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

Column By: PHIL SMITH / WESTERLY, RI – Seventy years ago this week in 1948, Robert”Red”Byron from Atlanta, Ga. was crowned the first Nascar Modified champion.

Sixty five years ago in 1953, Herb Thomas was declared the Winston Cup, then called Grandnational, champion. Lee Petty finished second. Joe Weatherly was the NASCAR Modified Champion.

Sixty years ago in 1958, Lee Petty won his second Winston Cup championship. Buck Baker was second. Budd Olsen was the NASCAR Modified champion and Ned Jarrett won his second NASCAR Sportsman championship.
Wild Bill Slater closed out the season at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl with a 25 lap win. Joe McNulty was the non-Ford winner.

Fifty five years ago in 1963, Joe Weatherly won his second Winston Cup championship. Rene Charland won his second of four NASCAR Sportsman championships and Eddie Crouse won the NASCAR Modified championship.

Sixty years ago in 1968, Thompson Speedway ran their season ender. Bugsy Stevens took the win and was followed by Fred DeSarro, Eddie Flemke, Leo Cleary, Bob Santos and Don MacTavish. Stevens sewed up his second of three Nascar Modified championships.
Bob Potter was the Sunday afternoon Modified winner at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl. Bill Sweet was the Daredevil winner.
David Pearson sewed up his second of three Winston Cup championships as be beat out Bobby Issac and Richard Petty for the title. Pete Hamilton won Rookie of the Year honors in NASCAR’s elite division.

Forty five years ago in 1973,Jerry Cook won the season ending modified event at Martinsville. Maynard Troyer finished second and was followed by Ray Hendrick, Denis Giroux and Ronnie Bouchard. Richie Evans finished nineteenth and sewed up his first of many Nascar National Modified Championships. Benny Parsons won the Winston Cup championship and Lenny Pond was the Rookie of the Year. Jack Ingram was the NASCAR Late Model Sportsman Champion.

Forty years ago in 1978, The modifieds ran a special event at Kingsport, Tenn. Ronnie Bouchard, driving the Bobby Judkins No.2x took the win over Richie Evans, Jerry Cook and Harry Gant. Gant drove the famous William Mason No.45.The only action in New England was at Waterford where Bugsy Stevens in the Brady Bunch No.41 won a 100 lap open competition event which drew 60 modifieds. Dick Dunn in the Albert Gaudreau No.3 finished second and was followed by Eddie Flemke and Bruce”Gomer”Taylor.

Thirty five years ago in 1983,George Kent ran out of gas while leading the Martinsville 250 with only ten laps to go and handed the victory to Jamie Tomaino. Tony Hirshman finished second and was followed by Doug Hewitt, Richie Evans and Brett Bodine. Richie Evans, who won 31 of the 68 events he entered, was crowned the 1983 Nascar Modified champion. Rounding out the top five in points were Bob Park, Jim Spencer, Tom Baldwin and Dick Trayner. Trayners crew chief and chief mechanic was Steve Bird.

Thirty years ago in 1988,Tom Baldwin won the 250 lapper at Martinsville. Jan Leaty finished second and was followed by Richie Gallup and Jerry Cranmer. Mike McLaughlin was declared the Nascar National Modified Champion.

Thirty ago in 1993,New Hampshire International was forced to cancel the season ending events for both the Modified Tour and the Busch Grand National North Series. Ricky Fuller was declared the Modified National Champion and Dick McCabe was declared the Busch North Series Champion. In Winston Cup action at Phoenix, Mark Martin took the win with Ernie Irvan, second.

Twenty years ago, in 1998,Riverside Park closed out the season with a 100 lap modified event and a 75-lap SK event. Ricky Miller took the lead on lap 71 after Reggie Ruggerio lost a drive shaft. Miller went on to take the win and was followed by Chris Wenzel, Jamie Tomaino and David Berghman. Jim Williams won the SK event. Ted Christopher finished second after attempting to pass on the last lap. Carl Pasteryak won the Lee Octoberfest and in Winston Cup action at Rockingham, Jeff Gordon took the win and sewed up his third championship. On November 2,Joe Lewandowski, the promoter and General Manager of Riverside Park announced that he was leaving his position and was taking a position in the marketing department at Nascar headquarters in Daytona Beach.

Fifteen years ago in 2003, The NASCAR Modified Tour Series finally got to run their final event on Saturday at the Thompson Speedway. A beautiful fall day saw the 5/8-mile oval draw about a ¾ full house. Todd Szegedy survived a near devastating high speed trip through the infield grass, made a remarkable recovery and came back to finish eighth and wrap up the series title in his sophomore year on the Modified tour series. It was a tough day for Szegedy along with title contenders Chuck Hossfeld and John Blewett III. Hossfeld, who started fourth, ran in the top five most of the day, got caught up in a spin after Jimmy Kuhn wrecked. Hossfeld recovered to finish seventh. In the final standings Hossfeld ended up 32 points behind Szegedy. Tony Hirschman dominated the event to take the win over Ed Flemke Jr., Charlie Pasteryak, Ricky Fuller and Mike Stefanik. John Blewett III, who was also a title contender, was extremely upset with the winner after he moved up the racetrack on the back chute and planted him in the wall. Blewett led the event from laps 47-63 after taking it away from Hirschman who led the first 46. Blewett, who started third, ended up in 27th spot.

Tire wear was a factor with the outcome. Hirschman must have had a good set as he went the entire distance on his original set. Just about every one else in the lead pack pitted at least once for tires. Jerry Marquis also led the event. Marquis, who ended up fifth in the final standings, led from lap 64 to 84 before suffering a right rear flat. Despite a 19th place finish Marquis ended his season fifth in the final standings. Ted Christopher finished fifth in the standings after recording a 15th in the event. Sixth through tenth in the World Series were Jamie Tomaino, Hossfeld, Szegedy, Carl Pasteryak and Eric Beers. It was good to see Ed Flemke Jr. and the Roger Hill owned North Carolina based team end the season on a high note. Flemke and the Hills suffered horrible luck most of the season with motor problems and confrontations with Ted Christopher. Coming on strong in the final laps, crew chief David Hill felt that if they had a few more laps they had something for Hirschman but it wasn’t meant to be as the second generation driver had to settle for second in the final run down.

NEAR Hall of Fame inductee Bob Polverari was forced to turn over his ride to Joe Czarnecki. Polverari, who was in a wheel chair, suffered a broken hip as a result of a go-kart accident. Czarnecki finished 22nd, one lap down. Reggie Ruggiero who was making his second start of the year clearly got the biggest applause during driver introductions. Ruggiero, who started 16th, suffered a motor problem and dropped out on lap 33, ending his day in 31st spot. Donny Lia, who had previously wrapped up Rookie of the Year honors, was also a victim of engine problems as he also dropped out on lap 33, ending his day in 32nd spot. Doug Coby, who finished 12th, was the highest finishing rookie. Prior to the start of the Featherlite Modified finale the championship contending teams of Don Barker, Curt Chase and Bob Garbarino all shook hands with one another plus the fact there was an awesome display of a low fly-over of three F-111’s.

Bo Gunning and car owner Eddie Partridge ended their season on a high note as Gunning won a hard fought battle in the Sunoco-SK type Modified feature. Gunning ran wheel to wheel with Kerry Malone during the opening laps. With Gunning finally getting out in front Malone settled into second spot. Malone was hit by George Bessette on a lap ten re-start and retired shortly there after. Todd Ceravolo was making a run for a top spot when Ted Christopher caused him to brush the wall. Ceravolo showed his dis-satisfaction with the former National Champion as he gave him a love tap once he got back up to him. Christopher retaliated and slammed Ceravolo on the backstretch under caution and inflicted enough damage for Ceravolo to have to be towed off. On the final re-start Eric Berndt moved into contention but didn’t have quite enough to get by Gunning. Chuck Docherty, Doug Coby and Jim Civali rounded out the top five.

Other World Series winners were Chris Perley in the Supers, Randy Cabral in the NEMA Midgets and Charles Bailey III in the Late Models.

The Featherlite NASCAR Modified Tour Series had finally wrapped up another season. In addition to post-season point fund moneys from NASCAR point fund the top 20 shared in $158,000 in contingency awards including $100,000 from series sponsor Featherlite, $10,000 from Hoosier Tires, $8,000 from Edelbrock, $8,000 from JE Pistons, $8,000 from Moroso Products plus $8,000 each from Union 76, Ohlins and Stef’s products. The last three awards will be paid contingent upon decal verification and actual product usage. Series champion Todd Szegedy would walk away from the awards ceremony with upwards of $31,600 plus his point money.

In Winston Cup racing at Atlanta, rain put a damper on the racing after 19 laps causing the race to resume on Monday. Jeff Gordon used precision timing of pit stops to put him in a position for the win. Gordon took the lead on lap 289 of the 325-lap event and went on to out run Tony Stewart to the finish. Jimmie Johnson finished third. Greg Biffle won the Busch Series event.

Ten years ago in 2008, the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Series wound its way to the Thompson Speedway as the division finished out their 2008 season at the annul World Series. Forty-one Modifieds were on hand for time trials, which were held on Saturday. Taking the pole was Eric Beers who also broke the track record with a fast time of 18.429. Second fastest was young sensation Ryan Preece in the mighty No. 3 of the Boehler family. Third was championship contender Matt Hirschman with Jimmy Blewett and Chuck Hossfeld rounding out the top five. In the re-draw for the feature start Blewett drew the pole with Mike Stefanik drawing the outside pole. Preece drew third, Hossfeld, fourth and Ted Christopher, fifth. Beers drew sixth. Among those in the field was Stafford Motor Speedway SK Modified Champion Keith Rocco who placed the Joe Brady No.00 solidly in the field in 14th spot. Among those who didn’t qualify were Reggie Ruggiero and Billy Pauch Jr. Among those who had problems and had to rely on provisional starting spots were Todd Szegedy, Ed Flemke Jr, Danny Sammonds and Jamie Tomaino.

Ted Christopher went into Sunday’s World Series with a different mindset than normal. Known as a hard charger, go for broke driver he was forced to take a conservative route. With Matt Hirschman breathing down his neck in the point standings the Plainville CT driver didn’t want a wreck ruining his chances. For the first half of the 150 lapper Hirschman and Christopher ran ninth and tenth. Both appeared to be waiting for the other to have problems. By the 100-lap mark the championship contenders were running fifth and sixth. On lap 120, while running third, Hirschman began to slow. Two laps later he was behind the pit wall with engine problems. Once Christopher got the word from Crew Chief Brad Lafountain Christopher put the hammer down and went after the victory. Christopher passed Ron Silk for the lead on lap 134 and was never headed after that. Chuck Hossfeld ended up in second spot and was followed by Silk, Doug Coby and Eric Rudolph. There were 11 cautions for 49 laps and six lead changes among 5 drivers. Hirschman, who re-entered the event 21 laps down on lap 143 ended up in 25th spot. In addition to Hirschman the other hard luck story belonged to Ryan Preece. Preece was running fourth on lap 80 when his right front tire went flat. Preece pitted under green and lost a lap. The determined youngster made a determined bid as he ended up 14th, on the lead lap.

Shortly after the checkered flag dropped Matt Hirschman congratulated the new champ. What he didn’t know was that one of his car owners, Ed Bennett, was waiting in the pits to tell him he was fired from his car. Hirschman had split his driving time between Bennett’s mount and that of Wayne Darling. Hirschman, who had won at Chemung and had finished second at Stafford in Bennett’s car, was driving Darling’s car at Thompson.

Thompson World Series feature activity kicked off on Saturday evening with eight (8) events. Corey Hutchings scored the victory in the Outlaw Late Models; Howard Payne came out of retirement to win in the All Star Race Trucks. Scott Michalski was up to his old tricks winning in the Mini Stocks. Scott Foster bested his brother to take top honors in the Outlaw Strictly Stock. Norm Wrenn, topped the Pro-Four Modifieds and Chris “Moose” Douton won in the Limited Sportsman division.

During pre-race activities on Sunday NASCAR continued their 60 years of racing recognition with 1955 Champion Bill Widenhouse from NC, 1970 Champion Fred DeSarro and 1967 thru 1969 Champion Carl ‘Bugsy’ Stevens honored.

Keith Rocco put a cap on what was considered a break-out season as he won the the NASCAR 30-lap Whelen All-American Series SK (SUNOCO) Modified feature. Rocco, a second generation racer, won the season ending SK Modified event at the Waterford Speedbowl and finished second in Stafford’s season ender to wrap up the SK Modified championship there. Rocco was the 2007 champion at Thompson. Bert Marvin served up a spirited battle to finish second. Josh Sylvester finished third with Eric Goodale and Brian McCarthy rounding out the top five. Kerry Malone, who had previously wrapped up the track title, finished 19th in the high attrition event.

In other World Series events run on Sunday Chris Perley continued to be the dominant force in the International Supermodified Association taking down a strong victory at the World Series. Randy Cabral worked his magic taking his third straight Northeastern Midget Association feature victory. Derek Ramstrom turned in a dominating performance in the Pro Stocks; and Rick Gentes was victorious in the Late Models to conclude the race season at Thompson.

Congratulations went out to two-time NASCAR Featherlite Modified champion car owner Art Barry of Preston who was part of the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame Class of 2009. Among his many accomplishments were back-to-back NASCAR Whelen National Modified championships (2001-02 with driver Mike Stefanik) top the resume of Barry, 73. In 56 years of competition, Barry, who started racing at the Waterford Speedbowl, has won on 26 tracks from Maine to the Carolinas. His major wins included two Thompson 300 wins, two Stafford Springs Motor Speedway Spring Sizzler wins, two wins at Martinsville, VA and two at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and the National Open at Lancaster. Barry’s SPAFCO race chassis brand is one of the top of chassis in Modified racing. In addition to Stefanik his many drivers included Jerry Dostie, Bobby Santos, Leo Cleary, Bob Potter, Jeff Fuller plus his son, Kenny. In the beginning Barry was a typical back yard racer as he fabricated his own chassis and built his own motors. In 1970 Barry’s racing career and working career almost came to an end when he suffered two crushed legs while directing a backing fire truck at the Preston City Fire house. Sheer determination and a lot of help from his friends helped Barry resume a normal life and a return to racing.

Barry joined fellow Nutmegger John Fitch, a one-time International road racer and founder of Lime Rock Park. The list also included drivers Bobby Dragon and Paul Richardson, promoters Bob Bahre, Jim McConnell and Tom Curley and car owner/ builder Rollie Lindblad.

Jimmie Johnson led 339 laps as he dominated the NASCAR Sprint Cup event at Martinsville Speedway, and the two-time defending Sprint Cup champion padded his lead in his bid for a record-tying third straight championship with four races remaining. Only Cale Yarborough, from 1976-78, had won three straight championships in stock car racing’s premier series, and Johnson is looking more and more as if he’ll be the second. Johnson’s sixth victory of the year extended his points lead from 69 to 149, and while his closest challengers vowed that the Chase race isn’t over, the plaudits keep coming, too. Dale Earnhardt Jr was second, followed by Carl Edwards and Jeff Gordon, giving Hendrick three of the top four spots. Denny Hamlin was fifth and Casey Mears, the fourth Hendrick driver, was sixth.

Five years ago in 2013 NASCAR has released the final point standings in the NASCAR Whelen All American Series. Lee Pulliam who races in the Late Model division at the South Boston Speedway in Virginia is the racing series National Champion. Keith Rocco, who races at Thompson, Stafford and at Waterford finished third. It was the fifth consecutive year that the 28 year old engine builder finished in the top three. In fact he has finished no worse than fourth in the last seven years. Overall, Rocco won 30 feature events in 2013 including 16 in the SK Modifieds, two in the Valenti Modified Series and 12 in the Late Model division at Waterford. Coming with those victories were the Connecticut State Championship, SK Modified Championships at Waterford and at Thompson plus the Late Model Championship at Waterford. Following Rocco in the Connecticut State Championship was Ryan Preece, Woody Pitkat, Ted Christopher and Todd Ceravolo. Preece also finished fifth in New York State standings.

The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Series closed out the 2013 season at the Thompson Speedway. Overall racing on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour was second to none. There were a total of 50 different drivers in competition. NASCAR released the final point standings for 2013.

                                        Points       Races  Wins   T/5        T/10
1          Ryan Preece    549      14        4          10        10
2          Doug Coby     517      14        2          6          10
3          Donny Lia       496      14        1          7          8
4          Rowan Pennink           487      14        1          6          8
5          Mike Stefanik 480      14        2          3          8
6          Todd Szegedy 477      14        1          3          7
7          Ron Silk          466      14        0          4          10
8          Justin Bonsignore        464      14        1          5          9
9          Woody Pitkat  457      14        0          2          9
10        Ted Christopher          445      14        0          4          6
11        Eric Goodale   435      14        0          2          7
12        Ron Yuhas, Jr. 424      14        0          1          4
13        Bobby Santos  421      12        2          7          8
14        Jamie Tomaino            397      14        0          0          2
15        Ken Heagy      368      14        0          0          1
16        Cole Powell * 368      14        0          0          1
17        Bryon Chew    367      14        0          1          3
18        Ed Flemke, Jr. 365      14        0          0          2
19        Eric Berndt     345      13        0          0          2
20        Wade Cole      338      14        0          0          0

In NASCAR Sprint Cup action at the Martinsville Speedway, Jeff Gordon took the lead from Matt Kenseth, who led the most laps in the Goody’s Headache Powder Relief 500, with 21 laps remaining and drove away to a .596-second victory for his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory of the season. It was Gordon’s first victory of the season and the 88th of his career. Gordon’s eighth victory was at Martinsville was the 21st for Hendrick Motorsports at the .526-mile oval.

Last year, 2017, Two major storms enveloped the New England this past weekend. On came in the form of a ‘noreaster which came up from the south, dumping tons of rain. The other storm came from North Hampton, Pa. In the form of Matt Hirschman who won an excitement filled Tri-Track Open Haunted 100 at the Seekonk Speedway. Prior to the event at Seekonk race officials announced a bounty of $1,500 to anyone who beat the high-flying king of the Big Money events.

With 39 Modifieds on hand an afternoon of high caliber racing was the order of the day. Twenty six went to post with Ron Silk on the pole and Steve Masse on the outside. Hirschman started a distant 14th and Anthony Nocella, sixth. Pitkat led until just past the ¼ mark at lap 29 when Russ Hersey took the top spot. Hirschman had broke into the top ten and was running 8th. Two laps later when Richard Savory spun Hirschman had moved into the sixth spot. At the half way mark Hersey continued to lead. Silk was running second with Rowan Pennink, third. Johnny Kay was fourth as Hirschman broke into the top five. By lap 58, Kay had slipped out of the top five as Anthony Nocella moved into the fifth spot.

Ryan Preece, who was having an off day, spun for the second time on lap 69 as Hirschman moved into the second spot. By lap 83 Nocella was third. A caution on lap 90 when Blake Barney stopped in turn four, set the stage for some intense racing and exciting finish.

When the green flag was shown on lap 91, Hirschman got a big ump, taking the lead for the first time. Nocella moved into the second spot. By lap 94: Hirschman’s lead was about a car length over Nocella. As the laps clicked off Nocella closed to within inches off the leader’s bumper. On lap 97 Nocella stuck his nose low and found enough room to go side by side for the lead. With two to go, Nocella inched his way into the lead. Not to be denied, Hirschman pulled off a cross-over on the white flag lap. They touched but didn’t spin. Hirschman crossed the finish line in the top spot and recorded the victory.

Rowan Pennink finished third and was followed by Richard Savory and Les Hinkley. Sixth thru tenth were Steve Masse, Andrew Krause, Keith Rocco, Ron Frees and Chris Pasteryak.

What appeared to be Chase Elliott’s race to win Sunday night at Martinsville Speedway devolved into a twisted, steaming mess of unmitigated chaos in the final laps.
Ultimately it was Kyle Busch who survived a knock-down, drag-out slugfest in the First Data 500, punching his ticket to the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway by way of a thrilling last-lap pass for the victory.

Elliott was the unrivaled favorite as the final third of the race wore on and the lights came to life at the Virginia half-mile, powering inside of then-leader Brad Keselowski in turns three and four with 115 laps left and opening up a commanding margin at several points during the closing stages.

Keselowski chose the outside for a four-lap dash and restarted with Elliott alongside.

Keselowski hoped that he would be able to use the rubbered-in groove on the top of the track to clear Elliott when the green flag waved, but the end result was anything but what he had planned on.
Elliott forced his way through turns one and two to stay alongside Keselowski before shoving him out of the groove going into turn three, taking over the top spot on lap 497 as Denny Hamlin moved into second behind Elliott.

When the field got back to the backstretch again, Hamlin sailed into turn three on Elliott’s back bumper as Elliott slowed for the corner, sending Elliott careening up the track and ultimately spinning the second-generation driver into the outside wall as a result. That ended Elliott’s chance for the win, but the madness still wasn’t over.

Hamlin restarted as the leader for an overtime attempt, with Busch alongside, but Busch stumbled on the restart and Hamlin got away cleanly for the lead. However, Hamlin got loose entering turn three and Busch was able to get back to his rear quarter-panel, narrowly missing leading at the white flag but being in the cat-bird’s seat going back into turn one.

Contact between the two teammates sent Hamlin wide in the center of the corner and allowed Busch to seize the lead, and though Martin Truex Jr. snuck inside Busch in turns three and four, Busch was able to power off the outside and get back to the checkered flag first as everyone from fifth on back crashed behind him.

On Nov. 4, George Summers would claim a permanent space in the North-East Motor Sports Museum in Loudon, New Hampshire as a living “Legend” in modified racing. After being inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 2000, and being put onto the Wall of Fame at the Seekonk Speedway, this, he said, is a humbling addition after 34 years off the circuit.

Summers is still the winningest driver at the Seekonk Speedway for the last 70 years of the track’s existence. For that impressive feat, among others, he is being honored, said museum president Dick Berggren.

In Summers’ career, on and off for NASCAR, he won more than 200 races, and more than 100 of them were at Seekonk. George was so good that certain tracks offered a “bounty” to defeat him; whoever did would earn a bonus.

“People who have participated in sports usually sort of wither away and people forget,” Berggren said. “But George’s career was so profound and so strong, he is hardly forgotten. He was respectful, successful, and very well liked.”

The museum opened in June and this is the first commemoration celebration the facility has held, meaning that, once again, Summers is ahead of the pack. “His career was long and profoundly successful,” Berggren said. “He raced against the best we had in this part of the world and he beat them, and he beat them often.”

Summers’ interest in cars started when he was young. At 12 years old, once school had let out for the day, he would head to the garage of Jack Griffin in downtown Upton. Griffin had a race car, and Summers couldn’t resist, he said.

“As soon as I got out of school I was down to the race car shop,” he laughed. Summers hung around with Griffin helping around the shop for years, and when he turned 17, he bought one of his own. Little did Summers know he would be racing for 31 more successful years. Sadly, his mentor Griffin, would lose his life in a racing accident at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl.

From 1952 to 1983, Summers watched cars become more advanced. The speeds became faster, the lanes tighter, but Summers never wavered. He embraced the evolution of racing that he witnessed, and succeeded because of it. “I had a wonderful career, and I met a lot of nice people,” he said. “It’s an honor to have all of these things that have happened.”

Summers has owned and operated an successfull trucking company for the last 50 years, and still works there. But after he put the brakes on his racing career for good in 1983, he wasn’t sure how to spend his free time. “When I quit racing, I didn’t know what the hell to do with myself, so I started playing golf,” he said. Among his other trophies for racing, sit three hole-in-one plaques, indicating that no matter what Summers does, he comes out on top. Among his many golfing partners were the late Leo Cleary and the late Ronnie Bouchard.

The success of former modified race car driver and Upton native George Summers, 82, is easy to gauge by taking a walk through his living room and basement. Hundreds of trophies sit on shelves while plaques and photographs fill the rest of the wall space.