RPW Column: Looking Back A Bit: Second Week Of March

Column Compiled By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WESTERLY, RI – Forty five years ago in 1976, Ray Hendrick had a lap on the field at Martinsville when he crashed and handed the victory in the Dogwood 500 to Jerry Cook. Brian Ross finished second and was followed by Charlie Glazier, Harry Gant, Melvin Chilton, Jerry Dostie, Chuck Ciprich and Wayne Anderson.

Forty years ago in 1981, Martinsville was the scene of one of the wildest finishes ever seen in a modified event. Arch rivals Richie Evans and Geoff Bodine banged wheels and bumpers for most of the 250-lap event. A restart, with three laps to go, set the stage for one of the most spectacular Modified race finishes ever seen. With Bodine leading, Evans was on a mission and pulled out all the stops. After taking the white flag, Evans wailed Bodine in the rear hard enough to get him squirrelly and was able to take the lead going down the backstretch. Coming out of turn four, Bodine attempted to retake the lead when the two tangled coming down for the checker. Bodine crashed into the wall as Evans took the checkered flag in mid air. Bodine managed to finish second with John Blewett Jr, third. Blewett’s day was not without incident. During a caution on lap 234 Jamie Tomaino pulled along side Blewett to express his displeasure over a previous incident. Much to Tomaino’s surprise, Blewett turned right and planted Tomaino in the wall. Following Evans, Bodine and Blewett at the finish were Jerry Cook, Maynard Troyer and Roger Treichler. Bodine was the Late Model (BGN) winner over Sam Ard. New Jersey’s Charlie Roberts was doing the pit reporting for the Motor Racing Network that day. His take on the action is as follows: “after spinning each other into the infield in turn 1 about 200 laps earlier, Richie actually got under Geoff in 3 and they hit the wall in 4. With microphone in hand, I’m on the outer pit wall watching this unfold.

Richie came flying through the air (right side wheels skyward) . . . nothing touching the ground . . . AND WTF!!!! I asked him later about that and he said “I didn’t know where I was comin’ down but I wanted to be flat out when I landed.”

There was no actual Victory Lane at Martinsville so immediate post-race interviews were usually done at the start/finish line on the track. Well, since Richie ended up in T1 (wrecked) and I only had 75 feet of mic cord (plugged in to the MRN jack on pit wall . . . no wireless then), there was no way I could get to him and do an on-the-spot interview. Meanwhile, Bodine was out of range too and Blewett came blasting through wide open ,it’s a wonder he didn’t hit anybody as the pits were already emptying on to the track.

Since Geoff had won the first race, they had not yet done his press box interview so they had to have both of them in there at the same time. Really strange . . . they sat in single chairs about 15 feet apart with their backs to each other and not talking to one another at all . . . but both were going on at the same time.

It was kind of like covering a tennis match for the press guys bouncing back and forth between the two of them both talking about each other but not talking to each other.

One weird day not to mention Blewett walling Jamie under the yellow on the backstretch . . .

There are two races I’ll never forget and that was one of them. The other also involved Richie but he lost that one (and I also was doing MRN) to Bob Polverari the Spring Sizzler at Stafford where Richie got under Bob with about four to go but Bob hung tough on the outside and won it by a nose.

Thirty five years ago in 1986, the season got its start in Rougemont, N.C. Charlie Jarzombek in the Wilsburg No.5 took the win over Satch Worley in the Speedy Thomas No.07. Carl Pasteryak finished third and was followed by Corky Cookman, Jamie Tomaino and Jim Spencer.

Thirty years ago in 1991, there was no modified action as Martinsville ran on March 9.

Twenty five years ago in 1996, the action was at Atlanta. Terry Labonte was the Busch Grandnational winner and in Winston Cup action, Dale Earnhardt beat Labonte by a half a straightaway.

Twenty years ago in 2001 the Thompson Speedway Ice Breaker was cancelled due to the fact that four inches of ice and snow covered the speedway. In Winston Cup action at Darlington, Steve Park dominated until lap 279 when Dale Jarrett took the lead after a pit stop. Park ended up second. Jeff Green was the Busch Grandnational winner.

Fifteen years ago in 2006 In NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Series news, car-owners Dennis Charette and Chris Drouin announced that they would field the # 03 Chevrolet on the Whelen Modified Tour in the 2006 season. Charette, a Waterford Speedbowl regular and six-time winner, would pilot the car in a 10-race schedule. Embroidery Works of Berlin, CT will serve as primary sponsor. It looked like the recently married Reggie Ruggiero would again run a limited schedule. His first race for 2006 would be the 35th annual Spring Sizzler at the Stafford Motor Speedway.

The Nextel Cup cars were in Las Vegas where Jimmy Johnson took the win. Kasey Kahne was the Busch Series winner.

Ten years ago in 2011, While we patiently waited for our favorite speedways to open for the season, modified racing action has begun in the south land. The NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour began their season at the Caraway Speedway in Asheboro, NC where George Brunnhoelzl III took advantage of the race leader’s misfortune to inherit the lead and drove away in the closing laps to win the Spring Classic 150 at Caraway Speedway. Brunnhoelzl was running third on Lap 120 when Todd Szegedy spun behind the leaders in Turn 2. L.W. Miller and Brian Loftin, who were first and second respectively, got together in Turn 3 as the caution came out. Miller was able to make it to pit road and continue, but Loftin, who won the Coors Light Pole Award in Saturday’s qualifying, had to be towed off the track.

That left Brunnhoelzl out front and he pulled away from runner-up Tim Brown to win by 1.903 seconds. It is the seventh career win and fourth at Caraway for Brunnhoelzl, the 2009 NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour champion. Thomas Stinson finished a career-high third after qualifying 16th to earn the Coca-Cola Move of the Race Award. Miller came back to finish fourth and James Civali was fifth. John Smith finished sixth, followed by Jason Myers, Andy Seuss, Todd Szegedy and Austin Pack. Pack won the Sunoco Rookie of the Race Award as the highest finisher among six rookies.

Loftin wound up 18th. Defending champion Burt Myers led the first 60 laps but finished 14th after a subsequent penalty for a pit-road tire violation. It was mandated that no tires were to be changed during the event but for some reason Myers’ crew did make a tire change. An alert official spotted the infraction and had Myers return to the pit area in order to change back to the set that he started with.

Ted Christopher finished 19th after being eliminated on Lap 102. Christopher had just broken into the top five when he made contact with Andy Seuss. There were 22 Modifieds on hand.

The Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series’ of NASCAR enjoyed a week off. The NASCAR Truck Series raced at Darlington where Kasey Kahne earned himself a NASCAR victory and to him, that’s more important than a few days off. The Sprint Cup star led the final 51 laps, held off defending series champion Todd Bodine and brought more success to Kyle Busch Motorsports in winning the Camping World Trucks event. Ron Hornaday Jr. finished second, and Bodine was third. Series points leader Matt Crafton took fourth and James Buescher finished fifth.

Five years ago in 2016, The 12th season for the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour took the green flag at Caraway Speedway in North Carolina last Saturday night. Sixteen Modifieds were on hand for the series opener.

In a NASCAR news release it said that Burt Myers, who came to pit road in the night’s second-to-last caution to flip-flop his left side tires, gained four positions in six circuits after the restart and four more by Lap 144. The night’s last yellow flag provided the Walnut Cove, North Carolina, modified veteran the final opportunity he needed. Myers beat Danny Bohn on the restart of the green-white-checkered flag finish and powered to victory in the Davis Roofing 150 at Caraway Speedway. It was the 17th triumph overall for Myers and his third at the venerable .455-mile oval.

It was an up and down evening in the No. 1 Remington SCT/Speedway Auto Auction Ford for Myers, who started on the front row and took the lead for the first time from the polesitter Bohn on Lap 28. He manned the front until Lap 82 when he pitted under caution for a new right rear tire. Myers returned to the race eighth after a lengthy stop, but moved back up to fifth before returning to pit road for the tire swap that proved to be his key to victory.

Bobby Measmer Jr. was also able to get by Bohn in the final circuit for second place, his best career finish. Bohn, Jason Myers and two-time defending tour titlist Andy Seuss rounded out the top five. Brendon Bock, George Brunnhoelzl III, Jeff Goodale, Richie Pallai Jr. and Jeremy Gerstner completed the top 10.

The mild winter had been kind to the New London-Waterford Speedbowl where a major reconstruction effort had been taking place. The Armco guard rail that had been beaten to a pulp by many savage impacts was ripped out and replaced by a new concrete wall. Construction had been ongoing since the previous fall. Next on the schedule was the installation of new electrical conduits for the track’s lighting and a new catch fence that was long overdue.

Gone for many years but now back was a second pit gate on the back stretch just off turn two. This addition was designed to improve access to the north pit area. The Speedbowl management will also be moving the scales out of the infield and into a new dedicated tech area, which will be located in the main pit area outside of turn three.

The old scoreboard was gone! A new state of the art scoreboard was scheduled to be installed shortly. One project that was a possibility for this season but ultimately pushed to next off-season was a renovation of the grandstands. Track management decided to not take a chance of over doing the workload and received the thumbs up for use of the current grandstands in 2016.

A pat on the back and a job well done to track owner Bruce Bemer and General Manager Shawn Monahan for their supreme effort in keeping the Speedbowl alive and making the track one to be proud of.

It appeared simply amazing the strangle hold that NASCAR had on its Modified teams. FIVE Tri-track Open Series races carry an actual cash payout of $275,000 actual & not “fluff” in purses. There were 53 paid entries AND NOT ONE FULL-TIME Nascar Mod Tour team. Evidently money meant nothing to the NASCAR Mod Tour owners ???

The June 11 race at Monadnock had been declared to be a Ron Bouchard Tribute race.

Kevin Harvick held off Carl Edwards in a photo finish to capture his eighth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory at the Phoenix International Raceway. Coming out of turn four it was a dead heat as Harvick and Carl Edwards battled for the victory. Edwards slammed into the left side of Harvick’s Chevrolet to try and slow him down and Edwards returned the favor as they streaked towards the finish line, with Harvick edging Edwards at the finish line by just .010 of a second to claim the victory. It was the closest finish in track history. Kyle Busch sped to his third consecutive NASCAR XFINITY Series victory in a dominant performance that saw the Joe Gibbs Racing driver lead a JGR 1-2-3 finish with Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez in tow.

Ryan Preece jumped to 17th in the Xfinity Series driver standings with a solid 21st-place run in Saturday’s Axalta 200 race at Phoenix International Raceway. Preece ran as high as 20th and stayed in the middle of the pack all afternoon.

Last year, 2020, Auto racing scribe Lou Modestino recently had a conversation with, motor builder and a new tour promoter, Bob Carrita of Swansea, MA which revealed that the American Modified Tour will have three race dates at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl during the very busy 2020 racing season. Those dates are Saturday, July 4, Saturday, July 19 and Sunday, October 31.

Speaking of the Speedbowl, word has it that plans by the Racing Guys headed up by Dick Williams will be offering an Open Modified race with a $70,000 purse to be scheduled during the peak of the 2020 racing season at the shoreline oval. In other New London Waterford Speedbowl news Track Manager Mike Serluca and Ginny Potter in a joint announcement stated that the Bob Potter 300 will run on July 11and will be an open competition event. Regular Speedbowl divisions will be included with 51 lap features.

The Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park announced that 10 divisions will compete in the 46th annual Liquid Death Icebreaker weekend, April 3-5. The event also marks the official beginning of Thompson’s 80th year celebration. The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour returns for the 35th consecutive season and headlines the weekend with the Death To Plastic 150 presented by Liquid Death on Sunday. Justin Bonsignore took three of the four races at TSMP last season, and has won seven of the last eight, while names like Craig Lutz, Ron Silk and Woody Pitkat will be looking to take him off the top. Defending tour champion Doug Coby is opening a new race team and will compete as both the owner and driver, as the Milford, Connecticut, native has six Thompson wins to his credit, including the Bud 150 last year.

Thompson’s five NASCAR Weekly Racing Series divisions will begin their championship quest, as the Sunoco Modifieds, Late Models, SK Light Modifieds, Limited Sportsman and Mini Stocks open with qualifying and feature racing. Each weekly series division will run a night of 20/20 racing in 2020 – with double 20-lap features planned, beginning with the Late Models at the Icebreaker. The Late Models will run one feature on Saturday and one Sunday. In 2020, Mini Stock events will be 20 laps in distance, up five laps from last year.

It looks like the infusion of sponsorship money at the Thompson Speedway has prompted a hiring spree. The following new titles have been announced: Chris Williams — Director of Competition for the oval, Chris Austill — Director of Race Operations for the oval, Dave Faita — Director of Race Operations for the road course and Mike Taschereau — Assistant Director of Facilities & Operations. Most of the weekly competitors were hoping that there would be a little trickle down of the sponsor monies into the purse.

From the way it looks on the sign-up sheets the weekly competitors got the message of the purse reductions. As of last week only 11 Sunoco (SK type) Modifieds have signed up. Of the 11 cars signed up one is a Keith Rocco spare car and one is a car registered to Matt Hirschman. Ten Late Models, 12 Limited Sportsman, 13 Mini Stocks and 12 SK lights are also signed up. It looks like the competitors got the message that the track does not want them. Only the top ten in each division gets paid, the rest get what the cow left behind after jumping the fence.

Pit admission for Friday is just $20, while a paddock pass for Saturday-Sunday is $60. Anyone wishing to enter just the grandstands for Saturday-Sunday can purchase a general admission ticket at $55, with seniors, veterans and active military $50. Kids 12 and under are free in the grandstand general admission.

Joey Logano raced to his second NASCAR Cup Series win in three weeks, holding off Kevin Harvick over the final two laps after an overtime restart Sunday at Phoenix Raceway.

A late caution triggered the two-lap overtime shootout with Logano, Harvick and Kyle Busch all in a decent position to win. Logano had a good restart at the mile oval and was able to hold off Harvick. Busch was third, Kyle Larson finished fourth and Clint Bowyer was fifth.