March 8, 2010
Quite frankly, just beneath the track surface last fall there was a
sense of gloom about racing in the New England. The ’09 season had
gone down in barely mediocre fashion. There had been a lot fewer new
right rear tires, and everyone was worried about the future as the
recession ravaged on. And there wasn’t even the big winter racing
show to look forward to. Like a smattering of local speedways, it
appeared to be dead.
For years and years, Val Lesieur, majordomo of the old Speedway
Scene weekly newspaper, ran RACERARAMA the last weekend in February
at the Eastern States Exposition buildings in West Springfield,
Mass., squarely atop the site of a once-proud half-mile paved oval.
RACERARAMA was colorful – often rowdy, a major meeting point for
thousands starved for their wintry racing fix.
When Speedway Scene went away, Dick Berggren and his gang at
Speedway Illustrated magazine picked up the cause, renaming the
event Speedway EXPO, and ran it well for 2008 and 2009. It appeared
to have new legs. Then the magazine was sold to Anthem Media Group
in Kansas City, Berggren left its employ, and, sadly, the show
wasn’t even mentioned again.
Enter the Seymours of Marlboro, Mass.,
New England’s most famous racing family.
The patriarch was “Boston Louie” Seymour, the legendary sprint and
Silver Crown car owner, “the man,” wrote Berggren, “who towed a
million miles.” “Boston,” with his wife Ellie, sons Mike and Bobby,
daughters Marylou, Celeste and Lois, fielded great equipment,
exercised by the likes of Billy Cassella, Sheldon Kinser, George
Snider, Doug Wolfgang, Rich Vogler, Bentley Warren, and Joe Saldana.
There was an extra special relationship with Ken Schrader, who
wheeled Boston’s black #29 to seven Silver Crown victories. Boston
Louie died in 1996, but his tradition motored on. Sons Bobby and
Mike spent their own time in the cockpit, winning widely and
emerging as two of the best midget drivers in the country.
Kenny Schrader had some great
times with Louie Seymour, and the families
are still very close. (Ken Schrader Collection)
In January the Seymours decided to force
a restart. Working out of their speed supply business
(www.theracedepot.com), in less than five weeks they put together a
new show, the Racer’s EXPO, and it ran that same February weekend as
in years past.
The Racer’s EXPO was geared just to the racing community rather than
to fans, but it was still very impressively attended, warm and
energetic despite deplorable New England weather conditions.
Especially notable was the number of families present, giving their
kids a shot at the iRacing simulator and checking out the new
quarter-midget kit at the Triple M Motorsports display.
Thanks to those Seymours, our sport felt fresh, ready for spring,
and likely to go on for a long time. And there was pleasing evidence
that racing has, after all, been going on for quite a while already.
Just off the lobby/atrium of Marlboro’s Royal Plaza Best Western
Hotel, where the show was held, was a small gift shop. The
proprietor is a 78-year-old named Margaret Bateman, a wonderful
woman with a smile like a lighthouse by the sea. Margaret, as it
turns out, has some racing fuel in her veins, too. Just out of high
school in 1950, she remembers winning 14 features at the old
Westboro Speedway, a dramatically high-banked quarter-miler once
located just a few miles down the highway. “I never figured the
sport was just for the guys,” Margaret said with spirit. “I was
pretty fast back then – and I still am now.”
Bateman (Photo by Norm Marx)
© 2010 Lew Boyd, Coastal 181