May 20, 2013
 

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Wyckoff Looks Back On Winning Racing Career

Ronnie celebrates with teammate Bob Polervari one of his 3 Riverside 500 Victories.
Shany Photo

By Brian Danko, Staff Writer
The New Britain Herald & Bristol Press

Photos Courtesy of Tom Ormsby
SpeedwayLineReport.com

PLANTSVILLE — Don’t let Ronnie Wyckoff’s easy demeanor and quick smile fool you.

As one of the most underrated drivers in the northeast, it was easy to see why he was liked by hundreds of fans and by car owners who wanted him to drive their car. He was a winner.

Wyckoff started driving in the bomber division in Florida when he was a mere 16 years old before moving north to Connecticut when he married his wife, whose parents had moved back to the Nutmeg state.

“I guess it was around 1959 or so that we moved here. I raced down south but no one knew me up here so I began building my own car to race,” Ronnie said. “I then got into an Alkas family novice car and started at Plainville Stadium. I drove the 88 novice car and Dave drove the 89. I then drove for Eddie Mack in the 95 car, they were all good cars.”

Dave Alkas, the multi-time champion in the modified division at Plainville Stadium said about Ronnie, “He was a very good, competitive driver. But he wasn’t an aggressive type driver.”


Ron started his winning ways at Hialeah, Fl. Speedway

That in itself may explain Wyckoff’s popularity as many drivers back then used their bumper to get to the front.

Wyckoff always drove for the best of car owners but as Alkas explained, “Ronnie was very particular about whose car he would drive.”

But the list of cars is just as impressive as Wyckoff’s long list of victories around the northeast and New England. Conservative records have him recording at least 17 wins at Plainville Stadium and 7 at the Riverside Park Speedway, all believed to have been extra distance events. Throw in other wins in and around New England and you have one very good career. You see record keeping wasn’t a priority back then.

Car owners such as Billy Simons, Bill Thornton of Manchester Sand and Gravel, the Berndt family of Meriden and the Czarnecki Brothers couldn’t wait to have Wyckoff wheel their modified.

One of New England’s premier modified races was a team race at the Riverside Park Speedway. It featured a 500 lap race around the tight oval but the two team cars ran the race at separate times.

The 500 saw the field set by time trails and then the way they qualified, that number was pasted over their own car number so there were two number 1’s, 2’s 3’s etc. When one driver was pulling off the track, he had to pull to within 10 feet of his teammate’s car before he could pull onto the track.

Ronnie won it three times with two different drivers and while the fans loved it, Ronnie never saw why.


The Czarnecki Brothers #20
Phil Hoyt Photo

“I couldn’t understand why anyone would go watch one of those races. Instead of starting 30 cars, you were starting 15 because everyone had a teammate. It was nothing but an endurance race.”

In his driving days, Ronnie never really stayed at one track but would race in and around the northeast at the always popular open competition races.

“I remember running those races at tracks such as Westboro Speedway, Seekonk Speedway, Monadnock Speedway, Plainville Stadium and Waterford Speedbowl. Those were usually good paying races and I won quite a few of them.”

He did run Riverside Park Speedway weekly when the track switched over from United Stock Car racing sanctioned to NASCAR and that ushered in a new era to the Park and new drivers.

Drivers such as Richie Evans, Jerry Cook and Geoff Bodine were a few of the outsiders invading the Park looking for the NASCAR points.

“I got along with everybody but I do remember Bodine giving me a few problems. He would always keep rapping your rear bumper. I finally said to him, if you’re fast enough go around me, I’ll give you plenty of room but quit beating on my car,” Ronnie said about the future Daytona 500 winner.


The Manchester Sand & Gravel #10

As so many drivers have mentioned what an influence the legendary Eddie Flemke, Sr. was in racing and to their careers and while Ronnie never really raced much against Flemke, Eddie did help him get one of the rides in the Manchester Sand and Gravel car.

“They had built a new car for Eddie and I got into the older car. That was a good car.”

While Wyckoff also raced at the Stafford Motor Speedway and the Thompson Speedway, much of his success was on the smaller quarter mile tracks.

“I do remember racing at Martinsville Speedway in Virginia and what a big deal that was.”

Ronnie hung up his driving suit in the early 80’s but his mark has been left on the modified division in and around New England.

Wyckoff can be seen around the Waterford Speedbowl on occasion and is one of the most popular drivers at the annual Plainville Stadium reunions held at the Berlin Fairgrounds each and every October.

“I really look forward to that. It’s nice to see a lot of the people you raced with and against.”


The Billy Zenobi, Rick Sunderland owned %
at Plainville Stadium.
Phil Hoyt Photo


Waterford Speedbowl & the Ron Berndt owned 54
Steve Kennedy Photo

 

Brian Danko has been covering Auto Racing for over 30 years for various magazines & and racing papers including Area Auto Racing News. His weekly column can be seen "In The Print Editions" of  The New Britain Herald & The Bristol Press.

 

Copyright © 2012-2013  Brian Danko & SpeedwayLineReport.com, New Britain Herald & The Bristol Press.