car drivers never forget the track on which they
cut their teeth or made their ways into the record
books. It’s as if they leave a piece of themselves
behind, even when their racing careers take them
far from the bullrings of their early years.
Such is the case with Hall of Famer Gene Bergin
and Riverside Park Speedway.
Qualifying in the Massachusetts speedplant back in
the 1950s and early 60s was no easy matter.
Avoiding the consi was of paramount importance.
Accomplishing that meant earning a feature berth
via a heat and semi.
Bergin, a Riverside regular through most of the
1950s, recalls a particular semi.
”I was leading and entering the third turn when I
just lost it,” he begins. I wound up over in turn
four with my front end in the fence. I put the
thing in reverse, and then it occurred to me I
might as well leave it right there instead of
trying to find low gear. I just kept right on
going in reverse.”
He backed over the line in a qualifying spot.
”I’ll always remember Ralph Boehm, who followed me
across, saying ‘damn you Bergin, I didn’t know
whether I was coming or going,’” Bergin continues.
“I think Harvey Tattersall made a rule the next
day – no more backing over the finish line.”
Tattersall made "The Laws" when Gene Bergin
raced under the United Stock Car Club sanction
at Riverside Park Speedway. (Steve Kennedy
Tattersall, who ran things at Riverside (a
fifth-mile until 1972) for the United Stock Car
Racing Club for so many years, is just one of
those remembered by Bergin, the 1962 champ at “The
He was like a knight in shining armor,” Bergin
continues. “What he said was the law. He would
stand behind the starter, making sure everything
was done his way. He was always dressed so well,
and that big cowboy hat was his trademark.”
The end of Riverside Park grieves Bergin, now a
”I remember a lot of race tracks, but not like I
remember Riverside Park,” he declares.
Bergin won 16 Riverside features between 1955 and
1963, many coming in two of the most famous cars
in the track’s history – the Walker Motor Sales M6
and the Flying Zero, the latter owned by Jim
Jorgensen and Dexter Burnham.
It was the first win (Riverside records date it
July 23, 1955) in the Norm Keis No. 21 Dodge Red
Ram that “put me in a different class,” Bergin
”I finally got a win at a track where you got your
name in the newspaper,” he said. At that point,
Riverside was years ahead of everybody else.
He had won at Rheinbeck, the Pine Bowl and Menand
in New York State before that first Riverside win,
“but I couldn’t compete at Riverside,” he says.
”I didn’t have the equipment for some time,”
Bergin related. “There were other tracks around,
but they didn’t have the atmosphere Riverside did.
That was where the money was, where the publicity
was, where you built a reputation.”
It was also where Buddy Krebs, Jocko Maggiacomo,
Ed Patnode, Ed Flemke, Dick Dixon, Jerry Humiston,
Benny Germano, George Lombardo, Moe Gherzi and
Rene Charland were.
every one of them,” recalls Bergin. “Nothing was
easy because you had 40 to 50 cars every Saturday
One of Bergin’s early wins (“it was back in the
Flathead days”) came in the Town Line Auto Body
”I was running like fourth and all hell broke
loose in front of me coming out of four,” he
remembers. “I went to turn left and somebody came
down and I went over Art Howard’s left front and
continued up over the top of his car, engine
radiator – and when I came down, I was over the
Gene Bergin in
the Town Line Auto Body #36 in which he
recorded one of his early career wins.
Bergin, however, remembers, “How efficient the
place ran,” especially the front end loader “that
just picked your crashed car up and carried it
away.” The stadium effect was special. He loved
“looking up and seeing people who were looking
down at me and what I was doing.”
And there were people.
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