RPW Column: Looking Back A Bit; Third Week Of March

RPW Column By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WESTERLY, RI – Fifty years ago in 1970, the new look of Late Model Modifieds made their debut at Martinsville for the annual Dogwood 500.Fifty two cars were in the pit area for time trials. Pete Keller was the NASCAR official in charge.

Many of those in the field had installed abbreviated nerf bars, which extended to the outer edge of tires that stuck out beyond body panels. It was Keller’s command decision to have all nerf bars removed. During the running of the consolation events on Saturday numerous wrecks were caused when competitors ran up over wheels of others. Keller was eventually told to resign or get fired from NASCAR when he was convicted of Income Tax evasion. Among those in the field was Eddie Flemke in a Mustang owned by Bob Garbarino, Ray Hendrick in a Camaro owned by Jack Tant and Clayton Mitchell, Fred DeSarro in a Mustang owned by Joe Brady, Leo Cleary in a Corvair owned by Sonny Koszela and Bugsy Stevens in a Corvair owned by Len Boehler. Ray Hendrick was the top time trialer with Max Berrier second fastest. Rain washed out the 500-lap event, which was rescheduled for early April.

Forty five years ago in 1975, Metrolina Speedway in North Carolina and Fulton Raceway in New York ran head to head with modifieds. At Metrolina extra points were up for grabs. Ray Hendrick took the win and was followed by Jerry Cook, John Bryant and Paul Radford. At Fulton it was Maynard Troyer over Sonney Seamon, Ed Flemke and Siege Fidenza.

Forty years ago in 1980, Waterford opened for the season with an open competition event. Marty Radwick took the win with Tom McCann, second. Rounding out the top ten were Stan Gregger, Reggie Ruggiero, Moose Hewitt, Dick Dunn, Jerry Pearl, Roland LaPierre Jr, Gene Bergin and Rick Donnelly. It was also on this date that Joe Brady and Danny Bennett leased the Stafford Speedway for the first annual Racers Flea Market. The event drew thousands and was deemed a rousing success.

Thirty five years ago in 1985, the season opening event at Martinsville was rained out.

Thirty years ago in 1990, Riverside Park Speedway opened on Saturday night and a chilled crowd watched Tom Bolles lead all 100 laps of the modified feature. Jerry Marquis finished second and was followed by Reggie Ruggiero and Mike Stefanik.

Twenty five years ago in 1995, the Riverside opener was again a cold one. Chris Kopec took the lead on lap 25 of the 75-lap feature to take top honors in the opening night event. Dan Avery finished second and was followed by Reggie Ruggiero, Tom Cravenho and Eric Beers. In Grandnational (Busch Series) action at Darlington, Larry Pearson took the win over Johnny Benson and in Winston (Nextel) Cup action Sterling Marlin took the win over Dale Earnhardt.

Twenty years ago in 2000, the only action was at Bristol, Tenn. Sterling Marlin was the Grandnational (Busch Series) winner with Jeff Green finishing second. Mike Stefanik finished 20th after getting collected in an early wreck. In Winston (Nextel) Cup action, Rusty Wallace scored his 50th win. Johnny Benson finished second.

Fifteen years ago in 2005, competitors and fans were glad to hear that the Seekonk Speedway in Massachusetts was installing a new electronic scoreboard which would be in place and would be operational. The Venditti family which has owned and operated the speedway since its inception in 1946 had also embarked on a major construction project which would permit pit access from the third turn of the oval.

Modified racing can be full of surprises at times. One such surprise occurred when Hillbilly Racing, based in Westfield North Carolina, announced that Ted Christopher would be driving the Hill’s Enterprises No.79 in a Southern Modified Tour event at the Caraway Speedway in Asheboro, NC.

The Plainfield Connecticut Planning and Zoning Commission voted 3-2 to defer a decision on a zoning change sought by New England Raceway LLC and Connecticut Yankee Greyhound Racing Inc. to give members time to review a more than 200-page transcript of a public hearing on the matter. The commission would conduct a special meeting to consider the so-called text amendment, which would accommodate plans for a domed auto racetrack, in the Plainfield Town Hall auditorium. Close to 300 people were on hand.

The Waterford Speedbowl held their annual season preview car show at the Crystal Mall in Waterford. Among the cars on display were the Modifieds of Shawn and Diego Monahan, Dennis Cherette and Rob Janovic, Late Models on display were those of Allen Coates, Larry Goss and Brandon Plemmends along with the Sportsman driven by Roger Perry, the Mini Stock driven by Chris Williams, the Legend Car driven by Jeffrey Paul and the X-Car of Vic Williams. The Speedbowl had announced that following week’s Nationals SK-Modified 150 would carry a purse of $20,000 and would pay $5,000 to win.

Carl Edwards scored a one-two punch as he won the Busch Series and Nextel Cup events at the Atlanta Motor Speedway. He was headed toward a Busch win the previous week at Las Vegas before he cut a tire and spun while leading late. He made up for it by going four-wide Saturday in his charge to the front in the final laps. He beat Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson for the Busch Series win. Johnson appeared as if he would hold off Edwards to win the Nextel Cup event. Johnson has almost more career Cup wins (15) than Edwards has series starts (17). Edwards’ chances seemed over when his car slid sideways exiting turn 2 with five laps to go. Instead, Edwards kept going. Edwards nipped Johnson after rubbing wheels as they headed for the finish line.

Ten years ago in 2010, The NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour Series held their season opening event at the Atlanta Motor Speedway ¼ mile flat track on Friday night. Twenty three Modifieds were on hand for what was supposed to be the first of ten taped delayed televised events.

Third generation Corey LaJoie, in a car owned by Roger and Sandra Hill, drove like a veteran in his first career NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour start. Using lapped traffic to get by Tim Brown, the 18-year-old driver then held off a furious challenge from Brown over the closing laps to capture the Atlanta 150. The race was the first for the Tour held on the track’s flat, quarter-mile front stretch oval. The setup is similar to Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, N.C., where Brown is an eight-time champion in the track’s NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Modified division.

He battled back from an early mistake that put him in the back of the field. While battling for the fifth-place position on the backstretch of the tight oval, LaJoie wound up driving into the infield. He was able to keep his momentum, cutting through the grass, and re-enter the track in Turn 4. But the miscue put him near the back of the running order. He slowly picked his way back through, moving past Fleming for the No. 2 spot with 30 to go.

LaJoie used lapped traffic to take the lead from Brown on Lap 131. Brown took the top spot back with eight to go with a move inside going into Turn 2, but LaJoie again took advantage of lapped traffic a lap later to reclaim the lead. Over the final five laps, Brown was all over LaJoie’s bumper but was unable to rattle the rookie. Brown bumped Lajoie coming out of turn 4 and dove inside to try to make a pass. He got halfway up Lajoie’s door as they ran wheel to wheel across the line.

Frank Fleming finished third, followed by David Brigati and Brandon Hire. James Civali, Jason Myers, Zach Brewer, John Smith and Buddy Emory rounded out the top 10. Pre-race favorite Burt Myers finished 17th, six laps down. Andy Seuss was the only northerner in the field. He finished 12th, one lap down.

Congratulations were in order to Stafford Motor Speedway Late Model competitor Dillon Moltz who was selected to be part of the Richard Petty developmental driver program. The program will select a total of 12 drivers from across the United States to compete in a combine where the winner will receive a one-off race deal to drive an ARCA car in the ARCA Pocono 200 at Pocono Raceway on Saturday, June 5th.

NASCAR announced that its Modified touring divisions would now award bonus points for its races, starting the previous weekend with the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. In order to reward drivers for running up front and to provide a further incentive to race for the lead, NASCAR instituted lap-leader bonus points for the first time to the Whelen Modified and Whelen Southern Modified Tours.

Five bonus points will be awarded to each driver and car owner whose car officially leads a lap during a race and five additional bonus points will be awarded to the driver and car owner leading the most official laps in an event. This will bring the maximum number of points a driver can earn in a race to 190, with 180 awarded for first place.

The Waterford Speedbowl management announced that work on a construction project to upgrade the track’s retaining wall has begun. The Speedbowl was one of ten facilities selected in 2010 to receive funds through NASCAR’s Capital Improvement Grant program. The grant, coupled with a matching investment from the Speedbowl, would allow for installation of concrete walls lining the front and back chutes of the track. It replaces the armco barrier retaining wall currently in place in those areas. This is the first major change to the wall structure since the armco was installed prior to the start of the 1988 season. That replaced an antiquated wooden beam wall system.

In some sad news, it was the announced that the Adirondack International Speedway regrets there would not be competition at the track during the 2010 season. The speedway is located in New Bremen, NY which is near Watertown. The speedway was built in 2000. The closure was based on financial difficulties arising from unresolved property tax issues, operational losses, health department requirements, and other pressures facing the local racing industry.

In other sad news items National Speed-Sport News scribe Gary London sent along word that retired Islip (Long Island) Speedway driver Artie Tappen passed away and Pete Zanardi sent word that Gene Angelillo, a 14-time Northeastern Midget Association owners champion, died after a short illness at l. Angelillo, 74, also had an ARDC championship on a 30-year plus resume that included over 112 victories, 107 of them in NEMA.

Kurt Busch won the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at the 1.54-mile Atlanta Motor Speedway for the second year in a row, beating Matt Kenseth to the line by nearly half a second in the Kobalt Tools 500. Juan Pablo Montoya was third, followed by Kasey Kahne and Paul Menard.

Five years ago in 2015, It looked like Bob Garbarino had put his retirement from racing on hold as Area Auto Racing News announced that he had teamed up with Todd Szegedy for the 2015 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Series. Szegedy ran a partial season on the Whelen Modified Tour in 2014 after splitting up with the Mike Smeriglio III owned team after the 2013 season. Szegedy had been driving for Smeriglio from the start of the 2006 season and had 10 of his 18 career series victories with the team. Szegedy brings to the Mystic Ct team a résumé that includes 18 wins, 10 poles and 115 top 10s in 187 career starts. He won the tour title as a second-year driver in 2003 with the No. 50 team owned by Barker, and was twice the runner-up with Mike Smeriglio III Racing before his departure following the 2013 season.

Corey LaJoie is filling the seat left vacant by Todd Szegedy. Rob Fuller Motorsports announced that LaJoie, son of Randy LaJoie, would drive the No. 15 15-40 Connection Chevrolet in seven races in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour (NWMT) in 2015.

The KOMA Unwind Modified Madness Series had their season opener at Hickory Motor Speedway in North Carolina. Burt Myers took the lead with five laps remaining in the 125 lapper, passing Chris Pasteryak for the win. Jason Myers rounded out the top three. Ryan Preece who was the fastest in practice and the pole sitter was never a factor. Zach Brewer finished fourth with Gary Putnam, fifth. Preece ended up in sixth spot. There were twenty cars on hand.

New London-Waterford Speedbowl owner Bruce Bemer and General Manager Shawn Monahan were pleasantly surprised to hear from a structural engineer that the grandstands at the shoreline oval were generally in good shape. Bemer hoped to have the stands painted before opening day and to have new stands in place by the 2016 season. While the stands are acceptable for this season, the bathrooms, especially the ladies facilities, are not. Those will be a major focus once the weather breaks. “I would like to do more than I possibly can do in 45 days,” Bemer said.

But other things have already changed. As was previously announced, the name was changed to differentiate the new ownership and give the facility a fresh start, something that Monahan deemed necessary for a business that “had a cloud over it.” It’s actually the original name of the facility before New London was dropped somewhere in the 1980s, according to Monahan.

Above all, race teams will know that checks will be handed out at the end of the night. “That’s totally done, there will never be a problem with that with Bruce Bemer here,” Monahan said. The previous owner/operator stiffed many competitors of moneys earned while living a high life style. Monahan said he is still owed by the former owners of the track for trophies that he provided last year. He did it, he said, because he did not want the competitors to go without. He also lost money in the foreclosure deal, but money, sometimes, isn’t everything. For Monahan, true satisfaction will come when the lights go on in May.

Word came from Lou Modestino that Francis Venditti, president of Seekonk Speedway, was looking hard at building a one-eighth mile drag strip on the extensive track property. This has been looked at over the 70 years that the track has existed. “I think that we have a good chance of making this expansion happen. I just need to concentrate on it. I’ve been working with some of my neighbors who own the land on other issues. It’s a lot of give-and-take,” said Venditti.

There will be a lot of hearings and permits to obtain before a shovel even turns on this expansion. It will be tricky with some pitfalls. But Venditti indicated he’s pretty committed to the project at this point in time.

On a sad note, Andy Fusco, a longtime attorney and the city of Auburn. NY’s assistant corporation counsel, died unexpectedly Thursday morning. He was 62 years old. Beyond his legal achievements, Fusco was known as a sports fan beyond his auto racing interests, and was also a noted music buff and antique car enthusiast. The Auburn man’s racing interests were expanded through his weekly columns in Syracuse publication Gater Racing News from 1970 through 1976. He also served as an editor for Virginia magazine “Stock Car Racing” and appeared as a racing personality on WIXT-TV Channel 9.

This varied background made him the perfect choice as the counselor for the DIRT organization, said DIRT founder and former president Glenn Donnelly. Despite his other duties with the city and his private practice, Fusco remained a presence as counselor and board member for the DIRT Modified Stock Car Museum for more than 20 years.

In NASCAR Sprint Cup racing in California, Kevin Harvick chased Kurt Busch down the stretch in a battle of the best cars in the Fontana field, Brad Keselowski was buried in 17th place, until the yellow flags started flying. A caution for debris allowed Keselowski to move up to sixth. When a second flag went up, he took four new tires while Harvick and Busch got only two.

Keselowski roared past Busch on the final lap and held off the streaking Harvick to win at Fontana on Sunday, earning his first NASCAR victory of the season in a wild finish.

Kevin Harvick won his second race of the season, his first at Auto Club Speedway and the 46th of his career, third-most all-time. Incredibly, Harvick scored his 28th consecutive top 10 in the Xfinity Series, dating to 2013. With two victories and two seconds in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series this year to go with two wins and a third in the Xfinity Series, Harvick has recorded seven podium finishes in seven starts in both series combined.

In some great news, FansChoice.TV will air ALL 10 NASCAR events at Thompson in 2019, beginning with the 45th annual Icebreaker weekend! This includes all of our NASCAR Whelen All-American Series action, the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour & more!

Many are hoping Stafford and Waterford will follow their lead.

With the advent of FansChoice.TV competitors will have the advantage of showcasing their sponsors to the exposure they deserve and speedways will receive unlimited exposure of their facility which will entice new fans to attend their programs. Not to brag but the racing at Thompson and Stafford provides some of the best over-all competition in the country!

The Stafford Motor Speedway announced that Maybury Material Handling of East Longmeadow, MA had renewed their commitment to Stafford’s contingency program for the 2019 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series season. For the fourth consecutive year, Maybury Material Handling will supply a first place bonus of $150 to each SK Modified® feature winner and a $125 bonus to each SK Light feature winner. Maybury’s contribution to the contingency program brings the SK Modified® feature winner’s share up to $1,800 and it takes the SK Light feature winner’s share up to $600. Over the past three seasons, Maybury has delivered over $15,000 to SK Modified® and SK Light drivers at Stafford. The first Maybury Material Handling contingency bonuses of the 2019 season will be up for grabs during Stafford Speedway’s 48th Annual NAPA Auto Parts Spring Sizzler on April 27-28.

The money kept rolling in as Dunleavy’s Truck and Trailer Repair in Brookfield, CT returns for a 5th consecutive season, presenting first place contingency award of $150 to each SK Modified® feature winner and $125 to each SK Light feature winner. Over the past four seasons, Stafford SK Modified® and SK Light drivers have taken home over $11,000 in contingency awards from Dunleavy’s Truck and Trailer Repair and drivers will have 22 more opportunities to collect bonus money during the 2019 season. The 2018 season saw a total of 86 different drivers take to the track behind the wheel of a modified with 42 different SK Modified® drivers and 44 different SK Light drivers. Each division had a total of 8 different winners in 21 races, with Keith Rocco leading the SK Modified® division with 6 wins and Marcello Rufrano leading the SK Light division with 6 wins.

It won’t be the Mad House but it will be the House that Jack (Arute) built. Tom DiMaggio of Vault Productions has announced a new reality show that will follow four of Stafford Speedway’s SK Modified® weekly competitors on their journey through the 2019 race season. The reality series, dubbed “The Show”, has begun filming and will follow drivers Mike Christopher Jr, Keith Rocco, Ronnie Williams, and Glen Reen through the 2019 SK Modified® season at Stafford. An extended preview episode is airing on Vault Productions’ YouTube channel as well as Stafford Speedway’s and Vault Productions’ Facebook pages now.

The four drivers to be showcased in the series won a combined 16 SK Modified® races during the 2018 season with youngster Ronnie Williams winning his first SK Modified® track championship. The Stafford SK Modified® division, noted as one of the toughest weekly asphalt divisions in the country, had 7 different winners last season and 42 different drivers compete in an event. 2019 is shaping up to be more of the same with nearly all of the drivers finishing in the top-20 in points last season returning to weekly competition.

The web series is supported by local racing partners Waddell Communications, Hoosier Tire East, Sunoco Race Fuels as well as Stafford Speedway. “The Show” will air in January of 2020 and will begin filming at the 48th Annual Spring Sizzler. Hopefully Robert Bagot will continue his fine work of producing weekly events from Stafford as well as those from Waterford and Thompson.

In NASCAR Monster Cup racing, Brad Keselowski gave Team Penske and the new Ford Mustang its third Cup victory through the first six races of the season by routing the field at Martinsville Speedway.

Keselowski led 446 of the 500 laps around the shortest track on the NASCAR schedule and was only challenged a handful of times by Chase Elliott, the only driver to pass Keselowski on the track Sunday.

Although Elliott led 49 laps, a late caution sent the field to pit road and Keselowski beat Elliott back to the track.

Elliott could never get close enough to challenge Keselowski for the win again. Ryan Preece finished 16th.