RPW Exclusive: Looking Back A Bit With Phil Smith – The Third Week Of November

Column By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WESTERLY, RI – Ten years ago in 2008, At the Waterford Speedbowl the Hartford Courant reported that Terry Eames would be legally rid of Jerry Robinson on November 30 and that he would be taking an active part in running the shoreline oval in 2009.

Eames, who had also had his share of financial problems, leased the track to Robinson for the 2007 season and from the beginning of the season the track had been on a downhill slide. Since Eames purchased the track in 2000. He had not been good at paying his bills and has had foreclosure problems of his own and ended up selling off some of the property the track was located on in order to avoid foreclosure.

Eames also told the Courant that he may bring on other individual investors in an operational capacity, but that his own personal involvement in the operations of the facility would be part of any agreements made.

In the mean time competitors who raced in the season ending Fall Finale on October 5 had still not been paid. Both Robinson and his race director Steve Harraka had lied to competitors about holding off on delivering purse payouts. NASCAR did nothing to help competitors their just due!

The 6th Annual John Blewett III Memorial North-South Shootout took place at the Concord Motorsports Park in North Carolina. The mighty Modifieds took center stage. They were joined by SK Modifieds, Vintage Modifieds, Rolling Thunder cars, Vintage Sportsman and EastWest Supermodifieds

Forty two Modifieds from both the North and the South along with over 30 SK type Modifieds were on hand. Southerner Burt Myers, who had a win stripped away at Martinsville over a technical issue redeemed himself as he became the first southerner to win the 125 lap Tour type Modified portion of the North-South Shootout. Myers overtook Matt Hirschman with four laps to go and never looked back. Hirschman, who stated that his tires were all but worn out, managed to hang on for the runner-up spot. Ronnie Silk in the southern based Hillbilly Racing entry of Roger and Sandra Hill finished third. Ted Christopher and Bobby Santos III rounded out the top five. Sixth through tenth were George Brunnhoelzl III, Jason Myers, Glen Reen, Chuck Hossfeld and Rusty Smith. It was a sweep for Myers who also earned the DMC Pole Award with his fast lap of 15.238 seconds. Myers also earned an impressive $11,280 in cash and prizes for the victory.

Erick Rudolph laid down an impressive lap to start on the outside of the front row. He capitalized on his starting position to lead the opening laps taking the defending champion Matt Hirschman along for the ride. Rudolph continued to lead Hirschman, Myers, George Brunnhoelzl III, and Ted Christopher through the first caution on lap 19 for a spin by Daren Scherer. On the ensuing restart, Hirschman was able to catapult into the lead while Myers faded back slightly. During a green flag run, Hirschman began to pull away from the field. Ryan Preece made his first appearance inside the top five. The second yellow flag of the event flew for an incident that involved Carl Pasteryak, Pete Brittain, and Rick Kluth. Green flag racing was short-lived when a spin by Gene Pack brought out the third caution of the event. Under the caution, a handful of teams headed to pit road for the mandatory pit stop including Hirschman, Rudolph, Brunnhoelzl, Christopher, Preece, Beers, and a host of others. Myers, Jimmy Blewett, Ronnie Silk, and Les Hinckley made up the top five of the running order after the pit stops. After another quick caution, Myers and Blewett swapped the lead back and forth. The battle for the lead allowed Silk to catch the lead duo. Bobby Santos III had worked his way into the top-five.

The teams struggled near lap 47 when a host of cautions slowed the field. The likes of Eddie Flemke, Jr. and Charlie Pasteryak were involved in separate incidents. On the second attempt at a restart, Blewett got out of shape slightly. As the field checked up a number of cars stacked up on the front stretch including Rowan Pennink, Todd Szegedy, and Chris Whitenight, Jr. Woody Pitkat. Glenn Reen, and Earl Paulus, were also involved. When green flag racing resumed Myers continued to lead Silk and Christopher. Hirschman got around Santos to rejoin the top-five once again. Myers was beginning to stretch out his lead while Christopher and Hirschman were both getting racy at this stage of the event. Brunnhoelzl came back to life as well. As the race approached halfway, Myers enjoyed a five-car length advantage over Silk, who had little breathing room back to Christopher. Hirschman was a distance back in fourth. Eric Beers was using the high groove in an effort to get to Brunnhoelzl and Santos. Myers meticulously motored his way through lapped traffic to maintain his comfortable lead. The remainder of the top-five now ran nose-to-tail. Myers had yet to make his pit stop that was required between laps 30-110. The caution flew on lap #98 when Santos spun in turn four. The caution allowed Myers the opportunity to head to pit road. He was joined by Silk, Szegedy, Rusty Smith and others. With the stop, Hirschman had inherited the top spot. The ensuing restart meant problems for another front runner Christopher, who spun in turn one. After a false start, Hirschman was able to jump out to the lead over Preece and Beers. Preece lost a quick battle for the second spot. Beers began to run down Hirschman. It looked for a while that it might be a repeat of last year’s finish with the Northampton, PA residents running at the front. There was a scary moment at lap 104 when the Hillbilly Racing teammates Silk and Flemke split Southern Whelen Modified Tour champion Brian Loftin to make it three-wide exiting turn four. All three cars came through the corner unscathed. Myers, meanwhile, was picking his way back to the front of the pack. He passed his brother Jason, then Flemke, and Brunnhoelzl to find the top-five. Myers’ march to the front continued by taking the fourth spot from Silk. He immediately erased the distance between himself and Preece. Just as quickly he disposed of Preece. With only four laps remaining, the field was single file with Hirschman at the helm. Beers was losing ground to Hirschman while Myers continued to gain it. The caution flew on lap 118 when contact dislodged one of the foam blocks placed on the track for safety. Ryan Preece watched his great run come to an end when he headed to pit road for fuel. A spin by Flemke forced another caution in the event.

With two laps remaining, Hirschman lined up ahead of Beers, Myers, Silk, and Brunnhoelz. Beers faltered on the restart giving way to Myers and others. With the crowd on their feet, Myers got a great run to move ahead of Hirschman to take the lead. The enthusiasm could not quell even when the 13th and final caution flew when the #9 of Beers stalled on the front stretch. Myers pulled away on the final restart to streak under the checkers as the 2008 North-South Shootout champion

The SK type 50 lapper was a slam-bang affair that took over two hours to run. Once the dust finally settled thousands of dollars in damages claimed a good portion of the event. Ted Christopher was the winner with Jimmy Blewett finishing second. Blewett made hard contact during a restart on lap 48. Blewett said that Christopher brake checked him and Christopher claimed that Blewett intentionally rammed him because he couldn’t go around to pass. Needless to say, both were mad at each other but at least they didn’t wreck. Steven Reed finished third with Tom Farrell III and Doug Coby rounding out the top five. It took several attempts to get the 50-lapper underway. A multi-car accident in turn three that involved Mike Carpenter, Henry Stampfl, Shaun Carrig, Ryan Preece and others required the first of two complete restarts. On the second attempt at a start, contact between Kenny Horton and Steven Reed sent Horton spinning and the caution flag flying once again. Jeffrey Earnhardt, making his SK-Type Modified debut, was also involved. With green flag racing finally underway, pole sitter Ronnie Silk showed the way with Reed in tow. Cravenho pressured Christopher for third while Jimmy Blewett and Ron Yuhas, Jr. jockeyed for position. A pass on lap five put Christopher at the head of the field.

Keith Rocco, who had started scratch on the field after missing qualifying to attend the early portion of the NASCAR All-American Series banquet, found himself comfortably inside the top ten and making fast tracks to the top-five. His progress was slowed when Richard Schwartz and Michael Carpenter where involved in an incident on lap seven to bring out the caution again. On lap 9, Rocco was able to make his way passed Yuhas and set sail for Cravenho for third. Up front Christopher continued to chase Silk. Sparks began to fly between Rocco and Cravenho as they battled for position. The two made contact. Yuhas went low to move by both competitors; however, contact with Cravenho sent Yuhas hard into the outside wall. Cravenho was sent to the tail end of the field for his involvement. Doug Coby was on the move after a lap 16 restart taking the fourth spot from Eric Beers, aboard the TS Haulers #5. Jimmy Blewett was also making his way to the front. Blewett passed Tommy Farrell to take over the fifth spot. While battling for the second position with Silk, Rocco watched his bid for victory end in the turn two wall. Silk was penalized for his involvement. The running order at halfway found Christopher leading Coby, Beers, Blewett, and Farrell.

Things settled down for a portion of the event with Coby taking chase of Christopher through lapped traffic. With only four laps remaining Farrell spun exiting turn four. Christopher watched his sizeable lead disappear with the yellow. Beers encountered mechanical problems falling off the pace on the final restart. Christopher was able to pull away from Coby. Blewett made his move after the restart to grab second from Coby. A scary looking incident that involved Gary Young, Jr. and Marc Nappi slowed the event with only two laps remaining. Christopher was up to the challenge on the final restart to take the victory in the 50 lap main event. Blewett settled for second. Steven Reed also earned a podium finish. Farrell recovered from an early incident to finish fourth. Coby fell back to fifth at the checkers. Horton also rebounded nicely to finish sixth. Reed received the RH2Way bonus as the highest finishing driver to compete in only the SK-Type Modified division. With lap money and contingency sponsorships, Christopher earned $4,890.

Dave McKnight of Brampton, Ontario, Canada, scored the victory in the 2nd Annual East-West Supermodified Shootout. His efforts earned him a cool $4,590 in cash and prizes.

In NASCAR Sprint Cup action, Jimmie Johnson moved inches away from his record-tying third consecutive Cup championship with a dominating victory at Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale, Ariz., where he led a race-high 217 of the 313 laps to deflate Carl Edwards’ title hopes. Johnson needed only to finish 36th or better in the season finale at Homestead to join Cale Yarborough (1976-78) as the only drivers in NASCAR history to win three straight Cup titles. The win was his third straight at Phoenix, and had fourth-place finisher Edwards on the edge of conceding. Johnson started from the pole but gave way on the first lap to Jamie McMurray, who finished third. He didn’t take the lead until lap 81, but was not challenged from there. Kurt Busch made a brief run in the closing laps but settled for second.

Some fans were denied watching the finish when, as an 18-minute red flag came to an end, ABC bailed out on the final laps and dumped the Sprint Cup telecast to ESPN2 so ABC could get to the last half-hour of an episode of “America’s Funniest Videos?”

Carl Edwards won the Nationwide Series Hefty Odor Block 200 at Phoenix International Raceway for his sixth win of the season. Denny Hamlin was second and Kevin Harvick third. Points leader Clint Bowyer bounced back from a mid-race accident to finish fourth. There were 9 cautions for 41 laps and 6 lead changes between 6 leaders.

Five years ago in 2013, Asphalt Modified drivers from the North and South converged on the Caraway Speedway in North Carolina last weekend for the 11th annual John Blewett III Memorial North/South Shootout. Twenty six Modifieds were on hand.

Matt Hirschman made it five out of 11 as he dominated the event from his pole starting position. Hirschman normally competes in the New York State based Race of Champions Tour. NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour regulars George Brunnhoelzl III was second with Andy Seuss, third. Conspicuous by there absence were competitors of the Whelen Modified Tour and Valenti Modified Racing Series teams.

Southern competitor Brian Loftin and Valenti Modified Racing regular Tommy Barrett rounded out the top five. Ron Silk and Cole Powell were the only representatives of the northern Modified Tour. Silk finished 10th and Powell, 14th.

Woody Pitkat had something to shoot for in 2014. His soon to be car owner Buzz Chew, a Long Island Chevy dealer made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. Said Pitkat,”Wow! I really do have the best car owner in the world. I was told if I win 4 races on the modified tour next year he will hand me over the keys to a brand new 2014 Chevy corvette ZO6!!! — with Billy the kid Power”.

In other Whelen Modified Tour Series news Todd Szegedy was given the boot from the Mike Smeriglio No.2. Rumor had it that Max Zachem was a prime candidate for the ride.

The big event this past weekend in New England was the 16th annual NEAR Hall of Fame Induction and Banquet. Drivers Stan Meserve, Brian Ross, Drew Fornoro, Ralph Nason, the late Bob Stefanik, Bill Eldridge and Bob Sharp along with car owner Ron Berndt were inducted on Sunday, Nov. 10 at the Lodge at Manelley’s located at 65 Rye Street in South Windsor, CT.

Hundreds of victories and dozens of championships comprised this year’s New England Auto Racers Hall of Fame class. It brings the membership to well over 115. Inductions are a result of a nomination/selection process that includes voting by a special selection committee and the living members of the Hall.

Peter Vander Veer, a standout auto racing writer for over 3-decades, received the 2013 Jack Ratta/Charlie Mitchell Award. The award memorializes two outstanding motor sports journalists – Ratta who wrote for the Manchester Union Leader and Mitchell, a sportswriter/editor for many years at the Norwalk (CT) Hour.

In some sad news former Waterford Speedbowl Champion Walt Dombrowski passed away along with Supermodified driver Jim Winks.

Kyle Busch picked up his 12th NASCAR Nationwide Series win of the season at the Phoenix International Raceway. Kevin Harvick was the Sprint Cup winner. Former Daytona 500 winner and Roush Fenway Racing driver Trevor Bayne was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

Last year, 2017, The Stafford Motor Speedway welcomed a guest list of nearly 450 people consisting of teams, drivers, sponsors, and employees this past Friday night, November 17 at Maneely’s in South Windsor to officially honor Keith Rocco, Glen Reen, Cory DiMatteo, Duane Provost, and Johnny Walker as the 2017 Stafford Motor Speedway NASCAR Whelen All-American Series track champions.

With Stafford Motor Speedway broadcaster Matt Buckler serving as the Masters of Ceremony, the 48th annual Stafford Motor Speedway NASCAR Champions Awards Ceremony not only honored the five track champions, they also recognized the top-10 points finishers from the SK Modified®, Late Model, SK Light, Limited Late Model, and DARE Stock divisions. Special awards that were presented during the evening’s festivities were Most Popular Driver Awards, NAPA Auto Parts Parts Rookie of the Year, R.A.D. Automachine Rookie of the Year, and the UNOH Youth Achievement Award.

Keith Rocco and the #88 Wheelers Auto team used a combination of consistency and clutch performances to take the title. Rocco began strong with 10 top-9 finishes but began to struggle in August and the beginning of September. Entering the final 2 races of the season, Rocco trailed Chase Dowling by 34 points. Rocco and the #88 team then rose to the occasion by winning the final 2 races to claim the championship by a 6 point margin over Dowling. For the season, the #88 team posted 2 wins, 9 top-5 and 15 top-10 finishes for an average finish of 5.8.

Glen Reen and the #31 LifeCare Family Chiropractic team were a model of consistency throughout the 2017 season en route to winning the championship. In 17 starts this season, Reen posted 16 top-7 finishes with his worst finish for the season an 11th place effort on Sept. 15. Despite not leading the Late Model division in wins, top-5s, or top-10s this year, Reen’s consistency carried him to the championship with Tom Fearn and Kevin Gambacorta tied for second, 8 points behind Reen. For the season, Reen and the #31 team posted 3 wins, 13 top-5, and 16 top-10 finishes and they finished on the podium in 10 of the 17 races.

Cory DiMatteo made the move from Legend Cars into SK Lights at Stafford for the 2017 season and he proved he was a quick study by winning the first 2 races of the season. DiMatteo used that early momentum to establish himself as a championship contender but several finishes outside the top-15 dropped him out of the points lead. DiMatteo spent much of the summer recovering lost points from his finishes outside the top-15 and he posted top-6 finishes in 11 of the final 12 races to erase his deficit to the point leaders and win the championship at the NAPA Fall Final with a 4th place finish. For the season DiMatteo posted 4 wins, 12 top-5s and 14 top-10s and he becomes the fourth rookie driver, joining Michael Gervais, Jr. in 2009, Matt Galko in 2010, and Jeremy Sorel in 2014 as rookie drivers who also won the SK Light championship.

While Duane Provost had a bit of luck and circumstance on his side last season in winning the Limited Late Model championship, he needed no such favors this season as he locked down a second consecutive track championship. Provost and the #88 Michael Facchini Law Firm team scored top-5 finishes in 16 of the 17 races this season with 3 wins. Provost scored back to back wins in early June and then won again on Sept. 15 to help cement his place at the top of the standings heading into the final 2 races of the season. For the season Provost scored 3 wins, 16 top-5s, and 16 top-10s.

After winning the DARE Stock championship in 2016, Johnny Walker and the #01 Dunleavy’s Truck & Trailer Repair team came back and put together one of the most dominant seasons in Stafford history in any division. After a loose steering wheel relegated him to a 12th place finish in the season opening NAPA Spring Sizzler feature event, Walker finished each of the remaining 16 races on the podium with 8 wins, 5 second place finishes, and 3 third place finishes. The 8 wins set a DARE Stock record for most wins in a season and Walker easily accumulated the highest point total of any driver at Stafford this season with 806 points over 17 races.

The NAPA Auto Parts Rookie of the Year awards were presented to Josh Wood from the SK Modified® division and Paul Arute from the Late Model division. Taking home R.A.D. Automachine Rookie of the Year honors were Cory DiMatteo in the SK Light division, Alexandra Fearn in the Limited Late Model division, and George Bessette, Jr. in the DARE Stock division. The NAPA Auto Parts rookie awards will be worth a $1,000.00 gift card redeemable at participating NAPA Stores to Wood and Arute, with DiMatteo, Fearn, and Bessette each winning a $500 bonus from R.A.D. Automachine that will be paid out in $100.00 weekly increments to each driver as they attend events during the 2018 season.

The winners of the Most Popular Driver Awards were Ted Christopher in the SK Modified® division, Tom Fearn in the Late Model division, Marcello Rufrano from the SK Light division, Alexandra Fearn from the Limited Late Model division, and Nicole Chambrello in the DARE Stock division. The Most Popular Driver Awards are voted on by the fans who attend Stafford Motor Speedway race events and fill out the ballots found in the track’s weekly PitStopper Magazine.

The UNOH Youth Achievement award was won by SK Light Modified driver Daniel Wesson for the second consecutive season. The UNOH Youth Achievement Award is a program that is open to all drivers at Stafford between the ages of 14-17. The eligible driver who scored the most track points from their best 14 finishes this season won a $500 cash award from UNOH as well as a $500 scholarship award from UNOH.

Matt Hirschman scored his 17th win of the season as he won a 125 lap Modified event at the Myrtle Beach speedway in South Carolina. Hirschman inherited the lead following a break at the 100 lap mark when previous leader Bob Measmer Jr was sent to the rear after he entered a closed pit. Jason Myers finished second and was followed by Measmer, Darea Scherer, Danny Bohn, Bert Myers and Timmy Solomito.

Cole Custer ended his rookie season on a high note by winning his first NASCAR XFINITY Series race Saturday at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The win for Custer during the Ford EcoBoost 300 is also the first win for the Stewart-Haas Racing XFINITY program.

Custer took the lead from Tyler Reddick early on in the first stage of the race and never looked back, leading 179 of the 200 laps. Championship contender Elliott Sadler finished eighth. After being passed by Byron with nine laps to go, Sadler made contact with Ryan Preece in turn three and four as Sadler tried to pass him. Sadler showed his frustration and things got heated, with Sadler getting in Preece’s face on pit road after the race. Preece was able to save his car after the contact with Sadler and finish fifth.

A few days prior to the Homestead event Joe Gibbs Racing announced that Preece would be a regular part of the rotating lineup in the team’s third NASCAR XFINITY Series entry in 2018 which means that Preece will share the ride with Monster Energy Cup Series drivers Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez. Preece will make at least 10 starts with the team in 2018.

Martin Truex Jr won his first Cup title by winning the finale at Homestead, beating Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski for the championship. The other three were former champions. Truex was the favorite.