Time Capsule: A Look Back At A View Of The Waterford Speedbowl From 2002

Speedbowl Night SmallerOn Saturday a foreclosure auction is scheduled to take place at the Waterford Speedbowl.

Depending upon the outcome of the auction, the shoreline oval where racing has taken place for the last 64 years could become just a memory in the annals of Connecticut sports and racing history.

It’s unclear who, if any, bidders will be there Saturday looking to keep the facility operating as a racetrack. There are plenty of rumors about indivduals or groups looking to try to be the highest bidder and keep racing alive in Waterford, but nobody will know until Saturday’s noon auction if that will happen.

In 2002 the Hartford Courant published a three-part series looking at the state of the state’s three NASCAR sanctioned short track facilities. Below is the story from the series on the Waterford Speedbowl from the April 14, 2002 Hartford Courant.

A Place For Driver’s Ed
Waterford Speedbowl’s Reputation Well-earned

April 14, 2002| By SHAWN COURCHESNE, Courant Staff Writer

Ray Downing Jr., a former driver at Waterford Speedbowl who was suspended indefinitely in 2000 for broadsiding another driver under caution, stood below the starter’s stand as a feature race ended last year.

For at least five minutes the shirtless Downing stood under the flagman, becoming the center of attention on a warm summer night. At no point did track representatives or security personnel approach him. After the race ended, Downing let himself through the gate at the starter’s stand and onto the track. As victory lane ceremonies took place on the frontstretch, Downing danced around the crews and officials, even standing behind the winning car, waving as photos were being taken. It wasn’t until the ceremonies ended that a track official asked him to leave.

The entire episode seemed to epitomize what’s become known in Northeast racing circles as the “Bowl Image.”

The Speedbowl is recognized by many in the racing community as the black sheep of Connecticut’s three short tracks, its aged infrastructure and rugged looks in many ways symbolizing the roughhousing and bruising style of racing that takes place at the one-third mile bullring of a track.

“Racing at Waterford, it was like serving an eight-year prison sentence. I go back there and I feel like I’m visiting the inmates,” said former Strictly Stock driver Scott Cook, who now runs at Thompson and Stafford.

But it’s just that image that track owner Terry Eames is trying desperately to erase. At today’s season-opening Budweiser Modified Nationals, Eames begins his fifth season as general manager and his second as owner of the Speedbowl.

“We’re known as the kind of place where, `I went to the race and the fights broke out.”’ Eames said. “People don’t change that image in their mind overnight, but if you look at what really goes on here, it doesn’t deserve that reputation anymore.

“It’s a gross misstatement to characterize the place that way. There just are not fights every week in the pits. There’s no more degree of raised voices or physical violence at our place than any of the [other tracks in Connecticut]. But the fact that people probably run into each other a little bit more because of the shape of the place, yeah, there’s probably some more heated discussions than other places. It’s just the way the events transpire.”

Starting Line

Many contend that the tight oval, which offers a true second racing groove and regular two-wide competition, is the best proving ground in the state.

When Jay Miller wanted to get behind the wheel of an SK Modified, his father, Modified racing legend Ray Miller, demanded he start at Waterford.

“We went to the Speedbowl under the assumption it was a rough crowd,” Miller said. “We felt you had to be tough in the car and you had to be tough when you got out of the car. My dad didn’t want me going out to learn with a bunch of prima donnas. He wanted me to get my butt kicked a little bit. I did, but I learned.”

Eric Berndt has driven the last seven years in an SK Modified at both Waterford and Stafford. He’s not sure how much longer he will continue racing at Waterford.

For much of last season, three-time SK Modified champion Dennis Gada was in contention to win the NASCAR Weekly Racing Series New England Regional championship, an honor coveted by the tracks because it gets to boast of being home to the champion.

Berndt, who was chasing Gada for the track championship last season but had little chance at the regional title, said there were times when track officials showed favoritism for Gada, even going as far as keeping races under extended caution periods to allow him extra time in the pits to repair after accidents.

“It just takes away all the enthusiasm to go race,” Berndt said. “You don’t look forward to going there on a Saturday night. The way things go down there just kills anything you get out of it. There’s just too much politics.”

Eames denies any preferential treatment.

“I’ve heard that claim made for virtually every track in existence,” Eames said. “There’s no favoritism here. A promoter should be interested in a different winner every week. We’re certain we’ve done everything we can to keep the playing field very, very level in all regards.”

Gada, of Salem, eventually lost out on the regional title when Ted Christopher of Plainville won 15 features at Thompson International Speedway.

When Christopher raced one Saturday night last year, in the midst of the tight battle with Gada for the regional title, he was disqualified for what officials deemed rough driving. Miller, the driver Christopher allegedly roughed up, said he had a tire going flat and there was virtually no way for Christopher to avoid hitting him coming off the corner.

“They don’t want me coming down here and winning their money,” Christopher said at the time. “And they don’t want me ruining Gada’s chances.”

State Of Flush

On a warm August night last year, there seemed to be more fans than usual milling around.

The trough in the men’s bathroom was overflowing and urine streamed down the midway toward the back entrance to the pit area.

Eames, who fields many complaints about the bathrooms, said he is embarrassed about it and is doing all he can to improve the facilities.

Still, drivers and fans question why Eames is jumping at new endeavors, such as the truck series he was involved with last year and the legends driving school he started in 2001, instead of improving the Speedbowl.

“I’ve shown a consistent track record of when I make money I’m willing to pour back into my business,” Eames said. “I haven’t made any [at the Speedbowl]. The paving of pits and some other things like fixing the water main into the bathrooms are far more complicated than what most people would have the ability to see.”

This is the third season Waterford is part of the NASCAR Weekly Racing Series and the sanctioning body continues to stand behind Eames.

“At this point we’re pleased with all three of the tracks in [Connecticut],” said Chris Boals, director of Regional Touring and Weekly Racing Series for NASCAR. “Obviously some are better at some things than others and some are worse than others, but we don’t have any major issues with any of the tracks in the area.”

Eames said his detractors judge the Speedbowl against Stafford Motor Speedway, where improvements over the last few years have included new light and sound systems.

“The problem is the kind of improvements we make just don’t get us a lot of applause,” Eames said. “They are not the types of things people really notice. When you replace every vertical light pole in the place over the course of a few years so that they don’t fall down on people’s heads, it’s just not as sexy as installing a new Musco lighting system. We don’t get a lot of applause for putting miles and miles of new lumber in our grandstand because it’s not sexy like a Bose sound system.

“Not only do I compete with a place that raises the bar continually in the short track business, but it’s longer than mine [Stafford is a half-mile track]. And if that weren’t bad enough, you’ve got one that’s longer still in Connecticut [Thompson is a five-eighths mile oval]. If we put the Speedbowl up against many of the short track facilities around the country, it would look like the Taj Mahal, but not next to Stafford or Thompson.”


Follow RaceDayCT On FacebookFollow RaceDayCT On Twitter


  1. Really sad to lose this track. I hate to see Connecticut left with only one track that runs stock cars on a regular basis. Please don’t add Waterford to the already too long list: Danbury, Tinty’s (Plainville), Savin Rock (?), Thompson International Speedway and others!

  2. The track is 3/8 of a mile not 1/3. It’s a fine venue for the modifieds and stockers which run there. There is no better facility for the NEMA cars and SuperModifieds. The distance is perfect. The facility has a wide groove and all the seats offer clear viewing of the races. Should it close I will miss the place.

  3. ” If we put the Speedbowl up against many of the short track facilities around the country, it would look like the Taj Mahal, but not next to Stafford or Thompson.”
    This is what I’ve been saying for years. People shouldn’t judge the Speedbowl with Stafford and Thompson because they are 2 of the premier tracks in the country. Go to some of the local dirt tracks in NY and you’ll begin to really appreciate the Speedbowl’s facilities. It’s a shame it may be too late for you to appreciate it now, though..

  4. Not everyone can get to Stafford on a Friday night. In certain parts of the state, the traffic and distance make it almost impossible. So for many people, seeing a race will be limited to special events. Saturday night at the races is gone?

  5. Great write up and I couldn’t agree more with these comments. Saturday night racing on the shoreline was the perfect location to attend after going to the beach or hitting the casino after a race. There wasn’t a bad seat in the house & getting up close & personal in the winners circle was an added bonus for the spectators. I hope we haven’t seen the last of Waterford.

Leave a Reply

Copyright 2018 E-Media Sports

Website Designed by Thirty Marketing