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

Column By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WESTERLY, RI – Fifty five years ago in 1964 Don Collins won the Easter Sunday opening 25 lap Modified event at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl. Collins drove the Billy Simons #9 Excavator Special. Bob Tetreault was the Bomber winner.

Forty years ago in 1979, a late winter snowstorm cancelled a scheduled modified event at the Franklin County Speedway in Callaway, VA. The event was not rescheduled. Despite the success of the 1978 season at the Waterford Speedbowl under the Dick Williams’ Coastal Racing League, Harvey Tattersall Jr did not renew their lease and once again took over the day-to-day operations of the Speedbowl under his United Stock Car Championship banner. Race Director Bill Slater & Chief Starter Dick Brooks left with Williams.

Thirty five years ago, in 1984, Eddie Flemke, a modified legend in his own time, passed away. Flemke had put in a long day plowing snow and had come home to rest. When he failed to come into his house his wife went to check on him, as he had not exited his vehicle. Mrs. Flemke sadly discovered that he husband had suffered a heart attack and had passed away at the age of 53. During his career Flemke won over 600 features and played a vital part in the development of the racing careers of Pete Hamilton, Richie Evans and Ronnie Bouchard. Flemke was one of the great thinkers of the sport. He would study his competition and then figure out what their weaknesses were and beat them. He was also an accomplished racecar designer and fabricator. Two days later, Riverside Park opened for the season with Richie Evans taking the win and promptly dedicated it to his deceased friend and mentor. Eddie Flemke was one of the greatest drivers of all time. At Riverside, Marty Radwick finished second and George Kent was third. In Winston Cup action at Bristol, Ricky Rudd was the pole sitter. Darrell Waltrip took the win. Ronnie Bouchard qualified 13th and finished third.

Thirty years ago in 1989, the Riverside Park season opener was a test of man and machine as only six cars were left running at the finish of the 100 lap grind. Taking the win was John Zavisa, who started on the pole. Pre race favorite Reggie Ruggiero wrecked during warm-ups and was unable to start the feature.

Twenty five years ago in 1994, Chris Kopec benefited from Reggie Ruggiero’s misfortune and went on to win the season opener at Riverside Park in front of a packed house. Ruggiero had been leading until his brakes went away in the late stages of the event. Jamie Tomaino finished second and was followed by Tom Cravenho, Dan Avery and Ruggiero. In Busch Grandnational action at Darlington, Mark Martin started on the pole and won the no contest event over Larry Pearson and Randy LaJoie. In Winston Cup action, Bill Elliott was the pole sitter but the day belonged to Dale Earnhardt.

Twenty years ago, in 1999, the Featherlite Modified Tour Series started on a wet note as the season opener at Riverside Park rained out. Qualifying was done on Saturday. Bob Polverari was the Busch Pole sitter and David Berghman was second fastest. The rained out event was rescheduled for April 18, which would put it head to head with Waterford’s opener.

Fifteen years ago in 2004 after many months of waiting the Northeast-racing season finally began under less than ideal weather conditions at the Waterford Speedbowl. Thirty-one SK Modifieds were on hand at the shoreline oval on Saturday for qualifying. Outsiders Ronnie Silk and Doug Coby were the top time trialers. Silk toured the 1/3-mile oval in 14.482 seconds and Coby turned a lap in 14.503 seconds. James Civale was the top regular with a time of 14.598 seconds. Defending track champion Dennis Gada was 11th fastest with a time of 14.796 seconds. In what had to be one of the most wreck strewn events ever seen, James Civale turned a pre race misfortune into a victory as he won the 150 lap SK-Modified portion of the Waterford Nationals. As the cars circled the 1/3-mile oval in a warm-up prior to the start of the event it was discovered that his scoring transponder wasn’t working. Civale stopped at the pit gate where his pit crew got it operating. Speedway officials treated the incident as if he had pitted and forced him to start at the rear of the 31 car-starting field. Upset at the time, starting at the rear proved to be an omen as most of the wrecks and spins involved those who started at or near the front. Civale managed to avoid trouble and took the lead on the 57th lap and went on to hold off Ted Christopher for the win. Christopher, who was considered one of the pre-race favorites, made numerous pit stops, as he was involved in many of the 11 caution periods that consumed 66 laps. Christopher moved into second spot with 11 laps to go but couldn’t muster the needed steam to make the pass for the win. Pole sitter Ron Silk got collected in the first caution on lap three and suffered sufficient damage to keep him out of contention. The blustery cold weather was a definite factor, as the hard compound track tires could not generate enough heat to provide the needed traction. The wrecks and spins got so bad that single file restarts were mandated shortly after the half way mark of the event. With the exception of Civale and third place finisher Jay Miller the entire field showed scars of battle. Defending division champion Dennis Gada and previous years runner-up Ed Reed Jr. were taken out of contention because of wrecks as were Rick Young, Tom Fox and Jeff Pearl. Rob Janovic finished fourth with Chris Pasteryak, fifth. Dennis Gada finished sixth, one lap down. Corey Hutchins won the Late Model 50 lapper in an all but no contest event. Mark StHillaire finished second with Jay Stuart, third. Second generation driver Keith Rocco was the Limited Sportsman winner and Tim Jordan won in the MiniStocks.

NASCAR announced that they had a new weapon to use to detect cheaters, especially those who use tire softeners. The Irwindale Speedway in California engaged the use of a retired bomb-sniffing dog to detect tires that have been altered with chemicals. It seems that when the animal is walked up and down pit road it will stop and sit next to tires that have been treated. Tire soaking has taken place at all levels of racing, in fact it got so bad in the NASCAR Featherlite Modified Tour Series a year ago that NASCAR mandated that all competitors buy their tires on the day of the race. It had also been announced that the NASCAR TV ratings took a dive after recent boring events at Las Vegas and Atlanta. FOX’s season ratings after three Nextel Cup events have fallen 9%.

In Nextel Cup action at Bristol, Tennessee, Ryan Newman captured his third Busch Pole of the year on Friday. The Busch Racing Series ran on Saturday with New Jersey native Martin Truex Jr. getting his first ever Busch Series win. Truex is a former competitor in the Busch North Series and a former weekly competitor at the Wall Township Speedway in New Jersey. Kurt Busch gambled when he chose not to pit for fresh tires late in the Bristol 500 and beat a frustrated Rusty Wallace to the finish line. It was Busch’s third victory in a row at the ultra fast high-banked half-mile oval.

It appeared that the anti-trust suit filed by Speedway Motorsports stockholders Francis Ferko and Rusty Vaughn against NASCAR may be headed for an out of court settlement. It had been strongly rumored that the International Speedway Corporation, which is owned by the France family that also owns NASCAR, would sell speedways in Darlington, South Carolina and Rockingham, North Carolina to Speedway Motorsports who in turn could move two of the three Nextel Cup dates that go with those speedways to Texas and Las Vegas. The remaining date would alternate between Darlington and Rockingham. In a non-related matter, the International Speedway Corporation and its subsidiary, Southeastern Hay and Nursery bought 168 acres of land for $5.5 million.

On a sad note, Nolan Swift, eight time Oswego Speedway track champion, died at the age of 81. Swift was considered the father of the Supermodifieds.

Ten years ago in 2009,, In the never ending soap opera at the Waterford Speedbowl there was some good news and some stability for the shoreline oval. Track owner Terry Eames announced on Thursday, March 19 that its affiliation with NASCAR will continue in 2009. The Speedbowl’s SK Modified®, Late Model, Street Stock, and Mini Stock divisions would all participate in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series and be eligible to earn NASCAR points

In regards to money being owed to competitors from the 2008 season, Jason Christley who works in the public relations department at NASCAR told the Hartford Courant that NASCAR did guarantee the NASCAR point fund to the Waterford Speedbowl. That guarantee stands regardless of things that might occur like the track closing or the promoter failing to meet obligations. In reality, that money came from Whelen Engineering which sponsors the Weekly Racing Series. Evidently NASCAR had changed its way of thinking as far as protecting drivers from unscrupulous promoters and track operators. In other words, even though a racer has a NASCAR license and races at a NASCAR sanctioned track there is no guarantee that he will be paid unless NASCAR has a sponsor who will supply the money. Bill France Sr founded NASCAR to protect drivers from shady promoters and track operators who ran off with purse money without paying drivers. He must be rolling over in his grave!

Ted Christopher made the trip down south to the Concord Speedway worth his while. Christopher, driving for Joe Brady, passed Burt Myers on the opening lap and led wire-to-wire to win the Capital Bank 150 in the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour season opener. It was his third career NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour race and the first Tour event held at the half-mile, tri-oval. Rowan Pennink followed in second. George Brunnhoelzl III came through the field to finish third after starting last because of engine problems. Myers, who won his series record 18th Coors Light Pole Award earlier in the day, finished fourth and Erick Rudolph completed the top five.

Among the Whelen Modified Tour cars and competitors on hand for shakedown runs at the Thompson Speedway were Eric Beers, Mike Stefanik, Chris Pasteryak, Rob Summers, Carl Pasteryak, Richard Savory, a new Ole Blu with Ryan Preece, Jimmy Blewett and Glen Reen. There were quite a few SKtypes too. Participants included Tom Cravenho, Bert Marvin, Tim Sullivan, Keith Rocco, Todd Ceravolo, Ricky Shawn, Woody Pitkat, Kerry Malone and Josh Sylvester. Sylvester hit the wall a ton and did a lot of damage to his mount.

Congratulations went out to Keith Rocco who was recognized by Connecticut Governor Jodi Rell at the state capitol in Hartford. In winning the Connecticut State Championship Rocco had 11 wins, 32 top fives and 38 top 10s racing at three Connecticut short tracks: Stafford Motor Speedway, Thompson International Speedway and the Waterford Speedbowl.

In Sprint Cup racing, Kyle Busch was furious when his pit crew cost him a win at Bristol Motor Speedway, where he angrily ditched his car on the race track and walked to his motor home. The following day, he drove to Victory Lane, averaging 92.139 mph. Busch bounced back from one of his many Bristol heartbreaks with a win Sunday, leading 378 of 503 laps for his second Sprint Cup Series victory of the season. Teammate Denny Hamlin was second, 0.391 of a second back, and Jimmie Johnson third.

Kevin Harvick proved just how strong his organization is Saturday by winning the Nationwide Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway in his own race car. Harvick led 44 laps in his Kevin Harvick Inc.-owned Chevrolet, his first victory in a car fielded by the race team he built with his wife. Carl Edwards finished second and Clint Bowyer was third.

Five years ago in 2014, the powers that be at Waterford would have to do some scrambling if the speedbowl was to open on schedule. Back in January a Judge set an October 18 foreclosure auction date for the Connecticut shoreline oval. The ruling gave track owner Terry Eames some extra time to find funding to continue as owner of the track or find a buyer. The judge also ruled that the track management complies with state and town officials who have mandated that the grandstands be repaired. A re-construction project of the under pinnings of the grandstands was begun in 2013 and was not completed leaving large sections uninhabitable and covered over with tarps and danger tape. The extreme hard winter has all but halted any work that had been planned.

The NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour visited the Southern National Motorsports Park in North Carolina last Saturday. George Brunnhoelzl, III recorded the fastest time and earns his 22nd career pole award on the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour. Brunnhoelzl was the top dog of the 18 cars on hand at the 4/10 mile oval. Kyle Ebersole was second fastest with JR Bertuccio, third.

A new face appeared in victory as J.R. Bertuccio earned his first trip to Victory Lane the hard way. The 32-year-old from Long Island, N.Y., had to hold off four-time NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour champion George Brunnhoelzl III on a green-white-checkered finish to win Saturday’s Southern National 150. The win came in Bertuccio’s 28th career start. He had three previous top fives with his best finish coming at Caraway Speedway with a third-place run in the 2014 season opener. Bertuccio took the lead from Brunnhoelzl III, who started from the pole, on lap 11 and held on for the remainder of the evening. He survived five restarts, including the final one which set up the green-white-checkered finish.

While Bertuccio held on to the top spot for the better part of the evening, the second through fifth-place spots remained an open game for a handful of drivers. On the final restart, Kyle Ebersole managed to slip past Brunnhoelzl to take second, forcing the defending tour champion to settle for a third-place finish. An unfortunate turn of events for Brunnhoelzl III, who seemed on his way to seriously challenge Bertuccio for the lead. A green-white-checkered finish extended the race to 155 laps. Overall, there were five cautions for a total of 20 laps. Andy Seuss and Jason Myers crossed the line fourth and fifth respectively. They were followed by Luke Fleming, Gary Putnam, rookies Joe Ryan Osborne and Spencer Davis, and Bryan Dauzat to round out the top 10.

The Stafford Motor Speedway clubhouse was the scene of a tire seminar presented by Hoosier Racing Tire and spokesperson Irish Saunders. Topics included Tire management, performance tips, tire sizing, tire break-in, how tires are made, quality control and explaining making tires repeat. A packed house was on hand.

Big news for race fans. The Sid’s View webisode series which had done a fantastic job of video recording the racing programs at the Waterford Speedbowl will be expanded in 2014 to include the 7 oval track events scheduled at Thompson Speedway.

In another big announcement, racing fans received access to a lot more content this past Wednesday in the form of FansChoice.tv, a live streaming platform that will broadcast races under the NASCAR Home Tracks, IMSA and AMA banner. FansChoice.tv will be the official home for AMA Pro Road Racing and AMA Pro Flat Track events in 2014. The site also will provide coverage of selected IMSA and NASCAR’s touring and weekly series events.

It means access to broadcasts for select live events from the K&N Pro Series, Whelen Modified Tour and Whelen Southern Modified Tour banner. FansChoice.tv will also become the home for numerous off-track NASCAR events, including the championship banquets for the NASCAR All-American Series and the various NASCAR regional and touring series.

Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway had a little bit of everything. Rain delays, bizarre crashes, tire problems and a mystery caution flag with three laps left followed by even more rain allowed Carl Edwards to score his first victory of the 2014 season.

Edwards had a comfortable lead of more than two seconds with just three laps left when suddenly several caution lights around the track came on. While NASCAR was trying to fix the problem that caused the caution lights to come on, Mother Nature made her third and final visit to Bristol for the day. With rain now pouring down and the track lost, NASCAR officials opted to wave the checkered flag and declare Edwards the race winner. Ricky Stenhouse was able to get around Almirola’s Richard Petty Motorsports Ford in the closing laps to finish second, giving Roush Fenway Racing a sweep of the first two positions.

It was later revealed by NASCAR officials that the actual cause of the final caution flag was an error by the flagman. He had evidently leaned on the manual override switch in the flagstand, causing the caution lights to come on.

Kyle Busch held off Kyle Larson during a late-race restart before pulling away to his seventh NASCAR Nationwide Series win.

Last year, 2018,The Thompson Speedway Test and Tune session scheduled for Saturday was postponed due to the remaining snow, and unfavorable forecast for melting. It was good to hear that Rowan Pennink has been cleared by his doctor to return to racing. Pennink was forced to miss the season opening event at Myrtle Beach because of back surgery. Ryan Preece will also return to the Whelen Modifieds after being in competition in the NASCAR Xfinity series in Fontana, CA.

The SK Modified competitors got a tremendous shot in the arm from NASCAR Monster Cup driver Kevin Harvick. Following his March 11th victory at ISM Raceway, Harvick expressed his frustration with the disconnect between the short tracks of America and the highest levels of NASCAR. ‘When I look at our hardcore fans, they’re all sitting at those short tracks and they’re mad,’ Harvick said in his post race press conference following his 2nd consecutive win. Since that remark the NASCAR community has been buzzing with talk of returning to the roots and supporting local short track racing. Harvick, the 2014 Cup Series Champion, is backing up his comments with contingency support at Stafford Speedway in 2018.

Through his company, KHI Management, Harvick will present two weekly bonuses to the SK Modified® division in 2018, both in honor of Stafford Speedway legend Ted Christopher. Weekly, both the leader on lap-13 and the 13th place finisher will receive a $125 bonus provided by Kevin Harvick and KHI Management in remembrance of Ted Christopher’s number 13.

When the 2018 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series season kicks off at Stafford Speedway, it will mark the 20th consecutive season New England Racing Fuel, Sunoco Brand with John Holland and Mike Joy have been part of the track’s contingency program. N.E. Racing Fuel was a charter member of the contingency program in 1999 and have been a member every year since. Since the 1999 season, N.E. Racing Fuel, Sunoco Brand has distributed over $125,000 in gas certificates to drivers from each of Stafford’s NASCAR Weekly All-American Series racing divisions.

Area Auto Racing News announced that the TV show “Madhouse” will return on the Discovery Channel. Originally shown on the History Channel, “Madhouse” followed the trials, tribulations and personalities that compete at the Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Bowman-Gray, a quarter mile flat track around a football field is one of NASCAR’s oldest venues.

On a sad note, Wrentham, Mass., native Tom Dunn, Modified car owner, Drag Racer and NEAR Hall of Fame member, passed away. Fielding the famous No. T-5 Pinto wagon, a who’s-who of Modified stars drove for Dunn including Freddy Schulz, Bentley Warren, Leo Cleary and Jeff Fuller. Championships came with drivers Fred Schulz, Leo Cleary, and Jeff Fuller, and Cleary and Dave Lind won titles in Dunn’s Pro-4 cars. Dunn was also revered as a master engine builder, working with Modified, Mini-Modified, and Midget teams. He was a prolific winner both in straight lines and on short tracks. He began drag racing in 1953 and at one point enjoyed an incredible five-year undefeated streak; his top victory came in an NHRA national event at Lebanon Valley (N.Y.) Dragway in 1964. He was the first to go 200mph on pump gas.

John H. Richmond, Jr., 75, of Wakefield, RI passed away on Tuesday, March 20, 2018. He was the husband of the late Margaret (Russell) Richmond. Born in South Kingstown, a son of the late John H. Richmond, Sr. and Georgette (Smith) Richmond.Mr. Richmond was a self-employed welder and heavy equipment mechanic. He enjoyed auto racing and tractor pulling. He drove the No. 93 at dirt tracks in New England and New York state.

I t took nearly six years, 190 races and three different teams, but Clint Bowyer finally ended his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drought with a stirring victory in Monday’s snow-delayed STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway.Heavy snow wiped out qualifying and the original Sunday date.

Bowyer dominated the second half of the race, taking the lead shortly after the start of the final stage when he charged to the inside of then-leader Ryan Blaney in turns three and four to assume command over the field. Kyle Busch finished second.