THE STRANGE AND LOVABLE TRACK IN
This is a subject near and dear to my heart,
for which I don’t have a ton of facts; so, I did the best I could to give it
its due. At one time, southern New England, Massachusetts and Connecticut in
particular, was loaded with race tracks. Many of these tracks went by the
wayside, in the mid 1950’s, when hastily – organized ovals all over the
northeast fell to financial and liability problems. Others, like Stafford,
Thompson, Seekonk, and more, went on to become established and polished
From Dave Dykes’ Site
Richmond was a sort of poster boy for the Lakeville track. He,
like the track he was loyal to, was one of the unsung parts of racing.
By the 1990’s, even many of the more
established tracks in that region had been closed. Familiar sites like Norwood
Arena – for example – succumbed to the thirst for revenue – generating prime
real estate development and, in many cases, disappeared without a trace.
One track that did run long enough to etch
its place in racing history was commonly known as Lakeville. Located on the
Staples Shore Road, not far off state route 105, the track was somewhat near
the town from which it borrowed its unofficial name. According to historian
Dave Dykes, the location had a track from its days as the Middleborough
Fairgrounds, between Middleborough and Bridgewater, Massachusetts.
Photo From Dave Dykes’ Site
The track had racing
from a very early time in the twenties.
The half – mile track was begun in the
1920’s, according to Dykes. The site had been variously used as a horse
training site and as a camp venue for troops under Civil War Union general
Joseph “ Fightin’ Joe” Hooker. Given that the term “hookers” arguably came
from prostitutes who served the general’s troops during the many lulls in
military action, the site might have had a number of recreational uses before
its racing years. I also thought I had read somewhere that it was a CCC
location during the Depression, too.
Gen. Fightin’ Joe
Hooker didn’t exactly live up to his name.
Most of the significant history of Lakeville
Speedway came during its latter years – around the 1970’s. The bucolic nature
of the place once prompted an article done in Stock Car Racing magazine – most
likely written by one of three active Lakeville racers: Lew Boyd, Bruce Cohen,
Dick Berggren, or one of their buddies. Then promoted by mini stock star Dan
Meservey, the speedway had caught the fancy of a reading public which was
accustomed to showier facilities.
Boyd Collection Photos
Lew [Finch Fenton]
Boyd and family at Lakeville Speedway. Below -
In a supermodified - "trying to hurt himself", as Lew puts it.
According to that article, one of the unique
and cool parts of a Lakeville experience was one of the men’s toilet
facilities. You could relieve yourself and look right out, onto one of the
turns on the track to take in the action. Meservey gave the dirt track his
best try, but that went to no good as did everyone else’s best tries. The
track just did not attract enough spectators and cars to turn a good profit
[or even come close to breaking even].
The fields that the track did attract were an
eclectic mixture of different cars, from different areas and venues of the
sport. You could see someone like Don Rounds, of Warwick, Rhode Island, who
have driven anything from his familiar blue and white #101 1937 Ford coupe to
a former Grand National Ford, primered and crudely numbered #29. Peacedale,
Rhode Island’s popular and easy – going Johnny Richmond was another regular
fixture at Lakeville, with his #93.
Photos Courtesy of Don Rounds, Jr.
Don Rounds drove at
Lakeville with both his familiar 101 from
the late 1950’s and [below] a former Grand National Ford.
The Jewish Lightning gang of Boyd [often
going by the name of Finch Fenton], Cohen, and Berggren were fond of Lakeville
and apt to show up with something akin to a dirt supermodified. Seekonk’s
legendary Deke Astle was a regular at the Massachusetts track that was,
apparently not a long tow from the tiny state of Rhode Island. According to
Dykes’ references, Astle was called the “Little Man with the Big Cigar”, and
was a Seekonk champion.
Adding to the peculiar mix on the track was a
bunch from well up into New York. Dick Hansen, one of the best drivers to ever
run at the Pine Bowl Speedway outside of Troy, New York, ran at the track as
did Mert “Socks” Hulbert, at that time running Bruce Carmen’s potent #23’s,
with which he usually performed at Midstate, in Morris, New York.
Photo From Dave Dykes Site
This photo shows
the versions of modifieds running Lakeville at
the time the track is best known. They were probably not on the cutting edge.
Lakeville was in that era when the coupes
were still running competitively and the later model bodies like Mustangs,
Falcons, Corvairs, and Vegas were coming in. The track was one of the first
tracks, along with Plainville Stadium in Connecticut, to run mufflers on the
cars. Today, most of the tracks are requiring these on most of the divisions.
The track’s dust problem was dealt with, as was the case in several other
locations with a mixture of used motor oil and water.
Photo Courtesy of G P Tavares
This shot supplied by Glen
Tavares shows the small stands, the close proximity to
Staples Shore Road, and
the oiled track surface. Below - Deke Astle, one of the
Lakeville beloved, in his dirt modified.
Photo From Dave Dykes Site
The crowds, whatever size they might be, were
enthusiastic and involved in the program. The track, which also went by the
names Golden Spur Speedway and Camp Joe Hooker Speedway, offered a program for
a very reasonable admission rate, which allowed families that otherwise could
not afford racing, to attend. Dave Dykes put it aptly when he described a
photo of Gomer Taylor, in mid – wreck, at Lakeville:
“This shot of Bruce “Gomer” Taylor
taking a nasty spill must have made every trade paper in New England
(including the cover of a Cavalcade of Auto Racing Pictorial), when it
occurred back in the early 1970’s. Lakeville was a no-holds-barred fun place
to race, but like all tracks, it could be treacherous at-times as this photo
clearly illustrates. One of the things that always intrigued me about this
shot is the varied expressions on the faces of the crowd. Some react in sheer
panic, some are plain-horrified, and a few even manage a smile. Taylor by the
way escaped serious harm in this episode to become one of the top racers in
the region during later years.”
Photo from Dave Dykes’ Site
Bruce “Gomer” Taylor,
another of the Lakeville beloved, doing his best to entertain the crowd.
The woman to the Immediate left of the power pole has had time to react.
We get to hear a lot about the Beech Ridges,
the Catamount Stadiums, the Claremont [Twin State] track, Oxford Plains,
Lebanon Valley, and all of the other well – documented ovals that made up the
history of stock racing in this area. But there were also dozens of Lakevilles,
Otter Creek Speedways, Ellsworth Speedways, North Ridges, and other places
where things just did not work out the way their operators intended. But,
particularly in Lakeville’s case, the contributions may not have made the top
scale among the more fashionable and chic of racing followers; but, to the
scruffy stock car rat with his stained T – shirt, the pack of Marlboro’s
rolled up in one sleeve, with a threadbare silky racing jacket that was ten
years old, and that weariness brought on from attending his third race track
in as many nights, Lakeville was pretty close to the soul of the sport.
Such was the reverence and devotion that its
attendees had to the place, that Lakeville is one of the few places [along
with Northeastern Speedway in Vermont and Arundel Speedway in Maine] where
some of its admirers put in sweat and funds to temporarily raise it from the
dead to host a reunion meet on its grounds. With or without the blessing of
some of its neighbors, former racers brought restored stock cars to a hastily
cleaned – off Lakeville surface to roar and rumble around the oval for a few
nostalgic [and slow] laps.
Photo from Google Earth
The Lakeville site, as
it is today. Below - A photo of the Lake reunion held in 2007.
The remnants of the track sit behind what is
now the Lakeville Lions’ Club and have such neighbors as Bay State Integrated
Tech and a business or residence simply called Mary E. Carr. It is a little
easier to see the location after that reunion cleared the oval off, but there
is no possibility that anyone will ever get it open again for racing. Only the
little track near Rumney, New Hampshire seems to be able to rise from the dead
every so often. Lakeville Speedway is the kind of place we must never allow to
disappear from our history and our memories. A special thanks to Dave Dykes,
whose comments and photo captions helped with this subject, of which I knew
little. Apologies to those folks who know Lakeville with more detail and
accuracy; I just felt it merited a little attention in this column.
Photos by Scott Kazan
Scott Kazan took a
series of photos from the old Lakeville site, including
this one, of the starter’s stand and [below] the backstretch catch fence.
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