Castagneto’s boat-building, racing pursuits delayed by Army service in Vietnam

Episode 315

May 10. 2020

Joining the Army and Vietnam bound

When we left Larry Castagneto in last week’s episode, he was building boats during his co-op time for Northeastern University. During the ten week term he built 5 Casta Craft race boats. He had very little time to get his equipment ready which turned out to be okay since time with Uncle Sam’s Army would be a big part of the summer of 1964.

I did find it neat that Northeastern allowed the young engineering major to build his own boats and not intern in an engineering company. Castagneto must have presented a well thought out argument allowing him to spend time working on the race boats of his own design. Makes sense to me!

In a report by Castagneto in 1964 he told about his immediate plans saying, ” I graduate June 14th (major Civil Engineering), and June 20th I go to Fort Devens for six weeks summer camp for my commission. October 14th will start active duty for two years, so I hope to get in a few races between August 1st and October 14th. I hope to go to the west coast for duty, so I might be able to start up again out there…Army willing!”

After getting done at Fort Devens, Castagneto reported to Fort Belvoir, Virginia for engineer training. Fort Jackson, Columbia, South Carolina was his final stop before getting shipped to Vietnam.

While in South Carolina in December, Larry and a friend rented a shop and produced three racing boats before getting shipped out.

His primary mission was to build up the Province Hospital in Pleiku located in the Central Highlands of Vietnam about 30 miles from Cambodia. In a letter to the Melrose Free Press dated March 10, 1966, Castagneto described Pleiku weather as “perfect”. Night time temperatures were about 50 at night with mid-day temperatures in the mid-80’s.

While waiting six weeks for equipment at Nka Tiang near the coast, He remarked,”We spent most  of our time at the beach, surfing and swimming. It isn’t all jungles and rice paddies over here.”

While in Pleiku his job was to rehabilitate the Province Hospital which consisted of several old dirty Quonset huts, some with dirt floors. They were given four buildings previously occupied by the Vietnamese Special Forces directly across the street from current hospital.

“Conditions are unbelievable, but after being here awhile understandable”, said the young Army lieutenant. “When I speak of a hospital over here, any similarity to any back in the United States ends at the red cross on the gate outside.”

Part of his job was to pry money out of the hands of various agencies which he described was like pulling teeth. His team put up screening, installed plumbing, painted, washed, installed electricity in the soon to be hospital buildings. “So far I’ve been lucky and things are progressing nicely,” commented Castagneto.

“About the most satisfying experience so far, has been my association with Chieu Hoi Center, from which I draw most of my labor forces,” said Lieutenant Castagneto. Chieu Hois are rehabilitated Viet Cong, who have returned with their families and given work and settled by the government. These guys work like mad and never complain-give them a paint brush and just stand back!”

“I have been picking them up each day in my Jeep. That doesn’t sound so amazing, but when you consider 11 of them and myself in one Jeep it gets pretty funny.”

“This might give you a little less heroic side of the war, gut that is the only aspect that I have contact with; I should have brought a hammer and saw instead of the shotgun and .38!”

Back home; building and racing again

“When I got back from Vietnam in late 1966, I quickly built two new boats for myself, as prototypes for Casta Craft. I had to actually break ice to test the second boat,” remembered Larry. “I think that the shop burned down in August of ’70 and I only built a couple of boats for myself after that.”

Larry Castagneto captures the new Wilson Trophy at year one of the three year quest at Lake Maranacook in Winthrop, Maine in 1967. He also took the “D” Stock Hydro class at the regatta sponsored by the Winthrop Lions Club. He intended to return again the next two years after retiring the first Wilson Trophy in 1966. Unfortunately that did not occur. (LaVallee Photos)

CastaCraft 1967 price list with the various boats produced and their cost unfinished and finished. Note the 1967 version of the D-Stock Hydro was $425 and weighed 145 pounds. If you look closely in the upper right hand portion of the sales brochure is a picture of Castagneto racing a D-Stock Hydro. (Courtesy Larry Castagneto, CastaCraft)

New England Inboard Racing Association (NEIRA) founded

In 1974 Castagneto took on the challenge of developing an inboard racing group in the New England area. He along with Ware, Massachusetts’ Harrison Quirk put on about four races per year from 1974-1978. To pursue national championships would have required that he spend more time outside the New England area in order to attend points races. He did win a regional championship the first season of racing with the NEIRA.

Brochure produced by Castagneto and Ware advertising their fledgling inboard boat racing association. The series ran from 1974 to 1978. (Castagneto Collection)

Castagneto never did garner any  more national championships since the fire at Pigeon Hollow Spar Company in East Boston in 1970. He built Casta Craft boats in the upstairs area of the 100 foot X 50 foot shop. From that point on he built boats in his basement. The size of the 145 Class boats made it very tricky to get them out of the basement into the light of day. (Castagneto Collection)

In 1961 when he received the Gulf Marine Hall of Fame Award in Alabama Castagneto was on stage with the owner of the original Red Top 145 Class boat. Little did he know that 15 years later he would be the owner/driver of that same boat in the newly formed New England Inboard Racing Association and doing well. In this photo he is at West Thompson Lake in Thompson, Connecticut. Note the bulge in front of the driver. This is where the Ford Pinto 2.0 liter OHC  engine was located. Castagneto noted that it was the only time the engine in his boat was the same as in his car, a Pinto wagon.(Ginny Holladay photo)

The Pigeon:Campbell connection

Hoisting aloft the huge Wilson Trophy after winning it at the 1967 Lake Maranacook Regatta sponsored by the Winthrop Lions Club is Larry Castagneto. On the left is Don Pigeon who helped Castagneto and raced with him for many years. Pigeon’s boat, built by Casta Craft in 1961 and raced by Castagneto to a National Championship in “D” Stock Hydro was bought by Pigeon and after racing it two years sold to Glenn Campbell whose story was told in Episode #308 (March 22, 2020) Episode #309 (March 29, 2020) and Episode # 310 (April 5, 2020). That boat was recently restored by Campbell who owns it today. (LaVallee photo)

The Record

This is an attempt to compile the racing record of Larry Castagneto who began racing in 1955 and retired from racing in 1980.

1959—B-Stock and C-Stock Outboard Runabout classes

1960—B-Stock and C-Stock Outboard Runabout  classes

1961—B-Stock Outboard Runabout class

1961—Elected to the Gulf Marine Hall of Fame

1961—Recipient of the John & Flora Bank Trophy for scoring the highest number of points in any one class of the American Powerboat Association Stock Outboard class

1962—B-Stock and C-Stock Outboard Runabout classes

1962—D-Stock Hydro class

1962—Established a new straightaway world kilometer record 61.02 mph in C-Stock Utility at Guntersville, Alabama

1962—Elected to the All American Racing Team

1963—C-Stock Runabout and D-Stock Hydro classes

1974—NEIRA Regional Points championship

1980—Retired from racing. Built a total of around 40 race boats

Get a real job

After the big fire at Pigeon Hollow Spar Company in 1970, Castagneto decided to get a regular job to support his family. Boat building and racing took on a less prominent role in his life. Utilizing his Civil Engineering degree and military background, he applied for a Construction Management job with the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA) in Boston.

It took almost a year to get the MBTA job. In the meantime he worked on outboards and such at a friends shop not too far from his home in Littleton.

When he was hired by the MBTA in 1971. ” They had started a new Station Modernization Program and they needed construction managers”, said Castagneto.” Ultimately I got the job and stayed with their Construction Department for twenty three years before retiring in early 1990s. I worked for a consultant to the MBTA for two more years,but decided I’d had enough.”

He resides at his home in Littleton, Massachusetts adjacent to Fort Pond where he tried out may of his racing boats. “My retirement years are spent hunting, fishing, skiing, working on houses, and doing non-work related things–retirement things.”

I have enjoyed getting acquainted with all of the boat racers I have written about over the span of the last eight episodes. I hope to meet several over the course of my travels in the Post-Covid era. Thanks to all of them.

All-Electric Mustang Cobra Jet

I have had an interest in electric cars since my FFA /Agriculture students and I built an Electrathon racer. This car was slightly larger than a typical race kart and built to specifications of Electrathon America. It was powered by 24 volt battery pack which had to last one hour. The electrathon team that went the greatest distance in one hour was declared the winner.

In late February/early March 1996, four students (Jesse Michaud, Travis Ouellette, Gavid Genthner, and driver Matt Buck) and I raced that Electrathon car at what was then known as Firebird International Raceway in Chandler, Arizona (now Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park). This was part of the EV Nationals which included collegiate Formula E grand prix races, EV drag races, as well as EV auto show.

One thing that impressed me was the near silence of the drag cars as they raced down the track. Only the whirl of the motor and screech of the tires were audible. The speeds were quite impressive considering the technology of the day. Oh by the way, the caribou Technology Center team placed fourth in the high school division.

The new all electric Mustang sports 1,400 horsepower and 1,000 foot pounds of torque with a projected ET of low 8 seconds and 170 mph top speed in the 1/4 mile. (Ford Performance photo)

The new Ford Mustang EV Cobra Jet caught my eye and earned its place in “Car of the Week” section. It would be interesting to see what the Mustang would do at the Loring Timing Association events in the mile and 1 1/2 mile. Bring ’em up Ford Performance.

Holler wedding video certainly unique

You have read about Garrett and Heather Holler multiple times in past episodes of UpNorth Motorsports. You may remember they were living in Appleton, Vermont until last fall when the moved to the Charlotte, North Carolina area to pursue their automotive dreams.

You may remember that Heather worked as a freelance mechanic for DirtFish Rally racing headquartered in Snoquaimie, Washington. When she and Garrett were planning their wedding, they asked the folks at DirtFish if the might get married at the headquarters. September 4, 2019 their dream became a reality.

Following is a short film shot by Trevor Wert and edited by Kylie Doebler about what I consider one of the most unique weddings I have viewed.

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