RPW Exclusive: The Champ Trail; Mother Nature Let’s Stafford & Other Tracks Race…Some

Column By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WESTERLY, RI – The Stafford Motor Speedway and NASCAR have shifted gears as the 48th edition of the NAPA Spring Sizzler® at Stafford Speedway was postponed because of impending rain last weekend and has been rescheduled for a one-day, May 10, event.

The weekly divisions will run a features only event. The regular Stafford divisions were rescheduled to run their part of the program this past Saturday afternoon, weather permitting.

The weather cooperated somewhat and the 2019 season began. Healthy fields including SK Modifieds (30) plus SK Lites (32) were on hand. Opening Day winners were Keith Rocco in an SK Modified® photo finish, Michael Wray was declared the Late Model winner after Kevin Gambacorta was found with an illegal shock and disqualified, Bryan Narducci in the SK Light feature, Jeremy Lavoie in the Limited Late Model feature, Michael Hopkins in the 30-lap RMSPCO.com Street Stock Triple Crown #1 feature, and Mike Teague in the Vintage All-Stars feature.

With 10 laps to go in the 40 lap SK Modified feature, Rocco was still out front with Michael Gervais right on his back bumper. The lead duo had pulled away some from Todd Owen in third who was now fending off challenges from Ronnie Williams with Joey Cipriano in fifth. The caution came out with 32 laps complete for a spin on the backstretch by David Arute.

Rocco took the lead on the restart and behind him it was a high speed pace lap with Owen and Gervais side by side for second and Cipriano and Williams side by side for fourth. Owen took second with Gervais falling back to third while Cipriano took fourth and Mike Christopher Jr got by Williams to move into fifth. The caution came back out with 36 laps complete for a spin in turns 3+4 by Membrino.

Rocco took the lead back under green with Gervais taking second. Christopher got by Owen to take third place on lap-38 with Cipriano in fifth. Arute and Eric Berndt took a spin into the frontstretch infield to bring the caution back out with 38 laps complete.

Rocco held the lead on the restart with Gervais trying his hardest to stay with him in the outside groove. Coming off turn 4 to the checkered flag Gervais and Christopher split Rocco who was running on fumes as he was out of gas and nearly made a pass for the win but Rocco won the race by a nose. Gervais edged out Christopher for second with Cipriano and Owen rounding out the top-5.

Racing fans who waited roughly seven hours for the finish of the SK Modified race Saturday afternoon most certainly got their money’s worth. The race was one filled with carnage, with seven yellow flags in total and a wreck in turn three of the final lap. Only 17 of the 27 cars finished on the lead lap, and eight drivers failed to reach the halfway mark.

The win also took Rocco to a new career overall total of 261 wins which include 150 victories at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl, 60 at Thompson and 51 at Stafford Speedway.

In the SK Lites at Stafford Bryan Narducci led Teddy Hodgdon to the checkered flag to win the first race of the season. Noah Korner edged out Alexander Pearl at the line for third with Mark Bakaj rounding out the top-5.

Racing at the Bowman Gray Stadium in North Carolina fell victim to rain.

Riverhead Raceway on eastern Long Island came alive for the 2019 season this past weekend. Kyle Soper in the Wayne Anderson mount took the 50 lap NASCAR Modified win. Soper of Manorville, LI, had to come from the back of the field not once but twice before he could lay claim to his 10th career win Saturday night on a chilly and damp evening. Track owners Eddie & Connie Partrdige and Tom Gatz who suffered a track record eight rain outs in 2018 ignored rain that was as close as a mile away from the track and were able to complete the seven division opener.

Chris Young perhaps drove the best race of his budding NASCAR Modified career when he raced his way into second on lap 43. Chris flying the red Riverhead Building Supply colors made famous by his later father was on the march when the race concluded settling for runner-up money. Dylan Slepian also impressed in his Eastport feeds Chevy leading 40 laps of the race before claiming third place honors. John Fortin Sr. and John Beatty Jr. rounded out the top five.

John Spence advises that due to weather delaying the installation of new bleachers and much needed work in the parking area and the track’s safety wall after last weekends heavy rainfall, this Saturday’s grand re-opening and appearance by the Valenti Modified Racing Series at Monadnock Speedway has been cancelled. The track opener is now scheduled for May 25 and will not include the VMRS. At this time the series is scheduled to compete a week later at Monadnock on June 8. The next event on the Valenti Modified Racing Series schedule is May 18, & 19 at Lee USA Speedway.

In a somewhat related matter, the Tri-Track Modified Series (TTOMS) recently announced a change to the opening event of the 2019 season. While remaining over the holiday weekend, the second annual Claremont 100, originally scheduled for Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, will now be run on Sunday, May 26 at Claremont Speedway in Claremont, NH.

“Due to circumstances beyond our control, we have had to move opening day for the Series,” said Managing Director Wayne Darling. “We expect the same great racing action from a strong and competitive field of cars.” The purse for the Claremont 100 is over $50,000 with $7,000 to win, $1,200 to start and at least $500 to non-qualifiers. The 100-lap main event for the ground-pounding Modifieds will also feature round one of the Ron Bouchard’s Auto Stores Challenge Cup. The rain date for the event will be Memorial Day, Monday, May 27.

On a sad note, word was received that Cliff Nelson had passed away. Nelson was a friend and mentor to many involved in auto racing. His name and his “crown” logo appeared on NASCAR Modifieds, Pro Stocks, SK Modifieds, Late Models, Pro 4 Modifieds, Street Stocks, karts, ARCA cars at Daytona and Talladega, and just about everything else that ran in circles and made noise. All those deals were different: He picked up tire bills, hotel bills, fuel bills, and engine bills; he bought pit passes, took out congratulatory ads when his friends did well, and covered more than a few bar tabs at race-town taverns.

NEAR Hall of Famer Billy Harman sends word that former Modified competitor Sonny O’Sullivan had passed away.

On the speedway stock market scene last week, all three speedway stocks had negative results for the week. The International Speedway Corporation dropped 0.20 to 43.99, Speedway Motorsports dropped 0.16 to 18.31 and Dover Entertainment dropped 0.09 to 2.06. NASCAR cup sponsor Monster Beverage went up 3.46 to 63.11, NASCAR fuel supplier Sunoco (Energy Transfer) went up 0.17 to 15.37 and NASCAR tire supplier Goodyear dropped 0.84 to 18.40. Two of the three automakers were down at weeks end. Ford dropped 5.00 to 10.41 and General Motors dropped 0.88 to 38.80 while Toyota went up 0.03 to 123.65. In the home improvement sector, Home Depot dropped 3.10 to 200.51 and Lowes dropped 0.12 to 112.36. In big team sponsors stocks Target Department Stores dropped 1.18 to 75.94 and Dow-Dupont dropped 3.11 to 34 89 while McDonalds went up 0.10 to 197.52, Coca-Cola went up 2.33 to 333.90, Fedex went up 4.07 to 188.11 and Stanley-Black and Decker went up 6.77 to 153.07.

On the tube this week:

Friday night at 6:00pm NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Spring Sizzler at Stafford www.Fanschoice.tv