RPW Column: The Champ Trail: Moving Through Off-Season; Speedweeks Anticipation & More…

RPW Column By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WESTERLY, RI – The countdown to Speedweeks in Florida has begun. In eight short weeks central Florida comes alive with the sound of racing engines as the 2020 auto racing season begins. The week plus of speed in the sunshine state will culminate on Sunday, February 16 with the running of the Daytona 500 at the Daytona International Speedway.

New Smyrna Speedway just released the 2020 World Series of Asphalt Racing Schedule. It opens with practice on Thursday, February 6th and ends with the traditional Saturday night event on February 15. On opening night (Feb. 7), Super Late Models & Pro Late Models take center stage with 35 lap races. Saturday (Feb. 8) will be the same. Sunday (Feb. 9) is different compared to other years — just SLM, PLM and FL Modifieds planned.

Monday (Feb. 10) is arguably the biggest night. The Tour Type Modifieds begin with a 50-lap race, while the ARCA Menards East Series opens their season. Tuesday (Feb. 11) includes a 35-lap Modified feature, 50-lap SLM & 35-lap PLM.

Wednesday (Feb. 12) is the annual John Blewett 76 Memorial for the Modifieds, with SLM & PLM 35-lap races.Thursday (Feb. 13) is a night with four 35-lap races, including Mods, SLM, PLM. Friday (Feb. 14), the Modified champion is crowned in the Richie Evans Memorial 100. Saturday (Feb. 15) the World Series ends with the Orange Blossom Super Late Models 100-lap feature and additional support divisions.

In a surprise announcement to those making plans to attend Speedweeks in Florida, Competition Director and Technical Inspector Ricky Brooks will be leaving his position at New Smyrna Speedway, effective immediately. In an email sent to drivers Monday night, Brooks cited “current management and ownership status” as the reason for his departure from the speedway. “There has been an ongoing challenge with current management to keep things in perspective,” Brooks said. “I pride myself in always trying to do what is best for the racer whether it be in technical inspection or the manner in which they are treated at an event. He added, “I would like to apologize to Robert Hart and all the drivers in advance, knowing that I will see you at other tracks in the near future. I will not be at any events associated with the current management of New Smyrna Speedway from this day forward.”

Brooks has been credited by many racers and race teams for helping equalize the playing field at New Smyrna Speedway during his tenure, specifically during the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing in February. In the email sent to teams Monday night, Brooks informed teams to direct all further correspondence or questions about future events to the management at New Smyrna Speedway.

Prior to Brooks’ tenure at New Smyrna cheating was rampant, especially in the Modifieds. It was so bad that many competitors refused to take part in the World Series. Brooks leveled the playing field which up thru last year was the biggest yet. No more soaking of tires, no more lead packed left side nerf bars, no more nitrous oxide injection and no more doctoring of fuel.

The wheels of progress are beginning to turn again at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl. Contractors have completed the drainage ditch next to the front stretch wall and have been grading the area with the hopes of having concrete poured for the pads that the new grandstand will sit on. With a little bit of luck and a mild winter, racing will resume at the Waterford Connecticut oval in the spring of 2020.

Tri Track Open Modified Series officials announced a six-race schedule for the 2020 season with races spreading across four different tracks, and two states in New England. The schedule opens in Winchester, New Hampshire, on Saturday, May 2, when the series visits Monadnock Speedway for a 100-lap event. In a September visit to the high-banks last year, Chase Dowling was victorious — his first of two straight wins to end the season. The track produces side-by-side racing throughout the field with its tight corners.

For the second straight year, Tri Track visits Claremont Speedway in Claremont, New Hampshire, for a 100-lap special on Memorial Day weekend. The Sunday, May 24, main event will put drivers to the test at a track where home track experience has proven to win out before, when Mike Willis Jr. won his first Tri Track event in 2018. Last year, it was Matt Hirschman scoring his first of two wins in what was the season opener.

Tradition continues at Seekonk Speedway on Wednesday, July 1, as Tri Track headlines the 16th annual Open Wheel Wednesday at the Massachusetts oval with $10,000 up for grabs. Past champions of the event include Hirschman and Ron Silk, two drivers that are well-recognized as some of the top modified drivers in the region. New for 2020, Tri Track will be joined by the NEMA Lites, for their Dave Steele Memorial Classic, and the 350 Supers, making their first appearance at Seekonk. It should create quite the night of open-wheel racing for race fans.

Star Speedway, a quarter-mile oval in Epping, New Hampshire, is well-known for their SBM 125, and the series once again spearheads the event for 2020. In eight previous prestigious events, just four drivers have been to victory lane – with Hirschman leading the list as a four-time winner. Last year, it was Silk who held the checkered flag at ‘The Place To Race.’

The high banks of Monadnock welcome the series for the second time on Saturday, August 15, before the champion is crowned at Seekonk for the third straight year.

The popular Haunted Hundred is scheduled Saturday, October 24, putting a seal on the New England racing season. A chaotic 2019 finish saw Hirschman and Silk tangle racing for the lead in the final corner, with Chase Dowling driving by to win, and Ronnie Williams hoisting the title. The Haunted Hundred also includes the championship event for the Pro All Star Series, and a Late Model Showdown.

In activity at the Northeast Motorsports Museum in Loudon, NH, each year, the museum moves around one-third of the cars that have been on display out and moves other cars in to replace them. Thanks to sponsorship from Frank Manafort, 2020 will be the year of the midget. Among the cars that have already arrived is the first Badger that was built and was recently restored by Rollie Lindblad . The car was owned by John McCarthy and was driven to NEMA championships by Dave Humphrey. Also new is Bobby Seymour’s VW powered midget that was built in the family shop and which Bobby drove to 20 feature wins and the 1987 NEMA championship. The Tulonen midget, still minus a roll bar, returns after having spent a year on display at Bentley Warren’s museum in Maine. Others that are coming include Mike Favulli’s car, the last Badger built. The museum is open every Saturday through the winter, 10am-4pm.