History By DecadeEdit
Riverside Park Speedway was built in 1948, replacing an open air bandstand at Western Massachusetts' most popular vacation destination - Riverside Amusement Park. Edward Carroll, Sr., the founder of the facility, took a liking to a sport that was gaining popularity in the Northeast after World War II, and added auto racing to his slate of attractions in Agawam.
The original configuration of the track was a flat, 1/5 mile oval with a dirt surface. Midgets and Motorcycles were the featured events, and the track opened in grand style on June 2, 1948. A capacity crowd, including many local dignitaries, watched Dick Shuebruk of Scituate, Mass. drive his Stone #2 Kurtis Kraft Offenhauser Midget to victory in the first ever 25 lap feature race.
By the 1950s, modified stock cars had taken hold as the prevalent form of racing in the area, replacing the midgets as the featured division at Riverside Park Speedway. Drivers such as Ted Tappet, Benny Germano, Jocko Maggiacomo, Jerry Humiston, Ed Flemke and Buddy Krebs were the drivers to beat throughout the 1950s. Other tracks in the area - Century Stadium in Springfield, Mass. and the Exposition Fairgrounds in West Springfield, Mass. - hosted events on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, making it possible for some of Riverside Park's early stars to race in the area almost every night of the week.
The 1960s were popular years for stock car racing at Riverside Park. Under the sanction of the UNITED Stock Car Racing Club, Gene Bergin, Danny Galullo, Ed Patnode and others emerged as contenders, while Krebs and Greco continued to pile up victories. In the grandstands, loyalties to different drivers became fierce, where one sat in the stands was determined by what driver one was rooting for.
The 1970s were a decade of change for the facility, as physical and managerial changes were put into place that made the track what it was until its final season. After a rowdy drivers' strike, it became clear that UNITED could no longer hold its own at Riverside Park, and that organization cleared the path for another popular organization to take charge of the track. The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing began sanctioning events at Riverside Park Speedway in 1976. The winner of the first NASCAR-sanctioned event was Bob Polverari.
The track's configuration was also changed to a bigger 1/4 mile oval, with slightly higher banking in the turns. The track's final 15 degree banking configuration would not be added until the mid 1980s. The bleacher seating surrounding the track was also removed to make way for the 6,200 chair back seats. In the 1970s, some of Riverside Park's local stars included S.J. Evonsion, Bob Polverari, Reggie Ruggiero, Richie Evans, Jerry Cook,Geoff Bodine and others, some would go on to become champions in several of NASCAR's top series.
The 1980s arrived with a track championship for the late Evans, recently named as one of NASCAR's 50 greatest drivers of all time. Many stars of racing emerged at Riverside Park in the 1980s, including Busch North Series star Jerry Marquis, NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series rookie "Mighty" Mike Stefanik and NASCAR Busch Series star "Magic Shoes" Mike McLaughlin. Veteran drivers like Polverari and Ruggiero continued to earn wins and championships throughout the decade.
The track's last decade, the 1990s, saw more racing stars earn their stripes on the high banks at Riverside Park, including Marquis, who captured 3 consecutive modified championships from 1991 to 1993, Featherlite Modified Series star Chris Kopec and NASCAR Winston/Nextel Cup star Steve Park. Another exciting development in 1997 was the acquisition of the park by Oklahoma-based Premier Parks, Inc., parent company of Six Flags, the world's largest regional theme park company.
As Riverside Park Speedway joined NASCAR to celebrate the past 50 years of auto racing in 1998, a new division was rolled out onto the Speedway. Spawned by the popularity of the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, the Teddy Bear Pools Truck division proved to be an instant success in 1998. Ted Chalmers, a 35 year racing veteran, wrote his name in the history books as the first ever champion in that division.
The 1998 Riverside Park Modified Champion was Jimmy Broderick, Driving the Pruchnik Motorsports #42 Modified owned By Denis Pruchnik.
The 1999 season featured the NAPA Modifieds as the NASCAR Winston Racing Series feature division, along with the Serv-U Auto Supply Pro Stocks, Teddy Bear Pools Trucks, Sportsman, Super Stocks and Figure 8's. The Serv-U Auto Supply Pro Stocks were also a feature division in the NASCAR's Winston Shortrack Series in 1999.
Following the park's 1999 season, Premier Parks, Inc. made several major changes that directly affected the speedway. The company changed its own name to Six Flags, Inc., and rebranded the park Six Flags: New England for the opening of the 2000 season. During this time Six Flags permanently closed the track to make way for a spectacular new roller coaster, Superman - Ride of Steel. Much of the coaster's second half (essentially everything north of, and including, the station and entrance queue), as well as more than half of the park's "D.C. Superhero Adventures" section, now sit on land once occupied by the track's racing surface.