RPW Column By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WESTERLY, RI – The season ending Turkey Derby at the Wall Stadium in New Jersey has been a tradition since 1974. Thanks to the Coronavirus and the Governor of the Garden State it won’t happen this year. Late last week it was announced that the event was postponed to maybe Jan 1st 2nd and 3rd or March 13th 14th and 20th 2021.
There was Modified racing last weekend south of the Mason-Dixon line in Florence, SC. The first running of the South Carolina 400 at Florence Motor Speedway (SC) is set to carry on one of the Southeast’s great Late Model Stock Car traditions, but on Saturday night the ‘Mighty Modifieds’ of the rejuvenated SMART Tour stole the show with a thrilling dash to the finish over the final five laps.
Brandon Ward seemed to have a large enough advantage once Brian Loftin had moved to second place with five to go, but Loftin wore the advantage away by the time the top two passed under the white flag. With a small tap to Ward’s back bumper in Turn 1, Loftin took the Shady Grady No. 15 inside and to the lead.
Loftin survived a final bump from Ward in the Coulter Motorsports No. 2 in turn three to hold on for his second SMART Tour win of the short 2020 season. For Ward, it was mistiming his final charge to the finish that resulted in the runner-up finish.
Burt Myers came on strong at the end, but was only able to finish in the third position. Former NASCAR Cup Series champion Bobby Labonte led early, but also faded late, settling for fourth in an eventful Modified debut. Jeff Fultz came back from an opening lap pileup to complete the top five.
The way it looks right now the Stafford Motor Speedway will be the epicenter of NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour racing with three events in New England in 2021. Thompson will run Modifieds but not sanctioned by NASCAR. The fourth generation Hoenig family that runs Thompson has all but turned their backs on oval track racing in favor of Sports Cars. If not for American-Canadian Tour owner Cris Michaud and Pro All-Stars Series owner Tom Mayberry there would be no oval track racing at Thompson.
The New London – Waterford Speedbowl has rebounded with a complete rebuild and new management in place. Fields of cars have grown with more coming in 2021. NASCAR turned their back on the Speedbowl when property owner Bruce Bemer got in trouble a few years ago. Now on firm ground, its going to be a long time before you see NASCAR back there.
White Mountain Motorsports Park and Monadnock Speedway in New Hampshire are possibilities as is Seekonk in Massachusetts, Wall Stadium in New Jersey and Jennerstown in Pennsylvania along with Riverhead on Long Island are good bets for the Whelen Modified Tour in 2021.
On the positive side, in addition to the three events at Stafford, NASCAR announced Whelen Modified Tour events at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway (April 8), Lancaster (N.Y) Speedway on July 31 and Richmond Raceway (Sept. 10).
Justin Bonsignore won his second NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour title. Craig Lutz, Ron Silk, Doug Coby and Bobby Santos III went to Victory Lane. All these moments, and more, will be celebrated online and on social media in December as part of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Virtual Championship Celebration. The spotlights will include interviews presented by MRN Radio’s NASCAR Coast To Coast, videos and photo galleries.
The season spotlight will run from Dec. 7-10 on NASCAR.com, and NASCAR Roots on Facebook, Twitter and Instragram.
Keith Rocco and the #88 Wheelers Auto team began their season at Stafford with a victory and they closed out the 2020 season with a victory and a 4th career track championship. Rocco actually clinched the title with one race remaining but he closed out his championship season in grand style, bookending the 2020 season with victories.
“It’s awesome, any time you win a championship at Stafford you’re definitely doing something,” said Rocco. “I always race to win and I race week by week. We want to win every race but starting around 13th to 15th every week makes it tough. I’m not usually the one to look at the points. When we saw Todd Owen get wrecked two weeks in a row, I knew he was our competition. We got a little bit of a lead, which makes life easier to just go out and race harder knowing you have a gap. Thanks to my entire crew and my sponsors Wheelers Auto, Hocon Industrial Gas, 811 Call Before You Dig, Arbitell Convenience Stores, Green Construction, Mike’s Auto, D & G Paving, FK Rod Ends, Fragola Performance Systems, Pettit Racing Engines.”
Rocco’s championship set a NASCAR Weekly Racing Series Division I record, breaking a tie he held with Nebraska native Joe Kosiski. Rocco was previously tied with Kosiski on 17 championships. This 18th career Division I championship increases his SK Modified® titles at Stafford to 4, breaking a tie with Mike Christopher and Bo Gunning for third place on the list of all-time SK Modified® champions. With 4 Stafford SK Modified® titles to his name, Rocco only trails Bob Potter with 5 and Ted Christopher with 9.
Rocco was not only dominant in 2020, but he was consistent as well. Rocco won 6 of the 14 SK Modified® races held this season at Stafford and his worst finish of the season was seventh place. Rocco’s average finish for the 2020 season was a miniscule 3.3, meaning that he fell just short of averaging a podium finish each time he took to the track in 2020.
Rocco’s win total is an impressive one as he has a career overall total of 292 wins which include 153 victories at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl, 65 at Thompson and 74 at Stafford.
August 11, 1967 Gene Bergin made it two in a row as he won the 30-lap feature. Eddie Flemke finished second with Ted Stack, Smokey Boutwell and Wild Bill Slater rounding out the top five.
Read all about it in the new book that tells all.
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 Coastal 181 (877-907-8181 toll free) and are available thru Stafford’s web site in their store. Order yours now. Makes a great Christmas gift!