RPW Column: The Champ Trail: Stafford Holds Second Event of 2020; Remembering C.J. Frye

Column By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WAVERLY, RI – The Stafford Speedway hosted its second event of the 2020 season on Friday night with the Street Stock division taking center stage with the extra distance Midstate Site Development Street Stock 30. The Street Stocks raced for total posted awards of over $5,000 with defending Street Stock champion Zack Robinson taking home the winner’s share of $700 with contingency bonuses from Big Haus USA, New England Racing Fuel, Sunoco Brand, and Del’s Vinyl Siding and Bob’s Painting that pushing that winning total up to $900. Keith Rocco and Andrew Durand both made it 2 for 2 in 2020 as they won the SK Modified® and Limited Late Model features respectively while Al Saunders won the Late Model feature and Brian Sullivan won the SK Light feature.

In the Street Stock event Meg Fuller recovered from an early spin to finish second.

With 5 laps to go in the SK Modified 40 lapper Todd Owen was in the lead with Rocco all over his back bumper. Mike Christopher Jr was third with Woody Pitkat fourth and Michael Gervais, Jr. now up to fifth. Rocco took the lead from Owen on lap-39 with a move in turn 1 that saw Owen drift up the track and fade back to fifth in line. Rocco hounded Owen’s bumper for the next five laps before the pair headed into turn one on lap 39. As fog began to engulf the track Rocco gave Owen a bump sending him up the track toward the wall. Rocco came out of turn two with the lead while three more cars got by Owen while he got his car back under him. Rocco won the race to the line to score his second consecutive win of the season with Pitkat, Christopher, Gervais, and Owen rounding out the top-5. Rocco’s win was his 69th at Stafford.

In a post race statement Owen admitted he was slowing and blocking to protect his lead.

Jack Arute leased the Stafford Speedway in the middle of the 1969 season. At the end of 1969 the Norwood Arena in Massachusetts dropped the NASCAR Modifieds. That decision opened the door to Arute who petitioned NASCAR to change the race night from Friday to Saturday nights. Riverside Park in Massachusetts and the New London-Waterford Speedbowl were also running on Saturday nights but they were unsanctioned by NASCAR at the time. Stafford ran on Saturday nights for a few years before switching back to Fridays. Fast forward 50 years, Jack Arute had passed away, Riverside is gone and the Speedbowl is closed for renovations plus the Coronavirus has crippled the country.

With the second generation in command at Stafford the decision was made to run an Open Modified Tour type program on a few selected Saturday nights, the first one being this past Saturday. In near 100 degree heat the experiment was a success. With attendance limited to a state mandated 25% the event was a sell out plus participation in the Pay per View project was deemed a success.

During the late 60’s and well into the 70’s the late Fred DeSarro was a consistent front runner and winner at Stafford. Many of his wins came from starting in the rear and he never had to park anyone to record the win. In DeSarro’s style, Marcello Rufrano, coming from 24th starting position out of 26 cars after having to qualify through the consi, won the Bud Light Open Mod 80 with a thrilling pass on Chase Dowling after a late restart. To his credit, he did it in a clean way!

The Bud Light Open 80 took the green flag with Chase Dowling taking the early lead from pole position. Joey Cipriano slotted into second with Michael Gervais, Jr. third, Craig Lutz fourth, and Anthony Nocella in fifth. Lutz took third from Gervais on lap-3 while Matt Galko moved into sixth just behind Nocella as Dowling and Cipriano continued to pace the field.

With 15 laps complete Dowling was still in command with Cipriano, Lutz, Gervais, and Nocella making up the top-5. Eric Goodale was up to sixth with Galko, Charlie Pasteryak, Ronnie Williams, and Dave Etheridge making up the bottom half of the top-10. With 30 laps complete the order at the front of the field remained unchanged with Dowling setting the pace followed by Cipriano, Lutz, Gervais, and Nocella. Goodale was still sixth with Galko, Williams, Etheridge, and Pasteryak making up the top-10.

At the halfway point of the race, Dowling began to encounter lapped traffic, but it wasn’t slowing him down. The caution came out with 41 laps complete for a spin in turn 2 by Tommy Barrett, Jr. Under the caution Etheridge, Carl Medeiros, Jr., and Ryan Doucette all came to pit road before it was open to change tires. One lap later the entire field except for Dana DiMatteo and Timmy Catalano came to pit road for a tire change. Dowling won the race off pit road followed by Goodale, Lutz, Nocella, Gervais, Tommy Catalano, Williams, Cam McDermott, Pasteryak, and Jon McKennedy. On the restart Dowling powered his way by Timmy Catalano to retake the lead. Lutz followed him by Catalano to move into second with Goodale third, Gervais fourth and Williams fifth. Tommy Catalano took sixth with Timmy Catalano falling back to seventh with Nocella, McDermott, and Pasteryak behind him. Timmy Catalano took a hard hit into the turn 2 wall to bring the caution out with 46 laps complete.

With 15 laps to go, Dowling was still in command of the race with Lutz and Goodale in tow. Marcello Rufrano broke into the top ten. The caution came out with 72 laps complete for a spin in the middle of turns 3+4 by Tommy Catalano, setting up an 8-lap dash to the finish. McKennedy and Williams spun in turn 2 to bring the caution right back out. Dowling took the lead on the restart with Lutz and Goodale locked in a duel for second. Rufrano charged up to fourth and took third from Goodale before the caution came back out with 73 laps complete for a spin by Kevin Iannarelli.

Dowling took the lead back under green with Rufrano charging into second. Cipriano was third in line followed by Goodale, DiMatteo, Galko, Nocella, and McDermott. Rufrano was closing in on Dowling’s back bumper when the caution came back out with 76 laps complete for spins on the backstretch by McDermott and Pasteryak.

Not to be denied, Rufrano charged by Dowling on the restart to take over the lead. Cipriano came up to second with Dowling sliding back to third before the caution came back out with 78 laps complete for spins by Pasteryak and Dan Meservey, Jr. On the restart, Rufrano took the lead with Dowling and Cipriano side by side for second. Dowling cleared Cipriano coming to the white flag but he couldn’t catch Rufrano as he won his very first Tour type Modified feature event. Cipriano finished third with Goodale and Lutz rounding out the top-5.

In weekly racing action, Jon Puleo won the SK Light Modified feature and Zack Robinson won the Street Stock feature.

Stafford’s next Saturday night event will be the Twisted Tea Open Modified 80 on August 1. Rain Date: Sunday, August, 2, 2020

In a groundbreaking move for short track weekly racing, the Stafford Motor Speedway has launched StaffordSpeedway.tv, a new pay-per-view live streaming service featuring Stafford Speedway’s Friday night and Saturday night’s racing program. Stafford Speedway race teams will receive 25% of every pay per view sale (approximately 50/50 split after expenses), creating another payout for drivers across all Stafford divisions.

Pricing for the service is set at $20 for regular events and $30 for Open Modified, Pro Late Model, and other special events. “We’ve been wanting to get into live streaming our events for a long time now,” explained Stafford Speedway COO Paul Arute. “A few years back we had a discussion about it and all of us at Stafford agreed that the only way to make it work would be through a revenue share with the race teams. We have some amazing short track talent at Stafford Speedway and we’re excited to showcase it to the world.”

Driver’s payouts will be distributed based on the number of feature laps completed at each event. This allows for more equitable distribution across all competitors in the field. SK Modified® drivers run more feature laps each week and will get a little larger piece of the revenue share vs. the Street Stock division.

It’s a good deal no matter how you look at. Everybody wins! continued Arute. “You’ll be able to watch a full night of Stafford Speedway racing from your phone, computer, or Roku device. The best part is every time you purchase a pay-per-view live stream you’ll be supporting Stafford Speedway drivers.”

A pre-race count on Facebook indicated over 37,000 followers.

This coming Saturday, on July 25, the SBM-Tri Track event will be held at the Star Speedway in Epping, New Hampshire. This should be slam-bang event as officials from this series now permit the bump and run tactic. Les Hinkley owes Craig Lutz one and Matt Hirschman owes Justin Bonsignore one. Let the games begin!

It appears that significant progress has been made at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl. Paving of walkways around and in front of the new grandstands has been completed. The wall has been painted and lanes thru the infield have been paved. The only thing left is the construction of an announcers/officials tower and then its race time. Word from the shoreline oval is that they will re-open on Aug 1. Stafford will be running a Modified Open that night and the Whelen Modified Tour Series will be running at the White Mountain Motorsports Park in New Hampshire.

Bowman Gray Stadium Racing’s 2020 season has been cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions. On July 14, North Carolina Governor Cooper extended “Phase 2” of COVID-19 restrictions for another three weeks until August 7. During this phase, events such as the racing at Bowman Gray Stadium are not permitted to have more than 25 spectators. Speedway Management believe it is highly unlikely that Governor Cooper will significantly relax these restrictions in August or even September.

Motorsports publisher Coastal 181 announced on July 20 the release of “The Soul of a Modified: Lenny Boehler’s Ole Blue,” by Lew Boyd. It is the newest in a long string of popular racing books presented by the company over the last 20 years, focused on recording and preserving the color and drama of open-wheel and short-track racing.

Operating out of an old farm near Cape Cod, Lenny Boehler, an understated personality with overstated aptitude and a twinkle in his eye, seemed to communicate with his race car as effectively as with people. And curiously, “Ole Blue” seemed to respond. Together they motored a million miles on a treacherous road, compiling hundreds of victories at speedways up and down the East Coast over four decades. Surviving on massively less resource than their competition, they consistently returned with championship laurels.

Though hardly polished and chromed, Lenny’s cars were in high demand by the country’s most talented drivers because of their speed and reliability. Bugs Stevens, Fred DeSarro, Ron and Ken Bouchard, Doug Heveron, Dick Trickle, Bobby Santos and Ryan Preece were among the nearly 50 wheelmen to guide a Boehler #3 to Victory Circle. To the one, they were serious professionals focused on their racing, but the book is full of colorful stories about antics in the Boehler camp after the races.

When Lenny died, he never really left. His presence still envelopes the garage and chicken coop where Ole Blue has been housed for the last 65 seasons. Now a senior citizen itself, Ole Blue, still run by Lenny’s family and crew and currently driven by up-and-coming Matt Swanson, is one of the most enduring and beloved sights in all of motorsports.

The 216-page volume, with 200 color and black and white photographs, is the perfect read for anyone who follows high-level Modified racing today and for those interested in the history of the sport.

“The Soul of a Modified,” priced at $29.95, can be ordered online at www.coastal181.com or by calling Coastal 181 at 877-907-8181 toll free. The website, updated daily, includes over 1500 other motorsports books and DVDs, as well as hundreds of photos and racing commentaries.

Former Late Model competitor C.J. Frye passed away last week after battling cancer. He was one of the coolest guys you’d ever meet. Very humble, but always a tenacious competitor. C.J. won championships at all three Connecticut short tracks, Waterford in 1984, Thompson in 1994-1995 and Stafford in 1995. The racing community has lost another great guy. Voluntown – Christopher Lawrence “Chris” Frye III passed away peacefully in his Voluntown home Monday, July 13, 2020.

Christopher, known to many as CJ, graduated from Ledyard High School in 1978, and was a true jack-of-all-trades. He started his career as an engineer on the Sabino steamboat in the Mystic Seaport. He went on to acquire and hold licenses in three major fields all at once: electrical, plumbing and carpentry; and still found time to pursue his main passion – racing! Well-known for driving the orange and yellow Gordon Rodgers 6X car, Chris ended up winning track championships at the Waterford Speedbowl, Thompson and Stafford Motor Speedways, the latter two in the same year, which many said could not be done! But as tenacious as he was on the track, off the track, he was a loving, kind family man.

The funeral service will be private for the family. To leave a message of condolence for Christopher’s family, please visit his memorial at www.churchandallen.com. The Church and Allen Funeral Home, Norwich, is assisting with arrangements.

That’s about it for this week from 11 Gardner Drive, Westerly, RI 02891. Ring my chimes at 401-248-1307.