Waterford Speedbowl is a 3/8 mile asphalt oval race track located on CT 85 in Waterford, Connecticut, just off Interstate 395. It first opened for business on April 15, 1951 as “The New London-Waterford Speed Bowl”, the track has been in continuous operation every season since it initially opened. It has continuously promoted Modified stock car racing as its featured division since its first year of operation. Its current owner & promoter Terry Eames has been the track’s promoter since 1995 (except for the 2007-2008 seasons) and has been owner of the facility since 2000. It currently operates under NASCAR’s Whelen All-American Series banner on Saturday nights from April through October. It also holds family-oriented events such as the Wild ‘n Wacky Wednesday Series and several Sunday Spectacular events throughout the year. Aside from oval and family fun events, Waterford Speedbowl also plays host to Holeshot Drag Racing Association (HDRA) 100 foot drag racing Friday nights from May through October that is highlighted by free car cruise and free grandstand admission.
The Waterford Speedbowl opened on April 15, 1951 as a 1/3 mile crushed blue stone oval race track. Its ownership group was composed of local businessmen: brothers Fred and Frank Benvenuti, Anthony Albino, Conrad Nassetta, William Hoffner and J. Lawrence Peters. John Whitehouse was the track’s first Race Director, a position he held through most of the track’s seasons into the early 1970s. Whitehouse lived in Florida during the winter and would then moved up north and stay in a house on the Speedbowl property during the racing season. The Speedbowl featured Modified stock car racing, called Sportsmen stock cars at the time. The first event winner was Bob Swift. After several weeks of operation, the dust created during green flag segments of racing became a nuisance to specators. The track closed for about a month and re-opened as an asphalt oval, which it remains today.The one and only fatality from racing competition occurred on August 1, 1954 when Jack Griffin’s car flipped end-over-end approximately 10 times down the straightaway. The 41-year old was transported to the local hospital but was pronounced dead shortly after 1am the following morning. His type of car, known as a “cut-down”, was banned shortly thereafter for being too unsafe for competition. There have been no on-track fatalities.
The operating Board of Directors had some turnover over the years. In the early 1960s, local businessmen Jack Brouwer and Lou Esposito bought into the track. By the early 1970s, the track ownership group consisted of Brouwer, Esposito and 2nd generation members Don Benvenuti and Bob Albino. Internal conflict would lead to the group selling the track after the 1974 season, after a 24 year run as the original operators.
The first Modified Champion at the Speedbowl was Dave Humphrey, who also won the same title at the Seekonk Speedway that year, and would later win multiple titles in the Northeast Midget Association (NEMA) Series later in his career. Other big stars during the track’s early days were 2-time Champion Bill Slater, 5-time Champion Don Collins, 4-time Champion Charlie Webster, Moe Gherzi, Melvin “Red” Foote, Newt Palm and Ted Stack.Here’s a documentary-style clip about the tracks early years: Documentary Nuggets – Part One: “The Beginning”
Prior to the 1975 season, Harvey Tattersall Jr, long-time president of the United Stock Car Racing Association and one-time operator of the Riverside Park Speedway (among other tracks) bought the track from the previous ownership group. Tattersall had been one of the premiere racing promoters in the Northeast for 2 decades. His ownership tenure saw him as promoter and Race Director in the first few years, then he leased the track out for most of the later years.Tattersall revamped the structure of the supporting Late Model division when he took over in 1975, which was now called the Grand Americans. During his reign, Tattersall would lease the track to Dick Williams on two occasions. First in 1978,only for Tattersall take promoter duties back the following year, and then again in the early 1980s when Williams was actually operating 4 tracks at once, until focusing solely on the Waterford Speedbowl by the 1983 season Both Tattersall and Williams served as both the promoter and Race Director during their respective operational control of the track.
Stars on the track during this time were 4-time Modified Champion Dick Dunn, Bob Potter, George “Moose” Hewitt and Late Models racers Don Fowler, Bob Gada and Ron Cote among others. One of the more star-studded events during this time was the Yankee All-Star League events that ran at the track from 1975-1978. Winners of these events at Waterford included future NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stars Geoff Bodine, Ron Bouchard and Ken Bouchard, NASCAR National Modified Champions Carl “Bugsy” Stevens and Fred DeSarro and legendary Long Island, NY Modified driver Charlie Jarzombek. NASCAR Hall of Famer Richie Evans (2012 inductee) competed in these events and a few others at the Speedbowl during his career before his death in 1985. The Waterford Speedbowl, however, is one of the few tracks that Evans raced at without ever recording a victory.
The Action Track Era
By the end of the 1984 season, the track was enduring a tough time. The 1984 season was the only season which didn’t have an end of the year banquet to celebrate its champions. But prior to the 1985 season, Tattersall leased the Speedbowl to the Arute family, who owned and operated the Stafford Motor Speedway in Stafford Springs, CT. Two significant changes came during their reign as track operators: The headlining division was changed from the Modified division, to the upstart SK Modified division (at the time, the SK’s were designed as a low-budget alternative to modified racing) and they also brought the NASCAR sanction to the track for the first time. The first SK Modified Champion at Waterford was future NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Champion Rick Fuller, driving the Ted Marsh #55 car in 1985. The Arutes leased the track for 3 seasons, before leaving to once again focus solely on their family owned track in Stafford.
Another star who blossomed during the mid-1980s was Late Model driver Phil Rondeau of Baltic, CT. He won a record 6 Late Model Championships in an 8 year span (1985, 1987–89, 1991–92) and recorded over 100 victories during his career that lasted into the early 2000s at the track. Rondeau was considered one of the top short track Late Model drivers in the Northeast during his time at Waterford. Other stars on the track in the 1980s included C.J. Frye and Brian McCarthy in the Late Model division and Rick Donnelly, Bob Potter, George “Moose” Hewitt and Dick Ceravolo in the Modifieds. Potter won 6 Championship between the Modified and SK Modified divisions in the 1970s & 1980′s. Hewitt was a 5-time Modified Champion.
Into the 1990′s
In 1988, the Korteweg family took over track operations. Headed by father George and his sons Dan and Wayne, the Kortewegs invested a lot into track renovations, including the only repaving of the track’s racing surface, new concrete barrier around the track, new catch fence and renovated restrooms and concession stands. A 3rd division was created in 1988 to support the SK Modified and Late Model divisions, called the Strictly Stocks – an entry level division of 8-cylinder stock cars. This division proved to be wildly popular.
The early 1990s brought some hurdles for the Korteweg family. Local residents complained in numbers about the noise the facility generated during its events. The track made it mandatory for all race cars to have mufflers in 1991. The town of Waterford did implement a noise ordinance in August 1993, but it excluded racing at the Speedbowl. During July 1991, the Speedbowl was endanger of closing its doors for one of its big events on July 4 weekend, when then-Connecticut Governor Lowell P. Weicker Jr cut the state budget for non-essential jobs, including the DMV officials who regulated race events at all Connecticut tracks. Less than 48 hours before the event, the state allowed DMV officials to the Speedbowl, however they would now be paid by the track directly. Connecticut’s DMV would no longer have any governing power over the events at the Speedbowl, which remains the case today.
Throughout the 90′s, more divisions were created. In 1995, the Mini Stock division (a former enduro-type division that ran on Sundays) was revamped as the 4-cylinder alternative to the Strictly Stock class. Legends car racing, truck divisions and several other enduro-type divisions were also run on Sundays and then Thursdays throughout the decade.
Stars on the track during the 90′s included Jerry Pearl, Dave Gada, Todd Ceravolo and future NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Champion Ted Christopher in the SK Modified division; Phil Rondeau, Jay Stuart, Tom Fox and future K&N Pro Series East Champion Matt Kobyluck in the Late Model division; Glen Boss, Ed Reed Jr, Ken Cassidy and Chris “Moose” Douton in the Strictly Stock division; Jeff Miller, Dan Darnstaedt and Bruce Thomas in the Mini Stock division.
NASCAR sanction returns
In 2000, Terry Eames, who was the Speedbowl’s promoter since the Korteweg’s left the track in the mid-90′s, became owner/operator and secured the return of the NASCAR sanction which had been removed in the late 1980s. In 2001, the Wild ‘n Wacky Wednesday series debuted featuring the Legends Cars as the headlining division along with enduro-type cars called Super X-Cars (8-cylinder) and X-Cars (4-cylinder) for a weekly summer series that is largely family oriented and still popular to this day. It was around this time that the track was remeasured per NASCAR guidelines and officially declared a 0.375 (3/8) mile oval after a half-century of being recognized as a 0.333 (1/3) mile track.
The dominate driver in the SK Modifieds during this time was Dennis Gada, who won a record 5 straight Championships from 1999-2003 including the NASCAR Dodge Weekly Racing Series Northeast Regional title in 2003. Gada’s 62 career SK wins at the track is also a record. During the early part of the decade the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and NASCAR Busch North/East series visited the track annually.
However, by the mid-2000s the track was falling on hard times. In 2006, Washington Mutual Bank initiated foreclosure proceedings against Eames. A year later, in late July 2007, a foreclosure auction was avoided when Connecticut businessmen Rocky Arbitell and Peter Borelli bought the note and refianced with Eames directly. Washington Mutual Bank was now removed from the picture. Eames continued as owner, but leased operational control of the track to Jerry Robinson of Mystic, CT for 2007-2008 seasons. Around this time, Harvey Industries bought 8 of the 39 acres from Eames and built a distribution center in what was the north end of the parking lot.Stars during the first decade of the 2000s included: Dennis Gada, Jeff Pearl, Ron Yuhas Jr and Rob Janovic Jr in the SK Modifieds; Allen Coates, Corey Hutchings, Bruce Thomas Jr and Tim Jordan in the Late Models Ed Gertsch Jr, Dwayne Dorr, Walt Hovey Jr and Al Stone III in the Street Stocks; Danny Field, Phil Evans and Ken Cassidy Jr in the Mini Stocks. Regional Modified/SK Modified drivers who started out in the Speedbowl’s Legends Car division during this time include James Civali, Chris Pasteryak, Mark Bakaj and Jeffrey Paul.
The Waterford Speedbowl is currently run by a Board of Directors personally selected by Terry Eames, who came back into control after the end of the 2008 season when Robinson’s lease was not renewed. Now the promoter once again, in November 2008, Eames appointed former competitor and 2-time Speedbowl Champion Tom Fox as Race Director and also named former competitor Mark Caise and local supporter Brian Darling to the Board. The original group also featured former Street Stock Champion Shawn Monahan as a joint operator of the track and track historian Tom “Sid” DiMaggio in a multimedia capacity. However, by February 2009, Shawn Monahan resigned from his post sighting differences in the operational agreement with Eames and returned to racing shortly thereafter. DiMaggio resigned 3 days later, although he continues as the publisher of the track’s program, producer of various online video projects and remains an active part of the track’s fan base. Fox would resign as Race Director after the 2010 season and Scott Tapley was named as his replacement at the 2010 awards banquet ceremony in January, 2011. Following the 2012 racing season Scott Tapley would venture onto new horizons by assuming the role as Race Director of the Valenti Modified Racing Series. At the present time track owner and promoter has assumed the position of Race Director.
The Speedbowl’s current NASCAR divisions are SK Modifieds, Late Models, SK Modified Lights, Street Stocks and Mini Stocks who all compete under the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series banner. INEX Legend Cars also compete sporadically throughout the Saturday season. Their Wild ‘n Wacky Wednesday series continues to be a successful mid-week series during the summer that features INEX Legend Cars and Bandoleros (for drivers as young as 8-years old), Super-X and X-cars and various “wacky” races throughout their season.
Current touring divisions that visit the track each year include the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, the ISMA Super Modifieds, the Valenti Modified Racing Series, the NEMA Midgets, the New England Trucks Series (NETS), the Pro4 Modifieds, and the Northeast Mini Stock Tour (NEMST). 2-time SK Modified Champion (2010–11) Keith Rocco, who also competes at the Stafford Motor Speedway and Thompson International Speedway, clinced the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series National Championship at the Speedbowl on August 14, 2010. He became the first driver to win a NASCAR National Championship while an active weekly competitor at the Waterford Speedbowl.
Taking a turn from turns, added to the mix as a promotional test in 2008 was 100 foot Holeshot Drag Racing provided by Jay Eastgate and the HDRA. Running a limited basis in 2008, the program continued into 2009 under the new Board of Directors management. Being placed into the schedule on select Wednesday night events, the HDRA attracted enough cars and attention that in 2010 was added as a weekly event, The HDRA Sho & Go, on Friday nights running from May through October. Still on the rise with car counts and fan counts, the HDRA Sho & Go is a fun way for local motorsports enthusiasts to race their very own street car, muscle car, motorcycle, atv on the famed shoreline oval for a small entry fee. Fans love the free grandstand admission and free car cruise during these fun, inexpensive events.
New York DJ, producer and radio host Funkmaster Flex wanted to explore his passion for car racing and developed a unique way to get it done with a new Spike TV show race event called The Funkmaster Flex Super Series Invitational. The race featured 60 hungry late model stock car drivers from across the country turning laps at the Waterford Speedbowl. Flex went behind the scene to see what it takes to become a winner in racing while bringing out celebrities like Orange County Choppers, who paced the field before the start of the race on their choppers, Lil’ Kim who wove the initial green flag as the honorary starter and LL Cool J, who gave a short performance to the crowd after the event.. You can view the youtube link of the show’s opening sequence here: Monica Taylor Enterprise – Rare Footage of Super Series The event was held on Thursday August 5, 2004. Among those who were invited to qualify for the event included current NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour competitors Ted Christopher, Doug Coby and Woody Pitkat. During the late stages of the race, 6-time Speedbowl Late Model Champion Phil Rondeau was called for spinning race leader Ted Christopher with less than 20 laps to go. 3-time Speedbowl LM Champ Allen Coates inherited the lead and held off Woody Pitkat over the final laps to take the win. Coates won $10,000 and a vintage 1969 Camaro for his victory. Pitkat took home $6,000 for second and Rondeau $4,000 for third. The event was billed as having $100,000 in total purse and awards. The crowd was estimated at around 8,000 people, making it one of the most attended events in the history of the facility. Although there were early discussions for this to be a yearly event, Funkmaster Flex never returned to the Speedbowl to continue the series.
In the summer of 2005, NESN debuted a series called “Inside Line” that was a reality based show focusing on local racing in the Northeast. Ted Christopher, one of the premier Modified drivers and former SK Modified Champion at the Speedbowl was one of the people profiled in an early episode of the short-lived series. Much of the raceday footage used was shot at the Speedbowl on June 25, 2005 when Christopher competed in both the weekly SK Modified 35 lap event and the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour 150 event. His twin brother Mike, engine builder Mike Pettit, and fellow competitors Doug Coby, Chris Pasteryak and the late Jay Miller were some of the people who had appearances in the episode as well.
The Speedbowl was highlighted on the Discovery Channel network’s show Destroyed in Seconds. Originally airing on February 16, 2009, a segment of the show was dedicated to a wreck during a Late Model event held a few years earlier on Saturday July 8, 2006. Jay Lozyniak’s #28 car barrell-rolled down the front straightaway during a multi-car wreck in turn 4. Most of the footage shown was recorded by Jay’s mother in the stands while it happened. Jay, and all other drivers involved that night, were not seriously injured. The race was red-checkered after only 18 of the 30 laps were completed. Only 5 cars were able to continue after the incident. Glenn Colvin, who was the highest positioned car not involved in the wreck, was declared the winner.
The 2011 film 3 Weeks to Daytona, written & directed by Fairfield, CT native Bret Stern, was shot in several locations throughout the state, including the Waterford Speedbowl. In an interview with the website indieWire, Stern stated “I was inspired to make the film after watching cars race at the Speedbowl in Waterford, Connecticut. I’d go Saturday night to see races. Sitting in the stands, watching the guys driving the cars all night, possibly wrecking them, and then scrambling together to get them ready to race the next time.” The film starred Scott Cohen as a local short track racer getting a shot to compete in the Daytona 500. It also starred Jorja Fox and Rip Torn.
For even more in-depth Waterford Speedbowl history please visit www.speedbowlhistory.com