Strap In Racing by Big Bigelow: Northeastern Speedway in the Early Days

Riverside Speedway Flashback – Kendall Legendre, 1984. (Photo by Wanda Patnaude)

A column, East Side Sports, appeared in the Burlington Free Press and was penned by Marvin “Dutch” Leonard in 1958 and ’59. After Dutch passed away Dec. 20, 1959, Don Hovey took it over. His final column appeared on May 10, 1962. Hovey would later become The Caledonian-Record Sports Reporter and News Editor.

Some of Hovey’s columns were sent to me by Christopher E. Ryan, formerly of St. Johnsbury and now Los Angeles, CA.

Hovey wrote about all kinds of sports in the area and he did a great job of keeping up with the goings on at Northeastern Speedway, which opened July 18, 1959.

• On Jan. 14, 1960 he wrote: “We were among those at the Northeastern Racing Assn. banquet. Although this is the off season, the association has been busy making plans for 1960 auto racing as shown by the attendance. Interest in this sport is as great in this area as in other parts of the country.

• April 29, 1960 – “Work is under way to ready the Northeastern Raceway for its opening night of racing on May 21. Some of the improvements at the racing plant are complete, a new lighting system, which was purchased from the softball league field in St. Johnsbury, a new road to the pit area and a larger and newly graded parking lot.

“Before the season opens additions will be made to the bleachers. A new concession booth is being built to replace the one which proved to be much too small last year.”

• July 21, 1960 – “Local drivers are beginning to win at Northeast Speedway. For the first few meets out-of-town and out-of-state drivers captured the feature races, but for the past few weeks local drivers have won. The latest of these was Skip Easter, who took the feature last Saturday. Finishing second was Russ Ingerson of North Haverhill, NH, followed by Ray Stygles of Lebanon, NH, Glen Andrews of Oxford, ME any Jerry Bigelow and Johnny Gammell, both of St. Johnsbury.

“Glen Andrews continues to drive the fastest car at the track as he remains unbeaten in the special challenge races by defeating Kenny Fenoff of St. Johnsbury. Andrews also is top point man at the speedway.”

• August 11, 1960 – “Northeastern Speedway continues to break all kinds of records. Last Saturday, 2,731 paid customers turned out to witness the racing program. These fans, swelled by the large number of children present, broke all existing attendance records, both paid and total.

“There were 54 cars, a record number, participating. This participating total has been growing each week. It should continue as interest in this sport increasing as new tracks open throughout the state.

“Leland Ingerson, of North Haverhill, NH, provided the driving thrills last week as he won the special challenge race, beating Johnny Gammell. Ingerson also won a qualifying race and captured the feature.

“Following the New Hampshire driver in the feature were Glenn Andrews of Oxford, ME, Clyde Andrew of Littleton, NH, Ian McDonald of Littleton, NH, Gerald Dennis of North Haverhill, NH, Ned Lemieux of St. J. and Bob Briggs of Lunenburg.

“This week Wednesday, the track will try again to run the Elks’ benefit program. It has been rained out twice. This coming Saturday the feature will be a “businessman’s race”. Among the local businessmen to enter are Joe (Green Mountain) Caplan, Bob (Gas) Bedard, Leon (Taxi) Perkins, Jim (Checkerboard) McKinely, Tom Russo, Sam Handy, Harold Bates, Dick Gracie, Ken Squier, flagman Archie Blackadar and many others.”

• August 24, 1960 – “We paid a visit to the Thunder Road International Speed Bowl in Barre last Thursday. This track, as the Northeastern Speedway in St. Johnsbury, is sanctioned by the Northeastern Racing Assn. As long as Vermont has tracks like these two, it can be proud of the auto racing sport now active in the state.

“We were amazed at the view, layout of the racing plant and the manner in which every detail is handled to take care of the crowd and put on racing show. When the owners and officials can promote such a fine program as they do to upwards of 6,000 people, perhaps the Vermont Development Commission could use such good workers and promoters.

“The weekly race program at Northeastern last Saturday was held on a track that was made slippery by rain. Nonetheless, some 3,000 fans turned out to witness the many spills and thrills that took place.

“Rip Lowe of St. Johnsbury became the new challenge race champion as he defeated Jack Coolbeth. Lowe will face Skip Easter of St. J. in the next week’s special race.

“It turned out to be ‘New Hampshire Night’ at the track as six of first seven finishers in the feature were from the neighboring state.

“Harold Hanaford of Plymouth captured the top spot in the feature, followed by Archie Beland of Littleton, Mutt Dexter of Lisbon, Sylvio Bilodeau of Whitefield, Gerald Dennis from North Haverhill, Wayne True of St. J. (the lone Vermonter finisher) and Donald Ingerson of North Haverhill.”

• I’ll be reprinting more of Hovey’s columns in the upcoming weeks.

Beaver Dragon

Harmon “Beaver” Dragon was elected to the Vermont Sports Hall of Fame for 2019. He joins his brother and racing rival Bobby (Class of ’15) in the VSHOF as the first brothers to be inducted. He won more than 50 stock car races on 14 tracks. Among his more than two dozen titles were back-to-back NASCAR North Tour crowns. He also won championships at Catamount and Airborne raceways as well as the Milk Bowl at Thunder Road.

Speedway 51

The 2019 Winter Blast 100 is January 19. The pits open at 9 a.m., with safety checks also starting at 9 a.m. The grandstands will open at noon. The pit meeting and scorers meeting will be held at 1 p.m. Post time is 2 p.m. Bad weather date will is January 20 with the same times.

Until Next Week

Find someone or something that makes you laugh every day.

Biggy can be reached at R. Bigelow, 294 Hillside Dr., St. Johnsbury, VT 05819 or bigbigelow2@gmail.com

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