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

RPW Column By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WESTERLY, RI – Fifty five years ago in 1965 the fabulous Sal Dee in the Flying 70 won the opening day 30 lap Modified feature at the Waterford Speedbowl. A youthfull Bob Potter won the Bomber 15 lapper.

Fifty years ago in 1970 the Waterford Speedbowl’s opening day event was rained out.

Forty five years ago in 1975, a 200 lap modified event at Hickory; N.C. was cancelled after the promoter received only 16 entries. Fulton was scheduled to open for the season but ended up being cancelled because of snow.

Forty years ago in 1980, the season opening Ice Breaker at Thompson was rained out and was rescheduled for the following week which was Easter.

Thirty five years ago in 1985, the IceBreaker at Thompson went off without a hitch. Richie Evans took the 75 lap win over Jeff Fuller, Brian Ross and Jamie Tomaino.

Thirty years ago in 1990, Riverside’s second night of racing was rained out. At Thompson on Sunday, the rain quit and the Ice Breaker was run. Tony Hirshman took the win over Jamie Tomaino, George Kent and Jeff Fuller. The SK portion of the IceBreaker was won by Lloyd Agor.

Twenty five years ago in 1995, it was 18 degrees when the feature went off at Riverside Park on Saturday night. Chris Kopeck made it two in a row as he held off Reggie Ruggiero for the win. Ed Spiers finished third. At the Thompson IceBreaker on Sunday, Tom Cravenho became the youngest ever driver to win a Featherlite Modified Tour event. Cravenho, driving for Mario Fiore, pitted early (lap48) in the 125 lap event and took the lead after the leaders pitted on lap 71.Tony Hirshman also pitted early and ended up second. Rick Fuller finished third with Charlie Pasteryak and Steve Park rounding out the top five. John Anderson won the SK event after Ted Christopher ran out of gas on the last lap. Other IceBreaker winners were CJ Freye in the Late Models and Glenn Boss in the Strictly Stocks.

Twenty years ago in 2000 Wall Stadium was running and Tim Arre took the win over John Blewett III and Tom Mauser. At the Texas Motor Speedway, Mark Martin took the Grandnational win and Dale Earnhardt Jr dominated the Winston Cup division to score his first win.

Fifteen years ago in 2005, with the advent of the Southern Modified Tour coming under the NASCAR blanket the NASCAR Modified season actually started on March 26 at the Caraway Speedway in Asheboro, North Carolina. Ted Christopher, driving the Roger and Sandra Hill No.79 took the win. Christopher, who took the role of the Hired Gun, was the fourth leader of the event. Jay Foley, a southerner, led the opening green until being overtaken by Long Islander JR. Bertuccio on lap 26. Bertuccio led until lap 37 when he was passed by another southerner, Jay Hedgecock. Hedgecock was hoping to annex a win but fell victim to engine problems after completing lap 65. Christopher, who was running second at the time, inherited the lead and never looked back as he romped to take the victory. Foley ended up second with Jamie Tomaino, third. Junior Miller and Frank Flemming rounded out the top five. There were six cautions for 27 laps.

Hill’s Enterprises, in a surprise announcement, released Eddie Flemke JR as their driver. Flemke has been the team’s driver since 1998 and recorded 13 wins. Car owners Roger and Sandra Hill stated that the driver change does not affect the team’s plans for this season, as they will once again run the full Whelen Modified Tour schedule and compete for the championship. They will also compete in select Southern Modified Tour events when the schedule allows. A deal was struck with Mike Christopher on Saturday afternoon

Tony Hirschman announced that he would defend his title. At the end of the 2004 season Hirschman hinted that he would be backing off a bit so as to assist his son Matt who drives Modifieds in New York State. Just six months after announcing its title sponsorship of the legendary NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, Whelen Engineering expanded its involvement with NASCAR’s open-wheeled racing division. Whelen, an emergency signal and lighting manufacturer based in Chester, Conn., signed a multi-year agreement to become title sponsor of the all-new NASCAR Southern Modified Tour, now known as the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour.

The Plainfield Connecticut Planning and Zoning Commission approved an application that would allow dozens of large-scale projects, including a domed stadium for auto racing. In a 4-1 vote, the commission approved the application by New England Raceway LLC and Connecticut Yankee Greyhound Racing Inc. Developer Eugene Arganese said he would submit plans to build a 140,000-seat domed auto racetrack after the commission acted on a second application that would incorporate 1,153 acres of residential and commercial property in the new C5 Resort/Recreational Development District. The commission postponed deciding on whether to amend the town’s zoning map in the area near Exits 87 and 88 off of Interstate 395 until its April 12 meeting. Needless to say the domed race track never happened. Arganese ended up buying and operating a motel in Misquamicut Beach in Rhode Island.

The Asbury Park Press in New Jersey broke the story that two developers who want to build roughly 250 homes to replace the Wall Township Speedway are under contract to purchase the 55-year-old raceway. Town officials said it would be highly unlikely that the project is approved.

Rookie Reed Sorenson raced to his first NASCAR Busch Series victory beating Kenny Wallace by a whopping 14.417 seconds in the Pepsi 300 at Nashville Superspeedway. The Nextel Cup Series was off as it was Easter weekend.

Ten years ago in 2010, while a ‘noreaster was dumping over four inches of rain in New England the Whelen Southern Modified Tour Series was at the Caraway Speedway in Ashboro, NC. Nineteen Modifieds were on hand for the 150 lap contest. Burt Myers won his 22nd career Coors Light Pole.

New Hampshire invader Andy Seuss passed Burt Myers on the opening lap and went on to win round two of the southern tour. LW Miller finished second with James Civali, third. Brian Loftin and Zach Brewer rounded out the top five. In the end, Burt Myers faded to sixth. His History Channel Mad House co-stars Tim Brewer and Jason Myers finished seventh and 18th. Brown is now the series point leader. Seuss pocketed $2000 for his efforts.

It was reported that the France Family Group, which included 46 entities ranging from members of the NASCAR-ruling France family to companies they operate, own 69.6% of the voting stock at International Speedway Corp., the company revealed in its annual proxy statement. A year ago, in 2009, the group owned 68.9%. With the majority of the voting stock, the France Family Group controls the decisions of the company. ISC Chairman Jim France controls 44.9% of the voting stock (including his shares of the France Family Group) and his late brother Bill’s widow, Betty Jane France, owns 20.7%. NASCAR Chairman Brian France (Jim’s nephew), who was listed as controlling only 0.23% of the voting ISC stock last year, now owns 1.3%. Executive compensation also was revealed as part of the proxy statement. Chairman Jim France’s compensation package was worth $554,608, compared with $1.08 million last year when he was chairman and chief executive officer. Vice Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Lesa France Kennedy’s compensation package was worth $769,780, compared with $719,146 a year ago when she was the company president. The compensation package includes salary, bonus, incentives, perks, above-market returns on pay set aside for later and the value of stock options and restricted stock granted during the year

NASCAR announced the television schedule for its developmental series for 2010 and a partial television schedule for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour on the Speed Channel. The expanded calendar included 21 events on SPEED for the NASCAR K&N Pro Series and seven races for the Modifieds. This comprehensive package included airing of every race on the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and West schedules. Three of the Whelen Modified Tours will air as same-day televised events.

NASCAR’s Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Truck divisions enjoyed a weekend off.

Five years ago in 2015, The NASCAR Southern Whelen Modified Tour Series returned to the Caraway Speedway in North Carolina last week. Andy Seuss went from Zero to hero in two weeks. After finishing last in the season opener two weeks ago at Caraway Speedway, Seuss held off Eric Goodale on a green-white-checkered finish to win the Charles Kepley Memorial 150 Saturday in a return to Caraway.

The key to success was with his pit crew. Seuss’ pit crew got him out of the pits first just in front of Eric Goodale on Lap 131, after a spin by Kyle Ebersole brought out the fifth caution flag of the race. Ryan Preece rebounded from contact with JR Bertuccio on the final restart on Lap 146 to finish third, with Bertuccio and Burt Myers completing the top five.

For most of the race it appeared Bertuccio was on his way to his third career tour win as he took the lead from Preece on Lap 8 and remained out front until the leaders came in for the decisive pit stop. It was the most laps the Centereach, New York, native had led in competition since he led 145 in his win last April at Southern National Motorsports Park in Kenly, North Carolina.

Jason Myers finished sixth, and Ebersole able to work back through the field after his late spin to finish seventh. Frank Fleming, Gary Putnam and John Smith completed the top 10.

Seuss and the rest of the Southern Modified competitors will be in action next Saturday at Virginia’s South Boston Speedway for the South Boston 150.

Keith Rocco will be driving the Ceravolo family Sunoco SK Modified at Thompson this season.

In some sad news, multi-time New London-Waterford Speedbowl Modified track champion Dick Dunn passed away unexpectedly on Thursday, March 27th, 2015. He was 77. Long heralded as a top star at the Speedbowl, Dunn began his career in the shoreline oval’s support divisions before successfully transitioning to the headlining Modifieds where by the 1960s he’d become a multi-time feature winner with his own car, and also while driving for other teams.

A pairing with car owner the late Peg Gaudreau and her late husband Al at the dawn of the 1970s proved wildly-successful for the Middletown, CT, native. Piloting the Gaudreau “Buddha’s Bullet” #3, he went on to record 4-straight Speedbowl Modified track championships beginning in 1972.

Significant Speedbowl victories during those years included the Schaefer 100, New England 100, and Fall Stinger 100. The Dunn-Gaudreau team also notched feature event victories at other New England speedways including the Thompson Motorsports Park in Connecticut, and at New Hampshire’s Monadnock Speedway. Additionally, the team also frequently competed at the big yearly Modified shows at Virginia’s Martinsville Speedway.

In 2000 he was named among the Speedbowl’s “50 Favorite Drivers” during a ceremony honoring the tracks 50th Anniversary. The last laps of Dunn’s Modified career were recorded at the Speedbowl aboard a Ted Marsh-owned Modified in 1987.

The funeral was held on Monday at 11 am from the Coughlin-Lastrina Funeral Home, 491 High Street, Middletown, CT followed by a mass of Christian burial at St. Pius X Church at 12 noon. Burial was in the family plot in St. Sebastian Cemetery, Middlefield, CT.

In NASCAR Sprint Cup racing, Denny Hamlin passed teammate Matt Kenseth for the lead with 28 laps to go Sunday and ended Toyota’s 32-race winless streak in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway. It was his fifth victory on NASCAR’s oldest, smallest circuit. Brad Keselowski was second, followed by Joey Logano, Kenseth and David Ragan, giving Joe Gibbs Racing three cars in the top five. Logano won the Camping World Truck race on Saturday.

Last year, 2019, The Whelen Modified Tour was in South Boston, Va. this past Saturday. A strong field of 32 NASCAR Whelen Modifieds were on hand. Also on tap was the previously rained out PASS Commonwealth Classic at Richmond which also had tour type modifieds on their venue created a direct conflict for both modified competitors and modified fans. As of Thursday, March 28 there were only 10 tour type modifieds were pre-entered. Among those who were entered at Richmond was Matt Hirschman. Hirschman, who is not considered a regular on the Whelen Modified Tour, finished 11th at Myrtle Beach.

At South Boston the Whelen Modifieds performed in a near full house. At Richmond the grandstands were empty. Tommy Catalano was the pole sitter as he toured the .400 mile recently paved oval in13.849 seconds or 103.979mph. Second fastest was Chase Dowling in the Jamie Tomaino entry. Ron Silk was third. Jon McKennedy and Matt Swanson rounded out the top five.

Catalano took the lead at the start. Dowling slid back which made it obvious that the top groove lacked grip. The first caution flew on lap 16 when Burt Myers tapped Justin Bonsignore as the field backed up in the turn three area. Bonsignore’s mount suffered severe damage to the right front suspension. Catalano continued to lead the field when on lap 27 the second caution flew as Frank Fleming, Kyle Ebersol, John Fortin, Jeremy Gerstner and Calvin Carroll crashed. Catalano continued to lead until Walter Sutcliffe spun in turn 4 bring out caution no.3.

Catalano and Dowling pitted for fresh tires. Burt Myers elected not to pit and inherited the lead and Ron Silk moved up to second. The fourth caution of the day flew on lap 83 when James Civale spun and hit the wall in turn four. Myers indicated that he was going non-stop without a tire change as the field took the green on lap 89. Kyle Bonsignore was running second as Silk was closing on the front two. On lap 126 Sutcliffe spun for the second time, bringing out the fifth caution.

When the green was displayed on lap 132 Myers hit the gas and momentarily slipped which allowed Silk to surge by for the lead Myers regained his composure but the damage was done. With worn out tires he was shuffled to the back as Dowling, Jimmy Blewett and Kyle Bonsignore rode by.

At the 150 lap mark the checkered flag was waved and Silk ended a long dry spell. Chase Dowling finished second with Jimmy Blewett, third. Kyle Bonsignore and Burt Myers rounded out the top five. Sixth thru tenth were Chris Pasteryak, Patrick Emerling, Doug Coby, Timmy Solomito and Craig Lutz.

Eighteen of the 31 starters were on the lead lap at the finish. Among those who did not finish were Calvin Carroll (32), Kyle Ebersol (31), Jeremy Gerstner (29) and Frank Fleming (30) who wrecked on lap 26, Rob Summers retired after 42 laps with overheating problems. Timmy Catalano (27) and Eric Goodale (26) retired with engine trouble on laps 49 and 50. Justin Bonsignore (25) continued to have bad luck as he crashed on lap 16, made repairs only to retire after 93 laps with power steering problems. James Civale (22) recovered from hitting the wall on lap 83 only to drop out after completing 117 laps with electrical problems. Melissa Fifield (24) and Wade Cole (23) were running at the end but no where close to speed.

After two events, Doug Coby leads the series point standings. Coby leads Jon McKennedy by three points. Jimmy Blewett sits third with Patrick Emerling and Chris Pasteryak rounding out the top five.

Overall, the quality of this event and the quantity of entries was very good. The Modifieds did not disappoint as they continue to be the most competitive and entertaining of all of the NASCAR divisions. FansChoice.TV did an outstanding job in their presentation of the event. As previously announced,

FansChoice.TV will live stream the entire NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Series schedule. For those who missed the South Boston live stream the NBC Sports net will televise the event on Wednesday, April 3 at 4:00pm or on Monday Apr 8 at 7:00pm. It is also up on U-Tube.

In the inaugural Commonwealth Classic at Richmond Raceway (VA). Matt Hirschman dominated the 75-lap feature, winning from the pole. It was basically a 75 lap practice session for the veteran racer. Andy Seuss was second with Bobby Measmer, third.

This coming week, the hills of northeastern Connecticut would come alive with the sounds of racing engines at the Thompson Motorsports Park Speedway as IceBreaker 2019 gets the green on Sunday, April 7. With the sun getting higher every day and daylight-saving kicking in, this entire event should be run in the daylight hours.

Feature events include NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour (150), Sunoco Modified (30), Late Model (25), Lite Modifieds (20), Limited Sportsman (20), Mini Stock (15), Pro All Stars Series (75), NEMA Lites (20), 375 Sportsman Challenge (35), Exit Realty Pro Truck Challenge (20), Valenti Modified Racing Series (50).

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 Thompson’s 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.

Internet Racing News site RaceDayCt reported that the trial of New London-Waterford Speedbowl owner Bruce Bemer was scheduled to begin on Monday, April 1 in Danbury Superior Court. Bemer was arrested, along with two other men, in March 2017 in connection with a Connecticut based human trafficking ring. Investigators allege the decades long ring victimized mentally ill young men. Bemer, of Glastonbury, has pleaded not guilty to charges of patronizing trafficking victims under 18 and accessory to human trafficking. Hopefully this will not affect the installation of new grandstands that are scheduled to be installed at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl.

Denny Hamlin raced to his second NASCAR Cup victory of the season, overcoming two penalties on pit road and missing the entry another time during green flag conditions Sunday in Texas.

While Hamlin led the final 12 laps, and 45 of the 334 overall, Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch missed out on the chance for a tripleheader weekend sweep. Hamlin’s No. 11 Toyota finished more than 2.7 seconds ahead of Clint Bowyer. The race, which had only three cautions outside the two stage stoppages, featured 27 lead changes among 13 drivers. It was the 33rd career victory for Hamlin.

Clint Bowyer finished second, followed by his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Daniel Suarez. Erik Jones was fourth ahead of polesitter Jimmie Johnson, whose career-long winless drought reached 66 races. William Byron, Aric Almirola, Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch and Kyle Busch rounded out the top 10.

It was the third time at Texas that Busch won the Xfinity and Trucks Series races before coming up short in the weekend-ending Cup race. Ryan Preece finished 22nd.