The Chrome Horn News

8/20/2007

PAVEMENT NOTES:
THOMPSON; WHERE DO I BEGIN
by Walt Stubbs

    Where do I begin? Itís never easy losing someone, be it a family member, friend, or racer. While not related to John Blewett III, he, as the rest of the Blewett's, are part of my racing family. Actually, the Blewett's could be viewed as the First Family of the Modifieds, with the Blewett name being involved in modified racing since the early 1970's. When word spread that John had lost his life during the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour event last Thursday at Thompson, I was waiting to wake up from my nightmare, not believing what I had heard. I've been writing in these pages for over twenty years and was around when the modified community lost the likes of Richie Evans, Charlie Jarzombek, Don Pratt, Tony Jankowiak, Corky Cookman, Tom Druar, and just three years ago at the same track and race, Tom Baldwin. The list is a long one, some would say too long. But losing this one, this driver, was different. One of the first things they teach you in Journalism is to be objective, to not get to close with the events or people you are covering. That's a lot easier said than done, especially when covering a division like the modifieds, where many personal relationships are formed, be it with drivers, crew members, fans or other media members. While getting to know all of the drivers just mentioned in some shape or form, some closer than others, my relationship with John went beyond the race track and pit area. Maybe it was a Jersey thing, both he and I being from Jersey and as such always looking for respect, especially from those people up in Connecticut or Upstate New York where the fans and media thought their drivers and coverage was the best the division had to offer. Whatever it was, a friendship was formed. It wasn't always that way.
    When I first started covering racing, John's Dad, John Blewett Jr, was one of the top guns on the modified scene. While Blewett Jr. won many races, there was also controversy, be it at the Turkey Derby with Richie Evans and Jamie Tomaino, or at a track, be it Wall or Riverhead. I guess you could say I was somewhat intimidated then in going up to the #76 hauler and getting a word from either Grandpa or Blewett Jr. That actually continued for quite some time, even past the point when John III got behind the wheel of a modified in 1992 at Wall for the first time. It even continued when John, like the rest of us who followed asphalt modified racing at that time, started driving at the newly paved Flemington Speedway. That all changed when John won his first race at Flemington behind the controls of the Dick Barney #14, a race I happened to be at. I congratulated John, who at the time, was shy and not exactly the best of quotes. (That would change as he would become one of the best quotes, not just to me but other writers who covered the Tour and at Wall Township Speedway) The following week I got a card from John, thanking me for my writing of his first win. He didn't have to do that, but it showed a side of himself that at the time not too many outside his close circles saw.
    I guess it was at that time that I got into the Blewett's inner circle. Not that that means much, considering the many friends John and his family have. That was evident on Saturday Night, when the stands at Wall were packed in a tribute to John III. Even my neighbor, who isn't an avid race fan but who will make the occasional trek to Wall commented, "The Blewett's are a big name down here." And he's right. Even my boss from my real job, who lives in Howell but has never seen a race in his life, knew of the Blewett name, and with good reason. The Blewetts, from Grandpa (I still can't refer to him by his real name), to John Jr, to John III and Jimmy were a family that was and is always ready to give a helping hand. Ask any driver in the pits at Wall or even the Tour, and the Blewetts are among the first to help out in any shape or form. Of course, any discussion of the Blewetts also has to include the famous tempers that all have displayed at one time or another. Unfortunately, those flareups sometimes overshadowed the many good things they did. But it also added to the Blewett lore and added some color to the division. I can remember John III talking like it was yesterday of a story when he was young when his Dad and Grandpa challenged Jimmy Spencer and his family to a showdown in the cornfield across from New Egypt Speedway after an altercation in the feature. Needless to say, the Spencer's, no slouches themselves, used better judgment and decided against challenging John Jr and Grandpa.
    I guess the best three words that I can use to describe John Blewett III are family, loyalty, and respect. First and foremost, John was a family man and put his family above all else. Surprisingly, other than his temper, John was not one to show emotion or one of many words. Actually, he was a man of many words and emotion. It's just that he couldn't come to say it or show it directly to the person it was meant for. He'd say it or show it by other means. This was especially true concerning his family, mainly his Dad and brother. If you ever were near the Blewett hauler, you'd sometimes hear arguments between Dad and Son on the car set up, etc. Some would even get heated, but through it all, there was a respect that John had for his Dad. While he might not have told his Dad that often enough, he told me on more than one occasion thru our frequent phone calls. Actually, most of our discussions centered around his Dad's career as well as his brother's up and coming career. Being a few years older than John, it surprised me that he could remember every detail of a race that his Dad was in, be it at Wall, Riverhead or anywhere else in the Northeast, despite being relatively young when these races took place. John III was a guy who absorbed information like a sponge, a lot of it he got by listening and learning from his grandfather and Dad. He was also one who wasn't afraid to implement his own ideas, especially in the set up of a race car. While this may have led to a few flareups with his Dad, he still respected his Dad's opinion while not always agreeing with it. I guess in his own way John was trying to show his Dad that he passed the torch and that he was ready to take the lead.
    As for his brother Jimmy, there was probably no better promoter to his brother's accomplishments than John. I can remember John pumping his brother up when he first started racing a street stock at Wall and then made the quick advancement to the small block modifieds at Wall. No matter if it was in person or on the phone, the first words out of his mouth would be, "Did you see what Jimmy did last night?" There was no question John loved his brother, and in some way, wanted to see him make it big. Unlike John, Jimmy has more public relations savy and has no problem making contacts. This, obviously, is important, if you want to make it down South, which is something that John thought about but didn't want to play the game to get there. I remember being at Richmond when John was running for Mario Fiore, and told him he should go over to the Cup garage and mingle with the big wigs, maybe establishing a contact or two that could lead to something down south. He flatly refused, telling me, "I'm not interested in being somebody that I'm not. If they want to talk to me, they can find me." There were some discussions at some point the last few years where John could have test drove for a couple Cup teams, but it all came down to staying with the family. It is that same loyalty that John chose to stay close to home last year and run at Wall rather than run the Tour. The move to many was surprising, based on the fact that John had pretty much accomplished all there was to accomplish at Wall. The one thing missing from the Blewett resume was a Tour Championship. He had come close before, finishing third in 2001 and 2003 but his best chance might have been last year, when he had three wins in eleven starts on the Tour while he concentrated on his efforts at Wall. Who knows what he would have done last year if he ran the full schedule. Maybe it would have been him instead of Mike Stefanik celebrating a championship. But Blewett chose to run at his hometrack, mainly because he wanted to see Wall succeed. There has been much uncertainty over the last few years concerning Wall and if it would continue to run as a racetrack. Blewett, probably more so than anyone else, wanted to see it succeed. That's why he also chose to not run the Tour full time this year as well. John, probably more so than anybody, was frustrated on how the track was being run and shared many ideas during our phone conversations on what needed to be done. He had a lot of ideas on how to bring more fans to the track while also helping out his fellow drivers. Some of those I'm sure were relayed to track ownership and have been seriously considered or used. There was probably no one more upset than John was after the recent running of the Tour race at Wall in May. While he finished second to his brother, all he could talk about was how much he wished it was a better race than the caution marred event it was. He felt Wall could provide exciting racing if the drivers used more patience and understood the idiosyncrocies of short track racing. That was John at his best, showing his intelligence and knowledge, while also showing his loyalty to a track that he called home.
    As I've said, John III also had a respect for the past, especially when it pertained to the modifieds. The big difference that I have seen in the driver's from the past when compared to today has to do with the respect the driver's had for each other versus today. John you could say is old school. While John raced hard, he also raced clean. He had a few run ins with some drivers, but after each altercation would put it past him and hold no grudges. He respected not only his own equipment, but his competitors as well. He understood more than anyone that bringing a car home in one piece was the important thing, because it would be Blewett in the shop the next day fixing the car up and the family footing the bill for the repairs. It was the same way when he was racing for the Barneys or the Chases.
    John Blewett III will be missed by a lot of people. I'm sure of that. I will miss the occasional night phone call where he'd update me on all the happenings. Actually, I was planning such a call the day after Thompson, to get his view on racing a supermodified the weekend before. I'll miss the occasional Jets game we'd go to. I still remember being at Giants Stadium for a Monday Night game with him when the Jets made the most memorable comeback in Monday Night history and beat the Dolphins. I guess I'm just going to miss him like everyone else. I got to speak to Tim Rigglemen, Blewett's spotter, and he told me a story of his last conversation with John on the headset right before the restart that would ultimately cost Blewett his life. John, never one to talk on the radio much, actually wanted to talk to engine builder Bob Bruneau to thank him on what a great motor Bruneau had given him. He then wanted to thank all the crew for all the hard work they had done and how appreciative he was on their hard work. Again, things Blewett never conveyed much in the past and which wasn't in John's nature. Those were the last words John ever spoke. I've always been a firm believer that actions speak louder than words. His actions both on the track and off it will last forever with many. It's good that he was finally able to use his words as well. John, I for one will miss you both for your actions and your words.
    WALL NOTES: I initially was not going to take in the Memorial Service held at Wall for John on Saturday Night. Actually, up until 7:15 pm I wasn't going. I didn't think I was ready. But thanks to a little push from my wife, I made it to Wall to take in the ceremony and the small block feature. I'm glad I did. I didn't know what to expect going in but a classy tribute was done. Kudos to Mr. Larsen, Mr. Krause and Mr. Greenwood for doing a great job on the microphone. I know I wouldn't have been able to get through it without choking up at least once. Also, Jamie Tomaino showed once again the class of a champion. Tomaino came up with the idea of having the race stopped after the white flag was displayed and having the field stopped on the backstretch and then driving the Blewett #76 into the lead where it came across the checkered flag first followed by the rest of the field. Steven Reed was the official winner of the race. The Blewett car was then driven into Victory Lane, with all of the lights shut off in the track except for a spotlight on the car and the Blewett family. Needless to say, there wasn't a dry eye in the house. And Finally This Week's Quote of The Week comes from Richie Evans Jr, who made the trip up from North Carolina and who lived with the Blewetts for a brief time a few years earlier, "John was my Richie Evans." All views and news can reach me at 2 Constitution Court Unit 501 Hoboken, N.J. 07030...

THE END

Source:  Walt Stubbs/TheChromeHorn.com
Posted:  August 20, 2007

©2007 GeeLaw Motorsports/RacerHub.com