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

Column By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WESTERLY, RI – Sixty years ago in 1959, Larry Mendelsohn signed a lease to operate the Islip Speedway on Long Island. Lou Figari was his partner.

Fifty five years ago in 1964 Ray Delisle was the Modified winner at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl. Daring Dick Caso was the Bomber winner.

Fifty years ago in 1969 Ed Yerrington Sr won the season opening 30 lap Modified feature at the Waterford Speedbowl. Jim Mazzella was the 20 lap Daredevil winner.

Forty five years ago in 1974 Don Bunnell won the season opener at the Waterford Speedbowl. Rick Elnicki was the Grand American winner.

Forty years ago this week in 1979, Thompson opened for the season. Ronnie Bouchard won the small block Modified feature over John Rosati and Dunk Rudolph. Rudolph was subsequently disqualified when it was found that his car’s engine had illegal heads. Bobby Fuller was the late model winner. The speedway sported a new look as the Connecticut DMV mandated that the Speedway eliminate all light poles from the infield. Track owner Don Hoenig had purchased high intensity lighting that had been used at the Lincoln Downs Horse Track in Rhode Island. In other news, Dale Earnhardt won the Winston Cup event at Bristol as a rookie and Geoff Bodine was fired from the Jack Beebe Winston Cup Car.

Thirty five years ago in 1984, it was night No.2 at Riverside Park. Stan Gregger wasted little time and took down the win. Jim Spencer finished second and was followed by Ray Miller, Richie Evans and Corky Cookman.

Thirty years ago in 1989, Reggie Ruggiero was the top dog at Riverside in the Mario Fiore No.44. There were only 21 cars on hand but they were all good ones. Stan Gregger finished second and was followed by Dan Avery, Brad Hietella and John Zavisa.

Twenty five years ago, in 1994, the roles were reversed at Riverside as Gregger took the win with Ruggiero, second. Avery finished third and was followed by Eddie Spiers, Wade Cole and Tom Jensen. In SMART action at Caraway in North Carolina, Tim Arre won a 150 lap event over Frank Flemming, and in Hickory, N.C. Ricky Craven took the lead with 32 laps to go and went on to win the Sundrop 300 over Randy LaJoie.

Twenty years ago, in 1999, David Green won the Busch Series 320 at Nashville. Casey Atwood finished second. Sterling Marlin provided the only competition but his day ended after his car spun and was wrecked by a wrecker in the pit area.

Fifteen years ago in 2004, in a joint announcement from NASCAR and the Thompson Speedway last Thursday; the Thompson Speedway IceBreaker was postponed until April 17-18. The early cancellation was made in order to prevent fans and competitors from making a needless trip. The Thompson Connecticut area was pounded by over two inches of rain and with more forecast for the weekend, it was a wise move to pull the plug on the event. The Waterford Speedbowl also fell victim to rain as Saturday night’s races were canceled. In Nextel Cup action at the Texas Speedway Elliott Sadler won by inches over Kasey Kahne. Jeff Gordon recorded his best finish in quite a while as he finished third. Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished fourth. In Busch Racing Series action in Texas, Matt Kenseth took the win over Kyle Busch. The Caruso family sold the Oswego Speedway to Steve Gioia and Pat Furlong. In operation since 1951, Oswego is considered the next best thing to going to Indianapolis.

Ten years ago in 2009, The Waterford Speedbowl opened for the season with the SK Modified Nationals. The track opened for practice on Friday with quite a few race teams on hand to shake down their cars in preparation for the coming season. A beautiful Spring day greeted competitors on Saturday for qualifying at the shoreline oval. A somewhat meager field of SK Modifieds was on hand, 21, for time trials for the 150 lap-$5,000 to win feature. Conspicuous by there absences were the “Outsiders”, non-Waterford regulars. The only outsiders on hand were Jimmy Blewett from New Jersey and Eric Goodale from Long Island. Defending Connecticut State Champion Keith Rocco was the top time setter as he toured the 1/3 mile oval in 14.138 seconds. Frank Ruocco was second fastest with Diego Monahan, third. Jeff Paul and Ron Yuhas Jr rounded out the top five. Defending track champion Dennis Gada was tenth fastest. The top ten redrew for starting positions. Ruocco drew the pole and Paul, the outside pole. Yuhas drew third with Monahan and Gada filling out the top five. Rocco drew the seventh starting spot. In Late Model qualifying Bruce Thomas Jr put a new track record in place for the division as he toured the shoreline oval in 15.240 seconds. Tim Jordon was second with Jeff Smith, third. There was no redraw as the Late Models would start straight up from time. There were only 15 Late Models on hand.

Jason Palmer was the last Legends Car competitor in Speedbowl Victory Lane in the 2008 season, and picked up where he left off on Saturday capturing the 20-lap Legends Car race during the Budweiser Modified Nationals opening weekend. Saturday marked the 59th consecutive season of operation for the ‘Bowl. Palmer, the 2007 and 2008 Wild ‘n Wacky Wednesday Legends points champion, topped a full field of talented Legends competitors. He out dueled Shaun Buffington and Flyin Ryan Morgan in an entertaining 20-lap event. An extended red flag situation was necessitated after a scary incident in turn 4 involving Tom Gray. Gray’s car became airborne and slammed the wall. He was transported to L & M Hospital for observation, but did get out of the car under his own power and acknowledged the crowd.

Other winners from Saturday’s action include Allen Coates (Speedbowl Truck Series), Paul Tuthill (Allison Legacy North Racing Series), Curt D’addario Sr. (X Car) and Jon Porter (Super X Car).

Coates picked up his 65th career Speedbowl victory leading the 25-lap Truck Series event from start to finish. A late race caution regrouped the field and Coates was able to hold back the challenges of Keith Chapman. The four-time Speedbowl track champion (Late Models, Street Stocks) has won two consecutive starts in a Truck, also winning last July’s 100-lap ARTS event at the shoreline oval.

Opening day at the Waterford Speedbowl was not meant to be as heavy rain pounded the Connecticut shoreline during the early morning hours on Sunday. Shortly before 8:00am the Speedbowl Management announced the postponement of the 13th Annual Budweiser Modified Nationals due to the weather

In NASCAR Sprint Cup action, Jimmie Johnson nudged Denny Hamlin aside in the third and fourth turns with 15 laps to go at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway and gave team owner Rick Hendrick a perfect place to celebrate the 25th anniversary of his first victory in NASCAR’s premier series. Johnson won for the fifth time in the last six races in Martinsville, and for the sixth time overall, second among active drivers to Jeff Gordon’s seven. And he did it by biding his time, falling back in the pack early in the race to get his car right, and then using the improved car and some slick work in the pits to make it pay.

The victory was the 18th for Hendrick Motorsports at Martinsville, where a victory by Geoff Bodine in 1979 gave the fledgling company a needed boost, and the 10th in the last 13 races. Johnson has won six of those, and Gordon has won the other four. Johnson’s 41st career victory came after Gordon, who led 147 laps, and then Hamlin, who led 296, dominated for most of the race. Hamlin was second, followed by Tony Stewart, Gordon and Clint Bowyer. Ryan Newman was sixth. Still looking for success, Joey Logano was 32nd.

The Philadelphia Business Journal reported that Sun Oil Chairman and CEO Lynn Elsenhans said that the federal government should increase the gasoline tax to provide money for infrastructure repairs. Elsenhans suggested the idea in a speech to the annual meeting of the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association in San Antonio, Texas. “We should support a sizable increase in the federal gasoline tax for the expressed purpose of funding much-needed infrastructure investment,” she was slated to say in the speech, according to Thomas Golembeski, a Sunoco spokesman.

With all the problems with the economy going on, this woman needed to have her head examined! Granted, fuel prices have come down and stabilized. The big oil companies need to dig into their own pockets to repair their own equipment. The consumer should not be responsible for this.

The Associated Press reported that Brazilian race car driver and “Dancing With The Stars” winner Helio Castroneves owes more than $2.3 million in U.S. taxes because of unreported income and improper deductions over a five-year period, an Internal Revenue Service agent testified Friday at his tax evasion trial in Miami. The testimony, by the final prosecution witness, capped the fourth week of the trial. Castroneves, 33, his 35-year-old sister and business manager Katiucia, and Michigan lawyer Alan Miller, 71, each face more than six years in prison if convicted of conspiracy and tax evasion involving about $5.5 million in income.

Five years ago in 2014, Based on high interest in the Valenti Modified Racing Series for 2014, series director Scott Tapley requested a mandatory tire sign-in to ensure enough tires for the Waterford opener. The rule showed 33 race teams had filed for tires. Among those entered were reigning series champion Rowan Pennink, of Huntingdon Valley, PA, and defending “Blastoff” winner Steve Masse, of Bellingham. MA plus local favorite, two-time Speedbowl winner Chris Pasteryak, of Lisbon, CT, Richard Savary, of Canton, MA, Max Zachem and Berlin, CT’s, Keith Rocco, Ted Christopher, Plainville, CT., Mike Holdridge, of Madison, CT, and Dave Etheridge, of Portland, CT., are part of the opening day roster.

In addition, Todd Szegedy, of Ridgefield, CT., will debut in Kevin Stuarts # 85 and a Long Island invasion finds Justin Bonsignore, of Islip, NY, driving Art Barry’s #21 car, and Shawn Solomito, of Islip, looking to nail down the opening day win. Eric Goodale, and Brad VanHouton of Wading River, have also entered.

The powers that be at the Waterford Speedbowl had done some scrambling in order to make the speedbowl open on schedule. Back in January a Judge set an October 18 foreclosure auction date for the Connecticut shoreline oval. The ruling gave track owner Terry Eames some extra time to find funding to continue as owner of the track or find a buyer. The judge also ruled that the track management complies with state and town officials who have mandated that the grandstands be repaired. A re-construction project of the under pinnings of the grandstands was begun last year and was not completed leaving large sections uninhabitable and covered over with tarps and danger tape. The extreme hard winter has all but halted any work that had been planned. In the last two weeks much progress has been made and it looked as if the Waterford Speedbowl will open on the weekend as planned.

Down in the southland, 2014 could be a record-setting year for veteran Modified racer Tim Brown. With just two more wins, the Cana, Virginia native would assume the title of the all-time wins list leader at historic Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Brown has been winning at “The Stadium” for more than a decade. He’s won seven NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour races and has finished in the top five in more than half of the races he has competed in.

Instead of chasing more NASCAR Tour wins this season, Brown’s Tour car owners Tom and Connie Lythgoe had made the decision to compete in the upstart KOMA Unwind Modified Madness Series in 2014. It’s a matter of dollars and cents. The KOMA races pay $2900 to win while the Southern Mod Tour events pay $2,000.

The first KOMA Modified event run at the Hickory Motor Speedway in North Carolina drew 16 Modifieds and a near full house of fans. Jason Myers defeated brother Burt to claim the first ever KOMA Unwind Modified Madness Series pole. Tim Brown qualified third.

Tim Brown took the win over Jason Myers, Burt Myers, Josh Nichols and Jimmy Zacharias. Burt Myers was running second at the lap 94 mark when he pitted. There were 20 lead changes and some confusion at the finish. It had been said that a pit stop was mandatory. Renee Dupuis was the only northerner in the field. Her night ended on lap 46 when she crashed hard into the wall.

Race director Randy Myers stated that there was a mandatory pit stop during the race. He made sure this was relayed to teams through race officials at multiple points throughout the race as he felt it was properly mentioned but not stressed during the drivers’ meeting. It was stated that the mandatory pit stop could come at any point during the race. If the caution had come out, teams could have stopped then too. In a sense tonight’s confusion was caused by a lack of cautions after lap 50. The pit stop COULD include a tire swap if it came before lap 100. If the stop came after 100, the stop and go was the only allowed action. As such, Myers maintains Tim Brown as the rightful winner, having done a stop and go on lap 112. Myers understands some particular teams are unhappy about this interpretation and says he accepts responsibility for the issue at hand.

Kyle Larson, who began his racing career on dirt tracks in California, survived an intense battle with NASCAR Sprint Cup Series veterans Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick in the closing laps of Saturday’s TreatMyClot.com 300 to earn his first NASCAR Nationwide Series victory. He backed it up with a runner-up finish behind Kyle Bush in the Sunday Sprint Cup event.

Congratulations went to Mike Joy who was voted upon and named as the Best NASCAR Announcer by the Sporting News. Joy, who was an accomplished sports-car racer, spent 14 years (1977-1990) at Motor Racing Network and had spent 30 years as part of the NASCAR broadcasts at CBS, TNT and Fox. He has been the play-by-play announcer with Fox since the network began televising NASCAR races in 2001. Before his days at Motor Racing Joy was the announcer at the Riverside Park Speedway in Agawam, MA, the announcer and Public Relations at the Stafford Motor Speedway and the announcer at the Thompson Speedway. Mike Joy is one of the nicest guys along with being one of the humblest. Mike always gives credit to those around him and embraces the team he is on and above all has never forgotten where he came from.

The Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park announced that Spencer, MA based Victory Lane Radio will embark on a first-of-its-kind program which will allow fans to listen to live lap-by-lap coverage, from the drop of the first green flag to the waving of the last checker flag, free of charge.