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

Column By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WESTERLY, RI – Thirty five years ago in 1984, the Winston Cup visited Rockingham. Harry Gant was the pole sitter. Bobby Allison took the win. Ronnie Bouchard qualified 12th and finished 21st after losing an engine. Geoff Bodine had a better day. He qualified 13th and finished sixth.

Thirty years ago, in 1989, Rusty Wallace was the Rockingham winner.

Twenty five years ago, in 1994, the Winston Cup and Grandnational divisions were in Richmond. In Grandnational action, David Green was the pole sitter. Joe Nemachek took the win over Kenny Wallace and Hermie Sadler. Randy LaJoie suffered his third wreck in a row as he got collected in oil dumped by Mike Wallace and ended up in the wall.

Twenty years ago, in 1999, the International Speedway Corporation teamed up with developer Donald Trump to explore possibilities of building a speedway in the New York city metro area.

Ten fifteen years ago in 2004, It was announced that former NASCAR Featherlite Modified Tour Series Champion Mike Stefanik would be driving the Flamingo Motorsports No.16 when his schedule permits. Stefanik was committed to a full schedule on the Busch North Series. Robbie Summers would be the driver of choice when Stefanik is unavailable. Chris Kopec, who had driven the Flamingo Motorsports entry for the previous sixteen years, was injured at Thompson in 2003 during the running of the season ending World Series. He had not recovered completely from his injuries and felt that it was in the best interest of his family and business that he not race in 2004. It has also been learned that Tom Cravenho of Raynham, Mass. would be driving for Long Island car owner Eddie Partridge on the Modified Tour Series. Bo Gunning would continue to drive the Partridge SK-Modified at Thompson and at a few selected events at Waterford. Dick Houlihan, one of the top dogs at Seekonk, was announced to be driving a former Joe Brady car on the NASCAR Featherlite Modified Tour Series for 2004.

Connecticut developer Gene Arganese, who hoped to build a speedway in North Stonington, Connecticut, had offered to pay the town $4.5 million for a public safety complex the town intended to build on Route 2. He had also offered $30,000 in scholarships to North Stonington public school students. First Selectman Nicholas Mullane said the $4.5 million offer sounded like a bribe. Arganese also ran into a stone wall with the school department when they rejected his offer because it would violate the Board of Education’s policy on advertising. Despite not having the approval of local officials and not having a commitment from NASCAR, a web site was opened for the proposed North Stonington, Connecticut Speedway. The proposed track would be called the New England Raceway and in addition to promoting auto racing, hoped to stage concerts, trade shows expositions and swap meets. The speedway began soliciting monetary memberships that range from $1500 to $10,000 which would give patrons pre-show ticketing and seating arrangements, VIP parking, celebrity cocktail privileges and put in a pool for backstage and pit access. The latest twist seemed to indicate that if Arganese did get to build the speedway it would be domed which would make it a year round facility. North Stonington is a farming town and the big attraction there every summer is their annual fair.

In Nextel Cup action at Las Vegas Matt Kenseth made it two in a row. Pole sitter Kasey Kahne finished second. Kevin Harvick, who was in the top five until the final moments when he ran out of gas, giving the win to Kenseth.

Ten years ago in 2009, The mighty Modifieds of NASCAR completed their tire test and shakedown runs at the Bristol Motor Speedway in preparation for the August 19 combination North-South 150 lapper. LW Miller and Brian Loftin from the southern tour joined Ted Christopher, Todd Szegedy, Matt Hirschman and Ron Silk for the historic day. Using restrictor plates used at Loudon in the morning session, four other drivers also tested Bristol on Tuesday. NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour veterans Ted Christopher, Matt Hirschman and Ron Silk turned laps as well as Brian Loftin from the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour.

To start the day, all six cars employed the same restrictor plate that is used annually at the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour’s two events at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. In the cool morning session, Szegedy paced the field with a fast lap of 15.022 seconds (127.733 mph). The afternoon session proved to be significantly faster for all involved as the temperature warmed. As of mid-afternoon, Miller topped the charts at 14.742 seconds (130.159 mph.), well under the current NASCAR Sprint Cup Series track qualifying record of 14.908 seconds (128.709) set by Ryan Newman in 2003. In fact, Christopher (14.805), Silk (14.818), Szegedy (14.869) and Hirschman (14.894) had all exceeded Newman’s mark. According to Ted Christopher the Modifieds are extremely fast due to the fact that it is wide open throttle all the way around. One of the main issues that competitors will have to deal with is frame height and shock travel. It is Christopher’s opinion that it will be a better race if restrictor plates are not used as there will be better throttle response when exiting the turns. Two things are for sure as he alluded to the fact that competitors will have to be on their game and they will have to be mentally focused. The 150-lap combination Modified race at Bristol is scheduled to start at 6 p.m. on Aug. 19.

After much speculation it was official, Donnie Lia was back in the Bob Garbarino Mystic Missile for the full season on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Series. It had also been released that Woody Pitkat would be the full time driver of the Don King No.28 on the tour. Doug Coby, who shared the ride with Pitkat in 2008 would drive the mount formerly driven by Jimmy Blewett. Blewett would be driving exclusively for Long Island car owner Eddie Partridge in 2009.

Speedway Expo took center stage in New England over the weekend. The brainchild of Speedway Illustrated Editor Dick Berggren opened on Friday and ran through Sunday at the Eastern States Exposition Grounds in West Springfield, MA.

Among the highlights was the Riverside Park Speedway reunion held on Friday night. The track was torn down ten years previous to make way for a roller coaster. Among those who were on hand for the gathering were former track and amusement park owner Edward Carroll and former announcer, now anchor for FOX Sprint Cup telecasts Mike Joy. Former Riverside Park drivers included were Bob Polverari, Moon Burgess, George Lombardo, Mike Stefanik, Reggie Ruggiero, Steve Park, Renee Dupuis, Billy Grecco, Dan Avery, Ted Chalmers, Bobby Seymour and Ted Christopher.

In addition EXPO was loaded with displays from tracks, racing divisions, sanctioning bodies, vendors and collectible sellers.

The highlight of the weekend was the awarding of the Speedy Awards to those who have gone above and beyond for the sport of auto racing. Congratulations to Richie Grodski and the gang at the web site Chrome Horn for the award for Best Series or Track Coverage, 2009 Speedy Award. This award is given to the publication, broadcast or web medium that provides outstanding coverage of auto racing.

Among the other Speedy Awards were Best Weekly Racer, Dennis Gada, Breakout Racer, Keith Rocco, Best individual Performance of a driver was Chuck Hossfeld, Best Individual Promotion was Turkey Derby at Wall Stadium in New Jersey and the Long Haul Award went to Ted Christopher

The Waterford Speedbowl will be under the sanction of NASCAR in 2009. Property owner and track operator Terry Eames made the announcement at the Speedway Expo.

NASCAR gave their local weekly competitors a shot in the arm. New rewards and recognition were made available to first-time Whelen All-American Series featured division license holders for 2009. A new Rookie of the Year Award program would determine top rookie performers in each state and province. From those winners, a North American Rookie of the Year would be named. To be eligible to compete for the award, drivers must be a first-time NASCAR Whelen All-American Series featured division license holder. This award will be made to a competitor in the SK Modified division at the Stafford Motor Speedway and a competitor in the Sunoco Modified division at the Thompson Speedway. If, in fact the Waterford Speedbowl secured a sanction, competitors in the SK Modified division there would also be eligible.

In some sad news, H. Lewis Compton, 80, who was known as the “Mouth of the South” for announcing every race at Martinsville Speedway for 44 years, died last Friday at Memorial Hospital in Martinsville. Since 1962 he had been known as “The Mouth of the South,” a moniker bestowed upon him by Elmo Langley, one of NASCAR’s early drivers, car owner and longtime pace car driver. Compton announced every race at Martinsville Speedway from 1955 until 1999, worked in radio for 52 years until he retired from WHEE Radio and was a licensed auctioneer for 36 years.

Greg Biffle recovered after running out of gas to win the Nationwide Sam’s Town 300 in Las Vegas. Carl Edwards was second.

Kyle Busch scored the biggest win of his career by driving from the back of the field to win the Shelby 427 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, his hometown track. Busch took the lead with 57 laps to go, then lost it during a late round of pit stops. Busch was third on a restart with 22 laps to go, and then chased down Jeff Burton and leader Clint Bowyer to move out front again.

Middletown native Joey Logano, who like Busch is with Joe Gibbs Racing, finished 13th and had the lead on lap 53, the first time he has held the lead in his brief Sprint Cup career.

Busch beat Kurt Busch for the pole on Friday to put brothers on the front row for the first time since 2000. But an engine change in his Toyota meant he had to drop to the back of the field at the start of the race, and Busch had to power his way through the field over 285 laps. Busch held off Burton and Bowyer on a restart with eight laps left and then another, after Jimmie Johnson was involved in a crash , with three to go. Carl Edwards blew an engine during the final two laps, the third Roush Fenway Racing motor to fail during the race, handing fourth to David Reutimann. Matt Kenseth, trying to become the first driver in NASCAR history to win the first three races of the season, had engine problems six laps into the race and was last.

Two-time Indianapolis 500 champion Helio Castroneves went on trial in Miami federal court on charges he used shell corporations and offshore accounts to evade paying taxes on millions in income. Prosecutors claim Castroneves, 33, his sister and business manager Katiucia “Kati” Castroneves, 35, and Michigan attorney Alan Miller, 71, conspired to hide more than $5 million from the Internal Revenue Service between 1999 and 2004. Castroneves was also charged with failing to report some additional income and improperly deducting $687,000 as business expenses to reduce his taxes. If convicted, the three could face more than five years in prison.

Five years ago in 2014 The NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour hit a milestone on Sunday when the 2014 season took the green flag. The Whelen Season Opener 150 at the Caraway Speedway marked the 50th all-time race for the Whelen Southern Modified Tour at the rural North Carolina oval, and it also launched the 10th season of competition for the tour.

Andy Seuss was fastest in practice, won the Coors Light Pole Award and led every lap en route to winning the Whelen Season Opener 150 at Caraway Speedway. He finished 1.465 seconds ahead of runner-up George Brunnhoelzl III. JR Bertuccio, Burt Myers and Jason Myers rounded out the top five.

Danny Bohn was sixth, followed by Brian Loftin, Luke Fleming, Thomas Stinson and rookie Joe Ryan Osborne.

There were five cautions for 22 laps. Nineteen cars were on hand.

In NASCAR Sprint Cup racing, Dale Earnhardt Jr. gambled on fuel at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, but it was Brad Keselowski who hit the jackpot. Earnhardt tried to stretch his fuel during the final run to the checkered flag during Sunday’s Kobalt 400, but ran out of fuel on the backstretch on the last lap. That allowed 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski to surge into the lead and complete a weekend sweep at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The run to the finish was set up when the fourth and final caution flag of the day waved with 47 laps left at the 1.5-mile oval. Keselowski was the race leader at the time and led most of the field down pit road for fuel only stops. Meanwhile, Earnhardt was one of three drivers who opted not to pit. Earnhardt, Carl Edwards and Denny Hamlin all stayed on track in an effort to try and win the race on fuel strategy.

During the restart Keselowski shot through the field, getting up to third within a lap behind Earnhardt and Edwards. Keselowski, who started second, slowly began to make up ground on both Earnhardt and Edwards. Keselowski took second away from Edwards on lap 244 and set his sights on Earnhardt. Keselowski closed the gap quickly, getting within half a second of Earnhardt with 10 laps left. Earnhardt was able to stabilize the gap between himself and Keselowski over the next nine laps, but he still had one more lap to complete.

Unfortunately for Earnhardt, his car sputtered coming out of turn two on the white flag lap. That allowed Keselowski to take the lead down the backstretch and pull away to his first Sprint Cup victory of the 2014 season. Despite running out of gas, Earnhardt had enough momentum to get him to the finish line in second. Earnhardt had not finished worse than second in the first three Sprint Cup events of the season.

Paul Menard had his best finish of the young season, finishing third. Polesitter Joey Logano finished fourth, followed by Edwards in fifth. Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Newman, Kasey Kahne, Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth completed the top 10.

It was good to hear that the Waterford Speedbowl and the Thompson Speedway were working together toward a common goal of having universal technical rules for their racing divisions. The idea of the whole concept is making it easier and less expensive for competitors to run an extra event each weekend if they so desire. During the early 1980’s when the SK Modified division was conceived a Tri-Track Series existed which enabled competitors to run the same car three times a week. The concept worked then and should work now. Waterford has a strong SK Modified field while Thompson has a strong Limited Sportsman field. Evidently the Stafford management is happy with their present fields of cars.

On a sad note, Bob Finan sent word from Long Island that the Riverhead Raceway family has been saddened with the passing of famed car owner Carl Zeh. For all his Islip Speedway and Riverhead Raceway championships with driver Don Howe, Carl will be remembered as one of the nicest men to ever grace a pit area.

Last year, 2018, In some welcome and important news, the New London-Waterford Speedbowl has announced that the proposed changes to the Waterford town Noise Ordinance, which would have disrupted their operating times and schedule has been completely thrown out by the town’s Public Health, Recreation and Environment Committee. In short, no further actions or changes would be needed.

In a somewhat surprise announcement, longtime Nashua, New Hampshire businessman Norman Wrenn Jr. purchased Lee USA Speedway in Lee, NH. Wrenn bought the 3/8 mile speedway from John “Red” MacDonald and wife Judy, track owners for the last 33-years. Wrenn made the disclosure Tuesday, February 27.

Wrenn, in his 40th year in the propane gas business, is also a successful stock car racer, dating back to 1983. A many time feature winner and track champion, Wrenn has competed in Pro Stock, Pro-4 modified, and Modified Racing Series competition over a 35-year career. Wrenn ironically won his first Pro Stock race at Lee in 1993.

One week after a dominant victory at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Kevin Harvick was in a league of his own yet again in Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series competition, leading a commanding 214 laps en route to victory in Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Kyle Busch ended the day in second and acknowledged that there was simply no catching Harvick on Sunday afternoon. Kyle Larson finished a distant third, followed by Martin Truex and Ryan Blaney to complete the top-five. Only nine of the 37 cars that started the race finished on the lead lap.

Kyle Larson finished a distant third, followed by Truex and Blaney to complete the top-five. Only nine of the 37 cars that started the race finished on the lead lap.

In the Xfinity series event, Larson started second and dominated the 200-lap event, leading a race-high 142 laps en route to his first Xfinity Series victory of the season and the ninth of his career.