Column By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WESTERLY, RI – The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Series closed out their 2019 season with the running of the Annual (57th) World Series at the Thompson Motorsports Park Speedway. Forty one Modifieds were pre-entered prior to the start of the weekend. The speedway grounds resembled a small city with hundreds of campers and tents in place for the weekend’s racing grand slam.
The speedway came alive on Friday morning. Very limited practice sessions took place before rain wiped out the entire day and night schedule. The Whelen modified tour entry list saw two drop-outs, Chase Dowling in the Tomaino car and Burt Myers.
Andrew Krause, driving the No. 24 Supreme Manufacturing Chevrolet, posted a fast lap of 18.893 seconds (118.527 mph) on Saturday afternoon to score the pole ahead of the Sunoco World Series 150 at the Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park. His previous best qualifying effort was a second at his home track, Wall Stadium Speedway, in May. Justin Bonsignore, who trailed Doug Coby by 19 points, was second in qualifying and joined Krause on the front row. Coby, who was looking for a sixth Whelen Modified Tour title, qualified third.
Patrick Emerling and Chris Pasteryak were fourth and fifth, respectively. Ron Silk was sixth, followed by Bobby Santos III, Craig Lutz, Woody Pitkat and Timmy Solomito.
Justin Bonsignore won the season-finale 150 lapper, his sixth victory of the season, which helped him close the gap to just eight in the championship standings. Even though he came up short of his second consecutive Whelen Modified Tour title, Bonsignore scored victories in three of four races at Thompson this season. Ron Silk finished second, while Matt Swanson, Bobby Santos III and Woody Pitkat finished the top five. Eric Goodale was sixth, followed by Coby, Chase Dowling, Rob Summers and Timmy Solomito.
Bonsignore was the dominate driver as he led 138 of the posted 150 laps. Coby started third and never led a lap, but during a red flag for a multiple-car crash on lap 12, received some crucial information over the radio from a fellow competitor. Woody Pitkat told Coby’s team the left-rear tire looked low on air pressure, and he was right. Coby pitted during the caution, changed the tire, and restarted deep in the field. It wasn’t long before he was back up inside the top 15, positioning himself where he needed to be to keep his points lead.
There were six cautions for 31 laps. The first caution flew on lap six for Chris Pasteryak who spun on the front stretch after being nudged by Timmy Solomito. Both continued but Pasteryak was eliminated on lap 56 when he suffered front end damage after getting together with Andrew Krausefor the fifth caution. Pasteryak ended up 32nd and Krause, 33rd. The second caution flew on lap 11 when Kyle Bonsignore triggered a nine car wreck between turns three and four.
Bonsignore took a trip off the backstretch on to the infield grass. He shot up on the track between turns three and four, collecting JR Bertuccio, Andy Jankowiac, Mark Bakaj, Gary Putnam and Ken Heagy to name a few. It was during this caution and ensuing red that Coby pitted to change a left rear tire that was going soft and during an interview with Dave Sapienza he indicated that Bobby Santos III would drive for him on limited occasions in 2020. Joey Mucciacciaro spun in turn 1 on lap 38 to bring out caution no.3. The fourth caution came on lap38 when Anthony Nocella lost an engine on the front stretch and hit the wall hard. Nocella escaped unhurt. The next caution came on lap 66 when Kyle Bonsignore and Calvin Carroll collided in turn three. The final caution flew on lap 102 when JR Bertuccio stopped on the track after an accident in turn four.
All tolled there were twenty six of the original 40 starters running at the end, seventeen on the lead lap. Tommy Catalano finished 11th and was followed by Craig Lutz, Kyle Soper, Sam Rameau, Kyle Bonsignore, JB Fortin and Blake Barney on the lead lap. Tom Rogers Jr finished 18th, one lap down. He was followed by Dylan Slepian, Chuck Hossfeld in perhaps his last race before retirement and Andrew Molleur.
It was a great day for racing. The crowd was not packed but ample to say the least. The 65 degree temp was ideal. Mike Stefanik was given a pre-race tribute thanks to his family and the Koszela family.
In some sad news, Timmy Solomito announced on FaceBook that Flamingo Motorsports (No. 16) would be shutting down following the World Series. Solomito stated that car owner Eric Sanderson & his wife Diane Reynolds Sanderson were retiring from racing. During his tenure at Flamingo Solomito recorded 9 wins, 6 poles and 1,300 laps led.
In other Sunday action, the Sunoco (SKtype) Modifieds were first up with a 30 lapper. Todd Owen started on the pole and held off first, Ron Williams and in the end, Woody Pitkat, to take the win. Williams was an early contender but was parked by officials after he ran Owen up the track and triggered a big wreck. Mike Christopher finished a strong third with Troy Talman, fourth. Keith Rocco drove a conservative race to finish fifth and wrapped up the division title, his fourth in a row and eighth overall. It was Rocco’s 17th NASCAR sanctioned SK Modified championship between three tracks in Connecticut, Stafford, Waterford and Thompson.
Shawn Monihan scored his fourth win of the year in the Limited Sportsman division but it was Kyle Gero who won the war and the championship. Gero, a third-generation racer is the son of Mike and Kim Gero and the grandson of George “Moose” and Jayne Hewitt. Gero finished fourth behind Monihan, Ryan Morgan and Cory Fanning. Megan Fuller was also a contender but was eliminated in an early race tangle on the front chute.
Jon McKennedy didn’t have a Mod tour ride but more than made up for it when he won the ISMA SuperModified 50 lapper. McKennedy dedicated his win to his dad who passed away recently. Randy Cabral was the NEMA Light winner.
Because of the fact that rain washed out all of the scheduled features for Friday night racing went way into the evening hours on Saturday as the final checkered flag fell at midnight, ending an extremely long day.
Bryan Narducci put the icing on the cake as he won the 20 lap SK Lite feature in the closing moments. Albert Ouellette did his best to block Narducci but to no avail as the division champion went to the outside as they came off the fourth turn on the final lap. Ouellette attempted to dump him into the wall but Narducci kept control and sprinted to the checker. Ouellette finished second with Alexander Pearl, third.
Narducci’s year included a NASCAR National Championship, Track Championship at Thompson and winning 15 out of 30 races entered.
The Valenti Modified Racing Series 50 lapper provided some great competition as Ronnie Williams took the win over Chase Dowling, Craig Lutz, Todd Owen and Joey Cipriano.
Other Saturday night winners were Derek Gluchacki in the Late Models, Rob Riccardi in the Pro 4 Modifieds, Eddie MacDonald in the Granite State Pro Stocks, Jonathan Bouvrette in the ACT Late Models and Ben Seitz in the NEMA Midgets.
Among those on hand Sunday was former NASCAR National Modified Champion Carl Bugs Stevens who was signing autographs and greeting his many friends and fans.
Congratulations to Dr Dick Berggren who will be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Jan 31 as a distinguished broadcaster. Berggren, is one of the three originators of the Spring Sizzler at Stafford. He began his broadcasting career at the Star Speedway in New Hampshire and at the New Smyrna Speedway in Florida. He is best known as a pit reporter for NASCAR Cup racing on national television. He was also the editor of Stock Car Racing and the Speedway Illustrated Magazines. He has also been a prime mover of the Northeast Motorsports Museum in Loudon, NH.
Next up is the Tri Track Modified Series Haunted 100 at the Seekonk Speedway this coming weekend. Ron Williams, the 2019 Stafford Motor Speedway SK® Modified champion, holds a 23-point advantage over defending Series champ Matt Hirschman going into the final race of the season for the Tri-Track Open Modified Series (TTOMS). There are 50-points up for grabs in the Haunted Hundred scheduled for Saturday, October 26 at Seekonk Speedway in Seekonk, MA.
In some follow-up news, internet racing site RaceDayCt reported the pilot of the plane that crashed in 2017 taking the life of local short track racing legend Ted Christopher was not certified to fly at the time of the crash because of medical conditions dating back more than a decade.
Pilot Patrick Dundas had his flight certification denied by the Federal Aviation Administration in 2007 according to a report released Tuesday by the National Transportation Safety Board. Dundas, who was 81 years old at the time of the crash, had a history heart issues that first put restrictions on his flying in 2002 and ultimately were the cause for his medical certificate to fly to be declined in 2007 by the FAA.
Christopher was killed on Sept. 16, 2017 when the single engine 1964 Mooney M20C he was a passenger in crashed in North Branford. Christopher was 59 years old at the time of the crash.
The NTSB released its Aviation Accident Factual Report publicly on the crash on Tuesday, Oct 9. A further extended conclusive report is expected at a later date. The NTSB investigation reports “Loss of engine power” as the defining cause of the crash.