New England Antique Racers remembers Charlie Mitchell
Photos Courtesy of Bill Henry
August 5, 2014

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On Saturday July 26, 2014 during Nostalgia Night at the Waterford Speedbowl, NEAR recalled the memory of one Charlie Mitchell. For those who do not know, Charlie was a writer for the Norwalk Hour and covered the auto racing scene before the big news of NASCAR and the media hype. Charlie was a family man and a gentleman to all who raced whether they were leading in the points or the racer who scrapped along week to week faithfully coming to the track.  He set the standard high and mentored many of those who later followed in his footsteps. His three sons, Chuck, Jimmy and Dennis, were present to issue the call of "DRIVERS START YOUR ENGINES". His grandson Ryan was the honorary flagman to start the race.

As part of the memorial ceremonies there was a round robin discussion involving three outstanding NEAR members who had known Charlie and his wonderful human understanding of the race car driver. Matt Buckley, the track announcer, lead Hall of Fame driver Don Lajoie, Jim Torok, currently an active driver with NEAR and event coordinator, along with Dave Dykes, Board member of NEAR and award winning author of the weekly web column, in a 15 minute discussion of how Charlie impacted them and racing in southern Connecticut.

At the conclusion of a hotly contested 35 lap main event for the SK modifieds Don Lajoie presented Keith Rocco with the winner's trophy in victory lane. Jim Torok, in the Corky Cookman #04, was the victor in the NEAR feature event for the evening holding off Rich Belmonte and Gerry Blanchette in an action packed race. George Cleveland debuted his new #5X machine and commented afterward that he was very satisfied with the performance of the new machine. Look for him to return stronger in late season competition once he gets ‘her’ dialed-in.

Also appearing at the show in running status was the #36 coupe of  Gary Gilson, the #15 coupe of Spanky Bancroft, the #85 coupe of Ron Carlson, the #318 coupe of Don Murphy, the #0 coupe of Barry Roy. In the later styled machines, in addition to Rich Belmonte in the #19 was Gerry Blanchette in the #49 and the Benicasa Brothers racing machine #42, their father Carmine’s last ride.

Presented for viewing all evening on the mid way was the #711 of Don Lajoie, the #43 Pinto of Bill Greco, the #87 of Jim Splettstoeszer, the yellow canary #5 of Jack Proulx and the famous #14 coupe now owned by JoJo Farone. These fine machines were joined for part of the evening with the running cars which totally excited the fans who brought pens and cameras to capture the moment. Some of these activities were made possible by the behind the scenes efforts of Megan and Rhonda Blanchette who assisted with the drivers meetings and staging of the cars for the practice session and the feature event.

By Bill Henry