The Chrome Horn - Looking Back A Bit with Phil Smith


April 13, 2012

   Forty five years ago in 1967, the Grandnationals (Winston Cup) was at North Wilkesboro. Darel Deringer took the win.

   Forty years ago in 1972, it was dubbed the Greatest Race in the History of Spring. Dick Berggren, Bruce Cohen and Lew Boyd conceived the idea of a high paying short track sprint of 80 laps called the Spring Sizzler. It was run at the Stafford Speedway and was such a rousing success; track owner Jack Arute bought the rights to the event. Close to 100 cars and 12,000 spectators were on hand for the inaugural event. Eddie Flemke, a Modified legend in his own time, appeared to have victory in hand until the closing stages when his car suffered a broken water pump, forcing him out. Fred DeSarro had dogged Flemke most of the way took over the point and went on to record the victory. Denis Giroux finished second and was followed by Bugsy Stevens, Leo Cleary, Jerry Cook, Moose Hewitt, Ray Miller, Bob Santos, Bob Potter and Marcell Corivieu.

   Thirty five years ago in 1977, the NASCAR Modifieds were at Hickory, N.C. where Paul Radford took the win over Jerry Cook, Billy Hensley and Harry Gant. In open competition Small Block Modified action at Thompson, twin 25’s was the order of the day. Geoff Bodine in the Dick Armstrong No.1 won the opener over Bugsy Stevens, Fred DeSarro, Ron Bouchard and Dick Caso. Bouchard won the nightcap after Bodine got collected in a wreck that was triggered by a blown radiator hose on the car driven by Armand Holley. DeSarro finished second to Bouchard. On the same day, Monadnock opened their season with a 100 lapper. Punky Caron ruled the roost as he beat out Ollie Silva and Freddie Schulz for the win.

   Thirty years ago in 1982, the only action was at Wall Stadium where Tom Commerford took the win over Jim Tyler, John Blewett Jr. and Tony Siscone.

   Twenty five years ago in 1987, Reggie Ruggiero in the Mario Fiore No.44 took top honors in the Spring Sizzler. George Brunnhoelzl finished second and was followed by Jamie Tomaino, Jim Spencer, George Kent and Jan Leaty. Ted Christopher was the 50 lap SK Modified winner. Riverside Park had an overflow crowd of 8100 on Saturday night as Ted Riggot took the win over Spencer, Bob Polverari and Stan Gregger. In Winston Cup action at Bristol, Harry Gant was the pole sitter but at the finish it was Dale Earnhardt who prevailed

   Twenty years ago in 1992, Rick Fuller in the Mario Fiore No.44 won the 200 lap Spring Sizzler at Stafford. Mike Stefanik in the Koszela No.15 finished second and was followed by Jeff Fuller, Doug Hevron and Mike McLaughlin. Bob Potter won the 35 lap SK-Modified feature over Steve Chowanski, Richie Gallup and Mike Christopher. Saturday night racing at Riverside Park rained out.

   Fifteen years ago in 1997, Rick Fuller went pole to pole to win the Featherlite Modified Touring Series Ice Breaker at the Thompson Speedway. It was not a cake walk as Fuller almost saw his win trashed when Gomer Taylor pulled out in front of the lead pack during a lap 26 restart. Tony Hirschman, in the Boehler No.3 finished second and was followed by Mike Stefanik, Tom Cravenho, Ed Flemke Jr. and Jamie Tomaino. Jim Broderick with his Mopar powered mount won the SK Modified feature over Bob Potter, Ricky Young, John Anderson and Mike Christopher. In Winston Cup action at Bristol, Jeff Gordon dumped Rusty Wallace on the last lap and went on to take the win. NASCAR parked Geoff Bodine after it was determined that he was too aggressive in getting even with Jim Spencer for an early race incident.

   Ten years ago in 2002 the Thompson Speedway took center stage with the running of the annual Ice Breaker. The opening NASCAR Modified Tour Series event drew 50 Modifieds and 9500 spectators. Jerry Marquis took the lead from Todd Szegedy on lap 113 of the 150-lap event and went on to take the win over Rob Summers, Chris Kopec, Rick Fuller and Tony Hirschman. SK Modified winners were Ted Christopher and Chuck Docherty. At Wall Township on Saturday night Jimmy Blewett took the win over Dave Michael and Mark Rivers.

   Five years ago in 2007, The 2007 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Series was slated to begin with the running of the Ice Breaker at the Thompson Speedway but Mother Nature won out as she swamped the entire northeast with rain and sleet on Sunday. Speedway officials and NASCAR made a joint announcement postponing the event on Saturday evening. With fuel prices being what they were it was a wise decision.

   The speedway was quite busy on Saturday as qualifying was completed for the Modifieds along with the tracks weekly divisions. Features were also run for the Sunoco (SK type) Modifieds and Late Models.

   Forty eight NASCAR Modifieds were on hand for practice and qualifying. Reggie Ruggiero and Richard Savory were early casualties as their cars suffered severe damage. Ruggerio’s mount had a water hose let go which dumped water on the track, causing him to lose control and hit the wall. Savory, who is driving for Preston, Ct car owner Art Barry this year spun in the water and landed on top of Ruggiero’s car.

   Both drivers escaped unhurt but both cars were damaged severely and had to be withdrawn. Barry had a back-up but Ruggiero didn’t as his car owner, Dick Barney was forced to return to his shop in New Jersey to make repairs and hope for a provisional starting spot which he eventually got. Todd Szegedy broke the Modified track record set by Bob Polverari in 2001 as he toured the 5/8 mile oval in 18.457 seconds as he won the Busch Pole. Second fastest was former series champion Tony Hirschman. Zach Sylvester made a fine showing for himself in his first outing in the Curt Chase No.77 as he qualified third fastest. Rounding out the top ten were Donnie Lia, Ted Christopher, Richard Savory, Matt Hirschman, Mike Stefanik, Bobby Santos III now in the Boehler Racing No.3 and Danny Sammons. A re-draw inverted the top six for the main event. Later in the day after the Ice Breaker was postponed NASCAR impounded four motors, the Chevrolets of Lia and Tony Hirschman and the Fords of Szegedy and Stefanik. They were taken to NASCAR’s R & D center in North Carolina for examination.

   Todd Ceravolo started his season off on the right foot as he won the first of twin features scheduled for the Sunoco Modifieds. Rick Gentes followed suit in the Late Models. Ceravolo, who won his qualifying heat, led every lap to score the win in the first of twin features scheduled for the Sunoco Modified division. Ceravolo jumped out to the early lead but was immediately hounded by Keith Rocco who has replaced Jeff Malave in the Interstate Diesel #6. Ceravolo maintained his position as the top-four, which also included Tommy Cravenho and Woody Pitkat, jockeyed for position. John Blewett, making his Sunoco Modified debut at Thompson, ran alone in the fifth position. The first driver to peek out of line was Cravenho to challenge Rocco for the second spot. The two ran wheel to wheel for several laps. Pitkat capitalized and was able to tail Rocco on the outside, moving Cravenho back to fourth. Ceravolo never missed a beat as he entered lap traffic at the halfway marker.

   Pitkat dove to the inside of Rocco on lap fifteen and was able to make the pass stick taking over the second position exiting turn four. Pitkat immediately set his sites on the leader Ceravolo. Meanwhile, Jimmy Blewett had caught his brother John. The action was halted when the first caution of the event flew on lap 20 for a spin by Dan LaJeunesse. Ceravolo got a great jump on the restart to maintain his lead on the field. Pitkat got racy with only a handful of laps remaining. On Lap 22, there was contact between the leaders but no change in position. Pitkat remained glued to his bumper. With the white flag in the air, Pitkat got a run on the inside in turn two but had to settle back in line. Ceravolo ran to the checkers just ahead of Pitkat. Rocco came home third followed by Cravenho and Jimmy. Blewett, who rounded out the top five.

   After his heat race victory, Corey Hutchings started the 25-lap Late Model feature from the pole. Hutchings capitalized and took the top spot over Rick Gentes and Mark Jenison. In a distant third was Steve Landry. The field was bunched up for a caution on lap six for a spin by Jeff Hartwell. Under the caution, Jenison was forced to give up third position with a flat tire. Hutchings maintained his lead on the restart but had his hands full holding off Gentes. Jeff Zuidema moved into the third spot. Gentes went low to get by Hutchings in turn two. Hutchings got out of shape losing positions to both Zuidema and Landry.At halfway, Gentes continued to show the way over Zuidema, Landry, Hutchings and Conrad Cote inside the top five. Things settled down as the laps wound down. Cote made a bid on Hutchings in fourth with two laps remaining. Cote could get underneath Hutchings in the corners but could not muster up enough steam to take the spot away. Gentes posted the victory over Zuidema, Landry, Hutchings, and Cote.

   The Waterford Speedbowl beat the impending rain on Saturday night. Dennis Gada survived several late race restarts to claim the 35-lap SK Modified feature. The defending champion pulled ahead of eventual runner-up Frank Ruocco for the final time with only three circuits remaining. Rob Janovic finished third with Doug Coby and Jeff Pearl rounding out the top five. Other winners were Allen Coates (Late Models), Ken Cassidy Jr. (Mini Stocks), Chris Bakaj (Legends) and Dwayne Dorr (Sportsman).

   At the Texas Motor Speedway Nextel Cup qualifying was rained out. NASCAR set the field by current points which meant that Michael Waltrip would miss his sixth straight race. The two-time Daytona 500 winner, in the first year with the Toyota team he owns, didn't have enough season points to get in the 43-car field. The latest setback for Waltrip comes less than a week after he was charged with reckless driving and failing to report an accident after hitting a telephone pole and rolling his SUV about a mile from his North Carolina home. Matt Kenseth made the save, then picked up the victory Saturday in the O'Reilly 300 Busch Series race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth.

   After pulling out of a spin without hitting the wall early in the race, Kenseth ended Carl Edwards' two-race Busch winning streak, overtaking Denny Hamlin with 11 laps left. Kenseth won by 0.128 of a second, the closest margin in a Texas Busch race. Kenseth, running second when hespun, got his second Busch win of the season and 10th top 10 in 12 Texas races. Edwards was third. Jeff Burton passed Matt Kenseth on th e final lap Sunday of the Nextel Cup Samsung 500 to become the first repeat winner at Texas Motor Speedway, winning 10 years after he won the inaugural race.Burton didn't lead until he overtook Kenseth on the backstretch coming out of turn 2 after more than 10 laps of trying to get past him. It was Burton's 19th career victory.

   ISC director Raymond K. Mason Jr gave himself a nice Spring bonus of approximately $643,750 when he sold 12,500 shares for $51.50 to $51.70 each. Company insiders are required by the Security and Exchange Commission to report their transactions.

   President and CEO Tom Deery, .of DIRT MotorSports, Inc. announced that it will change its corporate name to World Racing Group, Inc. The Company will operate under the d/b/a World Racing Group until the formal name change is voted on at the Company's upcoming shareholder's meeting. Following the formal corporate name change, the Company will also obtain a new stock symbol. Now based in Concord, N.C., the World Racing Group has unveiled an extensive television package which will showcase their events on the Speed Channel and ESPN.

   Last year, 2011, The Thompson Speedway opened on April 9 and 10. This year’s Icebreaker featured eight racing divisions topped by the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. Thompson’s own “Super 6” NASCAR Whelen All-American Series divisions along with the visiting Sunoco Lite Modifieds were on tap for the two-day event at southern New England’s largest and fastest oval race track.

   Bobby Santos III is full of confidence while a determined Ted Christopher is among the walking wounded. Both are prime contenders for the 2011 Whelen Modified Tour Series title. When its all set and done it will be a battle of wits between the crew chiefs, Bob Mueller who will guide the destiny of the Bob Garbarino Mystic Missile and Brad LaFountain who will guide the destiny of the Ed Whelen No. 36. Both are at the top of their game as they know tire, chassis and race strategy. The only variables are mechanical breakages and wrecks. It should make for and interesting and highly competitive season.

   Thirty five Whelen Modifieds were on hand for qualifying last Saturday. Santos broke his own track record in qualifying when he turned a lap of 18.237 seconds (123.376 mph) around the .625-mile oval for his fifth career Coors Light Pole Award. the top four qualifiers eclipsed Santos’ previous record lap set last year at 18.418 (122.418). Ted Christopher qualified second at 18.374 (122.456), followed by Justin Bonsignore at 18.386 (122.376) and Ryan Preece at 18.399 (122.289). Todd Szegedy rounded out the top five. Sixth through tenth were Ron Silk, Rowan Pennink, Eric Beers, Doug Coby and Eric Berndt. All tolled thirty three cars qualified.

   It was over shortly after it got started as far as Bobby Santos was concerned. Santos began the Ice Breaker 150 on the pole position and took the lead on the start with Ted Christopher in tow. The defending series champion led the first four laps before giving way to Christopher on the backstretch. Christopher led laps five, six and seven before Santos took it back, leading laps eight, nine and ten. Christopher re-took the lead as Santos began a backward slide. By lap 16 Santos' Mystic Missile began smoking on the right side and that was all she wrote as car owner Bob Garbarino instructed him to pit and shut the engine off. Santos' official finishing position was dead last in 33rd spot.

   Christopher went on to take the win but it was a rocky road in which he drove. He came from two laps down at one point and a hand injury from an early-race spin to maintain his dominance of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour at Thompson (Conn.) International Speedway. The
52-year-old Plainville, Conn., driver led the last 39 laps en route to victory.

   At the 1/3 (50lap) mark he spun on the backstretch after taking the lead from Ron Silk. Christopher, who already had fingers on his right hand taped up from a ligament injury, banged up his left hand in the spin. He lost two laps during the incident, one from the spin and then a second from a penalty for pulling up to pit. Christopher was the recipient of the Lucky Dog award on two occasions which put him back in contention on the lead lap. By lap 102 he had put himself into the top ten. His march to the front continued until he took the lead from Ryan Preece on lap 115, never looking back after that!

   Rowan Pennink finished second, followed by Mike Stefanik. Ryan Preece and Justin Bonsignore. Eric Beers finished sixth, followed by Doug Coby, Ron Yuhas, Matt Hirschman and rookie Patrick Emerling. Fifteen of the original 33 starters finished on the lead lap. Among those who had problems and failed to finish were Rookie Candidate Rick Gentes and Rob Fuller who lost engines and Richie Pallai, Jr., Erick Rudolph, Gary McDonald, Ron Silk, Eric Goodale, Woody Pitkat, Kevin Goodale, Tom Rogers, Jr., Eric Berndt, Bryon Chew, Jamie Tomaino and Tony Ferrante, Jr who were sidelined after being involved in wrecks.

   Despite the doom and gloom of the economy the speedway enjoyed a good attendance by race fans. The Whelen Modified Tour Series takes a Spring Break before its next event which will be the annual Spring Sizzler at Stafford on Sunday, May 1.

   In other weekend action at Thompson, Todd Ceravolo beat out Keith Rocco and Ryan Preece to win Saturday nights Sunoco Modified 25 lap feature. Joey Cipriano was the Sunoco Lite winner, also on Saturday. On Sunday, Ted Christopher took home top honors in the Sunoco Modified event. Mike O’Sullivan was victorious in the Super Late Model main event. John Materas returned to his winning ways in the Late Models. R.J. Marcotte recovered from an early race spin to score the TIS Modified victory. Danny Fields scored top honors in the Mini Stock division and Joe Coates wired the field in Limited Sportsman division.

   The Waterford Speedbowl completed a briskly paced six-division NASCAR Whelen All-American Series race program Saturday evening, marking the shoreline oval’s return to Saturday night racing for the 61st consecutive season. Keith Rocco of Wallingford picked up his second consecutive checkered flag in SK Modified® action to start the year, beginning 2011 in the same manner as his national championship season one year ago. Groton’s Bruce Thomas Jr. was the winner in the Bob Valenti Auto Mall Late Model race, while Ed Puleo of Branford and Phil Evans of Uncasville wound up the victors in the Street Stock and Mini Stock events, respectively. In INEX racing, sixteen year old Dana Dimatteo of Farmington won the Legends Cars feature event and fourteen year old Taylor Martin of New Hampshire took the Bandolero feature win.

   In Modified action south of the Mason-Dixon Line at the historic North Wilkesboro Speedway in North Carolina, Junior Miller took the green flag with 10 laps to go and never looked back, taking the 100-lap modified victory. After Jimmy Zacharias dominated the first half of the 100-lap event, veteran modified driver Junior Miller drove his car to victory lane. John Markovic, Jason Myers, Burt Myers and Rick Kluth rounded out the top five.

   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

Deke Astle                                                    Lew Boyd                                                    Fred Borden    

Ollie Silva                                                     Lew Boyd                                                   Mike Grbac

Looking Back Archive


SourcePhil Smith / Looking Back A Bit
Posted: April 13, 2012

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