RPW Column: The Champ Trail: New England Racing Remaining Quiet, But NASCAR Set To Go!

Column By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WESTERLY, RI – While the New England speedways remain quiet the Stafford Motor Speedway have filled in some of the gap with their iRacing series. Modified Tour cars will be in action this coming Friday, May 8 and the Invitational Tour Modified race is set for May 15. Be sure to tune to Stafford Speedway’s YouTube channel to watch all the action.

The action is great and is well worth watching! For more information, visit www.staffordspeedway.com, checkout Stafford Speedway on Facebook or Twitter, or contact the track office at 860-684-2783.

NASCAR announced that they will resume racing May 17 with the Cup Series racing at Darlington Raceway. It will be the first of seven races among three series between May 17-27.

No fans will be allowed at any of those events.

Here is the schedule NASCAR announced:

  • May 17 (Sunday): Cup teams will run a 400-mile race at Darlington Raceway. Race will be at 3:30 p.m. ET on FOX.
  • May 19 (Tuesday): Xfinity teams will run a 200-mile race at Darlington Raceway. Race will be at 8 p.m. ET on FS1.
  • May 20 (Wednesday): Cup teams will return to Darlington to run a 500-kilometer race. Race will be at 7:30 p.m. ET on FS1.
  • May 24 (Sunday): Cup teams will compete in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Race will be at 6 p.m. ET on FOX.
  • May 25 (Monday): Xfinity teams will run 300 miles at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Race will be at 7:30 p.m. ET on FS1.

The coronavirus that continues to hold our country hostage is beginning to weaken. The Florida beaches are beginning to re-open and on the national level, the governor of North Carolina has said that NASCAR can go forward with the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway without fans in attendance at the end of May unless health conditions deteriorate in the state. Gov. Roy Cooper said he and state public health officials have had discussions with NASCAR and the speedway located in Concord regarding safety protocols for staging the race. Cooper said the state offered input on NASCAR’s plan, but he believes the race can go forward on Memorial Day weekend for the 60th consecutive year.

“We believe that unless health conditions go down, we believe we can hold the Coca-Cola 600,” Cooper said. “I think NASCAR will be making that announcement, but that’s what will happen.”

NASCAR gave teams its latest revised schedule, which shows racing resuming May 17 at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina, followed by a second race at that track on May 20.

The 600 would be held on May 24, followed by a second race at Charlotte on May 27.

North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore, one of the state lawmakers to initially petition Cooper to permit racing at Charlotte Motor Speedway, welcomed the return of NASCAR and praised the “Tar Heel spirit.”.

New Hampshire governor Chris Sununu addressed racing at New Hampshire Motor Speedway during a press conference recently. The New Hampshire Motor Speedway is scheduled to host the NASCAR Cup Series Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 on July 19. The race weekend at NHMS is also scheduled to include NASCAR XFINITY Series and NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour events on July 18 in addition to various events on July 17 at both the 1.058-mile oval and the dirt track facility that was opened last year. The governor hinted that a trimming of the NASCAR weekend in Loudon could possibly mean the Whelen Modified Tour event on July 18 being cut from the schedule.

Tri Track Open Modified Series officials announced on Saturday, in collaboration with Claremont Speedway, that the event originally scheduled for May 24 will not happen as scheduled.

Construction and erection of the all new grandstand at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl is progressing. The delay to the start of the 2020 season has worked in favor of the shoreline oval.

NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour series director Jimmy Wilson confirmed to internet news site RaceDayCT that the May 23 series event at Jennerstown (Pa.) Speedway has been postponed to a date still to be determined. Wilson told RaceDayCT series officials are hoping for a return to action in June, though where that might happen remains unclear. He said the series is committed to running all 17 events scheduled this year. The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour has now seen its first five events of the season put on hold due to the COVID-19 global pandemic. The Stafford Speedway management posted the following to their Facebook page: “Based on the Governor and State of Connecticut’s most recent guidelines we will be unable to run events in the month of May including the 2020 NAPA Spring Sizzler. At this time it is unclear when we will begin to race in 2020. We are working with local government officials to begin private practice and hope to have further guidance in the next week. We will provide schedule updates as soon as we have them. We will honor all tickets at a future date. We appreciate your patience and hope everyone is staying safe at this time.”

Word comes from Bob Finan on Long Island that Riverhead Raceway owners Eddie & Connie Partridge and Tom Gatz announced that due to the Covid-19 outbreak and subsequent federal and state restrictions put into place by local & state officials they are forced to cancel all racing events for the month of May. The track had previously canceled two safety technical inspection days and a warm-up up day slated for the final three weeks of April.

The official statement reads, “Due to Federal and Local regulations regarding the Covid-19 virus, Riverhead Raceway regrets to announce that all events in the month of May have been canceled. We will continue to monitor regulations set forth by the state and we will be ready to race when those regulations change and allow us. All of us at Riverhead Raceway are hoping that you and yours are staying safe and home during this worldwide pandemic.”

Riverhead Raceway is located 77 miles east of New York City considered by experts to be a “hot spot” of the Covid-19 outbreak in the United States. Sadly the Long Island racing family has been directly affected by the coronavirus with the April 15th passing of Street Stock/Late Model legend Paul McElearney, 70. Both Joe Krukowski and Jim Kelly former Modified drivers at the track also contracted the virus. Earlier this week Kelly who remains active in racing with the LIVARS Vintage Race Car group was transferred to a physical therapy facility. Krukowski is also expected to be transferred from Southampton for PT later this week. Both McElearney & Krukowski are enshrined on the Riverhead Raceway Cromarty Wall of Champions.

Any updates concerning the 2020 Riverhead Raceway season will be posted on the track web page, www.riverheadraceway.com and various social media outlets.

For those who signed up for NBCSN Trackpass, they have uploaded Ray Evernham’s series “Glory Road” back on April 28th. Episodes include “Modified Mastery”, mostly about Ray Hendrick but also talks about the Wood Bros #21 coupe, and “Modified to Cup”, which covers the ascension to Cup by the Bodines, Ron Bouchard, Steve Park, and Ryan Preece but ignores Ken Bouchard, Pete Hamilton and Greg Sacks.

Lou Modestino advises that Ray Stonkus and Firestone Tire dealer have been inducted into the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame.Stonkus was a New England native who fielded a Modified at the Norwood Arena who settled in Flowery Branch, Georgia. Working with fellow Georgia Racing Hall of Fame inductee the late Pete Hamilton,a Newton, MA native, his first racing experience came as a car builder and owner. The two would win the 1967 NASCAR Nationals Sportsman championship, opening the door for both to compete in the NASCAR Grand American and NASCAR Grand National Series. Incidently, Hamilton won the Daytona 500 in 1970 driving a team car for Petty Racing.

Stonkus moved to Atlanta in 1969 to work on Gene White’s Grand American Team, where Pete Hamilton drove to 10 wins and the series championship. He would work for Sam Posey’s Trans-Am team in 1970 and 1971 before moving back to NASCAR with Pete Hamilton for 1972 and 1973.

Stonkus also worked as a part of the founding of JTG Dougherty Racing, which now fields two cars in the NASCAR Cup Series. Stonkus passed away on March 19, 2020.

Gene White of Marietta, Georgia was an early racer who became a renowned car owner. He saw his driving career at Atlanta’s famed Peach Bowl in the late 50s, and finished 18th in the first running of the Daytona 500 in 1959. White became a racing tire dealer for Firestone, one of four national distributors, selling tires for all forms of motorsports.

White was also an innovator who helped to develop the fuel cell, replacing the dangerous old steel gas tanks. White died on April 15, 1986.