Back In Time: When Rappers And Racers Reigned Over The Speedbowl

Funkmaster Flex oversees the driver's meeting at the Funkmaster Flex Invitational on Aug. 5, 2004 at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl (Photo: Fran Lawlor)

Funkmaster Flex oversees the driver’s meeting at the Funkmaster Flex Invitational on Aug. 5, 2004 at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl (Photo: Fran Lawlor)

The New London-Waterford Speedbowl readies for a major event this weekend with the running of its annual Wings and Wheels Show.

Part of Saturday’s event in Waterford will showcase Woody Pitkat trying to keep hold of his points lead on the Valenti Modified Racing Series.

Though it was 11 years ago Wednesday when Pitkat was at the Speedbowl trying to make history.

Interestingly, Pitkat came up just short on Aug. 5, 2004 in his effort to best current Speedbowl Limited Sportsman division driver Allen Coates in the one and only Funkmaster Flex Invitational held at the Speedbowl.

Coates, the winner of last week’s 50-lap Limited Sportsman event at Waterford, was the winner of the special event that day at the Speedbowl that brought the rap industry together with stock car racing for one of the most unique events ever held at Connecticut short track.

Take a look back through the archives below for the before and after that was the Funkmaster Flex Invitational at the Speedbowl

– Article below reprinted from the Hartford Courant –

Rap, Race Cars Go For Joy Ride: Waterford Speedbowl Event Designed To Lure New Fans

August 04, 2004

By SHAWN COURCHESNE – Courant Staff Writer

WATERFORD — Grass-roots auto racing survives thanks to a calendar of regular weekly events that attract loyal fans. But smaller tracks can thrive if they’re smart in planning special events that fill grandstands with fans and paddocks with race cars.

Rap icon Funkmaster Flex and Waterford Speedbowl owner Terry Eames are hoping they’ve put together such a show.

The Funkmaster Flex Super Series Invitational, scheduled for Thursday at Waterford Speedbowl, has been all the talk at the local tracks since the announcement of the event in mid-June.

Flex (aka Aston Taylor Jr.), a New York City DJ, longtime rap and hip-hop figure and host of Spike TV’s “Ride With Funkmaster Flex,” has orchestrated one of the most unusual racing events ever to be promoted at a Connecticut short track.

The highlight is a 100-lap Late Model race that will pay out more than $100,000 in cash and prizes.

Late Model cars are full-fendered stock cars resembling the cars that race each week in the popular NASCAR Nextel Cup Series. Each of Connecticut’s short tracks, Waterford, Stafford Motor Speedway and Thompson International Speedway, has a Late Model division. In most cases, Late Model drivers race weekly for a total purse of $7,000 to $8,000.

More than 70 invited drivers are expected to try to qualify for the 30 starting spots in the feature race. Also on hand will be rapper Lil’ Kim, the cast of the Discovery Channel’s “American Chopper” (the Orange County Choppers guys) and renowned car designer Carroll Shelby. The event will be capped with a performance by legendary rapper LL Cool J.

“This is going to be, hopefully, the beginning of something beautiful,” Flex said.

The day’s events will be taped and packaged into a show that will be on Spike TV in September or October.

“I’ve never seen anything like it, and I’ve been around this sport for 40 years,” Waterford Speedbowl public relations representative and racing historian Pete Zanardi said. “Everything is unique about it.”

Connecticut’s tracks are constantly on the lookout for such events, ones that would have any old-time promoter kicking back and saying, “This one’s so good we could draw a crowd on a Thursday afternoon.”

“That basically meant it was an event like the Second Coming,” Zanardi said. “It would have to be something extraordinary to draw people on a Thursday afternoon.”

But not everybody is welcoming Flex and his celebrity friends to the Speedbowl.

“Our sport is country and classic rock, not hip-hop and rap,” said Mike Manifold, a regular driver in the Speedbowl’s lower level Mini Stock division. “This is a family sport, and to me what they’re bringing in here, that’s not family-type entertainment. I’ll probably catch a lot of flak for saying this, but this is definitely not a family event that they’re putting on here.”

Eames only sees positives in marketing toward an audience not regularly in the stands at short tracks.

“I think it’s regrettable that people could take that view of things here,” Eames said. “It’s not a bad thing for this sport because we’re selling to a different group of people. We don’t have every seat full here. There isn’t every seat full at virtually any short track around the country. If you did a real demographic survey here you’d see that there are big batches of the marketplace and society that are not out here in our stands. Well, Flex is trying to reach out to them, and I think that’s a good thing for our sport, and the people in the pits should think that’s a good thing.”

Flex, a longtime custom car aficionado and racing fan, is hoping to interest minority youths in grass-roots racing. Flex, who puts on a number of custom car shows around the country, got the idea for the race after being contacted by Nextel about helping them promote the Nextel Cup Series.

“What really brought me to do this was when Nextel took over for Winston, Nextel called me and said, ‘We’ve seen your show on television and we’ve seen all the things you do for kids. We were hoping that you could get together with us and do some marketing,'” Flex said. “They wanted me to help them to bring kids out to do some things. I thought that was cool, but at the end of the day, if I’m showing a kid something that’s not obtainable for him, how do I kind of tell a kid that it’s a dream that really isn’t going to happen?”

Over the last five years NASCAR has started numerous diversity initiatives in an effort to open the sport to a marketplace that is nearly invisible from the top levels of racing down to the grass roots. Visibly, nothing has changed. While there may be more minorities working in shops or as officials with sanctioning bodies, there are still few minority drivers in stock car racing, whether it be at the national level or the grass-roots short track level. Currently there are no black drivers competing regularly at any of the short tracks in Connecticut.

Flex sees short-track racing as the attainable dream for minority youths. Included in the field Thursday are five black drivers, five female drivers and four Latino drivers.

“The urban audience still does have a stigma with auto racing,” Flex said. “So I’m going to use all the different things to get them to the track because I know when they get there and start smelling that fuel and that exhaust and they start seeing some crashes out there, they’re going to be like, `This is something I’ve never seen.’ It’s just letting people see the experiences that I’ve experienced.”

Flex said he doesn’t see stock car racing as a racist sport.

“I think auto racing likes people from a certain part of town, I don’t care what color you are,” Flex said. “I don’t think it’s so much about color. I think it’s if you’re from Florida or North Carolina or whatever it may be.”

But the stigma of racism in the sport definitely remains. Following the announcement of the Funkmaster event, the message board on the website, a posting place for many fans and teams affiliated with the Speedbowl, was inundated with racist postings concerning the event. The messages were removed from the site not long after.

“I’ve heard it,” Flex said. “I think what happened is people thought it wasn’t going to become reality. I’m not surprised at some of it.”

Manifold said his opposition to the event isn’t rooted in racism but rather his disdain for the rap and hip-hop music scene and the elements Flex is bringing in with the show.

Lil’ Kim became famous as one of the top female rappers in the business, but is arguably just as famous for her revealing and risque outfits.

Manifold, a father of three between the ages of 3 and 7, pointed to a top 30 list of songs on that includes a song with an expletive in its title.

“Do I want my kids listening to a song [with that title]?”said Manifold, a 29-year-old white driver from Norwich. “That right there is what that scene is about. Associating an event at the Speedbowl with that music and the people that make and promote that kind of music is wrong. Kids that come here to watch racing are going to look at his website and see things like that.”

Ed Reed Jr., a white driver from Waterford who competes regularly in the track’s SK Modified division, doesn’t shareManifold’s sentiments.

“People that are saying the negative things about this show are the people that are keeping this sport down,” Reed said. “We need more culture, especially with the racers here. If I’m going to get beat, I don’t care what color they are. I understand people are going to come to watch the concert and not to see the racing, but we’re bringing them here. They’re going to come to see a concert and they’re going to see racing. They might get involved in the racing after that. That’s what we need.”


What: 100-lap Late Model race featuring a purse of more than $100,000 in cash and prizes. Featuring appearances by rapper Lil’ Kim, the guys from “American Chopper,” car designer Carroll Shelby and a performance by rapper LL Cool J.

Where: Waterford Speedbowl

When: Thursday

Schedule: Qualifying begins at 10:30 a.m. The feature is tentatively scheduled to begin at 4 p.m.

Tickets: $20 ($10 children 6-14, under 6 admitted free). Pit entrance $35.

– Article below reprinted from the Hartford Courant –

For Flex Appeal, It’s Quite A Show – At Waterford, Hip-hop And Hurrahs – Lil’ Something For Everyone

August 06, 2004

By SHAWN COURCHESNE – Courant Staff Writer

WATERFORD — With the grandstands overflowing, fans lining the fences and the midway crowded with people, Waterford Speedbowl owner Terry Eames walked up to the control tower with a beaming smile.

The experiment worked.

The first Funkmaster Flex Super Series Invitational proved a resounding success Thursday at Waterford.

More than 8,000 came to the Speedbowl to watch a cast of celebrities and 30 Late Model drivers battle for a $10,000 first-place prize and a fully restored 1969 Camaro Z-28 valued at more than $50,000. Normally 2,000 to 3,000 turn out for Waterford’s Saturday night shows.

“It was everything I expected and more,” Flex said. “The guys ran a great race. They put on a great show. Orange County Choppers and LL [Cool J] and Lil’ Kim and Carroll Shelby’s all great, but the guys put on a great race right to the end. A classic race.”

In the end, home track favorite Allen Coates of Ledyard held off Woody Pitkat of Stafford to win the 100-lap feature race.

By 10 a.m. Thursday, fans were already pouring into the Speedbowl, where crews were drying out the rain-soaked track.

The wet track pushed back the start three hours and a longer than expected qualifying process delayed the feature far beyond its expected 4 p.m. start. But even as the hours went by, fans continued to pour into the track.

By 5:50 p.m., the guys of Orange County Choppers — “Big” Paul Teutul and sons Paulie and Mikey — were pacing in front of the field on customized choppers as fans were still lined up at the ticket booth.

“This is a blast,” Teutul Sr. said. “We love Funk and this is all good here. There’s quite a few people here for a Thursday afternoon, huh? Why do you think that is? It’s all about us right here.”

With the green flag in hand, scantily clad rapper Lil’ Kim bounced on the starter’s stand. At 5:58 p.m., Lil’ Kim waved the flag to kick off the race.

“I didn’t know how to call this thing,” Eames said. “It was a Thursday afternoon event, and even though we had LL Cool J and Lil’ Kim and the OCC boys, I wasn’t sure if people would be willing to get off work and get here for it. So I was nervous. Because it was such a unique event I had no way to call it.

“I’ve been living on nervous energy for weeks getting ready for this. This event was unique in I don’t know how many different ways. We were doing a lot of different stuff. I’ve got to say, I think the combination worked. Attaching this kind of star power, I know by looking at my midway we’ve got a lot of new faces here. Hopefully they’re going to like what they see and they’re going to come back for more.”

In the race, Coates moved into first when Phil Rondeau spun race leader Ted Christopher with 17 laps to go.

“I know Ted Christopher and he’s a hell of a racer and I know he won’t settle for second place,” Coates said. “I knew something was going to happen up there and I was just waiting for it.”

Coates was able to easily hold off Pitkat on a restart with nine laps remaining. Pitkat took home $6,000 for second place. Rondeau, of Baltic, won $4,000 for third.

Before the race Coates promised his 9-year-old son Corey that if he won the race, Corey would be the first to ride shotgun in the Camaro. Coates, a three-time Late Model champion at Waterford, quickly came through on his promise. With his son in the passenger seat, Coates took the Camaro to the backstretch, stopped, then lit up the rear tires of the shining machine, putting on a smoke show.

The sight of Coates lighting up the Camaro had Flex thinking of doing it all again next year.

“I think I want to [award] money and a car every time,” Flex said. “I want to see a classic car going around that track every time. Nothing’s better.”

– Article below reprinted from the Hartford Courant –

Speedbowl Special Event Was A Winner

August 13, 2004

By SHAWN COURCHESNE – Courant Staff Writer

Thinking outside the box is something rare for promoters in short-track racing.

Catering to the regular customers who show up week in and week out is, for the most part, the tried and true method that many stick to.

Waterford Speedbowl owner Terry Eames and hip-hop music icon Funkmaster Flex surprised the local racing community when they announced in June that they would team up to put on a big-money Late Model race in Waterford.

Outside the box is one thing. With the running of the Funkmaster Flex Super Series Invitational on Aug. 5, Eames and Flex went outside the galaxy of short-track racing norms, and in the process created an event that will be long remembered.

Eames and Flex deserve praise for melding grass-roots racing with a hip-hop flair and putting on an event that seemingly went off smoothly and attracted a huge, diverse crowd.

Many in the local racing community — including track officials, drivers and crews, and fans — panned the idea the moment it was announced, deeming it a certain failure. But by early in the morning on the day of the event, fans were pouring into the facility, and they were still coming in when the feature went off at 6 p.m.

Seemingly, the only trouble that came out of the event was some unwarranted negative coverage from the Norwich Bulletin and WVIT, Channel 30.

A column in The Bulletin after the race, penned by a longtime racing writer, criticized Flex and his associates concerning the organization and running of the event. Interestingly, the reporter failed to show up for the event or any of the pre-race activities connected with it, and he never spoke with Flex.

A Channel 30 report after the event focused on fans upset that rapper LL Cool J sang only one song after the event. Unfortunately, many radio stations in the area incorrectly said LL Cool J would put on a “concert” after the race. But in promoting the event, the Speedbowl had said there would be one song.

YouTube upload of Funkmaster Flex Invitational from Sid’s View


  1. The Funk was a great event. One of the highest attended events ever that I can ever remember with the exception of the very first Wings and Wheels event under Jerry Robinson and the very first enduro put on under by the Kortawegs. I loved the part where the racers could choose the lane they wanted to restart in. It allowed those with the biggest balls to go to the outside and pass a lot of bottom fishers on the inside adding a new type of strategy into the mix. Man, I wish they would go back to this type of restart option for all divisions. It surely separated the men from the boys.

  2. Ah yes, I remember that Mini Stock driver going off because he thought this would ruin the “family image” of the Speedbowl. Of course during my visits to the track for weekly racing and touring events during that timframe I witnessed:
    1. Races delayed while they removed multiple people from the pits and handcuffs after an incident during a feature.
    2.Races delayed due to the fact the amulance had to leave because a driver decked a drunk fan at the concession stands.
    But by scheduling this one event the guy figured the place would come crumbling down.

  3. That was a cool event. Does Coates still have the Camaro?

  4. I would have loved to have been there… There’s a really cool new Public Enemy documentary on Starz this month, the same PE who joined up with Anthrax in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Hip hop and metal have more in common than closed minded folks know.

    As for the LL Cool J problem, who books an artist for one song? That was stupid.

  5. Barry,
    I think the LL Cool J deal was more the blame of the local regulations. My understanding is that the Speedbowl has an agreement with the town not to hold any concerts and any performer playing more than one song is considered a “concert”. The organizers of the event NEVER promoted LL Cool J being there as a concert. They simply said he would perform at the event. Unfortunately, some local media outlets mistakenly did promote the event as a concert, which did cause some issues.

  6. Ah… That makes sense! Thanks!

    I spent 12 years as a live sound engineer, and have been on site for more than one of those types of shows. It’s too bad the ‘bowl couldn’t have gotten a one time exemption, but the fact that it was a Hip Hop artist probably would have made the political process even more difficult.

    Back in the day, I did a bunch of the shows Riverside used to have on non-race nights. Speedways make pretty decent outdoor concert venues, if you can get enough AC power and proper permits.

  7. You would have thought the ct promotors (so called promotors) would have taken notes and learned… He attracted 50 cars and 7k fans for a Thursday afternoon show.

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