December 28, 2009
THE FLYING FINN AND THE ALL
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
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
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
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
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
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