Taking A Look At New England Auto Racing History

Wednesday September 19, 2012
   

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Volume 4, Number 38                                                                                     New Column Every Wednesday


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By Dave Dykes                                                                             CLICK ON PHOTOS FOR FULL SIZE

Remember, in less than a month it’s the Fourth Annual Plainville Stadium Reunion which takes place on Saturday, October 13th from 10am – 3pm at the Berlin Fair Grounds located at 430 Beckley Road, East Berlin, CT. The event is presented by the Nutmeg Kart Club in conjunction with the Berlin Lions Club World of Wheels. Simply-stated, it’s the perfect opportunity to mingle, and perhaps get an autograph from the personalities that made Joe Tinty’s much-missed Connecticut oval so-special. Many former Stadium competitors including Don Moon, Dave & Fred Alkas, the colorful Tony “Jap” Membrino, Richie Galullo, Danny Galullo, Jr. 1963 Champion George Hotchkiss, two time Champion George Lombardo, Don Spazano, Jo-Jo Farone, Bill Harman, and a host of others are expected to attend. Previous versions of the affair have been wildly-successful; it’s become one of the regions most-anticipated racing reunions of the year and an event that’s not to be missed! Have a great week, and as-always, email reaches me at foreveryounginct@gmail.com

NOTE: We have now put a comment box at the end of the web site. Please feel free to leave your comments.

In A Modified State Of Mind……!!!!!

Captured here during his early days in the stock cars, Sparky Belmont (real name Michael Belmonte), was a crowd-favorite during the much-heralded “Coupe Era.” He was a Plainville track champion, and a big star on Harvey Tattersall’s UNITED circuit. After a convincing victory in a 100-lap contest at Plainville in July of 1968, he collapsed during the post race celebration, and passed-away on the spot. “Sparky” had been a star on the post war Midget circuit before switching to stock cars. Quite-deservedly, he’s slated for induction into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame on Sunday, November 18 at the Speedway Clubhouse located on the grounds of the Thompson International Speedway in Thompson, Connecticut. Visit www.near1.com for more information. (Belmont Family Collection).

OK, the lead on this week’s installment of “RTT” states that we’re in a “Modified State-Of-Mind” but here’s some fenders just for the sake of variety. It’s the 1970s, and the guy you see here is our old pal Donnie Fowler (AKA The Racin’ Mason), who was at the time, one of the hottest stars of the former Grand American division at the Waterford Speedbowl. He recorded 3 championships in the class before going-on to become a top SK Modified competitor at the shoreline oval. (Rene Dugas Photo).

While this car and driver have appeared here many times, I couldn’t resist running this really cool Steve Kennedy image of a car that’s simply synonymous with 70s-era Speedbowl action. Driven by former Bomber champion Ed Bunnell as well as his younger brother standout Modified pilot Donnie, this is the mount that carried Donnie to an incredible underdog victory in the 1976 Bicentennial 200, then the longest Modified event ever-held at Waterford. Ed is behind the controls here at the ‘Bowl in 1979. Still a renowned racing shutterbug today, Kennedy was blessed with a knack for getting some really unique shots. This one captures the moment just perfectly. Don Murphy campaigns a restored version of the car on today’s NEAR circuit. (Kennedy Photo). 

Anybody that keeps-up with this site realizes that Connecticut’s former Plainville Stadium was a pretty-special place to yours-truly. It was the first “away” track I ever ventured-to by myself as a teen in the 1970s, and I returned many times during the tight little ¼-milers last years. I was always impressed with the level of competition, and some of the really-neat cars that were campaigned there each & every Saturday night. Seen here in a nifty 3-window coupe during June of 1977 is Fred Murtha, just one of the talented drivers that called Plainville their home track. (Kennedy Photo).     

Captured here in 1980 at Waterford is the late George “Moose” Hewitt. A 5-time Modified champion at the Bowl’, he scored a career-total of twenty-three feature victories in the Modifieds, SK Modifieds, and Bomber divisions. In addition to his local triumphs, he also won at the Stafford Springs Motor Speedway on multiple occasions, including a stunning victory in the 1975 Winston 100. Sadly, the popular Uncasville, CT. chauffer passed-away in February of 1997 while still very-much in his prime as a driver. Often-overlooked is the fact that before coming to auto racing, Moose was a champion Motorcycle racer. (Kennedy Photo).

We really like this shot, which comes from the collection of our good friend & veteran Modified racer, Mark LaJeunesse. This is Jerry Wheeler At Waterford. He was successful at a number of New England speedplants, and was considered among the top-tier of his generation. Research reveals that he also competed in several of the big events of the day, including those at Langhorne, PA. (once THE crown-jewel in all of Modified racing). As a side-note, Wheeler was the first-ever driver employed by New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame member, car-owner Bob Judkins of #2x fame – he was Bob’s brother-in-law. (Shany Photo).

In continuing our tradition of featuring drivers of every-level of accomplishment (it takes more than just the big winners to make-up a starting field), captured through the lens of a young Steve Kennedy at Plainville is Ken Danko in his sharp little coupe. A quick scan of what Plainville records still exist reveals that he wasn’t a frequent visitor to victory lane. The year is 1974, and the old tin was rapidly becoming replaced by the stylings of the more-contemporary Pintos, Vegas, and Gremlins. Part of Plainville’s charm was the fact that the old-style stuff seemed to remain competitive much-longer than at other tracks in the region. (Kennedy Photo)

Here’s a dramatic shot that shows just how-tough the sport of short track modified racing   can be…. The year is 1974, and getting an assist from the track safety crew after a mighty-walloping of the Speedbowl’s old railroad-tie wall is popular Angie Cerease, who’s obviously a bit dazed in this image. After piloting the legendary L&M coupe for a number of seasons, Angie became a car-owner employing several of New England’s top modified shoes. Fully-restored, this car is now on-display at the Pronyne Motorsports Museum at 8 Cleveland St, Pawtucket, Rhode Island. (Dugas Photo).  

Yeah, Plainville may have been an almost pancake-flat short ¼-miler, but the modifieds hit some pretty-impressive speeds at Joe Tinty’s racy little joint. Seen here during the early 1970s contemplating just how-much work it’s going to take to put the front-half of his little 3-window coupe back into race-ready form is Rod Andrews. It was a hard-hit! (Hoyt Photo).  

By the time our pal New England racing photographer Rene Dugas captured this coupe-era image of Dick Dunn in his lens, Mr. Dunn had already proven himself to be a skillful “New London-Waterford” Speedbowl chauffer with several feature victories on his resume. However, it was a pairing with car owners Al and Peg Gaudreau a few seasons-later that would cement his status as one of the best-ever in the history of the shoreline oval. We’re talking-about pure “Icon-Level” notoriety in what was 1970s Speedbowl action. (Dugas Photo).

BONUS SHOT: While coupes were pretty-much the standard up until the much-heralded “Pinto Revolution”, some teams swayed-toward the unconventional. This pitside shot of the Speedbowl’s Ed Barton shows what a Modified of the era looked-like when shod by that old Nemesis of Ralph Nader, Chevrolet’s much-maligned subcompact Corvair. Tinwork of the Ford Falcon, Studebaker Lark, and Plymouth Barracuda were also popular alternatives for teams seeking a “modern” aesthetic. (Dugas Photo).


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

(1 days ago) Rich Belmont said:

Is John still with us?. Does he or the family (or you) have any photos? You can email me via Dave Dykes

(3 days ago) frank jackson said:

#14 owned by john kovack of stratford ct.

(3 days ago) Rich Belmont said:

Yes, That's Sparky at Candlelite Stadium. Don't know who owned the car though

(4 days ago) Timbo said:

I remember some great racers like dick dunn,the gada boys,ron cote bob potter and the southern gentalman

(4 days ago) ed p said:

14 car with Belmont. Was that picture taken at Candleite Stadium?

(4 days ago) Mike Ray said:

Thinking about skinning the Barracuda for a Southern Ground Pounder but the old Trans-Am body could be 30 years old;gen 3 body style!

(5 days ago) Steve K said:

Danko had a fuller bodied gray primer version of this #34 coupe in 1971; it was tan/red in 1972-73 before the change to red and a bit more cut off the back of the coupe by 1974...But it does look somewhat like the first VO!

(6 days ago) mike a. said:

great shots of waterford and plainville. those were the days. new race fans have no clue what real racing action was. to bad, so sad.

(6 days ago) frank jackson said:

helped build #14car 1952

(6 days ago) RICH FALLIS said:

WAS THE 34 OF KEN DANKOS CAR THE LIGHT BLUE VO OF RON VANESSES FROM A COUPLE YEARS BEFORE

 
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