RPW Exclusive: Looking Back A Bit; First Week Of February

Column By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WESTERLY, RI – Sixty years ago in 1959, Bill France’s dream came true as the Daytona Speedway was completed and the doors were opened for practice and qualifying for the inaugural Daytona 500. Seventy-five cars were on hand and in time trials, Glenn Fireball Roberts took the pole with a speed of 140.581 mph in a 1959 Pontiac. Second fastest was Tim Flock in a 1959 Ford Thunderbird. During the opening week, the track claimed its first life when Marshall Teague rolled his Indy type car five times before being ejected onto the racetrack.

Fifty five years ago in 1964, Ford products were clearly outclassed in Daytona 500qualifing.Fourty six entries were on hand with Paul Goldsmith taking the pole with a speed of 174.910 mph in a Plymouth. Richard Petty, also in a Plymouth, was second fastest. The Fords were 15 mph slower.

Fifty years ago in 1969, Buddy Baker set a new qualifying mark as he toured the Daytona oval at 189.901 mph. Bobby Isaac was second fastest.

Forty five years ago in 1974, the Modifieds were not part of the World Series at New Smyrna but they did have a spot on the venue at the Daytona Speedway where they were scheduled for a 200 mile event on the 4.1 mile infield road course. Among those entered were Bob Park, Geoff Bodine, Denis Giroux, Bugsy Stevens, Jerry Cook, Richie Evans and Charlie Jarzombek. Also on the entry list were Winston Cup drivers Bobby Allison and Tiny Lund and road racers Paul Newman and Gene Felton.

Forty years ago in 1979, the Modifieds were out in full force at New Smyrna. Among those entered were Richie Evans, Ronnie Bouchard, Satch Worley, Moose Hewitt, George Kent and Charlie Jarzombek. Evans and Bouchard were also entered for the Daytona 200 event.

Thirty five years ago in 1984 Cale Yarborough became the first to break the 200mph barrier as he took the pole position at Daytona with a run of 201.848 mph. It was not without incident as he went on his roof before he completed his second lap. Terry Labonte was the outside pole sitter. Neil Bonnett was the winner of the 50 lap Busch Clash. Yarborough finished second and was followed by Buddy Baker and Joe Ruttman. Richie Evans won the first two events at New Smyrna. Charlie Jarzombek finished second, both nights. The modifieds were long gone from Daytona.

Thirty years ago in 1989,a law suit between Tim Richmond and Nascar for $20million was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount. Ken Schrader had a good weekend as he won both the Daytona 500 pole and the Busch Clash. Reggie Ruggerio was the opening night winner at New Smyrna. Jamie Tomaino finished second and was followed by Tom Baldwin and Mike Ewanitsko. Ewanitsko came back on night No.2 to take the win over Ruggerio, Tomaino and Tony Jankowiac. Thirty modifieds were on hand. On Sunday night, Ruggerio made it two out of three as Tomaino, Baldwin, Dick Trickle and Frank Fleming rounded out the top five.

Twenty five years ago in 1994,Neil Bonnett lost his life in a practice crash at Daytona. Loy Allen Jr. became the first rookie to win the Daytona 500 pole with a speed of 190.158mph.Dale Earnhardt was second fastest. Jeff Gordon won the Busch Clash. Brett Bodine finished second. Goodys Dash Champion Rodney Orr became the second fatality of speedweeks after he hit the wall in turn two during practice. Ricky Fuller was the opening night winner at New Smyrna as he beat out Steve Park, Tom Baldwin, Jamie Tomaino and Ted Christopher. Richie Gallup won night No.2 and Fuller came back to win on Sunday night. Things were about to get ugly with many drivers getting over aggressive. Tensions were building and would boil over later in the week.

Twenty years ago in 1999, opening night at New Smyrna saw a full field of modifieds. The main event started at 12:30am on Saturday morning but the late hour didn’t slow George Kent as he led the 25 lap feature from pole to pole. Ted Christopher finished second and was followed by Tim Arre, Jamie Tomaino, Eric Beers and Doug French. On Saturday afternoon, 58 Winston Cup cars took time at the Daytona Speedway for the Daytona 500 pole. Jeff Gordon toured the 2-1/2 mile speedway at 195.067mph and took the pole. Second fastest was rookie, Tony Stewart. Saturday night at New Smyrna, Jamie Tomaino started on the outside pole and led all 25 laps. For the second night in a row, Ted Christopher finished second. George Kent finished third with Eric Beers, fourth. On Sunday at Daytona, Mike Skinner won the Busch Shoot-out consi. Mark Martin got his first Daytona win after starting 13th and leading 16 of the 25-lap contest. Ken Schrader finished second. Jeff Gordon overshot his pit when he stopped and was held for 15 seconds. Gordon chose not to reenter the event and parked it. Bobby Gerhart won the ARCA 200 with Shauna Robinson, second. The big excitement of the afternoon came when Joe Cooksie rear-ended and destroyed the pace car. Sunday night at New Smyrna saw Jamie Tomaino leading almost the entire distance until he broke a rocker arm and had to give way to Ted Christopher. Tomaino managed to hang on for second and was followed by Tim Arre.

Fifteen years ago in 2004, the action began at the New Smyrna Speedway in Florida on Friday night, February 6. The speedway actually opened on Thursday for competitor parking, tech inspection and a practice session. There were 28 tour-type Modifieds and six SK-type Modifieds on hand. Among the quickest in the first session of practice was Donnie Lia, the 2003 NASCAR Featherlite Modified Tour Series Rookie of the Year. Despite the fact that the weather was threatening, Round One of the World Series at New Smyrna Speedway in Florida made it into the books. Ted Christopher, of Plainville, CT went pole to pole to win the 25 lap modified opener. The event, which went green for the first 22 laps, had only one caution, that for Long Islander JR Bertuccio, who spun. Eric Beers, who had dogged Christopher from the start, missed a shift on the re-start but managed to recover and finish second. John Blewett III, who was driving Christopher’s championship ride from 2003, finished third. George Kent and Jeff Malave rounded out the top five. Donnie Lia finished sixth and Bertuccio recovered from his spin to finish seventh. The temperature at New Smyrna took a dive on Saturday night. Charlie Pasteryak, didn’t let the chill in the air slow him down as he went pole to pole to win Round Two of the modified portion of the World Series. Eric Beers, who finished second to Ted Christopher on Friday night, finished second again with Christopher third. Donnie Lia turned his program up a notch as he finished fourth. Rounding out the top five was Kevin Goodale of Riverhead, NY. Numerous cautions slowed the event, as the full moon syndrome was evident. Numerous spins were the norm. Among the casualties were John Blewett III who hit a spinning JR Bertuccio, head on. Blewett’s mount, the Joe Brady No.00 sustained severe damage and was removed to a local race shop for repairs. Passing for position has been all but non-existent so far. The top cars are pretty equal plus the cold temperatures produce less than ideal racing conditions. Over in Daytona, Dale Jarrett came out of no where to win the Busch Shootout. Run on Sunday afternoons in previous years, the Shootout was moved to prime time on Saturday night. While the front stretch grandstands looked just about full, the surrounding area short tracks suffered. The same situation could be seen in the New England and New York area during the summer months when NEXTEL racing is done on Saturday night. At the Daytona International Speedway on Sunday 46 NEXTEL Cup cars attempted to qualify for the following Sunday’s Daytona 500. Greg Biffle in a Jack Roush Ford took the pole position with a speed of 188.387 mph. Second fastest was Elliott Sadler who went 188.355 mph. As a side note, former Waterford Speedbowl modified driver Bob Gada Jr. is one of those who work in the Jack Roush motor shop.

On a sad note, 44 year old Ray Weaver, supervisor of the track crew at Daytona was struck and killed on Sunday while out in the middle of the track during a caution period. He was picking up debris left on the speedway after a Goody’s Dash race incident. Ray Paprota, a paraplegic who uses hand controls to drive his car, accidentally hit him.

Sunday night at New Smyrna ended up being another crash fest and another night of virtually no passing. The upper groove of the ½ mile high-banked speedway has not come in like many competitors expected it would. Donnie Lia went pole to pole to win the 25-lap event over JR Bertuccio, Eric Beers, George Kent and Ted Christopher. As drivers get frustrated accidents happen. For the second night in a row John Blewett III saw his hopes for a decent finish get trashed. After numerous tries to re-start the event after a lap five caution Blewett found himself in the fence with his car suffering severe damage. His crew had worked all night long after a Saturday night crash to get the car back together. Blewett missed time trials and was forced to start the main event in the rear. It only took him five laps to get to the top five when bad luck struck again. The Modifieds had a night off on Monday, February 9, to re-group and would be back at it on Tuesday. Among the missing were pre-entries Chuck Hossfeld and Ed Flemke Jr. After three nights Eric Beers led the modified point standings. Beers, with 330 points, held a four-point lead over defending series champion Ted Christopher. Donnie Lia was third, eight points behind with Charlie Pasteryak and George Kent rounding out the top five.

In other matters, Preston Connecticut car owner Art Barry announced that he would field a two-car team on the NASCAR Featherlite Modified Tour Series for 2004. Barry, who owns and operates Spearpoint Auto in Preston, CT announced that his son Kenny and 2003 NEMA Rookie of the Year Sean Caisse will comprise a two car team and run the entire series.

Bob Bahre, owner and promoter of the New Hampshire International Speedway in Loudon, New Hampshire who was seriously injured in an automobile accident when his SUV went off the road in Brownfield Maine and struck a tree was listed in stable condition at the Maine Medical Center in Portland. In addition to bruises and cuts Bahre, 71, suffered a cracked vertebra.

Ten years ago in 2009, after a long snowy winter in the northeast many race fans and competitors packed their bags and headed to Florida for the annual Speedweeks. The New Smyrna Speedway World Series of Auto Racing began on Friday night. Temperatures were in the 50’s most of the day but once the sun went down it got quite chilly. When the Modifieds took the green for their feature at 20 minutes to 11 it was 30 degrees

Jimmy Blewett was the opening night Modified winner of what ended up being a rolling 25 lap demolition derby. Starting in ninth spot, Blewett took the lead after a lap 17 confrontation with Matt Hirschman. Hirschman and Blewett were racing quite hard for the lead when they came together on the backstretch. Hirschman rode the backstretch wall into turn three and suffered significant damage to his car which had to be double hooked off the track. Race Director Richard Brooks felt the incident was the result of hard racing and took no action against Blewett. He did, however take action against Ted Christopher following an incident on lap 21. Christopher dove under Jon McKennedy going into turn four. McKennedy hit turn four wall a ton. Christopher was penalized and sent to the back of the pack for over aggression on the track. After almost an hour the checkered flag flew on lap 25. Blewett won and was followed by Chuck Hossfeld, JR Bertuccio, Bobby Grigas, Eric Goodale and Christopher.

Because of the lateness of the hour, 12:30am, officials shortened the SK type feature to 15 laps. Jimmy Blewett went pole to pole to record his second feature win of the night. Grigas and Kenny Horton followed.

Matt Hirschman and his crew completely rebuilt their damaged racer, finishing it just in time for night #2 at New Smyrna. Their efforts paid off as Hirschman put his car in victory lane after going pole to pole in the 25 lap Tour type Modified feature. Opening night winner Jimmy Blewett lost control of his mount on the first lap and hit the wall. With minimal damage Blewett restarted in the rear of the 22 car field and was able to salvage a ninth place finish. Ted Christopher ended up in second spot after trading positions with Chuck Hossfeld with eight laps to go. Hossfeld settled for third and was followed by Kevin Goodale, Jon McKennedy and Bob Grigas. The Modified feature was completed shortly after 8:00pm, a sharp improvement from the opening night. Temperatures were a little more tolerable as the thermometer stayed around the 50 degree mark.

Jimmy Blewett went from an eight starting spot to take the lead in the third lap as he cleaned house for the second night in a row in SK type Modified competition. Bob Grigas finished second with Kenny Horton, third.

The Tour type and SK type Modifieds did not race on Sunday night.

One of the big issues so far at the Florida Speedweeks had been the fans, or the lack of them to be exact. The economy of this country was not good and many people had been laid off from their jobs. The Busch Clash saw a lot of empty seats at the Daytona International Speedway. During Sunday’s Daytona 500 qualifying the grandstands were virtually empty. In past years these events drew considerably better crowds.

Among the rumors circulating at New Smyrna was that quite possibly Modified competitors who race at the same tracks on the same weekends as the NASCAR Cup cars may be forced to shod their cars with Goodyear rubber. According to reports, Goodyear is working on a wider tire for the Cup cars in order to put a little more excitement back in the division. It’s not fair to Hoosier Tire which has stepped up to supply the Modifieds and have never had a major problem with their tires. If in fact NASCAR mandates this it will only apply to events scheduled for Loudon and Bristol. In the past Cup competitors have wined that Modified rubber has messed up their set-ups.

The Waterford Speedbowl property was still scheduled to be foreclosed on by mortgage holder Rocco Arbitell on March 2. Despite all that, property owner Terry Eames continued to make plans for the upcoming season. With Arbitell foreclosing on the track things would be slightly different then if a bank were to foreclose on a property. A bank would accept the highest bid no matter what their future plans were. Arbitell does not have to accept any bids he just legally has to advertise an auction and hold it. He could refuse any amount of money which in turn would ultimately give him ownership and control of the facility.

It appeared that former track operator Jerry Robinson could be setting himself up for future problems with the Internal Revenue Service as he had not complied with federal law in sending out accurate 1099’s to competitors. The law says that all tax forms are supposed to be postmarked by Feb. 2 (technically Jan. 31st, but since that was a Saturday, it was Feb. 2). In the case of 1099’s, if the amount indicated includes money that was never paid they are bogus. If Mr. Robinson failed to provide the necessary accurate forms he could end up paying a hefty fine to the IRS and could find himself in jail!

An insider in the know at NASCAR had hinted that the Waterford Speedbowl may not get a sanction unless the purse is paid from the 2008 Fall Finale. NASCAR was founded by Bill France Sr to protect competitors from promoters who ran off with gate receipts when they should have paid competitors. Evidently it doesn’t make any difference who would be running the track in 2009. The competitors needed to be paid before the NASCAR banner goes up! Needless to say competitors were never paid and never will be paid. Robinson is deceased.

Despite all the uncertainty the Waterford Speedbowl released its 2009 schedule with more than 50 events planned.

Kevin Harvick powered past Jamie McMurray on the outside of the last lap Saturday night to grab a come-from-nowhere victory in the Budweiser Shootout. It was Harvick’s first victory in 71 races, dating to the All-Star race in May 2007. The only other event he won that year was the season-opening 500, when he nipped Mark Martin in a photo finish. Harvick was winless in 2008. Harvick started 23rd in the Shootout, spent most of the race in the back dodging wrecks, then slowly worked his way up toward the front. McMurray seemed headed for the win until a late wreck between Greg Biffle and David Stremme set up a two-lap overtime sprint to the finish. Harvick was in fourth on the restart, and didn’t seem to have anything for McMurray. But as they closed in on the finish line, he used a huge push from Denny Hamlin to slide past McMurray on the outside. Harvick raced to the win as Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch all crashed behind him.

Martin Truex Jr won the pole for the season-opening Daytona 500, while Mark Martin qualified second. Truex and Martin locked in their spots during Sunday’s qualifying at Daytona International Speedway. Only the top two spots were secured under the complicated qualifying process for the Feb. 15 race, and the rest of the field would be set by a pair of 150-mile races Thursday. Truex earned the pole by turning a lap at 188.001 mph in a Chevrolet for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing. The team is a merged effort of Dale Earnhardt Inc. and Chip Ganassi Racing, organizations that joined up in late November when sponsorship difficulties threatened their race teams. Martin, meanwhile, turned a lap at 187.817 in a Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. The 50-year-old veteran is returning to full-time racing after running a partial schedule the previous two years.

Five years ago in 2014, The central Florida flat lands came alive with the sound of ground pounding Modifieds this past Friday night as the Annual World Series at the New Smyrna Speedway took the green. Opening night saw 12 tour type Modifieds on hand. Tommy Barrett in his first time out put the Robert Our entry in the top spot after turning the half-mile in 17.18 seconds. Ron Silk was second fastest. Matt Hirshman’s time was disqualified as his ride height did not meet track specs. Silk was the opening night winner over Jimmy Zacharias, Chuck Hossfeld, Ryan Preece and Eric Goodale. Silk started third in the 14 car field and took the lead from Jimmy Zacharias on lap 23 and ended up winning with a ten car lead. The debut of Barrett in the Our 22 lasted six laps when he was black flagged as his car was emitting sparks. Barrett ended up 12th in the final run down.

Racing at Daytona got off to a rough start. Cool weather, a poor crowd, a high rate of attrition and a burnt up pace car were major factors.

Denny Hamlin made a bold move by nearly driving under the yellow line on the backstretch with one and a half laps left and went on to win Saturday night’s crash-filled Sprint Unlimited NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Daytona Int’l Speedway. Hamlin’s Toyota finished ahead of Brad Keselowski’s Ford. Kyle Busch, who spun out in the final segment but was able to continue in the race, finished third to give Joe Gibbs Racing two cars in the top three. Joey Logano’s Ford was fourth followed by Kevin Harvick’s Chevrolet.

That was the end result of a crash-filled event that had far too few cars running at the finish with eight of the 18 starters making it to the finish.

The blue Chevrolet SS pace car being used by NASCAR to pace the Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway caught on fire while leading the 10 remaining competitors under caution, with 54 laps in the book.

Pace car driver and former NASCAR competitor Brett Bodine was driving at the normal speed of about 75 mph, when he suddenly dove to the apron and accelerated, apparently aware that the car was on fire, as he tried to get the SS to a fire truck. But the cockpit filled with smoke, and Bodine stopped on the apron just past turn two, and he and an unidentified NASCAR official riding in the passenger seat jumped out. Flames were visible from the car’s trunk. Crews quickly extinguished the flames and the car was towed to the garage on a rollback truck.

Austin Dillon, driving the historic No. 3 car in its return to NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition for the first time since 2001, won the Coors Light Pole for the 56th running of the Daytona 500. Dillon, the grandson of car owner Richard Childres toured the high banked speedway at 196.019mph. Taking the outside pole position was Martin Truex jr at 195.852mph. Forty nine cars attempted to qualify.

The Modified field increased to 15 on Saturday night but the end result mirrored Friday night as Ron Silk and the Eddie Partridge entry cleaned house again. Ryan Preece finished second with Matt Hirschman, third. Chuck Hossfeldt and Jimmy Zacharias rounded out the top five. Tommy Barrett was again the top time trialer. Starting third, Barrett faded and in the end finished seventh.

Sunday night saw another 15 car Modified field. Ron Silk unseated Tommy Barrett as the top banana in qualifying. Silk toured the half mile oval in 17.133 seconds. Barrett was second fastest with a 17.154 sec lap. NASCAR’s K&N series was also on the venue. Eric Goodale came out on top. Ron Silk finished second but was disqualified for making an unauthorized tire change. Matt Hirschman was moved up to the runner-up spot. Andy Seuss was awarded third. Rounding out the top five was Ryan Preece and Spencer Davis.

Modified action shifted to the Daytona International Speedway on Monday where 30 teams checked in for inspection for the second annual Battle at the Beach.

On a sad note, long time Chief Starter at many tracks, Earl Grant passed away. He worked as a truck driver for the Teamsters out of local #56 in Fall River, MA for over thirty years, retiring in 1988. Mr. Grant was very active during the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s with the Northeast Midget Racing Association as a flagman throughout New England and Canada, especially at the Stafford, Thompson, Westboro and Seekonk Speedways. Earl was the recipient of the D. Anthony Vendetti Memorial Award for his dedication to the sport of auto racing.

Last year, 2018, Central Florida came alive with the sound of racing engines this past weekend as the green flag flew for Modified racing at the Bronson Speedway on Saturday night. Ryan Preece started his speedweek with a bang as the throttle stuck on his TS Haulers mount causing hard contact with the wall and a trip out of the track. Preece was not hurt but his mount suffered a bent frame. Twelve cars were on hand.

Matt Hirschman more than made up for last years tangle with Ryan Preece as he scored a convincing win in the 50 lap Modified Speedweek opener. Hirschman took the lead from Craig Lutz with ten to go. Lutz finished second with Patrick Emerling, third. Ronnie Williams and Eric Goodale rounded out the top five.

The Daytona International Speedway hosted ARCA Series qualifying on Fri, Feb 9. Natalie Decker was the pole sitter. New Englander Andy Seuss in the Robert Our entry was 25th. The Monster Energy Cup cars entered the garages. There were 40 entries for the Daytona 500. Michael Self won the multi-wreck ARCA 200. Andy Seuss finished 19th.

Brad Keselowski won the Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona on Sunday. Joey Logano finished second. Alex Bowman won the pole for the Daytona 500.

In some good news for those who couldn’t make it to Florida Fanschoice.tv live broadcasted New Smyrna events.

The New London (CT) Day reported that Waterford CT town officials agreed to review the town’s 25-year-old noise ordinance after residents debated noise produced at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl, with neighbors claiming the race cars’ rumbling is a health hazard while Speedbowl supporters argued the complaints are overly exaggerated.