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.”
“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.”
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.”
“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.”
“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 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.
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.
Let’s go racing,
Soli Deo Gloria (Zephaniah 3:17)