Richard "Moon" Burgess, a true pioneer of New England auto racing,
started out driving midgets. Moon competed in the first stock car
race in Connecticut, in 1948 where he drove to a twelfth place
finish at Thompson Speedway and began a career that would make him
one of the region's elite drivers. He was a threat to win at every
track he ran, and found great success at Plainville Stadium,
Riverside Park, Candlelight Stadium, Cherry Park, and Savin Rock,
among others. Moon raced anywhere and everywhere, at over 23
tracks, competing at Kingston, RI on Sunday afternoons, then rushing
to Lonsdale to race later that night. In those early days, safety
was not a big issue. "I was given cars to drive that had little or
no floorboards. In one case, a rug was hung between the driver and
the gas tank to serve as a firewall. Often, cars that had no
seatbelts and drivers were tied in using regular rope. My brother
Frank was my Guardian angel. He'd tighten lug nuts and do whatever
it took to make sure my cars were safe," remembers Moon.
years into his career, Moon met a car builder named Joe Fontana.
They persuaded Joe Tinty to let them test Fontana's car at
Plainville Stadium, and Moon was instantly impressed with its power.
"I jumped on it, and it pinned me right to the seat!" However, that
first year had a steep learning curve. "If anything could go wrong,
it did," said Moon. "You name it. We had a distributor shaft freeze,
overheating, a blown head gasket, and the handling was off." Soon,
they had the bugs worked out and went on to post an impressive
string of victories in the familiar Flying Eagle #1.
highlight of Moon's career was beating Indianapolis 500 driver, and
his hero, "Big Boy" Al Keller in a last lap duel at Plainville
Stadium, earning him the praise and respect of his idol. "The
feeling I had when he put his arm around my shoulders and said,
'Good race, son' is one I'll never forget."
Moon retired in 1953. In just six seasons he had
won over 200 races, 63 features, and a track championship. "I had
met a beautiful girl, we bought a house, and I knew it was time to
settle down. I had a good time, met a lot of great people, and feel
fortunate to do as well as I did. I'm amazed that people still
remember me for my racing." Today, we welcome Moon into the NEAR
Hall of Fame.