Congratulations to Fred Luchesi, the 1956 track champion at the Lonsdale Sports Arena. The Pawtucket, RI native was inducted into the New England Auto Racers Hall of Fame on Sunday at the LaRenaissance Banquet Hall.
Two Providence riders were injured in spills during the weekly motorcycle races at the Lonsdale Sports Arena last night.
Walter Balchunas, 25, of 516 Broad Street, was the more seriously hurt, sustaining a back injury and a cut on the nose when he spilled on the ninth lap of the feature 12-lap race which was won by Woodsie Castonguay of Springfield.
Balchunas was being passed by Babe Tancrede of Woonsocket on a curve when he lost his balance and the two machines sideswiped. After Balchunas had fallen, the other cycle ran over him, spilling Tancrede.
The latter was unhurt, remounted and continued in the race.
The other injured rider was Berkeley Baron, 23, of 52 Lexington Avenue, whose cycle spilled on the second lap of the first qualifying heat. Both were taken to the Memorial Hospital, but Baron was released late last night. Balchunas is being held for medical observation.
First qualifying heat (six laps, 1 1/2 miles) – won by Joe Weatherly, Norfolk, VA; 2. Gill Whittaker, Cranston; 3. Bill Hancock, East Greenwich. Time – 2:32:9.
Second qualifying heat (six laps) – won by Frank Kawolis, Millbury, MA; 2. Louis Digbello, Warehouse Point, CT; 3. John Butterfield, Newport News, VA. Time – 2:35:3.
Third qualifying heat (six laps) – won by Woodsie Castonguay, Springfield; 2. Walter Balchunas, Providence; 3. John Taylor, Litchfield, CT. Time – 2:42:3.
Fourth qualifying heat (six laps) – won by Bob Baer, Springfield; 2. Pete Peterson, Springfield; 3. Babe Tancrede, Woonsocket. Time: 2:28:1.
First semi-final (8 laps, 2 miles) – won by Castonguay, Springfield; 2. Balchunas, Providence; 3. Kawolis. Time – 3:22:4.
Second semi-final (8 laps) – won by Peterson, Springfield; 2. Tancrede, Woonsocket; 3. Hancock, East Greenwich. Time – 3:22:6.
Final (12 laps, 3 miles) – won by Castonguay, Springfield; 2. Peterson, Springfield; 3. Kawolis, Millbury. Time – 5:35.
Sources: Providence Journal – Tuesday, June 22, 1948
The American Motorycle Association will hold the second in its series of weekly motorcycle meets tonight at 8:30 at the Lonsdale Sports Arena on Route 122, between Pawtucket and Woonsocket, with many of the nation’s outstanding riders scheduled to compete.
In addition to the usual crop of AMA riders, many cyclists from outside New England who participated in the annual Gypsy Tour championships at Laconia, NH, over the weekend will ride on the seven-event program.
Alli Quattrochi of Providence and Ken DeCosta of Taunton, who were unable to ride last week because of preparations for the Laconia event, are also listed among tonight’s entries.
Sources: Providence Journal – Monday, June 21, 1948
Bud Tatro of the Bay State Association won the feature of the weekly midget auto racing program at the Lonsdale Speedway last night. The field also included a large number of Triple A drivers. A crowd of approximately 3100 witnessed the races
First heat – (10 laps, 3 1/2 miles) – won by Jim Florient, Cleveland; 2. Bud Tatro, Norwalk, 3. Bernie Kelley, Toledo, Ohio. Time – 2:46:07.
Second heat – won by Bill Spears, Cleveland; 2. Milt Henry, West Medway; 3. Howdy Glenn, Pittsburgh. Time: 2:43:72.
Third heat – won by Bob Harnar, Akron; 2. Frank Simmonetti, Watertown, Mass.; 3. Stan Wood, Nashua. Time: 2:48:21.
Fourth heat – won by Jack Kapot, Cleveland; 2. Red Cummings, Wenham; 3. Bill Tibbetts, Natick, Mass. Time: 2:48.
First semi-final – (15 laps, 5 miles) – won by Tatro, 2. Spears; 3. Kelley. (No time, race halted in 13th lap)
Second semi-final – won by Florient, 2. Simonette; 3. Kapot. (No time, race halted in 13th lap)
Class B race- (16 laps, 5 1/2 miles) – won by Harner; 2. Cummings; 3. Al Primer, Greenwich. Time: 4:33:87.
Feature race – 25 laps, 8 1/2 miles) – won by Tatro; 2. Florient; 3. Simonette. Time – 6:41:22.
Sources: Providence Journal – Thursday, June 17, 1948
Jim McBride of Dallas, Texas, is among the several new guest drivers scheduled to participate in the midget auto racing program tonight at the Lonsdale Sports Arena. The first event will start at 8 p.m.
McBride, who drives a No. 5 Offenhauser, has just arrived from the Midwest. Three other AAA drivers who participated in last week’s races, Jim Florient of Cleveland, Ohio, and Bob Harner of Akron, both of the Pollock racing team, and Bill Spears of Cleveland will be back.
In addition to the guest drivers the regular Bay State Midget Auto Racing Association drivers will be on hand.
Sources: Providence Journal – Wednesday, June 16, 1948
Big car auto racing will be held Saturday night under light at the Lonsdale Sports Arena, it was announced last night by the Lonsdale management. The races originally were scheduled for last Sunday but were cancelled by rain.
It was also announced that motorcycle racing will be held at Lonsdale every Monday night starting next week on a new track built inside the surface used for midget auto racing. The motorcycle races will be sponsored by the American Motorcycle Association.
The midget autos will make their season’s debut at Lonsdale next Wednesday.
Sources: Providence Journal – Thursday, June 3, 1948
Continue Fight with BSMRA; Lonsdale and Seekonk Tracks Affected
Westboro, Mass – May 19 – (AP) – Seven midget-auto race tracks announced today they were closing temporarily after the Westboro Stadium was picketed last night by New England drivers, who said the track operators wanted them to join the American Automobile Association.
The track operators said they would shut down until enough American Automobile Association entries are received for eight-race programs.
The move cancelled a race program at Lonsdale, RI tonight and other scheduled race meets at Groveland, Seekonk, West Peabody, and Manchester, NH later this week. A new track at Norwood was to have opened May 31.
Midget auto racing returns to the Lonsdale Sports Arena next Wednesday night when more than 35 cars of the AAA will participate in the opening night’s program.
The Lonsdale oval will operate this season under the auspices of the American Midget Track Owners Association, an affiliate of the AAA and will be a member of the New England “Big Seven,” which also includes the Fall River Speedway, Manchester, N.H., Motordrome; Norwood, Mass. Arena; Westboro, Mass. Stadium; Pines Speedway at Groveland, Mass. and the West Peabody Speedway.
|1947 Lonsdale Sports Arena Winners|
|8/13/1947||Wed. Night||25||Midget||Bill Schindler||Caruso Offy #|
|8/20/1947||Wed. Night||—||Midget||Comp. – R/O|
|8/24/1947||Sun. Afternoon||15||Midget||Joe Sostilio||Leader Bird Offy #54|
|8/27/1947||Wed. Night||25||Midget||Bill Schindler||2|
|9/3/1947||Wed. Night||25||Midget||Bill Schindler||3|
|9/10/1947||Wed. Night||25||Midget||Lloyd Christopher|
|9/17/1947||Wed. Night||25||Midget||Ted Tappett||Curtis Offy #5|
|9/24/1947||Wed. Night||25||Midget||Bill Schindler||4|
|10/26/1947||Sun. Afternoon||30||MOA||Fonty Flock|
|10/3/1947 – Midgets postponed until further notice.|
|10/26/1947 – 1st Stock Car Short Track Race in North – Finale|
Lonsdale Sports Arena was a high-banked 1/3 mile high-banked paved oval located two miles north of Pawtucket, Rhode Island on Mendon Road (SR-122) in Lonsdale, Rhode Island, on the banks of the Blackstone River. The track operated from 1947 to 1956. Ironically, its location near the river would prove a key factor in its ultimate demise. The Stop & Shop plaza now occupies where Lonsdale was.
Several unique things occurred at this tricky track during its short life span. Built for Midget racing, the asphalt race track hosted the quick open-wheeled machines during its inaugural season, with Bill Schindler and his #2 taking down a season-high 4 features. The 1947 season saw other winners that year in Lloyd Christopher, Joe Sostillio and Ted Tappet. Running mostly on Wednesday nights, the midgets also ran twice on Sundays and one Friday back in ‘47.
The season finale for Lonsdale served as a bellwether for the future of motorsports in the next decade as well as today. The MOA sanctioning body hosted the first-ever Stock Car race in the North on Sunday, October 26, 1947 with Fonty Flock capturing the 30-lap victory. Bill France and other stock car entrepreneurs tested the waters at Lonsdale to see if this stock car thing had longevity. Nearly six decades later, these visionaries have proven their worth as NASCAR is the premier form of auto racing in the United States today. The MOA sanctioning body was the predecessor to a new and well-known brand of racing called NASCAR.
A showcase for the Midget race cars, Lonsdale’s role in the post-war Midget boom would come to an end. The debate over Offenhauser (Offy) and non-Offy powerplants was a part of the escalating costs of fielding a Midget racer and contributed to a great divide within the ranks. A cheaper form of racing was just down the pike. That stock car experiment at Lonsdale proved to be right on.
Stock cars soon replaced Midgets at Lonsdale for good in the late 40s or early 50s. The stock cars (also called Jalopies or Modifeds) were a godsend to the track operators. The cars were cheap, provided lots of racing thrills and most importantly, the drivers and fans could not get enough of these stock cars. It was truly great racing, watching the stock cars test the high banks drew massive crowds to a facility with grandstands that encircled the entire track.
Lonsdale met its ultimate demise because of the Blackstone River. Its location on the banks of the river proved problematic when the river crested, flooded the track and undermined the grandstands. The subsequent dwindling crowds did not allow the owner to rebuild the grandstands.
Lonsdale’s last race saw the same racing that started Lonsdale end its tenure on the racing circuit. An ARDC-USAC Midget feature on September 30, 1956 Cliff Riggot brought the curtain down with a victory in his Wozniak Offy.
The final champion at Lonsdale was recent NEAR Hall of Fame inductee Fred Luchesi, who also won championships at Seekonk Speedway, Norwood Arena Speedway, Waterford Speedbowl and Westboro Speedway during this rough-and-tumble era.
New Jersey’s Wall Township Speedway was patterned after Lonsdale.
Photos: R.A. Silvia Collection