RPW Column By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WESTERLY, RI – Ten years ago in 2010, The eighth annual 109 U-Pull It John Blewett III Memorial North-South Shootout took center stage weekend in Concord, NC.
Thursday’s practice sessions were rained out which made for a hectic Friday schedule. The excitement began to build early Friday as the pit area was crammed with 31 Tour Type Modifieds, 18 SK type Modifieds, 27 Super Late Models along with 25 USA (Thompson type) Modifieds and some scattered Vintage Modifieds. As the day wore on a cold front descended on the speedway driving temperatures down to between 25 and 30 degrees.
Time trials were held for the SK and Tour types. In the SKs Ronnie Silk in the Eddie Partridge entry took the top spot over Ryan Preece and Ron Yuhas Jr. Chuck Hossfelt was the Tour type top qualifier over Justin Bonsignore and Matt Hirschman. SK type qualifying heats were won by Keith Rocco and Steve Reed. Shortly after the completion of the SK type heats rain decended upon the speedway forcing officials to cancel remaining qualifying. The decision was made to start all Tour type cars straight up from time when the action was scheduled to resume on Saturday.
Despite a shivering chill in the air the Shootout made it into the history books. Matt Hirschman and Keith Rocco survived a wreck filled day to win the modified and SK portions of the annual North-South Shootout. Hirschman picked up his third victory in the prestigious event, putting an end to the two-year domination of Burt Myers, who spun twice early in the 125-lap modified feature which took him out of contention. Hirschman started third and ran in the top five most of the event. He was running second behind leader James Civali on lap 89 when contact between he, Civali and third-place Ryan Preece sent all three spinning, giving fourth-place Ted Christopher the lead.
Christopher didn’t hold the lead long as he was dumped two restarts later by Rowan Pennink entering turn one, causing a tangle that eventually included seven cars. Pennink was sent to the rear of the field for causing the crash. George Brunnhoelzl III inherited the lead, but Hirschman had recovered from his spin on lap 89 and was up to fourth for the restart. By lap 105 Hirschman was up to second and eight laps later he took the lead for good, passing Brunnhoelzl in lapped traffic. He survived one final restart with four laps left to earn the victory. Polesitter Chuck Hossfeld finished second, followed by Brunnhoelzl, Eric Beers and Ron Silk. The modified race featured 11 caution flags and two red flags. One of the red flag stops was to allow the track crew to repair water barrels on pit road.
Tommy Farrell finished sixth and was followed by Pennink, Les Hinkley, Jason Myers and Eric Goodale. Justin Bonsignore finished 14th after being one of the race leaders who had problems. His was a dead battery. Jimmy Blewett finished 15th and Burt Myers was 19th. James Civali finished 20th with Ryan Preece and Christopher following.
With eight laps remaining in the 50 lap SK type race Keith Rocco was sitting in seventh spot. A lot can change in the closing moments of any race and this 50 lapper was no different. Earl Paules led the restart and after just one lap Ted Christopher, Woody Pitkat and Tom Farrell spun. Christopher suffered suspension damage and was towed off. Paules led the final restart which was single file. Almost immediately the field bunched up and went three wide. With three to go Ryan Preece went into the lead only to lose it to Rocco in the final moments. Preece ended up second with Silk, third. Paules and Matt Hirschman rounded out the top five. Sixth through tenth were Doug Coby, Ron Yuhas Jr, Tom Barrett, Tom Farrell and Woody Pitkat.
A real scary wreck took place on lap 41 when New Jersey racer Steven Reed got up on the backstretch wall, riding it for quite a way before crashing back on to the track. Reed hit a lightpole plus ripped down a portion of the catch fence. The car’s chassis did its job as Reed emerged unhurt. In a track PA interview, Reed stated he lost a right-front tire going through the dogleg causing his car to hit the wall and get airborne.
In NASCAR Sprint Cup racing, Denny Hamlin completed a Texas two-step, winning at the track for the second time this year and taking over the points lead from four-time defending season champion Jimmy Johnson. Hamlin took the lead with 29 laps to go and then overcame a push from Matt Kenseth on the final restart with three laps left, holding on for his series-best eighth victory this season. Matt Kenseth finished second with Mark Martin, third. Joey Logano was fourth. Kyle Busch was penalized three laps Sunday – the first for speeding on pit road and two more for flashing an obscene gesture through his windshield at the NASCAR official who signaled the infraction while standing in front of Busch’s car.
Brad Keselowski clinched the Nationwide season title by finishing third in Texas on Saturday, giving owner Roger Penske his first championship in one of NASCAR’s national series. Keselowski, who had to finish only 21st or better to wrap up the driver’s championship with two races left, crossed the line behind winner Carl Edwards and runner-up Kyle Busch to earn his 24th top-five result of the season.
Five years ago in 2015, The dark cloud that hung over the finish of the recent North-South Shootout continued to hover. Justin Bonsignore, who crossed the finish line in second spot behind Matt Hirschman when the checkered flag was displayed was declared the event. Hirschman was placed to the end of those on the lead lap at the finish because his crew worked on his car during a red flag period in the closing moments. Just about everybody who has been in and around racing knows that working on cars is just not allowed. Hirschman’s crew alleges that they were given permission to plug a leaking tire. Race director Tom Fox had denied this. Prior to the restart Fox was forced to leave the speedway in order to make a flight connection that couldn’t be avoided. It was suggested to event promoter Darren Hacket that the race be red-checkered and not restarted. Hacket decided to run the event to its completion. Aware that a violation of race procedure had occurred, Hacket failed to place Hirschman at the tail of the lead lap.
In the process of launching an ad for season tickets the Stafford Motor Speedway revealed at least two of the Whelen Modified Tour events for 2016. The Annual Spring Sizzler would be run on Sunday, April 24 and the Fall Final will be held on Sunday, October 2.
In NASCAR Sprint Cup racing, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. advanced to the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship finale after surviving a long Sunday that ended with a rain-shortened race at Phoenix International Raceway. The race was delayed nearly seven hours by a series of storms, forcing the penultimate race in the Chase to start under the lights at the mile oval. More rain forced NASCAR to called it after 219 laps, with Harvick second behind winner Dale Earnhardt Jr., Busch fourth and Truex 14th.
Last year, 2019, For only the second time in 10 years, the North-South Shootout trophy would remain south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Burt Myers used a perfect mixture of a fast race car and solid pit strategy to top a strong field of 29 Tour-type Modifieds to win the 17th Annual North-South Shootout on Saturday afternoon at Hickory Motor Speedway (NC).
For Myers, who is best known for his success at Bowman Gray Stadium (NC), the win is the third victory of his career in the prestigious race. However, it was his first win in the race since 2009 at Concord Speedway (NC). Myers started the 150-lap race from the pole and enjoyed an early battle with defending race winner Jon McKennedy. After each taking their time at the front, Myers and McKennedy made their way to pit road late in the race for fresh tires. That gave the lead to Anthony Nocella, who fended off all challenges until Myers used his three fresh tires to rocket back to the lead.
From there, the Bowman Gray Stadium champion ruled the roost as he put his car in victory lane at “America’s Most Famous Short Track.” Andy Seuss, who started 22nd after a subpar qualifying effort, turned in an impressive performance throughout the race on his way to a second-place finish. After winning last year’s North-South Shootout at Concord Speedway, Jon McKennedy was once again a contender for the win before ultimately settling for a third-place finish. Andy Jankowiak and Austin Kochenash, completed the top five. Sixth thru tenth consisted of Patrick Emerling, Jason Myers, Chase Dowling, Matt Hirschman and Tim Brown
The dust hadn’t settled on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Series Championship award when championship car owner Mike Smeriglio announced that he was retiring as a race car owner in order for him to spend more time at home and enjoy all aspects of life with his family. “It doesn’t have to do with anything in racing,” Smeriglio told NASCAR.com. “I’ve been a NASCAR owner for the last 21 years, eight years in the SK Modified level at Stafford (Motor Speedway), then the Whelen Modified Tour. It’s very emotional. But I’m glad it’s emotional, because it’s not an easy decision. My heart wants to race, but my head is saying that my other priorities mean more to me now. I want to be available to spend time with my wife of 33 years, my adult children and son in laws. Our time together is precious.”
Smeriglio will certainly go down as one of the top car owners in NASCAR Modified history. When Doug Coby wrapped up the 2019 title, Smeriglio became the first owner in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour to win four titles, breaking a tie he held with legendary Modified owners Bob Garbarino and Len Boehler. While the success of Garbarino and Boehler stretched also into the pre-tour era, Smeriglio’s continued success has all come in the last decade. His drive to win was hard to match, and his ability to put the right people, in the right place, stands out when you look back at the success he’s put together in a trying sport.
The combination of Smeriglio, Coby and Phil Moran have won 19 races together over the last six years, and five driver championships in the stretch — taking Smeriglio and boosting him to the pinnacle of NASCAR’s grassroots short-track regional level. Add Phil Moran, the man in charge as crew chief of Smeriglio’s team for much of his tour tenure, both with Szegedy and specifically Coby in the last six years, and you have the Bill Belichick of the team.
The relationship the No. 2 team has with Mayhew tools has proudly led to Mayhew Tools becoming the pole award sponsor and created another meaningful racing partnership. Mayhew will continue their partnership with Coby in 2020, wherever he lands.
NASCAR released the 2020 Whelen Modified Tour Series schedule. The tour will make its furthest trip west with the debut of Iowa Speedway. The “Fastest Short Track on the Planet” will host NASCAR’s only open-wheel division on Friday, July 31. The Whelen Modified Tour slate will also add returns to Martinsville Speedway and Jennerstown Speedway.
Martinsville, Virginia’s famous half-mile, is steeped in NASCAR Modified history. The modified division first raced at Martinsville in 1960 and was part of the original tour schedule in 1985. The Maxpro Window Films 200 will run on Friday, May 8 as part of the spring Cup Series weekend. Jennerstown, a .522-mile oval in western Pennsylvania, will feature the tour on Saturday May 23. The track has held 14 tour races over the years, with the late Ted Christopher being the last to visit Victory Lane in 2006.
The Whelen Modified Tour will open the season with a return trip to Virginia’s South Boston Speedway on Saturday, March 21. Connecticut will serve as the traditional opening of racing in New England with the 46th Annual Icebreaker weekend at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park on Sunday, April 5, followed by the NAPA Spring Sizzler weekend at Stafford Motor Speedway on Sunday, April 26.
The season will conclude with the 48th annual NAPA Fall Final weekend at Stafford on Sunday, Sept. 27, and the 58th annual Sunoco World Series of Speedway Racing at Thompson on Sunday, Oct. 11.
New Hampshire Motor Speedway will again feature a 100-lap showcase on Saturday, July 18. The Whelen Modified Tour will also return with the 200-lap main event for the track’s Full Throttle Fall Weekend on Saturday, Sept. 12.
Race teams and fans can order their 2020 season passes online in the all new Stafford Speedway Online Store or by calling the Stafford Speedway box office at 860-684-2783.
Hot on the heels of that announcement comes word that the Modified Racing Series will not be included in the 2020 schedule at Stafford. After a decade in competition at Stafford Speedway, the Modified Racing Series will not return to the schedule at the historic venue in 2020.
Modified Racing Series founder and operator Jack Bateman confirmed to internet racing site RaceDayCT that the series will not return to Stafford next season. The Modified Racing Series has run annually at Stafford since 2010.
It was anticipated that Bateman would encourage his competitors not to participate in “Open” events that are run at Stafford in 2020.
A wise man once said, “When one door closes another one opens” Jack Bateman can attest to that. Bateman revealed exclusively to RaceDayCT that the Modified Racing Series will host a Triple Crown Series in 2020 at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway in Scarborough, Me. The series will host events at the one-third mile track on May 30, June 27 and Aug. 1. A Triple Crown points fund for the three events will pay a bonus of $2,000 to the winner, $1,500 for second and $1,000 to third place. “We’re very very grateful to [Beech Ridge Motor Speedway owner Andy Cusack] for inviting us to do this,” Bateman. “He’s a really good guy.” The track was a home for the Modifieds for over 15 years weekly. Within 25 minutes of the track there are 5 cars that have raced MRS that used to call Beech Ridge home.
Bateman said he hopes to announce a tentative 2020 schedule for the Modified Racing Series at the series banquet on Nov. 24 at Thompson Speedway.
Also on Friday, Bateman confirmed that the series is searching for a new title sponsor and will no longer be referred to as the Valenti Modified Racing Series.
The New England Antique Auto Racers (NEAR) held it’s annual induction to their Hall of Fame this past Sunday. The inductees are: Wayne Dion inducted by Kevin Boucher, Ed Flemke Jr inducted by Bones Bourcier, Ric Marical inducted by R.A.Silvia, Vinny Annarummo inducted by Eddie StAngelo, Jack Doyle inducted by Dick Berggren, Mike Joy inducted by Jackie Arute, Brad Lafountaine inducted by Val LeSieur and Bob Webber Sr by John Spence. Also inducted by the Special Veterans Committee was Dick Beauragard, Eddie Eng and Dick Shuebrek.
Special Awards included the Ron Bouchard Lifetime Achievement Award which went to the late George Summers, the Frank Maratta award went to Russ Conway, Ken Smith and Charlie Elliot, the Jack Ratta/Charlie Mitchell award went to Matt Buckler and the Dan Pardi award to Paul Massy.
Denny Hamlin won the NASCAR Cup event at ISM Raceway in Arizona to advance into NASCAR’s title-deciding race for the first time since 2014. His victory eliminated NASCAR champion Joey Logano from the playoffs and gave Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota three of the slots in the championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Justin Allgaier raced to his first NASCAR Xfinity Series victory of the season Saturday at ISM Raceway to advance to the championship finale.