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

Column By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WESTERLY, RI – Forty five years ago in 1974 Gil Hearne won the inaugural 150 lap Turkey Derby at the Wall Stadium Speedway. Driving the Tom Durkin No.12, Hearne led 107 of the scheduled 150 laps for a $2,000 pay day.

Richie Evans, the pole sitter, was a pre-race favorite but fell by the wayside with motor troubles. Charlie Kremer Jr was second fastest but he too, had engine problems. Dick Dunn was third fastest and was also plagued by bad luck as he flipped the Al Gaudreau No.3 on the back stretch. Fred Harbach survived to finish second with Jerry Bartlet, third. Rounding out the top five were Tom Baldwin and Kenny Bouchard.

Ten years ago in 2009, all eyes were on the annual Wall Stadium Turkey Derby XXXVI. The Turkey Derby officially closed out the 2009 outdoor racing season in the northeast. Despite the fact that a bad storm left high winds to buffet the New Jersey speedway the entire two-day program was completed.

Rowan Pennink capped off a breakout year with a win in the Modified Tour type portion of the Turkey Derby. Pennick started third, took the lead from Matt Hirschman on a lap40 restart only to lose it after being roughed up by Jimmy Blewett. Blewett led until lap 91 when he reluctantly left the speedway after being black flagged for leaking fluid. Following the race Jamie Tomaino and Pete Brittain said they saw no fluid coming from the #66 car of Jimmy Blewett. Rowan Pennink said the officials stopped him and checked the fluid on his windshield that was why they black flagged Blewett.Pennick re-assumed the lead and went on to take the 100 lap win over Pete Brittain. Jamie Tomaino finished third with Jon McKennedy and Anthony Sesely rounding out the top five. Hirschman ended up 8th while Blewett finished in 18th spot. Ted Cheistopher, in a Pennink team, car finished 13th.

Jimmy Blewett won the SK type 100 after taking the lead from Anthony Sesely on lap 76.  Rowan Pennink finished third with Chas Okerson and Tim Arre rounding out the top five. Numerous accidents slowed the 100 lapper including a mean one by local runner Robert Geibel who flew out of the ballpark on the backstretch.

In some sad news, Ernie Gahan, the 1966 NASCAR Modified national champion, passed away Thursday night, November 26, at his home in Cranberry Isles, Maine at the age of 83.

Ron Hedger, National Speed Sport Correspondent reported that asphalt repaving of the Albany-Saratoga Speedway in Malta, NY was complete. The banking at the top of the turns had been extended and the backstretch had been pushed out another lane. In addition to the New England based Modified Racing Series future plans called for the Race of Champions Modified Series along with the ISMA Supers and the ACT Late Models.

Five years ago in 2014, there was still an unmentionable in the wood pile at the Waterford Speedbowl as the soap opera of the foreclosure continued. The Norwich (Ct) Bulletin reported that a scenario that presently existed could keep Terry Eames in place as owner and promoter of the Waterford Speedbowl in 2015. The threat of an appeal of the foreclosure sale of the race track to Glastonbury businessman Bruce Bemer by Groton businessman Ed DeMuzzio could tie up the sale for as long as another year, according to the lawyer for lead creditor, Rocco Arbitell. If that happened, New London Superior Court judge Emmett L. Cosgrove could potentially allow Eames to, once again, open and operate the track. Currently the property was still under the control of Eames and his group, 1080 Hartford LLC, and will remain so until the closing on the foreclosure sale.

The Stafford Motor Speedway held their 45th Annual Awards Banquet  at Maneeley’s,  65 Rye Street, in South Windsor, CT. The Arute family which owns and operates the nutmeg state oval welcomed a guest list of over 500 people consisting of teams, drivers, sponsors, and employees. With Norwich Bulletin Sports Writer Marc Allard and Stafford Motor Speedway broadcaster Matt Buckler serving as the Masters of Ceremony, the NASCAR Champions Awards Ceremony not only honored the six track champions, they also recognized the top-20 points finishers from the SK Modified®, Late Model, SK Light, Limited Late Model, DARE Stock, and U.S. Legend Cars divisions. Special awards that were presented during the evening’s festivities were Most Popular Driver Awards, SPAFCO Race Chassis & Parts Rookie of the Year, R.A.D. Automachine DARE Stock Rookie of the Year, and the UNOH Youth Achievement Award

Taking the seat of honor for a record setting ninth time was SK Modified Track Champion Ted Christopher. Christopher, who beat out Ryan Preece by a scant two points was extremely consistent in his run for the title. In 17 events he recorded only one win but his tale of the tape showed 17 top 10 finishes. Preece was the big winner with 6 victories to his credit but recorded 14 top tens which ultimately made the difference at seasons end. Woody Pitkat went winless in 17 events but recorded 15 top tens which brought him to finish 16 points behind Preece in third spot. Keith Rocco didn’t have the season at Stafford that he hoped for but non the less recorded two victories in 17 starts. Despite recording 14 top tens, Rocco found himself at season’s end in fourth spot. Rounding out the top five was rookie Chase Dowling. Dowling recorded one victory, that coming on June 20, no easy accomplishment for a rookie. He recorded a total of 12-top tens in 17 events. Alot more will be heard from this young man in the future. Sixth through tenth in the SK Modifieds were Dan Avery, Eric Berndt, Todd Owen, Michael Gervais Jr and Rowan Pennink.

Other Stafford Champions honored were Adam Grey in the Late Models with six wins who recorded 16 top tens in 17 events, Rookie Jeremy Sorel in the SK Lites who had two wins and recorded 16 top tens in 18 starts, Andrew Hayes in the Limited Late Models with four wins in 18 starts, Frank L’Etoile Jr in the Dare Stocks who recorded 2 wins in 18 starts and Dana D,Matteo in the Legends cars.

The SPAFCO Race Chassis and Parts Rookie of the Year awards were presented to Chase Dowling from the SK Modified® division, Kyle Casagrande from the Late Model division, and Jeremy Sorel from the SK Light division. Taking home R.A.D. Automachine Rookie of the Year honors were Cliff Saunders in the Limited Late Model division and Trace Beyer in the DARE Stock division. The winners of the Most Popular Driver Awards were Todd Owen in both the SK Modified® division, Jim Mavlouganes in the Late Model division, Tyler Hines from the SK Light division, David Arute from the Limited Late Model division, Doug Phelps in the DARE Stock division, and Mike Christopher, Jr. in the U.S. Legends Car division. Last but not least, The UNOH Youth Achievement award was won by SK Light Modified driver Branden Dion.

The southern based  KOMA Modifieds ran a strange type of race last weekend in Myrtle Beach, SC. In a race that saw 19 KOMA Unwind Modified Madness Series drivers all trying to go as slow as possible for the majority of its 125 laps, Zach Brewer showed the speed necessary to go to victory lane when he needed it. Racing web site Speed 51 reported that Burt Myers won the pole in qualifying earlier in the day at Myrtle Beach, but let 15-year-old Modified rookie Spencer Davis set the pace early on.  While much of the field was noticeably easing off the throttle all around the track in an effort to save tires at the notoriously abrasive coastal track, the pace for the first half of the event was quite a bit slower than the 600-horsepower Modifieds would normally produce.

While Spencer Davis and Burt Myers dominated most of the tire-conservation endurance test, Brewer made the most of his fresh tires late in the “Gobble Til Ya Wobble 125″ Saturday night.  Brewer rocketed past Myers, who settled for not pitting for fresh tires late in the race, on lap 88 and never looked back for his second KOMA Series victory of the 2014 season. Burt Myers ended up second.

Last year, 2018, The Stafford Motor Speedway honored its champions and numerous competitors on Friday night. Stafford, which was paved in 1967, has been under the control of the Arute family since mid-1970 when then race director Bill Slater convinced construction company and Modified co-owner Jack Arute to lease the speedway before it fell victim to financial problems. Since buying the speedway property in 1971 the Arute family has improved the facility 1000% and made it one of the premier speed plants on the east coast. Through it all since day one has been Mark and Jackie Arute for 49 years for literally the thrill of victory and the agony of the defeat. There have been good times and bad but Stafford has always prevailed.

The 2018 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series season at Stafford Motor Speedway awarded competitors an impressive $68,000 in bonus money through the track’s Contingency Program partners. The contingency bonuses were in addition to the weekly purse winnings which increased an average of 10% across the five divisions. Stafford’s premier SK Modified® division led the way with over $36,000 in weekly contingency, Gamblers Challenge, and TC 13 Shootout payouts. Providing weekly contingency bonuses throughout the season were Dunleavy’s Truck and Trailer Repair, Maybury Material Handling, Starrett Tools, Casagrande Builders, New England Racing Fuel, Sunoco Brand, and Kevin Harvick Inc. Management. Through his company, KHI Management, Harvick presented two weekly $125 bonuses to the leader on lap-13 and the 13th place finisher in remembrance of Christopher’s number 13. 19 different SK Modified® drivers were awarded KHI bonuses and overall 20 different drivers won SK Modified® bonuses.

When the final checkered flag of the 2018 season dropped at the NAPA Auto Parts Fall Final, Ronnie Williams, Tom Fearn, Marcello Rufrano, Jeremy Lavoie, and George Bessette, Jr. cemented their names in the Stafford Speedway history books as 2018 track champions. In the NASCAR Whelen All American Series Division I, SK Modifieds®, the fight for the championship was a season long duel between Williams and Keith Rocco. Rocco began the season with a 4-race winning streak that established himself as the championship favorite. Williams and the #50 Les’s Auto Center team were finishing races right behind Rocco on the podium, allowing him to keep the deficit to Rocco in the standings to a reasonable margin. A big win on June 29 in the NAPA SK 5K, with a payday of $10,625, was definitely the boost the #50 team needed as they pursued the race for the championship. Williams took the point lead for the first time following a win on July 6 and he led the standings for the remainder of the season and won his very first track championship at Stafford. For the season Williams posted 4 wins, 14 top-5 and 17 top-10 finishes.                                                                                 

Tom Fearn and the #92 King Ward Coach Lines team enjoyed a season for the ages in the NWAAS Division II, Late Models. In 21 starts this season, Fearn finished on the podium 19 times with 12 wins, 6 second place finishes, and one third place finish. Fearn’s 12 wins this season set a Stafford Speedway Late Model division record and he also set a division record with six consecutive wins from May 18 to June 22. For the season Fearn posted 12 wins, 19 top-5 and 19 top-10 finishes with a miniscule average finish of 2.4. Fearn’s 12 wins this season also made him Stafford’s winningest driver in Late Model history with 48 career wins, passing Ryan Posocco who had 45 career Late Model wins at Stafford.

The NWAAS Division III, SK Light Modifieds, produced one of the tightest championship races in the track’s long and storied history. Marcello Rufrano and Bryan Narducci, two drivers who grew up racing against each other in the Stafford Wild Thing Kart Series, renewed their friendly rivalry in grand fashion this season. The two drivers took turns swapping the point lead back and forth this season with the pair combining to win 11 of 21 races. Rufrano took the checkered flag in the biggest SK Light race of the season, the May 25 Dunleavy’s Modifiedz Night extra distance race that paid an SK Light season high $2,025 with purse and contingency bonuses. Narducci looked to have the championship within his grasp late in the season, but two 15th place finishes in the 4 races leading into the season ending NAPA Fall Final allowed Rufrano to enter that race tied with Narducci in the standings. As the two were racing for the lead in the final race, they made contact and both drivers crashed out of the race. With Rufrano being in front of Narducci on the last completed green flag lap, he was scored one position ahead of Narducci and became the SK Light champion. For the season, Rufrano and the #88 Wheelers Auto Service team posted 6 wins, 11 top-5, and 16 top-10 finishes.

Other division champions were Limited Late Model, Jeremy Lavoie and George Bessette, Jr. in the Street Stocks.

The NAPA Auto Parts Rookie of the Year awards were presented to David Arute from the SK Modified® division and Al Saunders from the Late Model division.  Taking home R.A.D. Automachine Rookie of the Year honors were Bryan Narducci in the SK Light division, Steven Midford in the Limited Late Model division, and Meghan Fuller in the Street Stock division.  The NAPA Auto Parts rookie awards will be worth a $1,000 gift card redeemable at participating NAPA Stores to Arute and Saunders, with Narducci, Midford, and Fuller each winning a $500 bonus from R.A.D. Automachine that will be paid out in $100.00 weekly increments to each driver as they attend events during the 2019 season.

The winners of the Most Popular Driver Awards were Dan Avery in the SK Modified® division, Paul Arute in the Late Model division, Bryan Narducci from the SK Light division, Jeremy Lavoie from the Limited Late Model division, and Nicole Chambrello in the Street Stock division.  The Most Popular Driver Awards are voted on by the fans who attend Stafford Motor Speedway race events and fill out the ballots found in the track’s weekly Pit Stopper Magazine combined with an online vote.

The UNOH Youth Achievement award was won by SK Light Modified driver Bryan Narducci.  The UNOH Youth Achievement Award is a program that is open to all drivers at Stafford between the ages of 14-17.  The eligible driver who scored the most track points from their best 14 finishes this season won a $500 cash award from UNOH as well as a $500 scholarship award from UNOH.  Marcello Rufrano was the national UNOH Youth Achievement Award winner and he will be honored at the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series banquet in Charlotte next month.

There was racing for the Modifieds. The Modifieds were added as a second division to the Late Models that race at the Myrtle Beach Speedway in South Carolina. There were 13 tour type Modifieds on hand including Tommy Catalano, Matt Hirschman, the Myers brothers and Woody Pitkat. Catalano led pole to pole to score the win. Hirschman finished second with Burt Myers, third. Bobby Measmer and Jason Myers rounded out the top five.

Joey Logano busted up The Big Three and captured an improbable first NASCAR title by soundly beating a trio of champions. Logano won the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway to grab his first Cup championship in a season in which he barely contended until the playoffs began.

Following an outstanding rookie season, Tyler Reddick became the NASCAR Xfinity Series champion. The driver of the No. 9 JR Motorsports Chevrolet capped off an extraordinary season in grand fashion by capturing the 2018 NASCAR Xfinity Series championship with a stirring victory in Saturday’s Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. To take the title, Reddick outdueled his Championship 4 competitors Cole Custer (second), Daniel Hemric (fourth) and Christopher Bell (11th).