Champion boat builder and racer Larry Castagneto early years

Episode 314

May 3, 2020

Larry Castagneto, school boy, boat builder and racer

This last six-week journey into the world of hydroplane racing and racers has been an adventure I would not have dreamed about a few months ago. What began with a tip from Caribou’s Fran Cyr about a hydroplane racer named Glenn Campbell, Fort Fairfield has spread wide with contacts as far as middle America, New England, and Florida.

My understanding of the sport has expanded immensely, although I consider what I do know as the tip of the iceberg. I have met via the phone, Facebook, or emails a multitude of folks who have had something to do with or say about hydro racing. This week I want to chronicle the first years of a Massachusetts man whose winning design boats were used by several County men in their racing exploits. The man is Larry Castagneto Jr.

Larry currently resides in Littleton, Massachusetts having grown up about 33 miles away in Melrose, Massachusetts. Littleton was the location of the Castagneto’s camp with a small lake, Fort Pond. He was born August 1, 1939 the son of Larry Senior and Margaret Castagneto. He is married to his bride of 49 years, Joan. They have two children, David living in Littleton and Elizabeth in Exeter.

“I’ve always been interested in the outdoors, sports, hunting, fishing, and boating” said Castagneto in an interview in 1964. “Fort Pond, in back of our summer place is where I gained my first interest in speedboats. Per usual, there was always the speed king of the lake and I wanted to beat him!”

Castagneto was a handyman with tools and decided to build his first boat for speed. “In 1955, with the help and guidance of a family friend, Ed Fitzgerald, I built my first racing boat. It was a class “B” utility of a standard design.”

“That summer saw me continually testing and increasing its speed, although at the time I had no intention of ever racing. At the end of that summer, I was persuaded by a friend to join and enter with him at a race in Turners Falls, Massachusetts.”

“It didn’t take long for me to realize this was for me. That winter saw the building of a “B” Hydro and the conversion of the family boat trailer to a double-decker racing trailer.”

The next year, while still in high school, was the beginning of Castagneto’s racing career with a race in Lowell, Massachusetts. “My first race was held in Lowell, Massachusetts in 1956. As a junior in high school and a complete novice toward racing procedure, I was a bit nervous, to put it mildly.”

My first race was in “B” Hydro. Out of thirty boats, I finished third and won my first trophy. That summer came forth with two more trophies and the building of a new boat.That boat was my first venture on my own designing and building, and it was that boat that made a certain few people sit up and take notice.”

“During the next winter I built another “B” Hydro and further improved the equipment. That season, 1957, was one of several blown motors and eight trophies. Toward the end of the season, I built my first “C” Utility for a friend, Jim Faccia.”

In the 1958 Hartford, Connecticut Regatta, Castagneto beat the reigning National Champion despite being a teenager still. (Castagneto Collection photo from Contact magazine)

“The boat was very fast and he was a little afraid to run it, so I ended up doing the honors. In its first race I ran away from the National High Point winner Dion Arrigoni from Connecticut. From then on, until this day, I have dominated the “C” Utility field.”

Young Larry Castagneto Jr on right with his father Larry Senior. They are looking over the plans and scale models of new hydros to be built in the basement or garage of their Melrose home. Senior was a power sales engineer and Junior would be heading to Northeastern in Boston. (Castagneto Collection photo Contact magazine)

Continuing his story Castagneto recalled, “In 1958, I built a third “B” Hydro, and the best one to date for me. The competition was extremely keen that year, and it gave me really good experience for future years.”

Featured along with his father in the Contact : New England Electric System Magazine, June 1959, Larry displayed two of his race boats and some of the trophies he had garnered at that point in his career. Note the Hop Tuit name. When Castagneto was building his first boat a family friend helped with  construction. On his friend’s boat was the name Hop Tuit which Larry borrowed to honor him. ( New England Power System photo in Castagneto Collection)

“In 1959, I started school at Northeastern University (Boston). That winter didn’t see any new equipment I was too busy with school. After 30 weeks of school, I was more than happy to see the start of the racing season. I959 was my first really big year. That year I won National High Point Amateur Championships in two classes “B” and “C” Utilities.”

Castagneto held the “B” Utility National Championship and during the year built two more boats. The “B” Hydro was sold and a “C” Hydro was built to take its place allowing him to move up one class.

Meanwhile he had to balance a tough Civil Engineering course load at Northeastern. The school has a long-standing policy requiring their engineering students to work in a co-op position that relates directly to their major. This allows the future graduate to have on-the-job experience upon graduating.

Miller & Nylander, a private civil engineering company, provided that co-op position for Castagneto. The folks at Miller & Nylander were interested in the racing exploits of their young intern and understood that Saturday work days were out of the question since those were race days.

“Boats were more interesting to me than money,” said the civil engineering major. “But you can’t race boats without it. My parents were very supportive of me and in those days we travelled to races together. It was and is still is  family oriented.”

The National Championships at Guntersville, Alabama after the races in teardown and inspection phase. Note the shirt. Castagneto first wore the “lucky shirt” in 1956 when he won his first trophy. Only time he did not wear the shirt in the early years was in 1959 at Canobie Lake in New Hampshire when he got run over. Castagneto was unsure when he retired the shirt but did comment, “It made it through a lot of years racing”. (Castagneto Collection photo)

“My next really big year was 1962. The National Championships were in Guntersville, Alabama that year so we decided to go. We had never attended a Nationals, so this would be a new experience for us.”

On the my first day there, I set a new world record in the kilometer in my CU (C Utility) at 61.204 mph. In the finals, I won both heats of CU, but jumped the gun, along with five others in the second heat to end up third overall.”

The very successful “B” Utility class boat number 1B denoting his National Championship status. This is the boat he had at Guntersville, Alabama where he won a national championship. (Castagneto Collection photo)

“The next race was “B” Utility, which I won. Now I was National Champion!”

“In “D” Hydro, I was thrown out of the boat in the first turn of the first heat, but placed second in the second heat to get a fifth overall. The Nationals helped me win the National High Points Championship in all three classes and be voted into the Gulf Marine Racing Hall of Fame for the second straight year. My BU also won the Yachting Magazine’s All-American Racing Team award.”

Favorite boat and favorite racing memory…both in 1963

In 1963, success was building for the young man, now 24 and a senior at Northeastern University,  who was building boats with the name Casta Craft and racing as well. “I built two new boats for other drivers and they went on to win National Championships and High Points Awards. One boat, driven by Doug Bailey, Andover, Massachusetts won the JU National Championship and set a new kilometer world record in Pennsylvania. Bill Allen drove the other boat, a DU, and won National High Points honors.”

Castagneto noted that this same year, 1963, was when he experienced his most memorable boat building experience and most memorable driving experience. The national championship that year was on the Charles River in Boston. Larry decided he was going to have a new boat constructed for the big “D” Hydro race.

Two weeks before the race, construction began in the garage at his parent’s house where all the Casta Craft boats were built at that time. The boat was finished three days before the Boston race.

Castagneto wanted to test the boat before heading out for Boston so he brought it to nearby Fort Pond. The new boat was outfitted with motor and other components. By the time that was done, the water was choppy with a stiff breeze.

He brought the boat out and nearly flipped it on its maiden voyage. Worried about it having a nasty handling problem, he took the running gear out of the new boat and put it back in the donor boat. When he took that boat out, it was worse in the wind so he knew it was not simply a new boat problem.

Castagneto came to the national race in Boston with all three boats carrying National Championship number 1 US. In a newspaper report, he noted that he spent some so much time on the new “D” Hydro that the other boats suffered some mild neglect. They were not too shabby with a second in “C” Hydro by one half second. (Castagneto Collection photo)

When he got to the race on the Charles River, the boat handled fine, so much so that in the 12 boat heat final race he won by a comfortable margin unlike in “C” Hydro where he lost by 1/2 second.

When Castagneto was close to the finish line and knew he had won the “D” Stock class, he waved to the crowd. After all the race was being recorded by a TV crew and he wanted to look cool.

The moment he waved, the throttle hand slowed the boat and one of the sponsons caught on the water as he slowed, spinning him in a circle at the finish line. He scrambled to climb back into the cockpit. All caught on camera. Still trying to be cool, Castagneto smiled at the camera, implying this was done on purpose, which it was not. Despite the spin-win-grin, he was far enough ahead of second place and went on to win High Points.

Larry’s spin-win-grin earned him the South Shore Outboard Association (SSOA) new “Saddle Award” which is still given at each regatta to this day for the racer with the most dramatic spill.

The winter of 1963 was spent building boats since Northeastern University determined that the entrepreneur/boat builder could use the projects in lieu of a co-op program. Castagneto described this time this way, “During my 10-week term from November to January, I built five boats. Two, a CU and DU went to Oregon where they won every race.”

“One other boat went to New York, and the other two local. I have been so busy working on other people’s equipment, that I have been barely able to get my own equipment ready for this season.”

Next week, military service, the indirect connection to Glenn Campbell and racing inboards. You will not want to miss part II in Episode 315.

1949 Ford trucks this week’s Photos of the Week

While getting my wife’s car aligned at Gerry’s Automotive in Caribou, I was perusing his stack of magazines when I happened upon an article in the September 2019 Motor Trend magazine. In the Then and Now section titled Motories Publica, they were comparing a 1949 Ford F1 pickup with the 2019 F-150 in celebration of the magazine’s 70th Anniversary.

I mentioned to the mechanic at Gerry’s, Vinnie Anderson, that when I was growing up on our Grimes Road farm we had three late 1940’s Ford trucks; one F1 pickup and two F6 Ford potato barrel body equipped trucks.

Vinnie mentioned that Scott England had one on his front lawn on display. I left and went to Scott’s home and took a picture of his 1949 Ford F6 truck which you can see is the identical model and despite the rusty patina the same red original paint color.

Scott England, Caribou, 1949 Ford F6 with optional COVID-19 facemask. (HTF Motorsports photo)

My 1949 Ford F6 with 239 Flathead V8. This was used to haul potato barrels on our farm. When I went to UMaine Orono my senior year, I brought it down to school haul my ice racer/autocross SAAB (another sad story). On Graduation Day, I loaded up all my earthly possessions and drove the track come to Caribou, no registration, license and two bald tires on the back. I used it to haul my stock car until the body broke due to rot. Future “Rat Rod” vintage sheet metal on rear of truck.(HTF Motorsports photo)

Let’s go racing,

Tom Hale

Soli Deo Gloria  (Zephaniah 3:17)



Tom Hale

About Tom Hale

Tom wrote 14 years as freelancer for the Bangor Daily Sports covering motorsports in Maine. Now blogging and concentrating on human interest stories about people and places in racing. He races Champ Karts and owns HTF Motorsports in remote Westmanland, Maine