Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday September 30, 2009

Volume 1, Number 39                                                                                      New Column Every Wednesday


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This week’s edition of “RTT” again presents a real mixed-bag. Modifieds, Midgets Supers, and Grand Americans, they’re all here. Don’t forget, it’s the “Plainville Stadium Reunion” Saturday, October 10th at the Berlin, CT. Fairgrounds. Log-on to www.speedwaylinereport.com for more details, and mark your calendar for this not-to-be-missed event!  Email reaches me at foreveryounginct@yahoo.com  

Mods, Midgets, Supers, Grand Americans, etc.   

Captured here celebrating an early-70’s Seekonk victory with Sandy of the infamous “Wally Salleba Girl Watchers Club” is 1970 NASCAR National Modified Champion, the late Fred DeSarro. In one of the most publicized “driver-switches” in New England Modified racing history. DeSarro left the Sonny Koszella “Woodchopper Special” team in 1971 to join forces with the late Len Boehler. Bugs Stevens, who’d nailed three NASCAR National Championships with Boehler, went-with Kozella. DeSarro remained a premier New England Modified racer until passing-away in November of 1978 from injuries sustained at the Thompson Speedway. DeSarro, Boehler, Stevens, and Kozella are all members of the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame. (Mercury Photo).

Ronnie Bouchard was a champion “A-Class” competitor at the “Cement Palace” (AKA Seekonk Speedway), long-before he found fame & fortune in the NASCAR Cup’ ranks. Seen here following an early Konk’ triumph, his stint in the Modifieds yielded over two-hundred wins all-over New England. Departing the local scene at the close of the 1970’s, he joined-forces with Jack Beebe’s Race Hill Farms #47 team with his former car-owner Bob Johnson serving as crew chief. In only his eleventh start in Winston Cup, he captured the 1981 Talladega 500, also being rewarded that season’s “Rookie of the Year” honors. Now retired from the sport, he owns an ultra-successful group of auto dealerships in Massachusetts. Bouchard was inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 1998, with his pal Johnson receiving the honor in 2007. (Mercury Photo).

And here’s another image from the “Seekonk Files”. Surrounded by a gang of youthful admirers is Jon Astle during his 70’s-heydey as an American Racing Club standout. A member of a racing brood that also included Deke & Fred, this family accounts for a LOT of victories in the history of the “Cement Palace”. It’s a tradition that continues today as another generation of Astle family racers continue to be among the best at the Massachusetts 1/3-miler that’s been in continuous operation since May 30, 1946. (Mercury Photo).

If you want sheer ground-pounding speed and spectacle, look no further than a Super Modified event on the high-banks of the Thompson Speedway! Seen here flying down the back-chute (note the dirt-banks of old), during the 1979 World Series is the late Jim Shampine in his famous “8-Ball” on the outside, with veteran Dick Batchelder manning the low-groove. Both were celebrated Super Mod competitors (Shampine’s creations are widely-recognized to have revolutionized the division, with his Oswego triumphs legendary). NEAR Hall of Famer Batchelder retired following a serious crash in the 1990 Oswego Classic. Sadly, Shampine lost his life in a Modified at his beloved Oswego in 1982. (Kennedy Photo).  

It’s the evening of September 23, 1978, and the Northeastern Midget Association is on-hand at the Waterford Speedbowl for their second of two visits that year. As captured-here, it was a period of change within the decades-old sanctioning body, with the low-slung “Badger” type cars competing with the more-traditional “Uprights”. Within a handful of seasons after this shot was captured by Steve Kennedy, NEMA opted to go with the classic Upright-design as the mandated chassis for the club. On this night, it was Johnny Mann taking the checkers, with the July 29th event annexed by Lenny Boyd. By seasons-end, NEAR Hall of Famer and 1951 Speedbowl Modified champion Dave Humphrey had celebrated his sixth NEMA championship (Kennedy Photo).

Seen here in 1978 are Waterford Speedbowl Grand American racers, “Uncle Don” Steiner and multi-time champ Bob “Allie” Gada. By the time this shot was taken, the handwriting was on the wall for the class in the way of sub-par car counts and operating expenses quickly-approaching that of the headlining Modifieds. Having debuted in 1977, the Street Stock class would take-over as the Bowl’s “full-fender” support division by 1980. In-fact, it was Bob Gada wheeling the #36 you see here that holds the dubious distinction of being crowned the last-ever Bowl’ Grand American champion. (Steve Kennedy).

A youthful Keith Eves campaigned this slick Mercury Cougar-bodied entry in Speedbowl Grand American competition during 1979. With New London’s Ocean Auto Parts as his primary sponsor and his father “Curley” as crew-chief and owner, the resident of neighboring Oakdale, Ct. captured the checkers on one occasion during a soggy season that was marred by a total of nine rainouts. That’s Wayne N. Smith in the #5 to the inside of Mr. Eves. (Kennedy Photo).

What you see here is another Waterford Speedbowl Grand American entry – well, sort-of. Following the demise of the division in 1979, a few teams upgraded their “sedans” in-hopes of competing with the Modified field of 1980. Truthfully, it was an effort made in-vain yielding little success for denizens of the “orphaned” division. Seen here in a “converted” ride is second-generation local driver Fred Sentell, who had scored his singular Speedbowl feature triumph two-seasons earlier in the Street Stocks. The date was March 23, 1980, the event was the annual “Blast-Off”, and the winner was NASCAR Modified “invader” Marty Radewick. (Kennedy Photo).   

Here’s another image from “Blast-Off” 1980. Joe Bubbico (AKA “Bubblegum Joe”), was one of the real “underdogs” of the era. Running at a myriad of New England speedplants armed with a total racing budget that was often-less than just the tire bill of many of his contemporaries, Joe persevered, racing several times a week. Always-known as one of the sport’s true “Nice Guys”, he was extremely popular with fans and fellow racers. Relocating to the West Coast in the mid-80’s he became the “Reverend” Joe Bubbico, currently serving as the West Coast Coordinator of Racing with Jesus Ministries. Still a racer, he’s competed most-recently at Orange Show Speedway in San Bernardino, CA. (Kennedy Photo).

When a young Modified upstart by the name of Geoff Bodine from New York State teamed with well-heeled car owner the late Dick Armstrong and his “Nu-Style Jewelry” team in the late-70’s, the New England racing hierarchy had little choice in taking notice. Once the “Big Red #1” machine started rolling, it got pretty brutal. The guy won & won and kept winning. Truthfully, Bodine was already a very-well accomplished racer by the time the deal was inked for him to maintain and drive Armstrong’s stable of high-end equipment. This shot is from a Yankee All-Star show (he swept the series, taking all six-events), at Waterford on August 8, 1978, just one triumph in a season that saw Mr. Bodine take the checkers on a record fifty-five occasions. (Kennedy Photo).

Lastly, here is a bonus photo taken last Saturday at the Waterford Speedbowl of New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer Ray Miller on the starters stand. Ray was the Grand Marshal and Guest Flagman for the evenings events.   

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

 
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