SUPERS OVER TIME – THE TEAM FROM TEWKSBURY
If biologists looked at the history of Supermodified racing over the
last half century, they’d call it parallel evolution. Rather than
starting in one place, it grew out of jalopies in the fifties –
cut-down, lightened, and modified – in various parts of the country,
including Northern California, the Southeast, Upper Midwest, upstate
New York, and New England. Over the decades, as the highway system
was built and racing media chimed in, Supers developed into an
increasingly standard configuration, and top drivers began competing
at national events such as the Oswego (N.Y.) Classic and the Copper
Classic in Phoenix.
One largely unheralded team from
Tewksbury, Massachusetts, had a full 30-season run during those
years, full of that glorious triumph and wrenching tragedy that
often rides with the world’s fastest oval-track cars. They saw it
Back in 1956, a determined, hard-nosed auto parts
recycler, Ed Bowley, towed into the murky pit area of the old Pines
Speedway down by the river in Groveland, Mass. He had built the
“Honest Ed Special,” a lowered Flathead coupe, wheeled by aging
midget veteran Hal Wilcox. They won right off the bat, picking up
the pace even more with Hall of Famer Smokey Boutwell at the
By 1960 the #5 team was red hot on the New England
banked bull rings. The latest car, driven by Buddy Crotty, was a
flyweight cutdown powered by a Pontiac overhead with three carbs. In
the fall they ventured out to the Oswego Classic. They sat on the
pole, stunning the New Yorkers who by then had assumed Super
superiority. Crotty ran high and mighty, well in the lead after
nearly 100 laps when he spun out.
Supercharged by their
speed, Bowley ramped up for 1961, dropping in a really punchy
Pontiac engine, shoeing it with some of Marvin Rifchin’s trick M&Hs,
renaming it “the Flying 5,” and hiring a carpenter from Worcester,
Red Sequin, to man the controls. The season would end up packed with
every possible human emotion.
|The Team from
Tewksbury, 1961. L to R, Ed Bowley (standing),
top-notch New England driver Paul Finlayson
(seated), Red Sequin, Eddie Witkum, Irwin Mitchell,
and Dave Thompson (standing). (Dave Kranz Photo,
Sequin, diminutive in size but glowing in personality, was on
rails in New England. Meanwhile, out in Oswego, the crafty veteran
Nolan Swift was winning so convincingly that management offered a
bounty to anyone who could beat him. The press spun the news big
time, suggesting that Sequin was the guy to eat Swift’s cake.
On Friday, August 18, the Flying 5 performed on the high banks
of Westboro (Mass.) Speedway, winning the heat handily but breaking
in the feature. The next night the boys were out on the shores of
Lake Ontario hunting that Oswego bonus. Reports are that the tension
was thick as a huge crowd saw Sequin break again in the heat but
annihilate all comers in the consi with a new track record of 100.3
mph on the 5/8 mile.
Everyone was on their feet as Swift and
Sequin thundered by, deep in the pack at the start of the main. What
was expected to be the showdown of the ages ended almost before it
could start. On lap 15, Sequin sideswiped “Irish Jack” Murphy’s #6
and drilled the unforgiving third-turn wall with loud and
frightening impact, rendering the place completely silent.
Sequin was extracted from the car, and 16-year-old crew member Bobby
Witkum went with him to the hospital. “Red wouldn’t wear a harness.
He had this ‘woodchopper’s belt’ he attached to the left side of the
car to help with centrifugal force, but it wouldn’t hold him in the
seat. When he hit, he was almost out the right window, and the nerf
bar broke off and slammed his head. He had just bought a new helmet
– too big, and it slid forward, giving him no protection. He was
alive when we got to the hospital, and we just couldn’t believe it
when he died.”
No one could. Totally brokenhearted, the team
brought the car home, put it in a trailer, and locked it up. Out of
But Harry “the Wheel” Caruso, Oswego’s zealous
originator/promoter and a good friend of Ed Bowley, thought
otherwise. He considered the incident a freak accident and he wanted
Sequin to be properly honored with a dedicated race, with the Flying
5 right there. The story goes that Smokey Boutwell, then out of a
ride, heard about this and persuaded Ed to let him rebuild the car.
Smokey went to work, assisted by young Eddie and Bobby Witkum (both
of whom are still building Supers today). They replaced the
abbreviated ’48 Ford frame rails on the three-springer, straightened
the cage and body, and put Smokey’s name back on the roof.
|The Flyin’ 5 just
after the fatal crash, August 19, 1961.
(Archie Banks Collection)
The same car at Thompson, Ct., on September 17, less
than a month later.
(Archie Banks Collection)
On September 16, Boutwell motored the
same car to an impressive second-place finish at Oswego. Late that
night they rode the thruways back to Connecticut and won at Thompson
on Sunday afternoon. And quite remarkably, the next week Boutwell
was back in New York, claiming third in the Oswego Classic behind
Art Bennett and Nolan Swift.
Understandably, the Bowley gang
was still feeling the hurt after the season, and Ed decided to go
NASCAR modified racing, something perhaps a little safer. It was off
to Daytona with a Flying 5 Studebaker Permatex car, but NASCAR
officials did not like it. Nor did Smokey, finding it far too boxy
and weighty for the short tracks back in the Northeast.
there were more Supers for Smokey and then a young guy on his way to
Indy, Bentley Warren.
Ed’s son Tommy graduated from high
school on June 3, 1972, ready to join the racing operation. It was a
big day. They hurried off to New York right after the ceremony, and
the Big Daddy, hard drivin’, hard punchin’ Don MacLaren, hustled the
Flying 5 to its first Oswego win.
|Don MacLaren at
Thompson in a Bowley roadster at Thompson in the
early seventies. (North East Motor Sports Museum
Ed, Tommy, and the crew would soldier on for another 15 years with
top-notch machinery and gallant chauffeurs, as Supers matured
nationally with increasingly sophisticated technology and dizzying
speed. And, if it could be said that 1961 was the saddest of times,
a few months near the end of their run was the happiest.
1984 the Bowleys were again with that “Flying Fisherman” from
Gloucester, Mass., Bentley Warren. Bentley was going through a
racing rejuvenation and was at the top of his game. That autumn they
swept the Triple Crown – the Sandusky (Ohio) Classic, the Oswego
Classic, and the Star (N.H.) Classic. But an added jewel came for
the crown in February of 1985. Ed and Tommy towed two cars out to
Phoenix for the infamous Copper Classic, then at its height of
spectacle and competition. Bentley smoked ’em, setting fast time and
winning the show. Another aging master, George “Ziggy” Snider, drove
the backup car and got fourth.
“Phoenix was the best of all.
What a blast!” says Tommy Bowley. ”But that was near the end. We
pretty much just did big shows for a couple of years after that.”
Many would say that by the early nineties, when Ed Bowley passed
away, Supermodified racing had become largely shaped as it is today.
However, its popularity had peaked, and over recent years there have
been far fewer shows than in the past.
There does seem to be
a fresh new enthusiasm in the air this spring. Marketeers like Randy
Burch and Jim Hanks are working all angles with their Must-See Super
Series, as are track officials such as Danny Kapuscinski at Oswego
and Bob Watson at Lee, New Hampshire. Just maybe it will spark
another racy growth spurt similar to that incredible era when the
Flying 5 roared so loudly.
|Happy times in ’84 and
’85 for Ed and Bentley. “I think he actually kissed
me," said Bentley. (Bill Hartwell Photo,
North East Motor Sports Museum Collection)
© 2013 Lew Boyd - Coastal 181