The Chrome Horn - Looking Back A Bit with Phil Smith


November 2, 2012

   Sixty years ago in 1952 Dick Beauregard was declared Sportsmen Champion at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl after driving several different cars to the driver points title. The night Beauregard was honored at the track as Champion he received a trophy, a television set, a watch and a cake in front of the Speedbowl crowd. However, the night ended with Dick and Moe Gherzi having a post-race scuffle on the backstretch. Gherzi spun out while racing with Beauregard and Don Collins for position during the feature. As the cars lined up to go back into the pits after the race, Gherzi hit Beauregard's car with his own car from behind, the two then got out of their cars to confront each other. The verbal confrontation gathered a crowd where reports in the New London Day the following day claimed unidentified people were struck by others, but little else was reported. Freddie Luchesi led the division in wins with 9. Don Collins had 7 feature wins including a 50-lapper in June. Cy Yates (3), Ray Delisle (2), Mike Ward and Jim Holt won the other regularly scheduled 50 lap Sportsmen events.

    Thirty five years ago, in 1977, rainouts split the modified fields of cars as some went to Martinsville for the Cardinal 500 and some went to Thompson for the World Series. Martinsville had the NASCAR sanction and drew most of the top stars. The World Series, at that time was open competition. Bugsy Stevens took the win in Virginia. Local favorite Billy Hensley finished second with Brian Ross, Hank Thomas and Brett Bodine rounding out the top five. At Thompson, Fred DeSarro took the win over Freddie Schulz, Leo Cleary, George Summers and Bobby Clark.

   Thirty years ago, in 1982, the NASCAR Modifieds were in Martinsville for the season ending Cardinal 500. Fifty-seven cars were on hand. Best appearing awards went to Tony Siscone and the Dick Barney No.14 modified and the No.32 Late Model Sportsman driven by Dale Jarrett. The modified 250 lapper saw Jim Spencer jump out to an early lead over Doug Hevron and George Kent. Greg Sacks, who had all but dominated the modified ranks was on the move and by lap 27 had taken the lead. Sacks led until lap 92 when he, along with Richie Evans, Tony Siscone and Brett Bodine pitted for fuel. Spencer led the restart on lap 98 with Jerry Cranmer, Sacks, Bodine, Evans and Siscone in tow. Spencer led until lap 124 when he lost a driveshaft and Evans assumed the lead. A terrible crash and a horrific fire occurred on lap166. Ray Everham hit the wall and stopped on the backstretch. Tony Siscone, with nowhere to go, rear-ended Everhams car,
splitting the gas tank. Flames engulfed both cars. Everham escaped but Siscone, who was pulled out by Brian Ross and Geoff Bodine, suffered serious burns. Just before the crash, Siscone had removed his driving gloves, as they had become sweaty. After a long red flag period the race was resumed with Kent in the lead as Evans had pitted. Sacks, who was hoping to end his season with a win, dropped out on lap 187 when his right front suspension broke. Evans made a gallant charge in the closing laps but in the end had to settle for second behind Kent. Satch Worley finished third with Jerry Cranmer, fourth and Brett Bodine, fifth. Sixth through tenth were Paul Radford, Bob Vee, Gail Barber, Jean Michaud and Tom Baldwin. It would take over a year for Tony Siscone to heal and be able to race again, which he did. In fact, Siscone came back to Martinsville to record a well-deserved win. The Martinsville event was also the final race of Jerry Cooks driving career
as he retired to accept a position as Technical Coordinator in the Northeast for NASCAR.

   Twenty five years ago, in 1987, the Winston Modified Tour headed for Martinsville for what was supposed to be the last event of the year but because of the fact that the Stafford Fall Final had to be re-scheduled to the following week the Martinsville event did not determine the series champion. George Kent took the win with Jamie Tomaino finishing a strong second. Third thru fifth were Mike Mclaughlin, Satch Worley and Brian Ross.

   Twenty years ago, in 1992, the Thompson World Series took center stage as the Winston Modified Tour season came to a close. Reggie Ruggerio took the 125 lap win but had to settle for the runner-up spot in the final standings to Jeff Fuller who finished tenth. Satch Worley, in the Mystic Missile finished second with Mike Ewanitsko in third spot. Doug Hevron and Ricky Fuller rounded out the top five. Ted Christopher won the SK_Modified portion of the World Series as he beat out Eddie StAngelo and Mike Christopher. The final Modified Tour standings showed Jeff Fuller as taking the championship over Ruggerio, Tom Baldwin, Steve Park and Satch Worley.

   Fifteen years ago, in 1997, the Richmond International Speedway closed out the 1997 Nascar Modified Tour Series with a 150-lap event. Mike Stefanik ended his championship season in fine style as he took the lead from Ted Christopher on lap 113 and never looked back. Finishing second was pole sitter Tony Hirshman. Jan Leaty finished third and was followed by Ed Flemke Jr, Rick Fuller, Tom Cravenho, Tom Baldwin and Christopher.

   Ten years ago in 2002, The NASCAR Featherlite Modified Tour Series had closed out the year with Mike Stefanik taking the driving title. The tour consisted of 19 events with a total of 99 different competitors. Of those, 14 ran in all events. Their participation percentage was 14%. Looking at other NASCAR divisions, the Winston Cup has had, 84 different competitors in 28 events. Their participation percentage is the highest, 33%. The Busch Grandnationals have the highest car counts with 123 cars in competition. Nineteen ran all events for a percentage of 15%. The Craftsman Trucks have drawn 107 vehicles for 20 events. Twenty competitors ran all events for a percentage participation of 19%. The Busch North Series had a total of 18 events with a total participation of 64, which puts their percentage at 25%. The Goody’s Dash Series, which would be dropped by NASCAR after 2003 ran only 14 events. Eighty-seven cars ran with 12 running all events for a participation percentage at 14%.

   Competitors of the NASCAR Featherlite Modified Tour Series were still waiting for their 2003 schedule. Waterford announced theirs a few weeks back, May 10 and August 30. Word leaked from Riverhead that their dates were June 7 and August 2. Chances are that Stafford would announce their entire 2003 schedule at their banquet. From all indications the New Hampshire International Speedway would have their Featherlite Modified Tour Series events on Friday, July 18 and on Friday, September 12. Many competitors of the Busch North Series and the Featherlite Modified tour were hoping that NASCAR and the Speed Channel would announce their 2003 Touring Series coverage schedule as now was the time for race teams to be out beating the bushes for sponsorship dollars and it would be a big plus for a competitor to give a potential sponsor the word that his product will be on the television.

   The Busch North Series Champion Andy Santerre won $95,185 in 18 events. Santerre scored three wins included with 10 top 5’s. Matt Kobyluck finished second, 38 points behind the leader. Kobyluck recorded two wins and 11 top fives. Brad Leighton, Kelly Moore and Tracy Gordon rounded out the top five. Featherlite Modified Tour Series Champion Mike Stefanik won $87,890 in 19 events. Stefanik won two events, which included seven top fives. Ted Christopher was the leading winner with five victories to his credit including ten top 5’s. He finished 50 points behind Stefanik with a season total of $76,745. Chuck Hossfeld, Jerry Marquis and Rick Fuller rounded out the top five. Schedules for both touring series are due out any day. Overall, both New England based series provided good competition and were good draws at the gate where ever they raced.

   Auto racing in the northeast lost two staunch supporters. Ronald Marquis, Jerry Marquis’ dad and Tony Vecchio Sr. Mr. Marquis was very instrumental in his sons auto racing career and Mr. Vecchio played a vital part as he supplied both Modifieds and Busch North Series cars for Tony Hirschman, both would be missed.

   Five years ago in 2007, the post season North-South Shootout was supposed to be the big newsmaker of the week but that all changed at high noon on Friday when it was announced that Speedway Motorsports, Inc. (NYSE:TRK) had agreed to purchase the New Hampshire International Speedway from Bob and Gary Bahre for $340 million in cash. O. Bruton Smith, founder, chairman and chief executive officer of Speedway Motorsports, Inc, announced the agreement. The acquisition was expected to close in the first quarter of 2008. To align with other SMI-owned speedway brands, the track would be renamed New Hampshire Motor Speedway following completion of the acquisition. The speedway hosts the only Nextel Cup Series, Busch Series, and Craftsman Truck Series events held in the six-state New England region. Smith alluded that he had offered Bob Bahre the opportunity to remain associated as a consultant with the track that he built.

   Once the announcement went public the rumors of events leaving New Hampshire for other venues were rampant. According to an announcement made by NASCAR there would be no changes in scheduled Nextel Cup dates for 2008. Since it’s beginning Loudon has included the Whelen Modified Tour and the Busch East Series in their race weekends. It was sincerely hoped that the Whelen Mods and the Busch East would be included in all future plans of the speedway. Since the track opened in 1990, the 1.058-mile oval had hosted 48 Busch East Series events and 46 Whelen Modified Tour races.

   In a somewhat related statement by Phil Kurze, Vice President-Motorsports, Whelen Engineering Company, “2008 is NOT the last year that the Whelen Modifieds are part of the NASCAR family of racing divisions. Whelen has many years remaining on our contract for this division, the oldest NASCAR division, and it is going to continue to be part of NASCAR in the coming years and a very important part of Whelen Motorsports. Statements relative to its demise are based on unsubstantiated opinions or attempts to promote other series”. Kurze was a loyal and dedicated fan of the Modifieds plus is a man of his word. Hot on the heels of the Kurze announcement came word from John White of the Spencer Speedway in New York State that his track would host a Whelen Modified Tour Series event in 2008.

   Many of the top Modified competitors headed south to the Concord Motorsports Park in Concord, NC for the 5th Annual John Blewett III Memorial North-South Shootout. Twenty-eight SK type Modifieds and 46 Tour type Modifieds were on hand. The top three SK type qualifiers were Woody Pitkat, Doug Coby and Keith Rocco. Jimmy "Showtime" Blewett won the pole for the 5th Annual John Blewett Memorial North-South Shootout at Concord Motorsports Park. Blewett clocked in a blistering lap of 15.161seconds to best the 46-car field. Blewett was flying the family colors and number with the red-white-and blue #76 in honor of his brother, John Blewett III. John, a two-time North-South Shootout winner, died in a crash at Thompson International Speedway. Matt Hirschman was second fastest and was followed by southerner Burt Meyers, Erik Rudolph and True Value Modified competitor Les Hinkley.

   Jimmy Blewett took the SK type win over Ted Christopher, Tom Farrell, Jeff Malave and Rob Janovic. After a late race tangle with Blewett, Christopher knifed his way to the front after restarting at the rear, catching Blewett on the final lap. Pole sitter Woody Pitkat was sent to the rear of the field after making contact with Keith Rocco in the early going. Pitkat, who led the early stages of the SK-type race, was later taken out when he was collected in a restart jam-up. Sixth through tenth were Joe Lemay, Steven Reed, Don Fowler, Glen Griswold and Rick Kluth.
Just prior to the start of the Modified portion of the North-South Shootout John Blewett IV, the son of fallen driver John Blewett III gave the command to start the engines. As the race was about to get underway C & C Racing Promotions presented a check to the Blewett family for $10-thousand that they raised for the family since John's death in August.

   Matt Hirschman made it two in a row in N/S Shootout competition as he out raced and out foxed some of the best in Modified racing. Hirschman jumped out to an early lead with young Eric Rudolph on his tail. Hirschman led until lap 32 when, under caution, he pitted for his mandatory pit stop. Ryan Preece, of the True Value Series didn’t and assumed the lead. Preece led until shortly after the ½ way mark of the 100 lap feature when he pitted for his mandatory stop and handed the lead back to Hirschman. From there on it was Hirschman all the way to the checker. Eric Beers finished second and was followed by Bobby Santos III, southerner Burt Myers and Don Lia. Lia had recovered from an early confrontation with James Civali. Sixth through tenth were Eric Rudolph, Les Hinkley, Dale Quarterly, Woody Pitkat and Ryan Preece. Pre race favorite Ted Christopher retired after 58 laps with an overheated engine. Jimmy Blewett who was the sentimental favorite finished 15th on the lead lap.

   In Nextel Cup action at the Texas Motor Speedway Jimmie Johnson came out on top after a dramatic side-by-side duel with Matt Kenseth, grabbing his third straight victory and, more important, wresting the series points lead from Jeff Gordon. The race with Kenseth was breathtaking at times, with both cars wiggling dangerously as they came off the corners nearly touching. The entire time Johnson was well aware a crash would have taken him right out of the championship battle. Johnson, who began the day nine points behind Hendrick Motorsports teammate Gordon, moved out to a 30-point lead with two races remaining in the Chase for the championship. Gordon, a four-time champion, led early in the race, but was no factor in the late going, struggling with handling before managing to squeeze out a hard-earned seventh-place finish that kept the points battle close heading to Phoenix.It was Johnson's 32nd career victory and first on the
1.5-mile Texas oval. He led four times Sunday for a total of nine laps. Pole-winner Martin Truex Jr. finished third, followed by Busch, who led a race-high 143 laps but fell from first to seventh on the final pit stop. Newman finished fifth and Burton held off Gordon for sixth.

   In Busch Series action Kevin Harvick won another race and runaway points leader Carl Edwards finally wrapped up his first NASCAR Busch Series championship Saturday at Texas Motor Speedway. Edwards, who built a lead of more than 800 points in the first half of the season, stumbled through the second half of the year before putting away the title with an 11th-place run in the O'Reilly Challenge. He leads runner-up David Reutimann by an insurmountable 552 points with two races to go. For Harvick, running a limited Busch schedule this season after his runaway title in 2006, it was business as usual as he won for a series-high sixth time in 24 starts in 2007. It was his 32nd career victory, moving past Jack Ingram into second place behind Mark Martin, who has 47 wins. He beat Kyle Busch to the finish line by 3.486 seconds, most of the front straightaway on the 1.5-mile oval. Denny Hamlin finished third, followed by Clint Bowyer and Matt Kenseth. Sixth-place Brad Keselowki was the highest finishing Busch Series regular.

   Last year, 2011, The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Series had wrapped up their 2011 season. The wheels continued to turn as competitors continued to make their plans for 2012. Among those who may not be running a full schedule is Mike Stefanik. Stefanik vacated the seat in the Flamingo Motorsports No. 16 just prior to the season ending World Series at the Thompson Speedway. Stefanik drove the Ed Marceau Modified at Thompson but does not have a Tour ride secured at this time. Marceau and Stefanik have been successful in running limited Valenti Modified Racing Series events and in open competition Tour type events at Thompson. Marceau felt that his car could compete with the best of them but financially there is no way he could field a car for the Whelen Modified Tour Series. Stefanik's wife Julie has had health issues and maybe the multi-time series champion may take a step back in 2012. As a competitor and fabricator Stefanik can be proud of his accomplishments and has nothing to left to prove.

   Bobby Santos III came up a little short in defending his Whelen Modified Tour title but in the USAC Sprint Cars he excelled as he won the first USAC Sprint Car Pavement Series championship. Santos won two of the seven races held.

   In Sprint Cup racing at Martinsville, Tony Stewart won this one by passing Jimmie Johnson on a restart with three laps to go. The victory was Stewart’s third in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup and vaulted him into second place in the standings, eight points behind leader Carl Edwards. Stewart won for the 42nd time in his career.

   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

Joseph 'Moe' Gherzi                                       Dick Beauregard                                         Fred Luchesi       

     Brian Ross                                                    Bill Rafter                                                  Jerry Cook     

Looking Back Archive

SourcePhil Smith / Looking Back A Bit
Posted: November 2, 2012

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