Forty years ago in 1968, Fred DeSarro won the
season ender at the Norwood Arena. Leo Cleary, driving for Joe Brady
sewed up the track championship. Little did anyone know there would only
be one more year of open wheeled modified competition at the famed
Massachusetts oval. At Thompson, on Sunday, Don MacTavish took the
feature win. The Thompson win ended up being his last, as he would lose
his life in Daytona during the Permatex 300 in 1969.
Thirty five years ago, in 1973, the annual Race of Champions
was run at Trenton on the mile and a half kidney shaped speedway. Richie
Evans took the win and was followed by Eddie Flemke and Roger Treichler.
It was also on this day that a then unknown driver by the name of Brian
Ross got a big break. Dick Armstrong had brought two Modifieds to
Trenton. Ray Hendrick drove one of them and Fred DeSarro convinced
Armstrong to put Ross in the seat. Ross put on quite a show and was
running in the top ten when he was called in for a driver change as
Hendrick had lost an engine. Armstrong should have left well enough
alone because shortly after, Hendrick blew up the engine in the other
car too. Ross, none the less, got to show his stuff and went on to
become one of the top drivers in the modified division.
Thirty years ago this week, in 1978, New England had one of
its darkest racing days as popular Fred DeSarro went over the third turn
bank at Thompson and suffered what would end up being fatal injuries.
DeSarro was warming up the Len Boehler No.3 when, for no reason, went
out of the track. Kenny Bouchard and Bugsy Stevens were first on the
scene and assisted rescue crews. DeSarro was taken to the Rhode Island
Hospital where he laid in a coma for a month before passing away. The
races at Thompson went on and Bouchard, who had torn the roof off of DeSarros' car earlier in the day, took the win with a heavy heart. Ray
Miller finished second and was followed by George Summers. At Monadnock
on the same afternoon, Geoff Bodine took a 100-lap win over Reggie
Ruggiero, Punky Caron, Bob Karvonen and Allen Whipple.
Twenty five years ago in 1983, the Oswego Speedway ran their
season ending 35 lap-modified event. Reggie Ruggiero took the win over
George Kent, Richie Evans and Doug Hewitt. At Waterford, Bob Potter won
the season finale. Glynn Shafer finished second with Don Bunnell, third.
Brian McCarthy was the late model winner. Alan Johnson won the DIRT
Syracuse 200.In Winston Cup action at Charlotte; Tim Richmond took the
Busch Pole with Benny Parsons on the outside. Richard Petty took the
win. A post race inspection revealed that Petty's engine was illegal and
his tires were also illegal. Petty was not stripped of the win but was
Twenty years ago in 1988, Ricky Fuller, driving the Bob
Sterns U2 scored his first Modified Tour Series win as he won the
modified portion of the annual World Series at Thompson. Fuller took the
lead from Tom Bolles on a lap 26 restart and paced the field for the
remainder of the 50-lap contest. Bolles finished second and was followed
by Brian Ross, Mike Mclaughlin, Jeff Fuller and Doug Hevron. Bob Potter
was the winner of the companion SK modified event.
Fifteen years ago in 1993, Jeff Fuller was the Thompson
World Series winner. Fuller took the lead from Jan Leaty on lap 45 and
held it until pitting on lap 62 for tires and fuel. Fuller was first out
of the pits and led the rest of the125 lap distance. Mike Stefanik
started dead last in the 32-car field and finished second. Satch Worley
finished third and was followed by Leaty, Jamie Tomaino, Ricky Fuller
and Tony Ferrante. Lloyd Agor took the checker in the SK modified 30
lapper but was disqualified due to illegal heads. Tom Tagg got the win
with Richie Gallup, second. Brett Hearne won the Syracuse 200 and in
Winston Cup action at Charlotte, Ernie Irvan cleaned house.
Ten years ago, in 1998, the Thompson World Series and the D.
Anthony Venditti Memorial at Seekonk were rained out. Despite rain, the
DIRT organization got their Syracuse 300 in the record books. Billy
Decker took the $50,000 win.
Five years ago in 2003, the NASCAR Featherlite Modified Tour
Series Fall Final was supposed to go off on Saturday afternoon but rain
interrupted the event at the completion of the preliminary late model
event, which forced NASCAR and the Speedway management to use Sunday as
a rain date. This created a confliction with the Waterford Fall Finale
but because of the coming weeks schedule, NASCAR had little choice. The
PASS event scheduled for Thompson on Saturday was also rained out and
re-scheduled for Sunday. Three tracks within 50 miles of each other held
races on Sunday. All three had poor crowds. It wasnít meant to be that
way but the New England weather has a nasty habit of letting it rain at
the wrong time. Plus the fact the tracks were competing against the
Winston Cup on TV, NFL Football and the baseball playoffs. Jerry Marquis
won the NASCAR Featherlite Modified Fall Final 150 at Stafford. Marquis,
who started deep in the field, passed Tony Hirschman when he went high
following a restart on lap 134. Hirschman had attempted to go the
distance non-stop without a change of tires. Marquis pitted and had
fresher tires. Hirschman held on to finish second and was followed by
Chuck Hossfeld, Chris Kopec, Nevin George and John Blewett III. Mike
Johnson was the Busch North Series winner. Jerry McCarthy finished
second with Andy Santerre, third. Ed Flemke Jr., Ricky Fuller, Ted
Christopher and Mike Stefanik rounded out the top ten in the Modified
150. Todd Szegedy, despite having motor problems and finishing 17th,
continued to lead the point standings by 36 points over Chuck Hossfeld.
John Blewett III sat in third, ten points behind Hossfeld.
The Stafford Speedway was able to get in their Late Model portion
of the Fall Final before the rains came on Saturday. Tom Butler won his
first feature in four years as he beat out Woody Pitkat for the win.
Ryan Posocco started 12th and finished fourth. Ted Christopher, who ran
in all three events, took his sixth win of the year when he won the
SK-Modified event. Todd Szegedy finished second. Second generation
driver Kerry Malone finished seventh and wrapped up the 2003 SK Modified
At the Waterford Speedbowl on Sunday Dennis Gada took the lead from
Jeff Pearl following a restart and went on to record the win and the
track championship, his fifth in a row. It all came down to a restart
with two laps to go when Ron Yuhas and Gada made contact. Gada almost
went into the fence but somehow held on. Ted Christopher, who arrived
from Stafford just as the cars were called to post, finished third. It
was Gadaís 42nd win in 120 starts over the last six years. Other Sunday
winners at Waterford were Chris Burton in the Mini Stocks, Chuck Rogers
in the Sportsman, Bob Santos III in the NEMA Midgets and Mark St.
Hillaire in the Late Models.
The Elmira New York Savings and Loan started foreclosure action
that could lead to the auction of the Chemung Speedrome as property
owner and speedway promoter Bob Stapleton was two years behind in his
In Winston Cup action at Kansas City Ryan Newman scored his eighth
Last year, 2007, In Whelen Modified Tour news rumor had it
that Ed Cox would retire as the Tour Director. His replacement was
rumored to be former Nextel Cup driver Chad Little. Employed by NASCAR,
Little was the sanctioning bodyís Director of Racing Development in
The Seekonk Speedway closed out their 62nd season with the Annual
D.Anthony Venditti Memorial Racing Festival. A vital part of that event
was the True Value Modified Series. Conceived and owned by Modified
racer Jack Bateman, the series had become an affordable alternative to
those who couldnít afford to travel or compete in the NASCAR Whelen
Modified Tour Series. The Hartford Courant stated that Bateman may be
interested in selling his series. The Courant alluded to the fact that a
likely buyer might be Ben Dodge. If that came to be it could very well
be the saving grace for Modified racing in the northeast. Behind the
scenes itís a known fact that NASCAR officials have asked Modified
competitors not to support the series. A lot of confusion and indecision
has placed a dark cloud over the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour series at
various times during the 2007 season. Ben Dodge had the experience and
the ability to make the True Value Modified Series the top racing
division in the northeast. In addition to his promoting skills Dodge was
also a former Modified car owner who understands the ins and outs of
being a car owner. Although they wonít go public because of possible
retaliation from NASCAR many of the prominent drivers and car owners
felt the time is right for a change.
Vinnie Annarummo of Swansea, Mass. passed Kirk Alexander of of
Swanzey, N.H with just three laps remaining to win the D. Anthony
Venditti Memorial Festival of Racing True Value Modified Series 100 lap
event at Seekonk Speedway. Alexanderís second place finish clinched the
2007 series point championship. It was the third win at Seekonk this
season for Annarummo and a hard fought victory. After starting the event
in third he was placed to the rear of the field following a lap 2
accident with Andy Seuss. Annarummo methodically worked his way back to
the front to take the lead on lap 81. Alexander then retook the lead on
lap 86 and held off the challenges of Annarummo for the next 11 laps
before the final pass for the win.The 2007 True Value Modified Series
Championship is the third for Alexander in the last four years. He also
is the series leader in career wins. Les Hinckley, who entered the event
14 points behind Alexander, suffered suspension failure
and finished 25th. Alexanderís 56-point margin with one race remaining
mathematically eliminates Hinckley who is assured of second place in the
standings. Dick Houlihan, Chris Pasteryak and Rob Goodenough rounded out
the Top-5 at Seekonk.
The New England Antique Racers announced their choices for
inductees for the Class of 2008 Hall of Fame. Drivers include
Dave Darveau, Dick Batcholder and the late Howie Brown, car owners Joe
Brady and the late Mike Scrivani Sr. along with media members Dr. Dick
Berggren and writer Pete Zanardi will be inducted at the LaRenaissance
Banquet Hall in East Windsor, CT on Sunday, January 27th. Still to be
announced are the three selections from the Veterans Committee and the
Jack Ratta Memorial Media Award winners.
The Busch Series had the weekend off. NASCAR announced that
Nationwide Insurance would become title sponsor of the NASCAR Nationwide
Series, replacing Anheuser-Buschís Busch brand at the start of the 2008
season. Nationwide Insurance would also become the official auto, home
and life insurance provider of NASCAR. In Nextel Cup action at Talledega
Jeff Gordon agreed to turn parade laps for much of the race before
surging past Jimmie Johnson on the final lap and holding off his
teammate to become the career victory leader at restrictor-plate tracks.
He parlayed his decision into his 12th career plate win and fifth
victory this season, and moved back on top of the points standings. He
led Johnson by nine points with six races remaining in the Chase for the
championship. Dave Blaney was third in the best finish this year for a
Toyota driver. Title contender Denny Hamlin was fourth and was followed
by Ryan Newman, who was leading late in his Dodge, and Mears.
Vic Coffey was unbeatable Sunday afternoon at the New York State
Fairgrounds' one-mile track as he scored his second victory in the Rite
Aid 200 DIRT modified race. Coffey led the final 46 laps to collect over
$50,000 in prize money. Chasing Coffey's Sweeteners Plus modified to the
finish was Tim Fuller, the point leader in the chase for the Mr. DIRT
national modified championship.
Thatís it for this week from 40 Clark Street, Westerly RI 02891.
Ring my chimes at 401-596-5467. E Mail
Phil Smith has been a
columnist for Speedway Scene and various other publications for over 3
This week are
several vintage racing photos from the Danny Pardi Collection
Booker T. Jones
Lou Funk, Jr.
The Chrome Horn
'Looking Back with Phil Smith' Archive