The Chrome Horn - Looking Back A Bit with Phil Smith


October 28, 2011

   Sixty years ago in 1951 Dave Humphrey won the first ever Modified Championship at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl in style as he won the final racing program of the year, a 25 lap Modified event. Humphrey, who also took the title at the Seekonk Speedway narrowly edged out Moe Gherzi for the title.

   Fifty five years ago in 1956 Wild Bill Slater won the 50 lap season ending Modified event at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl. Charlie Webster was the non-Ford winner.

   Fifty years ago saw rain wash out the racing at the Waterford Speedbowl.

   Forty five years ago in 1966 at the World Series at Thompson, season ending twin 50's were won by Sal Dee and Bugsy Stevens. Ed Flemke Sr was the overall winner.

   Forty years ago in 1971, NESMRA promoted the World Series event at Thompson which saw Supers and Modifieds running together. The Supers of the day were very unreliable which gave the full bodied cars a chance. The 50 lap main event was won by Eddie West in a Super, who had a two lap lead on the field. Don McLaren, also in a Super was second. Finishing third was Eddie Flemke who drove the Mystic Missile. Howard Brown, in a Super was fourth. Rounding out the top six were Bob Potter in the Billy Simonds Excavator Special and Leo Cleary in the Armando Riccio Flying Nine.

   Thirty five years ago in 1976, Geoff Bodine and Ray Hendrick, driving team cars owned by Richard Armstrong finished one-two in the season ending Cardinal 250 at Martinsville. Pole sitter Harry Gant in the William Mason No.45 led the event until retiring with a blown engine. John Bryant also led the event until losing two tires. Paul Radford finished third with Richie Evans, fourth. The 250 lap Sportsman (Busch Grand National) event was snowed out.

   Thirty years ago in 1981,Geoff Bodine dominated the season ending Cardinal 250 at Martinsville as he led all but 15 laps to record his ninth win of the season. Bodine drove a modified owned by Phil Taylor. Bugsy Stevens in Bodine's old ride, the Armstrong No.1, finished second. It was a war of attrition as only 15 of the original 40 starters were running at the finish. A challenge from Richie Evans never materialized as he dropped out after only five laps with a broken master cylinder. Maynard Troyer finished third and was followed by Kenny Bouchard, Ray Miller and Doug Hewitt.

   Twenty five years ago in 1986, Charlie Jarzombek capped a successful season as he won the season ending Modified 200 at Martinsville. Reggie Ruggiero finished second and was followed by George Kent, Jeff Fuller, Jim Spencer and Carl Pasteryak.

   Twenty years ago in 1991, the Featherlite Modified Tour was at Martinsville for a 200 lapper. Mike Stefanik took the lead from Jan Leaty on lap 128 and held off Leaty to take the win. Jeff Fuller finished third and was followed by Reggie Ruggiero, Wayne Anderson, Steve Park, Jamie Tomaino and Satch Worley. Harry Gant won the Busch Grand National 200 lapper over Chuck Bown and Dale Jarrett.

   Fifteen years ago in 1996, after a one week postponement because of rain, Thompson ran the season ending World Series. Steve Park, who had the pole position, cleaned house as he took the lead from Mike Stefanik on lap 105 of the 125 lap event. Stefanik had nothing for Park and had to settle for second in the final run down. Jerry Marquis finished third and was followed by Ed Flemke Jr, Tom Bolles, Bert Marvin, Tim Arre and Mike Ewanitsko. Tony Hirschman, in the Len Boehler No.3, finished 10th and sewed up the series championship. Because of numerous wrecks, the SK 30 lapper was shortened to 20 laps with Bob Potter getting the win over Jim Broderick, Scott Spaulding, Ricky Young and Don Fowler.

   Ten years ago in 2001, the only action was at Phoenix where Casey Atwood was the Winston Cup Busch Pole sitter. Jeff Burton took the win. The Busch Grand Nationals were also at Phoenix. Jim Spencer was the pole sitter and was the class of the field until his transmission blew. Waiting in the wings was Greg Biffle who went on to take the win.

   Five years ago in 2006 the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Fall Final at Stafford was originally scheduled for Saturday but because of impending rain, the event was rescheduled for Sunday against the Waterford Speedbowl Double Down event. As predicted, high winds close to 50mph and heavy rain, close to two inches in spots, blanketed the entire New England – Long Island area on Saturday. Race teams and fans coming from Long Island were forced to drive around through New York City when the ferry terminal on Orient Point, Long Island became submerged after 6-10 foot waves from Gardners Bay crashed ashore. The Waterford Speedbowl fell victim to a flooded parking lot and track after it rained for over seven hours on Saturday. The Double Down Showdown was postponed to Saturday, November 4.

   Stafford’s Fall Final took the green shortly after 4:00p.m. on Sunday. Todd Szegedy of Ridgefield, CT jumped from his pole starting position and went non-stop for 150 laps to take the win. Despite the fact that there were no lead changes there was action a plenty going on. Mike Stefanik became the Whelen Modified Tour Series Champion when he took the green as he had a decisive point lead going into the event over Ted Christopher. Stefanik finished sixth. Christopher, who crashed while running second on lap 51, lost second spot in the final standings by one point to Eddie Flemke Jr. who finished ninth. Christopher was credited with 25th finishing spot. Christopher’s car broke a left rear brake rotor, which caused his car to turn sharply into the wall. Preston City Connecticut’s favorite son, Kenny Barry finished a strong second after coming from a 19th starting spot. Zach Sylvester, from Lebanon, CT, finished third with defending series champion Tony Hirschman, fourth. Rounding out the top five was John Blewett III. Stefanik finished sixth with Donny Lia, Ronnie Silk, Flemke and Jerry Marquis rounding out the top ten.

   Eight caution periods for 42 laps kept the average speed down to 64.518mph. In addition to the Christopher crash on lap 51 there were others who went out on the hook of a wrecker including Reggie Ruggerio who wrecked with Chuck Hossfeld on lap 29, Jimmy Blewett who was part of a six car wreck on lap 7 and Rob Summers who wrecked on lap 21.

   In other racing action at Stafford, three track championships were decided on the track, as Frank Ruocco won the SK Modified championship, Woody Pitkat won the Late Model championship, and Shelly Perry won a 4-way battle to take the SK Light championship. Feature winners included Willie Hardie winning the 50-lap SK Modified feature, Ryan Posocco winning the Late Model feature, and Matt Gallo won the 20-lap SK Light feature.In the 50-lap SK Modified feature event, Willie Hardie won the battle, but Frank Ruocco ended up winning the war. Hardie did all that he could do to overtake Ruocco for the championship by winning the race, but Ruocco ran just aggressively enough to stay in a championship clinching position throughout the 50-lapper. The race started with Jeff Malave leading the early laps, but Woody Pitkat overtook Malave on lap-6. Pitkat held the race lead until he dropped off the pace and pulled behind the wall on lap-45, which gave the lead of the race to Hardie, who had worked his way up to second. Ruocco and Hardie started the race side by side in the 5th row, and while Hardie set sail for the front of the pack, Ruocco was never more than several positions behind Hardie, keeping himself in championship contention. Hardie took the checkered flag ahead of Malave, Zach Sylvester, Brad Hietala, and Eric Berndt. Ruocco finished seventh to win the championship by 6 points over Hardie.

   On a sad note Midget Great Johnny Coy passed away on Saturday Oct 28th. Johnny raced everything from jalopies to Modifieds, but it was the midgets where he excelled. In 1958 NASCAR had a midget division. Out of 25 races Johnny won 14 of them and the NASCAR Midget Crown.

   Tony Stewart was the Nextel Cup winner at Atlanta and Kevin Harvick was the Busch Series winner at Memphis.

   Last year, 2010, The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour officially crowned its 2010 Champion Bobby Santos III following the season ending World Series 150 at the Thompson Speedway. In 14 events Santos, in the Bob Garbarino Mystic Missile, recorded 11 top tens which included four victories. Santos amassed 2180 points and in the end beat out Mike Stefanik by 27 points. Although winless, Stefanik recorded 12 top tens. Ted Christopher, with four wins, finished third. Christopher's consistency rate was a little off as he recorded nine top tens. Ron Silk and Todd Szegedy rounded out the top five. Sixth through tenth were Ryan Preece, Eric Goodale, Erick Rudolph, Eric Beers and Chuck Hossfeld. Fifty nine different drivers entered into competition. Eighteen drivers ran the entire series.

   Bob Garbarino was the Championship car owner for 2010. Eric Sanderson was the runnerup with Eddie Whelan, third. Eddie Partridge and Mike Sermiglio rounded out the top five. As a result of yet another championship season, Garbarino joined the late Len Boehler as the only car owners to collect three Whelen Modified Tour titles. He also became the sixth team owner to earn back-to-back crowns, but just the second to do it with two different drivers. Boehler’s three-year run started with Wayne Anderson in 1994 and continued with Tony Hirschman in 1995-96. During the old format that was used to determine the NASCAR National Modified Champion prior to 1985 Boehler won three Modified Championships, 1967-1968-1969, with Bugsy Stevens as his driver.

   Competitors were told at Thompson that Sunoco would be the exclusive fuel for the Whelen Modified Tour Series in 2011.

   Justin Bonsignore earned 2010 Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. Bonsignore, who hails from Holtsville on New York’s Long Island, registered four top 10s and was the Sunoco Rookie of the Race in eight of the season’s 14 events. His rookie campaign was highlighted by a runner-up finish in the Made In America Whelen 200 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway and laps led at his home track, Riverhead (N.Y.) Raceway, in the Riverhead 200. He finished 13th in the season standings.

   Bonsignore's Toter and Trailer were broken into, as well as his 24 foot kart trailer. They completely cleaned out everything! Most importantly 2 complete race karts, in M3 Designs, along with all karting tools. In the race trailer they stole everything from 12 radios, to all pit equipment including jacks, guns, suits and helmets as well as geometry gauges, hardware, and spare parts off the crash carts.

   The Modified Racing Series closed out their 2010 season at the Lee USA Speedway. There were 30 cars on hand. Qualifying heat race winners were Kirk Alexander, Max Zachem and Steve Masse. Among the missing were Mike Stefanik and Ted Christopher. All tolled, there are 315 race cars at Lee USA Speedway. The cars are from 11 different divisions ran in 40 heat races, making for a long day. Jacob Dore was the winner of the consolation.

   Race day started out nice but the weather went downhill fast as the forecast for the Lee area called for rain and possible snow. During hot laps for the Modifieds pole sitter Kirk Alexander was black flagged, forcing him to pit. Officials deemed that he had a problem and placed him in the scratch position for the start. Max Zachem and Steve Masse made up the front row for the start. After completing two laps running side by side Masse took the lead on lap 6. By lap 18 Andy Seuss had come alive as he moved into the second spot as Zachem faded to third. The first caution flew on lap 68 when Jimmy Kuhn spun on the backstretch. During the caution period rain began to fall. At around a quarter to three the race was red flagged. Support divisions were run in order to keep the track relatively dry. Shortly after 6:00pm the 100 lapper was restarted. Masse led the remaining laps and recorded the win. In the closing laps Ken Barry came on like gangbusters and finished second. Seuss faded to fifth as he was passed also by Zachem and Louie Mechalides. Jon McKennedy is the series Champion.

   Don Hoenig stated in an article in the Norwich (CT) Bulletin that the Thompson Speedway's race night would still be Thursday with Sunday a possible rain day for certain shows. Upwards of four tour type non-sanctioned shows and a few SK Light type events would also be planned. It was also in the wind that the Modified Racing Series would make three stops at the northeastern Connecticut oval in 2011. Hoenig also planned on bringing the Whelen Modified Tour back for three events. He was still unhappy over the fact that NASCAR told him he would have to move his traditionally scheduled August Thursday date because of fact that the Whelen Tour would be running with the Indy Cars at Loudon the following weekend.

   A hot rumor in the wind was the possibility of Ben Dodge vacating his position as Special Assistant to Don Hoenig. Dodge and Russ Dowd had become a formable team in the organization and operation of the Thompson Speedway. Thanks to their efforts, Thursday Night Thunder at the Thompson Speedway provided great competition and an efficiently run program.

   Lou Modestino reported that the Seekonk Speedway may be planning to host multiple Modified events every other week in 2011. He speculated that Dodge, who has close connections to the Modifieds, would be the logical choice to put it all together for the Venditti family, proprietors of the Route 6 oval. Dodge refused to tell confidants where he might be going, other than saying he was leaving Thompson. Needless to say, this didn't happen.

   Len Sammons, editor and publisher of trade publication Area Auto Racing News announced that indoor Three Quarter Midget racing would be returning to the Dunkin Donuts Center in Providence, RI in 2011.

   Denny Hamlin passed Kevin Harvick for the lead with 29 laps to go Sunday and earned his third consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup win at the smallest circuit in the series, Martinsville. Keselowski captured the NASCAR Nationwide 5-Hour Energy 250 on Saturday, using a well-timed pit stop to roll past Reed Sorenson with two laps remaining at Gateway International Raceway. The Nationwide stop likely was the final race at Gateway. Dover Motorsports, owner of the track, put the property up for sale and had not requested any racing dates for 2011. Mike Bliss finished second, followed by pole-sitter Justin Allgaier, who led 70 laps in the 200-lap event. Jason Leffler finished fourth followed by Edwards in fifth. Sorenson placed sixth. NASCAR rookie Danica Patrick finished 22nd, one position behind her career-best effort the previous weekend in Charlotte.

   That’s about it for this week from 11 Gardner Drive, Westerly, and R.I.02891. Ring my chimes at 401-596-5467.

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 & Dave Dyke's

Click on Photo for Full Sized

Ron Bouchard                                              Dick Jackson                                                 Bill Slater    

Dave Humphrey                                          Neil Truesdell                                                   Sal Dee      

Looking Back Archive


SourcePhil Smith / Looking Back A Bit
Posted: October 28, 2011

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