowl. (Shany Photo).

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

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