RPW Column: Looking Back A Bit: Third Week Of April

RPW Column By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WESTERLY, RI – Seventy years ago in 1950 at the Seekonk Speedway, owner and promoter D.Anthony Venditti was forced to cancel because of rain.

Sixty five years ago in 1955 Don Collins made it two in a row in Modified action at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl. Lou Tetreault followed suit as he made it two in a row in non-Ford action at the Conn. shoreline oval.

Sixty years ago in 1960 Wild Bill Slater, driving the famous Connecticut Valley Rocket V-8, was the 25 lap Modified feature winner at what was called then, the New London-Waterford Speedbowl. Charlie Webster was the non-Ford winner and Newt Palm was victorious in the Bombers. Down in the southland at the South Boston Speedway in Virginia, Johnny Roberts won a 50 lap NASCAR Modified National Championship event.

Fifty five years ago in 1965 Sal Dee became an early season repeat winner as he notched the 35 lap Modified win at Waterford. Bill Scrivner was the Bomber winner.

Fifty years ago in 1970, Martinsville ran their spring 100 lap modified event on Saturday afternoon. To no ones surprise, Ray Hendrick took the win over Jerry Cook, Jimmy Hensley and Fred DeSarro. Stafford ran twin 25’s on Saturday night. Leo Cleary, driving the Koszela NO.15 took the opener over Bob Melnick and Ed Yerrington. Yerrington came back to win the nightcap despite a lot of pressure from Bill Greco and Don Flynn. At Fonda, Jerry Pennock and Lou Lazzaro shared victory lane .Don Wayman finished second to Pennock and was followed by Lee Millington and Rene Charland and Bob Langevan. Cook managed to fly back to Fonda where he recorded a sixth. At Thompson on Sunday, Bugsy Stevens and Moose Hewitt shared victory lane as they both won 25 lap events. At the Waterford Speedbowl, Glynn Shafer took the Modified win while Larry Crandall was victorious in the Late Model Daredevils.

Forty five years ago in 1975, the Modifieds ran at Beltsville on Friday night. Joe Thurman took the win over Geoff Bodine, Billy Hensley and Jerry Cook. Richie Evans ran out of gas and finished 10th.Evans made up for Beltsville on Saturday night as he took the win at Shangri-La. George Kent finished second with Ronnie Bouchard, third. Evans gambled that it would rain at Fulton and he hit it right as he headed for Franklin County in Virginia for a Sunday afternoon event. John Bryant took the top spot over Joe Thurman and Ray Hendrick. Evans had problems and finished 11th. Blast Off ’75 at the Waterford Speedbowl fell victim to rain.

Forty years ago in 1980, the only weekend action was at Shangri-La where Jerry Cook took an 80 lap win over Richie Evans and George Kent. A dispute over race purses between competitors and Wall Stadium owners caused track owners to cancel racing indefinitely.

Thirty five years ago in 1985, all eyes were on Riverside Park where Doug Hevron, in the Mario Fiore N0.44, took an 85 lap win. Reggie Ruggiero finished second with Ted Riggott, third. In Winston Cup action at North Wilkesboro, Neil Bonnett took the win.

Thirty years ago in 1990, Stan Gregger was the Saturday night winner at Riverside Park. Tom Bolles finished second and was followed by Dan Avery, Bob Polverari and Steve Park. Stafford ran their Sizzler on Sunday. A glorious day turned to sadness when Tony Jankowiac lost his life in a bad crash. Mike Stefanik was the eventual winner and was followed by Mike McLaughlin and George Kent. In Winston Cup action at North Wilkesboro, Brett Bodine scored his first Winston Cup Win

Twenty five years ago in 1995, Reggie Ruggiero broke Chris Kopec’s streak at Riverside as he won the 50 lap main event on Saturday night. Chris Young took the opener at Riverhead over Lenny Fischer and John Fortin. Mike Ewanitsko in the Art Barry No.21 won the 200 lap Spring Sizzler on Sunday by a large margin over Rick Fuller and Mike Stefanik. Reggie Ruggerio led the first 70 laps before going down one lap because of worn tires. Ewanitsko took the lead from Fuller in turn two on lap 178.Dan Avery finished fourth and Satch Worley rounded out the top five. Steve Park won the 80 lap-SK-Mod Feature. Last but not least, DIRT Legend, Barefoot Bob McCreadie scored his 400th career win at Canadaigua Speedway on Sunday night.

Twenty years ago in 2000, it was Easter weekend. Scheduled events at Riverhead, Wall and Waterford were rained out.

Fifteen years ago in 2005, The Waterford Speedbowl ran under clear but cool skies. Rob Summers made up for the previous weeks disappointment as he won the SK Modified feature. Summers never got to race on opening night as his engine expired during a qualifying heat. Summers started on the pole. Mike Finkeldey had a career high second place finish. Finkeldey now had Rick Ceravolo as his crew chief. Rob Janovic, Jay Miller and Kurt Lenehan rounded out the top five. Carl Eriksson edged Bruce Thomas for the Late Model win and Jim Procaccini was the Sportsman winner. George Whitney took the victory in the Legends Car feature.

In Whelen Modified Tour Series news, Eric Beers, driver of the Boehler Racing Enterprises No.3 was on the mend at his home in North Hampton, PA after suffering a broken collar bone and hairline fractures of two ribs at the Thompson Ice Breaker. Beers stated that he hoped to be in competition at Stafford the following weekend and would like it to be known that his LaJoie seat and the rugged construction of the Boehler No.3 saved him from what could have been severe injuries. After much thought it was decided by Beers and car owner Mike Boehler to put Todd Szegedy in Ole Blu for the Sizzler.

Connecticut Speedway Developer Gene Arganese was forced to wait until April 25 to learn what property will be rezoned to establish the resort/recreational development (C-5) zones he needs to build his proposed racetrack and convention center in the town of Plainfield. On April 12 the Planning and Zoning Commission decided to delay a decision on creating the zones on land off Interstate 395 exits 87 and 88 until the Town Planner could define more clearly the properties that could be included in the zones.

In some sad news it was learned that Leon Drake, known better as Leo Hill, passed away on April 9 at the age of 66. For many years Drake’s garage in North Stonington Ct housed the Modified driven by Johnny Thompson at the Norwood Arena and later at Thompson and Stafford. Drake was a Plumber by trade and was also a welder and steel fabricator as he did numerous repairs and built more than his share of race cars including a replacement V-8 for Bill Slater when he was hurt at Thompson in the late 60’s.

Greg Biffle won the Nextel Cup event at the Texas Motorspeedway. Kasey Kahne was the Busch Series winner. Junior Miller won the Whelen Southern Modified Tour 100 at the Caraway Speedway in North Carolina,

Ten years ago in 2010, the Waterford Speedbowl began their Saturday night racing series with Keith Rocco making it two in a row in the SK Modifieds. Prior to the event Rocco indicated that his car did not have a Jerico Racing Transmission. He stated his car was equipped with a Saginaw 3-speed transmission. Rocco’s big secret is the fact that his car out-handles his competition, especially in the outside groove.

Dan Field and Allen Coates repeated in the Norwich Bulletin Mini Stock and Truck divisions. Other winners were Ronnie Oldham Jr. in the Street Stocks and Giovanni Giarratana in the Legends Cars.

A full field of SK Modifieds went to post for the 35 lap main event. Rocco, who started 12th, took the lead from former Legends Car track champion Mark Bakaj on lap 20. For the remaining 15 laps Rocco was on cruise control. Justin Gaydosh ended up in second with Rob Janovic third. Bakaj ran up front all night to finish fourth and Jeff Paul rounded out the top five. Todd Ceravolo, who finished second on opening day, was headed to the front to muster a challenge, had the misfortune of having an engine go bad which forced him to drop out. Ceravolo was credited with a 23rd finish.

The NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour visited the South Boston Speedway in Virginia last Saturday for a 150 lap event. Connecticut native James Civali, driving the Roger and Sandra Hill No. 79 took the victory after withstanding a late race charge from LW Miller. Civali and Miller were out front for most of the race as the pair swapped the lead eight times with Miller getting past Civali for the final time on Lap 144. Civali was able to get back by on Lap 147 and hold on for the win. Miller finished second, while Andy Seuss recovering from an early-race accident that took him out of the lead to finish third. Thomas Stinson was fourth. Zach Brewer, who won his first Coors Light Pole Award with a track record of 14.765 seconds (97.528 mph), finished fifth. Tim Brown finished sixth. He started on the point after drawing the pole in the post-qualifying redraw of the top eight spots, but was involved in the early accident with Seuss. John Smith, Burt Myers, Brian King and Brian Loftin completed the top 10.

Kevin Harvick took advantage of a late caution to win the NASCAR Nationwide Series race Saturday at Nashville Superspeedway. Harvick and crew chief Ernie Cope gambled by taking two tires when the eighth yellow flag of the day came out with 34 laps to go. That enabled Harvick to seize the lead from Kyle Busch, who was unable to mount a challenge as the race wound down. Harvick, strong on long runs all day, led three times for 52 laps, including the final 34.

Harvick, driving his own Kevin Harvick Inc. Chevrolet, beat Reed Sorenson by 0.2 seconds. Busch, who beat Harvick in the Trucks race on Friday night, was third. Justin Allgaier, coming off a victory two weeks ago at Bristol, was fourth, and Brad Keselowski rallied to finish fifth.

There were eight cautions for 43 laps including a five-car pileup that brought out a 14-minute red flag. Two cautions involved rookie James Buescher and veteran Jason Leffler. They tangled in turn two early in the race and Leffler was ejected later after crashing Buescher into the wall on the front straightaway. NASCAR’s Sprint Cup division was off in observance of Easter.

Five years ago in 2015, In Modified action in the south land, With his now-proven 2015 LFR chassis underneath him after a NASCAR-sanctioned win one week ago at Langley (Va.) Speedway, defending KOMA Unwind Modified Madness Series champion Burt Myers continued to make the tour his personal playground as he took the victory at the Ace Speedway in North Carolina on Saturday night.

Myers took the lead from brother Jason with 31 laps to go following a late-race restart in the AutismSmilesLLC.org 125 presented by KOMA Unwind and never looked back, running away from the field and exerting his dominance on a series of four late-race restarts to notch his second-straight series victory in the second race of the season. The win was Myers’ fourth career KOMA tour victory and extends his series points lead. The Citrusafe No. 1 started second on the grid and in total, led 105 of the race’s 125 laps en route to the winner’s circle. Jason Myers finished second.

Chris Pasteryak came home third, with Dan Speeney fourth and Gary Putnam rounding out the top five at the finish. There were 16 cars on hand for the event.

The management and staff of the New London-Waterford Speedbowl had been taking advantage run of good weather and expected to have the facility in great shape for the season opener and re-birth for the May 2 opener.General Manager Shawn Monahan stated that the entire midway and grandstand was given a new coat of paint. All grandstands were repaired and are up to code. New owner Bruce Bemer purchased new cooking equipment and a new concession trailer. Steve Rubin, who runs the concessions at Thompson, and would be a definite asset to promoting the family friendly atmosphere which the new management hoped to attain. In addition Monahan stated that Victory Lane would be moved back on to the track and their will be a family section directly in front of the officials tower. “We want fans to be at home when they come to the track”, said Monahan.

Area Auto Racing News editor Len Sammons made an interesting observation at the recent NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour event at Thompson. He stated that Hoosier Tires are now $40 cheaper for competitors on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. The same tire that sold for $190 last year is now being offered, before taxes, for $150. While tires are now cheaper thanks to NASCAR’s new contract, it came at the expense of a loyalty bonus program that for many years rewarded top point teams with two free tires at each event. Hoosier is now rewarding teams with new cash programs reportedly worth $2,500 per race.

At Thompson, a team was allowed to buy as many as ten tires, but only seven of those could be used in the race. They were also allowed to buy four more tires, only in advance, that could be used only for practice. Teams on a budget often buy six tires. The four tires used to time trial must also be used to start the race. Since the two front tires and left rear are the same compounds, but the right rear is harder, these teams need to get two spares just in case they get a flat. Only the seven race tires, that are impounded before the event, can be used. Practice tires are marked differently.

These budget teams that ran all the races and were on the loyalty tire program last year now have a higher per race tire bill, despite the cheaper price. When they bought six before at $190, they only paid for four since they got two free, so their bill was $760. Now they pay for all six at $150 and their bill is higher at $900. A well-financed team that buys the maximum of 14 tires now has a per race tire bill of $2,100, whereas last year after getting two for free they paid $2,280 so they have seen a reduction in cost.

Hoosier’s new contingency program favors the top teams with money going to the driver who leads the most laps and runs the fastest lap. There are two Hoosier Most Improved Awards, however that goes to a driver who improves the most positions during the course of each event. An award will be given at mid-race and then again at season end.

Matt Kenseth claimed victory in Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Food City 500 at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway in an event that, because of rain delays, ended nearly nine hours after it began. Kenseth had to hold off Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon on a green-white-checkered restart following a final red flag for showers. Joey Logano led all 300 laps of the NASCAR XFINITY Series’ Lilly Drive To Stop Diabetes 300 to score his 23rd career win in the series and his second of the season.

Last year, 2019, The New London-Waterford Speedbowl took a major hit when a jury in Danbury Ct Superior Court Wednesday found track owner Bruce Bemer guilty of all charges he faced in his human trafficking case. The jury had deliberated for about two days and rendered their decision late Wednesday afternoon.

The 65-year old Bemer was found guilty of four counts of patronizing a trafficked person and one count of being an accessory to human trafficking. Bemer had been out of jail on a $500,000 bond since his arrest in March 2017. According to the Hartford Courant that bond was increased to $750,000 on Wednesday by Judge Robin Pavia. Bemer was expected to post the increased bail.

Bemer was scheduled to be sentenced on June 6. He faces a possible 30 years in prison. He had reportedly rejected a plea deal that would have spared him jail time previously.

In some good news, New London-Waterford Speedbowl general manager Mike Serluca told internet news site RaceDayCT exclusively Friday afternoon that there would be racing at the track in 2019. “As far as the 2019 racing season at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl is concerned, we will be racing at the facility in 2019,” Serluca said. “Without a doubt.”

Serluca said that assurance of operation in 2019 came from Bemer. “There’s no pending sale,” Serluca said. “Whats going to happen down the road with that, I have no idea.” Serluca couldn’t go into any details concerning when the season could possibly begin, but did confirm that the scheduled May 11-12 Blastoff event will not be run. “We’re optimistic of a May opening date,” Serluca said.

Serluca has informed the Valenti Modified Racing Series and the Northeastern Midget Association that their events as part of the originally scheduled Blastoff weekend will not take place.

It was noted by Sid DiMaggio of Vault Productions that in 1951, on April 15, the original owners of The Speedbowl cut the ribbon on the frontstretch for the facility’s grand opening. The original track surface was made of dirt (which only lasted for 3 weeks before they paved it with asphalt). Bob Swift won the very first feature event in Speedbowl history that day driving the #164 coupe Modified (which were called ‘Sportsman Stocks’ back then).

Darrell Waltrip announced he will retire as a Fox racing analyst when the first half of the Cup Series is over. His last “Boogity! Boogity! Boogity!” will be heard on June 23 as the green flag is shown at the Sonoma road course. “For 60 years of my 72 I’ve been behind the wheel,” he said. “I was holding onto something. I was holding onto a steering wheel for 30 years. I let go of that wheel, I grabbed hold of a microphone.”

It looked like the Modified competitors at Riverhead Raceway on Long Island would get a lesson on race track manners as Eddie Harvey announced that Burt Myers will be coming to Riverhead for a weekly show. Myers is the master of madness at the MadHouse, Bowman Gray Stadium in North Carolina.

Martin Truex Jr was the NASCAR cup winner at Richmond. Ryan Preece finished 20th.