RPW Column: The Champ Trail: NASCAR Mod Tour Gets The Green Flag For ’21, Thompson’s Icebreaker & More…

Column Compiled By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WESTERLY, RI – The NASCAR Modified Tour Series descended on the Martinsville Speedway on Thursday night to drop the green flag on the 2021 season. Forty cars were pre-entered.

Thirty- five showed for practice on Thursday afternoon. Ryan Newman was the quickest at 101.273mph. The slowest was Melissa Fifield at 83.710mph.

Ryan Preece earned the Mayhew Tools Dominator Pole Award in Thursday’s Virginia Is For Racing Lovers 200 qualifying at the flat half-mile in record time. Preece qualified for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour opener in the No. 6 Riverhead Raceway Chevrolet in 18.607 seconds (101.768 mph). Fellow NASCAR Cup driver Ryan Newman, who was fastest in the afternoon practice, qualified second at 18.676 (101.392). Tour regular Eric Goodale was third quick at 18.755 (100.965). Tommy Catalano qualified fourth and Woody Pitkat fifth.

Eric Goodale made his 176th career start in the tour’s long-awaited return to the historic Virginia track, and walked away as the winner of Thursday’s Virginia Is For Racing Lovers 200. But for Goodale, it was more than about taking the checkered flag. It was Goodale’s fourth career win. Of the first three, one came at his home track of Riverhead Raceway in New York, one was at Bristol Motor Speedway and one was at Connecticut’s Stafford Motor Speedway.

Goodale’s #58 GAF Roofing Chevrolet held off fellow New Yorker Tyler Rypkema and defending tour champion Justin Bonsignore over a final 10-lap dash to the checkered flag. “To finally win one feels pretty damn sweet,” said Goodale of taking the Martinsville Grandfather Clock back to Long Island. “It is about that clock. I’ve wanted one for so long.” Rypkema, last year’s Sunoco Rookie of the Year, finished .245 seconds behind Goodale. Bonsignore started at the back of the field after post-qualifying mechanical issues. Max McLaughlin and Kyle Bonsignore rounded out the top five. Doug Coby finished sixth, followed by Tommy Catalano, Patrick Emerling, Woody Pitkat and Jamie Tomaino.

Ryan Preece jumped out to take the lead at the start. He would lead the first 110 laps. The first of seven cautions flew on lap2 when Walter Sutcliff Jr spun with Gary Byington in turn four. The field went to caution then to red because of rain that lasted over an hour. The race restarted with 13 complete with Preece leading with Tommy Catalano glued to his bumper. Catalano showed his stuff as he ran second for much of the race. The second flew on lap 15 when an 18 car wreck developed in turn 4. Among those eliminated were Jeff Fultz, JB Fortin, Craig Lutz and Andrew Krause.

The green flew on lap 21 with Preece in command and Catalano second. Dave Sapienza got taken out by Kyle Bonsignore on lap 31. With severe front end damage Sapienza express his displeasure to Bonsignore. During the caution Preece, Catalano and a host of others pitted for fresh rubber. The green was displayed on lap 39 with Preece leading Catalano and Kyle Ebersol. The fourth caution flew on lap 79 when Brian Dauzat spun in turn four. When the green was displayed on lap 88 the heat was on. Preece continued to lead with Kyle Ebersol, second, Catalano, third and Woody Pitkat, fourth. After a long hard march to the front, Justin Bonsignore had broken into the top five.

The fifth caution flew on lap 100 when Tyler Rypkema spun in turn four with no damage. The green was displayed on Lap 108. By lap 110 Justin Bonsignore was in the lead with Jon McKennedy in hot pursuit. Bonsignore led for 42 laps before pitting, giving way to Max McLaughlin. McLaughlin led thru lap 60 before Bonsignore re-took the point. With 33 laps to go Eric Goodale applied the pressure to the leader and on lap 170 took the lead. Bonsignore had worn out his tires and was all done as he faded to third at the finish. A final caution on lap 179 when Gary McDonald hit the front stretch wall set the stage for a 10-lap shoot-out. Goodale sprinted to the finish and the win. Tyler Rypkema recovered from his spin at the half-way mark to finish second.

The Virginia Is For Racing Lovers 200 will air on NBCSN on Thursday, April 15 at 4:30 p.m. ET. The next stop for the Whelen Modified tour will be on Sunday, April 25, for the NAPA Auto Parts Spring Sizzler at Stafford.

Hot on the heels of the Martinsville event Thompson Speedway was scheduled to open its 82nd season with the annual Icebreaker on Saturday, April 10 and Sunday, April 11. A total of 10 divisions were in competition. Based on a forecast of bad weather the Sunday program of the annual Icebreaker was rescheduled for Saturday, April 10 at approximately 5:30pm. American-Canadian Tour (ACT) and Pro All Stars Series

At the conclusion of the Saturday program officials cleared both the stands and the pits. Drivers and crew members with multi-day pit wristbands were sent to the track infield. Once the stands and pits were clear, those who had Sunday tickets and pit passes re-entered for the Saturday night event. This card included the Icebreaker 125 for the Outlaw Open Modifieds along with the Thompson Late Models, Limited Sportsmen, and SK Light Modifieds.

There was a lot of excitement on the track Saturday afternoon when the 15 Sunoco (SK type) went at it for 30 laps. Keith Rocco and Mike Christopher Jr slugged it out as they each moved each other out of the way the last 10 laps. Troy Talman sat in the catbird seat waiting for the two to take each other out but in the end finished second. While Rocco basked in the victory lane area he was bombarded with the Bronx Cheer. Christopher admitted he was no saint and was just as much to blame for the antics. Todd Owen finished third and Danny Cates were fifth.

In other Saturday afternoon action at Thompson, Paul Newcomb was the Street Stock Open winner over Ryan Waterman, Derek Griffith was the Pro All Star winner over Eddie McDonald (Rocco was 14th), Bobby Santos III was the NEMA Lite winner.

Following the Saturday afternoon program the speedway shifted to their Sunday program.

After starting third, Silk suffered a penalty when his crew lifted the jack on a stop during which equipment was not allowed. Silk found himself in the back of the field after the pit road penalty. After a determined march to the front Silk found himself in victory lane at the end of 125 laps and the check for $10,000. Rocco finished second, followed by Bobby Santos, Craig Lutz and Ronnie Williams. Rounding out the top-10 were Sam Rameau, Matt Swanson, Anthony Sesely, Mike Christopher Jr, and Patrick Emerling.

Rocco started on the pole with Lutz alongside. The lead changed eight times among six drivers. With only 12 laps to go, Silk dove under Keith Rocco in turn three on the race’s final restart. Those 12 laps were the only ones Silk led all evening.

Other winners included Larry Barnett, the all-time winningest Limited Sportsman driver at Thompson Speedway who returned to victory lane for the first time since 2017 Saturday in winning the division’s 25-lap lap feature. It was the 70th career Limited Sportsman victory at Thompson for Barnett, of Moosup, and his first since June 14, 2017. Jared Roy was the Mini Stock winner and Anthony Bello was the SK Lite winner.

It’s not official but 199 cars entered into competition. Among the missing was Ryan Preece who was in NASCAR Cup competition at Martinsville on Saturday night.

Winning a weekly SK Modified event is a really big deal! Stafford’s weekly contingency program continues to grow. “We set up the weekly contingency program over 20 years ago to find more support for the weekly competitors,” explained Stafford Speedway CEO Mark Arute.

Following an earlier announced partnership to present the SRX Racing event and SK Modified® All-Star race, TickMike.com has also joined the 2021 Stafford Speedway contingency program with a $150 weekly bonus to the winner of the SK Modified® feature. With the additional bonus from TickMike.com the weekly winner’s share for the SK Modified® division moves to $1,825.

It looks like Scott Tapley may need to take a leave of absence from his day job as internet news site RaceDayCt reported that he has accepted the position of race director at the Thunder Road Speedway in Barre Vt. On Thursday nights. Tapley is also the race director at Connecticut’s Stafford Motor Speedway and Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park along with New York’s Riverhead Raceway on Long Island.

At 36 years of age Keith Rocco was looking to add to his legend this past weekend at Thompson’s IceBreaker. Rocco drove for team owner Mark Payne in Saturday’s 30-lap Sunoco Modified feature and in Sunday’s $10,000 to win Thompson Outlaw Modified Icebreaker 125. He also drove for Rollie Linblad in Saturday’s 75-lap Pro All Stars Series feature.

Going into last weekend Rocco had a career total of 292 wins including 65 at Thompson, 74 at the Stafford Motor Speedway and 153 at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl. Following his Sunoco Modified win at Thompson his career total is 293 including 66 at Thompson.

On a sad note, Bob Finan sends word that the Long Island racing family was saddened on Thursday night upon receiving word of the passing of Lou Ewanitsko. No matter the track Lou with his ever present smile and hearty greeting made sure everyone had enough to eat and drink during and after the races always instilling a positive thought along the way. Through his Mutual Engraving business Lou along with his longtime racing partner Ira Bromley jump started the driving career of Mike Ewanitsko at Islip Speedway when Mike was just 16.

On tap this weekend is the inaugural Northeast Classic at Loudon’s New Hampshire Motor Speedway. On Saturday, April 17, some of the biggest names known to motorsports fans in the region will converge on “The Magic Mile” for a six-division card that offers something for everybody. The 50-lap, $5,000-to-win Tour-type Modified shootout has received commitments from numerous open-wheel stars. The ACT Late Model Tour and PASS Super Late Models also have 50-lap, $5,000-to-win Northeast Classic showdowns. The EXIT Realty Pro Truck Challenge, North East Mini Stock Tour, and 8-Cylinder Street Stock Open complete the card.

On April 21, 1968 Stafford began their second season on asphalt the way they began their first as Eddie Flemke took the opening day win over Bugsy Stevens, Jerry Dostie, Don MacTavish and Jerry Cook.

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!