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

Column Compiled By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WESTERLY, RI – Fifty years ago in 1971, the Modifieds and Busch Grandnationals shared the twin bill at Martinsville. Ray Hendrick was the 250-lap Grand National Late Model winner.

The Modified 250 saw on of the biggest wrecks ever as over a dozen cars piled up in turn four in the closing stages. Sneaking thru and taking a surprise win was popular Bernie Miller from Cannestota, N.Y. Jimmy Hensley finished second. Bobby Santos finished third and was followed by Leo Cleary, Jerry Cook and Mike Loescher. Fred DeSarro was the defending national champion and the outside pole sitter. During the opening laps, he and Ray Hendrick banged wheels and DeSarro parked it for the day with front-end problems. Unknown to him at the time, the Martinsville race was to be his last in the Koszela N0.15 as car owner Sonny Koszela was in the process of securing the services of Bugsy Stevens.

Forty five years ago in 1976, the Modifieds were quiet.

Forty years ago in 1981, quiet again.

Thirty five years ago in 1986, Brett Bodine put the Art Barry No.21 in victory lane at Martinsville. Driving one of the last chassis built by the late Richie Evans, Bodine took the lead on lap 188 of the 200 lap event. Jamie Tomaino who led the most laps finished second despite running on worn out tires. Maynard Troyer finished third and was followed by George Kent and Corky Cookman. Bodine, who was in the process of making the move to Grandnational racing in the south was in contention to win the GN 200 and was dumped by Kyle Petty while leading on lap 21.Mike Porter was the eventual winner. Dale Jarrett who was running second on the last lap, ran out of gas, allowing Larry Pearson to slip into second spot at the finish. Fifty-one Modifieds were on hand and seventeen thousand witnessed the event.

Thirty years ago in 1991, Riverside Park was scheduled to open but freezing rain ruled. The Featherlite Modified Tour was at Richmond on Sunday, Mike Stefanik, in his family owned No.15 took the win. Doug Hevron finished second and was followed by George Kent, Tom Bolles, Reggie Ruggiero, Tony Hirschman and Tom Baldwin. Announced attendance was 18,000.

Twenty five years ago in 1996, Riverside Park opened with 27 Modifieds and 4795 chilled fans. At race time, the chill factor was below zero but the show went on. Chris Kopec started second and took the lead from Reggie Ruggerio on lap 12 and went on to record the 75 lap win. Doug Meservy finished second and was followed by Ruggerio, Ted Riggott, Richard Savory and Dave Berube. At Darlington in Winston Cup action, Dale Jarrett took the lead with fifteen laps to go only to run out of gas with two to go. Jarrett missed his pit and ended up in the Ernie Irvan pit. He got a splash of gas but was penalized a lap by NASCAR for stopping in the wrong pit. Jeff Gordon took the win with Bob Labonte, second. Penske Motorsports went public on the stock market. After opening at 24, the stock jumped to 31-3/4 the first day.

Twenty years ago in 2001, the Dutch Inn in Martinsville burned and in Daytona a shake-up was taking place as NASCAR vice-President Tom Deery was relieved of his duties and replaced by Jim Hunter. It was also on this weekend that New York driving legend Kenny Shoemaker passed away at the age of 71. Elliott Sadler got a long overdue win for the Wood Brothers at Bristol. Action on the final lap was hot and heavy as Tony Stewart spun while trying to pass Jeff Gordon. Stewart felt that Gordon had done it on purpose and retaliated against Gordon, spinning him out on pit road. NASCAR fined Stewart $10,000 and put him on probation.

Fifteen years ago in 2006 The NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour season-opener got the green at the Caraway Speedway in North Carolina. The weather in central North Carolina was mighty cold but it didn’t stop Ted Christopher as he scored the 250-lap win over Chuck Hossfeld. Christopher drove the Joe Brady No.00 while Hossfeld made his maiden voyage in the Roger Hill No.79. There were 27 NASCAR Modifieds on hand, a record count for Southern Modified Tour events. Christopher took the lead on Lap 20 and never looked back, even though his .219-second margin of victory over Hossfeld was anything but easy for the Plainville, Conn. driver. A late caution allowed Hossfeld to close in on Christopher’s bumper for the Lap 148 restart with two circuits remaining. Southern drivers Burt Myers and Junior Miller finished third and fourth with Jamie Tomaino rounding out the top five. Andy Seuss, a regular on the Northern New England True Value Modified Tour Series and recent Modified Champion at New Smyrna, finished 27th after dropping out on lap 97 with handling problems. There were eight caution flags that slowed the field for 48 laps. In Whelen Modified Tour Series news, Bob Finan, the very capable Public Relations director at the Riverhead Raceway on Long Island said that Mike Andrews Jr. would pilot the Ed Whelen #36 NASCAR Modified on the tour while Mike Ewanitsko continued to heal broken bones in his foot. Ewanitsko was injured on opening night at the World Series at the New Smyrna Speedway in Florida. In non-modified news Finan eluded to the fact that Busch East driver Bryan Chew’s mom was seriously injured in an accident in upstate New York.

Ten years ago in 2011, Kyle Busch sailed off to his fifth consecutive win at Bristol Motor Speedway. Busch won both the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series races at the Tennessee track and has won the past five NASCAR events there. His dominating win Saturday was the 46th of his career in the second-tier Nationwide Series, which puts him three back from tying Mark Martin’s record. But in leading 266 of the 300 laps, he became the first driver in series history to lead more than 10,000 laps.

Five years ago in 2016, Former Thompson Speedway Sunoco Modified champion Todd Ceravolo had his motor home stocked and loaded in anticipation of taking in the southern Modified tour series event at Concord, NC. A bad forecast changed his mind and he stayed home. Good choice! Due to the forecast for rain throughout the day on Saturday, Concord Speedway postponed the Southern Sizzler 150 originally scheduled to begin at approximately 6 p.m. The race for the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour then slated for Saturday, April 2.

Eighteen Modifieds were entered including the Brady Bunch entry with Ted Christopher and Rowan Pennink in the Ole Blu entry of the Boehler family.

Ryan Preece continued on his learning curve in NASCAR’s top tier of racing. Preece finished 25th in Saturday’s TreatMyClot.com 300 Xfinity Series race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California after coming back from a lap-10 incident in which his left rear tire blew, sending him into a spin and causing the race’s first caution flag. The next Xfinity race is April 8 at Texas Motor Speedway. NASCAR’s top divisions take this weekend off to observe Easter.

A tip of the hat to Jeff Rocco who was making a strong political statement with the endorsement of Donald Trump for president shown on his Late Model that he will run at Thompson this year.

Kyle Busch looked like he was on his way to his fourth-straight NASCAR XFINITY Series victory Saturday afternoon at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California when he took the white flag with a comfortable lead, but everything went away by the time the checkered flag waved. Austin Dillon charged from more than 10 seconds behind Busch and passed him coming out of turn four to take the victory in Saturday’s TreatMyClot.com 300, but that is only part of the story.

By the time Busch took the white flag the gap to second was less than three seconds, but it looked as if Busch was still going to win comfortably. That all changed when Busch suddenly blew a left-front tire entering turn one and his Toyota bounced off the outside wall.

Daniel Suarez blew by Busch out of turn two, but almost as soon as he took the lead he ran out of gas and slowed down the backstretch. Flat tire and all, Busch kept his foot in the gas and retook the lead down the backstretch as Suarez slowed to a crawl. Busch continued to limp his Toyota through turns three and four with the checkered flag in sight, but Austin Dillon suddenly made his presence known. More than 10 seconds back only a few laps prior, Dillon charged around the outside of Busch coming out of turn four. Busch tried to block Dillon’s run, but Dillon squeezed by on the outside to take the victory. The victory continued a great weekend for Dillon, who on Friday earned his second-career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series pole for Sunday’s event at Auto Club Speedway.

It was appropriate that Jimmie Johnson had the Superman logo on the hood of his Chevrolet Sunday afternoon as the six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion came from third during an overtime restart to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Auto Club 400. Finally with two laps left Kyle Busch, who had driven his way up to second during the final run, blew a tire in turns three and four and hit the wall. NASCAR called for the caution flag, setting up an overtime restart. Harvick stuck with the high side in turns three and four while Johnson again went low. That decision paid off for Johnson, who rocketed out of turn four ahead of Harvick to take the lead as the white flag waved. Johnson then clicked off his fastest lap of the race as he pulled away from Harvick to score his second victory of the year.

The triumph was Johnson’s 77th career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series triumph, which moved him into sole possession of seventh place on the all-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory list over seven-time series champion Dale Earnhardt.

Last year, 2020, The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour season opener scheduled for Saturday, March 21 at South Boston Speedway (VA) was postponed. The announcement came as a result of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic that is forcing the postponement, suspension or cancelation of many sporting events throughout the United States. A make up date for the event has not been announced at this time.

On Thursday, South Boston Speedway General Manager Cathy Rice stated that the speedway would not be making changes to their schedule at that time. However, with the growing concern over the coronavirus, the postponement of the event was announced Friday by NASCAR.

NASCAR decided to postpone the race events at Atlanta Motor Speedway this past weekend and Homestead-Miami Speedway next weekend. “We believe this decision is in the best interest of the safety and well-being of our fans, competitors, officials and everyone associated with our sport” a spokesperson stated.

The postponement of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour season opener creates a big question as to when the 2020 season will now begin. The next event currently on the schedule, the Icebreaker at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park, is currently slated for April 5. However, track officials at Thompson released a statement Thursday acknowledging that Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont’s executive order banning large gatherings of 250 people or more “will obviously impact some of our 2020 schedule.”

The next event on the schedule, the Spring Sizzler at Stafford Motor Speedway on April 26, could also be affected by the executive order, which is currently in place until midnight on April 30. The Arute family is monitoring the situation and will comply with all state and government mandates.

Mike Christopher Jr has now reached the ripe old age of 20 and in addition to carrying on the family name in the Modifieds is well on his way to earning a college degree in finance from Central Connecticut University in New Britain, Ct. In the meantime Christopher and his dad, Mike Christopher Sr. are making final preparations for the 2020 season at the Stafford Motor Speedway where he will be a weekly competitor in the SK Modified division. He has a back-up car that he planned on racing at Thompson but because of reduced purses he has chosen not to race there and will use the car as a spare. In addition Christopher will compete in the four planned Open Modified 80 lappers and the season ending Whelen Modified Tour Fall Final at Stafford in a car owned by Tommy Baldwin.

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