East Windsor, CT — On Sunday January 29, The New England Antique Racers (NEAR), presented the 15th annual New England Auto Racers Hall of Fame Inductions. Award-winning sportswriter Matt Buckler served as Master of Ceremonies for the well-attended event held at LaRenaissance Banquet Hall in East Windsor, CT.
Receiving induction honors this year were drivers Reggie Ruggiero, Joey Kourafas, Moe Gherzi, Jerry Humiston, and Roland Lapierre Sr., owner/mechanics Mario Fiore and Jim Jorgensen and track operator Irene Venditti.
Though not present due to prior commitments, longtime Northern media personality Dave Moody was the recipient of the prestigious “Jack Ratta Memorial Media Award.” Veteran auto racing journalist and Hall of Fame Member Pete Zanardi received the Danny Pardi Memorial Award for his many contributions to NEAR over the years.
A pivotal figure during the formative years of the sport and truly one of the regions earliest stars, Moe Gherzi came to stock cars following a brief fling with midget racing during the busy post-war era. Gherzi won for some of the best teams in the early days of the sport while displaying a flashy style which became his trademark. Nicknamed “Moneybags” owed to a knack of winning many big-dollar events, he tasted success at virtually all of the regions tracks. He later served as the longtime Racing Director at Connecticut’s Plainville Stadium. Accepting for her late father from presenter Dave Dykes was Ms. Alma Michaud.
[Photo Gallery] by Nicholas Teto
Dubbed the “Springfield Rifle” early-on, the popular and accomplished Jerry Humiston began his career during the emerging popularity of stock car racing in the 1950s. His resume included multiple championships at Riverside Park, along with three “Riverside Park 500” triumphs. A track title was also notched at Bridgeport, Ct. and he recorded feature victories at New York’s Utica-Rome and Menands speedways. A United Stock Car Club standout, he was regularly considered one of the drivers to beat. Inducted by former NEAR President Al Fini, Jerry’s daughter Cindy Humiston Weed accepted the accolades on behalf of her late father.
Accepting for his father was second-generation racer Roland Lapiere Jr. The late Roland Lapiere Sr. is associated by longtime fans with the number 134 which he picked up when he was the 134th car in line at Lonsdale Arena during the late 1940s. “Pappy” scored his first victory at Lonsdale in 1950 and his last at Norwood Arena in 1969, four years before he retired. In between, the Rhode Island native raced at over 25 venues finding success at now legendary ovals like Keene, NH, the Medford Bowl, and Westboro, West Peabody and Seekonk Speedways.
Mario Fiore began his long decades-long association with the sport as a teen car-owner at Massachusetts’ former Riverside Park Speedway with the late Gary Colturi at the wheel. Later employing Reggie Ruggiero, the Fiore team experienced tremendous success within the New England modified racing arena. Among his many accomplishments are notching the he NASCAR Modified crown with Jerry Marquis aboard in 2000. Also among those to pilot Fiore machines to success were Greg Sacks, Rick Fuller, Mike Stefanik, Mike Ewantitsko and Doug Heveron. Among his teams 200-plus victories are a pair of Race of Champions triumphs, two Spring Sizzlers, and a Thompson 300. In addition to wins at Oswego, and NHIS, the Fiore #44 team claimed nine track titles. Stepping to the podium to induct his longtime friend was Rollie Jacobs.
Conveying car builder-extraordinaire Jim Jorgensen’s many accomplishments in the sport to attendees was Hall of Fame member Pete Zanardi. A near-miss at the Indianapolis 500 in 1969 capped Jorgensen’s career. He took an impressive list of achievements to the Indy car circuit including success with the Flying Zero Modified at Riverside Park in the late 1950s and early 1960s with drivers Buddy Krebs and Gene Bergin. He moved on to the URC sprints winning with driver Bill Brown before teaming with Buzz Harvey to form the Bulldog Stables in 1968. The team was first alternate at Indy in 1969. Walt Scadden, author of the soon-to-be-released “Swamp Yankee, The Racing Life of Jim Jorgensen” presented “Jorgy” with the plaque celebrating his induction into the Hall of Fame.
Tabbed “The Kid” after winning the prestigious Oxford 250 at a youngster at age 21, Bay State product Joey Kourafas went on to an outstanding career. Coming out of Norwood Arena, he became a NASCAR North stalwart with championships at Airborne and Thunder Road Speedways. The 1974 NASCAR Late Model Sportsman North championship and the 1987 Busch Grand National title and some 50 victories up and down the Atlantic Coast top his list of accomplishments. It was pioneering New England auto racing journalist Lou Modestino welcoming “The Kid” into the Hall of Fame.
Introducing Reggie Ruggiero to the ranks of the Hall of Fame was award-winning auto racing journalist Bones Bourcier. Starting his lengthy career aboard a modest homebuilt coupe at the former Plainville Stadium, a tough ¼-mile bullring in Connecticut, Ruggiero went on to score well over 200 feature wins, including 44 on the Modified Tour and a record 93 at Riverside Park. Between Riverside Park, Stafford Springs, New Smyrna and Monadnock Speedways he claimed 10 championships. In addition to his long & successful tenure driving for fellow Hall of Fame member, Mario Fiore, “The Reg” drove for the likes of Mike Greci, Ed Close, Bill Pelley and Tony Moffo compiling a resume that included a Race of Champions triumph and wins at some 20 different tracks including New Hampshire International, Martinsville and Oswego Speedways.
Irene Venditti, one of New England racing’s grand ladies, joined her late husband D. Anthony as a member of the Hall of Fame with renowned New England racing historian R.A. Silvia handing induction honors. “Mrs. V” was, in fact, at her late husband’s side since the track beginning in 1946, handling duties like publicity and handicapping in the pre-computer days. Laboring in the interests of the “cement place” into the mid 1990s, she maintains an incredible rapport with generations of competitors at the decades-old Seekonk Speedway in Massachusetts. It was daughter Adrienne Venditti accepting for her mother.
Since 1998, NEAR has inducted over 100 individuals into the New England Auto Racers Hall Of Fame, which is administered by the New England Antique Racers. Some very notable inductees include Richie Evans, Ron Bouchard, “Wild Bill” Slater, Bugs Stevens, Rene Charland, Pete Hamilton, Fred DeSarro, Ed Flemke, Sr. and Billy Greco. For more information on NEAR visit our website at www.near1.com.
Sources: Dave Dykes/NEAR PR