RPW Column: Looking Back A Bit: Fifth Week Of October

RPW Column By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WESTERLY, RI – Fifty years ago in 1970, the season came to an end with the running of the Cardinal 500 for the NASCAR Modifieds and Late Model Sportsman (Busch Grandnationals). Ray Hendrick was at the top of his game as he cleaned house as he won both 250-lap events. In the modified event, Jerry Cook finished second and was followed by Fred DeSarro, Leo Cleary, Bugsy Stevens and Bernie Miller.

Forty years ago in 1980, the Stafford Speedway held their annual banquet. Honored were Richie Evans, the Modified champ, Jerry Marquis, the Sportsman champ and Jim Ward, the Strictly Stock champ. Mike Stefanik was awarded Rookie of the Year in the modifieds and Dan Avery was the Rookie in the Sportsman. Most improved modified competitor was Corky Cookman. Seymour the Clown presented his own version of year end awards including a do it my way award which depicted a plaster a hand giving an obscene gesture which was presented to NASCAR representative Bob Smith. When Seymour made the presentation he remarked, “That’s what the Modifieds think of NASCAR”. Needless to say, Smith didn’t see the humor in it!

Twenty five years ago in 1995, Flemington promoter Paul Kuhl announced that the Race of Champions would not be welcome back at the New Jersey oval. Many of those who raced in that final event were paid with checks that bounced. The ROC has since been reborn at the Oswego Speedway but has yet to achieve the status that the previous event held.

Twenty years ago in 2000, the Thompson Speedway announced that the long awaited paving of the speedway surface would begin within a week if the weather was decent. Jeff Burton won the NASCAR Grandnational event at Phoenix. Steve Park finished 42nd as a result of a broken axle. Burton also won the Winston Cup event after taking the lead from Mark Martin with four laps to go.

Fifteen years ago in 2005, the Third Annual North – South Shootout in Concord, NC got top billing. In addition to the Modifieds the SK Modifieds were added to the program this year. Competitors and fans arriving on Thursday were greeted with temperatures in the low 70’s. Among the early casualties was Bob Polverari who crashed hard and tore his car apart during practice. He hit the wall so hard he snapped the chassis up near the a-arm. His crew had to replace the whole right side. Donnie Lia led a field of 41 Modifieds to take the pole position. Zach Sylvester was second fastest with Matt Hirschman, third. Rounding out the top five who locked in their spots were Todd Szegedy and Jimmy Blewett. Four 20 – lap Modified qualifying heats were won by Chuck Hossfeld, Doug Coby, Eric Beers and Ted Christopher. A field of 41 SK type Modifieds was on hand. Chuck Docherty was the fastest in time trials. Jimmy Blewett was second fastest with Ronnie Silk, third. Tom Fox, Frank Ruocco and Tom Rogers were the SK type Modified heat winners.

John Blewett III didn’t qualify all that well but he more than made up for it in the 100 lap Shootout that he won. Blewett slugged it out with Doug Coby and Zach Sylvester in the late stages of the event. Sylvester ended up third while Coby faded to fifth at the finish. Southern Modified competitor Brian Loftin finished third while pole sitter and bad boy Donny Lia finished fourth. Lia led the early going but was never a factor after making a mandatory pitstop. Lia did pit when the pits were closed and did receive a penalty and had to restart the race at the end of the longest line. Sixth through tenth included Jimmy Blewett, Todd Szegedy, Chuck Hossfeld, Ted Christopher and Eric Beers.

Woody Pitkat took the win in the SK Type Modified event that was run in conjunction with the Shootout. Jimmy Blewett finished second and was followed by Tom Cravenho, Rowan Pennink, Ronnie Silk, Todd Ceravolo, Richard Savary, Tom Fox, Rob Janovic and Earl Paulus.

It had taken many weeks to run because of foul weather and conflicting race dates but the Town Fair Tire Fall Finale at the Waterford Speedbowl was finally in the record books. Second generation driver Chris Pasteryak took the win in the SK Modified portion. Rob Summers finished second and wrapped up the division championship. Dennis Gada, Dennis Charette and Ron Yuhas Jr. rounded out the top five. Other winners were, Late Model – Charles Bailey, Mark St. Hilaire won the Championship. Mini Stocks – Ken Cassidy, Danny Field won the Championship and Sportsman – Joe Curioso . Mark Bakaj of Farmington inherited the lead and then held off brother Chris over the final five laps to win Saturday’s 30-lap Legends feature in the first day of the Town Fair Tire Finale at Waterford Speedbowl. Jeffrey Paul, forced to pit while leading with eight laps left, clinched the 2005 championship with a fifth.

Billy Decker dominated the final 148 laps of the rain-delayed Eckerd 200 DIRT Modified race at the New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse. Decker had started the originally scheduled Oct. 9 Super DIRT Week race from the pole position and led the first 52 laps easily before rain stopped the event. Following the scheduled 12:15 p.m. restart with an estimated 10,000 grandstand fans looking on, Decker marched smartly into the lead with Danny Johnson and Todd Burley following him as they moved away from the rest of the field. During the final 10 circuits of the mile-long track, Burley wound up in the same place where he’d restarted the race, behind leader Decker. Ronnie Johnson, who restarted in third place, also ended up in that spot winning $15,000 with coaching from his dad, two-time Syracuse 200 winner, Jack Johnson. Kenny Tremont Jr., the 1999 race winner, finished fourth and Bobby Varin, finished fifth

A fast pit stop helped Kevin Harvick grab an emotional victory Saturday in the NASCAR Busch Series race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. Harvick, whose father-in-law died during the week week after a long illness, took the lead with a pit stop of just over 17 seconds on lap 168 of the 200-lap O’Reilly Challenge. He then ran off to his fourth victory of the season and 17th career win in the Busch series. The part-time Busch Series driver beat fellow Nextel Cup star Greg Biffle. Carl Edwards kept on charging Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway, and his persistence was rewarded. Edwards, surged back from a late pit stop that dropped him to sixth place and passed Roush Racing teammate Mark Martin for the lead two laps from the end of the Dickies 500 in Fort Worth. It was his second straight Nextel Cup victory, thrusting the surprising Edwards into the battle for the series championship with two races left.

Ten years ago in 2010, , The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour officially crowned its 2010 Champion Bobby Santos III following the season ending World Series 150 at the Thompson Speedway. In 14 events Santos, in the Bob Garbarino Mystic Missile, recorded 11 top tens which included four victories. Santos amassed 2180 points and in the end beat out Mike Stefanik by 27 points. Although winless, Stefanik recorded 12 top tens. Ted Christopher, with four wins, finished third. Christopher’s consistency rate was a little off as he recorded nine top tens. Ron Silk and Todd Szegedy rounded out the top five. Sixth through tenth were Ryan Preece, Eric Goodale, Erick Rudolph, Eric Beers and Chuck Hossfeld. Fifty nine different drivers entered into competition. Eighteen drivers ran the entire series.

Bob Garbarino was the Championship car owner for 2010. Eric Sanderson was the runnerup with Eddie Whelan, third. Eddie Partridge and Mike Sermiglio rounded out the top five. As a result of yet another championship season, Garbarino joined the late Len Boehler as the only car owners to collect three Whelen Modified Tour titles. He also became the sixth team owner to earn back-to-back crowns, but just the second to do it with two different drivers. Boehler’s three-year run started with Wayne Anderson in 1994 and continued with Tony Hirschman in 1995-96. During the old format that was used to determine the NASCAR National Modified Champion prior to 1985 Boehler won three Modified Championships, 1967-1968-1969, with Bugsy Stevens as his driver.

Competitors were told at Thompson that Sunoco would be the exclusive fuel for the Whelen Modified Tour Series in 2011.

Justin Bonsignore earned 2010 Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. Bonsignore, who hails from Holtsville on New York’s Long Island, registered four top 10s and was the Sunoco Rookie of the Race in eight of the season’s 14 events. His rookie campaign was highlighted by a runner-up finish in the Made In America Whelen 200 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway and laps led at his home track, Riverhead (N.Y.) Raceway, in the Riverhead 200. He finished 13th in the season standings.

Bonsignore’s Truck and Trailer were broken into, as well as his 24 foot kart trailer. They completely cleaned out everything! Most importantly 2 complete race karts, in M3 Designs, along with all karting tools. In the race trailer they stole everything from 12 radios, to all pit equipment including jacks, guns, suits and helmets as well as geometry gauges, hardware, and spare parts off the crash carts.

The Modified Racing Series closed out their 2010 season at the Lee USA Speedway. There were 30 cars on hand. Qualifying heat race winners were Kirk Alexander, Max Zachem and Steve Masse. Among the missing were Mike Stefanik and Ted Christopher. All tolled, there are 315 race cars at Lee USA Speedway. The cars are from 11 different divisions ran in 40 heat races, making for a long day. Jacob Dore was the winner of the consolation.

Race day started out nice but the weather went downhill fast as the forecast for the Lee area called for rain and possible snow. During hot laps for the Modifieds pole sitter Kirk Alexander was black flagged, forcing him to pit. Officials deemed that he had a problem and placed him in the scratch position for the start. Max Zachem and Steve Masse made up the front row for the start. After completing two laps running side by side Masse took the lead on lap 6. By lap 18 Andy Seuss had come alive as he moved into the second spot as Zachem faded to third. The first caution flew on lap 68 when Jimmy Kuhn spun on the backstretch. During the caution period rain began to fall. At around a quarter to three the race was red flagged. Support divisions were run in order to keep the track relatively dry. Shortly after 6:00pm the 100 lapper was restarted. Masse led the remaining laps and recorded the win. In the closing laps Ken Barry came on like gangbusters and finished second. Seuss faded to fifth as he was passed also by Zachem and Louie Mechalides. Jon McKennedy is the series Champion.

Don Hoenig stated in an article in the Norwich (CT) Bulletin that the Thompson Speedway’s race night would still be Thursday with Sunday a possible rain day for certain shows. Upwards of four tour type non-sanctioned shows and a few SK Light type events would also be planned. It was also in the wind that the Modified Racing Series would make three stops at the northeastern Connecticut oval in 2011. Hoenig also planned on bringing the Whelen Modified Tour back for three events. He was still unhappy over the fact that NASCAR told him he would have to move his traditionally scheduled August Thursday date because of fact that the Whelen Tour would be running with the Indy Cars at Loudon the following weekend.

A hot rumor in the wind was the possibility of Ben Dodge vacating his position as Special Assistant to Don Hoenig. Dodge and Russ Dowd had become a formable team in the organization and operation of the Thompson Speedway. Thanks to their efforts, Thursday Night Thunder at the Thompson Speedway provided great competition and an efficiently run program.

Lou Modestino reported that the Seekonk Speedway may be planning to host multiple Modified events every other week in 2011. He speculated that Dodge, who has close connections to the Modifieds, would be the logical choice to put it all together for the Venditti family, proprietors of the Route 6 oval. Dodge refused to tell confidants where he might be going, other than saying he was leaving Thompson. Needless to say, this didn’t happen until later years.

Len Sammons, editor and publisher of trade publication Area Auto Racing News announced that indoor Three Quarter Midget racing would be returning to the Dunkin Donuts Center in Providence, RI in 2011.

Denny Hamlin passed Kevin Harvick for the lead with 29 laps to go Sunday and earned his third consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup win at the smallest circuit in the series, Martinsville. Keselowski captured the NASCAR Nationwide 5-Hour Energy 250 on Saturday, using a well-timed pit stop to roll past Reed Sorenson with two laps remaining at Gateway International Raceway. The Nationwide stop likely was the final race at Gateway. Dover Motorsports, owner of the track, put the property up for sale and had not requested any racing dates for 2011. Mike Bliss finished second, followed by pole-sitter Justin Allgaier, who led 70 laps in the 200-lap event. Jason Leffler finished fourth followed by Edwards in fifth. Sorenson placed sixth. NASCAR rookie Danica Patrick finished 22nd, one position behind her career-best effort the previous weekend in Charlotte.

Five years ago in 2015, there appeared to be a lot of rumblings of unrest in NASCAR’s Whelen Modified Tour Series’ competitors. Robert Our had shut down his Modified team and Eddie Partridge had indicated that he may shut his team down pending Ryan Preece’s future plans. It also looked like the Buzz Chew team was thinking of testing the dirt racing waters. Much has been said how NASCAR handled some of their calls this past season especially the Doug Coby-Ryan Preece incident at Loudon in September. NASCAR had been consistently inconsistent with their calls of rough riding. Couple that with increasing costs of running the tour spells possible short fields for next year. Thanks to the efforts of NBC Sports Net those who live outside of the northeast got to see a great brand of racing with tight competition. It would be a shame to see it go away.

Ryan Preece had the opportunity of a life time as he secured a NASCAR Sprint Cup ride for the final four events of the 2015 season including Martinsville, the Texas Motor Speedway, Phoenix and the series ending event at the Homestead Speedway in Florida. At Martinsville, an inner axle broke spreading grease all over rear tires. Changed axles and he came back out at the end, finishing 42nd.

On the local front in New England the Thompson Motorsports Park Thompson Speedway was expected to announce their 2016 oval track schedule which is rumored to be expanding. Thompson’s Wednesday night racing programs were extremely popular this past year and had the reputation of getting the fans on the way home at an early hour. The recent World Series drew a total of 342 cars that raced in 15 different divisions which crowned 14 champions.

Thanks to the efforts of Bruce Bemer and Shawn Monihan the New London-Waterford Speedbowl enjoyed a successful rebirth. Very little negativity emerged from the shoreline oval that was all but run in the ground by the former owner-operator. The Speedbowl enjoyed the best of competition and extremely healthy car counts. Scott Tapley, who had been the Speedbowl’s race director has resigned his position to take a similar post at the Riverhead Raceway on Long Island.

In NASCAR Sprint Cup racing in Martinsville, VA, Jeff Gordon punched his ticket to the Championship round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup by scoring his 93rd career win, the first in his final season, with only darkness and clouds covering the Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500.

Joey Logano started from the pole in an attempt to win his fourth consecutive race, and was in command for most of the afternoon. He led 207 laps and built a solid lead on a late restart before Matt Kenseth drilled him into the first turn wall in a payback move.

Last year, 2019, The Tri-Track Modified Series was the headline event in New England Named the Haunted Hundred at the Seekonk Speedway the event drew 38 cars which were in competition for 26 starting spots. Heat winners were Derek Robie over Kirk Alexander in the first qualifier, Ron Williams over Keith Rocco and Matt Hirschman in the second heat, Matt Galko over Les Hinkley in the third heat and Chase Dowling over Woody Pitkat in the fourth heat. During the running of the heat Races there was accidents that took some of the mods out of action. The most severe was Mike Holdridge whose modified had its roof cut off in order to safely extract him from the car. Coming out of turn four his car went over the tires of another mod and he was propelled in the air into the turn four wall. Holdridge was conscience after the incident, but as a precaution track crew selected to take him out of the car gingerly and get him to the ambulance to be evaluated. Holdridge did complain about his back being sore. Holdredge was transported to the Rhode Island Hospital in near-by Providence where it was determined that his sternum was fractured and doctors were trying to find out the severity of his back fracture. He was put in a back brace..Brian Robie and Richard Savory finished one-two in the consi.

A re-draw of the qualified cars saw Woody Pitkat picking the pole with Matt Galko picking the outside spot. Picking third was Les Hinkley with Chris Pasteryak and Matt Hirschman rounding out the top five.

The Haunted Hundred was Matt Hirschman’s race to win or lose. After a spirited battle with Ron Silk Hirschman crossed the finish line first while Silk was sitting stalled after being bonsaied by Hirschman. Race officials made the decision that Hirschman had deliberately caused Silk to spin out and stripped him of the win, placing him last on the lead lap. Chase Dowling, who was running fourth behind the two leaders was awarded the win. Collateral damage included third place Matt Swanson and fifth place running Ronnie Williams.

The Haunted Hundred Tri-Track finale got the green as the sun was setting at 5:15pm. Pitkat jumped out in the lead and was followed by Pasteryak and Galko. The first caution flew on lap 1 when Andy Jankowiak and Kirk Alexander spun in turn one. Pasteryak inherited the lead when Pitkat’s car stalled and he was towed to the pit. The second caution flew on lap 44 when Joey Muccicarro stopped on the track. Pasteryak pitted and Hirschman inherited the lead. The third caution was displayed on lap 45 when Derek Robbie suffered a broken steering box. At the half way mark Hirschman had the lead and was followed by Ronnie Williams and Matt Swanson.

The fourth caution flew on lap 53 when Joey Cipriano stopped on the track near the pit entrance. The fifth caution came onlap 67 for Calvin Carroll who spun on the front chute. When the field went back to green Matt Swanson moved into the second spot. By lap 75 Silk was on the move as be broke into the top five. The sixth caution was for Pasteryak who spun on the back chute. Derek Robbie spun near the pit entrance on lap 85 bringing out the seventh caution. When the field went bac to green Hirschman was in the lead and was followed by Swanson and Silk. Russ Hersey brought out caution no. 8 when he spun on the front chute. On the restart, Silk moved by Swanson and took over the second spot. The ninth and final caution flew on lap 90 when Les Hinkley hit the wall in turn one.

With ten to go the stage was set for an epic battle between Hirschman and Silk. Silk went under Hirschman between turns one and two to take the lead. As theywent between turns three and four Hirschman was in the grass, came up and took Silk out. Chase Dowling was awarded the win after Hirschman was disqualified. Keith Rocco ended up second with Jankowiak, third. Tommy Barrett and Matt Galko rounded out the top five. Richard Savory, Chris Pasteryak, Dylan Izzo, Mike Gervais and Jon Kievman rounded out the top ten. Swanson ended up 19th and Williams, 20th. Williams was awarded the 2019 series championship.

Matt Hirschman made the following statement on Sunday morning. “After watching the video I would like to release a statement in regards to the finish of yesterday’s Tri-Track event at Seekonk Speedway. Upon taking the white flag when I rolled out of the throttle entering turn 1. The 50 of Ron Silk came to my inside and we made side to side contact. With less than a lap to go in the heat of the moment I drove into turn 3 across the curb, left sides through the grass and into the side of the 50. Unfortunately, he spun and others received damage in the process. For this I apologize to all involved. As a result, I was disqualified, and this reflects poorly on myself and our team. In my racing career I have been on both ends of situations like this and all I can say is I hate being on this end even more than the other. I will learn from this and try to do better next time.”

In companion races Derek Gluchacki of N. Dartmouth, MA, took down his first career late Model win at Seekonk Speedway in spectacular fashion. Mike Hopkins, of Herman, ME, was victorious in Pro All Star Series (PASS) North competition with DJ Shaw of Center Conway, NH, winning his second straight Series championship.

In some promising news, Steve Barrick of Area Auto Racing News, America’s No, 1 Racing Newspaper, says that Bruce Bemer, owner of the New London-Waterford Speedbowl, has put a halt on construction at the Connecticut shoreline oval for now but intends to resume work next year. According to a source, all necessary permits have been approved by the town of Waterford with the hope that racing will resume in 2020.

In a non related manner, Barrick also stated that Race of Championship drivers Tyler Rypkema and Andy Jankowiak have indicated a preference for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Series in 2020 over the New York state based Race of Champions Series.

The Riverhead Raceway on Long Island is getting a leg up on the 2020 season as they are doing numerous upgrades on the Eastern Long Island speedway. After repaving turns three and four last year the management is finishing paving turns one and two. It is expected that Riverhead will again host two Whelen Modified Tour series events in 2020.

Brad Lafontaine’s business, Northeast Race Cars & Parts, had become an institution of the Northeast short track racing scene. At the Seekonk Speedway Lafontaine worked his final race as the owner of Northeast Race Cars & Parts at Saturday’s Haunted Hundred at Seekonk Speedway.

Lafontaine told RaceDayCT that he was selling the business he began in 1992 to longtime local racing crew member Shane Hopkins. Lafontaine, who has kept the transaction mostly under wraps, said the sale is expected to be finalized by Nov. 1.

“It’s kind of fitting I guess,” Lafontaine said of working his last race as the owner of the business at Seekonk. “I started here and I’m ending here. I’ve got mixed feelings about getting out of the business and all that, but the time comes and you have to make a decision. I’ve got other things going on. I’ve got an auto recycling yard, I’ve got a big snow plowing business, I’ve got apartment houses. I’ve got a lot of stuff going on all the time, so it makes it tough. The stuff here, you’ve got to watch it, you’ve got to be around.”

Lafontaine, who is renowned locally as a car builder and former NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour crew chief, will be inducted into the NEAR New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame on Nov. 10.

Martin Truex earned a spot in NASCAR’s championship race for the third consecutive year with a dominating Sunday victory at Martinsville Speedway. Truex led 464 of the 500 laps in becoming the first driver to claim a spot in the Nov. 17 title-race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. It marked the most laps led by a winner since Kyle Petty led 484 laps in 1992 at Rockingham.

There were just three lead changes, and Truex controlled the event from the first round of pit stops, when he beat Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin back onto the track for the lead. He was hardly challenged at all and his Toyota coasted to his first career victory at NASCAR’s shortest track.

Brian France is now far removed from management end of NASCAR and the sport itself, his departure from the family business becoming officially on Friday, Oct 18 when NASCAR and sister company International Speedway Corp. merged into one organization with NASCAR chairman and CEO Jim France continuing in the same role.

ISC chief executive Lesa France Kennedy was named executive chair and NASCAR president Steve Phelps tabbed president in charge of overseeing day-to- day operations of the merged companies.

Brian France, who stepped away as CEO of NASCAR following his August 2018 drunken-driving arrest, is not named in the new leadership structure.

Jim France has said very little publicly since replacing his nephew nearly 15 months ago and he leaves it to Phelps to talk about the future of NASCAR.

But it is no coincidence that business has been rolling since Brian France stepped down and his uncle steadied a seemingly sinking ship. Booming might be a stretch, but things are happening behind the scenes at a markedly improved pace that has benefited the product.

A new rules package was rolled out this year designed to make the racing better, and although it has received mixed reviews, the on-track action is better than it has been the past several seasons.

Work continues to be done on the “Next Gen” car scheduled to be introduced in 2021; the car is intended to reduce costs, in large part via common parts from approved vendors, which will shrink the required workforce and tighten many loopholes for creativity and innovation.

The hard work is in keeping older fans, attracting new ones and marketing NASCAR, particularly its playoffs, as can’t-miss-viewing.
Those who have watched through the first two rounds have seen an intense and sometimes heated scramble for points and positions as no driver has emerged as the clear favorite.

The all new book, The Modified Years At Stafford, is gaining interest and has become a must have in race fans and competitors library. Race by Race, Year by Year, it’s all there. Read all about it in the all new book. Books are now available on Amazon.com and Coastal181(877-907-8181 toll free) and are available thru Stafford’s web site in their store. Order yours now. A great Christmas gift.

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