RPW Column: The Champ Trail; Stafford Motor Speedway Making It Work During Covid-19

RPW Column By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WESTERLY, RI – The Stafford Speedway continued their NASCAR Whelen All-American Series racing action on Friday, July 24 with Dunleavy’s Modifiedz Night.

Stafford’s SK Lights took top billing with a 40-lap feature that paid over $10,000 in total posted awards. SK Light rookie driver Derek Debbis, who failed to qualify for the season opening event at Stafford back on June 26 was the big winner of the night, taking his first career victory in the biggest race of the season that was worth $2,358 in purse and contingency awards.

Ronnie Williams broke the win streak held by Keith Rocco as he scored his first win of 2020 in the SK Modified® feature, Ryan Fearn took down the Late Model feature, Jeremy Lavoie won the Limited Late Model feature, and Jason Lafayette scored the Street Stock checkered flag.

In the SK Light 40 lapper, Debbis started from the front row and held off numerous challenges for the lead. Debbis led lap-33 to pick up a $333 bonus bonus that was put up by Doug Dunleavy from Dunleavy’s Truck and Trailer Repair in memory of Wade Cole with Alexander Pearl and Mark Bakaj in tow. Debbis took the checkered flag to record his very first victory at Stafford. Pearl came home in second with Bakaj, third.

In the SK 40 lapper, Williams took the lead on a lap 21 restart with Mike Christopher Jr taking second. Todd Owen moved into third with Stephen Kopcik moving up to fourth with Keith Rocco was fifth.

Williams led lap-33 to collect a $433 bonus that was put up by Doug Dunleavy from Dunleavy’s Truck and Trailer Repair in memory of Wade Cole. At the 40 lap mark, Williams led Owen and the field to the checkered flag to pick up his first win of the 2020 season. Kopcik finished third with Christopher and Rocco rounding out the top-5. Rocco got stuck behind a fading Cory DiMatteo on the outside, lost a couple positions and had no time to recover.

Also on Friday night at Stafford safety equipment in memory of the late Ted Christopher was handed out to competitors. Prior to the beginning of the 2020 racing season, Quinn Christopher, wife of the late Stafford Speedway legend Ted Christopher, established the Ted Christopher Drive for Safety Initiative. The program’s aim was to increase safety awareness among Stafford drivers who had registered a number to race in 2020 at Stafford were eligible to sign up and receive a free nomex undershirt, helmet skirt, or carbonx head sock. Christopher distributed the safety items to the 96 drivers who signed up to take part in the program this past Friday night,

Matt Hirschman outscored 36 other Modified entries as he captured his fifth SBM Tri-Track Series win at the quarter mile Star Speedway in Epping New Hampshire on Saturday night. For his efforts he took home a $6,000 payoff. A predicted confrontation between Hirschman and Justin Bonsignore never materialized as Bonsignore was a no-show. But the ride to victory wasn’t one, especially at the end. Hirschman dominated the beginning, taking the lead on lap 25 and leading through lap 83, before a controlled caution slowed the race. While some elected to stay out, Hirschman pitted for a tire change. The charge started back to the front from ninth position. He would eventually pass Matt Swanson for the top spot on a restart at lap 112 and never look back.

Swanson, driving the legendary Ole Blu of the Boehler family, started 27th after earning a provisional into the race, played a different strategy than Hirschman did, and it almost paid off. Swanson elected not to pit as part of the controlled caution period on lap 83, and took over the lead when most others went down pit road. Swanson led the race from lap 83-112, before Hirschman took control when Swanson spun his tires on the restart. Andy Jankowiak, who used a similar strategy and stayed out, finished third. Jankowiak was involved in a wreck on lap 25 with veteran Dave Sapienza, but was able to rebound.

Ronnie Williams, hot off his victory at Stafford on Friday night, started third and finished fourth. Eric Goodale rounded out the top five. NASCAR Cup Series regular Ryan Preece was sixth in his return to Modified racing, while Anthony Nocella, Austin Kochenash, Cam McDermott and Ron Silk finished the top-10.

The purse for the event was over $40,000, a figure that didn’t change post-COVID pandemic. Due to COVID-19, and guidance from the state of New Hampshire, Star Speedway ran at 50% capacity for the event in the grandstands, and sold out. Tri Track and Star officials made sure that all social distancing and safe health practices were in place.

The Tri Track Open Modified Series returns to the track on Saturday, August 15, with the second stop of the season at Monadnock Speedway.

NASCAR announced that the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour will return to White Mountain Motorsports Park for the third race of the 2020 season. The quarter-mile in North Woodstock, New Hampshire, will host the tour on Saturday, Aug. 1, at 7 p.m.

The Whelen Modified Tour made its inaugural visit to the track on Saturday, July 4. Justin Bonsignore picked up the win after he executed a late-race bump-and-run on Matt Hirschman, and then held off Hirschman and Doug Coby in an overtime green-white-checkered finish.

The event will be televised live on TrackPass.

Just got my copy of The Soul of a Modified- Lenny Boehler’s Ole Blue. Lew Boyd has pulled out all the stops on this one. Once you pick it up you can’t put it down. For those of us who knew Lenny, Freddie, Ronnie, Leo and Bugsy this book will generate fond memories and make your eyes damp. Check it out and grab a copy at Coastal181.com or BRERacing.com. $29.95. Coastal181.com phone: 1-877-907-8181 toll free.

The NEAR Board Members and Hall of Fame Executive Committee Representatives met recently at the ProNyne Motorsports Museum. After much discussion and after holding off as long as possible, they gave in to common sense. The decision was unanimously made to cancel the 2020 NEAR Hall of Fame Banquet.

As hard as this decision was to make, it was the right one. The Covid 19 pandemic has not moved on. The facility for the event is still not open in Ct. A great number of the membership and honorees are in the highest risk group for infection. In the interest of being as safe as possible, they will regroup and try to have a stellar event in 2021!

On a sad note, Bob Bahre, a giant figure of racing in the Northeast best known as the founder of New Hampshire Motor Speedway, passed away. Along with his efforts to bring forth New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Bahre was a former owner at Oxford Plains Speedway alongside his brother Dick Bahre. Under Bahre’s leadership, the prestigious Oxford 250 originated as a 200-lap event in 1974 before expanding to its current 250-lap format.

While Bahre sold Oxford Plains Speedway in 1987, he would set his eyes on another lifelong dream. Bahre and his family purchased Bryar Motorsports Park, redeveloping the facility into New Hampshire International Speedway (now New Hampshire Motor Speedway). The track opened in 1990 and hosted its first NASCAR Cup Series event in 1993.

Before his days as a track owner, Bahre also owned a midget team in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He was inducted into the New England Auto Racing (NEAR) Hall of Fame in 2009, as well as the Maine Sports Hall of Fame in 2017.