RPW Exclusive: The Champ Trail; Whelen Mods At Thompson, Weekly Action & More…

Column By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WESTERLY, RI – The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Series rolled into the Thompson Speedway on Wednesday evening, Aug 14.for the Bud ‘King of Beers’ 150. Thirty one cars were on hand along with a full house of fans.

Doug Coby earned his fourth victory of the season in the Bud ‘King of Beers’ 150 at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park, breaking Justin Bonsignore’s streak of six consecutive wins at the Connecticut oval. It was Coby’s 28th career Whelen Modified Tour victory, his sixth career at Thompson and it increased the points lead with just five races remaining in the championship points schedule.

Coby dominated the early laps after earning his seventh Mayhew Tools Dominator Pole Award of the season in qualifying. When the caution flag flew on lap 84, Coby was leading the charge over Bonsignore, and both of them led the field down pit road. Coby elected to take his fresh tires on the pit stop, and exited the pits second, behind Bonsignore.

Coby restarted third, after Jon McKennedy used some strategy to earn the lead. He wouldn’t get back to the top spot until the final laps. After former series champion Bobby Santos III took the lead on lap 129, a caution with just 11 laps to go left Santos, Craig Lutz, Bonsignore and Coby at the front. All four of them had led laps, but only three of them would finish. At the green, Santos stumbled with a transmission issue, Lutz spun his tires, and Coby hung a hard left to clear all of them, into the lead. He never looked back.

“When someone messes up in front of you, you hope you have enough room, you crank it to the left, and hope no one is going to spin you,” Coby said of the restart dash.

Twenty four of the original 31 starters were running at the finish. Among those who failed to finish was Santos who ginished 23rd with a broken shifter, Tommy Catalano with suspension problems,  Joey Mucciacciaro with radiator problems, Kevin Shea with handling problems, Walter Sutcliff retired after a crash on lap 13, Melissa Fifield was out after 11 laps and Kyle Elwood lost an engine after only three laps..

The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Series takes a week off before heading to the Super Modified capitol of the world, the Oswego Speedway on Saturday, August 31. Doug Coby continues to lead Justin Bonsignore and Ron Silk by 47 points. Craig Lutz sits fourth,  some 85 points back and Eric Goodalerounds out the top five, 107 points back.

All five NASCAR Whelen All-American Series divisions were also in competition, along with the NEMA Midgets, where veteran sprint car star Sammy Swindell was in competition. Among those who were slated to be missing from the weekly venue were Sunoco Modified driver Todd Owen who had been disqualified from his third-place finish in the August 4 feature event and suspended from the next two NASCAR events at Thompson Speedway, following laboratory results taken on tire samples from his car. Owen has also been fined $500 for the infraction. In the SK Light Modifieds®, driver Bryan Narducci had been disqualified from his victory on Sunday, August 4, and suspended for the next two NASCAR events at Thompson Speedway. Narducci’s No. 01 was found with tires that did not clear laboratory testing after the August 4 event. He was also fined $500 for the infraction. Following penalties handed down to Todd Owen (Sunoco Modifieds) and Bryan Narducci (SK Light Modifieds®), Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park officials have accepted a request for an appeal from both competitors.

The appeal will not take place prior to Wednesday’s 30th annual Bud ‘King of Beers’ 150, meaning both Owen and Narducci will be eligible to compete in their respective divisions for the night.

Driver Keith Caruso has been fined $500 for failing to relinquish illegal parts found on his car following his victory on July 28. The fine must be paid before Caruso can return to NASCAR competition at Thompson Speedway. Limited Sportsman driver Ryan Waterman was suspended for one NASCAR event following contact under yellow flag conditions during the August 4 race. He is also on probation for the remainder of the Whelen All-American Series season. Limited Sportsman driver Randy Waterman has been suspended for two NASCAR events at Thompson Speedway for contact under yellow flag conditions and off-track behavior. Randy Waterman is also on probation for the remaining of the NASCAR season.

Limited Sportsman driver Scott Sousa has been placed on probation for the remainder of the NASCAR season following off-track actions during the August 4 race day.

Keith Rocco made it two in a row in the Sunoco (SK type) Modifieds. Rocco started seventh and in the words of announcer Matt Buckler, “If he dug any harder he would end up in China”. Taking the lead on lap 10, Rocco and Ron Williams staged a spirited battle but in the end Rocco was not to be denied as he streaked under the checkered flag. It was his 62nd career win at Thompson. Williams finished a close second and was followed by Woody Pitkat, Todd Owen and Troy Talman.

The only way to beat Bryan Narducci is either park him or wreck him. Narducci was headed for the front in the 20 lap SK Lite 20 lapper when he made slight contact with Alber Ouellette. Ouellette ended up in the wall and officials parked Narducci. Teddy Hodgdon took the win over Wayne Burroughs.

Other Wednesday night winners at Thompson were Avery Stoehr in the NEMA Midgets, Shawn Monahan in the Limited Sportsman, Doug Curry in the Mini Stocks and Brian Tagg in the Late Models.

Racing action returns to Thompson on Labor Day weekend on Sunday, Sept 1 for a makeup day of on-track action on Sunday, September 1. NASCAR’s Whelen All American Series divisions will take center stage as drivers seek valuable points with only two more races before the Sunoco World Series of Racing season finale in October.

Foxwoods® Resort Casino, located near Ledyard, Ct, announced last Wednesday, Aug 14 its new three-year partnership with Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park, home of the first purpose-built road course and first asphalt high-banked oval in America. Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park fans will have the opportunity to take advantage of Foxwoods promotions and special offers throughout the racing season including a Circuit One Luxury Driving Experience held at Foxwoods Resort Casino. Evidently those in charge at the casino are aware that live TV presentations give unlimited visibility to Foxwoods.

 

In regular weekly racing at the Stafford Motor Speedway on Friday night the Late Model division had top billing with their extra distance Late Model 50 feature event.  Ryan Fearn came away the big winner on the night, capturing his first career Late Model feature win.  Fearn’s winnings from the night totaled $3,450 with $1,200 in purse money, $1,900 from the Gaston Racing Enterprises High Roller Challenge that saw Fearn roll a 1 in victory lane for the winner takes all option, and $350 in contingency bonus money from iRacing, New England Racing Fuel, Sunoco, and Bob’s Painting and Del’s Vinyl Siding.  Other winners on the night included Ronnie Williams in the SK Modified® feature, Bryan Narducci in the SK Light feature, Alexandra Fearn in the Limited Late Model feature, and Meghan Fuller in the Street Stock feature.

It was kind of an”All in the Family” night as Ryan Fearn won the Late Model event and Alexandra Fearn won the Limited Late Model event, her third of the year, and Bryan Narducci, his sixth of the year, and his cousin Alexander Pearl finished one-two in the SK Lite event.

Ron Williams took the lead back under a mid-race  restart while Stephen Kopcik and Keith Rocco resumed their side by side duel for second.  Rocco got clear of Kopcik on lap-33 and Cory DiMatteo was now side by side with Kopcik for third with Michael Gervais in fifth.  Kopcik took third on lap-34 with Gervais pulling alongside DiMatteo for fourth.  Up front, Rocco pulled to the outside of Williams on lap-35 and the two leaders were once again side by side.  Williams cleared Rocco on lap-37 with Kopcik diving to the inside of Rocco for second.  Coming to 2 to go, Rocco was right on Williams’ back bumper.  Rocco tried a crossover move but Williams was able to fend off his challenge.  The two cars touched going into turn 3 but Williams was able to maintain the lead with Rocco still in second.  Rocco made one last bid for the lead in turns 3+4 but Williams took the checkered flag to pick up his second consecutive win and fifth of the 2019 season.  Rocco finished second with Kopcik, Gervais, and DiMatteo rounding out the top-5.

 

 

 

 

On the east end of Long Island, in weekly NASCAR Modified racing on a bullring track sometimes being in the right place at the right time is as important as any other ingredient for success and such was the case for former multi-time champion Tom Rogers Jr. of Riverhead Saturday night at Riverhead Raceway. Rogers pounced on a late race opening to race his Denise & Ken Darch owned machine from third to first notching his third win of the 2019 NASCAR Whelen All American Series.

As the checker flag waved Tom Rogers Jr. moved to within 8 wins of the all time track record held by the late legend “Charging” Charlie Jarzombek at 63 tallies.

Dylan Slepian, knocking on the door for that elusive first career NASCAR Modified win would have to be content with runner-up money in the My Guy Auto Supply NAPA Auto Parts Chevy while championship leader Kyle Soper crossed the line third in the Eastport Feeds Chevy. Heading into the final month of racing Soper enjoys a 74-point margin over Rogers. John Fortin Sr. and Dave Brigati completed the top five.

It was good to see Dave Sapienza back in a Modified. Sapienza suffered back injuries in an early season NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Series event at the Wall Stadium. He finished eighth.

 

Down in the southland at the Bowman Gray Stadium Burt Myers capped off the Bowman Gray season with his 10th Modified championship and fourth in a row. The 10 championships tie him with Tim Brown for the most titles in the division. Prior to the event, Myers led Brown by seven points and needed to finish two positions ahead of Brown. After leading late in the race, Myers finished third. Brown finished well back in the pack after he and Chris Fleming rubbed wheels and bounced off the guard rail on lap 145 of the scheduled 150 laps. Brandon Ward and James Civali, who was third in the points chase, bumped crossing the finish line and Ward won in what turned out to be 166 laps.

But it was Myers who stole the show for the fourth straight season. And he celebrated his championship by doing a doughnut in the infield. Then he got out of the car and held up an orange No. 10 placard.

The conversation between Myers and his crew continued on the radio late in the race, when he led as late as lap 154. But Civali bumped Myers and Myers maintained his steering and went back to third. Myers finished the season with five wins to give him 84, seven less than Brown, the leader.

Bowman Gray shuts down in mid August every year. The stadium is used for Wake Forest University football games. Look for Burt Myers to continue his season on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Series.

 

John Spence advised that the Saturday night program of the Valenti Modified Racing Series at the Monadnock Speedway (Aug 17) was cancelled due to pending forecasts calling for thunderstorms. It is unknown if the event will be rescheduled.

 

Concord-based Speedway Motorsports Inc. disclosed that it has reached a definitive merger agreement worth $800 million to take the company private. In April, privately held Sonic Financial Corp. proposed buying Speedway Motorsports’ 40.8 million outstanding shares for $735 million.

The merger agreement approved by the Speedway Motorsports (NYSE: TRK) board is for $19.75 per share, or $806.6 million. Sonic Financial is owned by Bruton Smith and his family, who already control 70% of Speedway Motorsports.

Both companies are based in the Charlotte area.

The deal is expected to close by the end of September.

This marks the latest move within NASCAR to consolidate ownership of the sport’s main entities as part of what is envisioned as a major overhaul of the racing series. In May, International Speedway Corp. (NYSE: ISCA), a Daytona Beach, Florida-based track operator, approved a $2 billion merger with sanctioning body NASCAR.

In both instances, taking the publicly held track operators private will give the companies greater freedom to add and subtract races and make other changes in collaboration with NASCAR itself. The France family owns NASCAR and holds a dominant position in International Speedway.

“It will be interesting to watch it unfold,” said Steve Lauletta, a sports marketing consultant and former president of NASCAR team Chip Ganassi Racing. “It’s easier to make decisions with their new structure and with NASCAR’s new structure, but they are (together) going to have to make some tough decisions.”

Speedway Motorsports owns eight NASCAR tracks around the country, including Charlotte Motor Speedway. Bruton Smith, 92, is the company’s founder and executive chairman. His son, Marcus Smith, is 45 and became CEO in 2015. Major changes are anticipated for the 2021 season, when NASCAR’s largest track operators will be privately owned. Whether further consolidation may occur is unknown.

“It makes it easier if they want to roll everything up together,” said Mike Boykin, CEO of Bespoke Sports & Entertainment, a marketing firm that represents several NASCAR corporate sponsors. “(Either way, the sport) can make changes quicker and it allows them to call audibles or push initiatives without some of the politics that existed before.”

NASCAR lost more than half of its TV audience between 2005 and the present. Stock-car racing has struggled to attract younger fans and a significant portion of its core audience has abandoned the sport. Declining ticket sales forced both companies to remove grandstands and luxury suites. At the Charlotte track, the number of seats has been cut in half — to 79,000 — since 2008. There are 75 luxury suites at the speedway, compared with 113 a decade earlier.

Wells Fargo forecasts $464 million in revenue and per-share earnings of 94 cents for Speedway Motorsports this year. Weaknesses in the sport, according to the analyst report this month, include aging tracks in need of investment, including at Speedway Motorsports; status quo or worse fan interest; increasing competition from other sports leagues and entertainment options; and a lack of spending power among NASCAR fans.

More than half of stock-car racing fans earn less than $50,000 — less than its big-league sports rivals. Declining ticket sales have hurt the industry with revenue at International Speedway and Speedway Motorsports falling by 17% and 25%, respectively, from peak levels, according to the Wells Fargo report.

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