RPW Column: Looking Back A Bit: Third Week Of November

RPW Column By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WESTERLY, RI – Five years ago in 2015, All was not well on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Series.

While those at NASCAR who govern the sport and continually pat themselves on the back, the core of the series was being eaten away by a cancer in the form of bad decisions made by officials and expensive mandates by the sanctioning body. Since the season ended at the World Series at Thompson the series had lost three of its top teams.

Robert Our, who fielded cars for Tommy Barrett Jr, Keith Rocco and Ted Christopher says he just doesn’t enjoy it any more and is in the process of selling all of his racing equipment. Eddie Partridge, who along with his wife Connie recently purchased the Riverhead Raceway on Long Island says he has had enough of the politics and indecision. The final decision will be based on Ryan Preece’s situation in 2016. Strike three comes from Long Island Chevy dealer Buzz Chew who fielded the car for Woody Pitkat. Chew echoes Partridge’s sentiments concerning officiating. Chew will concentrate his efforts in 2016 on the up-state New York DIRT circuit.

Rather than pat themselves on the back, higher-ups at the sanctioning body needed to talk to competitors in order to get the solution to a problem that could bring the division down. NASCAR and it’s touring competitors will gather in Charlotte, NC on December 12 for their awards banquet. That would be an excellent time to discuss the issues at hand.

The Stafford Motor Speedway welcomed a guest list of nearly 500 people consisting of teams, drivers, sponsors, and employees at Maneely’s in South Windsor to officially honor Rowan Pennink, Michael Bennett, Stephen Kopcik, Al Saunders, Frank L’Etoile, And Devin O’Connell as the 2015 Stafford Motor Speedway NASCAR Whelen All-American Series track champions.

With Stafford Motor Speedway broadcasters Darren Ayotte and Matt Buckler serving as the Masters of Ceremony, the 46th annual Stafford Motor Speedway NASCAR Champions Awards Ceremony not only honored the six track champions, they also recognized the top-15 points finishers from the SK Modified®, Late Model, SK Light, Limited Late Model, DARE Stock, and U.S. Legend Cars divisions. Special awards that were presented during the evening’s festivities were Most Popular Driver Awards, SPAFCO Race Chassis & Parts Rookie of the Year, R.A.D. Automachine and T/A Engines Rookie of the Year, R.A.D. Automachine DARE Stock Rookie of the Year, and the UNOH Youth Achievement Award.

The 2015 SK Modified® season saw Rowan Pennink, who traveled each and every week from his home in Pennsylvania, continue a hot streak that began with his victory in the 2014 NAPA SK 5k. Including that SK 5k victory, Pennink scored 5 wins in the final 10 races of the year and he and the #99 Van Wickle NAPA Auto Supply team served notice right out of the gate that they would be contenders in 2015 as they won the season opening NAPA Spring Sizzler feature. Pennink went on to score 5 more wins for a total of 6 to go along with 17 top-5 and 19 top-10 finishes this season. Pennink’s average finish for the season was 4.5 and he claimed the track title by a 10 point margin over Ryan Preece.

The SPAFCO Race Chassis and Parts Rookie of the Year awards were presented to Tyler Hines from the SK Modified® division and Michael Wray from the Late Model division. Taking home R.A.D. Automachine and T/A Engines Rookie of the Year honors were Daniel Wesson in the SK Light division and David Comeau in the Limited Late Model division, and taking home R.A.D. Automachine Rookie of the Year honors was Zack Robinson in the DARE Stock division. The awards will be worth an $1,100.00 bonus to Hines and Wray from SPAFCO, $1,000 bonuses each to Wesson and Comeau from R.A.D. Automachine and T/A Engines, and a $500 bonus to Robinson from R.A.D. Automachine. Each Rookie of the Year bonus will be paid out in $100.00 weekly increments to each driver as they attend events during the 2016 season.

The winners of the Most Popular Driver Awards were Ronnie Williams in the SK Modified® division, Tom Butler in the Late Model division, Nick Salva from the SK Light division, David Comeau from the Limited Late Model division, Doug Marcello Rufrano in the DARE Stock division, and Teddy Hodgdon in the U.S. Legend Cars division. The Most Popular Driver Awards are voted on by the fans who attend Stafford Motor Speedway race events and fill out the ballots found in the track’s weekly PitStopper Magazine.

The UNOH Youth Achievement award was won by SK Light Modified driver Stephen Kopcik. The UNOH Youth Achievement Award is a program that is open to all drivers at Stafford between the ages of 14-17. The eligible driver who scored the most track points from their best 14 finishes this season won a $500 cash award from UNOH as well as a $500 scholarship award from UNOH.

The New London-Waterford Speedbowl management was wasting little time as heavy equipment is on site removing the battered Armco barrier. It will be interesting to see what the new retaining wall will be made of. The end result was concrete with an all new catch fence.

Kyle Busch started the season at Daytona Int’l Speedway being loaded into an ambulance. On Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway he ended it by winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.

Busch took the lead during a restart with seven laps left in Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 and outran defending series champion and fellow title contender Kevin Harvick to win not only the race, but the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.

In the Xfinity series event at Homestead, Chris Buescher did exactly what he had to do on Saturday.

Knowing his car wasn’t capable of winning, Buescher took care of his No. 60 Fastenal Ford throughout the Ford EcoBoost 300. By finishing 11th, Buescher beat Chase Elliott by 15 points to score his first NASCAR XFINITY Series championship in a race that Kyle Larson rallied to win.

Last year, 2019 The Good Lord giveth and the Good Lord taketh. That pretty much describes Burt Myers situation after he was stripped of his recent victory at the North-South Shootout at the Hickory Speedway in North Carolina. According to Speed51, Myers’ tires failed a laboratory inspection. The disqualification gave the victory in the event to Andy Seuss of Hampstead, N.H. Jon McKennedy of Chelmsford, Mass. was moved to second place and Andy Jankowiak of Tonawanda, N.Y. was moved to third. According to the Speed51 report, the tires of Myers, Seuss and McKennedy were all laboratory tested.

Myers continually thanks the Good Lord for his successes evidently had a lapse in his judgement. “I know that in life God’s in control,” Myers said. “I know that everything happens for a reason. But I also know that god give’s us enough power to make our own decisions. In the last race, I made a bad decision that ultimately cost us the win. In racing, there is extreme pressure to win and be successful, and I cracked. As owner and driver, I want to accept sole responsibility for the actions of my team. I want to apologize to my family, my crew, my sponsors and my fans.” Myers added, “I want to end by saying, congratulations to Eddie Harvey and his team on their win in the North-South Shootout.”

The Stafford Speedway held its 50th annual Champions Banquet on Friday night. Top honors went to SK Modified Champion #50 Ronnie Williams, Late Model Champion #92 Tom Fearn, SK Light Modified Champion #55 Teddy Hodgdon, Limited Late Model Champion #6 Jeremy Lavoie and Street Stock Champion #89 Zack Robinson.

Ben Dodge and Matt Buckler served as the Masters of Ceremony. The 50th annual Stafford Motor Speedway NASCAR Champions Awards Ceremony recognized the top-10 points finishers from the SK Modified®, Late Model, SK Light, Limited Late Model, and Street Stock divisions as well as honoring the track champions. Special awards that were presented during the evening’s festivities were Most Popular Driver Awards, NAPA Auto Parts Parts Rookie of the Year, R.A.D. Automachine Rookie of the Year, and the UNOH Youth Achievement Award. Meghan Fuller was recognized as the winner of the RSMPCO.com Street Stock Triple Crown and NAPA Auto Parts was recognized for their fund raising efforts for the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund.

The NAPA Auto Parts Rookie of the Year awards were presented to Andrew Molleur from the SK Modified® division and Ryan Fearn from the Late Model division. Taking home R.A.D. Auto Machine Rookie of the Year honors were Steven Chapman in the SK Light division, Kevin Crosby in the Limited Late Model division, and Adrien Paradis, III in the Street Stock division. The winners of the Most Popular Driver Awards were Keith Rocco in the SK Modified® division, Tom Fearn in the Late Model division, Sami Anderson from the SK Light division, Alexandra Fearn from the Limited Late Model division, and Meghan Fuller in the Street Stock division. The UNOH Youth Achievement award was won by Street Stock driver George Bessette, Jr. New for the 2019 season was the RSMPCO.com Street Stock Triple Crown. The RSMPCO.com Triple Crown awarded $4,500 in bonus money to the top-10 finishers with Meghan Fuller taking home the winner’s share of $1,000.

The 2020 Stafford Speedway racing schedule was set and with 22 events. The calendar is focused on weekly racing with a mix of special events. All 5 of Stafford’s NASCAR weekly racing divisions will compete weekly starting in early May and running through mid-September. In total 122 feature races are scheduled to be held on the half-mile in 2020.

The season will kick-off at the 49th Annual NAPA Spring Sizzler® Weekend, April 24th-26th. The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour will be on hand to compete in the annual 200 lap event. The Modified Tour will return to Stafford twice more throughout the season for the traditional Stafford 150, held under the lights Friday, August 7th, and the NAPA Auto Parts Fall Final scheduled for September 26th and 27th.

Each of Stafford’s 5 weekly racing divisions will have at least one special event in 2020. New for 2020, The Firecracker extra distance Street Stock race will be held on July 3rd in conjunction with an Independence Day Celebration including Fireworks. The SK Light Modified drivers will compete in the 4th Annual Dunleavy’s Modifiedz Night, a 40 lap event, on Friday, July 24th while Stafford’s rough and tough Late Model division will run a 50 lap event on Friday, September 4th. Stafford’s Limited Late Models will get their night to shine with a 25 lap race Friday, June 19th. Stafford’s weekly headline division, the SK Modifieds®, will have 2 special events in 2020 headlined by the 7th Annual NAPA Auto Parts SK 5K, a $5,000 to win 100 lap SK Modified® race. New for 2020 is the return of the Senators Cup, a 50 lap race last held in 1979. The SK Modifieds® will run an extra 10 laps Friday, August 14th to determine who will take home the Senators Cup trophy. Past winners include Richie Evans, Geoff Bodine, Bugsy Stevens, and Ed Flemke. The speedway will run 4 open modified events in 2020, One per month starting in May. The Open Modifieds run their first event of the season May 15th, and will return June 12th for the Twisted Tea Open, July 10th for the Bud Light Open, and August 21st for the Lincoln Tech Open. Each event will be 80 laps and will feature a live pit stop with the option to change 2 tires. Ronnie Williams, Keith Rocco, Ryan Preece, Eric Goodale, and Tommy Barrett have each scored Stafford Open 80 wins to date.

New for 2020 will be a Super Late Model event scheduled for Friday, May 31st. Rules, race format, and entry information will be released in the coming weeks.

On Sunday, the Thompson Motorsports Park Speedway celebrated Keith Rocco’s eighth NASCAR Sunoco Modified title. Not since the mid-70’s when Fred DeSarro and Geoff Bodine dominated the track has any single driver accomplished the fete of Rocco. Rocco, who had 63 wins at Thompson had a career total of 279 wins which also include 67 victories at Stafford and 150 at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl. Woody Pitkat finished in the runner-up spot, while Todd Owen, Troy Talman and Ronnie Williams finished the top five. In the Late Model division, William Wall’s sixth-place finish in the finale earned him the title by a mere four points, capturing him the crown for the second time in the last four years. Behind him, Rookie of the Year winner Derek Gluchacki, who scored his first career victory in the finale, settled for second, while Mark Jenison was third. Woody Pitkat, who earned a division-high three wins, was fourth, and Matthew Lowinski-Loh fifth.

Bryan Narducci quickly is becoming one of the top rising driving talents in the country, as the Colchester, Connecticut, driver sealed his second straight NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Division III national championship in 2019. In addition, Narducci celebrated Thompson’s SK Light Modified title after earning seven wins in 10 races and scoring victories in 11 of 15 for the division over the last two years. Narducci will celebrate his NASCAR crown in Charlotte, North Carolina, next weekend. Behind him in the final SK Light Modified standings, Albert Ouellette, Wayne Burroughs Jr., John O’Sullivan and Nathan Pytko rounded the top five. Third generation driver Kyle Gero wasn’t going to let anyone take the Limited Sportsman title from his grasp, as the Uncasville, Connecticut, native earned his first career title in a consistent season. He didn’t visit Victory Lane but won by five points over two-time champion Shawn Monahan. The path for Gero wasn’t an easy one, but his top five finishes, and clean nose, helped him officially celebrate the crown on Sunday. Shawn Monahan was second, followed by Ryan Morgan, Corey Fanning and Jason Chicolas.

In a Mini Stock finale that went down to the final lap of the season, Doug Curry captured the Mini Stock title, and celebrated an emotional night at the banquet. Curry lost his father just after the Sunoco World Series and dedicated the championship to him. His path to a first championship at Thompson came in his first year of competing at the .625-mile track. The Michalski brothers, Steve and Scott, tied for second, while Jared Roy and Russ Barboza were fourth and fifth.

Two mid-week, open-wheel shows in just over one month are just part of a plan for a major 75th anniversary season at Seekonk Speedway in 2020. Under the direction of the Venditti family since 1946, the season will officially open with NASCAR opening day on May 3, 2020.

Open Wheel Wednesday will return for the 16th annual event on Wednesday, July 1, 2020 – with the Tri Track Open Modified Series, NEMA Lite Dave Steele Memorial, and the first-ever 350 S.M.A.C. (350 Supers, Super Modified Atlantic Charter) race at Seekonk set to create a true open-wheel summer showdown. The action doesn’t stop there – as the ISMA Supermodifieds return to Seekonk to help spearhead The Boston Louie Classic – a second show on Wednesday, August 12, 2020 – with the NEMA Midgets and NEMA Lites Boston Louie, a staple event for the winged warriors in New England. “We are excited to add the 350 Supers to the schedule and keep the NEMA Dave Steele classic as part of the Open Wheel Wednesday tradition,” Ed St. Germain, Seekonk’s Director of Business Development, said. “We are also looking forward to showcasing the Boston Louie event on another great midweek show with the return of the Supermodifieds. The Supermodifieds haven’t been here in a while and it should be a great show for our dedicated fans.”

The Modifieds are no stranger to Open Wheel Wednesday — for the past 15 years, drivers from across the East Coast have rolled to Seekonk chasing a $10,000 victory prize. Major modified names like Donny Lia, Matt Hirschman and Doug Coby have accomplished the task, and everyone will be chasing the check again next season. Seekonk Speedway’s full 2020 schedule of events will be announced in the coming months.

Tyler Reddick won his second consecutive Xfinity Series championship by snatching the lead away from Cole Custer in a spirited season finale Saturday at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Reddick and Custer traded the lead three times in a single lap with Reddick finally surging his Richard Childress Racing entry to the front for good with 18 laps remaining.

Reddick is the first to win consecutive Xfinity championships since Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in 2011 and 2012 and ninth driver with multiple titles. Rene Charland had four consecutive NASCAR National Sportsman titles.

In NASCAR Monster Cup racing at Homestead, Kyle Busch casually collected the championship flag from his team and did a slow, subdued celebratory lap. The most polarizing driver in NASCAR had just won his second Cup title and wanted his true fans to enjoy the moment with him. Martin Truex finished second. Ryan Preece finished 25th.

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.

June 23, 1967, Bugsy Stevens was the Friday night winner at Stafford over Gene Bergin, Bobby Santos, Pete Hamilton and Leo Cleary. Hamilton had recently taken over the Worcester Sand and Gravel No.69 that had formerly been driven by Mario”Fats”Caruso.

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.

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