October 12, 2009

ARCHIVES                                         

By Brian Danko

Berlin, CT.------------Many came to relive their past while other came to renew life long friendships but whatever the reasons, car owners, drivers and fans came out to the First annual Plainville Stadium Reunion at the Berlin Fair grounds on Saturday.

Drivers from all eras of Plainville Stadium were on hand swapping stories and telling white lies but all was in good fun as several hundred fans also paid to relive their youth at the long defunct speedway located where the Lowes on New Britain Ave is now.

George Lombardo of New Britain, CT. was one of the early big winners at the tight quarter-mile and recalled the track with fond memories. “If I had money to build a race track now, I’d make it like Plainville Stadium was because it was a flat track and to get around it, you had to handle.” The 85 year old Lombardo who recorded over 150 wins in his career said.


George Lombardo during his heyday at Plainville Stadium. The now 85 year old Lombardo was at the Plainville Reunion.

While Lombardo continued to win at tracks everywhere, he hung up his helmet in 1966. “I was married and we had kids and I went into business for myself so it was time to stop.”

While everyone at the Reunion looked at scrap books filled with pictures and news stories, other looked at the vintage race cars on display in one of the Fair Ground buildings marveling at the technology that has changed the cars from back yard built jalopies to the modern built race cars today that continue to race at tracks like Connecticut’s Stafford Motor Speedway, Thompson Speedway and the Waterford Speedbowl.

Another driver whose name became linked with Plainville Stadium is Dave Alkas of Berlin, CT Alkas was the tracks only five time modified champion and today, Alkas looks like he could climb back into the open wheel cars and win.

“This event is bringing tears to my eyes.” Stated Alkas, a member of the Berlin Lions Club and one who helped organize the first reunion along with Gary Bienkowski and the folks at the Nutmeg Kart Club.

“The tracks helped me get the farmer out of the woods.” Laughed Dave.  Who as a youth worked the land as a farmer before working and retiring at H.O. Penn in Berlin.

While Alkas has long retired, he still helps out Berlin drivers looking to break into racing. “I still help out when I can.” Alkas, along with George Lombardo were elected to the NEAR (New England Antique Racers) Hall of Fame last year.

Another Alkas on hand was that of Fred Alkas who along with his brother, George, formed an Alkas trio on the track and while Dave was usually the big winner, Fred also won his share and like many drivers, when Plainville Stadium went silent following the 1980 season their careers also came to a close.

“I just had a lot of fun and seeing all these people today are bringing back a lot of great memories for me.”

When people think of Plainville Stadium, they think about the rough and tumble track that it was and many times, local police were called in to help bring calm to the track as over zealous racers would get out of hand.

And while the track was known for their fights and spectacular crashes, the track also helped produce the careers of several local drivers who had a national name in racing such as the late Eddie Flemke, Sr.of Southington and Denny Zimmerman of Glastonbury who went on to be the Rookie of the Year at the Indianapolis 500 in 1972.

It also helped a young New Britain, CT. resident by the name of Reggie Ruggiero start a racing career that has spanned nearly forty years and well over 400 wins on his resume.

While Ruggiero is still racing modifieds on the NASCAR Whelen modified tour, he has yet to capture a national championship, although he has six runners up spots to show for his work and is second all time in wins on the NASCAR modified tour.

At the turn of the century, Ruggiero was selected by NASCAR as one of the top ten modified drivers of all time.

Another driver who competed at Plainville but also traveled in what was called the Eastern Bandits is Don Moon of Plainville. Moon built and maintained all his cars in his career but his biggest break might have come in 1975 when he broke his arm and was sidelined. He then, on the advise of his father in law, put another driver in the car and that was Ruggiero who went on to record 10 wins that year while Southington’s Stan Greger also recorded a win helping the Moon car win 12 times during that season.


Dave Alkas and car owner Roland Cyr after one of their many Plainville victories. (Phil Hoyt Photo)

Roland Cyr of Burlington, CT. was the car owner that propelled Alkas to his many wins and championships and compared to today’s racers, made money racing.

“We always made money. We built our own cars and we built our own motors. We’d race a few places other than Plainville but that is where we had our biggest success.”

When asked for a special memory of Plainville, he recalled the Special Wednesday night open competition races that would bring in name drivers from New York, Massachusetts and other states while other ‘hot shoes’ from Riverside Park, Stafford and Waterford would try and steal Joe Tinty’s money but it was usually Cyr and Alkas taking home the big bucks.

Other drivers who raced at Plainville that were at the event included Ronnie Wyckoff, who notched well over 150 feature wins, the colorful Tony ‘Jap’ Membrino, Tony Mordino, Jr. as well as Mike Mordino, whose father Tony, was a big Stadium winner. The Galullo’s were well represented as Richie and Danny were on hand.

More drivers included Berlin, CT. drivers, Beetle Farone and Jo-Jo Farone as well as Don Spazano, Billy Harman, Ray Miller, Billy Greco, Reggie Ruggiero, Sonny O’Sullivan and Eddie Flemke, Jr.

Joe Tinty, who owned all the land that the track, drive in movie theater and Roller skating rink was located on was fondly recalled during the afternoon but all agreed that Joe could be one tough person to deal with as far as trying to get more money in the race purse.

All in all, it a great fun filled afternoon of reliving memories and telling stories and with such a resounding success in the first reunion, next years event can only get bigger and better.

While Plainville Stadium sadly is long gone, her memories continue to flourish.


(Left to Right) George Lombardo, Donna Harman, Racing Journalist Pete Zanardi, Billy Harman, Ed Flemke, Jr. and kneeling "Wild" Bill Greco enjoyed the day at the reunion. Zanardi, Harman Lombardo and Greco are all members of the New England Auto Racers Hall of Fame and no doubt Eddie, Jr. will join his father some day. (Dave Dykes Photo)

More drivers included Berlin, CT. drivers, Beetle Farone and Jo-Jo Farone as well as Don Spazano, Billy Harman, Ray Miller, Billy Greco, Reggie Ruggiero, Sonny O’Sullivan and Eddie Flemke, Jr.

Joe Tinty, who owned all the land that the track, drive in movie theater and Roller skating rink was located on was fondly recalled during the afternoon but all agreed that Joe could be one tough person to deal with as far as trying to get more money in the race purse.

All in all, it a great fun filled afternoon of reliving memories and telling stories and with such a resounding success in the first reunion, next years event can only get bigger and better.

While Plainville Stadium sadly is long gone, her memories continue to flourish.

WORLD SERIES SET TO CROWN CHAMPION

This weekend in the northeast part of Connecticut, in Thompson, the 2009 NASCAR Whelen modified tour champion will be crowned and although four drivers went into Stafford’s Fall Final weekend, only two teams emerged with a legitimate shot at the title and both teams have won NASCAR titles in the past.

Donny Lia, driving for legendary modified car owner, Bob Garbarino, for whom he won the title back a couple of years ago and 18 year old Ryan Preece of Kensington, CT. driving for Mike Boehler, whose dad, Lenny, won several NASCAR championships with drivers like Fred DeSarro and Bugsy Stevens.

Lia enters with a slim 26 point advantage with means that if Preece wins, Lia needs to finish fifth which would give him the title by a mere point.

The modified tour championship will all be apart of the season finale at the Thompson Speedway which also includes the ISMA supermodifieds, Sunoco SK modifieds along with 11 other feature events over the course of the three day racing festival.

NEAR HALL OF FAME ANNOUNCES CLASS OF 2010

The NEAR (New England Antique Racers) Hall of Fame certainly has many well worthy drivers, car owners and media in the prestigious Hall but the class of 2010 might be the most impressive as it announced that driver Geoff Bodine, Mike Murphy, George Savory and Pete Fiandaca along with car owners Billy Simons, Bob Garbarino and Vic Miller will be inducted into the Hall on Sunday, January 30, 2010. They will be joined by racing contributor Frank Ferrara.

Still to be announced will be inductees from the Veterans Committee and the Jack Ratta Memorial winner which is given to a member of the racing media.

For Geoff Bodine, who officially hasn’t retired from racing, the former New York resident stormed the modified scene in the 70’s and set a standard for winning on the modified circuit before becoming a Daytona 500 champion and winner of 18 Sprint Cup racers as well as winning in IROC championship along the way.

His 55 wins during the 1978 season featured sweeps of modified racing biggest gems including the Race of Champions, The Spring Sizzler, Thompson 300 and Martinsville Speedway. He was also named by NASCAR as one of the Top Ten modified drivers of all time.

Mike Murphy was from Woburn, MA and won several titles in multiple divisions including modifieds, supermodifieds, pro stock and late models in a career that spanned nearly 30 years. Murphy was so dominate at the Hudson Speedway that he won 22 straight pro stock wins at Hudson during the 1985 season.

George Savory out of Needham, MA., The Bay State resident drove for nearly 43 years before retiring. He won an estimated 300 features and grabbed titles at the Norwood Arena, Westboro Speedway and the Riverside Park Speedway. He also won four Pro 4 modified titles.

When one mentioned the name of Pete Fiandaca of Fitchburg, MA, the thoughts of the number 135 Gremlin that showed up at numerous modified tracks through out New England earned him the title of the ‘Traveling Man’.

Fiandaca earned over 320 wins driving everything from the bombers to modifieds and pro stocks and did everything on a shoe string budget and has over 16 championships to show for his career.

Bob Garbarino of Mystic, CT has been a modified car owner for over 40 years and the highly respected and popular Garbarino was finally honored when Donny Lia won the coveted NASCAR Whelen modified tour championship. Garbarino’s cars have carried the number v4 forever and the cars are all named the Mystic Missile.

Garbarino is also a charter member of the current modified tour which was formed in 1985.

Vic Miller cars since 1965 have won on 32 tracks in 11 states and Canada. He is a five time ISMA champion and owns 8 Thompson World Series wins along with six Star/ NESMRA Classic wins as well as six Oswego Nationals. The legends of supermodifieds racing have driven for Miller including current driver Chris Perley but legends like Ollie Silva, Don MacLaren, Eddie West and Bentley Warren.

Billy Simons of Cromwell, CT is another long time modified car owner who won 10 track championships including 8 at the Waterford Speedbowl as well as two at the Riverside Park Speedway in the #9.

Simon’s drivers include Ray Delisle, Hank Stevens, Don Collins, Ray Miller, Dick Caso, Stan Greger, Ricky Summers and Dan Avery.

The last inductee that evening will be long time racing everything man, Frank Ferrara. He has been involved in New England racing for over 50 years serving as a sponsor, a flagger for the Northeastern Midget Assoc and Stafford Motor Speedway as well as track owner of Whip City.

The NEAR Hall of Fame will have ticket forms available shortly and anyone interested in attending can get more information from their website at www.Near1.com