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75 YEARS OF SPEED – SEEKONK SPEEDWAY THROUGH THE DECADES…THE 1970’S – 40’s

Seekonk Speedway

Seekonk Speedway

By: Seekonk Speedway

1970s (1970-1979)

This decade set Seekonk Speedway up for the future in a big way. The Pro Stocks took their first laps in competition, as a division that would bring the track through multiple decades of the future. It still stands as the top division today because of the strong base that D. Anthony built in this decade.

In the first sanctioned Pro Stock race, in August of ’78, Frank Carpenter would go to Victory Lane in a 50-lap feature. One year later, the Pro Stocks became a weekly division at Seekonk, opening the door for drivers to flood the track with new cars and prepare for battle in 30 lap feature races. In the first few events, names like Greg Bagnell, Len Ellis, Don Dionne and Bugsy Stevens  were at the front of the field. All of them would be track success stories, long with names like Wayne Dion, George Murray and Jimmy Wilkins Jr. In ’78, Charlie Perry earned the title, while Dionne followed with one of his own in ’79.

As part of the B Class (now Late Models), multiple drivers started championship success before eventually becoming Pro Stock title holders. At the start of the decade, it was Dionne, Norm Holden, Joe Oliver and Vinny Annarummo earning top honors — while three of them eventually become Pro Stock champs. After that, Russ Webber and Hank Goff would win titles in ’75 and ’76, while the tradition continued at the end of the decade, with Wayne Dion and Joe Cerullo winning the title before moving to the Pro Stocks.

This decade continued a tradition of having some top names visit Victory Lane. Bobby Sprague, Ron Bouchard, George Summers, Billy Clarke, Fred Astle Sr., Pop Silvia, Wayne Darling and Fred DeSarro were just some of the winners — but there were many more who joined them at the top of the filed. This decade marked continued success for many veterans who had already made their presence known.

Seekonk Speedway

Seekonk Speedway

1960s (1960-1969)

Start the decade with Joe Rosenfield, end it with Ron Bouchard, and stuff countless other legends in the middle. This also marked the decade with the largest assortment of divisions in history, with competitors competing in the Class A, B, Midgets, Bombers, Modifieds and more. That quickly sums up the 1960s at Seekonk Speedway.

Rosenfield, a 2020 Seekonk Wall of Fame member, started his winning tenure in the previous decade, but picked up most of his 25 career Seekonk wins in this one — becoming the track’s first four-time champion, with all of them coming in the “A” class. He wasn’t a stranger to the front of the field in the 60s, winning championships in the first three years in the top division. After that, he would return to glory in ’64. Veteran Billy Clarke, who would continue racing all the way into his 80th year, would earn a championship in ’63 in the Sportsman division, while the remainder of the decade opened the door for future veterans to rise to the top.

Former NASCAR Modified and Seekonk champion Bugsy Stevens (’65) and Derek Astle (’66) grabbed two, while it ended with the beginning of dominance of one driver who wasn’t only a Seekonk record-holder, but a NASCAR Cup Series winner. Ron Bouchard would score his first championships in ’68 and ’69, before heading into the next decade, where he would seal four straight. Joe Martin would earn his first and only Class A win in ’68, a 30 lap feature in late August.

Fred Astle Sr., who won a chunk of races in this decade, was one tough customer. The oldest of the Astle brothers, the Wesport, Massachusetts, native started winning back in the 50s, but wasn’t done. Over his career, he drove for Bill Ross and Frenchie Gendreau, among others, and spent many years behind the wheel of a car he built himself. He amassed 21 victories, but many of them in his decade.

In the second-tier division (now Late Models), Les Andrews and Dick Machado split two of the first three titles, but it was Manny “Pop” Silvia who took two of his own, kicking off his Wall of Fame career in style with countless wins and two titles. He picked up his first victory in ’62, on the way to the championship in the same year, before adding another in ’64. A decade later, he would dominate the Mini Stock class, winning a title in ’76, and his final race in ’78. Track favorites Ed “Flash” Flanagan, Sonny Mello, Bill Anderson and George Ponte also earned top honors.

Sliding in from the previous decade, Dave Humphrey and Hop Harrington would keep winning, while Bobby Sprague and Fred Luchesi would also keep earning checkered flags. George Summers, who would later be declared the all-time wins leader at Seekonk with 100 wins, dominated much of this decade, extending his number forward, with many of his wins coming in the A class.

Winning car owners in this decade included Marty Zingali, Louis Auclair, Tony Cortes, Deke Astle Sr., George Murray, Billy Clarke, Len Boehler, Rollie Lindblad, Dave Lind and others. NEMA Midgets would continue competing at Seekonk through this decade, keeping the Midget base that D. Anthony built alive and well, while USAC cars also rolled into the third-mile oval. Midget and Class A races extended to 100 laps at times.

Seekonk Speedway

Seekonk Speedway

1950s (1950-1959)

A decade that marked the first champion in the history of Seekonk Speedway, the first three-time consecutive champion, the first Modified competition and the continued growth of the Action Track of the East. In ‘50, Mickey Gill officially earned the first track championship, winning countless races throughout the year in the Stock division. In the same year, Ralph Moody would earn the first checkered in the Modified division.

Looking back from the previous decade, names like Harrington and Humphrey continued their own winning success in this one.

After Gill, Humphrey would earn the next two championships in ’51-’52, becoming the first repeat champion in track history, while Harrington would earn two of his own at the end of the decade, scoring top honors in ’57 and ’58. He would win four straight races at one point, and nearly 40 years later, Harrington would earn honors into the New England Auto Racers Hall of Fame. Humphrey would add another of his own in ’59, marking his third and final at Seekonk. He would move to the NEMA Midgets, where he would continue to win races, and would take his final Seekonk checkered in ’86.

In this decade, D. Anthony would decide to fill the track with water over 12-feet high, opening for hydroplane boat races on select occasions, drawing fans and bringing a new style of competition to the New England region. Sammy Packard won the New England Speedboat Championship that year. It wasn’t long before it was clear that Anthony was going to do whatever it took to bring flocks of fans to the track, and it was working.

The middle of the decade was owned by George Smaldone. With a count of what it believed to be 13 wins in his time at Seekonk, Smaldone would become the track’s first three-time consecutive champion, winning titles in ’53, ’54 and ’55. He was a regular at the front of the field throughout his career.

Another driver to win a championship in this decade was Fred Luchesi. He wasn’t committed to only Seekonk, as a local competitor, and ’56 track champion, he spent much of his time traveling across New England. He was able to earn his first checkered flag in ’54, a championship two years later, and wins in just about every car where he sat behind the wheel. Also in ’56, Seekonk ran the first regularly scheduled Saturday night racing card — a night that morphed into the reality of weekly competition for years to come.

Marty Zingari, a World War II veteran of the U.S. Navy, started his Seekonk tenure in this decade in ’57, where he would earn wins driving for different car owners. George Summers, who is the unofficial all-time wins leader at Seekonk, with what is believed to be 100 wins, started winning at the end of the decade.

This decade also marked the beginning of winning times for Fred Astle Sr., Tex Barry Sr., Joe Rosenfield, Leo Cleary, Bobby Sprague and many other legends. Sprague, like Zingari, was a veteran of the U.S. Navy, serving until his honorable discharge in ’46. He would compete for owners like Dave Marfeo, Bill Ross, and even Zingari, winning 35 times, starting in ’54 and ending in the 1970s.

Billy Clarke, who had a career that spread across more than 65 years, started his career in the B & A division during this decade. Entry prices were down around $1.50 per person, which contributed to large crowds.

Seekonk Speedway

1940s (1946-1950)

What has become of the nation’s most recognized short-tracks was a vision of Anthony Venditti, and that vision quickly became a reality when the first gates opened in May of 1946. World War II was in the rear-view mirror, the economy was turning around and D. Anthony was ready to showcase his dream, taking the family chicken farm and designing it into a race track instead.

Seekonk Speedway was built, and the first race took place on Memorial Day, a Thursday in late May. The track was originally built as a quarter-mile oval, with seven-foot banking in the corners and 60-foot wide turns. There might not have been a ton of grandstands, but it quickly grew into something fans from across New England would come to love. More than 10,000 people were on the property on opening day. The original design of the track was built for Open Wheel Midgets, and in the first race, it was Oscar Ridlon rolling his midget around into Victory Lane.

Along with Anthony, his wife, Irene Venditti, was one of the pioneers of Seekonk Speedway. It was with her help that her husband was able to create the track that has become a fan and family favorite for many. Anthony was the youngest promoter in all of the country in the track’s debut year, and had a family that was behind him from day one. He would pass in the early 1990s, while Irene would operate the facility until her passing years later. Now, the track is still family operated, with Francis Venditti and grandson David Alburn running operations.

It wasn’t long before the “Fastest Track in the East” became the “Action Track of the East” — a name that still stands today. The first year of competition lasted through mid-October, with names like Joe Sostilio, Bill Randall and Bob Blair winning. However, it was Eddie Casterline who dominated the opening year, winning what is believed to be a third of the races (10) in year one. The track didn’t record an official champion, but it was clear Casterline was the top contender.

The second year was marked by the loss of three competitive racers, including Casterline, who lost his life just one day after a crash at the age of 32. Casterline won the New England Midget Championship in 1946, and was one of the earliest speed demons in track history. Victories in year two were spread across countless drivers, including names like Chet Gibbons, Sostilio, Frank Simonetti and Llyod Christopher.

It was 1948 when the cement walls went up and the banking was extended. A drivers strike started the year, and racing didn’t begin until June, when Bill Randall opened the season in Victory Lane. There might not have been as many races in ’48, but by ’49, a full year of racing took place, with names like Nick Fornoro, Ralph “Hop” Harrington and Dave Humphrey victorious for the majority of the season. By then, a Stock division that had been introduced to competition, but the Midgets hadn’t gone away. Harrington seemed to be the dominant car heading for the start of a new decade and Humphrey wasn’t going to be far behind.