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

RPW Column By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WESTERLY, RI – Seventy years ago in 1950, Ray Janell won at Seekonk.  Sixty five years ago in 1955 Japanese-American drive George Tet was the opening night winner at the Wall Stadium in New Jersey. According to Earl Krause of Area Auto Racing News only nine of the original 20 starters finished the event.

Rain was the winner at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl. It stayed dry at Seekonk where George Smaldone was the big winner.

Sixty years ago in 1960 Joe McNulty, driving the Bounty Hunter of Robert “Slim” Ross was the Modified feature winner at the Waterford Speedbowl. Charlie Webster was the Non-Ford winner and Ed Moody won in the Bombers. Bill Slater made it two in a row at the Norwood Arena. Fonda Speedway legend Pete Corey was severely injured in a grinding wreck at the historic track. Corey ended up cutting himself out with a torch. Corey lost his left leg below the knee a few days later. The injury didn’t slow him down as he continued racing well into the 1970s. Tex Barry was the Class A winner at Seekonk.

Fifty five years ago in 1965 Jerry Dostie was the Modified winner at Waterford while Bill Scrivner won his third feature in the Bomber ranks. Kenny Shoemaker recorded his second win of the year at Fonda. Don Flynn took the win at Riverside Park and at Utica-Rome Rene Charland took the win over Frank Mathalia and Ken Meahl. At Norwood on Saturday night, Mr Leo Cleary beat out Eddie Flemke for a 30 lap Modified win as 5212 fans looked on. Cleary took the lead on lap 20. Hop Harrington and Mario “Fats” Caruso followed. George Summers took the 30 lap Modified feature at Seekonk. Bob Anderson was the B winner.

Fifty years ago in 1970, Lou Lazzaro was the top dog at Malta on Friday night. Lazzaro, who ran the same car on asphalt as he did on dirt, beat Eddie Flemke to the stripe. Guy Chartrand finished third with Fred DeSarro, fourth. Lazzaro carried his winning ways over to Saturday as he won the first half of the twin 25-lap program at Fonda. Rene Charland, who finished second to Lazzaro in the opener, won the nitecap. At Airborne Park on Saturday night, Guy Chartrand in the Hemi-Cuda took the top spot over Gene Mangino and Dick Nephew. Racing at Stafford, Thompson and Utica-Rome was rained out. Donnie Bunnell beat the rain and the entire Modified field at Waterford. Ron Cote was the Late Model Daredevil winner. At the Seekonk Speedway, Ed Hoyle was the Class A winner with Stormin Norman Holden taking the B main.

Forty five years ago in 1975, Keilor was the Friday night winner on the flat quarter mile at Freeport. Charlie Jarzombek finished second with Art Tappen, third followed by Jerry Cook. Almost as soon as the checker had dropped, Cook was on the truck and headed for Winston-Salem, NC for a 200 lap extra point event. Cook finished third behind John Bryant and Billy Hensley. Meanwhile, back in the northeast, Geoff Bodine in the Armstrong No.1 took down the feature at Stafford. Ray Miller, Ron Bouchard, Bugsy Stevens and Eddie Flemke rounded out the top five. At Islip, Jim Hendrickson in the Tony Ferrenti x3 beat out Fred Harbach and Charlie J. for the win and at Shangri-La, George Kent took the win. At the Waterford Speedbowl Mike Beebe took the Modified win. Taking top honors in the Grand American Late Models was Don Fowler. At the Seekonk Speedway, Norm Holden carried his winning ways over to the A division where he continued to win. Bob Martell was the Late Model winner.Cook made it back from Winston-Salem in time to race at Fulton where he finished third behind Maynard Troyer and Richie Evans. In open competition small block modified action at Thompson on Sunday night, Fred DeSarro took the win over Eddie Flemke, Moose Hewitt, Dick Caso and Dick Dunn.

Forty years ago in 1980, Stafford had thirty-five Modifieds in the pit area on Friday night. Richie Evans was the 35-lap feature winner. Bob Polverari finished second and was followed by John Rosati, Ray Miller and Jerry Cook. At Riverside on Saturday night, Evans had rear end gear problems and Rosati lost an engine. This opened the door for Polverari who beat Ray Miller to the stripe. Jerry Cook finished third with Mike Stefanik, fourth. Westboro ran a 100 lap open on Sunday which drew all the big guns. Greg Sacks took the win over Richie Evans, Bugsy Stevens and Jerry Cook who had lapped the field. Charlie Jarzombek, down one lap, finished fifth and was followed by Ron Bouchard, John Rosati and Roland LaPierre Jr. Other weekend winners were Bob Potter over Rick Donnelly at Waterford, George Kent at Shangri-La, Roger Treichler over Billy Colton at Lancaster and Charlie Jarzombek over Fred Harbach at Islip.

Thirty five years ago in 1985, Stafford continued to showcase the best in the business on Friday nights with 30 modifieds on hand to do battle. Charlie Jarzombek took a hotly contested win over Brian Ross, Bob Fuller, Corky Cookman and Jamie Tomaino. At Waterford on Saturday night it was Bob Gada Jr. over Mark LaJunesse and at Riverside, Dan Avery held off John Rosati for the win and at Riverhead, Fred Harbach won out over Wayne Anderson and Eddie Brunnhoelzl. Rosati was all business at Monadnock on Sunday as he took down the win. Other weekend winners were Randy LaJoie at Thunder Road, John Blewett Jr. at Wall Stadium, George Kent at Shangri-La and Rit Patchen at Thompson.

Thirty years ago in 1990, Ronnie Rocco went pole to pole at Waterford on Saturday night. George Greco finished second and was followed by Jim Broderick and Bob Potter. Phil Rondeau was the late model winner. Reggie Ruggerio gave his peers a driving lesson at Riverside as he came from a 16th starting spot to win the 50-lap main at Riverside Park. Stan Gregger finished second and was followed by Kenny Bouchard and Bob Polverari. At Riverhead, Chris Young went pole to pole with Dan Jivenelli and Wayne Anderson following. At Wall Stadium, the modified winner was Jamie Tomaino.

Twenty five years ago in 1995,Stafford extended their feature distance to 50 laps and started counting cautions because of numerous delays incurred because of rough riding and wrecks. Needless to say the feature went 40 laps before being rained out. The competitors didn’t get the message as 28 of the 40 laps run were under caution. Tony Sylvester was the eventual winner. Ted Christopher finished second and was followed by Steve Park and John Anderson. Jim Broderick beat out Bert Marvin at Waterford. Rick Young finished third with Jeff Pearl, fourth. Todd Ceravolo lost an engine in his family owned modified. His crew went home to get a back up which he qualified through the consi and ended up fifth in the feature. At Riverhead it was Tom McCann over Don Howe. The Winston Cup cars of NASCAR had a week off and the Busch Grandnationals were at Loudon for the Chevy Dealers 250 which was won by Chad Little. The highest finishing BGNN competitor was Tom Bolles who finished ninth.

Twenty years ago in 2000, the weekend started on a sad note as Adam Petty passed away after hitting the wall at Loudon during a Busch Grandnational practice session. Curt Brainard went pole to pole to win the 50 lap SK modified event at Stafford. Ted Christopher took a provisional as he missed qualifying and made the most of it as he finished second. Jerry Marquis finished third. At Waterford, Ron Yuhas Jr. took the win over Tucker Reynolds and Dennis Gada. Jerry Pearl flipped midway in the event and was able to restart and finished 10th.Frank Vigliorlo won at Riverhead and the recently deceased Lou Lazzaro’s ashes were scattered at the Fonda Speedway.

Fifteen years ago in 2005 The Stafford Motor Speedway beat the rain on Friday but the Waterford Speedbowl did not as they suffered their third rain out in a row.

At Stafford Jeff Baral went pole to pole to win the 40-lap SK Modified feature. Ted Christopher started 12th and finished second with Eric Berndt, third. Keith Rocco recorded the best finish of his young rookie season with a fourth, and Frank Ruocco rounded out the top-5. Cold temperatures and a threat of rain kept the crowd down. During warm-ups, a stuck throttle caused the #25 SK of Billy Bolton to wreck and cause extensive damage that will not allow them to compete in tonight’s event. Another practice crash involving the #2 SK of New Milford rookie and protégé of Jon Cote Jr., Jess Hilger, apparently forced the #47 of Donny Lia into the turn #1 wall. The rookie left the track unscathed, while the WMT driver Donny Lia’s mount needed assistance to leave the track. Rookie Jess Hilger, although apparently undamaged from the practice wreck with Donny Lia chose not to start the night’s event. In the 30-lap Late Model feature, Rick Lanagan, of Stafford Springs, took the lead on lap-9 and led the rest of the way to capture his first career Late Model feature win. Tom Fearn closed in on Lanagan in the final laps, but was unable to get close enough to make a bid for the lead. Jim Mavlouganes finished third, with Jim Peterson and Ryan Posocco rounding out the top-5. The 20-lap Limited Late Model feature event saw a race long battle between Eric Grant and Michael Bennett, with both drivers taking turns at the front of the pack. In the closing laps, it was all Bennett, as he took the checkered flag ahead of Grant. Bennett’s rims were found to not meet the rules in post race inspection, and he was thus disqualified from his finishing position. Eric Grant was declared the feature winner, with Dan King, Ed Charette, Jr., Michael Nadeau, and Paul Varricchio, Jr. rounding out the top-5. In the 15-lap DARE Stock feature, Joey Ferrigno survived a wild green white checkered flag restart to take his first feature win of the 2005 season. George Nocera, Jr. came up to second behind Ferrigno on the white flag lap, with Stacey Botticello, David Gambacorta, and Neil Provost, Jr. rounding out the top-5

Al Fini, President of the New England Antique Auto Racers since January of 1997 tended his resignation as President effective July 1, 2005. Fini, who had recently turned 66, cited increased pressure of his business and a lack of energy as the main reasons for stepping down.

The once proud Nazareth Speedway in Pennsylvania, a regular stop for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Series and the Busch North Series would soon fade into oblivion as the International Speedway Corporation had sold the property for $19 million to a developer who intended to build a domed hockey rink. Originally a dirt track, the Nazareth Speedway had been in existence for 39 years.

The Star Speedway in Epping, New Hampshire was also in danger of disappearing as the track had been denied the permits to open. The New Hampshire Union Leader reported that the reason for the denial was because of unsafe grandstands On Friday, May 6, The Exeter News Letter in New Hampshire reported that the Star Speedway would not open any time soon because of uncorrected safety issues. Town officials were trying to get to the bottom of conflicting reports by structural engineers hired by the owner to inspect the facility. One of those reports, detailing serious deficiencies, was purposely withheld from the town. The April 18 report, nearly three pages, noted that the six sections of the grandstand were in need of support repairs, and “there were a number of areas where the ground beneath the A-frame feet had settled or washed away, reducing its capacity to support the weight of the occupants.” Seat planks and footrest planks were also a concern, as some showed signs of splitting, cracking, or excessive deflection.

Ten years ago in 2010, The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Series descended upon the Stafford Motor Speedway for the annual Spring Sizzler. The main event, 200 laps/100 miles carried a race purse of $88,142. Thirty six Modifieds took time for the 33 available starting spots. Bobby Santos III continued the momentum from the Thompson Ice Breaker as he set a new track record with the Bob Garbarino Mystic Missile. Santos toured the 1/2 mile oval in 17.965 seconds (100.195 mph) which surpassed Matt Hirschman’s three-year-old record of 18.009 (99.950). Second fastest was Rowan Pennick with a time of 18.009. Third through fifth were Erick Rudolph, George Brunnhoelzl, III and Ron Silk. Rounding out the top ten fastest were Ted Christopher, Jimmy Blewett, Jamie Tomaino, Eric Berndt and Doug Coby. The top ten re-drew for starting spots. It was Santos again as he pulled the pill with the number one on it. Coby pulled the No. 2 pill.

As forecasted, rain moved into the Connecticut area in the wee hours of Sunday morning causing NASCAR and the Stafford management to postpone the Sizzler to Saturday, May 1, with a rain date of Sunday, May 2.

The weekend at Stafford wasn’t a total loss. Three feature events for Stafford’s support divisions were run on Saturday. Ted Cain went home a first time winner in the 20-lap SK Light Modified feature, Kevin Gambacorta outlasted defending track champion Andrew Durand to take the first Limited Late Model victory of the season, and Tony Membrino, Jr. wired the field to take the checkered flag in the 15-lap DARE Stock feature event.

The Waterford Speedbowl beat the weather as the completed their entire racing program on Saturday night. Keith Rocco continues to rule the roost as he now has three out of four victories in the SK Modified division at the shoreline oval. Norm Sears was a first time winner in the Street Stocks and Chris Williams won for the first time in nearly a year in the Mini Stocks. Howard Payne was the victor in the Trucks and it was Anthony Flannery taking the win for the Legends Cars.

The Bowman-Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem NC had hoped to begin their 62nd season but like Connecticut on Sunday, it rained in North Carolina on Saturday night. Light rain began about an hour before race time in what was shaping up to be a packed house at the 17,000-seat stadium, judging from the number of early-arriving fans and overflowing parking lots. The Madhouse television series, which aired on the History Channel during the off season, created huge interest in the racing at the North Carolina oval. Qualifying for the season opening Tucson 200 was held on Friday night. Defending Track Champion Tim Brown was the top qualifier. Second fastest was Lee Jeffreys with Burt Myers, third.

Rain hampered the NASCAR weekend in Talladega canceling qualifying for both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series and the Saturday Nationwide Series event which was eventually run on Sunday. Kevin Harvick used a last-second pass of Jamie McMurray to snap a 115-race winless streak in the Sprint Cup event and Brad Keselowski was the Nationwide Series winner.

Five years ago in 2015, The Stafford Motor Speedway continued their Friday night NASCAR Racing Series. The highlight of the evening was the Late Model Xtra Mart Xtra D 50. Xtra Mart Convenience Stores put up a $1,000 bonus that was split evenly among the top-5 finishers in the extra distance Late Model feature event. Michael Bennett recorded his second feature victory of the 2015 season with a thrilling late race pass that saw him beat Adam Gray to the checkered flag by the length of the nose on his car. Among the missing from the Late Model field was Tom Fearn who was under suspension for unsafe conduct, on-track. Unsportsmanlike conduct, on-track and actions detrimental to the sport.

Other feature winners included Keith Rocco holding off spirited challenges from Justin Bonsignore and Rowan Pennink in the 40-lap SK Modified® feature, Tony Membrino, Jr. won the SK Light feature, Austin Bessette won the Limited Late Model feature, Tyler Trott was a first time career winner in the DARE Stock feature, and Dana DiMatteo took his second consecutive win in the Legend Cars feature.

With three laps to go on the SK Modified 40 lapper the crowd was on it’s feet as Rocco and Bonsignore were side by side with Pennink glued to Rocco’s bumper on the restart. As they took the white flag, Rocco was clear in the lead with Pennink side by side with Bonsignore. Rocco kept the lead back to the checkered flag for his first win of the 2015 season. Bonsignore took second by a nose over Pennink, with Glen Reen and Ronnie Williams rounding out the top-5.

Keith Rocco would have to wait one more week for immortality at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl. Rocco tied the all-time feature win record set by Phil Rondeau when he won the Late Model feature at the shoreline oval on Saturday night. Rocco’s win gave him 106 combined victories there. A win in the SK Modified feature could have broke the tie but it wasn’t meant to be as Tim Jordan scored his first open wheeled Modified win. Rocco had two things against him, first off he started in the rear because of his win on May 2 and was collected in a wreck on the first lap. Trying to make up for lost time, Rocco burned up his right rear tire which ultimately plagued him with handling problems. Rob Janovic was second with Ted Christopher Rocco ended up fourth with Tyler Chadwick, fifth. Sixth through tenth were Craig Lutz, 7. Ed Puleo, Diego Monahan, Joe Gada and John Montesanto.

In other action at the Speedbowl, Ray Christian III won the 25-lap Mini Stock even, Corey Barry made it two in a row winning the 25-lap SK Light Modifieds race and Chris Meyer won the 25-lap Limited Sportsman race.

Rob Janovic Jr. was removed from his second place finish in the 35-lap SK Modified feature for use of an unapproved tire in competition. Janovic was penalized one lap from the event, dropping him from a second place finish to a 13th place finish in the event.

Jordan Hadley, who finished third in the 25-lap Mini Stock feature, was disqualified by the track for use of an illegally altered exhaust manifold.

Limited Sportsman division driver Brandon Fisher was penalized for blocking during Saturday’s event and will be required to start at the rear of the field of his next event at the track.

A special awaited fans this coming week. Grandstand admission is $5 this coming Saturday for residents in towns starting I-Q with proof of residency. On Thursday, the second edition of Thursday Night Thunder will hit the track with eight dollar adult general grandstands admission and free grandstands admission for all youth ages 14 and under.

The Riverhead Raceway on Long Island ran twin 30 lap Modified events. Shawn Solomito won both of them. Tom Rogers Jr. was second in both events.

Down in the southland, Burt Myers made it two for two at Bowman Gray Stadium, following up on his season-opening victory with another one in the rain-shortened Kevin Powell Motorsports 100 on Saturday night. Myers, who started third, took the lead from Dean Ward in the 37th lap and hung on from there.

The race officially went 74 laps, being called after rain began soaking the track and led to a final caution period with 31 laps left. Ward finished second, and Randy Butner was third.

Jimmie Johnson stayed on the track during a late caution to take over the lead, then held off hard-charging Kevin Harvick to win the rain-delayed NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Kansas Speedway. Johnson was chased across the line by Harvick and Hendrick Motorsports teammates Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon as the clock ticked past midnight into Sunday.

Bugs Stevens completed his 81st lap.

Last year, 2019, The Stafford Motor Speedway and NASCAR have shifted gears as the 48th edition of the NAPA Spring Sizzler® at Stafford Speedway was postponed because of impending rain last weekend and has been rescheduled for a one-day, May 10, event. The weekly divisions will run a features only event. The regular Stafford divisions were rescheduled to run their part of the program this past Saturday afternoon, weather permitting.

The weather cooperated somewhat and the 2019 season began. 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 Partrdige 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.

John Spence advises that due to weather delaying the installation of new bleachers and much needed work in the parking area and the track’s safety wall after last weekends heavy rainfall, this Saturday’s grand re-opening and appearance by the Valenti Modified Racing Series at Monadnock Speedway has been cancelled. The track opener is now scheduled for May 25 and will not include the VMRS. At this time the series is scheduled to compete a week later at Monadnock on June 8. The next event on the Valenti Modified Racing Series schedule is May 18, & 19 at Lee USA Speedway.

In a somewhat related matter, the Tri-Track Modified Series (TTOMS) recently announced a change to the opening event of the 2019 season. While remaining over the holiday weekend, the second annual Claremont 100, originally scheduled for Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, will now be run on Sunday, May 26 at Claremont Speedway in Claremont, NH.

“Due to circumstances beyond our control, we have had to move opening day for the Series,” said Managing Director Wayne Darling. “We expect the same great racing action from a strong and competitive field of cars.” The purse for the Claremont 100 is over $50,000 with $7,000 to win, $1,200 to start and at least $500 to non-qualifiers. The 100-lap main event for the ground-pounding Modifieds will also feature round one of the Ron Bouchard’s Auto Stores Challenge Cup. The rain date for the event will be Memorial Day, Monday, May 27.

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.