RPW Column: The Champ Trail; Modified Racing Strong At Stafford, Claremont & On The Whelen Tour

RPW Column By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WESTERLY, RI – The Stafford Speedway continued it’s Friday night series.

It was a night of threes as Keith Rocco held off a hard charging Chase Dowling to pick up his third SK Modified® win of the 2020 season, Adam Gray scored his third Late Model feature win of 2020, and rookie Derek Debbis scored his third SK Light feature win of the 2020 season. Andrew Durand took down his fourth Limited Late Model win of 2020 while Chris Meyer was a first time Stafford winner in the Street Stock feature.

With 10 laps to go, Chase Dowling was hounding Rocco for the lead with Stephen Kopcik, Mike Gervais, and Ronnie Williams making up the top-5. Dowling made a run to the inside of Rocco on lap-31 and the two cars touched and got sideways coming out of turn 4 on lap-32 but they stayed straight and continued fighting for the lead. Dowling stayed glued to Rocco’s back bumper over the final 5 laps but he couldn’t get close enough to make a move as Rocco scored his third win of the 2020 season. Kopcik finished third with Williams and Gervais rounding out the top-5.

Rocco’s victory brought his overall total of 285 wins which also include 151 victories at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl, 63 at Thompson and 71 at Stafford Speedway.

Claremont Motorsports Park in New Hampshire played host to one of the most lucrative Tour-type Modified races of the year on Friday, August 28. The Claremont, New Hampshire oval joined forces with The Racing Guys, The Long Island Mod Maniac and Maurice Enterprises to host a $10,000-to-win open competition race named the “Racers Honoring Racers 100.” The event was promoted by Tri-Track Open Modified Series founders Jim Schaefer and Dick Williams, was originally scheduled to be held at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl (CT). However, due to the circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, race officials decided to move the event to Claremont and pay tribute to Modified racers who have competed at the track.

The story of the night was the brilliant comeback from a devastating wreck in a heat race by Matt Hirschman. After contact with Brad Babb on the first lap of the night’s third heat race launched Hirschman’s Modified into the Turn 2 wall, destroying the right-front suspension, his pit crew crew thrashed to ready the car for the last chance consolation race. Nearly missing the top-six cut, Hirschman took advantage of a chaotic restart to make the field for the 100-lap main.

Starting deep in the field Hirschman used a non-aggressive approach the first two-thirds of the event, saving his tires. When early leader Ron Silk and many who followed him pitted for tires Hirschman elected to stay out which put him near the front. On the restart he passed leaders Les Hinkley and Matt Kimball and never looked back. Both hung on for second and third. Rounding out the top five was polesitter Eric Goodale and Andy Jankowiak. Silk ended up eighth.

The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Series ventured to the Monadnock Speedway in Winchester, NH. The event, originally scheduled for Saturday night was run on Sunday because of impending rain as a result of Hurricane Laura.

The storm passed and all systems were Go for Sunday. Twenty eight Modifieds were on hand. Jon McKennedy was the pole sitter as he toured the high-banked quarter mile speedway in 12.781 seconds or 70.417mph. Justin Bonsignore was second fastest with Ron Silk, third. Matt Hirschman and Patrick Emerling rounded out the top five.

After being shut out of Victory Lane on two occasions, Justin Bonsignore found himself right back on familiar ground as he executed a late pass on Ron Silk to capture the Advanced Gas Distributors Inc. 200 Wade Cole Memorial Sunday on afternoon at the track they call MadDog It was Bonsignore’s third win in five races on the season and his sixth in the last 10 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour events dating back to last Aug. 31.

Jon McKennedy won the Mayhew Tools Dominator Pole Award in qualifying and led the first 61 laps before Silk, who was fastest in practice and qualified third, got past him. Bonsignore tracked him down and the two swapped the top spot before Bonsignore took it for good with 25 laps remaining.

Anthony Nocella came from a 23rd starting position and finished fourth while Ronnie Williams finished fifth after coming from a twenty first starting spot. Williams was actually the beneficiary of a confrontation between Matt Hirschman and Chris Pasteryak with four laps to go. Hirschman, who started fourth, faded to the bottom of the top ten in the early going before the half way mark. Pasteryak who had been running in the top ten got turned around after being hit by Hirschman. After losing ten laps making repairs Pasteryak rejoined the field hoping to make some laps and salvage some points. With four laps to go rode Pasteryak high and in doing so lost his top five finish as he ended up sixth. Woody Pitkat, Sam Rameau, McKennedy and Craig Lutz completed the top 10.

Seven cautions slowed the field. The first caution flew on lap 26 when Melissa Fifield spun in turn four.

The second caution flew on lap 68 when Rob Summers spun in turn four. Summers collected Dave Sapienza in the process. Sapienza restarted and ended up 11th at the finish while Summers was involved in two other cautions and ended up 22nd.

The third caution flew on lap 122 when Patrick Emerling spun after making contact with Jeff Gallup. Emerling recovered to finish 17th while Gallup ended up 21st. The fourth caution was for an accident involving Calvin Carroll and Summers. Carroll ended up 14th. The fifth caution was for the second Summers spin on lap 141. The sixth caution was for Gallup when he spun on the backstretch on lap 151. The sixth and final caution was for the wreck by Pasteryak after Contact with Hirschman that collected Eric Goodale and Kyle Bonsignore. Goodale finished 18th and Kyle Bonsignore finished 19th.

Overall, it was a highly competitive event with plenty of good close quarter racing.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has extended the COVID-19 Executive Order 202.32 until Sept 19. This being said, the Oswego (NY) Speedway has cancelled their Labor Day Classic for Supermodifieds and their scheduled NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Series event. Super Dirt Week which is held at Oswego in early October has been postponed until 2021.

Down on the Connecticut shoreline at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl officials pulled the plug late Friday because of a bad forecast for Saturday.

Out on the east end of Long Island the Riverhead Raceway suffered a rain-out.

A few years ago NASCAR had the bright idea to eliminate the Southern Modified Tour and combine them with their northern counterparts. It sounded good but NASCAR failed to sign up enough tracks in the south to participate and needless to say despite the fact that Burt Myers made a few trips north to compete the idea that southern modified teams would travel north to race fell flat on its face.

The only track that ran modifieds on a regular basis was Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Bowman Gray hasn’t run this year because of the virus and next year is doubtful because of planned construction at the stadium. SMART (Southern Modified Auto Racing Teams) has been reborn and held their first event last Saturday night at the Caraway Speedway in North Carolina. Brian Loftin took the win over Burt Myers, Jason Myers and Gary Putnam.

Get well wishes to Steve Bird who underwent heart surgery late last week. Birdie is one of the most noted crew chiefs in New England auto racing. Among those he guided and maintained cars were for Rob Moroso, Pete Fiandaca, Dick Trayner and Ron Bouchard.

On a sad note, NEAR HOF driver Ron Wyckoff passed away last Thursday, Aug 27. Ron suffered from Alzheimer’s/dementia for a few years. Florida born, Ron came to Connecticut in the early 1960s and started racing in Plainville Stadium’s Novice division. Moving to Modifieds, he was a winner at Plainville and Riverside Park – three straight Riverside 500s, 1974 through ’76 – and a steady competitor at Stafford, Thompson and Waterford.

Ron was very popular in the grandstands and in the pits. He was very good on equipment, evidenced by the list of top cars he drove – Czarnecki 20, Berndt 54, Simons 9 – Ron’s expertise in long-distance races was legendary-including the 1978 – 250 lap Riverside Park Triple Crown Series finale. He retired in 1983.

Ron was a fixture at the Plainville Stadium Reunions the last 10 years or so. He will be dearly missed by all his friends, fans, and admirers.