Digging Deep With Denise: Visiting With Tom Bolles

“Digging Deep With Denise” is a semi-regular question and answer feature with local racers and racing personalities produced by RaceDayCT’s Denise DuPont

Tom Bolles Took His Father’s Tire Sniffing to the Driver’s Seat …

Tom Bolles of Ellington, CT. was lucky to be at the right age when his dad, Ed Bolles, got the itch to move from the sidelines to being a race car owner. Ed bought a used All-American Sportsman car (No. 16 Camaro) and moved the family into the Bolles’ race experience. The senior Bolles, launched the family owned team as part of 1976 Bicentennial celebrations with a red, white and blue No. 76 Camaro piloted by Ron Wilson.

At fourteen years old, Tom Bolles waited for his turn to jump in the driver’s seat. He worked with his dad in the race shop turning the wrenches and learning the business from the bottom up. Turning 16 in 1978, Tom bought a Chevy Chevelle body and built his first race car – a street stock. He then joined his brother on the racetrack.

Bolles later graduated to Stafford’s new headline division, the SK Modifieds. At the ripe age of 24 (in 1985), he moved to the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. In 1989, he drove in what is now the ARCA Menard Series East and next the NASCAR Xfinity Division in 1992. But as the hobby became expensive for the family run race team, Tom moved back to his home track, Stafford Speedway, in the seat of an SK Modified.

What made you get interested in racing? 

“Somewhere about 1972 to 1973 my dad would come to the track here [Stafford Speedway] with his buddies from Ellington. He and Ken Neiman would come down to the pit fence area and just stare at the cars for hours. The other guys would be up on top drink beer because it was a night out. They would call out to my dad and Ken and say: ‘You guys are a bunch of tire sniffers.’ Their reply was ‘Ok, we want to get a race car.’ And they talk about it for a couple of years.

“The cars were part of the All American Sports Division, I believe. There were a bunch of Camaro’s out their running around against bigger cars. My dad would always say ‘I really like that car.’ It was Ivanhoe Tool and Die’s 1967 Camaro that ran an M96 cylinder engine. My dad started to get friendly talking with the team. The owner’s name was Greg Kozy and the driver was Ron Wilson from North Grosvenordale, CT.

“They just became friendlier with the race team as time went on. At the end of that season it looked like [the Kozy Team] was going to go step into the Modified series. So my dad and Ken purchased that car.  They brought the car down to the shop where we repaired farm equipment in Ellington. And that is where we started our business in 1975.

“We took the Camaro and took it apart. Mel’s Auto Body that was just up the street did all the body work and then painted it. It was a beautiful looking car. We started to come [to Stafford Speedway] to compete in the car. It was a bicentennial year, so my father had it all red white and blue with stripes on it. We have some old pictures of it in the pair of scrap books that he gave us.

“So my involvement in racing all began there. I was about fourteen years old. I would work on the car with my dad and Ken. While my brother was just getting ready to go to college. Ron Wilson drove the car the first season, then he wanted to move more towards the Modified thing. My brother reached out to my dad telling him he wanted to drive. So in 1977, my brother drove the car. Around 1978, I wanted to race myself so I picked up a 1967 Chevelle body that was all stripped apart from South Windsor. The owner had to sell the vehicle so some friends and I loaded it on the back of a trailer. We brought the car home and I built my own street stock car. So looking back I started racing about 1978 or 1979 in my own car.”

How was the competition in the Street Stock Divison?

“I started racing at Stafford and Thompson. At that time at Thompson they had a little track where you would go on the smaller track, come back around on the straight away past the start finish line and then drop back off on the little track. So we did not run on the [five-eights mile oval] track for about a year. To me, I knew someday I would run on the bigger track. 

We would watch Ron Bouchard, Bugsy Stevens, Fred DeSarro. … All those guys ran the bigger track while we raced the little dinky track. The next year they put us on the bigger track to run the Street Stock series.

You have gone full circle from home track to major NASCAR divisions with the travel and then back to home track. Having gone from home track weekly competition to running the race circuits at various, which scenario did you like better?

“It all depends on the times in your life and where you are at in the era. When we were young, I just wanted to race, race, race. We ran Stafford, Thompson, and Westborough on Saturday night when the track ran there. Then we would run Monadnock sometimes. That was when I had my full body car. After my brother was into racing for two years his life moved to concentrating on his family, so I took over his car. There was a partner with that full body car so we took it to where we could race to race as much as we could. And I really enjoyed that.

“Then the SK Modified came around 1982, and they did away with the full body race division I was involved with. For a while we helped a guy that worked at the shop, Phil DelSanto, who ran a full body Modified (No. 91) here at Stafford. He had Gene Bergin and other guys drive for him. We helped him with his chassis which was similar to a Lindblad Chassis at that time. And we put that car together. Later, at the end of the season, he gave me that car. He said: ‘You know SK’s are coming to Stafford. I will give you this car.’

“Phil was friends with Ed Flemke, Sr. and he brought me down to East Hartford to Flemke’s shop. He introduced me to Flemke Sr. I spent some time with him discussing Modifieds and open wheel racing. Eddie Jr. took the car and went all through it and prepared it to run Stafford. So we ran it at Stafford in 1982 and 1983. Somewhere around there we got a full blown Modified to run at Stafford, and just as I was ready to run, they went away with them. So we moved to Riverside. And from there we started chasing the [Modified] Tour in the mid-1980’s. When we got to the 1990’s I wanted to try the full body racing again – the Busch [North] Series. So we bought a used Busch [North Series] car from someone in 1992. We spent all of 1993 working on it and then in 1994 we tried some Busch [North Series] races. In 1995 through 1997 we ran real heavy into the Busch [North] Series racing. That was all the race traveling stuff. Then Cup car started to get involved in the Busch racing and the money needed to run kept escalating. We had a few sponsors but up until then it was always a family thing. My dad loved racing as much as I did so he put as much into the racing as I did. But the Busch racing just got too expensive so we made the decision to go back and run some Modified Tour races in the early 2000’s.”

What is your goal for 2021?

“Race and try to have some fun. I have been doing this so long, it is hard to do anything else. I work, compete, go home and look and think of what happened in the previous event and try to see if I can figure out something to make the car better so I will be better at the next race. At this stage in one’s life you would think you have it all figured out and you could be out there just for a Sunday drive. But it is a tough thing because thing keep evolving and changing each year. I look at some old notes and they just do not marry with what is going on today. I sometimes think that younger people are more current all the time, where drivers such as myself are more old school stuff. Trying to move from the old school to the more modern techniques for car setups is tough. The times on the track are just so close. You keep trying to hit on something to get ahead of the next guy.

“So we need to get back to winning races and running times that we like. We won Busch [North Series], Modified Tour and Riverside Park races. We had some good days and you would like to have more of it, but it is a tough deal.”

Winning you SK Modified heat race at Stafford on May 7, Friday, your thoughts on that?

“Things went well out there. It took a lap or two for the car to come in for me and then it started feeling good. When a car got a run on the outside of me I was able to get back by him. I really do not look in my rear view mirror, but the guys said I had opened up the room between them. The car felt real good for those 8 laps.”

What racing Memory that stands out above all others? 

“A lot of my best memories are just meeting people. All different people from Maine to Florida. It was a family thing and we travel as a family. It was fun seeing things, meeting competitors and people we never would have met otherwise.”

What challenges do you feel that race drivers have now compared to your experience?

“It takes a huge effort to get things done. It takes a lot of hard work. It just does not happen.”

Have you always driven your own car? Have you made all your own Modified cars? 

“A couple of years ago I started thinking – why don’t I build my own piece. It has a few Troyer theories in it. I used them and others as a guideline. We have a nice shop that we built years ago to maintain equipment when we were doing that Busch [North Series] thing. We have jigs and fixtures and all kinds of things to repair cars, so I started to repair open wheel cars there. I repair my own chassis and I build a lot of my front and rear clips. I just never built the center sections. So in the winter of 2019, I made the decision to build my own car. I got a pile of tubing from Reliable Welding, starting bending pipe and putting things together using equipment and guides from my previous cars.”

How does a homemade Modified compare?

“It is as good as the others, it is just a matter of getting things tuned in and getting the combination to work. We have been experimenting trying different things – kind of bouncing around a little bit. Right now we are working on

Stafford Speedway – the racing groove – your thoughts?

“It is a unique race track with tight turns. The competition is very tough. Even running here weekly, these guys have been born and raised running this track for some time. So they are good on the track because it is not new to them. We run some good hard racing here at Stafford.

”If you are a [Whelen Modified Tour] racer and just come here once or twice a year, it takes a little while to figure it out because it is definitely a unique place.”


  1. I thought I was in Racing a long time… WOW since 78 -79 MR Bolles has been on the exhaust circuit….. 43 years or so and still at it.!!!!! I take my Hat off to you MR Bolles you and RED FARMER are breaking new Ground and Going STRONG !!! There really is nothing like putting the Hammer down to the floor and flying down the Backstrech over 120 MPH every week brings CLARITY to your LIFE a Sense of being one with the Machine a Quiet Peace floods into your Body & Mind as you fight the G-forces in the turns, only to exit the corner and do it all over again & again & again for 40 Laps. No Outside thoughts enter your Brain, there is no room for that, you have 100% focus on getting yourself and this Awesome Modified to the Finish Line!! I really miss those Quiet Moments behind the wheel…. Godspeed MR Bolles….

  2. If you’re building your own car at an advanced age in race terms that’s something special in my book.
    Bolles has been like wall paper in the SK’s. Just seems to have been there forever without a whole lot of success in the current era. Thing is I did notice that heat win and it brought a smile to my face. Heat wins are often poo pooed by fans but if you’re a meat and potatoes racer not used to victory lane it can make your night. Very timely profile and good timing on the heat win question.
    If this is going to be a regular feature which I hope it is think engines and chassis. Throw the tech geeks a bone. Engines especially if it’s an open driver.

  3. that is how everyone got started in racing before the cookie cutter, dad write a check built cars of today. I was so happy for Tom when he won the heat race last Friday – He really is doing it his way.

  4. Fast Eddie says

    I hope he incorporates some of the “new school” techniques but never loses the “old school” ideas and methods that got him where he is now! Just ’cause an idea is old doesn’t mean it won’t work! Great article!

  5. Fast Eddie, don’t worry about it… what’s old becomes new again, eventually.

    Denise, great series. There are indeed plenty of interesting people in racing that the fans should know more about.

    How about Ryan Stone and Phil Moran?

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