RPW Exclusive: Looking Back A Bit; Third Week Of March

Column By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WESTERLY, RI – Thirty five years ago, in 1984, the Winston Cup cars were at Atlanta. Buddy Baker was the pole sitter. Benny Parsons took the win. Ronnie Bouchard qualified 7th and finished 12th. Doug Hevron qualified 31st and wasn’t as lucky as he lost a rear end and finished 30th.

Thirty years ago in 1989, the Modifieds were off as they were making preparations for the upcoming season that would open up a week later in the northeast.

Twenty five years ago in 1994, Mike Stefanik was informed that he had been released from the Busch Grandnational-Lux Air ride and on a sad note, Dick McCabes’ wife Rosalie passed way. Subsequently, McCabe who was one of the top drivers in the Busch North Series would lose interest in racing and would end a brilliant career.

Twenty years ago in 1999, Riverside Park was slated to open the Featherlite Modified season but heavy rain changed their plans. Bob Polverari was the Busch pole sitter. At Darlington, Matt Kenseth was the Grandnational winner. Jeff Burton was the Winston Cup winner.

Fifteen years ago in 2004, after four months of testing the waters by Connecticut developer Gene Arganese, who hoped to build a $400 million speedway in North Stonington on Route 2, it appeared that the initial project had been sunk as Arganese then proposed to move his project from Exit 92 on I-95 to Exit 93. The new proposed site was centered on the north side of I-95 centered on the site of the former J. Romanella Gravel Bank. Ct. Route 49 and an access road that connects Exits 92-93 bound the new site. The new site also posed a potential problem to an underground aquifer. Anyone who lived in the area knew that the water table is only two or three feet below the gravel bank surface and there is no way that the Connecticut DEP would allow a speedway to be built there. North Stonington First Selectman Nicholas Mullane stated that Arganese had not yet addressed the towns concerns about health, Police, safety, utilities noise and the environment.

Saturday’s practice session at the Waterford Speedbowl had to be scratched because of a snowstorm that blanketed the area. A practice session was also scheduled for Saturday at the Thompson Speedway but due to the fact that the speedway was pounded by seven inches of snow officials had no choice and had to scrub the session. NASCAR waived the rule that normally doesn’t allow practice at a speedway one week prior to a scheduled event. NASCAR announced that 18 Grand National division events would be shown on HD Net in 2004.Included in the package would be live telecasts of 15 events. This announcement was a huge shot in the arm to the Busch North Series, as 11 of their events would receive coverage. The Speed Channel would re-air on a taped delayed basis. Among the events covered were BNS at Lee USA on April 25, Thompson on May22, Lime Rock on May 29, Seekonk on June 12, Stafford on June 18, Holland on June 26, Loudon on July 24, Watkins Glen on August 14, Beech Ridge on August 21, Loudon on September 18 and Dover Downs on September 24. NASCAR and HD Net announced their TV event coverage contract is for three years.. In Nextel Cup action at Darlington in South Carolina Jimmie Johnson out ran Bobby Labonte for the win. Greg Biffle was the Busch Series winner.

Ten years ago in 2009 Thompson Speedway owner Don Hoenig shifted gears again at the northeastern Connecticut oval. In 2008 the Speedway hosted two Thursday night dates for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Series in addition to his traditional dates. For 2009 he announced that he was dropping the June event and replacing it with an open competition non-sanctioned Modified event. After much thought, Hoenig has decided to drop the idea of an open event and has replaced it with the True Value Modified Series and his regular Thursday Night Thunder Series divisions. Founded by Jack Bateman, the True Value Series runs at just about every track in New England.

Word had it that Donnie Lia would be back in the Mystic Missile for 2009. Through no fault of his own, Lia lost his full time truck ride due to the downturn on the economy. Chuck Hossfeld says he would run his own equipment in the New York area. In addition to the possibility of Hossfeld not being on the Whelen Modified Tour Series it looked like Matt Hirschman would also be missing from the line-up as he had not secured a ride as yet.

The Waterford Speedbowl property continued to be a hot topic especially with a foreclosure looming in the near future. Years ago when the Arutes leased the Speedbowl, Ed Yerrington, who was the General Manager stated that the Speedbowl kept Stafford afloat while the track was rebuilding their weekly program after tossing out the Modifieds in favor of the SK Modifieds.

Surprise, surprise! In the never ending soap opera or shall we call it the Eames Gong Show, the master of deceit had done it again and dodged another bullet. When Rocco Arbitell got the word that Terry Eames’ lawyer had got an extension to the scheduled foreclosure and had it moved out to July, he was livid. With the foreclosure in July the earliest date for an auction or sale of the property could be in September or October. In the mean time Eames was continuing to try to sell the property to Ted Parker who he reportedly owed $800,000. Speaking of owing money, Eames owed Shawn Monahan $47,000. In lieu of paying, Eames has made the loan into a partial sale as the real estate transactions in Friday’s New London Day indicated that 1080 Hartford Road LLC (Eames) had conveyed property to Monahan for $47,000. In an other tid bit, it was learned that the reason that all those who had applied for season passes or numbers using their Visa and Mastercards had not received anything is because Eames did not possess a machine to do the transactions. Visa and Mastercard do not give machines to businesses or individuals who have bad or no credit.

The sounds of the open-wheel Modifieds returned to Orange County Speedway in North Carolina for the first time in over 15 years and despite cold weather and snowy conditions the teams in attendance knocked off some very competitive laps in preparation for the March 6 & 7 Frost Bite Modified Winter Nationals” at the Orange County Speedway in Rougemont, NC.

Temperatures in the low 40’s and blowing snow did little to dampen the spirits of those on hand for the test and lap times were about a second a lap quicker than the regular OCS divisions. Ronnie Silk in the Hillbilly Racing #79 was the quickest of the group with laps in the 13:40 second range. Jay Foley wasn’t far behind in his Foley Machine Chevy with laps in the 13:60 bracket and Jason Myers in the Tranthem/Moorefield, Myers Racing Ford turned laps in the 13:80’s. Silk and Foley tested the softer M-20 and M-30 combination and Myers ran the set-up with the harder M-45 compound on the right rear. “The OCS track record for the Modifieds was 12:92 when we ran here last’, said Gary Myers, owner of the Jason Myers ride. The track is located on NC Hwy 57 half-way between Hillsborough and Roxboro, NC.

Kyle Busch did something Saturday that no NASCAR driver had done in the sanctioning body’s top divisions, won twice in the same day. Busch added a dominating NASCAR Nationwide Series victory under the lights to a similar Camping World Truck Series win earlier in the day at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. Busch led 95 of 100 laps in winning the truck race on the 2-mile oval, then was in front for 143 of 150 for his 22nd Nationwide victory. Kevin Harvick was second and Middletown native Joey Logano, Busch’s Gibbs Racing teammate, was third. Carl Edwards beat Busch out of the pits on the last stops by the leaders Saturday night, but Busch took the lead on the restart 16 laps from the end and pulled away. Despite leads of up to 11 seconds at times, it came down to the restart on lap 135 after Edwards beat Busch out of the pits by the length of his hood.

In Sprint Cup action, Matt Kenseth went the distance this week as he won the Auto Club 500 on Sunday. Kenseth, who won a rain-shortened Daytona 500 a week ago to open the Sprint Cup season, had to endure four short rain delays in the season’s second race. But with the help of his pit crew, which several times got the No. 17 Ford off pit road first, Kenseth became the first driver since 1997 to win the season’s first two points races. The last driver to start with two victories was Jeff Gordon, who fought furiously to deny Kenseth but settled for second. Middletown native Joey Logano finished 26th. Gordon, trying to snap the longest winless streak of his career at 42 races, passed Kenseth for the lead on lap 196 but lost the race off pit road on a caution 12 laps later and couldn’t catch Kenseth.

Gordon got almost to Kenseth’s rear bumper on lap 232, but Kenseth held on for his 18th career victory. Kyle Busch, who made NASCAR history by winning both the truck and Nationwide races on Saturday, came up short of a weekend sweep, finishing third.

Five years ago in 2014, The NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour hit a milestone on Sunday when the 2014 season took the green flag. The Whelen Season Opener 150 at the Caraway Speedway marked the 50th all-time race for the Whelen Southern Modified Tour at the rural North Carolina oval, and it also launched the 10th season of competition for the tour.

Andy Seuss was fastest in practice, won the Coors Light Pole Award and led every lap en route to winning the Whelen Season Opener 150 at Caraway Speedway. He finished 1.465 seconds ahead of runner-up George Brunnhoelzl III. JR Bertuccio, Burt Myers and Jason Myers rounded out the top five.

Danny Bohn was sixth, followed by Brian Loftin, Luke Fleming, Thomas Stinson and rookie Joe Ryan Osborne.

There were five cautions for 22 laps. Nineteen cars were on hand.

In NASCAR Sprint Cup racing, Dale Earnhardt Jr. gambled on fuel at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, but it was Brad Keselowski who hit the jackpot. Earnhardt tried to stretch his fuel during the final run to the checkered flag during Sunday’s Kobalt 400, but ran out of fuel on the backstretch on the last lap. That allowed 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski to surge into the lead and complete a weekend sweep at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The run to the finish was set up when the fourth and final caution flag of the day waved with 47 laps left at the 1.5-mile oval. Keselowski was the race leader at the time and led most of the field down pit road for fuel only stops. Meanwhile, Earnhardt was one of three drivers who opted not to pit. Earnhardt, Carl Edwards and Denny Hamlin all stayed on track in an effort to try and win the race on fuel strategy.

During the restart Keselowski shot through the field, getting up to third within a lap behind Earnhardt and Edwards. Keselowski, who started second, slowly began to make up ground on both Earnhardt and Edwards. Keselowski took second away from Edwards on lap 244 and set his sights on Earnhardt. Keselowski closed the gap quickly, getting within half a second of Earnhardt with 10 laps left. Earnhardt was able to stabilize the gap between himself and Keselowski over the next nine laps, but he still had one more lap to complete.

Unfortunately for Earnhardt, his car sputtered coming out of turn two on the white flag lap. That allowed Keselowski to take the lead down the backstretch and pull away to his first Sprint Cup victory of the 2014 season. Despite running out of gas, Earnhardt had enough momentum to get him to the finish line in second. Earnhardt had not finished worse than second in the first three Sprint Cup events of the season.

Paul Menard had his best finish of the young season, finishing third. Polesitter Joey Logano finished fourth, followed by Edwards in fifth. Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Newman, Kasey Kahne, Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth completed the top 10.

It was good to hear that the Waterford Speedbowl and the Thompson Speedway were working together toward a common goal of having universal technical rules for their racing divisions. The idea of the whole concept is making it easier and less expensive for competitors to run an extra event each weekend if they so desire. During the early 1980’s when the SK Modified division was conceived a Tri-Track Series existed which enabled competitors to run the same car three times a week. The concept worked then and should work now. Waterford has a strong SK Modified field while Thompson has a strong Limited Sportsman field. Evidently the Stafford management is happy with their present fields of cars.

On a sad note, Bob Finan sent word from Long Island that the Riverhead Raceway family has been saddened with the passing of famed car owner Carl Zeh. For all his Islip Speedway and Riverhead Raceway championships with driver Don Howe, Carl will be remembered as one of the nicest men to ever grace a pit area.

Last year, 2018,The 2018 Whelen Modified Tour Series opener in Myrtle Beach, SC drew a whopping 27 entries. Jon McKennedy scored a surprise upset win in the opening round of the 2018 Whelen Modified Tour Series. McKennedy, who also won the opening round of the New Smyrna World Series, out ran Jimmy Blewett to the finish in the 150 lap event. Driving the Tommy Baldwin 7ny McKennedy started in the second spot. McKennedy took the lead from Chase Dowling on lap 138. Matt Hirschman finished third with Dowling, fourth. Justin Bonsignore rounded out the top five. Sixth thru tenth were Dave Sapienza, Eric Goodale, Calvin Carroll, Craig Lutz and Rob Summers. Twenty of the 27 starters finished on the lead lap. Defending race winner Timmy Solomito started fifth and finished 12th while defending series champion Doug Coby started ninth and finished 14th.

After starting from the outside pole, McKennedy quickly backed up through the field, trying to save his tires for the final stages on the tricky half-mile surface known for eating at Hoosier rubber. Following a pit stop for fresh tires during the final caution, McKennedy charged through the field and found himself staring down the back bumper of 20-year-old Chase Dowling in the final laps.

It appeared that the Whelen Modified Touring series’ favorite turtle Melissa Fifield had done nothing to improve her performance as a driver over the winter as she continued to be a bottom feeder turning laps at a slow pace. She was nine laps down at the finish.

On the way home from winning the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour season opener at Myrtle Beach Speedway (SC), McKennedy and the Tommy Baldwin team made the trip to the Caraway Speedway in Sophia, North Carolina for the Southern Modified Racing Series 2018 kickoff. The result was the same, as McKennedy dominated the 99-lap feature. Jeremy Gerstner finished second with Burt Myers, third. Tim Brown and Brian Loftin rounded out the top five in the eight car field.

NASCAR and Anheuser-Busch announced a multi-year agreement that welcomes the global brand back as an Official Partner and designates Busch Beer as the “Official Beer of NASCAR®.” The new partnership builds upon Busch’s industry-wide presence and includes sponsorship of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series™ Busch Pole Award, rewarding the driver with the fastest qualifying time each week.

In other NASCAR related sponsor news, After 17 seasons of sponsoring Hendrick Motorsports and seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, Lowe’s Companies will not return to the team in 2019. The company has been Johnson’s only primary sponsor since he debuted in the Cup Series in 2001.

Martin Truex won NASCAR Monster Energy cup series event at the Auto Club 400 for his first victory of the 2018 season. Truex, who won eight races in 2017, led 125 of the 200 laps en route to the victory. Truex also became the first driver to ever win after winning the pole and sweeping every stage of the race.

Joey Logano won Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series Roseanne 300 at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, CA. Ryan Preece finished ninth.