1971 Year in Review

Joe Trudeau drove Gene Smith’s #11 car to the Modified Championship in 1971 (Rene Dugas photo)

The governing force behind the Speedbowl events changed in 1971 when, after 13 consecutive seasons & 14 overall on the job, John Whitehouse stepped down as Race Director. Charlie Stebbins was named his successor and made revisions to the handicap system & race procedures. He also renamed the Daredevil division to the Sportsmen Sedans. The Daredevil division started as a novice division in 1965, but the cars and drivers had advanced over the years.

Bob Potter led the Modified division in wins with 6, including two 50 lap events. He also set a new time trial record (16.520) during qualifying for a 75 lap event on Labor Day. Dick Caso won that feature. Don Bunnell won two 50 lappers and 5 races total for the year. Jerry Glaude won the season-opening 50 lapper, one of his 4 wins on the year. Yet, all these drivers fell short in the point standings to Joe Trudeau in Gene Smith’s #11 car. Trudeau went winless, but used consistent finishes in the Top 5 to earn his first track championship. Dick Dunn and Dick Watson also won 50 lap events during the year. The biggest race was a 150 lap Wednesday open show in June won by 3-time NASCAR Modified Champion Bugsy Stevens.

Seabury Tripler’s M car is quite possibly the first Pinto-bodied Modified to win a feature event

On May 2, Seabury Tripler won the Modified event in a Ford Pinto bodied machine. A team car to the L&M car, it was simply marked with a “M” instead of a car #. By all accounts, this is the first win anywhere for a Pinto-bodied modified. Later in the year, Gene Bergin won a 200 lapper at Stafford in Bob Judkins’ #2X Pinto that prompted Stafford president Jack Arute to convince NASCAR to legalize the car on their circuit. This led to the Pinto revolution and the look of Modifieds would forever change. Over the next few years, coupes would give way to Ford Pintos & Mustangs, Chevy Vegas and AMC Gremlins. Many credit Judkins with the first Pinto modified, and indeed it was the first NASCAR legal Pinto, but Seabury’s M car, which debuted months earlier at the Waterford Speedbowl, is the actually the car with that distinction.

Bob Gada won his 1st Waterford Speedbowl championship in 1971

The Daredevil division was dominated by two Ford guys: Bob Gada in his My Three Sons #36 and “Big Mike” Daignault in his Spirit of 76 car. Daignault won 10 races, including a record 4 in a row to start the season. Gada only won once, but was consistently a contender and edged out Daignault by 15 points to win the 1971 Sportsmen Sedan Championship. His father Lawrence was the car owner while his older brother Larry & younger brother Pete also won features. The biggest race of the year was the New England Championship 50 run on Labor Day weekend. Ron Cote won the pole with his record 19.150 time trial lap in qualifying, and then went on to take the victory, one of his four on the season.

Group photo of the female drivers who participated in a 1971 Powder Puff Derby

Once again there were Powder Puff and Demolition Derbies scheduled throughout the year. One unique event was a Mad Cap 150 feature. Mad Cap events were twin feature events that carried points. The person with the most combined points from both features would be declared the Mad Cap winner. Bugsy Stevens won the first 75 lapper and Jiggs Beetham won the second leg. However, neither of them did well in the other event. When it came time to tally the points, the promoters realized they didn’t outline any tie-breaker rules so when Don Bunnell & Mike Beebe both finished with 53 points, they declared them co-winners of the event.