RPW Exclusive: Looking Back A Bit; First Week Of April

Column By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WESTERLY, RI – Fifty five years ago in 1964 Ray Delisle made it two in a row in Modified action at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl. Charlie Krashen was the winner in the Bombers.

Fifty years ago in 1969 the Stafford Speedway opened for the season with an open competition program featuring the Supermodifieds. Nolan Swift, the undisputed king of the Oswego Speedway took the win. Don Kibbe was the Modified winner at the Waterford Speedbowl. Wayne “Mr. Mysterious” Smith was the Daredevil winner. In NASCAR Grandnational (Cup) action at Richmond David Pearson took the win.

Forty five years ago in 1974 the Spring Sizzler at Stafford was on. Taking the win was Carl”Bugsy”Stevens. Ronnie Bouchard finished second and was followed by Merv Treichler in the Garbarino Bros. Mystic Missile, Dynamite Ollie Silva and Jerry Cook. Bill Scrivener was the Modified winner at Waterford and Ron Cote scored his first of three in a row at the shoreline oval.

Forty years ago in 1979 the action was at the Seekonk Speedway where Richie Evans showed that no matter where he went, he could adapt to and master a never before seen track. The event drew 44 cars and when all was said and done, Evans pulled into victory lane. Jerry Cook finished second and was followed by Ronnie Bouchard, Leo Cleary, Fred Astle and Ray Miller. Leo Cleary drove a car that Len Boehler pulled out of the bushes and in fact had to heat the springs to make the chassis handle. Cleary led the first 42 laps before worn tires forced him to back off. Bugsy Stevens was also an early contender until he lost a fan blade, which ultimately broke his water pump and put him out. Evans by the way had been on the road all night as he had raced and won at Hickory, N.C. the day before.

Thirty five years ago in 1984 Riverside Park ran on Saturday night and it was Stan Gregger taking the win over Jim Spencer, Ray Miller and Richie Evans. At the Thompson Speedway on Sunday, Charlie Jarzombek ruled the roost as he beat out Brett Bodine and Evans for the win.

Thirty Years ago in 1989, the only action was at Riverside Park where Reggie Ruggiero won the 50 lap main over Stan Gregger, Jerry Marquis and Bruce Dell.

Twenty five years ago in 1994, Reggie Ruggiero took the top spot at the Riverside Park Speedway. Richard Savory finished second and was followed by Stan Gregger and Dan Avery. During the overnight hours storm clouds moved in and washed out the Thompson IceBreaker that had been scheduled for Sunday. The event was rescheduled for May 1 which created a direct conflict with Waterford. At Bristol in the Saturday Busch Grandnational event, Mark Martin was leading under caution and mistook the white flag for the checkered flag and pitted, giving the race win to David Green. When Martin realized his mistake he returned to the racing surface and ended up eleventh. It had to be one of his most embarrassing moments as a racer. Dale Earnhardt was the Winston Cup winner over Ken Schrader and Lake Speed.

Twenty years ago, in 1999, the IceBreaker at Thompson played under warm skies and a full house plus a full pit of 51 Tour Modifieds. Mike Ewanitsko took the lead just past the half way mark and held off Rick Fuller for the win. Chris Kopec finished third with Jamie Tomaino and Carl Pasteryak rounding out the top five. In the 30 lapper for the SK’s, Todd Ceravolo took the lead from Billy Sharp with four to go in the 30 lapper and went on to record his first win of the season. Sharp held on to finish second with Mike Christopher, third. At Bristol, Tenn., Jason Keller was the Grand National winner.

Fifteen years ago in 2004, the Stafford Motor Speedway got their Friday night program in the books while Waterford suffered its second rainout in a row. At Stafford Lloyd Agor passed Frank Ruocco on lap 31 of the 40 lap feature and went on to take the win in the SK Modified division. Ruocco finished second followed by Willie Hardie, Ted Christopher and Jeff Malave. A slim field of only 20 SK Modifieds was on hand. Many have wondered as to why the fields of SK Modifieds have dwindled at Stafford. The SK Modifieds had gotten out of hand cost wise plus the fact that there was much destruction at Stafford in 2003. Some car owners have sold out while others have chosen to race elsewhere or just park their cars. Ryan Posocco and Jay Stuart finished one-two in Late Model action while Michael Bennett won the 20 lap Limited Sportsman feature and John Hurley won the Dare Stock event. James Civali who won the SK Modified portion of the Thompson Speedway Ice Breaker and finished fourth in the recent SK Modified portion of the Spring Sizzler before being disqualified for refusing tech inspection now finds himself in a select group of drivers at the Stafford Speedway that have been suspended from racing at Stafford indefinitely for actions detrimental to racing. In other words Civali was put on suspension because he drove through the pit area at high speed and almost ran an official down. In addition to Waterford being rained out the opening night festivities at the Seekonk Speedway in Massachusetts and the Riverhead Raceway on Long Island were also cancelled due to rain.

New England Raceway developer Gene Arganese who had been in the process of proposing a domed racetrack in Plainfield, Ct. won a crucial zoning approval after a close vote by the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission. The panel voted 3-2 to rezone roughly 900 acres off Interstate 395 and include the land in a recently established “resort/recreational development zone.” Opponents of New England Raceway LLC’s 140,000-seat racetrack plan said they would appeal the commission’s decision. Arganese said he planned to move forward with the project despite the prospect of legal challenges. Six appeals had already been filed against the commission’s approval last month of the new resort/recreational development zone. Consultants were slated to begin design work in the near future. He said the design process should take about five months, and he intended to bring the plans before the commission by January. Arganese’s $343 million project would include the racetrack, a convention center, a 700-room hotel and 800,000-square-foot retail complex. He continued to say he hoped to attract NASCAR, Indy and CART events to the New England Raceway track, along with drag races, concerts and trade shows.

Jeff Gordon won the wreck marred Aarons 499 at the Talledega Speedway. Martin Truex was the Busch Series winner. The Busch race was also a wreck fest.

Ten years ago in 2009, The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour began its 25th anniversary year at the Thompson Speedway ICEBREAKER last weekend. This year’s event marked the 107th time that the WMT has raced at Thompson since the formation of the Tour in 1985. An outstanding field of competitors attempted to qualify on Saturday afternoon for a starting spot in the 150-lap main event which was run on Sunday. The WMT was joined by Thompson’s “Super 6” NASCAR Whelen All American Series divisions in this two-day racing spectacle that has ushered in the beginning of the auto racing season in New England for well over 40 years.

Thirty five NASCAR Whelen Modifieds were on hand for practice and qualifying at Thompson. Jimmy Blewett made himself the pre-race favorite as he was the fastest in pre-time trial practice. Blewett toured the 5/8 mile oval in 18.612 seconds, 120.890 mph. Also up to speed and in contention were Doug Coby, Jamie Tomaino, Todd Szegedy and Reggie Ruggiero.

Blewett might have been the fastest one in practice but Ted Christopher was the fastest when it counted. Christopher won the Coors Light Pole in qualifying for Icebreaker 2009 With a lap of 18.642 seconds (120.890 MPH), Christopher earned his 19th career WMT pole and his eighth career pole at Thompson. Doug Coby qualified second. There were a few surprises in qualifying including Glenn Reen, Jamie Tomaino and Rowan Pennink who rounded out the top-five. After the redraw, Coby and Pennink ended up on the front row while Tomaino, who would make his record-setting 500th career start would go third. Christopher picked the fourth position followed by Mike Stefanik and Reen.

Christopher began his title defense the way he ended it, with a win at Thompson. Once the green flag was displayed to start the 150 lapper Christopher wasted little time in showing what he had as he took the lead from Doug Coby on lap 10. Jamie Tomaino, who was making his 500th start, was quite stout in the early going as he wrestled the lead from Christopher on lap 41 and held it until a restart on lap 58 when he gave way to Mike Stefanik. A caution on lap 48 when John Busch spun out in turn two opened the door for pit stops by Christopher along with Don Lia, Ron Silk, Jimmy Blewett and Rowan Pennick. Stefanik and Tomaino had elected to remain on the track. By lap 62 Lia had worked his way back to 4th spot and had Christopher and Silk in tow. Four laps later Lia was third. Tomaino retook the lead on lap 67. Stefanik began to fade with obvious worn tires. Tomaino was able to hold on until lap 74 when his tires went south as Christopher stormed by Lia to take the lead. By lap 120 Christopher continued to lead as Ronnie Silk had moved him into the second spot. For all intents and purposes Silks run for the front ended a few laps later when Jimmy Blewett roughed him up and almost planted him in the first turn wall. Blewett also roughed up Lia before he passed him for the second spot. A caution on lap 133 for a Reggie Ruggeri spin set the stage for some late race excitement. With Blewett on the outside and Christopher on the inside they led the field to a restart on lap137. As Christopher entered turn three Blewett made a bottom shot and in the process moved him up to take the lead. Christopher returned the favor in turn four as he retook the lead. A Woody Pitkat spin on lap 148 precipitated a Green – White – Checkered finish. The field restarted for the final time on lap 152, single file. Despite the fact that Blewett beat and banged on the back of Christopher the defending champion never gave the aggressor the opportunity for another bottom shot as he scored an impressive win. Blewett, reluctantly settled for the runner-up spot with Lia, third. Ryan Preece and Todd Szegedy rounded out the top five. Sixth through tenth were Silk, Stefanik, Coby, Penneck and Bob Grigas.

For his efforts Christopher pocketed $8,800. He also received the first commemorative Tissot wrist watch, which will be presented by NASCAR and tour sponsor Whelen Engineering to each of the 14 race winners throughout the 25th anniversary season. The win was Christopher’s eighth at Thompson and his third in the track’s Icebreaker. He also won the traditional season-opener, which hosted the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour’s first race in 1985, in 2004 and 2005. Christopher also moved into sole possession of fourth-place on the tour’s all-time win list with his 32nd victory. He trails only Mike Stefanik (69), Reggie Ruggiero (44) and Tony Hirschman (35).

In Saturday night Sunoco Modified action at Thompson Keith Rocco scored his first win of the 2009 season in a fiercely competitive opener. As Rocco crossed the line to take down the victory, contact between Tom Cravenho and Ted Christopher sent Christopher head-on into the turn four wall. Christopher took a hard hit but walked away from the incident. Todd Ceravolo finished a strong second over Eric Goodale, Rowan Pennink, and Zach Sylvester. After post-race technical inspection, Goodale was stripped of his third-place finish; moving Pennink and Sylvester up a position and Jimmy Blewett inside the top five.

Defending division champion Jeff Zuidema of North Brookfield, CT, led wire-to-wire to win the first of two Late Model main events scheduled for the weekend.

Todd Ceravolo earned a hard-fought victory among a strong field of Sunoco Modifieds on Sunday afternoon. Norm Wrenn of Nashua, NH, kicked- off a new era in full-fendered racing at Thompson Speedway with the first-ever Super Late Model victory. Jeff Zuidema of N. Brookfield, CT, went two-for-two in Late Model competition on Icebreaker weekend winning both ends of the double-header. Joe Arena of Bristol, CT, turned in a dominating performance to score the victory in the season-opener for the Limited Sportsman division. Chuck Rogers of Quaker Hill, CT, scored his first-ever winner at the Thompson Speedway in the Mini Stocks. Brian Sullivan of S. Windsor, CT picked up where he left off winning TIS Modified features.

Ceravolo jumped out to the early lead of the main event followed by Keith Rocco. On the final lap, Bert Marvin got up alongside Ceravolo but could not muster up enough momentum to make the pass. Ceravolo rolled into victory lane for his first win of the season. Marvin had to settle for second followed by Rocco. Woody Pitkat had a strong run to finish fourth. Cravenho completed the top five.

The Waterford Speedbowl tried to open for the season but a forecast of rain and possible snow put a damper on action at the shoreline oval.

The True Value Modified Racing Series reports that a record 53 teams had secured numbers and paid fee’s to compete in 2009. Series founder Jack Bateman structured a 16 race schedule in response and additional prize money would be paid.

In NASCAR Sprint Cup action, Jeff Gordon ended a 47-race winless drought, the longest of his career as he beat Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson to win the Samsung 500 at the Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. It was the 17th Cup race at Texas, the track where Gordon has his only two last-place finishes in his 552 career starts. One of the 43rd-place finishes came last spring before he was runner-up to Carl Edwards in the fall race after winning the pole.Gordon won by 0.542 of a second over Johnson with an average speed of 146.372 mph. Middletown CT native Joey Logano, who started 10th, finished 30th. A strong rumor hadhis ride in jeopardy.

Kyle Busch won his third consecutive Nationwide race in Texas with another dominating performance, leading a race-record 178 of 200 laps to win the O’Reilly 300 even though he insisted it wasn’t as easy as it looked. Busch finished 1.447 seconds ahead of Tony Stewart, who made a late charge from seventh with four new tires after a caution on lap 188. Brad Keselowski, forced to start 42nd in a backup car, finished third.

Five years ago in 2014, Budweiser Blastoff Weekend which would have marked the start of the 64th consecutive season of racing at the 1/3 mile Waterford Speedbowl was cancelled due to the forecast of heavy rain for the entire weekend on the east coast. The National Weather Service reported that 2.75 inches rain fell in the Waterford, Ct area on Saturday. Blastoff Weekend was supposed to open the season of racing with the Valenti Modified Racing Series, Northeastern Midget Association and the track’s NASCAR Whelen All-American Series racing divisions along with many more.

Rain also wiped out the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour Series Prestoria Farms 150 at the Caraway Speedway in North Carolina. A makeup date for the event will be determined at a later date.

The Thompson Speedway hosted a private test session before the rains came on Friday. Word has it that Woody Pitkat looked extremly stout in the Buzz Chew No.88 that was powered by a spec engine. Others said to be testing included Ryan Preece, Ted Christopher and Doug Coby.

On a sad note Mrs Irene Venditti, 94 passed away in her sleep on Friday, March 28. Considered by many to be the First Lady of Auto Racing, Irene was instrumental in the success of the Seekonk Speedway, working tireless alongside her husband, D.Anthony, until his death in 1991. They were married 53 years. Irene continued to be involved with the running of the speedway and in 2012 she was inducted into the New England Antique Racers Hall of Fame. She graduated from Hope High in Providence, RI and married D. Anthony Venditti in 1938. She is survived by 3 of her 4 children, Adrienne, a registered nurse, Francis, a raceway director, & Annie, designer. Her younger son, Anthony tragically passed away in 1980. She is survived by 7 grand-children and 6 great-grand children.

For the first 6 years of their marriage Irene and Anthony were reluctant chicken farmers until Anthony, determined to make a better life for his family , decided to build a racetrack in his backyard. That dream became a reality when Seekonk Speedway opened it’s gates in 1946. Today the track holds the title of being the oldest consecutively family run track in the country.

Her funeral was held on Wednesday at 9:00 AM from the PERRY-McSTAY FUNERAL HOME, 2555 Pawtucket Avenue, East Providence with a Mass of Christian Burial at 10:00 AM in Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, Taunton Avenue, Seekonk. Burial will be in Gate of Heaven Cemetery. Calling hours will be held on Tuesday from 5-8.

In NASCAR Sprint Cup action at Martinsville, Kurt Busch led only three times for 23 of the 500 laps, including the final 11. Jimmie Johnson led 11 times for 296 laps, but fell just short for the second consecutive weekend. (He dominated at Auto Club Speedway before a late-race tire issue cost him a near-certain victory). Toward the end he led laps 348-449, then trailed Clint Bowyer for laps 450-460. He led again 461-472, yielded to Busch for 473-482 and took the lead again for lap 483-489. Busch got by at 490 and led the rest of the way.

Johnson settled for second. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was third in a Chevrolet, then Joey Logano and Marcos Ambrose in Fords. After qualifying 10th, Danica Patrick immediately slipped backward through the field. She was lapped early and often en route to finishing 31st, six laps behind.

Last year, 2018, A Test and Tune session was scheduled for Saturday, March 31, at Thompson. The hills in northeastern Connecticut came alive with the sound of racing engines. Among those testing the waters was Jacob Perry, third generation racer who has made his bones in the Mini Stocks and is taking a step up to the open wheeled Modifieds. Ryan Preece, Woody Pitkat and David Arute were also on hand.

In Modified action south of the Mason-Dixon line, Matt Hirschman was the class of the field during Saturday’s Southern Modified Racing Series event at Hickory Motor Speedway in North Carolina.

Hirschman initially started fourth after the redraw, which saw fast qualifier Jeremy Gerstner draw the pole alongside Andy Seuss. When the initial green flag waved Gerstner tried to maintain the lead, but contact with third starter Danny Bohn sent both around to bring out the caution which would wave again during the second attempt at the start, this time for an incident involving Kodie Conner and Jamie Tomaino in turn three that led to a brief red flag for cleanup.

Gerstner and Bohn dropped to the tail of the field for a complete restart, handing the top-two spots to Seuss and Hirschman. Once the cleanup was completed the field took the green flag to start the race for the third time, with Hirschman getting the jump on Seuss to take the lead.

Hirschman continued to lead the way until the third caution of the race waved on lap 28 when Tom Buzze spun on the backstretch. The caution didn’t phase Hirschman, who retained the lead during the ensuing restart over Seuss.

The race would run green to the end from there, with Hirschman cruising to a comfortable victory over Seuss in the 75-lap affair aboard the No. 60 PeeDee Motorsports modified. John Smith finished third and was followed by Jason Myers and Gerstner.

After months of speculation, rumors, and questions regarding the New London-Waterford Speedbowl grandstands and whether or not the track would really open, there is now an official answer. For the last several months, Speedbowl management has been meeting with Waterford town officials to discuss proposed improvements at the shoreline oval. Among the topics being negotiated were the existing grandstands. There have been many rumors surrounding the exact plan for the structure. Well, after lengthy negotiations, the town has agreed to sign off on the existing structure for the 2018 season. There are a few minor improvements that need to be made to certain sections before opening day and Speedbowl management has a crew in place to begin these minor repairs, which are expected to take about a week to complete. In an agreement with Waterford Planning and Zoning, along with the town fire marshal, once the repairs are complete, the town will then reinspect the sections needing minor repair to ensure the repairs were performed. This comes on the heels of which has been a rumor filled off season, to say the least.

Throughout the entire 2018 season, Speedbowl management will continue to meet with the town to discuss the on-going plan for improvements to the entire facility, which include major changes to the physical appearance of the Speedbowl. This will be spread out over the course of the next five years. Also, contrary to popular opinion, there is an active lease in place at the Speedbowl. Whitney Farms Racing LLC will oversee and operate the day to day racing operations and all that go along with running the race track. The Speedbowl looks forward to seeing all their loyal fans and racers on opening weekend May 4th-May 6th.

NASCAR’s top divisions had the weekend off to celebrate Easter.