RPW Column: Looking Back A Bit: Second Week Of October

RPW Column By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WESTERLY, RI – Sixty years ago in 1960 Dutch Hoag, a Modified legend in his own time, won the Race of Champions on the one mile dirt track in Langhorne, PA. Dick Tobias finished second with Wally Dallenbach, third. Bob Malzahn and Carl Van Horn rounded out the top five.

George Pendergast won the season ending 25 lap Modified feature at the Waterford Speedbowl. Dick Beauregard was the non-Ford winner and Dick Dunn was victorious in the Bombers. Don Collins was crowned the track’s Modified Champion. Ted Stack was the non-Ford Champion and Newt Palm was the Bomber Champion.

Fifty five years ago in 1965, Dick Watson won the season ending 100 lap Modified event at the Waterford Speedbowl. Charlie Savage was the Bomber winner. Modified Championship honors at the shoreline oval went to Sal Dee. Bill Scrivner was the Bomber champion. Scrivner drove for Roger Bonnville who, in later years, would provide Bob Potter with Modified championship rides. Ralph “Hop” Harrington was the Saturday night winner at Norwood.

Fifty years ago in 1970, the NASCAR Modifieds were at Beltsville, Maryland for a 200-lap event. Jerry Cook took the win over Eddie Flemke and Billy Hensley. At Thompson, Billy Harman, in the Ted Marsh 55, held off Leo Cleary and Lou Austin for that win. Dick Armstrong bought the famous Tant/Mitchell No.11 that was formerly driven by Ray Hendrick. With Hop Harrington at the wheel, a solid fourth place finish was recorded. Rounding out the top eight were Lou Toro, Joey Kay, Bob Vee and George Moose Hewitt. At Seekonk George Summers recorded a 200 lap win. Hank Goff was the B division winner.

Forty five years ago in 1975, it was all quiet with the modifieds as they were getting ready for the annual Cardinal 500 in Martinsville.

Forty years ago in 1980, the World Series at Thompson drew 53 modifieds. It was on this date that the late Richie Evans gave Mike Stefanik his big break as he put him in the seat of his back-up experimental-straight axle modified known as the grey ghost. After starting in the rear, the then young driver worked his way to the front and was running second behind Ronnie Bouchard when he was forced out with broken valve springs three quarters of the way through the 50 lap event. Evans had taken the lead at the start but also had bad luck as he was forced to pit with a flat tire on lap 33, giving way to Bouchard. Bouchard led until lap 44 when he was passed by Greg Sacks in the Cal Smalles No.41.Sacks went on to take the win and was followed by Bouchard, John Rosati, Bob Vee, Evans, Ray Miller, Moose Hewitt and Kenny Bouchard. Mike Benevides who today is a successful CPA was the late model winner and Warren Coniam won the Supermodified portion. Ronnie Bouchard won a special 15-lap match race.

Thirty five years ago in 1985, Oswego closed out their season on Saturday night with a 30 lap modified feature. Richie Evans took the win and little did anyone know that this would be the last, as the popular champion would lose his life in two weeks at Martinsville. Mike McLaughlin finished second.

Thirty years ago in 1990, the Modifieds had the week off as they were getting ready for the World Series at Thompson.

Twenty five years ago in 1995, Mike Stefanik scored his 32nd Modified tour win at the World Series at Thompson. Stefanik took the lead from Ed Flemke JR on lap 94 of the 125-lap event. Flemke finished second and was followed by Reggie Ruggiero, Steve Park, Tony Hirschman and Jamie Tomaino. Bo Gunning won the SK 30 lapper over Bob Potter. The weekend was darkened when Harry Kourafas JR lost his life after being hit broadside during the running of the mini-stock feature. In DIRT action at Syracuse, Brett Hearne won his 5th classic at the historic mile. Mark Martin made a clean sweep at Charlotte as he won the Busch Grandnational and Winston Cup events. Dale Earnhardt did not qualify for the Winston Cup event but took a provisional and ended up in second spot.

Twenty years ago, in 2000, the Race of Champions, scheduled for the weekend at the Oswego Speedway, was cancelled on Thursday because of a forecast of rain and snow. It never rained! Seekonk ran the D.Anthony Venditti Memorial and added the SK Modifieds as an after thought. Only 11 SK’s showed and the race distance was reduced from 50 laps to 25 laps. Ted Christopher started on the outside pole and went on to take the win over Ron Yuhas JR, Roger Godin and Dan Dailey. Vinnie Annarummo beat out Rick Martin and Wayne Dion to win the DAV main event. In victory lane he announced his retirement from racing. At the DIRT Classic at Syracuse, Billy Decker took the lead at the mid point and went on to take the win over Steve Paine, Ken Brightbill and Bud Christian. Deckers winning check was worth $50,000.00.In Winston Cup action at Charlotte, Bob Labonte passed Jerremy Mayfield with ten laps to go to take the win. In Busch Grandnational action, Matt Kenseth took the lead and eventual win when Joe Nemechek ran out of gas with two laps to go. Ed Flemke JR made a surprise visit to the New River Speedway in Virginia and walked off with the victory in the Hills Enterprises No.79.

Fifteen years ago in 2005 the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour series was at the Thompson Speedway for the annual World Series. The track opened on Friday in order to allow competitors entrance to the pit area. There was also supposed to be a practice session to the non-touring divisions but rain put a damper on that. It looked promising until last Friday night when a knock out punch in the form of five more inches of rain was delivered. With the speedway under water, the Thompson Speedway management and NASCAR had no choice but to postpone the event to the following weekend, October 21-23. The rescheduling created a conflict with the Waterford Speedbowl who had already rescheduled their season ending Fall Finale. Chances were, Waterford would not change again and the two speedways would go head to head. Thanks to the efforts of the Speedbowl Management team of Bill Roth and Pete Zanardi a plan was worked out with NASCAR’s Ed Cox and the Fall Finale was once again scheduled for the weekend of October 28-29-30. Plans included coordination of race day schedules and a unique gas incentive supported by Xtra Mart convenience stores. Competitors who are intended on racing at both the Speedbowl’s Town Fair Tire Finale and Thompson would be able to do so. On the 29th, qualifying heats for the NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series divisions were slated to be completed at Waterford in time for racers to make the 50-mile trek to Thompson for their features. Also, racers who run the Speedbowl heats, compete at Thompson later that day and return to the Speedbowl to race on Sunday the 30th will be given fuel coupons redeemable at any Xtra Mart store. In some sad news, Anthony “Beebe” Zalinski passed away early Tuesday morning, October 11. He was 89 years old Mr. Zalenski worked for many years as a diesel mechanic at Palmer Motor Coach in Palmer, Mass. Later he owned his own speed shop. His real passion was auto racing, first with sports cars and then with stock cars. His famous M-6 coupe driven by many of the top drivers of the day was a frequent winner at tracks throughout the Northeast. In 1967, with Gene Bergin driving, they combined for 17 victories and reigned as modified champions at the Stafford Motor Speedway. In recent years, Mr. Zalenski was associated with the Flamingo Motor Sports Race Team. At the age of 78, Beebe built the engines that propelled Chris Kopec to the Riverside Park Track Championship.

Ryan Newman set a NASCAR record by winning his fifth consecutive Busch Series race, avoiding a track-record 14 cautions Friday in the Dollar General 300 at Lowe’s Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C. Elliott Sadler was second, followed by Paul Menard, Carl Edwards and Jason Leffler. Jimmie Johnson overcame every problem thrown his way – including tire troubles that turned Saturday night’s event into a laughingstock – to win his fourth consecutive race at Lowe’s Motor Speedway and move into a tie with Tony Stewart in the Chase for the Championship. Johnson started 41st, then battled a failing alternator, a cut right rear tire and overtime to prove no one can beat him on the track his Lowe’s-sponsored team considers its own private playground. Johnson has won five of the past six events in Concord, N.C.

Speedway Motorsports Inc. declared a cash dividend of $0.32 per share of common stock. The annual dividend will be payable on Nov. 21, 2005 to shareholders of record as of Nov. 8, 2005. This is the fourth consecutive year that Speedway Motorsports has paid a cash dividend to its stockholders and the fourth year the dividend increased over the prior year. The Board of Directors of the motorsports entertainment company unanimously decided to declare the dividend after reviewing the market for the Company’s stock, current business conditions and future prospects of the Company.

Ten years ago in 2010, The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Series headed for the Stafford Motor Speedway for the annual Fall Final which carried a purse of $83,609. The event drew 31 cars. Justin Bonsignore bounced back from his recent disappointment at Thompson to capture his second Coors Lite pole of the year with a sizzling run of 18.355 seconds around the half mile oval. The young Long Island racer had recently won an open competition event at Thompson only to have the victory stripped away because he didn’t use the proper gasoline. Eric Beers was second fastest with Mike Stefanik, third, Eric Berndt and Ryan Preece rounded out the top five. Sixth through tenth were Ed Flemke Jr, Rowan Pennink, Ron Silk, Eric Rudolph and Bobby Santos III. In the re-draw for the start Beers drew the pole with Flemke drawing the outside pole spot. Bonsignore drew the seventh starting spot.

Bobby Santos, who was celebrating his 25th birthday, took the eventual victory with the Garbarino Mystic Missile. Santos took the lead after a massive pile-up forced a long red flag period as the speedway fencing was destroyed and needed to be fixed. The wreck was triggered when Richie Pallai hit Dale Quarterly sending him sideways. It was a “Pig Pile” from then on. Also involved were Ed Flemke, Todd Szegedy, Eric Berndt and Eric Goodale. With seven laps remaining Santos jumped out and sprinted to the finish. Ron Silk finished second and was followed by Erick Rudolph, Rowan Pennink, Mike Stefanik, Ryan Preece, Glen Reen, Ted Christopher, Eric Beers and Ken Heagy. Polesitter Bonsignore took a shot in the turn two wall after getting sideways on lap 108. Also collected in the wreck was Jamie Tomaino and Woody Pitkat. Bonsignore finished 29th while Pitkat finished 30th and Tomaino, 28th.

All tolled, there were 8 caution periods for 45 laps. In addition to those previously mentioned Jimmy Blewett and Eric Berndt also ended their day in wrecks.

With one race remaining on the schedule, Santos carrys a 37-point lead on Stefanik in the season standings to Thompson (Conn.) International Speedway for the Sunoco World Series of Speedway Racin.

In regular weekly division racing at Stafford Keith Rocco, the 2010 Whelen All-American Series Champion, closed out the Stafford SK Modified season with his 10th win of the year to set a single-season track record. He clinched the track title earlier this year. Woody Pitkat won Stafford’s Whelen All-American Series Late Model finale and Ryan Posocco clinched the division title.

Following Rocco in the 40 lap SK contest was Frank Ruocco with Chris Matthews, Jeff Baral, and Zach Sylvester rounding out the top-5. Ted Christopher, Stafford’s winningist driver, finished 26th after being eliminated in a wreck.

In action on the Connecticut shoreline the Waterford Speedbowl completed its final Saturday night points race of 2010 with six feature events including all five NASCAR Whelen All-American Series divisions in action. It was also Cystic Fibrosis Night at the track, raising awareness and funds for Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Jeff Pearl dominated the SK Modifieds® to roll to his third win on the year. Bruce Thomas Jr. won the Bob Valenti Auto Mall Late Model feature, with Tim Jordan taking the championship. In the Street Stocks Ed Puleo won his sixth race of 2010. Al Stone III claimed the Street Stock championship after a wild race for the points contenders. Ken Cassidy Jr. clinched the Norwich Bulletin Mini Stock title in style, picking up his fifth win of the year. Allen Coates did the same in the A.B. CDL Driver Training Center Truck division, winning the race and title. Anthony Flannery finished the Saturday night season on a high note by taking yet another Legends Cars win.

In the SK Modifieds, Tyler Chadwick was second over Rob Janovic, Keith Rocco and Glenn Pressell. The win was the 34th of Pearl’s career, good for second all-time in the division ahead of Ted Christopher. Rocco already secured the championship.

Jason Myers won a special Modified event at the North Wilkesboro Speedway in North Carolina. Junior Miller was second with Burt Myers, third.

Joey Logano got aggressive on a late restart to get past Kyle Busch, then used a push from Brad Keselowski to hold on at Kansas Speedway for his second Nationwide Series win of the season. Greg Biffle was the Sprint Cup winner. Busch had early contact with David Reutimann that caused Reutimann to spin, and when they crossed paths later on the track, Reutimann appeared to intentionally knock him into the wall. Busch was running seventh at the time of the accident, fell to 22nd and demanded over his radio that NASCAR take action against Reutimann. Crew chief Dave Rogers heightened the drama by telling Busch that Reutimann’s team demanded he retaliate against Busch.

Five years ago in 2015, The NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour closed out their season at the Charlotte Motor Speedway in North Carolina. George Brunnhoelzl III, who previously triumphed on the Charlotte quarter-mile oval in 2012, led all but one of the 160 laps. Northern invader Ryan Preece followed Brunnhoelzl across the finish line in second with Danny Bohn third, Jason Myers fourth and Burt Myers fifth. Andy Seuss finished sixth and was followed by Jeremy Gerstner, John Smith, Bobby Measmer Jr. and Dalton Baldwin. With a sixth-place finish in Thursday’s season finale Southern Slam 150, Seuss edged race winner George Brunnhoelzl III by three points in the season standings to secure his second-consecutive Whelen Southern Modified Tour championship.

The Valenti Modified Racing Series was at the Lee USA Speedway in New Hampshire last week for twin 50 lap events. Woody Pitkat and Les Hinkley scored victories. Hinkley, who also placed third in the first event was declared the overall winner. Pitkat, who finished fourth in the second event, emerged as the point leader going into the series finale which will be held at Thompson on Saturday night.

In the opening race, Woody Pitkat, of Stafford Springs, Connecticut, grabbed the lead from pole-sitter Jon McKennedy and went on to victory. McKennedy settled for second followed by Hinckley, Mike Willis Jr, and Todd Patnode. Sixth through tenth were Dennis Perry, Donnie Lashua, David Schneider, Kevin Ianarelli, and Dylan Kopec.In the second 50-lap race, Kirk Alexander, of W. Swanzey, NH, took the early lead but when the checkered flag fell, it was Hinckley rolling to victory lane from his 19th starting position, winning his 19th VMRS career race and his fourth at Lee.Mike Willis Jr. made a great late race charge to finish runner-up with Norm Wrenn, Pitkat’ and McKennedy, rounding out the top five. Keith Rocco, Alexander, Schneider, Todd Szegedy, and Donnie Lashua, completed the top ten.

Greg Narducci, a well respected Whelen Modified Tour former owner and mechanic made an interesting observation, “Thanks Nascar for saving the owners so much money with your new rules of only letting us bring one set of used tires to the track each race. He stated $4000.00 + in used tires are being thrown out at Thompson. All of these have 20 laps or less on them. Can’t even give them away! Keep making rules like this, you’ll have no cars soon!!!”

The Syracuse dirt mile, a horse-racing track that first opened for business in 1826 (horsepower joined the hayburners in 1903), would be bulldozed into oblivion after this past weekend’s racing to make way for a renovation of the Fairgrounds that would see the old place become more like a year-round theme park.

Once one of about a dozen mile-oval speedways that made up a circuit where Indianapolis-car drivers raced for the national championship, Syracuse was among the last remaining. Only the track at the Indiana State Fairgrounds and two in Illinois, Springfield and Du Quoin, remained of those legendary bull rings that included Langhorne in Pennsylvania, Sacramento and Del Mar in California, Phoenix and, of course, Syracuse.

Glenn Donnelly created Super DIRT Week in the early 1970s, Buzzie Reutimann won the first two Shaeffer 200s (which carried a $100,000 first prize

The first couple of years, that big race was won by guys from out of state: Dick Tobias from Pennsylvania, Gary Balough from Florida — Buzzie, of course — and then a guy named Jack Johnson out of Schenectady, N.Y., finally became the first native New Yorker to win it and he did that in 1979.

The track, called the Moody Mile, had been a place of passion and commitment, as well as blood and guts. And now, in the fall of 2015, it’s over. It was be the last time Super DIRT Week would be held at the fairgrounds, which will undergo a renovation after the event that will involve removing the grandstands and the historic track that has been home to 44 Super DIRT Weeks, extending back to 1972.Canadian Stewart Friesen, who has won four of the last six events held there won the Grand Finale. Ken Tremont was second. Friesen’s share of the purse was $50,000.

Joey Logano led a race-high 227 of 334 laps and won the Bank of America 500 to punch his ticket into the Eliminator round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. The Team Penske driver started third and ran second to pole-sitter Matt Kenseth in the early going, but a decision to stay out and keep track position under an early caution gave Logano the lead. He was seldom challenged for the rest of the race.

Austin Dillon was the NASCAR Xfinity Series winner at Charlotte.

Last year, 2019, While the Connecticut speedways were quiet the racing was hot and heavy at the Lee USA Speedway in New Hampshire. Woody Pitkat wanted to prove that his Valenti Modified Racing Series victory during last year’s Oktoberfest at Lee USA Speedway was not a fluke. He did just that Sunday afternoon by winning the first of two 50-lap features at the northern New England oval. Pitkat returned to Russ Conway’s Oktoberfest after winning a bizarre rain-shortened race in 2018. Only 19 green flag laps were completed that day before Pitkat and his Stan Mertz No. 6 team celebrated a victory in the rain.

Pitkat started the first 50-lap “King Cone” feature from the fourth position and methodically put himself in a position to challenge for the lead. After Les Hinckley led the opening 38 laps, Pitkat powered to the inside of the early race leader on Lap 39 to take the lead. From there, Pitkat was challenged by Tommy Barrett, a driver known for his ability to save tires and pounce when it matters most. Barrett stayed even with Pitkat on a restart with six laps remaining before peeking to the inside and making slight contact on two different occasions.

Pitkat survived all challenges from Barrett in the closing laps to earn his first Valenti Modified Racing Series victory of the season in just his second start. Barrett, Hinckley, Ronnie Williams and Brian Robie competed the top five in the first twin 50.

In the second 50 lapper Anthony Nocella wasn’t sure exactly where things went wrong in the first 50-lap race, but he was more than happy to rectify whatever it was in the second race. Nocella held off a fierce challenge from Ronnie Williams on a late-race restart to score his 15th career Valenti Modified Racing Series victory.

Maine native Josh Cantara led the first 27 laps of the race until Beech Ridge Motor Speedway winner and fellow Maine driver Tony Ricci took control on Lap 28. Ten laps later, Nocella charged to the front and made his way by Ricci to take command. Nocella was forced to hold off both Les Hinckley and Ronnie Williams on a pair of late-race restarts, including one with just two laps remaining. Williams, Tommy Barrett, Les Hinckley and race one winner Woody Pitkat completed the top five in the second 50-lap race. Shortly after the final checker fell the predicted rain began.

In other action at Lee, a big shout-out to Jacob Perry for his win in the Pro Truck Series feature. Perry started last and took the lead on the final lap. Corey Caddick was the Mini Stock winner, Derek Griffith was the Granite State Pro Stock 100 winner, Aaron Fellows won the Late Model Sportsman 100 and Sammy Swindell was the 25 lap NEMA Midget winner.

Kyle Larson was the Monster Cup winner at Dover while Cole Custer was the Xfinity series winner.

In what was a labor of love for close to ten years I have documented what many consider the Golden Years of Modified Racing at Stafford. Year by Year, race by race. Each chapter is devoted to each year. Topping out at 240 pages, the book documents what ABC Sports often said, “The Thrill of Victory and the Agony of Defeat. A multitude of personalities including drivers, owners, officials and management are a vital part of the book. Most important is the fact that Jack and Chuck Arute stepped up when the track was in dire straights and faced extinction. Jack Arute was the co-owner of the Garutti-Arute No.14 Modifieds that was one of the top modifieds at the time. Arute was also responsible for the upgrade of the general appearance of the Modifieds.

Coastal 181 Book sellers will be at Thompson this weekend. The book can also be purchased for $17.95 thru Amazon.com and at the Stafford Motor Speedway.

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