APRIL 19, 2012

Profile of Driver George Lombardo

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By Brian Danko

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George after a Plainville Stadium win with starter Chick Carr, Owner Don Dalena & Race Director Moe Gherzi

 

NEW BRITAIN, CT.----Can you imagine a star athlete or movie star retiring in their prime? This is all while winning titles or making the best selling movies but that is exactly what happened back in 1966 when George Lombardo of New Britain retired from auto racing.

Lombardo, who was elected into the 2008 class of the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame called it quits after dominating at tracks like Plainville Stadium, Riverside Park Speedway and New England ovals.

“You see, I have a wife and family that I needed to support and I had just bought a well drilling machine and I needed to concentrate all my time on work.” George said from his home.

Lombardo, who started his racing career in 1950, raced for many teams in his stellar career but maybe his biggest success might have come when he teamed with Don Dalena, who owned Dalena’s Auto Parts store.

“They were easy people to get along with and we just hit it off.” The car that dominated at Plainville Stadium in particular was the X-D2, which long time Plainville Stadium owner and sometimes announcer would refer to as the KD2.

When asked where that number came from George said the X was for experimental, the D for Dalena and the 2 for the second car, pretty simple.

“We put our brains together. We had a Chevy motor, a Packard transmission and a Mercury rear end. We were pretty tough to beat.”

While George is now 87 years young, he can often be found at Race Works, a race car fabricating shop in Berlin owned by NASCAR modified drivers, Reggie Ruggiero and Eddie Flemke, Jr.

While Lombardo can now be seen at the races, it wasn’t that way when he first retired. “Oh no”, George said when asked if went back to the races right after he retired, “Once I turned my back on racing, I didn’t go to a race for nearly 20 years. I turned my back on my love of racing so I wouldn’t go back.”

While he liked racing at many tracks in and around New England, he always liked Plainville. “It was a beautifully built track that was very smooth to drive.”
 
“When we raced, we ran STOCK cars, what they race today are RACE cars. Stock is basically drive it off the lot and bring it to the race track but the cars now are built from the ground up just to race.” Lombardo said of the biggest difference.

“The cars that we drove had no power steering, poor brakes and to say the safety of the car wasn’t the best, but we loved it.”

“The one thing about racing those cars is you had to be pretty strong to run them. Imagine running 500 laps at Riverside Park, you had to be tough.” George said and by looking at him today, you can tell of the upper body strength he had.

George thinking about the equipment they raced was literally ‘junk’. “We needed a part; we’d go to the junk yard and buy it, now they build or buy almost everything they need.”

Lombardo, who never owned his own race team, always had the luxury of racing for a team and getting Lombardo, being one of the most sought after drivers could demand a hefty driver’s fee.

“I raced for 40% of the what ever we won. Back then, Riverside was paying $1,500 to win so I make $600 that night.” George said with a laugh, “pretty good money back in those days.”

Lombardo also drove against and was friends with some of the sports biggest and brightest stars back then including Eddie Flemke, Sr and Moe ‘Moneybags” Gherzi, both of New Britain.

“Eddie was a little younger than me and racing is what he did for a living, racing seven nights a week. Moe was a heck of a driver as well as a showman, he’d race with dress pants and shoes and a nice shirt.” George said laughing, unlike the driver’s fire suits worn today in all forms of racing.

When asked about his induction into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame, he said he was humbled and quite proud that people thought enough of his talents to elect him into the prestigious club. Flemke and Gherzi are also members of the Hall of Fame.

When Lombardo was getting ready to call it a career another New Britain resident named John “Reggie” Ruggiero was just starting out at the Plainville Stadium. Ruggiero was also elected in the NEAR Hall of Fame this past year and George said, “Reggie could always get the most out a car AND he had the will to win.”

Racing today is a multi billion dollar industry but it was the people like Lombardo and other racing pioneers who have made it possible for auto racing to become what it has today.
 


Riverside Park


The Norm Kies #121 Red Ram Dodge


Waterford Speedbowl-Nogeic Bros. #439

 

Copyright © 2012 Brian Danko