Just after World War 2, a group of men speculated that Norfolk County in Massachusetts would pass legislation allowing for Pari-Mutuel gambling. Pari-Mutuel wagering was legalized by the Massachusetts Legislature in 1934 and the successful Wonderland Greyhound Park, constructed on the site of the old Wonderland Amusement Park in Revere, opened the following year. The men formed a corporation, and in 1947 acquired land (located on what was then the major highway connecting Boston and Providence) on what was once a sewage treatment facility and began construction of what would be one of the best sports and greyhound dog tracks in New England.
By the time the building permit was acquired on June 1, 1948, construction was under way at the Arena. Forrest Construction of Norwood was the builder and first operator of the facility. The document to the left is from the Town of Norwood, MA with the Building Permit Number and a short description of the approved construction.

The cost figure noted in the permit was for structures only. It is a rather large sum when compared to the $1.47 per hour average wage for a skilled factory worker in 1948.

The Norwood Sports Arena incorporated in 1948 and issued stock throughout the Arena's life. The stock never gained much in value over the years, but for those that had large blocks there was a profit to be made.

The founding management of the Norwood Sports Arena were:
Dr. Francis Burns - President
Arthur J. Forrest - Treasurer
Emery V. Forrest - Clerk of Corporation
Charles Houghton - Attorney

The management changed with the ownership of the facilities shortly after the first few seasons of operation.

Norwood Arena Stock Certificate
Norwood as it appeared in 1947.
Construction is just about done. The Westinghouse lights and speakers are being installed and the boards are being mounted to the 3rd turn grandstands by Hussey Safe Seating (click here to see June 1949 Hussey advertisement). Note the open air terrace above the box seats. A refreshment stand would be built there in 1960s by Guy Nardone, brother of Infield Steward Angie Nardone. A public rest room was added to the consession building in the pits in 1954. The 2nd story offices and announcer's booth was added to the clubhouse building in 1961. The last construction at the track was to add permanent grandstands to the drag strip in 1968.

The Norwood Sports Arena owners and stockholders believed the facility was a sure bet...except that the Town of Norwood or the County did not pass gambling legislation as speculated. The Sports Arena Board of Directors were forced to shift the scope of the facility form greyhound dog racing to hold different types of sporting events, including wrestling, boxing, concerts and football to name a few.

The Norwood Arena Club
The clubhouse was one of the best at any sports complex in the US when it opened. The $50,000 construction cost included the offices and the concession stand located above it. The clubhouse was "paid members only" through the early 1950s.

Right - Boxing was one of the many sporting events held at the Norwood Sports Arena. Several Massachusetts venues featured professional boxing at this time including the Four Seasons Arena in Walpole, the Boston Garden, the Arena in Boston, the Woodhouse Arenatorium in North Dartmouth and the Hill Arena in West Yarmouth.

Boston's own Tom McNeeley started his professional boxing career at Norwood Arena. A few years later (1961) McNeeley went toe-to-toe with Floyd Patterson for the world heavyweight championship in Canada. He lost in the 4th round.

As with most events held at the facility, the Arena Board of Directors would lease or contract organizations to hold events. Midget auto racing had exploded onto the sports scene after World War 2 and the facility had a track so it was a natural for the midgets to find their way to the Arena. Little did anyone know that this was the birth of Norwood Arena as one of the premeire motorsports facilities in the country. Motorcycles and sports cars and dragsters also tried their hand at racing at the facility over the decades.

The Arena Board of Directors signed with the Bay State Midget Racing Association to run on Monday nights, the only opening on the touring midget series. On June 14, 1948 the midgets became the first race cars to turn laps on what would become one of the top 1/4 mile motorsport tracks in the country. Fifteen races were held during first season, occasionally in the rain. (Click Here to see Cars & Drivers Roster) Attendance averaged around 4000 fans per race night. Johnny Bernardi, driving the Davison Offy #55 won the opening night feature race and along with three other feature wins he captured the first Norwood Arena points championship. Bill Schindler finished in second place with three feature wins. Frankie Simonetti and Dick Shuebruk also had three feature wins each. One thing was clear, big
money teams were winning and the once dynamic post-war midget craze was maturing and cooling off. The Bay State Midget Racing Association gave way to the United Car Owners Association. While the Board reviewed their disappointing first season the nearby Lonsdale, Rhode Island track had attendance of around 20,000 for its Sunday shows featuring a different type of racing...stock cars! They didn't know racing but the Board could see the trend.

In 1949, stock cars made their first appearance at Norwood Arena under the New England Stock Car Racing Association. NESCRA was formed by local midget owner/driver Ed Stone, along with Andy Anderson and others. Stone was President and ran the operations (Officers: Bud Tatro, Fran Bannister, Ed Stone, Ira Keizer, Newton Fowler with Technical Committee Frank Litwin and Hank Tatro). Like the midgets, NESCRA was a touring organization that ran several tracks weekly. These early low cost and less sophisticated stock cars (compared to the midgets) quickly grew in popularity and number. It was not uncommon for 150+ cars to sign in for a race night. It also became clear that the local racing landscape was about to change forever. As for the midgets, they continued as a touring organization with Len Thrall winning the last Midget race run at Norwood Arena on May 31, 1969.

The season opener in April 1949 was literally a marathon. The 24 hour race covered 3,572 laps (893 miles) through rain and snow showers. Each car had 2 drivers. One rested on the cots in the bar while the other drove. Red Cummings and Red Keizer won the event that included a new 1949 Ford sedan. Although this race sounded like a good idea, the crowds were thin and a race of this length was too much for fans that were accustomed to fast 30 lap feature events.

Right - 1949 Rule Book for the first year of stock car racing at Norwood Arena. Click on the Rule Book to see all pages.

The stands were filled as the first season of stock car racing at the track neared its close. Drivers from around New England converged on Norwood Arena for the October 12, 1949 race. The cost for a ticket was $1.20 for the bleachers and $1.80 for the reserved box seats.
A highlight for this first season was the wedding of ace driver Gavin Cooper to Audrey Maher. Cooper was a colorful figure. The wedding at the track was a true "show business event" that included fireworks and torch-light procession and fireworks. Audrey's sister, Doris, was a scorer at the track at this time.
By the end of the 1949 season, Red Cummings had captured the first Norwood Arena stock car track championship. Despite the record crowds and big name drivers that ran this first year, there were a few dark spots to this season. Several drivers were hurt in crashes in this first season.

A down side to early stock cars is that they were designed for street use and modified for racing. Minimal roll bars were often made from water pipe or metal street sign posts and bolted...not welded...to the frame. Parts failed on a regular basis, including wheels coming off.

Flying wheels happened often, but proved fatal to a fan on September 24, 1949 when a wheel cleared the then short fence and landed in the packed box seat section. Emily Alden of Boston was killed and two other women were injured. A law suit for $100,000 followed this tragic event - Alden v. Norwood Arena, Inc., Today, this law suit is still referred to in numerous cases around the country where fans are injured at motorsports events.

Plans began to raise the height of the fence and add a tire barrier section at the top of the new fence.

The 1950 season started off with a major change. NESCRA had become the New England Auto Racing Association, NEARA. This was a time when such organizational changes were common in local racing. Ed Stone took less of a role in this new charter. Ed Gendreau and Frank Litwin took over operations. The change happened so fast that the outgoing NESCRA and the newly formed NEARA both had their banquets in 1950.
The second running of the 24 hour marathon kicked off the 1950 season. On April 18th and 19th, Bobby Sprague and Art Clark (RIGHT) took the win, running 3,521 laps. Clark and Sprague took home a new 1950 Ford for their efforts. This event failed again to capture the fans and the stands were far from filled. This was the last 24 hour race held at Norwood Arena.
By mid-season, 15 different drivers had won the feature event. Racing was tight and every race was action packed. Although there were the usual flying wheels and crashes, one that stood out was that of James Lee. Lee, driving Reggie Bullocks 93 car, lost it coming off of turn 4 and hit the fence and light pole. Lee was injured in the crash and his driving days were over. A few years later Lee owned a sprint car that was piloted by several drivers, including stock car ace Jack Malone.

Doc MacKenzie's crash offers a good view of the stock car of that era. MacKenzie lost a front wheel and rolled it coming off turn 2. Note the red arrow pointing to a 5 gallon can and hose inside the car. Also note the lack of side roll bars and how the roof folded where the overhead bar is.

LEFT - Doc MacKenzie's car after it rolled over. Doc exited out the passenger side door.

RIGHT - Red Bolduc (22) and Andy Anderson (77) pass low as James Lee takes out the lights, speakers and a section of the new catch fence. Lee was lucky to survive this spectacular wreck. See his CARS & DRIVERS (link) page for a photo of the 93 after this wreck.

Early Midgets offered little in the way of safety. Without roll bars, many drivers would rather be thrown from the car than ride out the flip while in it.
Fire was another reason to want a fast exit from the car. A blown motor or fuel leak often had disastrous consequences for a driver in the decades before fire suits.
Stock Car ace Junior Pooler took a ride in a Midget that left him with life-threatening injuries. On the last lap of the Thursday night show on June 6,1950 his car burst into flames coming off 4th turn. PHOTO 1 - Pooler rides the flaming car off 4th turn. PHOTO 2 - Pooler dives out of the burning car as another car stops to avoid hitting Pooler or his car. PHOTO 3 and 4 - Pooler, with legs on fire, runs into the infield toward the fire crew. Rain the day before left large puddles near the edge of the track that helped extinguish the flames. It took months for Pooler to recover from the extensive 3rd degree burns. A benefit was held at Norwood Arena and collections taken at other tracks on the midget schedule to help Junior and his family.
Cummings-Dupont In Dead Heat In Feature
Last Saturday, May 6, 1950, the main event finished in a thrilling dead heat between Red Cummings and Tommy Dupont before a roaring crowd of Stock Car fans. This was the first time in three seasons of racing that there has been a dead heat. This what you could call close competition. The racing has always been close due to the excellent condition of the cars and the skillful maneuvering of the drivers, but a dead heat is as unusual as a cloudburst in the Sahara desert.
From the May 13, 1950 Norwood Arena race program.
The 1951 season was a better year in that the crashes produced only minor driver injuries. The same could not be said for those in the stands as another wheel claimed a life. June 6, 1951 - 19 year old James Eustis was sitting between 2 of his friends, enjoying a warm spring night at the stock car races when a wheel flew 70 feet through the air and hit James in the head. He died of a skull fracture... his 2 friends were not injured. On a more positive note, Hop Harrington (click link) started the year unbeaten until late May when Andy Anderson ended Hop's winning ways...for the moment.This (right) is how the 1951 Roster looked prior to the first race of the season. Several drivers, including Harrington, raced at Norwood Arena that year that didn't make the pre-season printing of roster.
Not giving up on gambling at Norwood Arena, Ed Stone filed a formal request in 1951 to bet on midget races. The State felt that it was too easy to fix a race so the Committee rejected the proposal (see notice).
Tickets from a standard Friday night program and Thursday Special Event from 1951.
Andy Anderson takes a win in 1951 to stop Hop Harrington's streak.
Photo by: Howard White - 1951
Courtesy of the R.A. Silvia collection.
The price of a 1st class stamp in 1952 was 3 cents and regular admission to Norwood Arena was 50 cents. If you worked at a gas station in 1952 you earned about $43 per week. Government price controls are introduced to curb high inflation. The 1952 season saw the start of the higher performance Sportsman division, a pre curser to the cut down era. These cars had more horsepower and frames and bodies were chopped and channeled. The rules were very loose with almost an anything goes approach. The end result was cars that were much lighter, faster and way more dangerous.

The beginners division saw a rule change that created a non-Ford program that required the cars to go over three 18" ramps in the infield every few laps. What was a novelty now became part of the race card for these cars. Needless to say, it caused frequent roll overs and was popular in the stands. It was not popular in the pits!
ABOVE LEFT - One of 3 ramps. Note the stage built in the infield that was used for other forms of entertainment, such as concerts, fights, etc. ABOVE RIGHT - The M8 lands after going over the last ramp in the infield in a Mad Merry-Go-Round race. Many cars flipped in this event. It may have been popular with fans but most of the drivers were not thrilled about this style of racing.
Courtesy of Carl Merrill Collection
1952 also brought another name change to the governing organization as NEARA changed to NARA - North American Racing Association. With the start of the non-Ford division and loose rules for the Sportsman division, Norwood Arena's race format was set for the remainder of the 1950s. As for the remainder of 1952, Hop Harrington again ruled the oval with other local greats (Red Cummings, Dave Humphrey, Ray Janelle, Eddie Hoyle, Jug Menard, Fred Luchesi, Red Bolduc, Gavin Cooper, Joe Ross...) all trying to knock Hop from the top.

The 1953 season began on April 25th with packed grandstands and excellent racing in both the main "A" division and the "B" Bomber division. The talent at Norwood Arena was providing some spectacular racing. A couple of new Bomber drivers, Bobby Sprague and Mario "Fats" Caruso showed promise.

Weekly car counts in the pits were between 120 and 130 cars on average. Hop Harrington was looking to extend his track championship title to three in a row. Hop had won 10 out of 13 races by mid season. A frightening end-over-end flip on October 3rd put Hop in the hospital for the next several weeks.

Harrington made it back into the cockpit on October 24th to take the Norwood championship and witness Rue Karner perform a fiery end-over-end flip down the straight in his # 77 coupe. Karner got off easy with very minor injuries. He was done with driving race cars.

The 1954 season again started with packed stands and about 150 cars signed in to race. Full stands provided a good cash flow for the venue. The higher car count was confirmation that the large race purse offered at Norwood Arena was pulling talent from other tracks. With so many cars, the cut-downs were divided into two groups, with motor size being the deciding factor. Powerful and lightweight, these cars were incredibly fast. And a bit of "show biz" and you have a solid race program. The feature event would start with cars running pace laps with the track lights out. As they roared to the green flag the lights came on in a true audio-visual explosion.

Mario "Fats" Caruso was in his second year of racing at Norwood Arena and new comer Leo Cleary was showing some promise, driving anything that was offered to him. Feature events went to Fred Schulz, Fred Borden, Reino Tulenon, Larry Antonellis, Wally Silva, Red Hill, and Bob Valliere, to name a few.

Carl Merrill came into his own in 1954. Merrill had started his association with Norwood Arena shortly after it opened. He was running for office in Newton and paid to advertise his campaign on Slim Ingalls #1 car that was owned by Ralph Legendre. Merrill enjoyed the sport and was sad to leave it when he was assigned down south.

Carl Merrill returned a year later but in an official capacity. He worked nearly every official position there was, including Flagman (also known as Starter). RIGHT - Merrill Presents the victory flag to Ed Hoyle for his July 12, 1954 win. I was not at the track to see this win as I was at the hospital being born on this date.

Carl Merrill believed in bringing structure to the Norwood Arena racing program. Over time he became Chief Steward and Director of Racing at Norwood Arena until the track closed. Managing the racing program at Norwood Arena was a difficult task with a Board of Directors that were only interested in cash flow, a governing body that had its own agenda and strong-willed competitors that would occasionally clash with the rules and their enforcement. I recall an instance when an unhappy competitor decided a tire iron may help them make their point over a protest or rule enforcement that they didn't agree with. This didn't end well for the protesting party.

The 1955 season saw a mild decrease in attendance and car counts at many of the New England race tracks, including Norwood Arena. It was a year of emotional highs and lows on and off the track. Near tragedy struck on July 31st when Bomber driver Rudy Kingma flipped his #5 coupe onto its side on the front straight. It burst into flames with Kingma strapped inside, dressed in the race attire of the day, every day street clothes. Carl Merrill, risking his own life, pulled Kingma from the burning car (see photos below).
September was a dark month for Norwood Arena as first time driver Fred Gross of Attleboro, Massachusetts was fatally injured in a spectacular Bomber car crash in 1st turn. He was filling in for Bob Dionne, his partner and the regular driver of the Bomber. Driver Stan Woods, who turned laps in both midgets and stock cars at Norwood Arena, died in a plane crash in New Hampshire. Norwood regular, Carroll Sleeper, on leave from the Marines down South and caught a ride that put him in a wheel chair for the rest of his life. The movie star that most emulated the rough and tumble lives of many of the drivers of the day, 24 year old James Dean, died in a street accident in Paso Robles, California. Driving ace, Billy Tibbert, was about to head down south and work with former Norwood Arena competitor Ralph Moody when polio took his legs away. It was many years of hard work for Tibbert to regain mobility in his legs.
The 1956 season began with a soggy start and it lasted all summer long. It thinned the crowds but what racing there was rewarded those that stuck it out. 1956 News (click link).

Henry "Red" Barbeau with six wins in the Devereaux/Auclair L1 looked to be heading toward the track championship but couldn't catch Fred Luchesi in the points race. Red lost by 9 points.

In the Bombers, Larry Antonellis took the title easily with 9 wins. Leo Cleary came in second in points followed by Bobby Sprague. A new driver by the name of Jack Malone was piloting his #78 impressively around the quarter mile.

LEFT - Jack Malone with his #78 at home in 1956. Jack was a fast learner behind the wheel and matured as a driver quickly. As with all new drivers he pushed a bit to hard from time to time. That's how he got the 78 on its side.

Jack was one of the several Needham area drivers that became part of what was known as the "Needham Gasoline Ally Gang". By the early 1960's there was a crop of drivers with last names such as Bacchiochi, Melnick, Hamilton, Savary and others, all associated with area. They had a habit of collecting wins.

The 1957 season was more agreeable weather wise compared to the previous year. Attendance picked up a bit too.

The cut downs continued to evolve as they became lighter, faster and more dangerous. One of the stronger cars was the Paul Doody Special 0 car piloted by Gavin Couper. A great deal of the speed can be attributed to mechanic Jim McGee, who went on to turn wrenches and crew chief on Indy cars. Since he started working as a car builder and mechanic for Indy Car teams back in the spring of 1957, McGee has had 80 championship wins, four Indianapolis 500 victories, nine National Championships, thirteen 500-mile race wins (including Indianapolis), Six poles at Indianapolis, and numerous pit and mechanic awards.

The Doody 0 car had a clone in the Dick Carmen 1 car driven by Ed Hoyle. Similar in looks and performance, these two cars were in a class by themselves.

The 1958 season (link to 1958 Roster) was the year of the cat. Leo "the Lion" Cleary (link) had the Longy Blomberg's car at the front all season long. Longy's 2 car team for the season had Fred Schulz and Leo Cleary at the wheel. Both Cleary and Schulz had long successful careers ahead of themselves at Norwood Arena. Also making a name for themselves were Red Cummings, Red Hill and Ralph "Trigger" Watson. The season also had a few low points.
All were saddened at the death of Basil "Jug" Menard. Jug was a student of Ralph Moody up until Moody's departure to Southern racing circuit in 1956. Jug's last win at Norwood was on May 12,1956. Although Jug was popular with fans and other drivers, he was a loner by nature and people didn't know that his absence from the 1957 season was due to cancer. Jug came by the track for the last time in April to say goodbye. He passed away a month later. Moody helped change NASCAR forever through Holman-Moody Engineering (click link).

Ernie Gahan ran over the wheel of Fred Borden's car sending Gahan's car into a series of violent flips that ended with a solid landing on the guardrail. Gahan's helmet bounced down the track as the car came to rest. Gahan had suffered head injuries but would recover to again race and win at Norwood Arena.

The 1958 season ended with Leo Cleary taking the NARA championship. Bobby Sprague took the Bomber Division title with Leo Comeau taking the Novice Division title.

The 1959 season started as the previous season had ended with Leo Cleary taking the first two feature events. He wouldn't see a win for the rest of the season as many of the competitors had changed from the flathead to overhead engine. Leo was now out-gunned in the engine department.
If you were creative you could run a cross-fire crankshaft in a flathead and not get left behind. This crankshaft made 2 cylinders fire together to produce higher power and launched the car off of the corners and be competitive with the overhead motors. It sounded very strange but it put Hop Harrington into the winners circle in Frank Sgambato's 9 car. In the cut downs, Fred Luchesi took the first win with an overhead in Andy Smith's Impala Special number 99.

One thing was true in 1959 is true today - speed cost money and more speed costs more money. The loose rules of the "almost anything goes" cut downs and the relaxed rules for the non-Fords ran up the cost of fielding a competitive car. This started to become an issue in the pits and the stands.

The attendance was thinner than 1958. The $3,000 guaranteed purse was paid even on slow ticket sales nights. That didn't help as the competitors became unhappy and a splinter group formed that challenged both the Board of Directors and NARA. This "Independent Race Car Owners association" showed it's strength at the last race of 1959 when every car in the pits sported the groups decal on their cars.

With Carl Merrill as the business agent of IRCOA, the talk of strikes over money put both the Board and NARA on notice that 1960 was going to be a very different year at Norwood Arena. The Board of Directors knew that they would suffer if IRCOA decided to strike. This was simply unacceptable.
The Board was not about to risk a financial nightmare in 1960 and by the late fall of 1959 the Norwood Arena Board of Directors had decided to take hold of their future. The plan was to replace NARA with a new sanctioning body to put an end to the potential strike and bring down the cost of competition. This same year a new super speedway had opened in Daytona Beach giving NASCAR solid national visibility. This interested the Board and over the winter they began talks with NASCAR about signing Norwood Arena on. The Board needed a solid sanctioning body and NASCAR wanted the flagship of small New England tracks in it's small track portfolio. NASCAR had a push to establish local sanctioning at this time and the Board liked the sound of the NASCAR's Modified and Sportsmen Divisions being the premeire class at the Arena. Moreover, NASCAR ran national points special events that would mean big names visiting the Arena from time to time as well as a new reason for the regional best to turn laps at the Arena. It was a deal of mutual benefit.

During talks with Carl Merrill it was made clear that for 1960 NASCAR was in and the era of NARA and the cut downs was over at Norwood Arena. The IRCOA owners/drivers believed they had the upper hand because they had "the show" and the support of local tracks and other local race organizations. It was a matter of time before Norwood Arena would abandon NASCAR and come crawling back. The strike was on and Westboro would be their home in April 1960.

The era of NASCAR at Norwood Arena begins...
The 1960 season began a bit rough for both Norwood Arena and the IRCOA. As is typical of any strike, everyone hurts during the process. IRCOA was ready for a fight (click link). It would be hard on everyone with low car turnout at Norwood and a very limited purse for IRCOA at Westboro. What NASCAR did bring to this battle that would win the war long term was deep pockets, experience with these situations and knowing that regional drivers would come to Norwood for the points or to be part of the biggest stock car race organization in the world. Norwood just needed time.
Red Bolduc gave Norwood a positive start by winning the April 30th opening night feature event. Within a couple of weeks Norwood was starting to draw from the region. Joining Norwood regulars Ray Janelle, Fats Caruso, Wally Silva, Roland LaPierre were new additions such as Bill Slater, Johnny Thompson, Red Foote, Ron Narducci and Ernie Gahan. These big guns along with the new Hobby Division and the Novice Division was a decent race ticket. A bit thin on cars, it would grow over the year. Slater putting the V8 in the winners circle the second week wasn't a fluke as he would quickly make Norwood his track for this season. Things were not going well at IRCOA (click link) due to cash issues that would follow them throughout 1960.
Slater ruled the track for 1960. He occasionally turned over the victory to a competitor but it was momentary. Having firm control of the race program again, an offer was extended to the cut downs to run at Norwood. It took a few weeks to get enough cars to make a field to put on a race. The hard feelings ran deep and some saw this as crossing a line that weakened their strike position. That ended in June when enough drivers to make a small field signed up to run.

What was to be a triumphant return of the cut downs and some it's big name drivers (Red Bolduc, Fred Schulz, Leo Cleary, Bobby Sprague and a few others) ended with tragedy with only one lap to go in the feature. For some reason, as Red Bolduc came off of 2nd turn his car made a hard right turn into the wall at full speed. The crash (click link) destroyed Bertha Small's #23 cut down. Red passed away the next day of head injuries.

The cut downs ran a few more shows at Norwood arena and then were gone for good. It looked like the writing was on the wall for IRCOA and NARA. On the flip side, Norwood Arena continued to grow in cars and fans as it continued to advertise (click link) and pay out the biggest guaranteed purses in New England. There were even a few sports car feature events. Bill Slater was the track champ in the NASCAR Modified Division for 1960. In the Hobby Division Woody Woodward, Bob Pendergast and Richard Parson took the top three points positions. The season closed with a 50 lap modified race, Powder Puff race, Sports Car race and a Demo Derby.
It should be noted that many of the records for 1960 were lost or poorly kept. The Norwood Arena organization lacked experienced leadership and management when it came to "the show". The race management had always been part of the previous governing bodies but such was not the case with NASCAR. The track was to provide professional management. The Board (link) knew this needed to be improved for next season and that they lacked the skills and personal desire to step in. They needed to get professional help to run the program and it had to be talented enough to work with their new dance partner - NASCAR. It was clear that they needed Carl Merrill.

With the IRCOA and NARA both on the ropes both financially and in terms of track bargaining power it was somewhat obvious to Merrill that neither organization would likely survive the 1961 season. Norwood Arena, in particular, was growing and didn't need the cut downs. For racing in eastern Massachusetts for 1961 the smart money was on Norwood Arena and NASCAR and over the winter, probably with a few nights of restless sleep, Merrill signed on to be the Chief Steward of Racing at Norwood Arena. Now he had to convince the owners/drivers of IRCOA / NARA that the battle was lost so come join Norwood Arena and NASCAR and run Modifieds. That wouldn't be easy. He told him of his decision in December of 1960.

Merrill began to explain his position and recruit (click link) to the owners/drivers of IRCOA / NARA. Some understood the logic and signed up to build new cars and compete at Norwood while others saw this as a treasonous act. Those that stuck with the cut downs ran a two more seasons as a gypsy troop that ran any place they could book a show. Norwood prepared to kick off a high energy 1961 season.

On February 21, 1961 the press releases appeared in the Boston Globe, Boston Herald and other local and racing papers announcing the signing of NASCAR as the new sanctioning body at Norwood Arena. Although the track ran under NASCAR the previous year, it was never marketed to the press very well. Merrill was a master at managing the press and understood their value to the track.

It was a warm spring Sunday afternoon on April 16th when the track opened for a tune-up and hot laps session before the April 29, 1961 opening program (link). As if to drive the point home with the fan base that NASCAR had arrived, a week before the opening of the season it was announced that NASCAR's top Division would run at Norwood Arena in the "Yankee 500". This was the biggest stock car race ever held in New England.

The national anthem played and the first race of the season started precisely at 8:00pm on April 29, 1961. There was a new excitement in the air. President Kennedy was in the White House. Construction of the new broadcast building (link) was about to begin. A few of the familiar names that left the cut downs to run the Modifieds at Norwood were back, a Grand National race at the track in June was a hot topic in the stands, lots of media attention and a feeling of something special was happening was evident. The media was so hot for in inside story that a reporter rode in a Modified (click link) during a race. We see this on ESPN today in a specially outfitted stock car but this was basically something to sit on while being minimally secured in the car... at race speed... in a race.

Despite a some what light turn out of cars for the first several weeks, the momentum was building in Norwood's favor. The 8 race evening on this opener was to end with a 50 lap Modified/Sportsman race. Mother Nature had her say and the night ended after the 5th race as rain set in for the night.

May 6, 1961 was a full 8 race card plus the Hobby feature and 50 lap Modified/Sportsman race from the week before. It was 28 year old Fats Caruso from Shrewsbury, MA that won both the rained out 50 lap feature and the 25 lap feature to take home $907 for the nights work. ($907.00 in 1961 has about the same buying power as $6,524.48 in 2009). Fats finished the 50 lap feature a half lap ahead of Rene Charland and Bill Slater.

Johnny Thompson was leading the May 13th feature with 1 lap to go when 2nd place 38 year old Larry Antonellis from Braintree, MA tangled with a lapped car sending Antonellis hard into the wall. It took the efforts of several men and 20 minutes to free the injured Antonellis from the wreck. He suffered severe body bruises and cuts to the face and ear. It would be 2 weeks before Antonellis would return to racing.

The biggest race of the year at Norwood Arena would pit Norwood regulars Ernie Gahan in a John Koszela 1959 Chevy and Ed Flemke in a 1961 Dodge against NASCAR's top Late Model (no older than 3 years) Division of the day. Rex White (1960 NASCAR Grand National Points Champ), Emanual Zervakis, Ned Jarrett, Buck Baker, Jim Paschal, Jim Reed and other hot shoes brought their game and were prepared to take as much of the $10,000 purse as possible. The payout for first place was around $2,500 (or more) as manufacturers added another $1,000 in bonus money for the top finishers if they used their products. Just by starting the race White took in $100 in appearance money. One of the perks of being the defending champ. That $100 in 1960 has about the same buying power as $720.41 does today.

Tickets were sold on a "reserved basis" with prices being $3, $4 or $5 ($21, $29, $36 in today's dollars). The $5 got you a box seat. Nearly 5,000 people attended. The all day event began at noon with practice. Time trials followed from 2:00pm to 5:00pm. The race began at 8:00pm and only had one caution flag for a blown engine. It was uneventful evening for the 18 car field... except for the finish.

Scorers had the win going to Emanual Zervakis, known as the "Golden Greek" by the media. A protest filed by 2nd place finisher Rex White took a week for NASCAR in Daytona Beach to settle. After reviewing the scorer sheets it was decided that Zervakis won. The trophy engraved "The Commonwealth Trophy, First Place, 1961 Yankee 500, Norwood Arena, Norwood, Massachusetts" belonged to Zervakis until it was auctioned off by his estate in 2007. He stopped driving after he broke his knee in 1964 and went on to be on of the great car builders/owners in NASCAR in the late 1960's and throughout the 1970's. Link to the Yankee 500 page.

Although Gahan and Flemke didn't win the Yankee 500 the each saw the victory flag a few times during the 1961 season. Two weeks after the Yankee 500, 37 year old Red Cummings decided to leave the cut downs and return to Norwood in a Henry Ruffo built ride. Cummings said "I thought I had quit the racing game for good but after watching a few races this season I decided to get active again."
Thrills came in all forms for fans this season. A Wednesday night program in July featured Midgets and the Jack Kochman Hell Drivers. The stunt of driving around the high banked oval in a very slightly modified passenger car proved to be harder than it was anticipated. The car did a slow roll onto it's roof.

The following Saturday night the track started the "Junior Drivers Club". During intermission, nearly 200 young fans took 2 lap rides around the track with many of the Sportsman/Modified drivers. In August, there was a Camera Contest with awards for best pictures in the categories of action, still and color. This was followed by a concert by Tony and the Del Fi's, a local area group that had the regional hit song, "Going to Miami".

Joe Ross, the "Lovable Fat Man" on the mic, had his hands fulling calling both racing and some of the more "social events" that the track was holding. He needed the practice as the biggest race for local drivers, The 400 lap labor Day Minuteman 400 was drawing Sportsman/Modified entries from all over the east coast. The $8,000 purse and NASCAR points was getting a lot of attention.

Stunt gone wrong for Jack Kochman Hell Drivers
The Minuteman 400 was as action packed as expected. During 1961 a few of the Norwood drivers figured that they could do well in money and points by racing up and down the East Coast. The lighter, quicker Norwood Sportsman/Modified cars did well beating the locals on their own home track. These "Northeast Bandits" won often, big and everywhere they went. It wasn't a surprise that a few of the boys down South would try their hand at picking the pocket of Norwood's finest. No such luck.

Red Foote (J2) took the win and $2,000. Rene Charland was 2nd, Ernie Gahan 3rd, Ed Flemke 4th, and Fats Caruso 5th. Dick Nephews and Bill Wimble, both from New York, took 9th and 10th. A protest filed by Flemke and Caruso was disallowed by NASCAR.

A few people thought that Foote's exceptional gas mileage might be more than luck.

The season ended with Sportsman/Modified wins going to Rene Charland - 4, Fats Caruso -3, Gene Bergin - 3, Red Foote - 3, Ed Flemke - 3, Ernie Gahan - 2, Larry Antonellis - 1, Red Hill - 1, Hop Harrington - 1 and Johnny Thompson - 1. Billy Schulz took the Hobby Division championship followed by Glen Legere, Bob Bacchiochi, Don MacTavish, Jeff Reed, Allan Young, Bob McElroy, Red Sullivan, Al Winslow and Gene Berthelette.
As January 1962 season began the Norwood Arena management prepared to head South for Speed Weeks in Daytona. The winners of a trip and tickets to see the 1962 Daytona 500 went on the trip of a life time. They saw Fireball Roberts (link) win the race. In the photo on the right - Wes Plummer (center), President of Norwood Arena, welcomes Natick residents Peter Reagan and Larry Salinger as they board the Northeast Airlines Convair 880 jet for the flight to Florida. Coincidently, Northeast Airlines ended operations and merged with Delta Airlines in August of 1972, a few weeks before Norwood Arena would run its last race forever.

The Norwood Arena Banquet (link) was held to honor the 1961 track champions. Fats Caruso (Modified Division), Rene Charland (Sportsman) and Billy Schulz took first place in their divisions. Over the winter, owners and drivers build their cars for the approaching season. While some focused on taking their divisions track championship title, the Eastern Bandits were preparing a major assault on tracks up and down the east coast. While the Bandits were planning to be away the door would be opened for Bill Slater, Fats Caruso, Leo Cleary, Smokey Boutwell and others to rule the banked oval.

The year 1962 was an exciting time in the US. President John F. Kennedy was in the White House. The economy was doing well. The "space race" was in full swing. On February 20th Astronaut John Glenn orbited the earth 3 times in the Friendship 7 capsule to become the first American to take a few laps around our planet. On April 21st drivers took the first laps of the season with a warm-up session on a cool spring Saturday afternoon. Even before the first race of the season started a change in schedule set the stage for the biggest race of the year. The second running of the Yankee 500 Grand National race was cancelled and in it's place was the June 16th was a 500 lap Modified-Sportsman national race. It was decided to keep the Yankee 500 name for this race. The original tickets printed for the Grand National race were used for the event. The total purse was set at $5,000. To grow the fan base the ticket price was dropped from $2.00 to $1.50 for adults.
From the first race of 1962, Bill Slater served notice that he would be the one to beat. Piloting the sleek looking V8 built by Bob Vitari and Vic Bombaci, Slater put the "Connecticut Valley Rocket" in victory lane for the first seven feature events of the season. None of the wins were easy as the pack was glued to the tail of Slater's Corvette powered car. A $100 bounty was placed on Slater. The first driver to beat the V8 would take the bounty along with the usual purse.

With the attendance averaging around 8,000 per week the Board of Directors decided to raise the weekly purse to $2,500 effective June 23,1962. It was now $500 to win, $300 for second, $225 for third, $110 for fourth with the scale sliding down for the 20 car feature event Modified-Sportsman field.

In the Hobby Division, defending champ Bill Schulz (link) of Mansfield had to settle for an opening night second place. Don MacTavish (link) of Dover took the win and thought he would be able to make a run at the championship title. This turned out to be MacTavish's only win of the season. Schulz won the following week but like MacTavish it was his only win of the season.

While Slater was staying close to home and winning every week at Norwood Arena, Rene Charland was hauling his #113 car up and down the East Coast to take the national points lead in the NASCAR Sportsman Division. The big purse of the Yankee 500 brought Charland, Ed Flemke, Herb Tilman of Miami, FL, Jean Paul Cabana of Quebec, Canada and a few others to Norwood. Slater won the 500 with Red Foote and Hop Harrington in close pursuit. It was Slater's 8th straight win. On June 23rd Leo Cleary (link) put the #53 car in victory lane snapping Slater's winning streak.

The Offenhouser powered Midgets took to the track on Friday, June 22nd. The special event was hosted by ARDC, USAC and NEMA. Tony Bonadies (link) of the Bronx, NY piloted his #27 to victory in the 25 lap feature followed by Dick Brown, Dutch Schaefer and Len Duncan. Bonadies died at Williams Grove Speedway on July 5, 1964 when, as he pitched his Frankenfield - Offenhauser into a slide at the entrance to Turn 1, the right rear axle of the car snapped. The vehicle barrel rolled several times. Tony was thrown to the ground and died instantly.

Over the next few weeks the track hosted several events, including a circus, the Norwood Debonnaires Music Festival, two more Midget race events and a visit by the Hell Drivers. The event that surprised many was the Demolition Derby that packed over 12,000 people into the stands. What followed was interesting - the birth of the Daredevil Division (link) and a challenge by theology (link) over the morality of such an event.

Four laps ahead of the second place car, the fall Minute Man 400 looked to be another Bill Slater romp until he blew a right rear tire on lap 320. It was a painfully slow 7 lap pit stop that put Wally Silva (link) in his black and white #107 "Shoemaker Special" in the lead. Slater rejoined the race and was closing in on Silva but simply ran out of laps as Silva took the win. Bill Slater was 2nd, Rene Charland 3rd, Dennis Zimmerman 4th and Sy Parlin 5th.

By the time the 1962 season came to a close Bill Slater had the Yankee 500 and 11 feature event wins. Fats Caruso had won 5, Smokey Boutwell won 3, Leo Cleary, Hop Harrington and Wally Silva each captured 1 feature win. The Top 10 in Sportsman were Bill Slater, Fats Caruso, Hop Harrington, Leo Cleary, Wally Silva, Larry Antonellis, Zeke Eldridge, Jack Malone, Rene Charland and Hector Comeau. The Top 10 in Modifieds were Johnny Thompson, Smokey Boutwell, Bob Hall, Roland Lapierre, Red Foote, Russ Foote, Barnie Mattie, Ed Flemke, Dennis Zimmerman and Leo Donahue.

The Hobby Division was an exciting back and forth point swap between Bill Schulz and Bob Melnick for most of the season. Schulz finally won by 24 points over Melnick. Jeff Reed was 3rd, Glenn Legere was 4th, Bill Darling was 5th, Russ Sullivan was 6th with Allan Young, Hal Cooper, Dave Goltz and Ed Witkum rounding out the top 10.

The Press Releases for the 1963 Season went out in early March announcing the April 20th practice and car inspections in advance of the April 27, 1963 opening date. The usual $2.00 pit fee applied for the Saturday warm-up session with a credit being given on the opening night pit fee. Only NASCAR registered cars and drivers were allowed to participate.

The Modified Division was dropped for the 1963, 1964 and 1965 seasons and the Limited Sportsman Division was added to the program. The Limited Sportsmans only ran the 1963 season before being cut from the race card. The Limited Sportsman Division was too close to the Hobby and Sportsman cars in looks and didn't draw a large enough field to be interesting to fans. The race card in 1963 was Sportsman and Limited Sportsman Division, the Hobby Division and the Junior Hobby Division, that seamed to have a different name every season (Daredevil Division, Tiger Division, Street Division, Super Junk Division...).

Even before the first car turned a lap speculation was running high as to who would walk away at the end of the season with the championship trophy. Early favorites in the Sportsman Division were Bill Slater, Ed Flemke, Fats Caruso and Hop Harrington. Leo Cleary and Johnny Thompson were the dark horses in this. With two time Hobby Champ Bill Schulz having moved up to the Limited Sportsman Division, Glenn Legere was considered to be the one to rule the Hobby Division.

The 1963 NASCAR Rule Book had 2 new roll bar parts and a brace added to the cage. Note the difference from the cage used from 1960 to the cage for the 1963 season. Also in 1963 the "space man" appeared at Norwood Arena. He was a firefighter is a silver asbestos fire suit. Yes, asbestos!
The 1963 season looked like it was going to be another romp for Bill Slater in the V8. He won the first two feature events soundly. It took two rain outs in mid May to stop Slater but when the sky cleared Slater took the next two feature wins.

On June 6th, over 125 cars took to the oval in a demolition derby. The Friday night demo was won by Don MacTavish (link). Glenn Legere took second place. When the stock cars took to the track the following night it was Ed Flemke in the 21x that stopped the Slater momentum.

Slater wasn't the only thing stopped cold in June. Two minors were caught with beer sold by the track. It's unclear how that happened but the town Board of Selectman and the ABC found the track quality. It took a few weeks to sort out the fine, a 3 day beer sales suspension period, that was placed on facility on days it was closed. Some of the local media made passing comments on the soft punishment.

Hop Harrington put Bertha Small's #23 Sportsman (link) in the hunt with back to back wins. The familiar #122 of Johnny Thompson was the next to put a Sportsman car in victory lane.

Jack Lundin's celebration turned somber when his father-in-law, William Hrinchuk, suffered a fatal heart attack after the race on June 29, 1963. Hrinchuk had helped Lundin build the winning car.
Norwood Arena was learning the fine art of Media promotion. That was evident by the weekly press releases, press events, print and radio advertisements and community support. NASCAR was skilled at working the media. In 1963, radio personality Arnie "Woo-Woo" Ginsburg was the hottest disc jokey on the air. His show was on seven nights a week on WMEX 1510 AM on the dial.

Ginsburg became known as "Woo-Woo" because of the train whistle he used on the air as part of his collection of sound effects. This particular sound went back to his early days as a disc jockey.

Ginsburg frequently did on-air testimonials for his advertisers, and perhaps the best-known was his work for Adventure Car Hop, a drive-in fast-food restaurant on Route 1 in Saugus, which promoted the "Ginsburger." According to the car-hop's owners, Ginsburg's radio commercials brought as many as two thousand teenagers to his restaurant on a typical summer night. Arnie did radio spots for Norwood Arena that was credited with bringing the young crowd to the track.

The summer calendar was packed for the Arena. The Kiwanis sponsored Mills Brothers Three Ring Circus took up a large part of the facility in July. Nine year old Brian Cox was the pace car driver for the Sportsman feature on August 3rd. The pace car was his modified 1927 Ford Model T. Brian is the son of former race car driver Ashton Cox and has been driving since he was 2 years old.

Besides stock car races, special race nights for the midgets and demo derbies drew good motorsport crowds. In the photo on the left, Johnny Kay is ready to run the heat race of the evening. With demo derbies attracting over 100 cars per event, many of the entries were friends that pooled funds to buy some old iron to bend. A group of young men from Lincoln, MA did just that with their "Fertile Valley Rocket" (link). The name is somewhat similar to Bill Slater's "Connecticut Valley Rocket" that topped the points race at the time.

Not all the metal bending at the track was planned as there were some spectacular incidents (link) that happened. Luck was on our side as the injuries were not serious.

The Norfolk County Free Press newspaper of August 15, 1963 noted that one unique race team was that of Daredevil Division car builder Rick Healey of Canton and 23 year old driver Armando Vieira Jr. of Mattapan. What was unique is that Rick was just 13 years old and he had built cars for the past 2 seasons. With the help of older brother, Bob Healey (age 16), and his mother Liz, Rick sharpened his skills as a builder and waited for the day that he could get behind the wheel.

The team may be young and learning but they are gaining respect. The first week of August saw Vieira start the feature event in 27th position and finish 5th. Adults no longer look twice when Rick lines up at the pay out window after the feature to collect his winnings. Fifth place in the Daredevil feature paid $4.00 in 1963.

The Healey family is well known at Norwood Arena. Liz has competed in the female "Powder Puff" races several times and has the victory trophies to prove her skill as a race car driver. Racing is in the Healey family's blood.

As the end of the season neared the racing was tight and the talent was growing. The NASCAR Sportsman class cars may not have been as fast as the Modifieds (didn't run this class at Norwood in 1963) but that didn't matter much to those in the stands. Hop Harrington in the #74 took the last Sportsman feature event of the year in the Hudson/Fruzetti built car. Sportsman feature wins had gone to Bill Slater - V8 [7 wins], Fats Caruso - 69 [5 wins], Ed Flemke - 21x [2 wins], Insurance Adjusted and 14 year vet Leo Cleary - 53 [2 wins] and Johnny Thompson - 122 [1 win]. Slater will represent Norwood Arena in the 250 lap event at Daytona. Slater finished 10th in this race last year. Fireball Roberts took the win.

Wally Silva didn't win a Sportsman race in 1963 but was second in points behind Bill Slater, and tied with Fats Caruso. The remaining in the top ten point finishers were Johnny Thompson, Leo Cleary, Fred DeSarro, Hop Harrington, Jack Malone, Barney Mattie and Tom Bourget.

The Limited Sportsman Division ran it's only season in 1963 due to poor car count. Bob Melnick took top honors just 6 points ahead of Bill Schulz, followed by Larry Antonellis, Russ Sullivan, Roy Flynn, Roger Gurette and Don Heath.

In the Hobby Division points it was Bob Santos on top followed by Glenn Legere, Al Johnson, Mike McClelland, Paul Susi, Ronnie Roberts, Jack Lundin, Marty Bezema, Bill Darling and Bob Lord. A young driver named Pete Hamilton was showing promise this season.

The Daredevil Division had 11 different feature winners with Sonny Crockett topping the points list followed closely by Jim Maxant, Tom Howie, Slim Jim Baker, Ed Dwelley, Steve Chelotti, Barry Parent, Harvey Murphy, Butch Armstrong and Don Colligan.

The 1963 season had been a success. In November, Norwood Arena announced that it has signed up for another year with NASCAR. The 1964 season would consist of Sportsman, Hobby and Daredevil Divisions. The Limited Sportsman Division was dropped. The track also raised the average purse by $500 to $2,710 per regular event. Special event purses would be higher.

The 1964 Season started on April 25th. A crowd of 4,646 made it one of the largest opening nights in the track's history. It was no surprise that the Sportsman win went to Bill Slater in the V8. The 30 lap Sportsman feature race was paced by the Mercury Comet that completed a 40 day and night endurance run at Daytona, traveling over 100,000 miles at an average speed of 106 mph.

Bob Santos put his #87 Hobby car in the winners circle, as did Don Colliigan in the #86 Daredevil Division. It was clear from the first race that Santos had the car to beat. It was fast and it handled well. In the Sportsman Division, Leo Cleary was seeking that formula. He wouldn't find it in a Hobby car set-up.

Over the winter Cleary and car builder brothers Bernie and Pat Barrows figured out a new set-up. They took the Flemke split-spring front end and applied an engineered version to the rear. It took the first half of the season to sort it out but once done Cleary was able to get the car to handle well enough to run a 3rd groove. Cleary was able to run on the outside 3-wide around the entire track. That had not been done before. Cleary was only able to win one feature event (July 11th) but was a consistent top ten finisher and a points contender all season.

Billy Singersen (left, age 16) built this 1953 Studebaker with the help of his friend, Bruce Farnham. Billy and Bruce did the work themselves.

A substitute driver was needed since Billy was not old enough to race yet.

Drivers and crew memberscould get discount coupons for family members to save on general admition for the stands. The coupons came in individual booklets and were numbered for tracking. Today, that 1964 admission of 50 cents would be $3.49 (inflation factored in). The $3.49 is still a bargin today that few tracks offer.
More of the 1964 Season coming soon!
Track location as it would appear today. Place mouse pointer over map to see track location.