RPW Exclusive: Looking Back A Bit With Phil Smith – The Second Week Of October

Column By: PHIL SMITH / WESTERLY, RI – Sixty five years ago in 1953, Dave Roghoff won the 100 lap Fall Championship at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl. Charlie Schreiber was the non-Ford winner.

Sixty years ago in 1958 Wild Bill Slater won the 25 lap Modified feature at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl. Charlie Webster was the non-Ford race winner and Turk Hewitt was the master in the Bombers.

Fifty five years ago in 1963 everybody’s friend George Pendergast was the 50 lap Modified race winner at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl. During his racing career George would wear many hats including that of STP representative, Thompson Speedway promoter and Advertising Manager for Speedway Scene, a regional Racing Trade paper. Pendergast was quite a character, to say the least. Dick Caso was the Bomber division winner at the Speedbowl.

Fifty years ago in 1968 Bob Potter won the 30 lap Modified feature at the Waterford Speedbowl. Wayne Smith was the Daredevil winner.

Forty five years ago in 1973,it was all quiet with no racing.

Forty Years ago in 1978, New England had one of its darkest racing days as popular Fred DeSarro went over the third turn bank at Thompson and suffered what would end up being fatal injuries. DeSarro was warming up the Len Boehler No.3 when, for no reason, went out of the track. Kenny Bouchard and Bugsy Stevens were first on the scene and assisted rescue crews. DeSarro was taken to the Rhode Island Hospital where he laid in a coma for a month before passing away. The races at Thompson went on and Bouchard, who had torn the roof off of DeSarros’ car earlier in the day, took the win with a heavy heart. Ray Miller finished second and was followed by George Summers.

Thirty five years ago in 1983,the Thompson World Series modified event was a 40-lap affair. George Summers, in the Art Barry No.21 led the entire distance and took the win over Bob Polverari, Richie Evans and Brian Ross. In victory lane Summers announced that he had taken his last ride and was hanging up his helmet, thus ending a brilliant and successful career that saw hundreds of wins and many track championships in New England. Charlie Savage was the SK winner with Mario”Fats”Caruso, second. Doug Hevron was the Supermodified winner.

Thirty years ago in 1988,it was all-quiet as no races were scheduled.

Twenty five years ago in 1993,the only show in town was the Busch Grand National North Series at Lime Rock and Ken Schrader was the winner.

Twenty years ago, in 1998,Mike Stefanik sewed up the Modified Tour Series Championship when he won the Thompson World Series. Stefanik also became the first driver in the 50-year history of NASCAR to win back-to-back championships in two separate divisions. Rick Fuller finished second and was followed by Chris Kopec, Mike Ewanitsko and Tim Connolly. Connolly led the first 47 laps of the 125-lap event before Chris Kopec punted him. Ted Christopher won the 30-lap SK event over Jim Broderick, Bert Marvin, Scott Quinn and Todd Ceravolo. The Busch North Series finished out their season at Lime Rock. In true championship style, Stefanik won that one too. In Winston Cup action at Daytona Beach, Jeff Gordon won the forest fire delayed event and in Busch Grandnational action at Gateway, Dale Earnhardt Jr. took the win after late race leader Buckshot Jones broke an oil line.

Fifteen years ago in 2003, The NASCAR Modified Tour Series was supposed to be at the Seekonk Speedway on Sunday but Mother Nature had different ideas as showers fell on the track just about all day. Because of the fact that Sunday was the last day listed on the permit that the Speedway has with the town the entire D.Anthony Venditti Memorial program has been canceled. This was the second event that the NASCAR Modified Tour Series has lost in 2003. A June event at Riverhead on Long Island was also canceled after rain-washed out the intended date. The Stafford Speedway held their first annual Invitational on Saturday. The event drew a fair crowd but considering all the football and baseball, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. With the exception of the winner, Doug Meservy, Stafford regulars took the first six spots as Waterford Speedbowl regular Rick Young finished seventh. Following Meservy was Ted Christopher, George Bessette, Bob Santos III and John Sandberg. Attrition was high as only eleven of the 25 starters were running at the finish including five cars on the lead lap. Woody Pitkat was the Late Model winner and Mike Como was the DARE Stock winner. Alan Johnson won the DIRT Eckered 200 at Syracuse. Johnson started sixth and took the lead on lap 173 after a pit stop on lap 94. Ken Tremont finished second with Frank Cozze, third. Johnson walked out of Syracuse with $50,000 plus $30,000 in contingency awards. Sam Sessions won the PASS Big Dawg Pro Stock event at Wiscasset Speedway in Maine and walked away with $100,000. Twin features were run at Wall Township with Ken Woolley and Kevin Flockart taking the wins. The annual Lancaster Open was also run on this weekend. Zane Zeiner took the win over Siege Fidenza.
Attrition was high as only 12 of the original 33 starters finished. The Winston Cup and Busch Racing Series were at Charlotte. The Busch Series event was scheduled for Friday night but fell victim to rain and was run on Saturday afternoon. Greg Biffle took the win after leading the final 38 laps. Michael Waltrip finished second. The Winston Cup event was run on Saturday night. Tony Stewart passed Ryan Newman with 15 laps to go and went on to take the win. Newman finished second and was followed by Jimmie Johnson, Bill Elliott and Jeff Gordon.

Ten years ago in 2008, The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Series ventured to the Chemung Speedway in western New York. The 3/8 mile track, originally built by the Bodine family drew a sparse field of only 25 cars. The Chemung event with a somewhat reduced purse consisted of time trials, two 25-lap heats and a 120 lap feature that ended up finishing under caution. Matt Hirschman, who was the fastest on the clock, won his qualifying heat and after starting on the pole led wire to wire to win his second NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour win of the season. Hirschman entered the event 89 points behind Ted Christopher in the championship chase. With Christopher’s seventh place finish, Hirschman narrowed the gap to just 55 points with only the Stafford Fall Final and Thompson World Series weekends remaining.

Todd Szegedy dogged Hirschman for most of the event but settled for a runner-up finish and held up his spot in third in the season standings. Mike Stefanik finished third. Chuck Hossfeld, Ronnie Silk, Erick Rudolph, Christopher, Bobby Grigas III, Rowan Pennink and Woody Pitkat rounded out the top 10 finishers.

At the Waterford Speedbowl it was good news and bad news. The good news was that competitors received their checks that had been held back. The bad news was that they were told not to cash them until Monday. One competitor thought he would pull a fast one and attempted to cash his check at the bank where the check was issued. He was told there were insufficient funds in the account to cover the check.

The shoreline oval ran their season ending Fall Finale, a two day event, last weekend On Saturday three SK Modified qualifying heats were run. Taking the wins were Shawn Monahan, Dennis Gada and Jeff Paul. In other Saturday action Jason Palmer won the 25-lap Legends Town Fair Tire Finale feature while it was Shaun Buffington scoring the 2008 Saturday Night Legends championship. Other feature winners were Norm Wrenn (Pro-4 Modifieds), Todd Bertrand (NEMA Lites), Glenn Boss (N.E Sport Modifieds), Corey Hutchings (Outlaw Stocks), David Flammia Jr. (X-Modified),Steve Barrett (Super-X Cars), Buddy Strede (X-Cars), Kathy Civardi (Women On Wheels Super-X), and Stephanie Bennett (Women On Wheels X-Car).

Sunday dawned in typical Waterford fashion. It was raining cats and dogs. Shortly before noon a strange thing happened, the rain stopped and the sun came out. It was too late; the cards of the fans had been dealt. Apparently many of them had made other plans as the vintage grandstand at the shoreline oval was all but empty when racing finally started. Because of the adverse weather the scheduled pit party was cancelled. The actual racing started about two hours late with Ken Cassidy coming from a dead last start to win the Mini Stock event. Randy Cabral won the NEMA Midget event and Brandon Plemmonds won the 50 lap Sportsman event. Things were looking up, the SK Modifieds were on the track for a tire heating session when the red flag was displayed bringing everything to a screeching halt. Evidently a bad accident on nearby Route 85 deemed it necessary for the Speedbowl’s ambulance to leave. Per state law, once the ambulance leaves the property all racing stops. After a little over a half hour an ambulance appeared and racing resumed. The 100 lap Modified event was a typical Waterford slam-bang event with survival of the fittest the order of the day. Diego Monahan led a large portion of the race untilbe dislodged by Keith Rocco and Rob Janovic. Both had a war of their own when on a late race restart Rocco didn’t go which resulted in Tyler Chadwick and Monahan hitting the front stretch wall. To make matters worse, at ten after nine, the fog started rolling in. At 9:20pm fans and competitors breathed a sigh of relief when the checkered flag was dropped on the event. Keith Rocco took the win and was followed by Rob Janovic, Ron Yuhas JR and Dennis Gada. For Gada it was monumental as he was now in a league of his own as he is the only seven time champion in Speedbowl history.

In True Value Modified Series action at the Lee USA Speedway Jon Mckennedy took the win over Jimmy Kuhn, Les Hinkley, Ed Dachenhausen and Mike Holdredge.

In Sprint Cup action, Tony Stewart ended his winless season at Talladega Superspeedway when NASCAR ruled Regan Smith’s last-lap pass was illegal. Smith was in second and trailed Stewart for the final three laps around Talladega. The rookie made one desperate attempt for his first career victory by ducking inside the two-time champion to attempt a pass. Stewart blocked him, and Smith went below the yellow out-of-bounds line. After he beat Stewart to the finish, NASCAR reviewed the move, a driver is allowed to pass if officials believe he was forced under the line, and declared it illegal. The ruling gave Stewart his first win of the season and snapped a 43-race winless streak dating to Watkins Glen last year. It also was his first career Cup win at Talladega, which has taunted him for 10 years as he finished second a maddening six times. Paul Menard was a career-high second and was followed by rookie David Ragan and Chase drivers Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer. Smith was dropped all the way to 18th. The race had a NASCAR-record 31 lead changes.

Five years ago in 2013, internet racing news site RaceDayCt announced that Hill Enterprises, which owns the No.79 driven by Woody Pitkat on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Series, would cease operations following the conclusion of their season at the Thompson Speedway. It is another spike in the heart of NASCAR’s oldest series. While those at NASCAR continue to pat themselves on the back the Modifieds continue to die a slow death. The recent Fall Final at Stafford drew 25 cars, one less than at Loudon in September. The July Loudon event drew a season high of 32. The slimmest field was at Monadnock where 23 of the ground pounders showed.

If one were to look at the big picture of the future of NASCAR Modified Tour Racing one would see a bleak one. In addition to the Hills dropping out it looks like Mike Stefanik’s days are numbered. Jamie Tomaino has said that once he sells his house in New Jersey he will pack it in and head south and Bob Garbarino, now in his mid-70’s has hinted that his days on the tour are numbered. Where does that leave the Modified Tour in 2014? Maybe 21 or 22 cars if they are lucky.

Mario Fiore, who has 35 Modified Tour wins to his credit pretty much hit the nail on the head when he said ” Everybody is trying to come-up with reasons why racing in our area is going down the tubes. Ever hear of Super Asphalt Week ???? Hell NO cause there ain’t one. There is NO marque event at this level of racing on asphalt.” He added, ” New Hampshire pays $10 to 14 thousand, Bristol pays under $10 thousand, the Stafford Sizzler a total joke but the big DIRT event at Syracuse pays 50 large. Look no further for one of the reasons why racing in our area is failing miserably”

Keith Rocco scored a “two-fer” at the Waterford Speedbowl on Saturday and in the process re-wrote track history. Rocco wrapped up the 2013 season at Connecticut shoreline oval with 24 wins overall, breaking the record of 23 wins in one season set by Don Collins in 1960. Rocco won the rain delayed 50 lap Late Model feature and the 50 lap SK Modified Fall Finale. Rocco’s scorecard shows he won 10 of the 24 SK Modified features run plus 12 of the 21 Late Model races run. He also scored wins in the Pro Four Modifieds and in the Valenti Modified Racing Series.

Other Saturday winners at the Speedbowl were Josh Galvin who scored a popular victory in the Street Stock race and Garrett Denton who won a special Mini Stock Shootout event.

Rocco’s record-setting victory in the SK Modified® race was not easy. He made a steady march to the front to move into second position on lap-16, trailing leader Kyle James. James, looked strong at the front and pulled away from Rocco during a green flag run that brought the race to lap-33. A caution flag enabled Rocco to pull outside of James for the restart, which he timed perfectly to power into the lead as the field completed lap-34. James wrecked out of second position on lap-38 trying to mount a challenge to reclaim the lead from Rocco, looking to have a car to contend. He made contact with the front stretch retaining wall before his car came to rest in turn one with suspension damage. Rocco had to master two restarts over Ted Christopher the rest of the way to earn the victory. Rocco got away following the final one to race to the win, his tenth of the year in the SK Modifieds®. Christopher finished in second and Craig Lutz of Miller Place, NY was third.
The Valenti Modified Racing Series was at the Lee USA Speedway last weekend as a part of their annual Octoberfest program. Thirty Modifieds were on hand. Tommy Barrett started 12th, pitted during a caution on lap 56 when his crew changed left side tires around. Barrett then made a determined march to the front to take the lead from Steve Masse on lap 91 and went on to score the win. Masse ennded up second with Jon McKennedy, third. Richard Savory and Les Hinckley rounded out the top five. Fourteen cars were on the lead lap at the finish.

The Modifieds of DIRT had their big weekend at the Syracuse, N.Y. Fairgrounds. Billy Dunn led the Salute the Troops 150 at Syracuse one mile oval on Saturday until he ran out of gas while taking the white flag, giving the win to Brett Hearn on the final lap. On Sunday, Dunn watched others run out of gas in front of him and took the lead with just three laps to go when leader Stewart Freisen’s tank ran dry. He held on from there to win the Syracuse 200 as Super DIRT Week XLII wrapped up at the New York State Fairgrounds. Just 24 hours before, Dunn stood alone in the pit area wondering what might have been. But on Sunday, he was standing on the roof of his big-block modified celebrating the biggest moment of his racing career in front of a capacity crowd.

Early on, Friesen was the man to beat as he held off defending race winner Brett Hearn until a caution on lap 83 sent most of the front runners to the pit area, including Dunn who was 11th at the time.

Two-time winner Vic Coffey would assume the lead until he ran put of gas on lap 118. Kenny Tremont had pitted earlier on lap 44 and was hoping to run up front for awhile before sneaking back down pit road again for his final stop. Tremont set a blistering pace, lapping cars as quickly as he could, but a 71-lap, green-flag run forced him to the pits for fuel under green, costing him a lap and the victory.

That left Tim McCreadie in the top spot with Friesen and Hearn right on his tail. McCreadie was one of those drivers who was hoping to run the final 117 laps without a stop. But during a red flag with just nine laps to go his right-rear tire went flat, forcing him to the pits and out of the lead. And Dunn noticed that as he sat just inside the top ten. Dunn also pitted on lap 83 when all of the cars at the front of the pack came down pit road. Most of those cars decided to chance it and run the rest of the race without stopping. But unlike most years when it could have been relatively easy to run the final 117 laps without a stop, this year the caution laps after lap 175 would not count, making for a race considerably longer than the traditional 200 laps. So Dunn pitted again at lap 166, determined to make sure he had enough fuel for the end of the race, no matter how long it took.

When the race went back to green after the red flag, two-time Syracuse 200 winner Friesen was in the top spot and Dunn was just inside the top 5. First Billy Decker ran out of fuel followed by Hearn, Jimmy Phelps and Friesen, who slowed on lap 198 leaving Dunn alone out front. But after losing the lead on the final lap the day before, he knew that anything could happen. “I wanted to see that white flag,” Dunn said. “I knew that once we crossed the white flag, even if a yellow came out, that would be the end. Once we got the white flag I knew nobody was going to pass me because I could go as hard as I needed to. That last lap was kind of enjoyable.” It was also enjoyable for college student Larry Wight as he also benefited from others running out of gas in front of him with a second-place finish. And this was after he saw his plans go out the window earlier with his stop on lap 83.

In NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour action at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Burt Myers took advantage of Ryan Preece’s bad luck to take the lead and eventual win. Preece had set fast time and lead 138 of the season-ending UNOH Southern Slam 150 on the 1/4 mile flat track. Preece had engine trouble in the form of a broken rocker arm. Kyle Ebersole finished second with George Brunnhoelzl III in third spot. Brunnhoelzl, the first driver to win four tour titles overall, wrapped up his third straight tour championship by taking the green flag. Tim Brown was fourth, and Danny Bohn fifth.

In NASCAR racing action at Charlotte, Kyle Busch raced to his 11th Nationwide victory of the year Friday night, giving him a season sweep on the 1 1/2-mile track. Busch edged Nationwide title contenders Austin Dillon and Sam Hornish Jr. to win for the eighth time in the series at his favorite track. Busch and wife Samantha donated the winnings from the race to the Pretty in Pink Foundation that provides financial assistance and support to underinsured and uninsured North Carolinians with breast cancer. The victory pushed Busch’s series record to 62. He has 19 victories this year in NASCAR’s three national series, also winning four times each in Cup and Truck. Overall, he has 124 victories in the three series, winning 28 times in Cup and 34 in the Truck circuit.
Brad Kesoloski was the Sprint Cup winner.

Last year, 2017, The headline attraction in New England last weekend was the 55th Annual World Series at the Thompson Motorsport Park Speedway. Eighteen different divisions were in competition over a three day span.

The action began on Friday, October 13 with three feature events and the crowning of the first champion of the weekend named in Thompson’s late model division. Matt Lowinski-Loh capped off his season with a statement win in the 25-lap late model feature. Ray Parent’s conservative strategy prevailed as he secured a ninth place finish and wrapped up the division championship. The longest event of the first night of World Series weekend was the 60-lap feature of the Granite State Pro Stock series, a new addition to the Friday night lineup of the annual event. Derek Ramstrom held off Derek Griffith for the feature win in a dominating performance. Numerous wrecks shadowed the event which seemed to take forever to complete. Closing out the night were the Lite Modifieds in a 20-lap feature that saw a competitive field of drivers each looking for one more win on the 2017 season. Third generation driver, Bryan Narducci, who started up front and finished up front in dominating fashion led every lap of the event on route to a victory.

Day two for the World Series of Speedway Racing was long and busy once the rain stopped. It proved to be a busy one as a slew of new champions were named in both touring and track divisions as the biggest weekend in New England racing continued. Six of the eight different races were held over the course of the afternoon, each resulting in a champion being named for their specific series or division as a packed crowd turned out to enjoy and afternoon of non-stop on track action at the Big-T.Eight. Fog caused the speedway to curb activities until Sunday. The Valenti Modified Racing series, the Northeastern Midget Association, the American Canadian Tour, the Mr. Rooter Pro Truck Series, the New England Pro 4 Modifieds, Street Stocks and the North East Mini Stock Tour were scheduled over the course of the afternoon and evening. In addition there was qualifying for the Whelen Modified Tour and Sunoco SK type Modifieds. Thirty five Whelen Modifieds and 26 Sunoco SK type Modifieds were on hand.

The American Canadian Tour served as the night’s main event crowning a champion with a two-man battle established coming into the evening’s season finale race. The tour’s 75-lap feature began with a tribute to series founder Tom Curley in a touching pre-race ceremony featuring a playing of “Donny Boy” on bagpipes. Curley passed away at the age of 73 earlier this year and before the green flag flew ACT drivers presented a series of four-wide tribute laps in honor of the man who helped establish their series back in 1986. Eddie MacDonald and Woody Pitkat battled it out for a win in the final ACT race of the 2017 campaign. Despite a strong run in the second half of the event, Pitkat was unable to make a move on MacDonald who had a strong car from start to finish and survived numerous restarts on route to his first win at Thompson and his second of the season in the ACT division.

The Valenti Modified series crowned its own champion before the day even started with points leader Anthony Nocella already earning enough points to clinch the title coming into the final event of the season for the popular local division. Nocella became the eighth different champion in the history of the Valenti Modified series and not only clinched the title, but also won the race after several contenders were sidelined from a series of on-track incidents during the 50-lap event.

Other Saturday winners at Thompson were Todd Bertrand in the NEMA Midgets, Dave Trudeau in the Mini Stocks, David Berghman in the Pro Fours and Nick Maniatis in the Northeast Mini Stocks.

In Whelen Modified Tour qualifying on Saturday, Chase Dowling scored his first career pole award on Saturday. Driving the 15-40 Connection modified for Rob Fuller, Dowling posted a fast lap of 18.991 seconds (118.477 mph) around the 0.625-mile oval. Dowling was the only driver to break the 18-second bracket in qualifying and will make his 41st career start on Sunday from the top spot.
Whelen Modified Tour points leader Doug Coby was second fastest. Coby ran a fast lap of 19.035 seconds (118.203 mph) behind the wheel of his No. 2 Mayhew Tools Chevrolet. Ryan Preece, who already has two victories at Thompson this season, was third in the qualifying. Rob Summers and Craig Lutz rounded out the top five.

Dale Wobrink started off the Sunday activity as she presented the 2017 Sonny Richards award post-posthumously to Ted Christopher. Shawn Waddell accepted the award for Christopher. Christphers last win at Thompson was his 99th Sunoco Modified victory at the Thompson Speedway on September 10th.

First up were the Sunoco SK type Modifieds. Ryan Preece and early leader John Studley made contact on lap 13. Keith Rocco was waiting in the wings and took advantage of the situation as he jumped into the lead. Rocco held the lead until lap 28 when Chase Dowling got underneath and rode him up allowing Todd Owen to take the lead. Owen ended up taking the win with Dowling, second and Rocco, Thompson Motorsports Park Sunoco Modified championship. Rocco is looking to make it three titles following this coming weekend at Waterford.

Rocco had a few choice words for Dowling after the event. “There’s a reason I’ve got more championships than that kid does wins,” Rocco said of Chase Dowling.

Timmy Solomito ended the season the same way he started, with a win. Solomito won the season opener for the Whelen Modified Tour Series. Along the way he scored a win at the Langley Speedway plus two at his home track, Riverhead Raceway. He capped off his season with a win at Thompson’s World Series. His crew rolled out a back-up car after a mis-cue in Saturday practice.

Doug Coby led the early going before pitting following a caution on lap 80. He needed to finish eighth or better to sew up the championship. Coby led laps 1-82, Craig Lutz led laps 83-107, Ron Silk led laps 108-144, Justin Bonsignore led lap 145 and Ron Silk led laps 146-153 before being moved by Timmy Solomito who led laps 154-155.

By virtue of his fifth place finish Doug Coby wrapped up the 2017 series championship by six points over Solomito. Justin Bonsignore finished up the year in third spot with Rowan Pennink and Eric Goodale rounding out the top five.

For the first time in series history the owner’s title went to a team that wasn’t hosting the championship driver at the end of the year. Ed Partridge and TS Motorsports was presented with the owner’s trophy thanks to the efforts of Ryan Preece, who forwent a full season of driving for the driver’s title to focus on advancing his career in select NASCAR Xfinity Series events over the course of the season. Preece said he was proud to help bring Partridge a title and end the season on a high note.

Other Sunday winners at Thompson were Jeff VanPelt in the Limited Sportsman, Ryan Bigelow in the NEMA Lites, Dave Shulluck in the ISMA Supers and Allen Coates in the Street Stocks.

In NASCAR Monster Cup racing, Brad Keselowski earned an automatic berth into the third round of the playoffs with a victory Sunday at Talladega, where he considered himself lucky to finish after a sloppy day for NASCAR.

“I survived,” Keselowski said. “I feel like only eight cars finished the race. It was one of those crazy days … a lot of attrition.”

There were just 14 cars running at the conclusion, and only four were playoff drivers. The race was red-flagged three times for nearly 35 minutes.

A big at-a-boy to Thirty Two Signs and all the hundreds of fans who have purchased items and donated are proud to announce that next week at the Waterford Speedbowl Thirty Two Signs will be presenting a check in the amount of THIRTY THOUSAND EIGHTY FIVE DOLLARS to the Christopher Family. Special thanks to all those who have made this happen!!

On a sad note, Gene White, 90, passed away at his home in Stonington, CT on Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017, leaving his wife, Nancy, of 53 years. Gene was a World War ll veteran serving in the Marines. He was an avid race car driver winning many trophy’s in modified, stocks and sprints. White was a five time winner at the Riverside Park Speedway. He also raced at the Thompson Speedway and at the Stafford Motor Speedway.