The Chrome Horn - Looking Back A Bit with Phil Smith


March 5, 2010

Thirty five years ago in 1975, the NASCAR Modifieds made their annual spring trek to Martinsville for a 250-lap event. Bugsy Stevens in the Koszela No.15 took the win over Ronnie Bouchard, Jerry Cook and Mike Loescher. A horrific fire on the front stretch marred the day when Brian Ross in the Bob Garbarino Mystic Missile was rear ended by a bumper-less car driven by Melvin Chilton. Chiltons bare frame rail tore into Ross' fuel cell and ignited the fuel. Flames raged as high as the grandstand roof but luckily Ross emerged unhurt. To add insult to injury, when fire crews arrived on the scene, the fixture that was supposed to dispense the purple-K wouldn't work and the fire had to be extinguished with water and hand held extinguishers.

   Twenty years ago in 1990, Reggie Ruggiero started 17th and took the lead from Jamie Tomaino on lap 142 and went on to win the season opening 200 lapper at Martinsville. Jeff Fuller finished second and was followed by Jamie Tomaino, George Kent and Jerry Cranmer.

   Fifteen years ago in 1995, the Modifieds were silent as the action was in Atlanta. Johnny Benson passed Ken Schrader with eight laps to go and went on to win the Busch Grandnational event. Jeff Gordon dominated the Winston Cup event.

   Ten years ago, in 2000, Mark Martin was the Busch Grandnational winner at Atlanta after waiting out a six-hour rain delay. Dale Earnhardt Sr. was the Winston Cup winner after teammate Mike Skinner lost an engine in the closing laps.

   Five years ago in 2005, the big news of the week was the announcement that the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Series would be returning to Martinsville, Virginia on Saturday night, September 3. The event, 250 laps in length, would carry a purse of $110,000. The speedway would install temporary Musco lighting to illuminate the .525 mile speedway. Speedway President Clay Campbell stated that the event would be held in combination with NASCARís newly-formed Southern Modified Tour. Drivers will earn championship points for their respective divisions. The Martinsville event will be NASCARís version of the highly popular North Ė South Shootout that is run as an open competition Modified event at the Concord Motorsports Park.

   In the opinion of many the NEAR display at the annual Race-a-Rama was the highlight of the show. Plenty of drivers from years gone by and the present were on hand to sign autographs including Bob Polverari, Billy Greco, Jap Membrino, Ray Miller, Moon Burgess and Bob Potter. It was also announced that Eddie Flemke Sr, a charter member of NEAR and a member of the Hall of Fame would be inducted into the New Britain CT. Sports Hall of Fame on March 31. Flemke, who became a Modified Legend in his own time has over 500 wins to his credit and is responsible for mentoring many including Pete Hamilton, Richie Evans and Ronnie Bouchard. A hot topic of conversation was the momentum that the True Value Modified Series is gaining. The True Value Modifieds are an affordable alternative to the Whelen Modified Tour. Series leader Jack Bateman says he has 46 teams lined up to compete in 2005. The TVMS was born when the Modified division was displaced from the Claremont Speedway in New Hampshire. Since then the series has branched out to other tracks in the state as well as those in Vermont and now Massachusetts as they have three dates at the Seekonk Speedway.

   It looked like the voting taxpayers in the State of Florida didnít want to subsidize a proposed NASCAR Auto Racing Hall of Fame in the Daytona Beach area. The Quinnipac University in Hamden, Ct released results of a poll taken that showed that voters, by an 81 percent to 16 percent margin, opposed the possibility of giving $75 million to help Daytona Beach land a NASCAR Hall of Fame. To add insult to injury, even NASCAR fans didnít like the idea: They opposed it by a margin of 63 percent to 35 percent. The poll was taken of 1,007 voters in the state. Known for its exactness and thoroughness, the Quinnipac poll was selected a "winner" by the New York Post for the most accurate prediction on the Schumer-D'Amato Senate race in 1998, and results are featured regularly in The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, and on national network news broadcasts.

   Martin Truex, Jr. won the first Busch series race held outside of the United States by pulling away from the field following the final caution flag. Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards followed him across the line six seconds behind; Adrian Fernandez in 10th was the highest finishing Mexican national.

   Last year, 2009, The mighty Modifieds of NASCAR completed their tire test and shakedown runs at the Bristol Motor Speedway in preparation for the August 19 combination North-South 150 lapper. LW Miller and Brian Loftin from the southern tour joined Ted Christopher, Todd Szegedy, Matt Hirschman and Ron Silk for the historic day. Using restrictor plates used at Loudon in the morning session, four other drivers also tested Bristol on Tuesday. NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour veterans Ted Christopher, Matt Hirschman and Ron Silk turned laps as well as Brian Loftin from the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour.

   To start the day, all six cars employed the same restrictor plate that is used annually at the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tourís two events at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. In the cool morning session, Szegedy paced the field with a fast lap of 15.022 seconds (127.733 mph). The afternoon session proved to be significantly faster for all involved as the temperature warmed. As of mid-afternoon, Miller topped the charts at 14.742 seconds (130.159 mph.), well under the current NASCAR Sprint Cup Series track qualifying record of 14.908 seconds (128.709) set by Ryan Newman in 2003. In fact, Christopher (14.805), Silk (14.818), Szegedy (14.869) and Hirschman (14.894) had all exceeded Newmanís mark. According to Ted Christopher the Modifieds are extremely fast due to the fact that it is wide open throttle all the way around. One of the main issues that competitors will have to deal with is frame height and shock travel. It is Christopherís opinion that it
will be a better race if restrictor plates are not used as there will be better throttle response when exiting the turns. Two things are for sure as he alluded to the fact that competitors will have to be on their game and they will have to be mentally focused. The 150-lap combination Modified race at Bristol is scheduled to start at 6 p.m. on Aug. 19.

   After much speculation it was official, Donnie Lia was back in the Bob Garbarino Mystic Missile for the full season on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Series. It had also been released that Woody Pitkat would be the full time driver of the Don King No.28 on the tour. Doug Coby, who shared the ride with Pitkat in 2008 would drive the mount formerly driven by Jimmy Blewett. Blewett would be driving exclusively for Long Island car owner Eddie Partridge in 2009.

   Speedway Expo took center stage in New England over the weekend. The brainchild of Speedway Illustrated Editor Dick Berggren opened on Friday and ran through Sunday at the Eastern States Exposition Grounds in West Springfield, MA.

   Among the highlights was the Riverside Park Speedway reunion held on Friday night. The track was torn down ten years previous to make way for a roller coaster. Among those who were on hand for the gathering were former track and amusement park owner Edward Carroll and former announcer, now anchor for FOX Sprint Cup telecasts Mike Joy. Former Riverside Park drivers included were Bob Polverari, Moon Burgess, George Lombardo, Mike Stefanik, Reggie Ruggiero, Steve Park, Renee Dupuis, Billy Grecco, Dan Avery, Ted Chalmers, Bobby Seymour and Ted Christopher.

   In addition EXPO was loaded with displays from tracks, racing divisions, sanctioning bodies, vendors and collectible sellers.
The highlight of the weekend was the awarding of the Speedy Awards to those who have gone above and beyond for the sport of auto racing. Congratulations to Richie Grodski and the gang at the web site Chrome Horn for the award for Best Series or Track Coverage, 2009 Speedy Award. This award is given to the publication, broadcast or web medium that provides outstanding coverage of auto racing.
Among the other Speedy Awards were Best Weekly Racer, Dennis Gada, Breakout Racer, Keith Rocco, Best individual Performance of a driver was Chuck Hossfeld, Best Individual Promotion was Turkey Derby at Wall Stadium in New Jersey and the Long Haul Award went to Ted Christopher.

   The Waterford Speedbowl will be under the sanction of NASCAR in 2009. Property owner and track operator Terry Eames made the announcement at the Speedway Expo.

   NASCAR gave their local weekly competitors a shot in the arm. New rewards and recognition were made available to first-time Whelen All-American Series featured division license holders for 2009. A new Rookie of the Year Award program would determine top rookie performers in each state and province. From those winners, a North American Rookie of the Year would be named. To be eligible to compete for the award, drivers must be a first-time NASCAR Whelen All-American Series featured division license holder. This award will be made to a competitor in the SK Modified division at the Stafford Motor Speedway and a competitor in the Sunoco Modified division at the Thompson Speedway. If, in fact the Waterford Speedbowl secured a sanction, competitors in the SK Modified division there would also be eligible.

   In some sad news, H. Lewis Compton, 80, who was known as the ďMouth of the SouthĒ for announcing every race at Martinsville Speedway for 44 years, died last Friday at Memorial Hospital in Martinsville. Since 1962 he had been known as ďThe Mouth of the South,Ē a moniker bestowed upon him by Elmo Langley, one of NASCARís early drivers, car owner and longtime pace car driver. Compton announced every race at Martinsville Speedway from 1955 until 1999, worked in radio for 52 years until he retired from WHEE Radio and was a licensed auctioneer for 36 years.

   Greg Biffle recovered after running out of gas to win the Nationwide Sam's Town 300 in Las Vegas. Carl Edwards was second.
Kyle Busch scored the biggest win of his career by driving from the back of the field to win the Shelby 427 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, his hometown track. Busch took the lead with 57 laps to go, then lost it during a late round of pit stops. Busch was third on a restart with 22 laps to go, and then chased down Jeff Burton and leader Clint Bowyer to move out front again.

   Middletown native Joey Logano, who like Busch is with Joe Gibbs Racing, finished 13th and had the lead on lap 53, the first time he has held the lead in his brief Sprint Cup career.

   Busch beat Kurt Busch for the pole on Friday to put brothers on the front row for the first time since 2000. But an engine change in his Toyota meant he had to drop to the back of the field at the start of the race, and Busch had to power his way through the field over 285 laps. Busch held off Burton and Bowyer on a restart with eight laps left and then another, after Jimmie Johnson was involved in a crash , with three to go. Carl Edwards blew an engine during the final two laps, the third Roush Fenway Racing motor to fail during the race, handing fourth to David Reutimann. Matt Kenseth, trying to become the first driver in NASCAR history to win the first three races of the season, had engine problems six laps into the race and was last.

   Two-time Indianapolis 500 champion Helio Castroneves went on trial in Miami federal court on charges he used shell corporations and offshore accounts to evade paying taxes on millions in income. Prosecutors claim Castroneves, 33, his sister and business manager Katiucia "Kati" Castroneves, 35, and Michigan attorney Alan Miller, 71, conspired to hide more than $5 million from the Internal Revenue Service between 1999 and 2004. Castroneves was also charged with failing to report some additional income and improperly deducting $687,000 as business expenses to reduce his taxes. If convicted, the three could face more than five years in prison.

Thatís about it for this week from 11 Gardner Drive, Westerly, R.I.02891.
Ring my chimes at 401-596-5467. E-Mail,smithpe_97_97@yahoo.com.

Phil Smith has been a columnist for Speedway Scene and various
other publications for over 3 decades.

This week are several vintage racing photos,
courtesy of
SpeedwayLineReport.com & VintageModifieds.com.

       Gene Bergin - Stafford Dirt                      Billy Greco - Riverside Park              Jocko Maggiacomo - Riverside Park


    "Money Bags" Moe Gherzi                       Stafford Speedway - 1950's                     Buddy Krebs - Riverside Park

All photos courtesy of Tom Ormsby and VintageModifieds.com

Looking Back Archive


SourcePhil Smith / Looking Back A Bit
Posted: March 5, 2010

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