THOMPSON, Conn. – On Sunday afternoon hundreds of victories and untold contributions to auto racing during the sports early era in New England were celebrated before a packed-house at the Inaugural New England Antique Racers Pioneers Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony held at the Thompson Speedway Clubhouse.
The selection of inductees followed a lengthy and comprehensive voting process administered by a committee of New England’s foremost auto racing historians.
Inducted into the Hall of Fame were stock car drivers Tony Mordino, Sparky Belmont, Hank Stevens, “Big Ed” Patnode, Johnny Georgiades, Wally Silva, and Ray Brown.
Midget racing standouts Eddie Casterline, George Rice, Al Pillion, Billy Tibbert, Frank Simonetti, Charlie Ethier, and George Monsen completed the open-wheel inductees.
Also taking their place among the most-celebrated personalities of our region’s short track racing history were car owners Anthony “Beebe” Zalenski, Ed Stone, Wen Kelley, Bob Oliver, and Gordon Ross. Joe Tinty, owner & promoter of Connecticut’s former Plainville Stadium, is now also a member of the Hall of Fame.
All members of the Inaugural Pioneer Class have passed-on, but not before leaving an indelible mark on the sport in their own unique way.
“It was truly a feel-good event,” stated Hall of Fame Executive Committee Chairman Bruce Cohen. “We had started putting this together a number of months-ago, and it’s obvious by today’s turnout and the appreciation expressed by those present that it was the right thing to do. The entire team with the project worked hard to make this a reality. We could not be happier for the families and friends of today’s very-deserving inductees.”
NEAR President Val LeSieur himself a Hall of Fame member, echoed a similar sentiment.
“This being the first-time we presented a Pioneers Induction Ceremony, we’re particularly pleased with the turnout. The day could not have gone better,” he said.
“It appears that we hit-upon something very-special today,” stated presenter and well-known racing historian R.A. Silvia. “Whatever it-was, things just aligned perfectly making for a very-enjoyable celebration of racing’s early days. So-many segments of the sport’s history were well-represented today by a group of very-deserving new inductees.”
Popular Matt Buckler served as Master of Ceremonies. Presenters were veteran New England racing personalities Bones Bourcier, Lew Boyd, Dick Monahan, and R.A. Silvia. In a particularly poignant speech, Hall of Fame member Billy Greco made the presentation for Sparky Belmont. The pair had been both friends and competitors for years.
Renowned New England racing photographer & writer Steve Kennedy served as the day’s official lensman.
Well-received by attendees were several memorabilia exhibits along with the popular NEAR Mobile Museum. Longtime racing photographer John Grady was on-hand with a huge display of vintage photographs charting the sport all the way back to the post-war era.