RPW Column: The Champ Trail; Speedweeks 2020 Are Finally Here!

RPW Column By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WESTERLY, RI – The count down to Speedweeks in Florida continues. In three days 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.

The World Series at New Smyrna gets the green on Friday, Feb 6. Tour type Modified Racing at New Smyrna begins on Monday night, Feb 10.

For those who can not make it to Florida Speedweek there is an alternative. NASCAR and NBC Sports have teamed up to launch TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold, a new streaming product representing NASCAR’s most significant undertaking in the direct-to-consumer space. Launched in early December, TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold builds off the foundation set by FansChoice.tv and immediately becomes the most robust live and on-demand motorsports content offering in the domestic digital marketplace.

TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold will bring fans more exclusive live motorsports events and an extensive library of archived documentaries and films. The platform will offer exclusive live viewing of a multitude of motorsports, including American Flat Track, select ARCA Menards Series events (including ARCA Menards Series East and West races), NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, and tentpole grassroots racing events, as well as NASCAR Cup Series and NASCAR Xfinity Series practice and qualifying sessions (NBC Sports’ half of the schedule only).

Last year FansChoice provided live coverage from New Smyrna and it is anticipated that they will do the same this year. Fans can access all the content on TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold for $4.99/month or $44.99/year. Lower-priced, series-specific subpackages for IMSA, AFT and NASCAR Roots content will also be available. Both the IMSA and NASCAR Roots (which includes ARCA, Whelen Modified Tour, tentpole grassroots events and select NASCAR practice and qualifying sessions) packages are $2.99/month or $19.99/year. All events from New Smyrna will be live streamed. The coverage will include the ARCA Menards Series East opener, the Skips Western Outfitters 175 on Monday, Feb. 10.

FOX will provide TV coverage of Daytona 500 qualifying beginning at noon on Sunday, Feb 9. The NASCAR Cup Clash will air at 3:00pm on FOX Sports 1.

The NASCAR Hall of Fame held their 2020 inductions on Friday night. Two champion drivers at NASCAR’s highest level; the owner who fielded cars for both of them; one of the hardest chargers in the history of the sport; and the crew chief/engine builder who guided that driver to victory in the 1980 Daytona 500 all took their places in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Ushered into the Hall were three-time NASCAR Cup champion Tony Stewart, 2000 champion Bobby Labonte, five-time champion car owner Joe Gibbs, 19-time Cup winner and beloved broadcaster Buddy Baker and 19-time race-winning crew chief Waddell Wilson.

At the NASCAR Hall of Fame dinner that preceded the induction ceremony, long-time broadcaster Dick Berggren was honored with the Squier-Hall Award for NASCAR Media Excellence. A proud product of New England Berggren has done it all. During his career in racing he drove Late Models, Modifieds and Supermodifieds, promoted major events, photographed and wrote about those events, edited auto racing related magazines, served as a racing announcer, worked as a pit road announcer in nationally televised racing events and was a driving force behind the creation of the Northeast Auto Racing Museum in Loudon, NH.

A college professor by trade, Berggren reported from the NASCAR garage on television from 1981 through his retirement in 2012. He started his broadcast career as a reporter for ESPN and appeared on CBS, TBS and TNN NASCAR coverage before finishing his career with a 12-year stint as FOX’s lead pit reporter. A passionate supporter of grassroots short-track racing, Berggren also served as the editor of both Stock Car Racing and Open Wheel magazines. He founded Speedway Illustrated, which coined itself as “America’s favorite monthly short-track racing magazine.”

Through it all Berggren never forgot where he came from!

Also recognized was Edsel Ford II, great-grandson of Henry Ford and current board member of the Ford Motor Company, received the Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions to NASCAR from NASCAR Chairman and CEO Jim France and Vice Chairperson of the Board of Directors of NASCAR Lesa France Kennedy.

Drivers going after the 2020 New England Late Model Challenge Cup (NELMCC) presented by American Racer now have another venue and state in which to chase the title. American-Canadian Tour (ACT) and Thompson Speedway officials announced that the Connecticut track has joined the NELMCC program for its inaugural season. Thompson Speedway becomes the fifth track affiliated with the weekly racing program.

They neglected to say that those who race in the Late Model division at Thompson have been dealt a 75% reduction in their race purse and only the top ten finishers will be paid!

The Stafford Motor Speedway has announced that Todd Patnode will take on the big boys in the highly competitive SK Modified division. Following a 2-race stint in Stafford’s SK Modified® division during the 2019 season, the Swanzey, NH native will make a full-time move for 2020. Patnode will pilot the #42 SPAFCO Chassis car owned by Ken Barry and the 7-time Monadnock Speedway champion is looking forward to his first full-time season at Stafford.

The 2020 season will be busy for Patnode. He will run Barry’s car on Friday nights at Stafford while still running his family owned #24 car at Monadnock Speedway on Saturday nights in pursuit of a NASCAR National Championship. Patnode finished the 2019 season in 13th place in the NWAAS national points standings and racing at Stafford will give Patnode 22 more opportunities to try to win races and accumulate as many national points as he can. Stafford’s SK Modified® division had three drivers, Keith Rocco, Ronnie Williams, and Todd Owen all finish in the top-10 of the NWAAS national standings last season.

One door closed for Timmy Solomito while another opened for Ronnie Williams. Skowyra Motorsports, who Williams drives for at Stafford, acquired equipment from the former Flamingo Motorsports Whelen Modified Tour team, which was owned by Eric Sanderson. Williams will compete in at least seven events on the Whelen Modified Tour for Skowyra Motorsports and make two starts for team owner Jamie Tomaino. Timmy Solomito is currently putting his own team.

In some good news, Billy Harman is recovering from triple by-pass surgery in Florida and is scheduled to re-join his group of close friends at the local coffee shop soon.