RPW Column: Looking Back A Bit; Second Week Of March

Column By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WESTERLY, RI – Forty five years ago in 1975, the NASCAR Modifieds made their annual spring trek to Martinsville for a 250-lap event. Bugsy Stevens in the Koszela No.15 took the win over Ronnie Bouchard, Jerry Cook and Mike Loescher.

A horrific fire on the front stretch marred the day when Brian Ross in the Bob Garbarino Mystic Missile was rear ended by a bumper-less car driven by Melvin Chilton. Chiltons bare frame rail tore into Ross’ fuel cell and ignited the fuel. Flames raged as high as the grandstand roof but luckily Ross emerged unhurt. To add insult to injury, when fire crews arrived on the scene, the fixture that was supposed to dispense the purple-K wouldn’t work and the fire had to be extinguished with water and hand held extinguishers.

Thirty years ago in 1990, Reggie Ruggiero started 17th and took the lead from Jamie Tomaino on lap 142 and went on to win the season opening 200 lapper at Martinsville. Jeff Fuller finished second and was followed by Jamie Tomaino, George Kent and Jerry Cranmer.

Twenty five years ago in 1995, the Modifieds were silent as the action was in Atlanta. Johnny Benson passed Ken Schrader with eight laps to go and went on to win the Busch Grand National event. Jeff Gordon dominated the Winston Cup event.

Twenty years ago, in 2000, Mark Martin was the Busch Grand National winner at Atlanta after waiting out a six-hour rain delay. Dale Earnhardt Sr. was the Winston Cup winner after teammate Mike Skinner lost an engine in the closing laps.

Fifteen years ago in 2005, the big news of the week was the announcement that the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Series would be returning to Martinsville, Virginia on Saturday night, September 3. The event, 250 laps in length, would carry a purse of $110,000. The speedway would install temporary Musco lighting to illuminate the .525 mile speedway. Speedway President Clay Campbell stated that the event would be held in combination with NASCAR’s newly-formed Southern Modified Tour. Drivers will earn championship points for their respective divisions. The Martinsville event will be NASCAR’s version of the highly popular North – South Shootout that is run as an open competition Modified event at the Concord Motorsports Park.

In the opinion of many the NEAR display at the annual Race-a-Rama was the highlight of the show. Plenty of drivers from years gone by and the present were on hand to sign autographs including Bob Polverari, Billy Greco, Jap Membrino, Ray Miller, Moon Burgess and Bob Potter. It was also announced that Eddie Flemke Sr, a charter member of NEAR and a member of the Hall of Fame would be inducted into the New Britain CT. Sports Hall of Fame on March 31. Flemke, who became a Modified Legend in his own time has over 500 wins to his credit and is responsible for mentoring many including Pete Hamilton, Richie Evans and Ronnie Bouchard. A hot topic of conversation was the momentum that the True Value Modified Series is gaining. The True Value Modifieds are an affordable alternative to the Whelen Modified Tour. Series leader Jack Bateman says he has 46 teams lined up to compete in 2005. The TVMS was born when the Modified division was displaced from the Claremont Speedway in New Hampshire. Since then the series has branched out to other tracks in the state as well as those in Vermont and now Massachusetts as they have three dates at the Seekonk Speedway.

It looked like the voting taxpayers in the State of Florida didn’t want to subsidize a proposed NASCAR Auto Racing Hall of Fame in the Daytona Beach area. The Quinnipac University in Hamden, Ct released results of a poll taken that showed that voters, by an 81 percent to 16 percent margin, opposed the possibility of giving $75 million to help Daytona Beach land a NASCAR Hall of Fame. To add insult to injury, even NASCAR fans didn’t like the idea: They opposed it by a margin of 63 percent to 35 percent. The poll was taken of 1,007 voters in the state. Known for its exactness and thoroughness, the Quinnipac poll was selected a “winner” by the New York Post for the most accurate prediction on the Schumer-D’Amato Senate race in 1998, and results are featured regularly in The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, and on national network news broadcasts.

Martin Truex, Jr. won the first Busch series race held outside of the United States by pulling away from the field following the final caution flag. Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards followed him across the line six seconds behind; Adrian Fernandez in 10th was the highest finishing Mexican national.

Ten years ago in 2010, with Speedweeks in Florida and the New Smyrna World Series history most of the auto racing snow birds had headed back north to await the beginning of the 2010 season at their favorite tracks. For the most part race fans and teams endured the cold, wind and rain during their stays in the sunshine state. The racing at New Smyrna could have been better but the somewhat short fields didn’t help. Ted Christopher was off his game a bit as many thought he would clean house in Fla. Keith Rocco had a chance to prove himself but he blew it when he went after Ron Silk. Rocco has a lot of raw talent but he needed to tone it down a bit.

A big disappointment was the fact that Burt Myers didn’t come to New Smyrna to trade paint with the northern boys. Myers has become somewhat of a racing personality because of his part in the Mad House reality show on the History Channel.

Had occasion to speak to Bob Garbarino who stated that he was surprised to hear from Donny Lia that he was going with the trucks. In the mean time, he said, no deals with any one had been made. It could very well mean that the Mystic Missile has taken its final lap.

Lou Modestino reported that the recession has hit the Daytona Beach area hard with several businesses closed up, and there were lots of half-priced tickets for the big events at Daytona International Speedway. He also stated that there were a lot of room vacancies, even though the room rates at the major hotels had dropped prices, some as much as two-thirds.

Between the weather and the ailing economy, things were way off from a few years ago in the Daytona Beach area.

Kyle Busch barely overtook Greg Biffle out of the final turn in a green-white-checker finish to win by 0.051 seconds in the NASCAR Nationwide race at Fontana, California on Saturday, with Brad Keselowski right behind them.

It was a heartbreaking loss for polesitter Joey Logano, who led 130 laps and was up front when the final caution came out. Busch’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate finished fifth.

Danica Patrick was 31st in her second Nationwide race, three laps off the pace and ahead of six other cars that were still running at the end.

In Sprint Cup action Jimmie Johnson held of Kevin Harvick to take the win at Fontana. Johnson scored his 48th career victory, which came at the same track where he got his first one eight years previous. He led eight times for 101 laps to win for the fifth time in 15 starts at California, including the last three fall races there. Harvick finished 1.523 seconds behind Johnson, with teammate Jeff Burton in third. Clint Bowyer was eighth, putting all three Childress drivers in the top 11 for the second straight week.

Five years ago in 2015, The 2015 NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour season got underway at the Caraway Speedway in North Carolina with the Spring Classic 150, the first of three scheduled visits to the track for the tour this year. Long Island invader Eric Goodale was able to pass Jason Myers on Lap 124 on a restart and led the final 26 laps to earn his first career win on the southern tour. He started eighth.

Myers held on for second. John Smith, David Calabrese and Bobby Measmer Jr. rounded out the top five.

Completing the top 10 were Burt Myers, Gary Putnam, Frank Fleming, Tom Abele, Jr and JR Bertuccio.

Defending Southern Modified Tour champion Andy Seuss was involved in an accident on Lap 12 that sent him hard into the wall and out of the race. Seuss would finish dead last (19th). Four-time series champion George Brunnhoelzl III, who was the dominant car through the beginning stages, blew a rear on a restart with 39 laps remaining that sent him packing. Brunnhoelzl was credited with a 16th-place finish to start the season. Whelen Modified Tour champions Ryan Preece and Doug Coby both had engine that cost them their spots in the top ten after making the long haul from the northern states.

Race Chaser Online New England Correspondent Kyle Souza reported that the Tri Track Open Modified Series has crossed the threshold of 50 confirmed entries for their four race series in 2015. Races will be contested at Lee USA Speedway on May 17, Monadnock Speedway on June 13, Seekonk Speedway on July 1 and New London-Waterford Speedbowl on Sunday September 13.

Joey Logano dominated the NASCAR XFINITY Series Axalta Faster. Tougher. Brighter 200 at the Phoenix Raceway, leading 175 of 200 laps en route to his first XFINITY Series victory since 2013.

Kevin Harvick was too fast to catch, anyway, as he dominated en route to his second consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory. It’s also Harvick’s 30th triumph, his fourth straight win at Phoenix and, incredibly, his seventh consecutive top-two finish in Cup competition, dating back to the end of his 2014 championship season.

Kevin Harvick also surpassed the 1,000 laps led mark at Phoenix, the first driver ever to do so, in capturing his record seventh victory at Phoenix.

Last year, 2019, Time marches on! Brad Lafontaine states that after 27 years of selling Troyer Race Cars at Northeast Race Cars And Parts they finally picked up their last one on March 6 and it’s on the Jig getting it ready for the customer. Lafontaine was informed in January that Troyer was terminating its contract with Northeast.

Kyle Busch made it a weekend sweep at ISM Raceway in the Arizona desert. Busch tracked down Ryan Blaney over a long green-flag run before passing his Team Penske rival for the lead with 16 laps to go, then made his fuel and tires last to the checkered flag to add a victory in the NASCAR Cup Series on Sunday to his triumph in the Xfinity Series race.

Busch’s latest big weekend gives him 199 wins in NASCAR’s top three series, including 52 at the Cup level. Ryan Preece finished 34th after getting collected in a wreck.

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