RPW Column: Looking Back A Bit: First Week Of April

Column Compiled By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WESTERLY, RI – Fifty five years ago in 1966, Lou Toro was the opening day 30 lap Modified winner at the Waterford Speedbowl. Eddie Bunnell was the Bomber winner.

Fifty years ago in 1971, the only racing action saw Bugsy Stevens take a 30 lap open competition win at Thompson. Little did anyone know that it was Stevens’ last ride in the mighty no.3 of Len Boehler that had carried him to three NASCAR National Modified Championships. Stevens had been hired by Sonny Koszela to replace Fred DeSarro who, after a disagreement, had been let go. Bob Santos finished second and was followed by Leo Cleary and Ralph “Hop” Harrington. Harrington was in the recently purchased Tant/Mitchell Coupe that had been bought by Richard Armstrong. The Modifieds also ran at Hickory, N.C. Ray Hendrick took the win there and was followed by Max Berrier, Joe Thurman and Paul Radford.

Forty five years ago in 1976, there was no racing that weekend.

Forty years ago in 1981, the Winston Cup cars were at North Wilkesboro. Richard Petty took the win. Ronnie Bouchard finished seventh. The Danbury RaceArena opened for the season with Bob Riley taking the Modified feature over Danny Galullo and Joe Chowanski. Randy LaJoie was the Sportsman winner.

Thirty five years ago in 1986,it was cold at Riverside Park but it didn’t stop Reggie Ruggiero as he put Mike Greci’s No.11 in victory lane after a 50-lap grind. Stan Gregger finished second. The Thompson Ice Breaker was scheduled to run on Sunday but heavy rain forced a postponement. In Winston Cup racing at Bristol, Rusty Wallace took the win. Geoff Bodine was the pole sitter but ended up 24th. Ron Bouchard had rear end problems and finished 25th.Doug Hevron finished 21st after losing an engine.

Thirty years ago in 1991, Reggie Ruggiero drove the Bob Polverari 711 to a convincing win at Riverside Park on Saturday night. Jerry Marquis in the Judkins 2x finished second with Ricky Fuller, third. At the Thompson Ice Breaker on Sunday, Fuller started eighth and after a series of pit stops, came out on top with five laps to go in the 125 lapper. Mike Stefanik finished second and was followed by Tom Baldwin and Richie Gallup. Ricky Shawn was the late model winner and Mike Christopher went pole to pole to win the SK 30 lapper. Richie Gallup in the Dick Ceravolo No.31 finished second and was followed by Bo Gunning and Bob Potter.

Twenty-five years ago in 1996, it was Easter weekend. Riverside was scheduled to run on Saturday night but was rained out. In the southland, David Green was the Busch Grandnational winner at Hickory in North Carolina.

Twenty years ago in 2001, rain and sleet postponed the Featherlite Modified Series event and SK Modified event at Waterford. In Saturday qualifying, 46 FMS cars and 23 SK’s were on hand. Rob Summers was the Mod Tour pole sitter and Dennis Gada was on the pole for the SK event. In Winston Cup action at Martinsville, Dale Jarrett took the lead from Ricky Rudd with six laps to go and went on to score the win.

Fifteen years ago in 2006 the Thompson Speedway opened for the season with IceBreaker ’06. This year’s IceBreaker carried a race purse of. $89,573, an $11,600 increase over 2005. Heavy rain forced NASCAR Officials to reschedule qualifying for Icebreaker 2006. Qualifying for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour season opener was re-scheduled for high noon on Sunday. A total of 46 Whelen Modified Tour teams were on hand at Thompson including a bumper crop of 13 rookie drivers. Woody Pitkat and Pat Trudeau found victory lane in the Sunoco Mods and Late Models on Saturday night. Todd Ceravolo took the lead in the Sunoco Modified feature shortly before the halfway mark. Bert Marvin finished a close second with Tom Cravenho, third. Corey Hutchings of Salem, CT was victorious in the Late Models. Todd Owen of Somers, CT was tops in Pro Stocks ranks. Checkers also fell for Danny Cates of Chaplin, CT in the Limited Sportsman; Brian Vincent of W. Warwick, RI in the Mini Stocks and Roger Larson, Jr. of Milford, MA in the TIS Modifieds.

Mike Stefanik served notice that he intended to dethrone Tony Hirschman for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Championship. Stefanik won the opening round 150 lap IceBreaker. The former champion started ninth and after making a pit stop for tires at the halfway mark made a determined march to the front and took the lead from Chuck Hossfeld on lap 127. It was the 67th career NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour victory for the six-time champion who led the series in all time victories. It was also the second career Icebreaker win for Stefanik who won this event in 1998.Ted Christopher moved to second and applied the pressure before Hossfeld regained second on lap 140. Hossfeld then chased Stefanik to the finish line with the pair both sideways coming off of Turn 4 on the final lap. Hossfeld ended up second with Reggie Ruggiero, third. Ted Christopher and Tony Hirschman rounded out the top five. Don Lia was running sixth until the closing moments when he ran out of gas. Jerry Marquis started on the pole and led the first 47 laps when his throttle stuck causing him to crash violently between turns one and two. Marquis emerged unhurt but his car, the Mystic Missile was damaged beyond repair.

Prior to the start of the Whelen Modified Feature event the Thompson Speedway management, competitors and fans paid tribute to the late Jack Arute with a moment of silence in his honor. The American flag in the infield was flown at half-mast. Jack Arute Sr. passed away on Monday, April 3 at the age of 79. Arute owned and operated the Stafford Motor Speedway since 1970 and is credited with saving the Modifieds from extinction. He pushed for class within the Modified ranks. The Stafford Speedway was about to go under when he bought the track in 1970. In a time when tracks were dumpy Arute dressed up Stafford with picnic tables and shrubs. He was responsible for the first ever owners point fund and the legalization of the Pinto body for use on Modifieds. He also is credited with the original idea of the SK Modified, a low cost version of what is now a tour type Modified. Arute was a dedicated businessman and family man. Hardnosed at times, he was always fair. Arute paid attention to his patrons and to the press, He wasn’t afraid of constructive criticism, in fact he used it to his advantage. He traded e-mails with many of us including yours truly. I greatly miss that. He was laid to rest on Friday, April 7, in the Bedford Center Cemetery in Bedford, New Hampshire.

At a pre-race news conference held by Don Hawk it was stated that NASCAR was extremely happy with the Modified division. Two more dates, Jennerstown, PA and Holland, NY were added to the tour schedule. Safety wise, the NASCAR drivers are now the safest they have ever been. The new design of chassis is doing its job absorbing energy. As far as TV coverage goes Hawk felt confident that Speed Vision coverage in 2007 would improve quite a bit.

In Nextel Cup action in Fort Worth TX. Kasey Kahne took the win. Kurt Busch won the companion Busch Series event.

Ten years ago in 2011 The Waterford Speedbowl opened for its 61st consecutive season with the Budweiser Blast-Off event. The Speedbowl is the second-longest continuously running Modified track in the country. Despite financial problems, including a continuing bankruptcy case the Speedbowl opened on schedule. Because of precipitation and cold, a scheduled practice slated for Friday was cancelled. The precip pretty much ended on Saturday with the exception of a stray shower in mid afternoon. A surprising low number of SK Modifieds, 18, were on hand. All were Speedbowl regulars. No outsiders from Stafford or Thompson were on hand. The field of Bob Valenti Modified Racing Series cars was strong with 27 on hand and the field of Late Models was up from last year with 17 ready to compete.

On Sunday six features were run before an almost capacity crowd. The highlight of the day was the win by Chris Pasteryak in the 100 lap Valenti Modified Racing Series event. Pasteryak of Lisbon Ct executed a late race pass for the lead to score the popular home track win. Russ Stoehr of Lakeville, Massachusetts claimed the NEMA Midget victory. Keith Rocco of Wallingford, Ct continued where he left off at the end of 2010 in the SK Modifieds®, as he led every lap of the 61 lap SK feature. Vin Esposito of Seymour, Ct won his first extra distance event in the Bob Valenti Auto Mall Late Models, Josh Galvin of Franklin, Ct won the Street Stock race and Bill Leonard of Wood River Junction, Rhode Island was the victor in the Mini Stocks.

Pasteryak started the 100-lap Valenti Modified Racing Series event by jumping to the early lead over Doug Coby after the pair started on the front row. The pair, each with five career Speedbowl wins to their credit, battled early and often. Coby peeked outside Pasteryak several times, finally pulling ahead on lap-35. Coby stayed there through an extended run of green flag racing that ended on lap-63. He picked up his lead over Pasteryak again and held the advantage until lap-85. Coby got loose entering turn one and Pasteryak seized his opportunity. He dove inside Coby and executed a clean pass as the two reached turns three and four. From there, Pasteryak didn’t look back as he went on to take the win. Coby finished second and was followed by Todd Annarummo, Rowan Pennink and Les Hinkley. Sixth through tenth were Norm Wrenn, Tom Barrett, Jacob Dore, Eric Goodale and Matt Hirschman.

In the 61 lap SK Modified event Rocco took the lead from pole sitter Rob Janovic at the spot and went on to lead almost the entire event. It was not a runaway by any means. Ron Yuhas Jr. moved around the outside of Janovic for second place on lap-15 and the top three cars pulled away from Diego Monahan who was in fourth. Tyler Chadwick ran alone in fifth position, while Justin Gaydosh and Jeff Pearl battled for sixth. Caution again waved on lap-26 for a single car spin when Joe Perry looped his machine off turn four.

Yuhas had a great restart in the outside lane. He edged ahead of Rocco for the lead into turn one, but Rocco battled back strong to his inside. The pair made contact exiting turn two resulting in Yuhas catching a wheel into the backstretch wall. Contact between the leaders continued in turn three as Rocco got shuffled out of the racing groove by Yuhas. As Rocco and Yuhas slid up the track, Janovic and Monahan darted by to the inside to become the new leaders. Yuhas’ day ended in the turn four wall just one lap later when he lost the right front tire on his car, ending his strong early run and bringing out the yellow flag.

Monahan had a great restart to the outside of Janovic once the track was cleared. They spent two laps side-by-side battling for the lead before Monahan faded in the outside lane. Rocco ducked past Monahan then set his sights back on Janovic out front. He made his move to the inside of Janovic exiting turn four on lap-32, reclaiming the top spot. The action was slowed again on lap-36 when Diego Monahan spun from third position in turn two with everyone able to avoid his spinning car. Chadwick was penalized for overaggressive driving, placing him to the tail of the field.

Rocco and Janovic moved out to a straightaway advantage ahead of Tom Abele when the field returned to green. Nichole Morgillo held onto fourth position with Perry back up to fifth. The race stayed green over the final 25 laps and although Janovic was able to keep Rocco in his sight, he could do nothing to challenge the defending track and national champion. Rocco went on to the win over Janovic, Abele, Morgillo and Chadwick, who rallied furiously in the outside lane over the final green flag run to claim fifth position. Six cautions slowed the pace of the race.

In NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour action at the Hickory Speedway in North Carolina, George Brunnhoelzl III saved his best for last to win the Hickory 150 on Saturday. After starting third on the Lap 151 restart in a green-white-checkered finish, Brunnhoelzl passed James Civali to collect his second win of the season. It was the eighth career win for the 2009 Whelen Southern Modified Tour champion.

Zach Brewer also worked past Civali to finish second while Civali settled for third. John Smith and Thomas Stinson finished fourth and fifth, respectively.

Although Brunnhoelzl celebrated in Victory Lane it appeared Brewer was on his way to his first win as he was passing Civali late in the race when Frank Fleming spun in Turn 1 to bring out the sixth and final caution flag of the race. On the restart, Civali chose the outside lane with Brewer on the inside. Brewer and Civali made contact on the restart allowing Brunnhoelzl to make his move and lead the final two laps of the race. Andy Seuss came home sixth, Jason Myers seventh and Burt Myers eighth. Renee Dupuis rebounded from a spin earlier in the race to finish ninth in her first start on the southern tour and Josh Nichols completed the top 10.

In NASCAR Sprint Cup racing at the Martinsville Speedway, Kevin Harvick came from nowhere for the second consecutive week to grab his second victory of the season. It gave his Richard Childress Racing team its first win at Martinsville since the late Dale Earnhardt’s 1995 victory, and came at the expense of his son, Dale Earnhardt Jr., who settled for second and saw his losing streak stretch to 99 races. The event was only the second of 2011 to have a sell out crowd.

Five years ago in 2016, The NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour Series converged on the Concord Motor Sports Park on Saturday with 17 cars including Ted Christopher and Ryan Preece from the northern tour. NASCAR Hall of Famer Modified driver Jerry Cook was the Grand Marshal.

Transplanted Long Islander George Brunnhoelzl III saved the best for last as he walked off with the top spot in the 150 lap contest. In contention from the start, Brunnhoelzl took the lead from Ted Christopher with three laps to go and never looked back. Christopher, in the Brady Bunch entry finished second with Burt Myers, third. Andy Seuss and Jason Myers rounded out the top five. Early leader Ryan Preece led the first 63 laps before experiencing problems which ultimately placed him 12th, one lap down at the finish.

Kyle Busch celebrated in victory lane for the second time in as many days at the Martinsville half-mile oval after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series STP 500 and Saturday’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Alpha Energy Solutions 250. Busch won Sunday’s 500-lap event in dominant fashion, leading 352 of 500 laps en route to the victory.

Last year, 2020, The threat of coronavirus continued to cripple our country. Its amazing things had got so bad. People were hoarding everything from toilet paper to dog food and there appeared that current conditions would continue for a while.. Thanks to the wonders of the internet, life would not be boring.

Thanks to the efforts of Paul Arute the Stafford Speedway joined the list of tracks and series that have moved online since the season delays relating to coronavirus. The first Stafford Speedway iRacing event was set for Friday, March 27th at 7pm and streamed live on Stafford Speedway YouTube channel. Participants included Stafford Speedway drivers who competed in an event in 2019 or who have registered to compete in 2020. “Unfortunately, the start to our 2020 season has been delayed, but we are making the best of the situation,” explained Paul Arute.

The Stafford Motor Speedway iRacing event was won by Teddy Hodgdon. Glen Reen finished second.

During the off season the management of the Thompson Motorsports Park Speedway announced that purses for all classes would be slashed and only the first ten finishers in each division would be paid. A group of Late Model competitors, called Save the Purse, did what the speedway management should have done as they went out and beat the bushes for race sponsorship. Late last week Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park and Save The Purse jointly announced that competitors in the NASCAR Weekly Racing Series Late Model division will have three, 50-lap feature races in 2020 as part of a new Late Model Mid-Summer Challenge.

A group of competitors joined together over the offseason to form Save The Purse, a group that has come up with additional purse money through sponsors and have put it towards these special events. The group is run by recognized racing crew member Brad Martel. Its great that he did that but its not his job! The Thompson Management is lazy and needs to get off its duff.

Each of the three events will pay $2,000 to the winner, $1,000 for second and $750 for third. A full purse will be distributed to the top 25 competitors. The races will take place as part of the three standalone NASCAR Weekly Racing Series events scheduled for June 3, July 8 and August 5. The NASCAR Weekly Racing Series Sunoco Modifieds, SK Light Modifieds, Limited Sportsman and Mini Stocks will join the action running for a short purse with only the first ten getting paid..

In some good news, Area Auto Racing News reports that the erection of the 3500 seat grandstand at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl is about to begin provided the state of Connecticut or the federal government doesn’t invoke work restrictions. Additional plans include office buildings, an emergency medical center,a police sub-station and a banquet hall.

The biggest event of the season at the shoreline oval will be the Ron Bouchard Auto Stores and Maurice Enterprises Challenge Cup which will be a Wild Bill Slater – Eddie Flemke Memorial promoted by Dick Williams on August 29.

Once completed the New London – Waterford Speedbowl will be a premier racing facility.

Less than two weeks ago a group of NASCAR drivers started a conversation about holding a virtual race as a social distancing diversion. One thing led to another and this past Sunday Fox Sports 1 hosted the first virtual reality stock-car race from the cyber version of Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Thirty-five drivers competed in a 100-lap Pro Series Invitational Series race over the iRacing platform and FS1 supplied three commentators and graphics to give it a realistic look and feel. For those who missed the broadcast, Denny Hamlin passed Dale Earnhardt Jr. exiting Turn 4 on the last lap to score the victory.

On Thursday, Mar 27, the state of New Hampshire issued a stay-at-home order for their residents through May 4, which directly impacts our season-opener, The Tri Track Open Modified Series, originally scheduled for May 2 at the Monadnock Speedway. Series management have postponed the opener at Monadnock Speedway until Saturday, May 9. This new date is tentative, as the COVID-19 situation is fluid and changing daily.

NASCAR’s new normal resumed with another virtual event, the second in an iRacing series thrown together after the coronavirus pandemic stopped nearly all sports. NASCAR’s 36-race season was suspended four events into the year.

Timmy Hill won the virtual race at Texas Motor Speedway, where a highlight came when Daniel Suarez was parked by iRacing officials for intentionally trying — but failing — to crash Ty Dillon.

Hill is considered among the top competitors in iRacing, a subscription- based gaming platform. His virtual victory was his 674th in the game.

Fox Sports again used its team of Mike Joy and Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon to call the race, which was aired both on Fox in some markets and nationwide on its cable channel.

In some good news, Billy Harman reported that good friend Jerry Dostie now has a new lease on life with a new heart pacemaker. Dostie, who developed the racing automatic transmission in his Connecticut shop was a top runner in the Modifieds during the 60s and 70s.

Read all about it in the all-new book, The Modified Years At Stafford, by the Grace of God and 600 hp, which 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! Books are now available on Amazon.com and Coastal 181 (877-907-8181 toll free) and are available thru Stafford’s web site in their store. Order yours now. Makes a great gift!