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

Column Compiled By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WESTERLY, RI – Seventy years ago in 1951 the New London-Waterford Speedbowl was closed as the facility was being prepped for asphalt that would replace the crushed stone.

Sixty five years ago in 1956 Roland LaPierre Sr and Larry Antonelis shared victory lane at Seekonk.

Sixty years ago in 1961 Mario “Fats” Caruso won the left over 50 lap opening night Modified event at the Norwood Arena. Rene Charland finished second with Wild Bill Slater in the Connecticut Valley Rocket V-8, third. Caruso came back to win the regularly scheduled 25 lapper at the Massachusetts oval. Racing at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl was canceled due to rain. Tex Barry and Georgie Summers scored Class A victories at Seekonk. Axel Anderson made it two in a row at Islip. Joe Kelly was the winner at the Old Bridge Speedway in New Jersey.

Fifty five years ago in 1966 Steady Eddie Flemke continued the New England driver domination of the Albany Saratoga Speedway as he won the Friday night 30-lap feature. Dennis Zimmerman finished second with Lou Toro, Mario “Fats” Caruso and Jerry Cook rounding out the top five. At the Fonda Speedway on Saturday night Kenny Shoemaker showed one and all who was boss as he won a 101-lap feature. Bill Slater recorded his first win of the season at Norwood. Pete Hamilton started on the pole and led until lap 15 of the 30 lap feature when Slater moved into the top spot. Johnny Thompson powered his way into the second spot on the last lap as Hamilton faded to third. Rounding out the top five were Dennis Zimmerman and Bob Baccioce. Sixth through tenth were Billy Schulz, Bobby Sprague, Bugsy Stevens, Fred DeSarro and Joe Trudeau. Fred “Fuzzy” Baer scored a popular win at the Waterford Speedbowl on Saturday night. Eddie Bunnell made it three in a row in the Bombers and Fred Sentell was the Daredevil winner. Ray Lackey and Jim Newman were the winners at Seekonk. Don MacTavish upstaged the locals as he cleaned house at Islip. Johnny Coy finished second with Billy Greco, third. At the Utica-Rome Speedway on Sunday night Eddie Flemke took the win over Bill Wimble, Richie Evans, Frank Mathalia and Ernie Gahan.

Fifty years ago in 1971, Richie Evans was banned from running in NASCAR sanctioned events because of the fact that he was racing at independent New York state tracks. Malta opened for the season on Friday night. Evans hired the master, Eddie Flemke, who, despite having to pit in the parking lot, won the modified feature. Bugsy Stevens finished second and was followed by Denis Giroux, Fred DeSarro, Lou Lazzaro and Dick Fowler. That was it for the weekend as Stafford, Waterford, Seekonk, Islip, Thompson and Utica-Rome had rainouts.

Forty five years ago in 1976, Geoff Bodine in the Armstrong No.1 took the win at Stafford. Dick Caso, in the Ted Marsh 55 finished a strong second and was followed by Fred DeSarro, John Rosati and Ronnie Bouchard. Bob Potter won a 35 lapper on Saturday night and a special 50 lapper on Tuesday night at Waterford. During the Saturday Waterford event, Billy Harman incurred severe injuries when he flipped the Joe Zenga modified. At Islip it was Ricky Lutz over Don Howe and at Riverside Park, Bob Polverari took the win over Pete Fiandaca and Jap Membrino. On Sunday at Thompson, Fred DeSarro was the small block modified winner. John Rosati finished second and was followed by George Summers and Ronnie Bouchard.

Forty years ago in 1981, Richie Evans won the Friday night feature at Stafford as 5500 chilled fans looked on. Reggie Ruggiero finished second and was followed by Jerry Cook and Corky Cookman. Pete Fiandaca was the late model winner with Pat Chambrello taking the win in the Street Stocks. Evans made it two for two as he carried his winning ways over to Riverside on Saturday. At Islip, Charlie Jarzombek showed the way as he again mastered the 1/5-mile oval. Bill Park finished second with George Wagner, third. Billy Griffin won at Shangri-La and Allen Whipple won at Claremont. An 81-lap event scheduled for the Westboro Speedway on Sunday was rained out. Gerry Dinnen was the Modified winner and Tom Bressonthe Sportsman winner at Danbury.

Thirty five years ago in 1986, Mike Mclaughlin in the Sheri-Cup No.12 beat out Dave Reszendes at Stafford on Friday night. Jeff Fuller finished third. Richie Gallup was the SK Modified winner. At Waterford on Saturday night, Bob Potter made it three in a row. Mark Lajunesse finished second. Jimmy Lloyd continued his strangle hold on the Super Stock division as he made it three in a row. Dan Avery got his first win at Riverside on Saturday while at Seekonk; Mr. Leo Cleary gave the kids a driving lesson as he took the victory. At Riverhead it was Fred Harbach over Bill Park and John Blewett jr and at Shangri La, Tony Hirschman dusted George Kent and Doug Hevron. In Winston Cup action at Atlanta, Bill Elliott ran away and hid as he won “The Winston”. Dale Earnhardt finished second.

Thirty years ago in 1991, Steve Chowanski was the Friday night SK Modified winner at Stafford. Bob Potter, Willie Hardie, Rick Fuller and Pat Chambrello followed. Saturday night at Waterford the races were halted after Bob Potter, who was driving the Ceravolo No.31, sailed out of the track and almost thru the scoreboard. Extensive damage was done to the fence and wall. Jan Leaty scored a major win for Hoosier Tires as he won the Goodyear dominated Featherlite Modified Tour at Nazareth. Jamie Tomaino finished second and was followed by Mike Stefanik, Jeff Fuller and Bob Park. Charlie Pasteryak won at Riverside and ageless veteran Gil Hearne scored his 100th victory at Wall Stadium. Other weekend winners were Fred Harbach at Riverhead, Rusty Ball at Monadnock and Ron Shepherd at Shangri-La.

Twenty five years ago in 1996, rain washed out everything except Stafford on Friday night. Bob Potter started on the outside pole of the SK modified 50 lapper and led for 45 laps until being pushed out of the way by Mike Ewanitsko who went on to take the win. Potter finished second and was followed by Bo Gunning and Ted Christopher. On a sad note, legendary Winston Cup crew chief Harry Hyde passed away. The Busch Grandnationals and the Busch North Series were scheduled to run at Loudon on Sunday but they too, gave way to rain.

Twenty years ago in 2001. Chuck Docherty took the Friday night win at Stafford over Ted Christopher and Lloyd Agor. Female driver, Renee Dupuis saw her season cut short as she suffered severe and painful foot injuries after a crash. The modified event at Waterford on Saturday night went pole to pole, non-stop. Dennis Gada took the lead from John Brouwer on lap 17 of the 35 lap feature and never looked back. Eric Berndt finished second with Ed Dachenhausen, third. Brouwer faded to fourth in the final run-down. JR. Bertuccio made it two in a row at Riverhead and at Loudon; Ted Christopher took the lead with four laps to go after Tom Carey cut a tire down in the Busch North Series event at the one mile oval. Following Christopher at the finish were Martin Truex, Mike Johnson and Brad Leighton. Carey, who pitted under green, lost two laps and finished 14th. Team Racing Auto Circuit (TRAC) was announced and would debut in 2003 at non-International Speedway Corporation tracks. On a sad note, legendary modified car owner Len Boehler passed away after a long battle with Cancer.

Fifteen years ago in 2006, The Stafford Motor Speedway made a wise decision when they cancelled the races on Friday. The National Weather Service predicted upwards of four inches of rain for the state of Connecticut. Rain it did, for five days straight.

At the Waterford Speedbowl on Saturday night the weatherman stopped Dwayne Dorr at four in a row when no one else in the Sportsman division could. The Speedbowl management canceled last Saturday nights races after the infield and parts of the track were under water. Defending Waterford Speedbowl Late Model Champion Mark St. Hillaire would have a few weeks to collect his thoughts and cool his jets as Speedbowl Race Director Steve Harraka suspended him from racing in the first four events following his May 6 tantrum when he deliberately rammed the car of Jay Lozyniak while the field was under caution. Hilaire was also fined $70 and 24 championship points which would eliminate him from defending his title. Lozyniak was placed on probation for two months for speeding in the pits.

It was cold and damp on Long Island but the rain held off long enough for the Riverhead Raceway to get their program in. Howie Brode took the win over Sal Accardi Jr. At the Wall Township Speedway Kevin Flockhart beat out John Blewett III for the win.

Under the lights at the Darlington Raceway in South Carolina Denny Hamlin won the Busch Series event and Greg Biffle was the Nextel Cup winner.

Ten years ago in 2011, The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour went back on Spring Break before returning on Friday, May 27 at Stafford for the TSI Harley-Davidson 125. Rowan Pennink remained atop the point standings with a 20 point edge on Mike Stefanik. Eric Beers held down the third spot with Ted Christopher and Matt Hirschman rounding out the top five.

The Stafford Motor Speedway kicked off its Friday Night NASCAR Whelen All-American Series schedule with 5 divisions of racing on Friday night, May 6th. Keith Rocco picked up where he left off at the end of 2010 as he scored his first Stafford win of the 2011 season in the 40-lap SK Modified® feature event. Rocco, who won two at Waterford in early season action, has a total of three wins for the year. Adam Gray took down his first career victory in the 30-lap Late Model feature, Matt Galko was declared the winner of the 20-lap SK Light Modified feature after race winner Zach Aszklar’s car did not meet the minimum ride height requirement, Norm Sears returned to victory lane after a year away from Stafford Speedway in the 20-lap Limited Late Model feature, and Don Wood drove to victory in the 15-lap DARE Stock feature.

In action at the Waterford Speedbowl, Jeff Pearl broke the ice for 2011 as he won his 35th career victory. Bruce Thomas Jr. captured his 45th win in the Bob Valenti Auto Mall Late Model division, taking the evening’s 30-lap event. Ed Puleo overcame an intense battle in a special 50-lap Street Stock race, his second victory of the season while Chris Williams was the winner of the 25-lap Mini Stock feature. Ryan Bigelow was the winner in the visiting NEMA Lite Series 25-lap race.

In Modified action south of the Mason-Dixon line at the Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, NC eight-time champion Tim Brown got his 55th career victory in the first of two 25-lap races for the featured Modified Division and it was Danny Bohn who was a surprise winner in the second race, in just his third career start. Originally from New Jersey, Bohn works for Ray Evernham and also races dirt cars. He started on the pole and led every lap. Brown also went pole to pole. Jonathan Brown finished second to Bohn while Burt and Jason Myers followed Brown.

In Sprint Cup action at Darlington, Regan Smith moved in front on a caution nine laps from the end and survived a green-white-checkered finish to win the Southern 500 for his first Sprint Cup victory Saturday night at Darlington, S.C. Smith held off Carl Edwards over the final two laps in a race that turned ugly late when Kyle Busch tangled with Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer to set up the overtime finish. Harvick and Busch stared down each other from their cars as they entered the garage before a standoff that looked like it might erupt further. It finally ended when Busch bumped Harvick’s car several times to make space to drive off. Brad Keselowski finished third, pole-sitter Kasey Kahne was fourth and Ryan Newman fifth.

Kyle Busch moved past Elliott Sadler 23 laps from the end and stayed in front of Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin to win the Royal Purple 200 on Friday night, his fifth Nationwide victory this season and 48th overall, one behind Mark Martin’s series record.

Five years ago in 2016, Opening night at the Stafford Motor Speedway was rained out. Stafford will try again next Friday night. Also falling victim of rain was the newly revamped Riverhead Raceway on eastern Long Island and the Seekonk Speedway in Mass.

The New London-Waterford Speedway defied the rain for a while but they too succumbed. Two of the ten scheduled feature events were completed when rain forced the track management to pull the plug. Because of the fact that the Whelen Modified Tour Series will be running at the shoreline oval on Saturday night along with a full card of Saturday night regular divisions this event resumed on Sunday at noon with the remaining eight features to be run. Remaining to be run Sunday will be a 35-lap SK Modified feature, 25-lap Limited Sportsman feature, 25-lap Mini Stock feature, 25-lap SK Light Modified feature, 25-lap Legends feature, 25-lap Mr. Rooter New England Truck Series feature, 20-lap X-Car feature and a 20-lap Super X-Car feature.

Keith Rocco, a second generation racer, won the 30-lap Late Model feature and Tyler Barry, a ten year old third generation racer, won the 20-lap Bandolero feature before rain began falling.

Rocco took the lead from Ray Christian III at the drop of the green flag and never looked back. Anthony Flannery was second and Adam Gray, third. Barry, is the grandson of legendary Modified team owner Art Barry and the son of former Modified driver Ken Barry. Ethan Durocher was second and Andrew Morin was third on the track but was disqualified for an illegal gear, moving Charles Prinz to third.

Also of note was the debut of third generation racer Jacob Perry in the Mini Stock division. Perry, the son of Dennis Perry was sixth fastest in practice and sixth in his qualifying heat.

The field in the SK Modified division was 24 cars strong. Heat winners were Rowan Pennink, Keith Rocco and Paul Kusheba.

Keith Rocco added to his legend as he beat out Ted Christopher to win the 25 lap SK Modified opener. Rocco now has a total of 123 wins at the track and a career total of 216 wins which also include victories at Thompson and Stafford Speedways. Following Christopher at the finish was Rob Janovic. Joe Gada and Rowan Pennink rounded out the top five. Dennis Perry finished sixth and was followed by Tyler Chadwick, Dylan Izzo and Ryan Morgan.

Janovic took the SK Modified field to green from the pole with Monahan on his outside. Caution flew on lap 12 when Bo Gunning went to the infield in turn two. Janovic held the top spot on the restart but the caution quickly flew again for a multi-car pileup on the front stretch on lap 13.Following the cleanup it was Janovic again getting the advantage over Diego Monahan on the restart. Janovic held on again through a lap 23 restart, but Monahan gave him two hard taps before the completion of the lap.

On lap 26 Monahan stuck his nose under Janovic going into turn one. The two had contact and Janovic was forced to save a sliding car while Monahan went to the front. But two laps later, Monahan ended up in the front stretch wall while battling for the lead with Rocco. The caution flew again on lap 31 when rookie Paul Buzel got into the wall in turn four. On the ensuing restart, Christopher was able to go to the outside pass Janovic for second place, but Christopher couldn’t get close enough to challenge Rocco at the front.

Other winners on Sunday included Al Stone III in the Limited Sportsman division, Tony Membrino Jr. in the SK Light feature, Wayne Burroughs Jr. in the Mini Stock event, Dana DiMatteo in the Legends feature, Bert Ouellette in the Mr. Rooter New England Truck Series race, Dave Gargaro Jr. in the X-Car feature and Dave Yardley III in the Super X-Car race.

The Bowman- Gray stadium in Winston-Salem, NC opened for the season on Saturday night with the Hayes Jewelers 200. Unfortunately rain prevailed after 40 laps were completed. The event resumed Saturday night with Tim Brown and Burt Myers on the front row. Brandon Ward inherited the lead after the front runners pitted for tires on lap 159. Ward’s tire strategy had worked out a little differently. “We had to pit early because we needed to make adjustments. So we stopped and took our tires quite a bit earlier than the rest of the leaders,” said Ward, who was worried about how his car would perform later in the race. “But really once we could get out front, the car made some really good times,” said Ward.

John Smith attempted to slip by Ward with a few double-file restarts, but Ward held strong. Ward claimed the checkered for the 200-lapper, the biggest win of the season and his first ever victory at the place they call The Madhouse.

John Smith finished in second, with Joe Ryan Osborne taking third. Danny Bohn and Burt Myers rounded out the top five.

After review of the results from Saturday night’s Hayes Jewelers 200 at Bowman Gray Stadium, Brandon Ward was stripped of his win and moved to 13th in the finishing order. John Smith has officially been declared the winner. It was pure chaos after the races as teams were protesting nearly everyone saying cars were laps down in front of them. Ward was actually a lap down from a previous spin in the event. Bowman Gray scores the races by hand and has never used transponders in their history other than when the NASCAR Whelen mod tour runs there.

On a sad note, local racer Dave Berube, 66, was killed in a plane crash Tuesday in Syosset, N.Y, a town on Long Island. Berube won the 1996 Modified championship at Riverside Park Speedway. His last race was in 2013 at Canaan Fair Speedway in Canaan, N.H., finishing 22nd.

Kyle Busch claimed his first victory at Kansas Speedway, holding off Kevin Harvick during the final 19-lap run to the checkered flag to win the GoBowling.com 400. It was Busch’s third victory of the season and with his first win in 17 starts at the 1.5-mile track, it left him with only two tracks (Kentucky Speedway and Pocono Raceway) on the Sprint Cup Series schedule where he has never won.

Busch, 30, led 69 of the 267 laps and gave Joe Gibbs Racing its sixth victory of the season, beating Harvick to the checkered flag by 1.112 seconds for his 37th Sprint Cup Series triumph.

Last year, NASCAR announced that events at Chicagoland Speedway, Sonoma Raceway and the April Cup race at Richmond Raceway had been realigned because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Chicagoland Speedway Cup and Xfinity races had been moved to Darlington Raceway on May 17 and May 19. Richmond Raceway’s spring Cup race had been realigned to May 20 at Darlington Raceway.

Sonoma Raceway’s Cup event moved to May 27 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. That race will be on Charlotte’s oval. NASCAR stated that further schedule adjustments would be released in the near future.

NASCAR stated: “Due to the current pandemic, NASCAR has faced several difficult decisions, including realigning race dates from several race tracks. These decisions were made following thorough collaboration with local and state government officials from across the country, including the areas of the affected race tracks. We thank all our fans for their support, and we look forward to our return to racing.”

On the local New England level Teddy Hodgdon was coming off a championship season in the SK Light Modifieds at Stafford Motor Speedway, and was set to make the move to the premier SK Modified division at the Connecticut oval in 2020. Hodgdon, who began his Stafford career racing at the infield mini-mile, has been successful for over a decade. He raced in the Wild Thing Karts division from 2008-2013, before jumping to the INEX Legends Cars through 2017, all on that mini-mile.

Last year was his most successful campaign, in his second year on the half-mile, with the SK Light Modified — winning a championship in their Division III class. He earned five checkered flags and was 18 points ahead in the final tally.

He will receive plenty of competition for Rookie honors from Bryan Narducci.

The actual start of the racing season at Stafford as well as the season at Thompson continue in a holding pattern. Both tracks are aware of Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont’s Executive Order 7X which extends all current prohibitions on business activities through May 20. They will continue to abide by the directives of our local government and health officials during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile down on the Connecticut shoreline the erection of the all new grandstands at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl are in the completion mode. Hopefully shortly after April 20 there will once again be Thunder on the shores of Long Island Sound along the Connecticut shoreline.

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