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

Column By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WESTERLY, RI – Thirty five years ago in 1983, Eddie Bohn won the 150 lap Turkey Derby. Tom Baldwin finished second with Corky Cookman, third. Rounding out the top five was Brian Ross and Tony Siscone.

Twenty five years ago in 1993 Ken Woolley was the overall winner of the Turkey Derby. The big block modifieds had been replaced by the small blocks.

Fifteen years ago in 2003, Jimmy Blewett won two of the three triple 50’s that made up the Turkey Derby of the Wall Stadium Speedway.

Ten years ago in 2008, Down on the New Jersey shore the Wall Township Speedway reopened for the annual Turkey Derby. Wall Township, modeled after the famed Lonsdale Arena Speedway in Rhode Island was silent throughout the 2008 season. The historic speedway received a good shot in the arm and had a successful event which hopefully leads to a grand reopening in 2009.

According to reports, Jimmy Blewett roughed up Matt Hirschman on lap 89 to take the lead which led to the 100 lap Tour Type Modified win. Hirschman, who was extremely unhappy with Blewett, finished second. Hirschman had attempted to run the 100 lap contest non-stop while Blewett elected to pit for fresh tires during the event. Steven Reed finished third and was followed by Earl Paules and Tom Rogers.

Blewett attempted to go two for two but ran out of time following a pit stop and a late race spin in the SK type 100 lapper. Blewett led from the drop of the initial green and was in control of the race until lap 69 when he pitted for fresh rubber. Restarting from the rear, Blewett worked his way up to second spot with nine laps to go when he spun out. Rowan Pennick took the win with Woody Pitkat, second and Bob Schultz, third. Blewett recovered to finish fourth.

Deemed a rousing success, the Turkey Derby was run with temperatures in the low 40’s. The grandstands, parking lot and pits were jammed. Cars were actually parked at the Monmouth Airport and fans were bussed to the track.

Five years ago in 2013, The 2013 racing season had wound down in the northeast. The Thanksgiving weekend Turkey Derby at the Wall Stadium Speedway in New Jersey wrapped it up. This year marked the 40th running of the Turkey Derby at the Jersey shore oval. Saturday dawned clear, crisp and cold. For the tour type Modified portion of the Derby there were 30 cars. All took time on the high banked oval with Matt Hirschman the fastest as he toured the one third mile oval in 11.85 seconds.

New Jersey runner Danny Bohn led the first 120 laps of the 150 lap Derby before pitting for fresh tires. Hirschman who had pitted earlier, took the lead following a lap 120 restart from Rowan Pennink. Hirschman made a determined run from there as he never looked back as he sprinted to the win, his second in a row. Doug Coby finished second with Pennink, third. Ryan Preece and Mike Bohn rounded out the top five.

Hirschman tried to sweep both modified races, but in the SK/Wall Modified 100-lap feature he had an uphill battle and fell short as he settled for second behind Anthony Sesely. Nicole Morgillo, who was the first young lady to ever win a SK Modified feature at the Waterford Speedbowl, finished 10th and Rowan Pennink, finished 16th.

The Thompson Speedway honored its 2013 track champions and celebrated its 73rd season of racing at its annual awards banquet last Friday evening in a post Thanksgiving gala. Champions in all five NASCAR Whelen All-American Series divisions took center stage as they put an exclamation point on a season defined by competitive racing in spite of a rain-plagued year. Keith Rocco of Meriden, Conn. led a contingent of drivers to earn series crowns with a championship in the coveted Sunoco Modified division.

Other champions included: Rick Gentes of Burriville, RI in the Late Models, Cam McDermott in the Lite Modified division, Steve Kenneway in the Xtra Mart Limited Sportsman division, and Monster Mini Stock Champion Eric Bourgeois.

Mini Stock driver Mike Viens of Seekonk, Mass. and Late Model driver Marc Curtis, Jr. of Worcester, Mass. were the recipients of the Chief Starter’s Award presented by Tim Bennett. The award recognizes sportsmanship displayed by drivers in the NASCAR Whelen All American Series divisions.

The Sunoco Modified division crown was decided in a highly contested battle that went right down to the last lap of the last race. Rocco, who held a mere two point lead heading into the final regular season event, finished second that night to Woody Pitkat of Stafford Springs, Conn., whose race win tied him for the championship. Rocco’s division-leading five victories served as the tie-breaker and catapulted Rocco to the head table for Friday night’s festivities to celebrate his fourth Thompson Speedway track championship. Rocco accomplished a total of nine top-five finishes throughout the season. Cassie Rocco shared in the honors as the championship car owner. Rocco’s accomplishments at Thompson and throughout the state also earned him the title of NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Connecticut State Champion and would also be honored by NASCAR in Charlotte in December.

“This championship was different because it was my first as a car owner. Without the people behind me – this team, the people who show up every Thursday – this championship wouldn’t be possible,” said Rocco. “It was a short season, but we made sure we had fun. We laughed, we joked. The people on my team are just awesome and they make this sport fun.” Rocco also said he would be returning to Thompson for another full season in 2014.

Special awards were presented to Sunoco Modified Most Improved driver, Jason Sundeen, and Rookie-of-the-Year, Paul Newcomb.

The evening concluded with the presentation of the John Hoenig Memorial Award. The award, which recognizes one individual for their hard work and dedication to the Speedway, was presented to Richard “Mouse” Morrill.

The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Series received a shot in the arm when it was announced on the internet web site Racedayct.com that Derek Ramstrom and Tommy Barrett Jr would be racing in the division in 2014. Both drivers are highly qualified and experienced. Ramstrom is a 3-time Super Late Model Champion at the Thompson Speedway and a seasoned veteran of the PASS North and South divisions. Now 22, Ramstrom has been racing since the age of six, getting his start in the Quarter Midgets. Barrett need no introduction as he is the runner-up to Rowan Pennink in the 2013 Valenti Modified Racing Series Championship. Like Ramstrom, Barrett got his start in the Quarter Midgets at the age of 5. Prior to racing in the Valenti Modified Racing Series Barrett ran in the SK Lites where he recorded 14 wins.

NASCAR purchased the Iowa Speedway. NASCAR is owned by the France family that owns the majority of the International Speedway Corporation. The agreement under a wholly owned subsidiary, Iowa Speedway, LLC, was effective immediately. The facility, located 30 miles east of Des Moines in Newton, features a seven-eighths-mile asphalt paved tri-oval designed by NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace.

Last year, 2017, The northeast Modified season wound up last weekend 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 ut 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.

The Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park (TSMP) revealed it’s 2018 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series racing schedule, comprised of seven events. The 5/8 mile oval track will continue to showcase Sunoco Modifieds, which will compete in eight points-counting races, supported by the Late Models, Limited Sportsman and Mini Stocks, who will all have seven points-counting races. The Lite Modified Division will race in three events, but not under the NWAAS sanction.

Hot on the heels of the Thompson Speedway schedule comes word from the Stafford Motor Speedway concerning their 2018 schedule. Stafford Speedway announced the 60th season of NASCAR weekly racing in Northeast Connecticut with a 22-race schedule. The 2018 season will kick-off on April 28 & 29 with arguably the biggest Modified race in the country, the 47th Annual NAPA Auto Parts Spring Sizzler dubbed “The Greatest Race in the History of Spring”. The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour will run 200 laps and will be joined by Stafford’s 5 weekly divisions, the New England Truck Series, and new for 2018, the Vintage All Stars Race.

Stafford’s signature Friday night program kicks off May 4th and continues with the 5-star program weekly throughout the season with special events for all divisions dotted across the schedule. The Street Stocks will kick-off the extra distance racing on May 11 with a 25-lap feature and will back that up with a second special event on September 7, a 30-lap extra distance event. The weekly division showcase continues in the month of May with the return of the popular Dunleavy’s Truck and Trailer Repair Modifiedz Night 40-lap SK Light Modified race on May 25. The ultra competitive SK Modifieds® will run 100 laps in the annual NAPA Auto Parts SK 5K on June 29. The guaranteed $5,000 to win SK Modified® event has seen 4 different winners over its 4 year existence. Full fender divisions will be showcased July 20 with the Limited Late Model 30 and August 17 for the Call Before You Dig 811 Late Model 50.

New London-Waterford Speedbowl general manager George Whitney announced that the track lease had been renewed for another season and that plans for the 2018 were 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 are also in the works. “Construction on the new grandstands will begin after the first of the year,” Whitney said.

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 was still subject to change, the VMRS was 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.

That’s about it for this year from 11 Gardner Drive, Westerly, RI. Ring my chimes at 401-596-5467. E-mail is smithpe_97_97@yahoo.com.

Looking Back a Bit will resume for 2019 in early February just before the start of Speed Weeks in Florida. Have a Merry Christmas and a Healthy, Happy New Year.