Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday September 23, 2009

Volume 1, Number 38                                                                                      New Column Every Wednesday


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By Dave Dykes                                                                              CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE

This week’s edition of “RTT” again turns-back the clock on that much-missed Connecticut bullring, the late Plainville Stadium. Thanks to the efforts of a few dedicated individuals, the memories will live again at the first-annual “Plainville Stadium Reunion” to be held Saturday, October 10th at the Berlin, CT. Fairgrounds. Log-on to www.speedwaylinereport.com for more details on this not-to-be-missed event. Condolences go-out to the family of longtime New England Modified campaigner Gino Spada, who passed-away last weekend after a courageous battle with cancer.   
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Turning Back The Clock On Plainville Stadium...   

Captured here in the 1970’s at the former Danbury Fair Racerena is the popular Gino Spada. Starting his racing career at Plainville during the late-sixties, he later concentrated on the tough SNYRA-sanctioned Danbury becoming a multi-time winner and a consistent front-runner. Also venturing-out to the various NASCAR haunts of the day such as Stafford & Thompson, Spada was always a threat to triumph wherever he competed. As the longtime proprietor of Red Barn Radiator in Berlin, CT. he supplied a legion of competitors with the best in racing-radiators. In later-years, he became involved with the Northeastern Midget Racing Association (NEMA), owning the car chauffeured by his son Tommy (a real family-affair, his daughter Cassandra served as the team’s crew-chief). Sadly, Gino passed-away just last-weekend following a battle with cancer. “RTT” offers the Spada family sincere condolences on their loss. (Mannion Photo)

Before he became a major-player on the internet with his fine family of racing websites, this guy was hustling Modifieds around that ¼-mile circle of Connecticut asphalt known as Joe Tinty’s Plainville Stadium. Captured here during the 1978 campaign, “Tommy” Ormsby wheeled this ex-Don Moon Pinto to many fine-finishes competing during what many consider to be one of Plainville’s more “racy” eras. His budget always of modest-means, he got the most out of his equipment running against teams that were often much-better financed. Like many of his contemporaries, he got out of the game when the engines were silenced at Plainville at the dawn of the 1980’s. These-days, Mr. Ormsby is retired and enjoying the sunny weather of Florida. (Kennedy Photo).

Every track has them - the guys that may not enter victory circle on a routine basis, but manage to make the scene every week. Simply-stated, they represent the backbone of the sport that we all enjoy and without them, there’d be no weekly racing. Bob Mickulak was one of those guys, and called Plainville home for many seasons. A popular competitor with both fellow drivers and the fans, he’s seen here in 1973 behind the controls of longtime car owner, “Spud” Cray’s Coupe. A model of consistency, he guided this classic-looking mount to a plethora of top-finishes. The affable Mickulak is one of the guys scheduled to make an appearance at the Plainville Reunion slated for October 10th in Berlin, CT. (Kennedy Photo).

If you follow current racing, than you’ve no-doubt heard of the recent accomplishments of Keith Rocco, a young driver who’s developed into one of the best on the New England Modified circuit. For many seasons, his dad Ronnie Rocco was a top gun, hauling-home the hardware from joints like Plainville (where he scored championships in both Late Model & Modified competition), Waterford, Stafford, and Thompson. This image captures him at The Stadium’ in 1977 when his open-wheel career was really starting to flourish. In short-order he became one of the established Modified stars of the region, and was still at the top of his game when he retired a number of seasons-ago. This guy could REALLY wheel a race car! (Kennedy Photo).  

“Lil Dan” Gaudiosi – the name was magic for what seemed like eons within the realm of New England Modified racing. A mainstay of the old Tattersall/United dynasty (West Haven being particularly fortuitous), he started winning during the post-war stock car boom, and kept-on collecting checkers after many of his contemporaries had hung-up their helmets. Closely-aligned with the famous pink & white racers of “Sharkey” Gaudiosi, by the time this shot was captured at Plainville in 1974, he was an old-hand at victory lane celebrations. Long-time racing photographer & “RTT” friend Steve Kennedy wrote the following across the back of this shot, one of many that he captured during the seventies at Plainville as a burgeoning shutterbug - “This was Dan’s first-night back at Plainville following a many-season absence. He easily pulled-off a top-5 finish!” (Kennedy Photo).

And this one’s for our buddy, “JoJo” Farone. A few months-back we made a visit to our old home, The Waterford Speedbowl, to take-in the track’s yearly “Nostalgia Weekend” (a great affair, by the way). The ever-generous Farone made a contribution to the “RTT” archives in the way of the several vintage racing-shots, a gesture that’s greatly appreciated. Upon asking him if there was any-way to repay him, he modestly requested a color shot of one of his old rides, so here it-is. After advancing from the ranks of the Plainville support divisions, JoJo successfully campaigned this neat coupe back in the early-seventies at the Stadium as well as other tracks in the region. This particular image was captured in 1971 at Plainville. Note the school bus in the background – once a stylin’ way to haul your machine to the racetrack. Not-sure who the youthful “crew members” were….. (Thompson Photo)

It wasn’t all-Modifieds at Plainville, like most tracks there was plenty of action in the support divisions. Seen here in the 1970’s is a youthful Beetle Farone (brother of JoJo and the late Butch “Seymour the Clown” Farone), who was one of the very-best in the “fendered” classes. Helping Beetle celebrate one of his many victories is starter Billy Dunn (left), and assistant starter, the late Richard Biggee (right). The Stadium routinely attracted some of the biggest Late Model/Street Stock fields in New England every Saturday night. (Hoyt Photo).

Veteran Modified campaigner Don Moon is seen here in one of his signature #9 Pinto-bodied entries during the 1973 campaign. A big winner at Plainville as well as other New England tracks, “Moonie” was one of the more well-traveled guys to compete at “Tinty’s Place” on a regular-basis. His earlier efforts included successes at the Danbury Fair Racerena, when in 1966 among his triumphs was the coveted “Conrad Memorial Trophy Race” while at the controls of the John Spada-owned #4 Coupe. In addition to his driving accomplishments, he was widely-regarded as a master car-builder. Today, Don stays busy touring with the New England Antique Racers (NEAR), piloting a restored version of one of his former rides. (Kennedy Photo).   

Our webmaster Tom Ormsby gave me the scoop on this rather curious-looking shot of Frank Manafort’s Coupe at The Stadium. Tom, who was but a grandstand-bound pup when this incident occurred in the early-sixties, relayed the following; “Frank went right-through the old wooden wall coming-off the second-turn, ending up in the field where Joe Tinty’s horses were grazing. Right-after this incident, Joe installed concrete walls making-sure NOBODY got close to his prized-horses again!” Just one of the memorable moments that made Plainville such an exciting (and sometimes unpredictable), little joint for over 3-decades. (Faust Photo).

And here celebrating a victory is one “Handsum Harry” Brazee, a frequent Plainville (and West Haven), competitor in the 1950’s that later added to his racing resume as a celebrated member of Danbury’s Southern New York Racing Association wheeling the late Warren Hanson’s potent #00 along with a host of other top SNYRA rides. The other guy in this shot is the late “Moneybags Moe” Gherzi, a popular & ultra-successful New England Modifed shoe from the early days of the sport. As captured-here, Moe served as Plainville’s Racing Director for many years after his driving career winded-down. (Faust Photo).

Lastly, no feature on Plainville Stadium would be complete without mentioning this guy, Dave Alkas. Starting his career in the Novice division of the early-1960’s, before it was all-over, he managed to win five Stadium Modified championships, and holds the record for all-time wins. He was simply a master at getting-around the slightly-banked ¼-miler, and was still very-much at the top of his game when the track closed its gates forever. This action shot captures Dave wheeling his familiar Roland Cyr Vega in 1975. A 2008 inductee into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame, Dave is one of the organizers of this year’s Plainville Reunion. (Kennedy Photo).    

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