Raoul "Woodsie" Castonguay was an established hillclimb racer who switched his focus to flat-track when the AMA created Class C racing in 1934. Castonguay went on to become the first-ever National Class C Champion in 1935 and continued to be one of the top racers in the sport throughout the 1930s. He was especially dominant in Class A speedway racing, similar to today's short-track events.
Raoul "Woodsie" Castonguay was born in Fall River, Massachusetts, in 1908. His uncle was the famous board track racing star Jake De Rosier. Uncle Jake’s career as a factory racer for the Indian Motocycle Company made a big impression on the Castonguay family. Raoul was only about 5 years old when De Rosier died in a racing accident, but Raoul and his older brother, Wilfred, whose nickname was "Frenchy," were greatly influenced by their uncle’s fame and importance to the Indian racing program.
Motorcycles were a way of life in the Castonguay family. Woodsie’s father, Napoleon Castonguay, rode a motorcycle to work just to save money on gas and tires. In 1923, when Woodsie was 15, he began riding an Indian Sidevan delivering airmail to and from the local airport. His job with the Air Mail Service lasted until 1926, when Woodsie got a job at the Crandall and Hicks Indian dealership in a suburb of Boston. It was then that he purchased his first motorcycle, a 1926 Scout, on the installment plan.
In 1928, Castonguay answered the call for competition and entered his first hillclimb meet. He and Frenchy both competed regularly on weekends at Marlboro and Worcester, Massachusetts, for the next two years. By 1931, Woodsie had earned Amateur status in the AMA racing program.
He journeyed to Oakland, California, and won the National Amateur Hillclimb Championship in late 1931. The Indian factory people took note of his success, and when he took his Expert ticket in 1933, they offered him a place on their racing team.
Woodsie began riding a factory-designed, overhead-cam model for the new season. In his first ride at Enfield, Connecticut, he broke all the pro records in the overhead-cam competition. During the 1933 season, Woodsie and his brother, Frenchy, chalked up a total of 75 National Hillclimb wins, competing throughout New England as well as in Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania. Some of their records still stand. His favorite hillclimb victory was winning the National in California in 1931 as an Amateur, and his most memorable win in this category of competition was at Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, in 1933.
"My little 45-cubic-inch Scout beat all of those pros with their big overhead-cam engines that day," he said. His biggest competitor in hillclimb was Joe Petrali.
In 1934, after the AMA established the new Class C racing program, Castonguay purchased a new 45-cubic-inch Indian Scout at Fritzie Baer’s Springfield, Massachusetts, Indian dealership, stripped it down for dirt-track competition, and began winning races at tracks all over New England. He also competed in speedway, a race similar to today’s short track. Speedway bikes were rated as Class A machines and burned alcohol. The only restriction was a displacement limit of 500cc.
Woodsie’s speedway racer was a British J.A.P. He raced speedway all over the Northeast, including the city racetracks at North Haven and Hartford, Connecticut, Albany, New York and his home base, Springfield, Massachusetts. It was in these speedway races that he went head-to-head against Babe Tancrede, a star Harley-Davidson racer from Woonsocket, Rhode Island. Woodsie’s speedway exploits earned him the soubriquet "The Springfield Express," tagged on him by Bob Steele, the track PA announcer at Hartford, Connecticut.
By 1935, Woodsie’s skill as a dirt tracker really began to emerge. On September 15, he won the very first 100-lap Langhorne Mile. Championship racing at Springfield, Illinois did not begin until 1937. In 1935 the AMA had selected the Langhorne, Pennsylvania, mile track as the first National Class C Championship site. By winning that race, Woodsie Castonguay was proclaimed as the first-ever National Class C Champion.
The 1936 racing season saw Woodsie emerge as one of the top racers in dirt track competition. He began the season by winning at Richmond, Virginia. From there he returned to New England and proceeded to take three half-mile wins, including the half-mile state championships for Vermont and Massachusetts and another for Worcester County. He then journeyed to Trenton, where he won the New Jersey State 10-Mile title. During the rest of the summer, Castonguay won three titles including the New England Championship for the three-, five- and eight-mile distances.
In 1936 and 1937, Woodsie also took two New England Speedway Championships, the first at Pynchon Park in Springfield, Massachusetts. On October 12, 1937, he nailed down his second at Bulkeley Stadium in Hartford, Connecticut. Because of this win, Woodsie was awarded a silver cup for earning the most points in the 1937 season. This cup, Woodsie’s most prized possession, was crafted by Tiffany, the famed New York City jewelry firm.
In 1938, Woodsie competed at Atlanta, Georgia and went on to win the Tri State in Columbus, Ohio. His next major race win was the Milwaukee Mile. Castonguay ended the 1938 season by entering and winning his second National Class C Championship at the Illinois State Fairgrounds by setting a new record time in the Springfield Mile. This win also gave him the honor of placing the number one on his racebike for the next season. The coveted number one plate issued by the AMA was evidence to all that Castonguay was top rider in the whole country a second time.
Despite his success at dirt track, including his two National Championships, Woodsie always maintained that he liked speedway racing best. He enjoyed competing at Pynchon Park, the home speedway track in Springfield the most. In dirt track, his favorite racetrack was the half-mile at Richmond, Virginia. Woodsie always said that his greatest racing competitors were Harley Davidson stars Ben Campanale and Babe Tancrede. He also enjoyed competing with fellow Indian racing star Ed Kretz.
He said his biggest overall thrill was winning the first National Championship at Langhorne. Woodsie’s last race was the Daytona 200 in 1950. He raced one of the new Model 648 Big Base Scouts and finished in eighth place. He was 42 years old.
In 1939, Louis Biscaldi had asked Woodsie to join him in a partnership. The two men purchased an Indian Dealership in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Woodsie remained in this business relationship for nine years, until parts shortages and similar setbacks created by demands of the war effort durinjg World War II weakened the business to the degree that in 1948 he sold his interest. At that point, he went to work at the Indian factory, where he became a foreman in the repair department in Springfield. He continued in that position until 1953, when the Indian factory closed.
After the demise of Indian, Castonguay secured a job at the R.E. Phelon Company in East Longmeadow, Massachusetts, and worked in the machine shop at Phelon Magneto in support of the company’s research and development efforts. Woodsie retired in 1978 at age 70 after 25 years with the Phelon Company.
Castonguay was a charter member of Fritzie Baer’s Roamers Motorcycle Club and was heavily involved in this organization for many years. He received several honors in later years, including being recognized for major contributions to the sport of motorcycling by the Yankee Chapter of the Antique Motorcycle Club of America in 1987. Also in 1987, he was elected Grand Marshall of the Gold Cup Mile National at Syracuse, New York. In 1988, Castonguay received the Indian Motorcycle Museum Hall of Fame medal. Most of his trophies are on display at Springfield museum. Woodsie assisted in the restoration of many of the motorcycles that are curently on display at the museum.
Castonguay died on January 4, 1990, at age 82. He was survived by his wife of many years, Alice Oliver Castonguay, and his daughter, Jean.