November 30, 2012
five years ago in 1977, the Turkey Derby at Wall Stadium in New
Jersey was a 150-lap open competition modified event that drew modifieds
from all over the northeast. Local favorite Gil Hearne showed his home court
advantage as he took the top spot. Ronnie Bouchard finished second. Jim
Hendrickson, Tom Baldwin, and Fred Harbach rounded out the top five.
Blistering cold and wind greeted spectators and competitors alike. Following
Harbach were Charlie Jarzombek, Jim Hoffman, Gene Bergin, John Rosati,
Richie Evans, Sonny Seamon, Robert Hendrickson, Ollie Silva, Geoff Bodine
and Maynard Troyer.
Thirty years ago, in 1982, at
the Turkey Derby, Lenny Boyd took the win over Tony Hirshman, John Rosati,
Gil Hearne and Jim Tyler.
Twenty five years ago, in 1987,
Tom Mauser survived to win the Turkey Derby. Reggie Ruggerio finished second
with Tony Siscone, Tony Ferrente Jr. and Tom Baldwin in hot pursuit. In a
surprise announcement, the Stafford Speedway announced that they would drop
the Tour Modifieds completely from their schedule for the 1988 season. This
would prove to be a mistake as the SK Modifieds had not developed into a big
fan draw and the front gate would suffer.
Twenty years ago, in 1992,
local favorite Eddie Bohn would go pole to pole to win the Turkey Derby.
Tony Siscone finished second and was followed by Jerry Cranmer, Martin Truex
and John Blewett III. Rick Fuller, in the Mario Fiore 44 was the highest
finishing New Englander as he crossed the finish line in ninth spot. The
Martinsville Speedway dropped a bomb when they announced they were dropping
the modifieds in favor of raising their Busch Grandnational purse. Also
announced was the fact that the Oxford Plains Speedway in Maine had dropped
their NASCAR sanction and signed up with Tom Curley’s ACT group.
Fifteen years ago, in 1997, the
racing world was shocked with the news that NASCAR President Bill France Jr.
had suffered from a heart attack while in Japan for an exhibition race.
Ten years ago in 2002, The Wall
Township Speedway in southern New Jersey closed out the 2002 Northeast
racing season last weekend with the running of Turkey Derby XXVIIII. The
event consisted of twin 150 lap events, one for tour type modifieds run last
Friday and a 150 lap Wall Modified and SK Type Modified event on Saturday
plus support divisions. It was mighty cold and blustery at the south Jersey
shore oval last Friday. There were 28 tour type modifieds on hand including
Ted Christopher and Jeff Malave. Ken Woolley Jr., a Wall regular won the
event that took on the look of a demolition derby as only six cars were
running at the finish. It was a combination of a cold track and numerous
amounts of liquids dumped on the racing surface that made for less than
ideal racing conditions. Jamie Tomaino, a veteran of the NASCAR Featherlite
Modified Series survived to finish second. Wall Township Track Champion
Jimmy Blewett finished third. Christopher’s day
ended after hitting the wall while running in the top ten and Malave ran out
of gas in the late going while running third. What began as a great weekend
for the new management of the New Jersey oval turned into a major fiasco,
thanks to the weather on Saturday. Wall regular Harry Reed drew the pole
starting position and jumped out to an early lead with NASCAR Featherlite
Modified Tour regular John Blewett III hot on his tail. The field was slowed
at lap 39 of the 150-lap finale because of a caution being displayed. A few
laps later rain began to fall. It had been stated prior to the event that
the field would stop for fuel at the half way mark. Much to the dislike of
those on hand, the field circled the 1/3rd mile oval until they completed 75
laps. All cars pitted to refuel and while a re-start was being determined
the rain intensified and the race was ultimately deemed official with Reed
declared the winner with Blewett III, second and Friday’s winner Ken Woolley
Jr, third. Rounding out the top ten were Wall regulars Marc Rogers, Curtis
Truex Jr., Track Champion Jimmie Blewett, Frank Polimeda, Kevin Flockhart
Dave Michael and Plainville Connecticut’s Ted Christopher. Making matters
worse was the threat of a driver’s boycott over the race purse. As a gesture
of good will, the speedway management gave all fans that stayed to the
bitter end a free guest ticket for any one event at the Wall Township
Speedway during the 2003 season.
Five years ago in 2007, the
much talked about “Spec Engine” for the Whelen Modifieds continued to be a
hot topic. According to Brett Bodine, the Director of Cost Research at the
NASCAR Research and Development Center in Concord, NC, the “Spec Engine” can
be built by anyone. Parts must be purchased from Provident Engineering (Gary
Nelson) or from Carl Wagner. According to Bodine a complete engine, ready to
install and run would cost $25,000. “It is not our intent to put anyone out
of business” he said. Bodine, a former Modified Racer and currently driver
of the pace car at NASCAR Cup events added “All parts of the engine are
encrypted which eliminates any altering”. NASCAR has and will impound
engines for spot checks which in turn will keep everybody honest. Already in
use in NASCAR’s Busch East division, the power plant has proved itself in
being competitive and durable. Joey Logano, who had recently won the Busch
East Championship, used a “Spec Engine” in his Joe Gibbs Racing mount.
A test session was conducted at the Stafford Motor Speedway on
Friday and Saturday. According to photographer Howie Hodge the cars seemed
to be pretty even when they were on the track at the same time. Time wise,
they were real close.
When Mark Arute made the statement “We looked at possibly bringing
another touring modified division to Stafford, but in the end we decided
that there was only one true touring modified division and that is the
Whelen Modified Tour," he stirred up a hornet’s nest. It had been rumored
that the True Value Modified Series might have had a shot at getting a date
at the high profile speedway. Evidently that rumor could be put to rest as
it would probably be a cold day before Jack Bateman would bring his
competitors to Stafford. The TVMS had become an affordable alternate to
running the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Series. It had never been Bateman’s
intent to displace NASCAR’s oldest division. Likewise for the New York based
Race of Champions Tour. The TVMS and the ROC Tours do in fact tour, maybe
not to the extent of the NASCAR Tour but they do tour. The TVMS had
conducted events at just about every track in New England including the
Speedway and the Waterford Speedbowl in Connecticut. Hopefully Arute would
retract his statement because one never knows when these divisions may be
needed to fill a necessary void. Needless to say, he did!
Last year, 2011, the 2011
northeast racing wound up with 37th annual Turkey Derby at the Wall Stadium
in New Jersey which was run in mid 60 degree temperatures. Local favorite
Jimmy Blewett found himself in the right place at the right time in front of
a near capacity crowd as he won both the Tour Type Modified 150 and the SK
type 100. The event drew 25 tour type Modifieds and 29 SK types.
In the Turkey Derby 150 Modified event Matt Hirschman appeared to have
victory in sight until contact from Les Hinkley, with five laps to go, took
him out of contention and opened the door for Blewett. Blewett was the first
to admit he did not have the best car in the race. Still, he was able to
lead and then stay in contention as Doug Coby, Matt Hirschman and Rowan
Pennink took turns leading the field. Coby appeared to have the field
covered as he opened up a sizable lead and was on cruise control when his
mount overheated. Pennink was the victim of a mysterious caution that was
thrown while he was leading. Pennink ended up 15th, the last car on the lead
lap. Hirschman ended up 12th. Worn tires played a big part in the outcome.
Anthony Sesley ended up in second spot and was followed by Steven Reed,
Chuck Hossfeldt and Danny Bohn. Twenty four caution periods slowed the
The 100-lapper for the SK/Wall Modified cars saw Blewett’s second
mount run flawlessly from pole to pole. Hirschman and Woody Pitkat were
among his challengers in this one, but Blewett was never headed. Hirschman
ended up second in this accident-plagued event, with Chas Okerson of
Freehold, Pitkat and Howell’s Ken Woolley, Jr. rounding out the top five.
Doug Coby's mount suffered transmission problems. Despite a relatively good
day Pitkat's day turned sour as he broke down in Greenwich Ct on the way
home. Kieth Rocco was never a factor as he finished 10th, eight laps down.
Following the event local competitors at the Jersey shore oval
received some real good news as promoters Diane and Cliff Krause announced
that they have secured a deal to lease Wall Stadium for at least the next
Good news for Whelen Modified Teams came via Kevin Rice and the
Lowell (Mass) Sun. Rice reported that the 2012 New Hampshire Motor Speedway
schedule would likely be changed, with the Truck Series out. The events at
NHMS have been among the busiest weekends in all of racing. To help
alleviate scheduling problems, the NASCAR K&N event in July will no longer
be on the schedule either. This apparently brings an end to Thursday
practice and qualifying, making the event much more appealing for Modified
teams, who no longer will have to arrive on Wednesday for a Saturday race.
With the truck series now off the September schedule, the Modifieds can
practice and qualify on Friday for both weekends, saving them money.
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.
Looking Back Archive
Smith / Looking Back A Bit