Column By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WESTERLY, RI – As of this Friday, January 4, five short weeks remain before the start of Speedweeks in Florida.
On a sad note, auto racing lost a great man and a true champion last week when George Summers passed away. Summers, 83, of Upton, Mass.,passed away on Friday, January 4, 2019 at St. Vincent Hospital in Worcester.
He is most well known for his exploits at Seekonk Speedway. Summers won over 100 feature events at Seekonk. The track actually put out a bounty for anyone who could beat him in 1974, when he compiled 7 consecutive wins. Summers took down 16 of 24 features that season, on the way to his 2nd Seekonk Championship, the 1st coming in 1967. Compared to many, he was a late bloomer in the NASCAR Modifieds at Stafford as he spent most of his early and prime years at Lonsdale, Seekonk, Norwood, and Westboro.
Summers began his racing career at the age of 16 in 1952, but it wasn’t until 1960 at Seekonk that he hit full stride. Son of former American League umpire Al Summers, the Upton, Massachusetts driver provided Bugsy Stevens and Ronnie Bouchard their stiffest competition. In addition to track championships at Seekonk in 1967, Summers finished second to Bouchard in 1968, 1969, 1970, and 1971. George always ran to win and has close to 100 feature wins at the track they call the “Cement Palace”.
Summers, along with Peggy, his wife of 40 years, operate a trucking business. Summers was content to call Seekonk home until a drivers strike in 1972 changed his mind. D. Anthony Venditti, the owner of Seekonk Speedway, would not tolerate a strike and closed the doors of the speedway. The striking drivers formed their own group named “The World Racing Association”, and leased the then idle Thompson Speedway. Summers was a close friend of Venditti, as well as many of the striking drivers, and chose not to join the others at Thompson. It was then that Summers and then car owner Ken Curley came to Stafford. Bouchard chose the same route. After a few weeks, Stafford rookie George Summers found Victory Lane. In the meantime, Venditti, at the urging of Dick Armstrong, signed a sanction with NASCAR and re-opened Seekonk. Summers returned to racing at his old haunt, but had taken a liking to Stafford and continued to race there. Summers raced at Seekonk until Venditti dropped the modifieds and went with Pro Stocks as his lead division. Summers’ best year there was 1974. He had entered twenty four races and won 16 for and incredible 66% winning average. He also broke Bugsy Stevens’ record of six wins in a row.
The following year, George drove at Westboro Speedway for owner Billy Hood, and again, a bounty was offered. As in the previous year, George had a 7 feature winning streak before finally being beaten.
Summers often traveled north, to compete at the Oxford Plains Speedway. In ’74, he drove a Chevelle to two 100 lap victories. In 1976, Oxford had an eight race open competition series. George won 4, and finished 2nd twice, winning the Governor’s Cup-Maine State Championship. He led much of the Oxford 250 that year, before running out of gas with 2 laps to go.
At the urging of close friend Dick Armstrong, George spent the last part of his racing career driving the #21 for Art Barry, and the two teamed up for many wins.
Summers’ racing career spanned 32 very successful years and he ended his career on a winning note, driving Art Barry’s famous #21 to wins at Oxford Plains and Thompson in the final two races of his career in 1983.
Noted scribe Mark “Bones” Bourcier pretty much simmed it up. “I don’t know anyone who didn’t like George Summers as a racer, or love him as a man. Fierce but fair on the track, a smiling gentleman off it, he carried trophies by the score back home to Upton, Massachusetts. Some drivers dream of winning their final race; George won the last TWO events he ever ran, at Oxford, Maine, and Thompson, CT, in the autumn of 1983, beating NASCAR Modified heroes and friends like Richie Evans, Bugs Stevens, and Brett Bodine.” He added, “ Thinking today of his wife Maggie, and their kids, George Jr., Mary, Rick, and Kathie, and of George’s wider racing family. The world just lost a tremendous guy … but If Heaven has a cocktail lounge, his old pal Ronnie just heard that familiar Summers accent call out, “Hey, Bouchaaahd, get me a beer, will ya?
Summers has been inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame as well as being included in the Seekonk Speedway Wall of Fame and is listed as one of Stafford Motor Speedway’s 50 Greatest Drivers. As a final tribute George Summers will be inducted into the Living Legends of Auto Racing Hall of Fame in Daytona Beach, Fl in February.
His funeral Mass will be celebrated at 10 AM on Saturday, January 12th, in St. Gabriel the Archangel Church “The Farm“, 151 Mendon Street, Upton. Burial will follow in Lakeview Cemetery.
Calling hours will be held on Friday, January 11th, from 3 to 8 PM in the Williams-Pedersen Funeral Home, Inc., 45 Main Street, Upton.
In lieu of flowers, donations in his memory may be made to either the St. Gabriel Building Fund, made payable to St. Gabriel Church, 151 Mendon Street, Upton, MA. 01568 or to the North East Motor Sports Museum, 922 Rte. 106, Louden, NH. 03307.
The Tri-Track Series received a welcomed shot in the arm last week when it was announced that the Don Miller Family announced it will join forces with the Tri-Track Open Modified Series (TTOMS) as a sponsor of the Series’ 2019 appearances at Claremont and Monadnock Speedways. In honor of their late son, former Modified champion, Ricky Miller, the Miller family will cover pit entry fees for all Modified drivers pre-registered for the two events.
TTOMS will visit Claremont Speedway on May 25 and Monadnock Speedway on September 14 as part of its six-race schedule. This cost-saving measure provided by the Miller Family will further help defray costs for teams participating in the Series. For several years, the Tri-Track Series has waived pit admission for all pre-registered car owners. “True to their longtime support of auto racing, everyone benefits from this sponsorship,” said TTOMS founding partner, Dick Williams. “We are thrilled with this partnership and what it brings to our Series and so proud to have the Miller family on board.”
In tribute of Ricky’s car number, the Millers will also purchase a set of Hoosier Tires for the twelfth-place qualifier and twelfth- place finisher on each of these two race dates. Ricky, who was a Modified standout at Claremont Speedway, died tragically at the age of 34 in 2004. He was one of the most likeable racers to have competed. Always a colorful and personable competitor, he may be best known for his 1999 Riverside Park Speedway championship- the final Modified champion of the now defunct Speedway.
During the 2019 season, in addition to Claremont and Monadnock, TTOMS will visit Seekonk Speedway (Jun 26 & Oct 26), Star Speedway (Jul 27) and Oxford Plains Speedway (Aug 23). Over the course of the six-event schedule, competitors will vie for over quarter of a million dollars in purse money.
Bob Finan sends word that Bronson Speedway in Florida has learned through a team source that “Showtime” Jimmy Blewett will team up with Joe Bertuccio and his Gershow Motorsports team to run the 4th annual Kick Off To Speedweek Powered by Sunoco Tour Type Modified event. The multi time Wall Stadium champion instantly becomes a threat to win the Kick Off race that will unfold Saturday February 9th. on the high banks of Bronson Speedway. Blewett will also steer the Gershow entry later in the week at New Smyrna Speedway.
NASCAR has released the following Cup coverage schedule for Speedweek in Daytona:
|Sun, Feb 10, 2019||Daytona 500 Qualifying||FOX||12:00 PM||MRN|
|Sun, Feb 10, 2019||The Clash||FS1||3:00 PM||MRN|
|Thu, Feb 14, 2019||Duel at Daytona||FS1||7:00 PM||MRN|
|Sun, Feb 17, 2019||Daytona 500||FOX||2:30 PM||MRN|
On the speedway stock market scene last week two of the three speedway stocks had negative results. Speedway Motorsports went up 0.09 to 16.06 while the International Speedway Corporation dropped 0.02 to 43.53 and Dover Entertainment dropped 0.11 to 1.91. NASCAR cup sponsor Monster Beverage went up 0.75 to 49.79, NASCAR fuel supplier Sunoco (Energy Transfer) went up 1.41 to 14.18 and NASCAR tire supplier Goodyear went up 0.84 to 21.18. Two of the three auto makers were up for the week. Ford went up 0.27 to 8.08 and Toyota went up 3.39 to 119.73. General Motors dropped 0.59 to 33.33. In the home improvement sector, Home Depot went up 3.40 to 173.62 and Lowes went up 2.00 to 93.87. The NASCAR sponsor’s stocks had a good week. McDonalds went up 2.72 to 178.28, Coca-Cola went up 2.34 to 181.89, Target Department Stores went up 1.47 to 66.43, Dow/Dupont went up 1.71 to 54.73, Fedex went up 5.45 to 164.43 and Porter Cable-Stanley Works went up 4.32 to 123.15.