On Sunday, November 16th, the New England Antique Racers (NEAR), presented the 17th annual New England Auto Racers Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. Conducted at Maneeley's Banquet Hall in South Windsor, CT, the HOF celebrates literally hundreds of feature victories, championships, and untold contributions to the sport of auto racing within the New England region. Instituted in 1998, the HOF now boasts membership of well-over 100 deserving individuals.
Opening comments by NEAR President Al Fini and Benediction by Paul Masse along with a rendition of the Star Spangled Banner & God Bless America performed by young Sarah Mosseau began the event. Award-winning sportswriter Matt Buckler again served as Master of Ceremonies.
Comprising the “Class of 2014” are drivers Ron Wyckoff, Deke Astle, Mike Rowe, Jim Martell, Fred Schulz, Fred Borden, Briggs Cunningham, Pappy Forsyth, drag racing Icon Bob Tasca Sr., car builder Dave Tourigny and Racing Historian R.A. Silvia.
Longtime Modified campaigner Ron Wyckoff was presented honors by Dave Dykes, New England Racing Historian & proprietor of the popular “Racing Through Time” website. The respected & personable Wyckoff, a Southington, CT resident, was a major winner at Plainville Stadium and Riverside Park Speedway and a top competitor everywhere else in the 1960s and ‘70s. A winner of three-straight Riverside 500s, the Florida native rarely sat idle, driving for an assortment of the top teams of his era. It remains a lasting testimony to both his ability to take care of equipment and his standing among his fellow competitors and the fans.
A member of one of New England’s foremost racing families, Westport, MA resident, Deke Astle notched championships at both Seekonk and Lakeville Speedways during a celebrated multi-decade career. Noted for his adaptability, “The Little Man with The Big Cigar” was also a major force throughout Eastern New England, most notably at Westboro and Thompson Speedways in addition to Seekonk and Lakeville. Fittingly, handling induction honors for Astle was his friend & neighbor Steve Grant, one of the historically most-colorful starters in the Northeast.
A Maine Motorsports Hall of Fame member and the long-time Beech Ridge Speedway announcer Bruce Elder inducted fellow Maine resident Mike Rowe. The much-accomplished Rowe continues to compete, adding to a list of accomplishments that includes over 200 victories and an impressive 13 championships. Starting in 1968, Rowe, a three-time Oxford 250 winner, has won, in addition to seven Oxford crowns, NEPSA (1999), ACT (1994), PASS (2006), BRMS (2013) championships and has ruled at Wiscasset (1991) and Beech Ridge (2009).
Jim Martel of Ipswich, MA, won in divisions ranging from Cutdowns to Supermodifieds over four-plus decades of competition. A two-time NESMRA Late Model champion, his resume includes a Late Model win at Fredrickson in the Canadian Maritimes and a Supermodified win at Thompson Speedway in Connecticut. Well-travelled, he recorded victories at over a dozen tracks. A NEAR Hall of Famer himself, the multi-talented Dr. Dick Berggren welcomed Jim to the Hall of Fame.
Former racer, accomplished writer, and proprietor of Coastal 181 Publishing, Lew Boyd inducted drag racing legend, the late Bob Tasca Sr. A Providence, Rhode Island - area Ford dealer for 55 years, Tasca came to drag racing in the late 1960s, seeing it as a boom to his business. He quickly became a major power. Starting with a ’64 Ford Fairlaine, Tasca moved to Funny Cars and full-blown “fuelers,” bringing New England into the national drag racing spotlight.
Always known for his intense competitive zeal, the late Fred Schultz’s championships at Norwood Arena (1969) and Westboro Speedway (1978) figure among a list of accomplishments over a career that began during the notorious post-World War II “cutdown” era. Schulz and car owner Jim Susi impressively captured 14 straight at three different tracks in 1959. Hall of Fame Executive Committee Chairman & former car owner Bruce Cohen, who has a never-ending love for Norwood Arena, was the perfect fit to induct Schulz who was that much-missed track’s final Modified champion.
Regarded as of the nation’s best auto racing writers, Bones Bourcier welcomed legendary car designer/builder Dave Tourigny to the Hall of Fame. Working with the Koszela family, Tourigny designed, built and maintained an impressive list of Modifieds. They included the legendary Woodchopper coupes and Vegas, the trendsetting Logroller Corvair and a revolutionary Ford-powered Pinto that the likes of Fred DeSarro, Bugs Stevens and Mike Stefanik drove to a host of victories and to a half-dozen championships.
R.A. Silvia has emerged as one of New England’s premier auto racing historians and preservationists. “The man to go to” for those seeking historical clarification or a photograph, he has generously served promoters, competitors, media and fans alike for over three decades out of his home in Warwick, RI. From a historical standpoint, his impact on New England racing has been simply immeasurable. Silvia has also served as a writer for various publications and is a former racer. Inducting his longtime friend and collaborator was esteemed racing journalist Pete Zanardi. A Hall of Famer himself as-well as a past recipient of the NEAR Dan Pardi Award, Zanardi has been an important part of the Hall of Fame since its inception in 1998.
A Waltham, MA native now residing in Florida, a young Fred Borden began racing at West Peabody, MA in 1950, winning twice. Over the next 17 seasons, in the employ of many top car owners, he carried away checkers at Medford, Brookline, Norwood, West Peabody and Westboro. His performance was so successful at Medford they put a bounty on him. He was a dominant force driving for Rick Falconi in the 1960s at Westboro and Brookline. Longtime New England racing personality & voice of the Northeastern Midget Association (NEMA), Pete Falconi handled the induction of his family’s close friend & former driver.
It was longtime Northern New England racing history expert & NEAR supporter Lloyd Hutchins Jr. performing induction honors of the late Pappy Forsyth. Starting his career immediately after serving in World War II Forsyth, a West Swanzey, NH product, ran up an impressive record over three decades including championships at Claremont and Keene in New Hampshire and at Connecticut’s Stafford Springs. His prowess continued into the 1960s including a sensational season at Thunder Road in 1961 (10 wins in 18 starts) driving for George Barber.
Briggs Cunningham called Westport, CT home for much of his life. An absolute pioneer in American Sports Car racing, he was a competitor, patron, sponsor and successful car builder. Determined to put America on a level with the Europeans, he produced a list of high-performance prototype machines and competed on the international stage at LeMans and Sebring, his car winning at the latter. NEAR Hall of Famers John Fitch and Phil Walters were among his drivers. Cunningham family associate Larry Black had the honor of welcoming the late Sports Car Icon to the Hall of Fame.
NEAR member & veteran Connecticut sports journalist Peter VanderVeer presented the ultra-accomplished Bones Bourcier with the heralded Mitchell/Ratta Award which honors the memory of two of New England’s pioneering scribes, Charlie Mitchell writing for the Norwalk (CT) Hour and Jack Ratta for the Manchester Union Leader. Honing his skills at local media outlets and then at Speedway Scene and Trackside Magazine, Bourcier remains one of America’s premier auto racing scribes, twice winning the coveted Miller Racing Award of Excellence in Honor of Russ Catlin. They are part of a host of writing awards that also includes the Eastern Motorsports Press Association’s Frank Blunt Memorial Award. He did memorable work for Stock Car and Open Wheel magazines and has appeared in several national outlets including National Speedsport. He has served an integral role in the NEAR Hall of Fame almost from its inception, serving on the selection committee and making presentations.
Longtime Hall of Fame Master of Ceremonies Matt Buckler was the recipient of the coveted Dan Pardi Award as presented by Marie Pardi & 1998 Hall of Fame Inductee Pete Zanardi. For decades, Buckler has served as the voice of several area speedways as-well as maintaining his role as a well-respected member of the New England racing media. Marie’s late husband Dan spent a lifetime serving the sport of auto racing having worked in several capacities. He was a dedicated NEAR member and driving force behind the success of the Hall of Fame until his untimely passing a few years-ago.
The New England Antique Racers club is a non-profit organization that supports the history of New England auto racing. NEAR has been in existence since 1981 and has a growing membership of approx. 350-400 members and 80 antique race cars. Members live throughout New England and are available, on a no charge basis, for exhibition events at local race tracks in New England and several tracks in the New York area, with both original and historical replica race cars.
The New England Auto Racers Hall of Fame is administered by the New England Antique Racers. Just some of the very notable inductees include Richie Evans, Ron Bouchard, “Wild Bill” Slater, Bugs Stevens, Rene Charland, Pete Hamilton, Fred DeSarro, Ed Flemke, Sr. and Billy Greco.
By Dave Dykes