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*Updated* The Briggs Cunningham Special Revisited

Coffey-Cunningham

After a recent post here about the Briggs Cunningham’s DOHC Frontenac Ford “T” sprint car, information has come to light about many of the details surrounding the car. Racing historian Michael Ferner has identified the driver as “Ed” Coffey and the builder of the car as well. Michael tells us:

“The Cunningham-Fronty was built by R.T. Jackson of Dayton, Ohio. See the article in “Speedway Magazine,” March 1933, covering the car. It was driven by Ed Coffey of Connecticut while owned by Cunningham, and perhaps others. Cunningham sold the car to Gil Pirrung of Missouri the following year, who had Doc MacKenzie, Billy Devore and Babe Stapp drive the car. In 1936 he sold it to Joel Thorne.”

  • Dayton1       Dayton2       Dayton3
  • The “Speedway Magazine” of March, 1933 covered the construction details.

Reader Carl Schultz took the identification of John “Ed” Coffey as the driver a bit further and contacted his son, Edward Coffey, who has written a book titled A Glimpse of Old Monroe (Connecticut). In it, Coffey included the newspaper article with two photos from October 16, 1933 about the inaugural event at the track you see at the top of this post. The bottom photo was clearly shot in the same setting as in our earlier post on the car.

As often happens in this field, the answer to one question often brings information to light that might be helpful in another’s  research. Publisher and racing historian Joseph Freeman, who is working on a book about the racing Duesenberg’s, has asked if anyone can provide further information about Fred Meyer’s No. 44 Duesenberg from Bridgeport, Connecticut. The Monroe Speedway appears to have been a short-lived operation, as it is not mentioned in any of the books covering old racetracks that we have come across. Can any of our readers tell us more about the track and how long it remained in operation?

  • Speedway
  • The Monroe Speedway, April 1934, courtesy of Kevin Daly.

*Update* Thanks to reader Kevin Daily who has sent us the photo above and the information below about the track:

“My information came directly from my extensive correspondence with Lois Hurd-Hayden. Lois is Ben’s daughter and was the little girl who sat on her daddy’s lap bulldozing all those old Yankee stonewalls into the trenches.  She has little memory of the active days of the track, other than perhaps selling hot dogs to those in attendance, but she certainly still remembers transforming the track it into the airport in the late 30’s.

 Just below is an aerial image of Monroe Speedway taken in April of 1934.  You can see what appears to be the flag man’s podium on the eastern straightaway at the mid-track infield.  I sent this image to Lois about five years back and she was floored.  She’d never seen the image before, nor had our Historical Society or Historian.  It caused quite a stir within the Hurd Family and she still stays in touch from time to time from her home in Florida.  The speedway/track is a cemetery today but you can still see the northern curve of the track in the grass if you know where to look, and the eastern straightaway is a quiet walking/bike path in the woods.

Remnants of the smaller Huntington Speedway just a mile to the Southeast are also still visible if you know where to look. 

5 responses to “*Updated* The Briggs Cunningham Special Revisited

  1. Gene Herman found the following about the track in coverage about the Monroe Airport

    41.32 North / 73.2 West (Southwest of Hartford, CT)

    Kevin Daly recalled, “I grew up on Pamela Drive at the south end of Wheeler just beyond Cross Hill Road. You could say that my location and a boyhood fascination with the Monroe Airport sort of define who I am even today.Lois Hurd’s grandfather, Ambrose Hurd owned & farmed the land where the airport would eventually be built. The fields were once divided by stone walls from Moose Hill Road east to Wheeler Road & were filled with grazing dairy cows.

    Ambrose died in 1929 from injuries he sustained from being kicked by a farm animal – either a horse or cow. After Ambrose died his son Ben immediately sold off all the dairy cows.He had absolutely no interest in farming whatsoever & had more contemporary ideas in mind.

    Kevin continued, “In the early 1930s there was a car race track practically at the intersection of what we know as Four Corners in Shelton. This was a very successful venture during the early Depression years & Ben saw an opportunity to open a larger track in Monroe on the former farmland. So what you know as the The Monroe Airport was once a thriving racetrack. Cars reached speeds of nearly 100 MPH.And you thought Monroe was a quiet farming town. Not in 1934 it wasn’t.There were practically no trees across the entire town & the roar of finely tuned engines could be heard for miles.”

    A 1934 aerial photo showed an oval racetrack on the property. According to a local resident, “The track lasted for a few years & during this time Ben was taking flying lesson at Bridgeport Airport. He’d caught the flying bug. The original airstrip was across the street, north of the Hurd’s house (the large white house on Moose Hill across from the airport) and ran all the way north to where the Monroe Firehouse is today – basically Hurd Avenue.

    In the late 1930s tensions of war in Europe gave Ben another idea.He would build an airport & teach pilots to fly should America become involved in the war.One of Ben’s jobs at this time was building roads & he had earthmoving equipment at his disposal. So at night, he & his young daughter Lois would drive out into the field on a bulldozer with headlights and dig long trenches across racetrack to bury all the stone walls which spanned the track’s infield. Once the trenches were dug they pushed the walls in & buried them.You can still see those stone walls just beneath the surface in modern photographs today.”

    According to a local resident, “The airport was opened in 1940.Business was booming with the new venture & young Lois worked the gas pumps and her mother sold hot dogs in the canteen attached to the main hangar.But then the Empire of Japan attacked Pearl Harbor & we were in a World War.

    Shortly thereafter the government closed all airfields which were within potential attacking distance of the coast.So Ben moved the entire airport operation to New York State.”

    Of course this is all anecdotal. Ironically, it was written by yet another historical writer named Freeman! I found it here….. http://www.airfields-freeman.com/CT/Airfields_CT_W.htm

  2. I wonder if the Fred Meyer’s Duesenberg was the old Ira Vail bob tailed one he sold to George Taytor in South Salem, New York? It would have been a 45 minute trip to Monroe. Danbury, Connecticut was about midway from both points and the Duesenberg and later an ex Vail 183 MILLER raced at the Danbury Fair track. This was a stop on the AAA circut and many INDY cars of the day ran there. I’ll scan photos of both cars tomorrow. Bob

  3. I am so pleased to have the availability of The Old Motor. Few others exist where any serious and sustained historical inquiry has a platform. Thank you David and all who contribute.

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