Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday September 9, 2009

Volume 1, Number 36                                                                                      New Column Every Wednesday


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By Dave Dykes                                                                              CLICK ON PHOTO FOR FULL SIZE

Hard-to-believe, but “Racing Through Time” has been around for well-over a decade in one version or another. First started as a feature in the Waterford Speedbowl track program back in the nineties, its primary focus was the history of that storied Connecticut oval. Honoring the many requests I’ve received for more Bowl’-related topics, this week it’s a peek back at some of its pioneers. As always, enjoy!     
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A Racing Flashback - Speedbowl-Style!         

As one of the real heavy-hitters in the early days of the “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl, the late Charlie Webster had a large & very-loyal fan base. Amassing a career total of seventy-three feature victories in both Non-Ford and Modified competition, Webster was a champion in both classes (3 Non-Ford titles, and 1 Modified crown). Like fellow Bowl’ standout and New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer Don Collins, Charlie retired from driving at the dawn of the seventies, thus ending the career of one of Waterford’s finest chauffeurs. This shot captures him in a Non-Ford division entry during the early-fifties. Charlie’s son Eric went-on to a winning career in racing, and now serves on the staff at the Speedbowl. (Shany Photo).  

Like Webster, the late Ray Delisle was there from the start, and was winning early in his Waterford career. Felled by serious injuries sustained in a Speedbowl crash when his Coupe was hit from-behind, his old-style “jerry can” fuel tank erupting in-flames, Delisle endured a long, painful recovery before returning to the game. In 1964, his career reached its zenith when he waltzed-away with the Modified title wheeling the famed Simons Bros. #9. This image sees him in one of the earliest of his many rides. A quiet and unassuming man who let his throttle-foot do the talking, he was always in-demand with the top car owners of the day. (Shany Photo).

Here we have the late Howard “Curly” LaMay, a Claming Car champion during the shoreline oval’s sophomore season of 1952. He later joined the ranks of the headlining Modifieds as captured here. Though not an extreme example, LaMay’s entry is typical of the notorious “Cut Down” era at Waterford. Note the somewhat lowered-stance when compared to the more conventional “full-coupes” being run elsewhere in the region at the time. The reign of this lighter, lower, and inherently more-dangerous style of Modified came to an abrupt-end at Waterford on August 21, 1954 when John “Jack” Griffin lost his life in a grinding crash. Track management almost immediately mandated a return to the full-coupes following Griffin’s tragic demise. (Shany Photo).

Say the name “Dick Dunn” around anyone with even a remote knowledge of Speedbowl history, and you’re bound to get a response. Long-before he hooked-up with legendary car owners Peg & Al Gaudreau of “Buddha’s Bullet” fame in the 1970’s and became one Waterford’s marquee heroes, he was a humble support-division pilot. Captured here during the earliest days of his long, storied career in a self-owned Bomber creation, he recorded a combined total of nearly fifty career victories in both Bomber & Modified competition as well as four-straight Modified championships (1972-75), before quietly retiring from the sport. Harboring a style that was always smooth-as-silk and lighting-fast, the record book clearly defines Mr. Dunn as one of the best to have ever circled the shoreline oval. (Shany Photo).  

The well-traveled Jerry Dostie traces his racing-roots back to the Speedbowl where he first made the scene during the much-heralded “Coupe Era” driving creations like this little number. After a successful reign on the local level, Dostie later branched-out, the taste of success savored at joints like Stafford, Thompson, and going further-North, the high-banks of New Hampshire’s Modnadnock Speedway. A master car-builder as well as an absolute whiz in developing some of our regions first reliable race-ready automatic transmissions, he’s often seen today enjoying his retirement on the golf courses of Florida competing against many old rivals from his days as a top New England Modified shoe. (Shany Photo).  

The feature victory floodgates may not have swung wide-open for journeyman Modified pilot Neil Bickford during his tenure as a Waterford wheelman, but there were a number of heat & consi wins, along with a host of respectable main event finishes. Extremely popular with both fans and his fellow competitors, the long-retired Bickford remains today, one of the sports true “Nice Guys”. Owing to the fact that he’s sporting an old-style “Cromwell” helmet in this shot, we’re betting that the coupe he’s steering here predated his “Red Baron” entry, the Corvair-bodied creation that became a familiar & popular sight with the Bowl’ faithful of the early-seventies. (Shany Photo).

The guy you see here was a familiar face in shoreline oval victory lane celebrations for a lot of years, and rest-assured, he always did it in an exciting-manner. Watching one Glynn Shafer duke-it-out with the likes of a “Daring Dick” Caso or “Wild Bill” Scrivener was itself, often worth the price of a Speedbowl admission ticket. As one of Waterford’s most determined chauffeurs, he tore-up his share of equipment on-route to the checkers, but as the stats reveal, the feature triumphs were abundant. Viewed here celebrating one of his earliest of victories during the 1960’s, Shafer was a winner right-up until he bowed-out of the sport in the eighties. His greatest success came while behind the controls of cars owned & wrenched by Ron Yuhas Sr. & crew. Ron Yuhas Jr. is one of today’s most successful SK Modified drivers, continuing the family tradition that Shafer started. (Shany Photo).

Seen here in the mid-fifties, simply-stated, here’s a guy that literally helped put the “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl on the map during the hectic pace of the post-war era. “Dirty Dick” Beauregard accomplished more in a Waterford career that lasted barely a decade than the vast-majority of his contemporaries ever-would. A multi-time Modified titlist, he recorded a combined total of sixty-two feature victories in Modified and Non-Ford competition. His first victory came on Sunday afternoon, May 4, 1952, the final on Sunday afternoon, September 30, 1962. Following that fall triumph (during a season that yielded an astounding fourteen features as-well as the championship), he promptly retired, shortly relocating to the West Coast. A real crowd-draw, it was his daring and often-aggressive style that helped fill the stands during Waterford’s early years. There’s no-denying that Beauregard remains one of the most well-known and fondly-recalled racers in the history of the Speedbowl. (Shany Photo).    

Count the checkers on the flanks of this little Garuti Brothers owned “Cut-Down”. Think it was a banner season for this pioneering New England racer? His name was Moe Gherzi, and besides being a prolific winner during the early days of the shoreline oval, he helped bring a degree of class to a sport that was still experiencing growing-pains. When the standard driving-uniform of the day consisted of a t-shirt & blue jeans (often work-worn, adding to the illusion that racin’ folks weren’t the pillars of society they’re considered to be today), he often appeared in victory lane nattily-attired in a silk shirt and pressed, dress-style trousers. Like Beauregard, Gherzi was an early Speedbowl star that was an integral part of the tracks initial success. His Waterford career netted thirty-three Modified victories before he moved-on to other New England racing venues. After retiring from driving, he held the post of Racing Director for many years at the late Plainville Stadium. (Shany Photo).

Motorcycle racing champion, Bowl’ Bomber class winner, and multi-time Waterford Speedbowl Modified titlist – this guy was a born winner. Following in the footsteps of his older brother “Turk”, George “Moose” Hewitt started his stock car racing career in the Bombers following a highly-successful stint as a motorcycle racer for the Indian team. Though he raced widely throughout New England, his fortunes shined brightest at Waterford. Recording a career total of over-twenty Modified feature victories as well as a pair of Bomber triumphs, he was the Modified champion on five occasions. This shot captures him in 1966, during his days in the Bombers. Sadly, George passed-away in 1997, still poised as one of the shoreline oval’s top competitors. (Shany Photo).

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