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

Column By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WESTERLY, RI – Ten years ago in 2008, former champion Rick Fuller announced that he had retired from racing. Fuller, of Auburn, Mass., made his NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour debut in the series’ inaugural race on March 31, 1985 at Thompson (Conn.) International Speedway with a 13th place finish in the Icebreaker.

Ultimately, Thompson became the site of his last race when was caught up in an early accident and came home 30th in the No. 77 Toyota Certified Used Vehicles Modified in the Xtra Mart World Series on Oct. 19. Fuller compiled 20 wins, 145 top fives, 231 top 10s and 11 Coors Light Pole Awards in 439 career NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour starts. His win total ranks seventh in tour history.

The highlight of Fuller’s distinguished career was his championship season of 1993. A year after his brother, Jeff, had captured the title, Fuller strung together a win and 14 top 10s in 17 starts to finish 93 points ahead of Reggie Ruggiero for the crown. Fuller has become a color commentator for the Stafford Speedway telecasts seen on NESN.

Good news, many thought, came from the Waterford Speedbowl. Terry Eames announced that he would partner up with Shawn Monahan to operate the shoreline oval in 2009. Monahan raced at the Speedbowl since 1996. He owns and operates Critical Signs and Graphics, which is located next to the track on Route 85. In a prepared news release Eames also announced that Tom Fox who was the track’s Chief Tech Inspector in 2008 would have full authority over all aspects of the race program as Race Director. Track historian Sid DiMaggio would serve as a coordinator of multi-media and events.

Prior to Eames leasing the track to Jerry Robinson, Eames had all but run the facility into the ground. Robinson’s tenure looked to be the saving grace of the 1/3 mile oval but in 2008 things went from bad to worse. Competitors and fans were treated with disrespect plus competitors were held hostage as money owed them was held back.

Crowds at the shoreline oval had been way down in recent years when the track was under both Eames and Robinson. For the most part they never advertised the fact that there was racing going on at the track. No wonder the place was never more than 25% full! Both Stafford and Thompson advertise their events and both tracks have been rewarded with crowds that allow them to turn a profit. Unless the Speedbowl management changes their ways the track will just fade away.

It is ironic that Pete Zanardi and Dave Dykes had been given the boot, especially after these two individuals were responsible for keeping the Speedbowl afloat the previous two years under the Robinson regime and the two years previous to that when Eames ran the track.

A capacity crowd filled the historic Francis Farm banquet facility in Rehoboth, MA., Saturday night, November 15, as the True Value Modified Racing Series, presented it’s fifth annual Awards Banquet honoring drivers, car owners, and the 2008 series champion, Chris Pasteryak, Lisbon, CT.

Pasteryak, winner of two races, at Waterford and Seekonk, addressed the crowd from a well prepared and well delivered script that detailed what the season meant to him and his family. The second generation driver thanked his fiancé, family, friends, his sponsors, series sponsors, and TVMRS officials, for their support. His father, Charlie, and uncle, Carl, have been involved in modified racing since the mid-seventies. “I guess they didn’t know what they were getting into,” said the new champion.

Series founder Jack Bateman, joined by series officials and True Value representatives, Rick and Robin Tullock, made presentations to the top fifteen drivers and car owners as well as achievement awards in several categories. Sponsorship awards and the the 4th annual Bob Polverari “7-11” presentation were also part of the evenings festivities. Series announcer, John Spence Sr, hosted the event, with opening remarks focusing on a review of the 2008 season. Spence noted, “despite the just concluded campaign being tough economically for everyone, 61 different drivers were awarded points this year. All things considered, that’s not too bad.” Spence also recognized special guests and thanked media representatives for their continued support. Bateman recognized series officials for their hard work, professionalism, and dedication. He offered comment on each official pointing out their qualities and what they mean to the series. The tours officials have been lauded by fans, media, speedway management, and race teams, for the respect they show competitors, and their easy going manner. Bateman thanked track owners, series sponsors, participating New England True Value stores, New England Racing Fuels, Black Mountain Painting, Hoosier Tire East , SPAFCO Race Cars, Koszela Speed, Dart, UniFirst, Inside Track, Sherwood Racing Wheels, for their support. The series founder also spoke of a 16 race schedule, down from 19 this past season, with some adjustments and possible additions to be made to a tentative schedule already in place for 2009. The series will also assist in officiating the “open” race at Seekonk in July.

The 2008 “7-11” award, for professionalism on and off the track, was presented to Vinnie “WHO” Annarummo. The recipient was chosen by former winners, Bateman, Dwight Jarvis, and Ed Dachenhausen and the special plaque was presented by New England Hall of Famer, Bob Polverari. Service Award: Ray Legere. A race car owner/builder since the early 70’s, Legere, now a member of the series tech staff, joins Jarvis and Bateman as one of three original race car owners that remains with the series today. 2008 True Value Modified Racing Series Achievement Awards Recipients: Hoosier Tire East Award: (Presented By Bobby Summers) – Chris Pasteryak Black Mountain Painting Award: (Presented By Jack Bateman) – Kirk Alexander, Most Improved Driver: (Selected By Series Officials) – Shelly Perry, Touch Luck Award: (Selected By Series Officials) – Les Hinckley, Sportsmanship Award: (Selected By Series Officials) – 77 Gangsta Racing, Koszela Speed – Rookie of the Year: Kenny White Jr (presented by Peter Jarvis).

The New England Antique Racers added their Veteran’s Committee selections which would be included with the Annual New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame inductions in January. Open cockpit sensation Burt Brooks, stock car ace Harold ‘Hardluck’ Hannaford and car owner Bertha Small are the Veteran Committee selections. The trio will be inducted along with drivers John Fitch, Bobby Dragon and Paul Richardson, promoters Bob Bahre, Jim McConnell and Tom Curley and car owner/ builders Rollie Lindblad and Art Barry on Jan. 25, 2009 at LaRenaissance Banquet Hall in East Windsor, CT.

Still to be named were the Jack Ratta (Media) and Danny Pardi (Service) Memorial Award winners.

Carl Edwards led a race-high 157 laps, running out of gas as he crossed the finish line to win the NASCAR season-ending Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Still, his series-high ninth win of the year wasn’t enough to wrest away the Sprint Cup title. Jimmy Johnson locked up his third championship in a row with a solid 15th-place run, beating Edwards by 69 points to join Cale Yarborough as the only drivers in NASCAR history to win three straight titles.

Carl Edwards also won the season-ending Ford 300 on Saturday night, but came up 21 points short in his attempt to overtake Clint Bowyer for the NASCAR Nationwide Series championship. All Bowyer had to do to keep Edwards from winning a second straight title in the second-tier series was finish in the top eight. He did that easily, taking fifth to stay on top of the standings, right where he has been most of the year despite winning only one of 35 races. Edwards wrested the lead from Kyle Busch late in the race and stayed out front to the end of the 200-lap event at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He earned his seventh Nationwide victory and kept Busch from recording a record 11th series win.

Five years ago in 2013, The 2013 racing season had wound down in the northeast. The only event remaining was the Thanksgiving weekend Turkey Derby at the Wall Stadium in New Jersey.

Auto Racing trade publication Area Auto Racing News compiled a list of the top feature winners in the Northeast. Sitting at the top of the list was Keith Rocco who had 31 wins to his credit. Rocco, who finished third nationally in NASCAR’s All American Series, won the SK Modified and Late Model track championships at the Waterford Speedbowl plus the Sunoco {SK Modified} championship at the Thompson Speedway, won 19 Modified features and 12 Late Model features. Second, third and fourth on the win list were dirt track racers Stewart Friesan with 25 wins, Matt Sheppard with 22 wins and Gene Knaub with 20 wins. Tied for fifth, overall is NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Series champion Ryan Preece and dirt tracker Ricky Elliot, each with 18 wins. Woody Pitkat, who is the 2013 Sunoco (SK Modified) at Thompson, has four wins for the season.

The clocks continued to tick on the well being of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Series. The statement by Ed Flemke Jr leads one to believe that he would no longer be a regular competitor once the season begins in 2014. At 58 years of age, Flemke knew his best days as a competitor were behind him. In 14 events in 2013 he scored only two top tens. A tour loyalist since its inception in 1985, Flemke has 17 career wins to his credit in 439 starts. Don King is his car owner but in reality King only ownes the equipment. Flemke is the driver, team manager and chief in charge of maintenance and repair. In 2013 there were 18 cars that ran the full schedule of 14 events. Based on the fact that the Hill 79 was all done plus the fact that the Wayne Darling owned No.52 would run a partial schedule meant that the tour would have 15 regulars if they were lucky. In addition Mike Stefanik had yet to make a decision as to what his plans would be for 2014. Despite it all NASCAR felt that the Modifieds were just fine. They still put on the best competition and NASCAR said that there is nothing wrong. Is this the start of an obituary for NASCAR”s oldest division? The answer, sorry to say, it is!

On a positive note, the Riverhead Raceway on the east end of Long Island would host the Whelen Modified Tour on June 28 and September 13.

In some good news, construction had started at the site of the Canadian Motor Speedway, a $400 million project just across the Canadian border in Fort Erie. Officials held a small, unofficial groundbreaking event, as construction crews started preliminary site work on the speedway property just off the QEW.

The project was designed by 4-time Sprint Cup NASCAR Champion Jeff Gordon. The large complex calls for a 3/4 mile oval track, a road course, hotel, restaurants, retail, lots of parking, and even a motor sport research and development center.

NASCAR wound up the 2014 season for the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series at Homestead, Fl. Sprint Cup regular Brad Keselowski won the NASCAR Nationwide Series season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, moving up 10 spots in the closing few laps to give an otherwise typical race a wild and wacky finish. Rookie Kyle Larson finished second, followed Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth and Trevor Bayne.

Austin Dillon, won the Nationwide Series title in the famed No. 3 of Richard Childress and by three points. Denny Hamlin salvaged something from an otherwise forgettable year by holding off Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Jr. and winning the Sprint Cup finale. Jimmie Johnson staked his claim as one of the most dominant competitors Sunday by winning his sixth Sprint Cup title in eight years.

Last year, 2017, The northeast Modified season wound up at the Wall Stadium in New Jersey with the Annual Turkey Derby on Friday and Saturday. Great fall weather brought out a packed house and an overflow of cars in the pit area at the track that was patterned after the Lonsdale Arena in Rhode Island.

The big news to come out of the Jersey shore track is the fact that Matt Hirschman didn’t win. Hometown favorite Jimmy Blewett did! Blewett started on the pole of the 150 lap event and led all but three laps of the wreck marred event. Local favorites Andrew Krause was second and Ron Frees was third to complete an all Jersey podium for the event. Invader Ryan Preece was fourth. Kyle Elwood came back from being 2 laps down to a great 5th place finish. Blewett put an asterisk on the day as he also won the 100 lap SK type event and the Limited Late Model event.

NASCAR has released the 2018 schedule for the Whelen Modified Tour. The season opens at South Carolina’s Myrtle Beach Speedway in March, and the schedule will feature 16 championship points races at nine different venues One of the high points of the season would be the longest distance race in tour history as the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour would take center stage at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in September for a 250-lap showdown.
In addition to Myrtle Beach and New Hampshire, the tour will make four stops at Thompson, and three at Stafford plus two races at Long Island’s Riverhead Raceway, as well as return trips to New York’s Oswego Speedway and Virgina’s Langley Speedway in Hampton.

New London-Waterford Speedbowl general manager George Whitney announced that the track lease has been renewed for another season and that plans for the 2018 are well under way and are rolling along at full speed. Many of the personnel who made the 2017 a success will be back in the same roles for 2018.

“Chris Forster will be back as race director for our Saturday programs and Bill Roberts will return as race director for Wild and Wacky Wednesdays,” Whitney said. “We are glad to have them back.”

Plans for improvements to the facility were also in the works. “Construction on the new grandstands will begin after the first of the year,” Whitney said.
The schedule already has been announced for the 2018 Blast-Off Weekend on May 5 and May 6, The Blast-off will feature 14 divisions — all of the Speedbowl weekly series, plus several touring series, including the Modified Racing Series, the NEMA Midgets, the NEMA Lites and the Pro-4 Modifieds.

Despite the fact that the Valenti Modified Racing Series receives competition from other racing series the overall health of the series is good. The VMRS conducted its annual off-season team meeting recently at the Stafford Motor Speedway’s banquet hall to discuss a multitude of items ahead for the 2018 racing season. One of the hottest items on the table was the unveiling of the 2018 season schedule.

While the schedule is still subject to change, the VMRS is set to run 16 races at nine different tracks in 2018. The start of the season is one of the major additions as the VMRS will open at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park on the Saturday of Icebreaker weekend, April 7. Monadnock Speedway returns to the schedule after a hiatus in 2016 with the series running three races on the ¼ mile high banks on April 21, July 7, and August 25. The New London-Waterford Speedbowl will also feature a triple appearance by the The New London-Waterford Speedbowl will also feature a triple appearance by the MRS with dates set for May 4, August 11, and September 15. Both Stafford Motor Speedway and Lee USA Speedway will each host two MRS events in 2018, with the Series heading to Stafford on May 18 and August 31, while Lee USA welcomes in the series July 27 and on Oktoberfest weekend October 6.

Next season will feature a brand new track for the Series as the MRS is poised to head to Maine’s Wiscassett Speedway for the first time in many years. The race date at Wiscassett will be announced at a later time. As previously announced back in October, the MRS will participate in the second New England Short Track Showdown at New Hampshire Motor Speedway June 23 and 24. Two northern tracks return to the calendar for 2018 with New Hampshire’s Speedway 51 on June 16 and Beech Ridge Motor Speedway in Maine on August 4.The MRS will wind up the season on the Saturday of World Series weekend at Thompson on October 13.