Column Compiled By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WESTERLY, RI – Two nights in a row, a packed grandstand, good weather and good competition. Short track racing at Stafford is alive and well!
Last Friday night at the Stafford Motor Speedway -Open Modified cars returned to Stafford Motor Speedway for the second of four visits during the 2021 season on Friday, June 11th for the Twisted Tea Open 80. Chase Dowling used a late race restart to power his way into the lead for the final 17 laps to win the Twisted Tea 80 and take-home contingency bonuses of $1,000 from GAF Roofing and $500 from New England Racing Fuel to push his winner’s check up to $5,000.
With 20 laps to go, Ryan Preece, who had led from the start, had stretched out his advantage over Mike Christopher Jr who had followed Preece from the start. Christopher would lose second place to Marcello Rufrano on lap-63, just before the caution flag flew for a spin in turn 2 by Stephen Kopcik. Under the caution, everyone came to pit road for 2 tires and adjustments for the final 17 laps to the finish. Ronnie Williams won the race off pit road to take over the race lead and he was followed by Dowling, Rufrano, Matt Galko and Eric Goodale. Preece had an issue with a stripped lug nut on his stop and came out at the rear of the field before coming back to pit road a second time to change his second tire.
Dowling took the lead on the restart with Williams falling into second. Galko took third with Rufrano in fourth and and Anthony Nocella in fifth. Goodale was sixth followed by Joey Cipriano, Tommy Barrett, Christopher. Preece was in a high speed charge mode and was already back up to tenth place after restarting in 14th place. The caution came back out with 69 laps complete for spins in turn 4 by Dana DiMatteo and Michael Gervais.
On the final green, Dowling took the lead with Williams and Rufrano behind him. Preece was a man on a mission going from eighth to fourth and Galko was fifth. Preece went by Rufrano to take third place on lap-74 and he pulled alongside Williams for second with 3 laps to go. Preece was finally able to get clear of Williams as the car took the white flag but he didn’t have enough time to catch Dowling as Dowling won the Twisted Tea Open 80. Rounding out the top-5 behind Dowling and Preece was Williams, Rufrano, and Galko.
In regular weekly racing on Friday night at Stafford, Tyler Hines scored his second SK Modified® win of the 2021 season, defending Late Model champion Adam Gray scored his first Late Model win of 2021, Derek Debbis notched his third SK Light win of 2021, Alexandra Fearn also nailed down her third Limited Late Model win of 2021, and in a thrilling finish, Frank L’Etoile, Jr. scored his third win of 2021 with a last lap pass on Chris Meyer.
In the SK Modified 40 lapper, Hines and Rocco went side by side for the lead on the restart on lap 23 with Andrew Molleur, Stephen Kopcik, and the side by side duo of Marcello Rufrano and Doug Meservey behind them. 5 laps after the restart Rocco and Hines were still side by side for the lead with Rocco leading laps by a nose at the start/finish line. Matt Vassar spun on the front stretch but the race stayed green but the caution did come out with 33 laps complete for a spin in turn 2 by Fran Siana. Rocco had just gotten clear of Hines in the fight for the lead after 10 laps of side by side racing and now he was going to have to fight with Hines again for the lead on the restart.
Korner and David Arute came together on the backstretch with Arute in the wall and Korner coming to a stop on the grass to bring the caution right back out. Hines took the lead from Rocco on the restart and on lap-36 Kopcik took second from Rocco. Behind the lead trio Chase Dowling was up to fourth place with Michael Christopher, Jr. up to fifth. Rocco dove to the inside of Kopcik on lap-39 to try to take second but he couldn’t complete the pass. As Kopcik and Rocco ran side by side on the final lap, Hines cruised to his second win of the 2021 season. Rocco nipped Kopcik at the line for second with Dowling and Christopher rounding out the top-5.
Superstar Racing Experience (SRX) a six-race short-track series made its debut on Saturday night, June 12, at the Stafford Motor Speedway and in primetime on the CBS Television Network and streaming live on Paramount+. A surprise visitor to Stafford last Friday was Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont who held a press conference on the front stretch. Stafford Speedway’s Lisa Arute and Paul Arute hosted the Governor during his visit.
The companion All-Star event was structured in 3 stages for a total of 50 laps. Stage 1 and 2 will be 20 laps each and paid a $1,000 bonus to each stage winner. The final “Showdown” stage of 10 laps with $4,000 awarded to the race winner. Every driver finishing in the top-15 is guaranteed at least $2,000 in prize money.
Among those who were in competition was former SK Modified champions Jerry Pearl Bo Gunning and Mike Christopher Sr.
Andrew Molleur won the first stage, but Michael Christopher, Jr. was the big winner of the night by winning the second stage and then winning the final 10-lap stage to take home a total of $5,000.
The top-10 cars were inverted after the first stage, which put Mike Christopher and Tyler Hines on the front row for the beginning of the second stage of 20 laps. Andrew Molleur decided to restart the second stage in 15th place to set himself up for a potential $1,500 bonus if he won the final 10-lap stage.
Stage 2 began with Mike Christopher Sr leading Tyler Hines, Michael Christopher, Jr., and the side by side duo of Marcello Rufrano and Michael Gervais, Jr. Christopher, Jr. took the lead from his father on lap-26 and Rufrano followed him by to take second and drop Christopher back to third. Gervais was fourth with Todd Owen up to fifth. The caution flew with 28 laps complete for a spin on the backstretch by Bo Gunning.
Christopher, Jr. took the lead on the restart with Rufrano slotting into second. Gervais was third followed by Christopher Sr and Owen. Mikey Flynn was side by side with Hines for sixth with Flynn taking the spot. Rufrano took the lead from Christopher on lap-34 with a pass in turn 4. The top-3 of Rufrano, Christopher, Jr., and Gervais were now locked in a 3-car train fighting for the lead.
Christopher went back to the lead on lap-37 while Rufrano was able to stay in front of Gervais and maintain second place. Christopher was still fourth with Owen behind him in fifth. Christopher took the checkered flag to win stage 2 with Rufrano, Gervais, Christopher Sr, and Owen rounding out the top-5. The top-5 cars inverted for the final 10 lap stage, putting Owen and Christopher Sr on the front row. Christopher, Jr. elected to start the final stage in 5th rather than restart 10th and go for the $2,500 bonus if he could win the final stage.
The final stage kicked off with Owen and Christopher Sr touching wheels going into turn 1, which allowed Christopher, Jr. to take the lead. Owen slid back to fourth while Christopher Sr was fifth. Hines was up to second with Teddy Hodgdon in third.
Owen got around Hodgdon to move back up to third on lap-43 while Hines was looking for a way to get by Christopher for the race lead. Hodgdon came back on Owen and retook third place on lap-48 while Hines was still giving chase to Christopher, Jr. for the lead. Christopher, Jr. led Hines to the checkered flag to win the TickMike.com SK Modified® All-Star Shoot Out and the $4,000 prize. Hines finished second with Hodgdon, Owen, and Christopher Sr rounding out the top-5.
Doug Coby put a huge feather in his cap as he dusted an all-star field to win the Superstar Racing Experience for its inaugural race that was shown live on CBS. Greg Biffle finished second with Tony Stewart, third. Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves finished fourth with Bobby Labonte rounding out the top five.
It was no cake walk for Coby by any means. A lap-63 restart saw Biffle take the lead by a nose at the line before Coby went back to the front on lap-64. Stewart was still in third with Labonte now up to fourth and Castroneves was fifth in line.
With 20 laps to go, Coby was still in command followed by Biffle, Stewart, Labonte and Castroneves. Marco Andretti’s right front tire went flat to bring the caution out on lap-94 with Coby still leading Biffle, Stewart, Labonte, and Castroneves. The race restarted on lap-98 with Coby taking the lead ahead of Biffle and Stewart. Neither Biffle or Stewart could get close enough to Coby over the final 2 laps as Coby scored the victory.
National exposure, a huge crowd of over 10,000 plus great competition added up to one of the greatest promotions ever staged at Stafford!. One fan pretty much summed it up in a comment made to RaceDay Ct, “all the years Stafford had been under the NASCAR and Tony Stewart and Ray Evernham shined more light on Stafford in one night than NASCAR has done in decades”.
The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Series ran its first of two events at the Oswego Speedway on Saturday night. Twenty four Modifieds made the trip to the track on the shore of Lake Ontario in upstate New York. Matt Hirschman drove to his fourth career NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour win at Oswego , which was his second at the tricky New York oval. Hirschman became the fifth different winner in the first five races of the tour season by pulling away from NASCAR Cup Series driver Ryan Preece in the final laps to win the Steel Palace 150.
Max McLaughlin won the Mayhew Tools pole award in qualifying and led the first 44 laps, before Craig Lutz took the lead on lap 45. Hirschman, who qualified third, would follow to second and the two drivers pulled away from their challengers until Hirschman made the move around for the top spot on lap 67. Entering turn three on the same lap, contact from a lapped car sent Lutz spinning in the next corner, drawing the only caution period of the race.
During the caution, pit stops for fresh Hoosier rubber and Sunoco fuel ended with Lutz back out front over Ron Silk, Chuck Hossfeld, who was fastest in practice, and Patrick Emerling, for the restart. Hirschman lined up fifth for the green , with two-time tour champion Justin Bonsignore in sixth.
Hirschman worked his way to second within two laps, then passed Hossfeld for the lead on lap 85. He would never relinquish the top spot for the rest of the distance , but it wasn’t an easy run to the checkered flag. Preece charged from outside the top-five right to the front, taking second on lap 94, then setting chase for Hirschman. Preece chased his back bumper over the final 50 laps, coming close, but couldn’t make the move that counted.
Behind Hirschman and Preece was Patrick Emerling, who maintained the series points lead with a third-place finish. Justin Bonsignore and Kyle Ebersole finished the top-five over Woody Pitkat, Tyler Rypkema, Chase Dowling, Anthony Nocella and Ron Silk.
McLaughlin finished 11th after leading laps early, while Lutz was 17th, three laps down.
The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour returns to the track this coming Saturday, June 19, at Riverhead Raceway in New York.
The weekly mayhem at the Bowman Gray Stadium in North Carolina showcased the track’s past and its future. Tim Brown, who lost his power steering on opening night, registered his 92nd career victory in the first 25-lap race, John Holleman IV had the opportunity to celebrate his first in front of an ecstatic crowd.
Holleman led all 25 laps in the second feature after edging out polesitter Jeremy Gerstner on the initial start. Holleman was able to enjoy his comfortable lead while the familiar frontrunners in Brown, Burt and Jason Myers were unable to move up from the middle of the field following the invert at the end of the first race.
Following Brown in the first of two 25 lap events was Burt Myers and Jason Myers. In the night cap, Danny Bohn finished second and was followed by Lee Jeffreys, John Smith and opening night winner Johnathan Brown.
At the Riverhead Raceway on Long Island, John Baker ended a dry spell that dated back to September of 2017 when he won the 50-lap feature event Saturday night. Since that win in ’17 Baker has been plagued by flat tires, break downs, crashes and just plain falling short of victory leaving he and his Dad former racer Daryl Baker scratching their heads at times. Michael Rutkoski crossed the line second in the Buzz Chew Chevrolet entry while Kyle Soper who was mired deep in the field on the last caution made a late race charge for third in the Eastport Feeds Chevy. Chris Young and Dave Brigati were fourth and fifth.
May 29, 1972 Stafford ran their 100 lap Memorial Day Classic on Monday. Fred DeSarro took the win over Ed Flemke, Ronnie Bouchard, Denis Giroux and George Summers.DeSarro, in the Len Boehler coupe grabbed the lead on the 64th lap when Flemke spun while leading. Flemke, driving the former Judkins 2x that was owned by Frank Vigliarolo made a miraculous recovery and closed to within a foot of DeSarro’s bumper by lap 90 but in the end, settled for the runner-up spot. Johnny Mann won the NEMA Midget feature.
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!