RPW Column: Looking Back A Bit: First Week Of May

RPW Column By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WESTERLY, RI – Seventy years ago in 1950, Ralph Moody won at Seekonk.  Sixty five years ago in 1955 double features were the orders of the day at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl as rain washed out the previous weeks features.

Ray Moran won the left over Modified feature and Don Collins returned to his winning ways as he won the night cap Modified feature. Lou Tetreault made it three in a row as he won the left over non-Ford feature and it was local favorite Charlie Webster winning the night cap non-Ford feature.

Sixty years ago in 1960 the Waterford Speedbowl suffered their first rainout of the year. After dominating at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl in 1959 Bill Slater and the Connecticut Valley Rocket No. V-8 went on the road to Norwood Arena in Norwood, MA. Norwood had just secured a NASCAR sanction and the word was out that the race purses were high. Slater took full advantage as he started a string of six features in a row on this weekend at the Route 1 oval. At Seekonk, Deke Astle was the Class A winner with Dick Brown winning in the Midgets.

Fifty five years ago in 1965 Ed Moody, who would eventually become the assistant to the chief technical inspector at Stafford in the late 70’s won the Modified feature at the Waterford Speedbowl. His engine builder was Bruce Watt. Marvin Chase, who was an inspector for the Connecticut DMV made it two in a row in Late Model Daredevil action. Lou Lazzaro was the top dog on the dirt at Fonda on Saturday night and at the Utica-Rome Speedway on Sunday Elton Hill took the win over Eddie Flemke SR and Mario “Fats” Caruso. Bugsy Stevens took the Modified 30 lapper at Seekonk while Ray Lackey was the B winner.

Fifty years ago in 1970, Dick Nephew was the Friday night winner at Malta. Leo Cleary who had been driving the Koszela Woodchopper became embroiled in a dispute with car owner Sonny Koszela that resulted in them going their separate ways. Fred DeSarro, who had started the season with Joe Brady, moved over to the Koszela car after Brady ran out of money. In their first outing, DeSarro finished fifth. In twin 25-lap action at Stafford on Saturday night, former National Champion Ernie Gahan scored double wins. Bernie Miller finished second in the first event and was followed by Ed Yerrington, Lou Toro and Daring Dick Caso. Caso finished second in the nightcap and was followed by Moose Hewitt, Jerry Dostie and Bugsy Stevens. At Fonda on Saturday night, Lou Lazzaro ruled the roost as he won the twin 25’s on the race card. In the first event, Lee Millington finished second and was followed by Maynard Forette and Dave Lape. Kenny Shoemaker in the Bobby Judkins 2x, finished second in the second event with Don Wayman and Peppy Pepicelli following. DeSarro hit full stride on Sunday at Thompson where he dominated the twin 25’s run there. Ed Yerrington in the Freddy’s TV 23 finished second in the first feature and was followed by Bugsy Stevens, Jerry Cook and Lou Toro. Sal Dee in the Mystic Missile finished second in the nightcap with Stevens, Cook and Ernie Gahan following. The Waterford Speedbowl fell victim to a shoreline rain storm. Bobby Sprague was the Class A feature at Seekonk. George Ponte was the B winner.

Forty five years ago in 1975, events at Freeport scheduled for Friday and Sunday were cancelled because of poor crowds. Bugsy Stevens in the Koszela No.15 took down the win at Stafford on Saturday night. Brian Ross in the Mystic Missile finished second and was followed by Leo Cleary and Bob Santos. At Islip it was George Brunnhoelzl over Wayne Anderson and at Shangri-La, Richie Evans crossed the stripe ahead of Roger Treichler and Maynard Troyer. Jerry Pearl took the Modified win at Waterford. At Seekonk, George Murray took the Modified win. Ken Bamford was the Late Model winner.

Forty years ago in 1980, John Rosati in the Tuck Hoffman no.73 scored a popular win at Stafford on Friday night. Bugsy Stevens finished second and was followed by Ray Miller, Ronnie Bouchard, Jerry Cook and Mike Stefanik. Cook left Stafford and drove all night to Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, N.C. where he won an added point event. From North Carolina Cook went to Thompson where he finished fourth behind winner, Richie Evans, George Kent and John Rosati. Earlier in the day, the members of the New England Drivers and owners club staged a boycott at Thompson because of excessive pit fees. The speedway management relented and gave $5.00 back to each car. In Late Model Sportsman (Busch Grandnational) competition in the south, Geoff Bodine scored a grand slam as he won events at Langley Field, Southside and at South Boston Speedways. Other weekend winners were George Kent at Shangri-La, Wayne Anderson at Islip and Mike Murphey at Star.

Thirty five years ago in 1985, heavy rain washed out Stafford on Friday night. At Waterford on Saturday, Charlie Savage took the win over Rick Fuller, Ted Christopher and Richie Gallup. Allen McClure won at Riverside and at Riverhead, Don Howe beat out Tom Baldwin and Fred Harbach. Richie Evans and Tony Siscone finished one-two in a championship event at New Egypt. At Thompson on Sunday Wayne Dion won out over Joe Tiezzi.

Thirty years ago in 1990, Waterford and Riverside rained out. Riverhead managed to avoid the rain as Bill Park held off Wayne Anderson and Don Howe for the win. Steve Park and Mike Ewanitsko rounded out the top five. Sunday at Monadnock, Jerry Marquis was the winner over Tom Bolles and Mike Stefanik. No racing at Stafford as the Arutes opted for a late May opening. Based on all the rain during the month of May, maybe they made the right decision.

Twenty five years ago in 1995, New England racing personalities Gavin Couper and Bob Echo passed away. Stafford rained out on Friday but at Waterford on Saturday, Todd Ceravolo went pole to pole to win the 35-lap feature. Bob Potter finished second and was followed by Jim Broderick and Jerry Pearl. Jeff Karns was the mini stock winner, Larry Cote won the late model feature and Bud Kuhene was the Strictly Stock winner. Dan Avery won at Riverside and Chuck Steuer won at Riverhead. In Winston Cup action at Sears Point, Dale Earnhardt passed Mark Martin in the closing laps to take the win. Robbie Crouch was the Busch North winner at Jennerstown.

Twenty years ago in 2000, the modifieds raced at Richmond on Thursday night. Reggie Ruggerio took the lead on lap 146 of the 150-lap event and went on to record his 40th Featherlite Modified Tour win. Tony Hirshman finished second and was followed by Mike Christopher, Jerry Marquis and Dan Avery. The event, although on an off night, drew 49 cars and 15,000 spectators. In the northeast, Ted Christopher went two for two as he won at both Stafford on Friday and at Waterford on Saturday. Willie Hardie finished second at Stafford and was followed by Jerry Marquis. At Waterford, Ed Reed Jr. was the runner-up. Jay Miller finished third and was followed by Mike Holdredge and Rob Janovic. Joe Hartmann went pole to pole at Riverhead. Back at Richmond, Jeff Green was the Busch GN winner and Dale Earnhardt Jr. was the Winston Cup winner.

Fifteen years ago in 2005 the Stafford Motor Speedway got their Friday night program in the books while Waterford suffered its second rainout in a row. At Stafford Lloyd Agor passed Frank Ruocco on lap 31 of the 40 lap feature and went on to take the win in the SK Modified division. Ruocco finished second followed by Willie Hardie, Ted Christopher and Jeff Malave. A slim field of only 20 SK Modifieds was on hand. Many have wondered as to why the fields of SK Modifieds have dwindled at Stafford. The SK Modifieds have gotten out of hand cost wise plus the fact that there was much destruction at Stafford last year. Some car owners have sold out while others have chosen to race elsewhere or just park their cars. Ryan Posocco and Jay Stuart finished one-two in Late Model action while Michael Bennett won the 20 lap Limited Sportsman feature and John Hurley won the Dare Stock event. James Civali who won the SK Modified portion of the Thompson Speedway Ice Breaker and finished fourth in the recent SK Modified portion of the Spring Sizzler before being disqualified for refusing tech inspection now finds himself in a select group of drivers at the Stafford Speedway that have been suspended from racing at Stafford indefinitely for actions detrimental to racing. In other words Civali was put on suspension because he drove through the pit area at high speed and almost ran an official down. In addition to Waterford being rained out the opening night festivities at the Seekonk Speedway in Massachusetts and the Riverhead Raceway on Long Island were also cancelled due to rain.

New England Raceway developer Gene Arganese who had been in the process of proposing a domed racetrack in Plainfield, Ct. won a crucial zoning approval after a close vote by the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission. The panel voted 3-2 to rezone roughly 900 acres off Interstate 395 and include the land in a recently established “resort/recreational development zone.” Opponents of New England Raceway LLC’s 140,000-seat racetrack plan said they wouldl appeal the commission’s decision. Arganese said he planned to move forward with the project despite the prospect of legal challenges. Six appeals had already been filed against the commission’s approval of the new resort/recreational development zone. He said the design process should take about five months, and he intended to bring the plans before the commission by January. Arganese’s $343 million project would include the racetrack, a convention center, a 700-room hotel and 800,000-square-foot retail complex. He continued to say he hoped to attract NASCAR, Indy and CART events to the New England Raceway track, along with drag races, concerts and trade shows.

Jeff Gordon won the wreck marred Aarons 499 at the Talledega Speedway. Martin Truex was the Busch Series winner. The Busch race was also a wreck fest.

Ten years ago in 2010, The Waterford Speedbowl fell victim to rain and cold. The Bob Valenti Auto Mall Racing Series/Race of Champions Modified Series combination event scheduled for Sunday at the Albany-Saratoga Speedway was rained out and was rescheduled for Friday, May 21. The event drew 49 Modifieds and looked to be the rebirth of what used to be at the New York State oval.

From 1965 to 1975 the Albany Saratoga Speedway in Malta, NY attracted the best in the business of asphalt Modified Racing from New York and New England every Friday night. Legendary drivers like Bugs Stevens, Smokey Boutwell, Leo Cleary, Ernie Gahan, Rene Charland, Pete Hamilton, Don MacTavish, Bill Slater, Fred DeSarro, Eddie Flemke, Lou Lazzaro, Jerry Cook and the great Richie Evans, all competed at the 4/10 mile speedway. Hall of Famer Brian Ross, one of the most influential drivers and fabricators of his generation, was scheduled to be the grand marshal for Sunday’s race. Ross began his racing career in the charger division at Albany-Saratoga Speedway in the late 1960s and progressed to have a distinguished career on the NASCAR asphalt modified series.

The rains played havoc at the Texas Motor Speedway as both Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series events were postponed to Monday. Denny Hamlin led the final 12 laps of the Sprint Cup event, the only time he was up front after starting the 334-lap race 29th. The final shootout came after a spectacular nine-car wreck took out polesitter Tony Stewart and dominating Jeff Gordon, and Hamlin held off points leader Jimmie Johnson at the end for his 10th career NASCAR Sprint Cup victory. Kyle Busch won his fifth consecutive Nationwide race at Texas Motor Speedway on Monday, joining two-time series champion Jack Ingram and Dale Earnhardt Sr., as the only drivers to win five consecutive races in NASCAR’s second-tier series at the same track.

Five years ago in 2015, The Stafford Motor Speedway opened their Friday night racing series under clear skies. Ronnie Williams took the lead early and then had to hold off challenges from Eric Berndt, Rowan Pennink, and then Keith Rocco to claim victory in the 40-lap SK Modified® feature, Josh Wood was the winner in the 30-lap Late Model feature, Joey Ferrigno was the winner of the 20-lap SK Light feature, Cliff Saunders won the 20-lap Limited Late Model feature, Trace Beyer won the 15-lap DARE Stock feature, and Dana DiMatteo won the 20-lap Legend Cars feature.

In the waning moments of the SK Modified feature Pennink was right on Williams’ back bumper with Rocco glued to his bumper in a 3-way fight for the lead. Rocco made an amazing move to the inside of Pennink, going as low in turn 3 as he could possibly drive his car to take over second with 3 laps to go. Rocco was right there but he couldn’t get close enough to Williams in the closing laps to make a move as Williams scored his first win of the 2015 season. Pennink finished third, with Berndt and Cipriano rounding out the top-5.

Sixth through tenth were Matt Galko, Ryan Preece, Michael Gervais, Jr. Tom Bolles and Glen Reen.

The long awaited Grand re-Opening of the New London-Waterford Speedbowl took place this past Saturday, May 2. The crowd was good and the morale of the competitors was high as they knew for sure they would get paid for their efforts.

Keith Rocco scored a double whammy as he won the SK Modified and Late Model features on this historical night. Rocco’s biggest threat in the Modified event came about halfway through the event when he and Ted Christopher made contact on a restart. Christopher brushed the frontstretch wall during the incident. Christopher fell to third, got back to second, but never a threat after that. Rob Janovic finished second. Rocco blamed the bumping incident on cold tires. Christopher said it was deliberate as he felt that Rocco rode him up. Christopher was later disqualified from his second place finish. Christopher’s Prestige Motorsports owned ride was found with an illegal intake manifold following the event.

The change moved Janovic to a second place finish and Craig Lutz Long Island to third. Earlier in the day Robert Our Motorsports announced that Tommy Barrett had been canned and Rocco would be the team’s new permanent driver on the Whelen Modified Tour Series.

Rocco now has 105 combined victories at the shoreline oval, on shy of the record set by Phil Rondeau.

The Valenti Modified Racing Series began their 2015 season last Saturday night at the Monadnock Speedway in Winchester, NH. Todd Szegedy who finished second in the Whelen Modified Tour opener at Thompson moved up a spot as he took the 100 lap win at the New Hampshire oval on Saturday. Woody Pitkat who was the WMT winner of the Spring Sizzler at Stafford, finished second. Todd Patnoad finished third. Rowan Pennink and Les Hinkley rounded out the top five.

The Riverhead Raceway on Long Island opened for the season this past Saturday. Tom Rogers scored twin 30 lap victories.

Down in the southland at the Bowman Gray Stadium, better known as the Mad House, the season opening 200 lap Modified event was postponed a week because of rain. Burt Myers won Saturday night’s season-opening Hayes Jewelers 200, registering his seventh opening-night victory and fourth in the last five years. Myers took the lead from brother and pole-sitter Jason Myers in the 36th lap, and held off a strong challenge from his brother on a final restart with 10 laps left. In between, he endured a scare from old nemesis Junior Miller. On the 160th lap, Miller spun through the infield and landed back on the track right in front of Myers. After 40 laps of green-flag racing, Myers finally maneuvered past Miller, putting him a lap down without incident. Jason Myers wound up second, Brandon Ward third and Tim Brown fourth.

Dale Earnhardt jr earned his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory of the season on Sunday at the Talladega Superspeedway, outrunning teammate Jimmie Johnson to win the GEICO 500. Joey Logano’s dominance of NASCAR XFINITY Series races at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway continued on Saturday.

Logano used a great push from Elliott Sadler on the final lap to win the Winn-Dixie 300, his second career NXS win at the Alabama track.

Last year, 2019, The weather cooperated somewhat and the 2019 season began at Stafford. Healthy fields including SK Modifieds (30) plus SK Lites (32) were on hand. Opening Day winners were Keith Rocco in an SK Modified® photo finish, Michael Wray was declared the Late Model winner after Kevin Gambacorta was found with an illegal shock absorber and disqualified, Bryan Narducci in the SK Light feature, Jeremy Lavoie in the Limited Late Model feature, Michael Hopkins in the 30-lap RMSPCO.com Street Stock Triple Crown #1 feature, and Mike Teague in the Vintage All-Stars feature.

With 10 laps to go in the 40 lap SK Modified feature, Rocco was still out front with Michael Gervais right on his back bumper. The lead duo had pulled away some from Todd Owen in third who was now fending off challenges from Ronnie Williams with Joey Cipriano in fifth. The caution came out with 32 laps complete for a spin on the backstretch by David Arute.

Rocco took the lead on the restart and behind him it was a high speed pace lap with Owen and Gervais side by side for second and Cipriano and Williams side by side for fourth. Owen took second with Gervais falling back to third while Cipriano took fourth and Mike Christopher Jr got by Williams to move into fifth. The caution came back out with 36 laps complete for a spin in turns 3+4 by Membrino.

Rocco took the lead back under green with Gervais taking second. Christopher got by Owen to take third place on lap-38 with Cipriano in fifth. Arute and Eric Berndt took a spin into the frontstretch infield to bring the caution back out with 38 laps complete.

Rocco held the lead on the restart with Gervais trying his hardest to stay with him in the outside groove. Coming off turn 4 to the checkered flag Gervais and Christopher split Rocco who was running on fumes as he was out of gas and nearly made a pass for the win but Rocco won the race by a nose. Gervais edged out Christopher for second with Cipriano and Owen rounding out the top-5.

Racing fans who waited roughly seven hours for the finish of the SK Modified race Saturday afternoon most certainly got their money’s worth. The race was one filled with carnage, with seven yellow flags in total and a wreck in turn three of the final lap. Only 17 of the 27 cars finished on the lead lap, and eight drivers failed to reach the halfway mark.

The win also took Rocco to a new career overall total of 261 wins which include 150 victories at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl, 60 at Thompson and 51 at Stafford Speedway.

In the SK Lites at Stafford Bryan Narducci led Teddy Hodgdon to the checkered flag to win the first race of the season. Noah Korner edged out Alexander Pearl at the line for third with Mark Bakaj rounding out the top-5.

.Racing at the Bowman Gray Stadium in North Carolina fell victim to rain.

Riverhead Raceway on eastern Long Island came alive for the 2019 season this past weekend. Kyle Soper in the Wayne Anderson mount took the 50 lap NASCAR Modified win. Soper of Manorville, LI, had to come from the back of the field not once but twice before he could lay claim to his 10th career win Saturday night on a chilly and damp evening. Track owners Eddie & Connie Partridge and Tom Gatz who suffered a track record eight rain outs in 2018 ignored rain that was as close as a mile away from the track and were able to complete the seven division opener.

Chris Young perhaps drove the best race of his budding NASCAR Modified career when he raced his way into second on lap 43. Chris flying the red Riverhead Building Supply colors made famous by his later father was on the march when the race concluded settling for runner-up money. Dylan Slepian also impressed in his Eastport feeds Chevy leading 40 laps of the race before claiming third place honors. John Fortin Sr. and John Beatty Jr. rounded out the top five.

On a sad note, word was received that Cliff Nelson had passed away. Nelson was a friend and mentor to many involved in auto racing. His name and his “crown” logo appeared on NASCAR Modifieds, Pro Stocks, SK Modifieds, Late Models, Pro 4 Modifieds, Street Stocks, karts, ARCA cars at Daytona and Talladega, and just about everything else that ran in circles and made noise. All those deals were different: He picked up tire bills, hotel bills, fuel bills, and engine bills; he bought pit passes, took out congratulatory ads when his friends did well, and covered more than a few bar tabs at race-town taverns.

NEAR Hall of Famer Billy Harman sends word that former Modified competitor Sonny O’Sullivan had passed away.

In NASCAR Monster Cup racing at Dover Deleware, Martin Truex and crew chief Cole Pearn didn’t let rain, an inspection failure that dumped the car to the rear or even a maligned race package affect their push toward the finish. Truex, who is from Mayetta, New Jersey, has long considered Dover his home track, led 132 laps and dominated runner-up Alex Bowman by a breezy 9.5 seconds to win at Dover for the first time since 2016. He had no complains about the new high drag, high downforce, 750 horsepower package that led to track-record speeds posted in qualifying. Kyle Busch, the 2015 NASCAR champion, peppered his comments on the package with profanity and said his complaints to NASCAR would fall on deaf ears. Ryan Preece finished 28th.