RPW Column: Looking Back A Bit: Fourth Week Of February

Column By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WESTERLY, RI – Ten years ago in 2011, it was speculated with fuel prices going through the roof, race fans would be staying close to home. A recent trip from Florida to Rhode Island saw gas prices ranging from $3.09 per gallon to over $4.00. New Jersey had the best deal at $3.09 per gallon on the Turnpike. Local promoters who present a quality produce at a reasonable price would reap the benefits of the race fan sticking close to home

NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Drivers and Owners were anxiously awaiting word from NASCAR concerning Television coverage of the upcoming season. The Speed Channel and the Versus Channel did an outstanding job with their coverage.

The NASCAR Home Tracks web site says that Bryon Chew, a former competitor in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, will trade fenders for nerf bars and compete full-time in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour starting in 2011.

In some sad news it was learned last weekend that Gene Bergin had passed away. Bergin had driven just about every kind of race car from Midgets to Indy Cars and from Modifieds to NASCAR Cup cars. He was also an inducted member of the NEAR Hall of Fame. He was one of the chosen few to record wins at Stafford both on the dirt and on the asphalt.

Bergin’s career included a couple of significant milestones as his 1967 Stafford (Conn.) Motor Speedway title came in the track’s first year with an asphalt surface, and his wire-to-wire triumph in the 1971 Stafford 200 also marked the first checkered flag for a Modified with a Pinto-style body. He is credited with 15 feature wins at Stafford from 1964-74, the first two of which came on the old dirt surface.

In NASCAR Sprint Cup racing at the Phoenix International Raceway Jeff Gordon passed Kyle Busch with eight laps left and stretched his lead from there, ending his winless streak at 66 races. Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick and Ryan Newman rounded out the top five in a 312-lap race around PIR’s mile oval, the last on the current surface.

Kyle Busch became the first driver in a national NASCAR race to win wire-to-wire in nearly eight years. Busch dominated from the pole early and held off Carl Edwards late, maintaining the lead the entire way in the Nationwide race Saturday to set up the chance for a perfect weekend at Phoenix International Raceway. Busch also won the Truck race.

Five years ago in2016, NASCAR announced the 20 nominees for the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s Class of 2017, as well as the five nominees for the Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions to NASCAR.

Among those nominated were Mike Stefanik, winner of record-tying nine NASCAR championships in the NASCAR Modified and K&N (Busch North) series, Buddy Baker, won 19 times in NASCAR’s premier (now Sprint Cup) series, including the Daytona 500 and Southern 500, Red Byron, first NASCAR premier series champion, in 1949, Richard Childress, 11-time car owner champion in NASCAR’s three national series, Ray Evernham, three-time NASCAR premier series championship crew chief, Ray Fox, legendary engine builder, crew chief and car owner, Rick Hendrick, 14-time car owner champion in NASCAR’s three national series, Ron Hornaday Jr., four-time NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion, Harry Hyde, 1970 NASCAR premier series championship crew chief, Alan Kulwicki, 1992 NASCAR premier series champion, Mark Martin, 96-time race winner in NASCAR national series competition, Hershel McGriff, 1986 NASCAR west series champion, Raymond Parks, NASCAR’s first champion car owner, Benny Parsons, 1973 NASCAR premier series champion, Larry Phillips, only five-time NASCAR weekly series national champion, Jack Roush, five-time car owner champion in NASCAR’s three national series, Ricky Rudd, won 23 times in NASCAR’s premier series, including the 1997 Brickyard 400, Ken Squier, legendary radio and television broadcaster; inaugural winner/namesake of Squier-Hall Award for NASCAR Media Excellence, Waddell Wilson, won three NASCAR premier series championships as an engine builder and Robert Yates, won NASCAR premier series championship as both an engine builder and owner.

The five nominees for the Landmark Award, listed alphabetically, were: H. Clay Earles, founder of Martinsville Speedway, Janet Guthrie, the first female to compete in a NASCAR premier series superspeedway race, Raymond Parks, NASCAR’s first champion car owner, Ralph Seagraves, formed groundbreaking Winston-NASCAR partnership as executive with R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company and Ken Squier, legendary radio and television broadcaster; inaugural winner/namesake of Squier-Hall Award for NASCAR Media Excellence.

From the list of 20 NASCAR Hall of Fame nominees, five inductees would be elected by the NASCAR Hall of Fame Voting Panel, which includes a nationwide fan vote on NASCAR.com. Voting day for the 2017 class will be May 25.

Jim Schaefer announced that the 2016 Tri Track Open Modified Series now had enough cars to start 11 rows deep, three wide. The first 33 entries to the NorthEast Race Cars Tri Track Open Modified Series have been submitted by Mike Holdridge, Todd Annarummo, Troy Talman , Matt Hirschman , Kirk Alexander, Jeff Gallup , Chris Pasteryak, Mike Douglas Jr. ,Dwight Jarvis , Max Zachem , Steve Masse , Pitkat A Woody, Joe Doucette , Les Hinckley, Rowan Pennink , Rob Richardi Jr. , Richard Savary , Derek Ramstrom , Jon McKennedy, Zane Zeiner, Dan Meservey , Eric Berndt, Roger Coss, Jon Kievman , Teddy Christopher, Dennis Perry , Garrison Grubisa, Ron Silk, Justin Bonsignore , Dylan Kopec Johnny Bush , Tommy Barrett , Andy Jankowiak .

In NASCAR Sprint Cup action at Atlanta, Jimmie Johnson tied seven-time champion and Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt with his 76th career victory in the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500.

Johnson led the final 45 laps of the event after a call by crew chief Chad Knaus to short-pit for tires with 49 to go, but had to survive an overtime restart after a blown tire sent Ryan Newman spinning with two laps to go in the scheduled distance and put race-long dominator Kevin Harvick to his outside.

Kyle Busch was the Xfinity series winner. Ryan Preece started 21st and finished 22nd, four laps down.

Last year, 2020, In some good news, Doug Coby announced that he will defend his title. As reported by RaceDayCT.com Coby announced the formation of a new team under his ownership, Doug Coby Racing. The team will make its debut on March 21 at South Boston Speedway (VA), the 2020 season opener for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour.

Crew chief Phil Moran will remain with Coby, as well as other members of the former Mike Smeriglio Racing crew. With multiple sponsorship commitments for 2020, including from Coby’s primary sponsor of the past few years, Mayhew Tools, the intention of the team is to run the full season schedule on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, and chase Coby’s seventh Tour title.

The decision came in the wake of two of the former Mike Smeriglio Modifieds that had been driven in recent races by Coby, being sold to the family team of New York State driver Tyler Rypkema less than two weeks ago. Coby did secure the purchase of a third and sole remaining car for the new team.

Matt Hirschman, the king of the long haul has indicated that he will be at South Boston for the Mod tour opener and will compete in the Oswego Speedway Whelen Modified Tour Series event. He also indicated that he may partake in the Martinsville event and he may take in the Jennerstown event as the track is near his home. He will support the entire New York based Race of Champions Series and the New England based Tri-Track Series.

Hirschman says there were no plans of running in events at Thompson, Stafford or Loudon at this time.

Competitors at the Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park received a shot in the arm as it has been announced that Liquid Death Mountain Water will be the sponsor of the 46th annual Icebreaker weekend, April 3-5, and has also joined as a sponsor for the entire 2020 season. With a huge influx of money hopefully the speedway management will see fit to restore their weekly purse structure to what it was. Thompson Speedway’s Icebreaker is the annual beginning of the New England racing season, with a practice session on Friday, and two days of racing, headlined by the second race of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour season.

In NASCAR Cup racing in Fontana, Ca, Alex Bowman took the win. Kyle Busch finished second with Kurt Busch, third. Ryan Preece finished 30th. NASCAR officials announced that the Next Gen car for the 2021 Cup Series will have a single, center-locking lug nut for its wheels.