RPW Column: Looking Back A Bit: First Week Of November

RPW Column By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WESTERLY, RI – Fifty years ago in 1970, Fred DeSarro was officially crowned the NASCAR National Modified Champion. Driving cars owned by Sonny Koszela, DeSarro entered 76 events and recorded 25 wins. In addition to the wins DeSarro recorded 37 top tens.

DeSarro beat out Jerry Cook by 776 points. Bernie Miller finished third and was followed by Eddie Flemke Sr and Dick Fowler. Ed Yerrington, who would eventually become the NASCAR Chief Steward and later promoter and general manager at Stafford, was the Stafford modified champion.

George Summers closed out the season at Seekonk with a 50 lap win. Pop Silvia was the B division winner.

Forty five years ago in 1975, Jerry Cook who would end up becoming an employee of NASCAR was the Modified Champion. Geoff Bodine was the track champion at Stafford while Fred DeSarro was the champ at Thompson. Other New England track champions were George Murray at Seekonk, Jerry Dostie at Monadnock, Dick Dunn at Waterford and Kenny Bouchard was the Yankee All Star League Champ. On Long Island, Charlie Jarzombek and George Wagner were tied for top honors and at Islip; Fred Harbach was the track champion. Up in New York State, Richie Evans was the track champion at Shangri-La (Tioga), Maynard Troyer at Lancaster and Sonney Seamon at Fulton.

Forty years ago in 1980, In addition to the national title, Richie Evans won a modern day record four track championships. Evans dominated at New Smyrna plus took all the glory in New England as he won the track titles at Stafford, Riverside and Thompson. Other New England track champions were Allen Whipple at Claremont, Bugsy Stevens at Westboro, Punky Caron at Monadnock, Bob Potter at Waterford, Art Davis at Danbury, Ralph Cusac at Beech Ridge, Larry Record at Star and George Murray at Seekonk. Pete Fiandaca was the late model champion at Westboro, Monadnock and Thompson and Jerry Marquis was the late model champion at Stafford. In New Jersey, John Blewett jr was the champion at New Egypt and at Wall Stadium it was Tony Siscone. Islip was the only track running on Long Island and Charlie Jarzombek was the champ. In New York State, George Kent was the track champion at Shangri-La and Charlie Rudolph was the titleholder at Lancaster.

Thirty five years ago in 1985, Modified racing was still suffering from the loss of Richie Evans. Before his untimely death, the popular driver had sewed up the National title plus the northeast regional title. In addition, he was the track champion at Spencer Speedway and at Thompson. Jim Spencer was the New Smyrna Modified champion. In New England, Charlie Jarzombek was the Stafford Speedway Modified champion, Jerry Pearl was the SK modified champ and Jim Ward was the Street Stock champ. At Riverside, John Rosati was the champ and at Thompson the SK modified champion was Wayne Dion. Rick Fuller was the modified champion at Waterford and in the Super Stocks it was Phil Rondeau. Dwight Jarvis was the modified champion at Claremont and taking the championship in the Busch North Series was Randy LaJoie. At New Egypt, John Blewett jr was the champion and at Bowman Gray, Satch Worley took top honors. Fred Harbach was the Riverhead track champion and in upstate New York at Shangri-La George Kent won the title. Mike McLaughlin was the modified champion at Oswego and in the Supers, Steve Gioa was the champ. NASCAR also voted McLaughlin most popular for the modified division. Last but not least, Tom Druar was the Lancaster track champion.

Thirty years ago in 1990, Jamie Tomaino reached a life long goal as he won the Featherlite Modified Tour Championship. Mike Christopher had a big year as he won the SK Modified championship at Stafford. Tom Tagg was the SK Modified Champion at Thompson. He was also awarded Rookie of the Year at Stafford and Thompson. Ricky Shawn was the Late Model Champion at Thompson. David Gada was the Waterford Modified champion and for the fifth time, Bob Polverari was the Modified Champion at Riverside. Reggie Ruggerio was the champ at New Smyrna.

Twenty five years ago in 1995, Tony Hirschman, driving for Len Boehler was the Featherlite Modified Tour Champion. Overall, it was the fifth title for Boehler as a car owner. Tim Connolly was the Modified Champion at New Smyrna. At Stafford, Bob Potter won his fifth SK Modified championship. CJ Freye was the late model champ. Jim Broderick, who has all but dropped out of site lately, was the modified champion. Tom Fox was the late model champ and Jeff Karns was the main man in the Mini-stocks. Down on Long Island, Don Howe made it three track championships in a row at Riverhead. Jack Johnson won his tenth at Fonda and Mike Weeden won Pro Stock titles at Lee, Star and Thompson. Dan Avery was the titleholder at Riverside and Kelly Moore was the Busch North Series champion. Johnny Benson, with Steve Bird as his crew chief was the Busch South champion and Jeff Gordon was the Winston Cup champ.

Twenty years ago, in 2000, Ted Christopher had quite a year for himself as he won the NASCAR Northeast Regional Championship along with track championships at New Smyrna, Thompson and Stafford. Dwight Jarvis was the Claremont champion, Frank Vigliororlo was the Riverhead champion, Brad Leighton was the Busch North Series champion and Dennis Gada was the Waterford champion. Fred Astle Jr. was the Seekonk Speedway champion and Jerry Marquis was the NASCAR Modified Tour champion. Mario Fiore was the Championship car owner. Dave Michael was the Wall Stadium champion and Jeff Green was the NASCAR Busch Grandnational champion. Bobby Labonte was the NASCAR Winston Cup champion and Matt Kenseth was the Rookie of the Year.

Fifteen years ago in 2005 Ted Christopher was the World Series Modified Champion at the New Smyrna Speedway in Florida. Tony Hirschman was the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Series Champion. Andy Santerre took top honors in the Busch North Series. In Connecticut, Lloyd Agor was the Modified Track Champion at the Stafford Motor Speedway, Rob Summers at Waterford and Jeff Malave at Thompson. Bill Park was the Modified Track Champion at the Riverhead Raceway on Long Island while Patsy Catalano took top honors at the Spencer Speedway. Vinnie Annarummo annexed his 5th Pro Stock title at Seekonk as Dave Michael got his 8th title at Wall Stadium in New Jersey. Tony Stewart ended up winning the Nextel Cup championship while Martin Truex Jr took the Busch Series title.

The Stafford Motor Speedway held their 36th annual Champions Awards Ceremony at the La Renaissance Banquet Facility in East Windsor, CT. The Speedway honored its four 2005 track champions, Lloyd Agor, Ryan Posocco, Michael Bennett, and Joey Ferrigno. In addition to recognizing the 2005 track champions, SMS recognized the top-20 in points from the SK Modified, Late Model, and DARE Stock divisions, the top-10 finishers from the Limited Late Model division, as well as present the Most Popular and Most Improved Driver awards, and the Reliable Welding and Speed Rookie of the Year awards.

The New England Antique Racers announced their inductees to the NEAR Hall of Fame, class of 2006. Gene Angellilo, Bob Bahre, Russ Conway & Ken Smith, Robbie Crouch, Fred ‘Sharkey’ Gaudiosi, Jim McGee, Phil & Bob Libby, Joe Rosenfield, “Boston Louie’ Seymour; Dick Wolstenhume and the V-8 guys, Vic Bombacci & Bob Vitari.

Word came from Ron Hedger that the New York Stock Car Association’s 2006 Hall of Fame induction ceremony would honor a broad spectrum of achievement in the sport, with the honorees including the Empire State’s most prominent NASCAR Winston Cup driver, a longtime modified owner, a top regional racer and a husband / wife team of officials. Geoff Bodine, Ed Cloce who has been a car owner for ages with his famous Hemi-Cuda No.69, Cloce remains active, fielding Modifieds for son Tommy in NASCAR and Race of Champions events. Dick Schoonover, Jim Frye was a racer in the early 50’s but found his true calling in 1955 when he began flagging with another Hall of Fame member, the late Chet Hames. The duo worked speedways from New Jersey to Canada. Freye’s wife Barb, a scorer is also among the inductees. Both Jim and Barb have also been active in NYSSCA, having served as Sergeant at Arms and Treasurer, respectively, for a number of years.

It was learned that there would be some new blood in the SK Modified division in 2006 as it looked like Jeffrey Paul would be moving up to the shoreline oval’s top division. Gary Paul, Jeff’s dad, has purchased the Ron Yuhas No.6. Paul, who was the 2005 Legends champion at the Speedbowl, was also a graduate of the Quarter Midget ranks and without too much practice would be a top contender. Gary Paul is no stranger as he already had one Modified Championship under his belt at the Waterford oval with Todd Ceravolo as his driver. Speaking of Waterford, the True Value Modified Series announced their 2006 schedule with Waterford added to their schedule

NASCAR’s top divisions were in Phoenix, AZ. The big news of the weekend was that Roush Racing suspended Kurt Busch for the remainder of the NASCAR season after his run-in with police, who said he smelled of alcohol and was belligerent during a traffic stop Friday night. Kenny Wallace replaced Busch for Sunday’s race. Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch’s younger brother, went on to win the Nextel Cup event then appeared upset as he lamented that a “true champion” had been taken out of the race. Busch was pulled over near Phoenix International Raceway for trying to avoid another car and running a stop sign. Officers said he smelled of alcohol and became belligerent. After all was said and done it was said that alcohol was not an issue as the Phoenix police over reacted when Busch gave them some crap after a traffic stop. Carl Edwards was the Busch Series race winner. One week later at Homestead Florida Tony Stewart would wrap up the Nextel Cup Championship. Greg Biffle was the race winner. Martin Truex Jr. sewed up the Busch Series championship. Carl Edwards held off Clint Bowyer in the final laps Saturday of the Arizona 200 at Phoenix International Raceway to win his fifth Busch Series race of the season.

Ten years ago in 2010, The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour schedule for 2011 was starting to come together. The Stafford Motor Speedway announced that the 2011 Spring Sizzler would be held on May 1. Their traditional August Friday night date would be August 5 with a rain date the following day, Saturday, Aug 6. The third and final visit of the tour would be on Sunday, October 2 for the Fall Final. Lime Rock Park had also announced that they would be hosting the tour again, on September 17. The Thompson Speedway had previously announced that they would have three tour dates, to be announced plus the three at Loudon and one at Riverhead. Other dates in the wind were June 24 at Monadnock, July 16 at Loudon, August 13 or 14 at Loudon on Indy car weekend, August 24 at Bristol and September 24 at Loudon.

The Modified Racing Series had just completed its most successful season to date. The series picked up the slack that competitors experienced as dates for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Series had shrunk in recent years. The MRS staged 19 events at speedways in New England and New York. John McKennedy garnered the season championship as he beat out Dwight Jarvis by 63 points. Les Hinkley finished the year in third spot with Steve Masse and Ken Barry rounding out the top five. Finishing sixth through tenth are Rowan Pennink, Todd Annarummo, Max Zachem, Rob Goodenough and Jacob Dore. All tolled 72 different drivers entered into competition.

The outlook for 2012 was extremely bright as more top drivers were looking for an alternative venue in which to race. The MRS would be running at just about every track in New England in 2012. Most tracks would host multiple visits.

The Stafford Motor Speedway announced their 2012 schedule. As previously mentioned their season would begin on May 1 with the Spring Sizzler. Friday night weekly racing would start on May 6 and will continue through September 16. The Modified Racing Series would return for two events, May 12 and September 9, in 2012. Both MRS events would have the following day, Saturday, as rain dates. Also on the schedule again was Extreme Tuesday which would be held on June 28 and would feature the ISMA Supers, NEMA Midgets and Pro Four Modifieds.

NEAR Hall of Famer Billy Harman entered the hospital for knee replacment surgery and was on the mend.

In some sad news, Jim Hunter, NASCAR vice president of corporate communications, whose career in motorsports spanned portions of six decades as both a journalist and public relations professional, passed away in Daytona Beach, Fla., following a 12-month battle with cancer. He was 71.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup stars were at the Talledega Speedway. The race was marked by 87 lead changes, second most in NASCAR history, and a multicar accident that sent AJ Allmendinger’s car flipping across the track as the leaders roared toward the white flag. NASCAR threw the caution for Allmendinger’s accident, and nobody had any idea who was out front when the yellow waved.

Sponsorship of Jeff Gordon’s car was filled when longtime partner DuPont announced a three-year extension with the four-time NASCAR champion. DuPont had been with Gordon since his Cup debut in 1992, but the company was scaling back its commitment starting in 2011. It would be Gordon’s primary sponsor in 14 races.

It took several minutes of reviews for NASCAR to declare Clint Bowyer the victor. He jumped the gun with celebratory burnouts, then stuck his hand out his window for a congratulatory high-five with Kevin Harvick, who waited in his parked Chevrolet for the NASCAR call.

In truck series racing, Kyle Busch made a last-ditch slide past Aric Almirola at the finish line, then brushed aside Almirola’s suggestion that he should be stripped of the victory.

With his truck on the verge of spinning out, Busch appeared to put two wheels below the yellow out-of-bounds line at the bottom of the track just as he made his wild move to win Saturday’s NASCAR Camping World Trucks series race at Talladega Superspeedway by 0.002 seconds. He wasn’t penalized.

Five years ago in 2015 The big racing event of the weekend was the annual North-South Shootout at the Concord Speedway in North Carolina. Rainy skies and New England type cold and dampness greeted competitors and fans alike. There were 28 tour type Modifieds and eight SK type Modifieds on hand. Because of he fact that he tracks was oozing water practice was minimal and qualifying heats were eliminated. Keith Rocco just kee rolling along as he toured the the Concord oval in15.608 seconds. Bobby Measamer, Jr was second fastest 15.615. Tommy Barrett, Jr, who had not raced since being picked up for driving under the influence earlier in the year, was third fastest at 15.629. John McKennedy and Patrick Emerling rounded out the top five in Shootout qualifying.

Jimmy Zacharias has the pole for the Mr, Rooter 50 lap SK Modified Feature. Todd Owen was second fastest with Steve Kopcik, Keith Rocco and Jimmy Wallace rounding out the top five.

Impending rain and a bad forecast for the evening forced officials to postpone the event to Sunday.

Justin Bonsignore’s eventual win in the Modified shootout had a dark cloud hanging over it. Matt Hirschman was first under the checkered flag but a reversal of fortune and some poor officiating after the fact took away Bonsignore’s glory. Race Director Tommy Fox was forced to leave the track while the race was under a red flag with nine laps remaining for weather.

While Fox was on his way to the airport one of Matt Hirschman’s developed a leak. Those left in charge chose not to penalize Hirschman which is a no-no. After much discussion and some loud words the decision was made to place Hirschman in 16th place at the finish.

Keith Rocco won the Mr Rooter SK Modified event. It was Rocco’s 213th career win.

Woody Pitkat Crowned Valenti Modified Racing Series Champion in Manchester, NH Pitkat was joined by car owner Peter Kulessa, crew chief Greg Felton, and the Patterson Farms race team for the special presentations. The VMRS championship was the first for both Pitkat and Kulessa.

In accepting his award Pitkat thanked the Perry family and Valenti (Auto Group) for all their support and sponsoring of the series. Pitkat acknowledged Jack Bateman, the series founder, saying “thank you for your hard work, time, and sacrifice, to give us a great affordable series to race at week in and week out. I admire your dedication.” Pitkat also stated winning the series title was his first ever series championship and he considered it a special feat. “I may never win another so this one means a lot.”

He complimented VMRS drivers. “Just because I run the tour does not put me above anyone. I am a race driver and so are these guys with this series. I am grateful for the opportunity to run with them and compete here. I look at it as another addition to my resume.” Kulessa spoke proudly of his first championship. “It’s unbelievable the guys just worked so hard. Last year we made the switch to Woody and had top five finishes. We knew we had a good car and we knew we had a good driver. This year we were supposed to run a limited schedule. When July rolled around we were leading the points so we decided we might as well give it a shot.”

In addition to the champion, the top 14 drivers were also recognized for their accomplishments. Runner-up Chris Pasteryak, Norman Wrenn, Todd Patnode, Todd Szegedy, Donnie Lashua, Mike Willis Jr, David Schneider, Dennis Perry, Jon McKennedy, Rowan Pennink, Dylan Kopec, Russ Hersey, Anthony Nocella, and Kirk Alexander were recognized.

Jack Bateman disclosed that 14 races are on the schedule for 2016 and he anticipates two more dates to be added in the near future. The series will make the announcement as soon as those dates are finalized.

Drivers Sam Posey, Greg Sacks, Joey Laquerre, Stan Gregor, the late Jim McCallum and the late Ronnie Marvin, car owner the late Paul Dunigan, publishers Lew Boyd and the late Jim Moffat, engine-builder Joe Fontana and promoter Red McDonald were inducted in the New England Antique Racers Hall of Fame this past Sunday. Vermont’s Justin St. Louis received the Mitchell/Ratta Media Award.

Dick Williams and Jim Schaefer, principals behind the successful Tri-Track Series, shared the 2015 New England Antique Racers’ Frank Maratta Award. The presentations, giving in recognition of their outstanding contribution and support of auto racing, were part of the agenda at the New England Auto Racers Hall of Fame 18th induction banquet Maneeley’s Banquet Hall, 65 Rye Street, South Windsor, CT.

Over the past two seasons, the Tri-Track Series had paid out over $400,000. The eight races have attracted an average car count of 40, including the top Modified teams from New England and New York. Lee, Star, Seekonk, Monadnock and Waterford have hosted Tri-Track events.

Williams, from North Stonington, CT and Schaefer, from Riverhead, NY, are the leaders of a group that has made the Tri-Track Series a reality. According to Williams, a familiar face in New England racing for decades, the impetus was a conversation among a group of old timers. “They were saying how much they missed the old open competition events,” recalled Williams. “We thought with a little common sense it could happen again and we got four or five guys together and made it happen.”

This year’s payout $287,000 distributed in a number of ways including lap money and last-chance races. There were six different winners in the first seven races.

‘We’ll get it right,’ NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France said of how the sanctioning body will react to Matt Kenseth’s move on Joey Logano at Martinsville. Logano was leading the race on Lap 454, when he was put into the wall by Kenseth, who was nine laps down after being hit by Logano’s teammate, Brad Keselowski, earlier in the race. Kenseth was suspended for two events, fined and put on probation.

Another one bites the dust! Patrick Emerling, who comes from western New York indicated on web site RaceDayCt that he may be cutting back his Whelen Modified Tour Series schedule after being a regular in the series for five years. Bottom line, if you spend 5 grand to run a race, that pays 3 grand to the winner, and a few hundred to start, no matter how rich you are, or how much your sponsors give you, Eventually it will no longer be fun.

Last year, 2019, With the exception of the Big Automotive Flea Market Market at the Thompson Motorsports Speedway it was pretty much all quiet in New England. The management at the Stafford Motor Speedway was putting the final plans together for this weeks 50th annual Awards Banquet. In Jack Arute;s first full year as owner-promoter the awards banquet was held on the second floor of the clubhouse building. Ed Yerrington was the 1970 Modified champion. In later years Yerrington would become first, the NASCAR Chief Steward then the tracks General Manager and Promoter. With the advent of the Norwood Arena dropping the NASCAR Modifieds Arute applied for and was given a Saturday night sanction from NASCAR.

This years 50th Annual Stafford Speedway Champion’s Awards Banquet is scheduled for Friday, November 15 at Maneeley’s in South Windsor, Ct. Ron Williams became the 6th different driver to have won back to back championships in the SK Modified® division, joining Jerry Pearl (’84-’85), Mike Christopher (’89-’90), Bob Potter (’91-92, ’94-95), Ted Christopher (’00-01), and Rowan Pennink (’15-’16).

Tom Fearn has become synonymous with winning Late Model races and championships at Stafford Speedway. The East Longmeadow, MA native and driver of the #92 King Ward Coach Lines Chevrolet entered the 2019 season with 22 wins and 2 championships from 2016-2018 and added another 8 wins to those totals with a dominant 2019 season that saw him clinch a second consecutive championship and third Late Model championship in the last 4 years.

Teddy Hodgdon was crowned the 2019 SK Light track champion after winning 5 races and holding the point lead for the majority of the season. 5 wins and a championship trophy sounds like a dream ending for Hodgdon but his season was anything but perfect. Hodgdon and the #55 team opened the year with a second place finish and took the point lead for the first time following the May 31st feature event. Hodgdon led the standings for nearly 2 months, but a 20th place finish on July 26 left Hodgdon 4 points behind Steven Chapman. Hodgdon and Chapman would swap the point lead several times during August and at the end of the month, Hodgdon trailed Chapman by 4 points. Hodgdon would go on to win the final 2 races of the season to take the championship by an 18 point margin over Chapman.

Steven Chapman won R.A.D. Auto Machine SK Light Rookie of the Year award. Chapman ended coming up just short of winning the championship in his rookie season and also came up just short of taking down his first career SK Light feature win at Stafford. Chapman logged three second place finishes and one third place finish this season, but heads into the 2020 season still in search of that elusive first Stafford Speedway win.

Other Stafford track champions are Jeremy Lavoie in the Ltd Late Models and Zack Robinson in the Street Stocks. Tickets to the awards banquet are $50 and are on sale now. Tickets can be ordered by calling the track at 860-684-2783 or they can be ordered online at www.staffordspeedway.com.

Evergreen Speedway in Pennsylvania ran a season ending Modified event. Brian Defobo took the 100 lap win over Jerry Hildebrand and Blake Barney. Matt Hirschman was in the field and finished 19th, one lap down.

In other racing action, Tyler Barry son of Kenny Barry and Grandson of Art Barry wrapped up the 2019 INEX Young Lions Road Course Championship at the Atlanta Motorsports Park in Georgia.

According to a news release, “The Board of Directors of Hulman & Company announced the sale of the company and certain subsidiaries, including the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the NTT IndyCar Series and Indianapolis Motor Speedway Productions (IMS Productions), to Penske Entertainment Corp., a subsidiary of Penske Corporation.”

Tony George, Chairman of Hulman & Company, Mark Miles, President and CEO of Hulman & Company and Roger Penske, Chairman and Founder of Penske Corporation formally announced the sale at an 11 a.m. news conference on Monday, Nov. 4.

Kevin Harvick won the fall Cup race at Texas for the third year in a row Sunday, again taking one of the championship-contending spots for NASCAR’s season finale. Harvick won from the pole, leading 120 of 334 laps in the No. 4 Ford for Stewart Haas Racing. He took the lead for the seventh and final time on lap 255, and finished 11/2 seconds ahead of teammate Aric Almirola. Daniel Suarez, another Stewart Haas driver who is still unsigned for next season, finished third. Ryan Preece finished 23rd.

June 2, 1967, the Stafford Speedway made the official transition from dirt to asphalt with the season opening 100 lapper for the NASCAR modifieds. Smooth as silk asphalt along with new grandstands and fencing welcomed competitors and fans. Steady Eddie Flemke, who was to become a modified legend in his own time, took the victory over Pete Hamilton, Dick Watson, Bob Santos and Fred Harbach. Dick Berggren, who went on to become the Editor of the Stock Car Racing Magazine and then his own magazine in addition to being a television broadcaster won the first Late Model Tiger division feature.

The all new book, The Modified Years At Stafford, is gaining interest and has become a must have in race fans and competitors library. Race by Race, Year by Year, it’s all there. Read all about it in the all new book. Books are now available on Amazon.com and Coastal181(877-907-8181 toll free) and are available thru Stafford’s web site in their store. Order yours now.