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 Pete Salvatore and Bob Bouchard in the Fitchburg Deuce (Balser Photo)


 Reino Tulonen and the late Johnny Falconi (Falconi Collection)

December 28, 2009


It was the spring of 1964, and it was going to be one helluva season. There was a race car at every gas station in central Massachusetts.

A popular new rule book was in place at the high-banked Westboro Speedway, and the joint was packed. All eyes, though, were focused on two A-Division cars, the Red and White Movers Deuce and the Falconi Bros. #10.

The #2, a forties-era Ford coupe, was a gleaming masterpiece out of Fitchburg, Mass., owned by Bob Bouchard, very much cheered on by his son Ronnie. It had the best of everything, including a thumping, high-compression flathead out of Hitchcock Machine in Framingham.

The driver was no less flamboyant. It was Pete Salvatore, a handsome, gutsy fan favorite known as “the All American Boy.” Salvatore had had his way at Westboro, Brookline, and other local bull rings of late. He and the Red and White guys were none too pleased that the year before when the rules changed, they had lost the championship. This season they were loaded for bear.

On the other end of the pits was the red #10. The somewhat more subdued looking ’35 Ford was the latest of a long tradition of coupes and cutdowns out of the Falconi Brothers Fuel Oil stables in Southboro. It had been built by John Falconi’s sons, Ricky, Peter, Johnny, and Jimmy, and was powered by a flathead painstakingly hand-machined by old-time motor wizard, Bill Welch. The smooth but crafty veteran Fred Borden had driven it to the championship in 1963.

Much to everyone’s surprise, just before the start of this season, Borden had announced that work commitments would not allow him to race in ’64. John Falconi told his son, Ricky, to “call the Finn.”

Reino Tulonen, a gritty, balls-to-the-wall, no-nonsense character, had raced since just after the war, starring in big cars – even AAA – before switching to jalopies with ultra-success. Then it was on to the New England cutdowns with his famously frightening #732.

 Tulonen and his before-its-time cutdown. (Boyd Collection)

The cutdowns did not appear to have much of a schedule lined up for ’64, so the Finn was pleased to hear the phone ring. Never mind that he had a broken hand. “Just get me one of those girlie knobs for the steering wheel,” he barked at Ricky.

The #2 and #10 were in different qualifying races, but they both looked fast. The winter’s work had paid off. It took the Finn about half a lap to find comfort in the coupe, sporting its new suicide knob.

The night turned out to be warm and moonlit. The air was thick with the smell of frying onions and the staleness of a thousand beers at the suds stand, as the announcer guided everyone back to their seats for the feature. Little did the railbirds realize what they were about to see.

It was scheduled to be a 25-lap race with 22 starters. In fact it turned out to be a 20-lapper with two cars.

The second starter Dave Faulkner unfurled the green, Salvatore and Tulonen were on the attack like harpoons through a tub of butter. Coming off the fourth turn on the fourth lap, they assumed the lead, together. And that’s how they stayed.

Lap after lap, they hammered on the asphalt bankings, the All American Boy overusing every bit of track – and a little more – on the low side. The Finn was doing the same upstairs, muscling the #10 into and through the turns, slamming the right rear off the boards coming out. The wall was a containment device.

As the captivating dual ground on, it appeared the duo was going faster and faster every lap. Other cars were not a factor – just a nuisance, if that. With all the sparking, pushing, and banging, it seemed impossible that Salvatore and Tulonen could finish the race. Strangely, although far beyond normal human control, the two drivers raced each other in unison to the end. It was one of those unlikely situations in which, says Jeff Gordon, “eight tires can be better than four.”

There were crowds and big competition at Westboro in the mid-sixties, but no other cars mattered during the Pete and Reino show. (Balser Photo)

After the checkered, crowds surrounded the battered, steaming – but unwrecked – cars in the pits. The Finn had won it, but not that many people would even remember that. There was no screaming, no big commotion, as Pete Salvatore wiped his brow with a towel and the Falconi boys deflated the right rear tire on the #10 to pull wood splinters out of the rim, Rather, folks seemed to share a sense of awe over having seen one of the most incredible races ever run in New England.

Both teams ended up having a strong summer in 1964, and, curiously, it was the peak of the two great drivers’ careers.

Soon afterwards, Pete Salvatore would relinquish the seat in the Deuce to become young Ronnie Bouchard’s mentor. Ronnie was a natural, a rocketship right from the start, launching a national trajectory. Both Ron and his brother Kenny would end up Winston Cup Rookies of the Year. Ron’s title came in 1981 when he won the Die Hard 500 at Talladega.

Ronnie Bouchard was an instant success with his father’s cars and Salvatore’s mentorship. (RA Silvia Collection)

Salvatore himself would win a couple more aboard a Vic Kangas/Marty Harty-built late model with Anthony Venditti’s club. He also ran some NASCAR modifieds at Riverside Park, but, even with a spectacular “out of the Park” flip, he never quite regained the notoriety of his days in the flatheads.

The same could be said of the Finn. After the fling at Westboro, he built a NASCAR coupe and struggled mightily to soldier on with the hugely escalating costs of big blocks, injection, and steam-roller tires. He qualified for the Thompson 500 in 1969 and ran well for a couple hundred laps before pulling out. He could not afford to put another load of fuel in the car. By the early seventies, he pulled out completely.

He was little seen for the next 30 years, until his induction into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in January of 2005.

© 2009 Lew Boyd, Coastal 181

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.: Previous Tearoffs :.

12/12-09 - Hello Wall

11/29/09 - Once More for Ernie

11/15/09 - Ernie's Excellent Chase

11/1/09 - In The Zone

10/19/09 - Rough Week in the Midwest

10/1/09 - Common Starts, Uncommon Comebacks

9/4/09 - South Dakota Chris

8/15/09 - Facial Exposure

7/31/09 - Dying in the Pits

7/9/09 - Barn Rat's Last Race

6/18/09 - Catching Up With Brad Doty

5/20/09 - Big Boys in The Attic  - rare photos of legends

5/6/09 - Back Up In The Attic - more rare photos

4/22/09 - The Son of Hard Luck - accessible racing
experience for the handicapped

4/3/09 - Racin' In The Attic - Gordon Ross photo collection

3/18/09 - About That Mike Spaulding

3/3/09 - Dick Berggren's First Win - (you had to be there!)

2/11/09 - Peter at the Park - Peter Fiandaca at Riverside Park

1/30/09 - Steve - Steve Arpin

1/4/09 - Racer Speak -cool quotations

12/16/08 - Wimble Power, Will Power - Bill Wimble

11/24/08 - Remembering Chuck Amati - by Joyce Standridge

11/11/08 - That Rick Ferkel

10/24/08 - Beyond Bionic - Bentley Warren

10/6/08 - Fifty Second Classic - Skip and Lois Matczak

9/20/08 - Joey's Dad - Tom Logano

9/1/08 - One Night at The Park - the death of Les Ley

8/20/08 - Transitional Technology - early supermodifieds

8/6/08 - Wallace on Wednesdays - dirt trackin’ Kenny

7/19/08 - Star(ter) of the Show - importance of good flaggers

7/7/08 - McUnderdog - Eddie MacDonald

6/18/08 - The Night Buzz Was Worried - Buzz Rose

6/5/08 - John Richards - Boomer Role Model

5/20/08 - The Spirit of a Racer - the late Al Powell

5/1/08 - Bobby's Blues - Bobby Santos III

4/15/08 - Thinking About Rene Charland

3/26/08 - Carl and Corey - Carl Edwards and Corey Dripps

3/4/08 - A Cool Track with Cool Racers - West Liberty, Iowa

2/14/08 - Doug Wolfgang

1/25/08 - Frankie Schneider

1/7/08 - When Drivers Can't See - cockpit vision

12/21/07 - When Starters Couldn't See - flagstand vision

12/1/07 - Ride Along with Erica Santos - in-car camera midget win

11/15/07 - Tough Drivers

11/1/07 - Cockpit Safety

10/15/07 - That First Race

10/1/07 - Racing Nicknames

9/15/07 - Too Many Officials

9/1/07 - The Look of a Real Driver

8/15/07 - Being Dale Junior

8/1/07 - Armond Holley

7/15/07  -  Red Farmer

© 2009 Lew Boyd, Coastal 181