The Chrome Horn - Looking Back A Bit with Phil Smith


April 5, 2013

   Sixty years ago in 1953, New London native Dom DeLaura won the season opening 25 lap Sportsman feature at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl. Lou Tetreault was the 20 lap non-Ford winner.

   Forty five years ago in 1968, SJ Evonsion scored his first win at the Riverside Park Speedway which was a 1/8 mile oval at the time. Bob Potter won the opening day 30 lap Modified feature at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl.

   Forty years ago, rain prevailed at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl.

   Thirty five years ago, in 1978, the Modifieds ran a spring event at the 1-1/2 mile Trenton Speedway. Richie Evans took the lead and the win when Bugsy Stevens ran out of gas with two laps to go.

   Thirty years ago, in 1983, all was quiet

   Twenty five years ago, in 1988, all was quiet

   Twenty years ago in 1993, the NASCAR Featherlite Modified Tour Series was in Richmond, VA. Mike Stefanik took the lead from Jan Leaty with three laps to go as he went on to record the victory. Jeff Fuller finished second with Leaty third over Mike Ewanitsko and Doug Hevron rounding out the top five.

   Fifteen years ago in 1998, the Thompson Speedway took center stage with the running of the Ice Breaker. Fifty-two Modifieds were on hand for the 125 lap event which saw Mike Stefanik take the lead from Tony Ferrante with four laps to go. At the finish, Ferrante faded to third as Tony Hirschman powered his way into the second spot. Ed Flemke Jr. and Jan Leaty rounded out the top five. Jim Broderick won the Sunoco-SK Modified event. Also running that weekend was a 40 lap Race of Champions event at Tioga which was won by George Kent. In Winston Cup action in Texas, qualifying had to be put off for a day because of water seeping up through the track. Jeremy Mayfield ended up with the pole position but it was Mark Martin who would score the win. A big wreck on lap two took out Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Earnhardt Jr. won the Busch Series event.

   Ten years ago in 2003 sleet and ice forced NASCAR and the Thompson Speedway management to postpone the season opening Icebreaker to April 14. During the weekend at Thompson, George Pyne met with the Featherlite Modified Tour car owners and assured them that their status within NASCAR was safe. Pyne also told the owners he would look into improving the purse structures of the tour events. Looks like good old George is still looking!

   Five years ago in 2008, the Thompson Speedway officially opened the 2008 racing season in the northeast and began the 2008 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Series. In what was supposed to be a fun filled and competitive weekend ended in tragedy and ultimately a wet note. A racing accident claimed the life of race driver Shane Hammond of Halifax, MA. The accident occurred on the fourth lap of a scheduled 25-lap Northeast Midget Association (NEMA) feature event race. Hammond was traveling down the backstretch of the 5/8 mile oval when he cart wheeled over the third turn wall and hit an advertisement sign. The 27 year old Hammond was transported to the Day Kimball Hospital in Putnam, CT where he was pronounced dead shortly after arrival.

   For a good part of the day it was misting and threatening rain. Eddie Flemke Jr brought back fond remembrances of his father’s Thompson 300 win in 1978 as he elected not to pit when the leaders did and it paid off handsomely, $7,920, to the second generation driver. Flemke, who started eighth, was running third and he inherited the lead on lap 71 when leader Todd Szegedy and second-place Reggie Ruggiero pitted. Flemke led until lap 92 when the race was finally red flagged because of extremely heavy mist that coated the track and made it unsafe. It was also the first win for Gary Teto, Flemke’s car owner.

   A similar situation occurred years ago, 1978, and involved Flemke’s father and Bugsy Stevens. Stevens was clearly the fastest car during the running of the Thompson 300. When rain began falling Stevens was instructed to pit and handed the lead to Flemke. Flemke gambled that the rain would prevail and that it did!

   Chuck Hossfeld, in Bob Garbarino’s Mystic Missile finished second and was followed by Bob Grigas, Long Islander Joe Hartmann and rookie Tom Abele. Sixth through tenth were James Civali who was the Coors Light Pole sitter and clearly the fastest on the track, Todd Szegedy, Reggie Ruggiero, Rowan Pennink and Ted Christopher. There were five caution periods for 53 laps. NASCAR Tour director Chad Little needed to get a better grip on this situation as it took way too long to get restart lineups correct. There were 39 Tour Modifieds on hand and despite the cold weather close to 8,000 fans turned out for the season opener.

   Prior to the race, former champions Frankie Schneider (1952) and Donny Lia (2007), and the late Richie Evans (nine-time champion) were honored by NASCAR and series sponsor Whelen Engineering.

   In other weekend racing at Thompson Bert Marvin was the Sunoco Modified (SK type) winner on Saturday night in the first of two events scheduled for the weekend. The Sunday event was rained out and will be rescheduled at a later date. Jimmy Blewett finished second and was followed by Doug Coby, Danny Cates and Josh Sylvester. Jeff Zuidema was the Late Model winner, Mike O’Sullivan was the Pro Stock winner, Jessie Gleason, the Limited Sportsman winner, Glenn Boss was victorious in the Thompson Modifieds and Danny Fields was the Mini Stock winner. The NEMA Midget feature was halted after the lap 4 accident and was not resumed. Erica Santos was the leader at that time.

   In NASCAR Sprint Cup racing Carl Edwards ran away with the Samsung 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday for his series-best third win of the season, holding off Jimmie Johnson on a two-lap overtime sprint to the finish in Fort Worth. Kyle Busch, winner of the Nationwide Series race Saturday, was strong early but had nothing for Edwards in the end and faded to third.

   Last year, 2012, The northeastern hills of Connecticut came alive with the sound of ground pounding NASCAR Modifieds as the Men that live by the Grace of God and 600 horsepower were off on the run back under the sun as the Whelen Modified Tour Series began the 2012 season with the running of the annual Icebreaker at the Thompson Speedway.

   The speedway came alive on Friday with hundreds of camp trailers and race car carriers entering the speedway grounds. With gasoline hovering around the $4.15 mark many just decided to bite the bullet and went to enjoy their favorite form of auto racing.

   Summer-like weather greeted fans and competitors on Saturday morning. Twenty nine Modifieds were on hand. In 2010 the IceBreaker drew 37 of the ground pounders. Maybe it is a sign of the times. The recent announcement by NASCAR that only one Whelen Modified Tour would be televised while 26 NASCAR K&N (Kids and Nephews) Development Series events would be seen on television. Granted, the Whelen Modified Tour Series is regional but their competition and fan appeal is far above many of The K&N events that are run in front of almost empty grandstands. Whelen Industries pours millions into the Modified series and the lack of television is a slap in the face to the Connecticut sponsor. Even though the Whelen Modifieds are primarily in the Northeast there are many potential sponsors out there and if television coverage existed maybe there would be a few who would like to see their company names on the sides of the cars. A race team can not exist on race purses alone. Sponsorship dollars are desperately needed to keep the division alive or more race teams will fall by the wayside.

   Ryan Preece, who took over the seat formerly occupied by Mike Stefanik, posted a lap of 18.387 seconds (122.369 mph) Justin Bonsignore posted a fast lap of 18.402 (122.269). Bobby Santos III had the third-fastest lap of Saturday qualifying at 18.545 (121.327). Keith Rocco (18.560/121.228) and Rowan Pennink (18.594/121.007) rounded out the top-five qualifiers.

   Ron Yuhas Jr., Mike Stefanik, defending Whelen Modified Tour Champion Ron Silk, Todd Szegedy and Donny Lia rounded out the top 10 qualifiers for Sunday’s event. Don Lia who is in Santos' former ride was 11th and defending race winner Ted Christopher was 12th fastest.
Keith Rocco made a hasty retreat to the Waterford Speedbowl where he made it two out of three in SK Modified competition. Rocco saved the best for last as he passed Tom Abele Jr., who had led from the start of the 35-lap feature, on the final turn on the 1/3 mile oval. Other winners at the Connecticut shoreline oval were Ken Cassidy Jr. who won his third straight Mini Stock feature. Tyler Jackson picked up his first career win in the SK Light Modified race and Chris Meyer found Victory Lane in the Street Stock feature. In Saturday Showdown Series action, Dan Butler won the Super X-Car feature race and Scott Limkemann scored the win in the accompanying X-Car event. The Late Models had the weekend off.

   Ron Silk celebrated his eighth career NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour victory in an extended 159-lap Thompson Icebreaker after Rowan Pennink was posted for not allowing Silk, who chose to take the inside groove for the final restart, to set the pace. He officially jumped the restart. “I had a better car than Rowan (Pennink),” said Silk after the race. “Before the last restart, he had me up in the marbles. He didn’t even give me a chance to have a line. You can’t beat the leader to the line. If you do, you have to lift. I’m happy to win and we had a better car than he did. I ran him down and passed him with 15 to go. The rule is in black and white. You can’t beat the leader to the line.” Ted Christopher was sitting in the cat bird seat and had the best view of what happened. Christopher stated that Pennink went early and when Silk realized what was happening he jabbed the gas and spun the wheels. As a penalty NASCAR placed Pennink at the tail of the lead lap which gave him a tenth place finish. The official order of finish saw Christopher finishing second with Mike Stefanik, third. Jimmy Blewett and Don Lia rounded out the top five. Sixth through ninth were Jamie Tomaino, Patrick Emerling, Doug Coby and Wade Cole. Fifteen of the original 29 starters were running at the finish.

   Silk started the race in eighth and led just one time throughout the race distance taking the lead at lap 138 when he dove underneath Pennink in turn three. Ryan Preece took the lead at the start and led through lap 84 before giving way to Bobby Santos III. Santos led for only two laps when Preece took the lead back, but only momentarily as Don Lia took his turn at the point. Lia led from lap 89 to lap 129 when Pennink took control following a restart on lap 130. Pennink and Silk slugged it out until lap 138 when Silk took the lead for the final time.

   There were 12 caution periods that slowed the 157 lap event with some of them taking out some of the pre-race favorites. The first caution flew on lap 9 when Patrick Emerling , Doug Coby and John Jensen spun in turn 2. The second caution occurred on lap 39 when Todd Szegedy spun while attempting to pass Mike Stefanik. It was during this caution that Jensen dropped out with engine troubles. Caution no.3 came on lap 52 when Eric Goodale spun in turn four. Eddie Flemke JR and Doug Coby got together for a spin in turn two on lap 69 to bring out the fourth caution. One lap later Long Islander Ken Heagy dropped out with engine woes. Coby spun with Keith Rocco during a restart on lap 74 for caution No. 5. The field had no sooner taken the green on lap 78 when Patrick Emerling got sideways coming out of turn two. Szegedy and Silk went on the defensive. Silk survived but Szegedy didn't as he went into the inside wall a ton, ending his day.

   Caution no.7 on lap 85 had to be considered "The Big One" as it involved 13 cars and caused NASCAR to throw the red in order to clean the track of multiple wrecks. Rob Fuller and Bryon made the initial contact in turn one that triggered the mess. Among those who were collected and eliminated were Tony Ferrante Jr, Eric Berndt, Eric Goodale, Eric Beers, Ron Yuhas Jr and Keith Rocco along with Fuller. Doug Coby spun in turn 2 on lap 113 for yellow No.8. Another multi car wreck on lap 122 brought out caution no. 9. Mike Stefanik hit the rear of Ryan Preeces' car sending him into a spin in turn three. Preece made contact with the wall and destroyed his radiator, putting him out for the day. Also eliminated was Bobby Santos III. On lap 142 Wade Cole spun, for caution No. 10, in turn two setting the stage for the first green-white checker. When the field went back to green on lap 149 Lia and Justin Bonsignore tangled. Lia was able to continue but Bonsignore
had terminal suspension damage and was done for the day. On the restart, Christopher wrested the lead from Silk only to lose it because Cole spun again bringing out the 12th and final caution of the day.

   In other Thompson Icebreaker action, Ryan Preece, Tommy O’Sullivan, Derek Ramstrom, Glenn Boss, Scott Sundeen, and Tyler Poulin all took victories in NASCAR Whelen All-American Series divisions.

   Preece jumped to the lead in the Sunoco Modified feature and held off Woody Pitkat for the win in the 30-lap Sunoco Modified feature. It was Preece at the drop of the green with Woody Pitkat getting by Ted Christopher for the second position. As Preece began pulling away, the first caution flew at lap four when John Catania spun and hit the backstretch wall. The green quickly went to yellow when on the restart Shawn Thibeault, Wayne Arute, and Moose Douton got tangled up in turn four. The action continued with Pitkat and Preece side-by-side through turn one and Pitkat pulling ahead by a nose in turn two, however, it was Preece ahead at the line with Pitkat in tow. Todd Ceravolo rounded out the top-three and the trio pulled away to a significant lead over the rest of the field.

   The torrid pace of Preece and Pitkat saw them lapping the field by the 17th circuit, and as they maneuvered through lapped traffic, Ceravolo dropped a half a straightaway in the rear view mirror. Preece took the checkers in commanding style followed by Pitkat, Ceravolo, and Christopher, who was later disqualified for an altered muffler. Christopher's finish was reinstated after it was determined that his mufflers had not been altered. There were 18 Sunoco (SK) Modifieds on hand.

   The NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour returned to action for the South Boston (Va.) 150. While the Whelen Modified Tour Series in the north had been losing some of it's competitors the southern series appears to be gaining as 27 cars were on hand for the event. Brandon Ward won the South Boston 150 on Saturday night in NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour action at South Boston Speedway. Ward took the lead from defending tour champion George Brunnhoelzl III, who led a race-high 130 laps, on Lap 131 and never looked back over the 19 laps of the race. It was Ward’s first tour victory in 17 starts. Andy Seuss rebounded from an early-race incident to finish second followed by Danny Bohn in third. Kyle Ebersole and L.W. Miller rounded out the top five. Sixth through tenth were Thomas Stinson, Burt Myers, Brunnhoelzl, Renee Dupuis and John Smith.

   The Stafford Motor Speedway management announced that veteran car owner Bob Garbarino would be the Grand Marshal of the upcoming Spring Sizzler. Garbarino has been an avid supporter of Modified racing at Stafford since the track was paved in 1967. His Mystic Missile has carried some of NASCAR Modified's Greatest drivers including Dick Watson, Ted Stack, Hop Harrington, Leo Cleary, Gene Bergin, Geoff Bodine, Tim Connelly, Satch Worley, Brian Ross, Bugsy Stevens and SJ Evonsion. In recent years Bobby Santos III and Don Lia have steered the Missile. Garbarino owns and operates the Mystic River Marina in Mystic, CT.

   In NASCAR Sprint Cup action, Greg Biffle held on tight in the fastest Sprint Cup race ever on the 1 1/2-mile, high-banked Texas Motor Speedway, pulling away after charging below Jimmie Johnson for a winning pass with 30 laps remaining on a windy and fast-paced Saturday night. In Nationwide Series action, Ricky Stenhouse pushed his Ford out in front with six laps left before Denny Hamlin came from behind to get side-by-side at the start-finish line. Stenhouse was ahead by only .001 seconds after that first lap before pulling away for his second victory of 2012. Kasey Kahne celebrated NASCAR's return to Rockingham Speedway with a victory Sunday in the Truck Series race. The track was purchased at auction by Andy Hillenburg, and he successfully brought NASCAR back. The truck race was the first NASCAR-sanctioned event at The Rock since 2004. In other Rockingham action Corey LaJoie continued to bat a 1.000 at the speedway in the UARA
Late Model Series, winning his third event in three outings at the 1-mile track, while Frank Kimmel II finally made it to victory lane after narrowly missing it in November in the Frank Kimmel Street Stock Nationals.

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

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

Don Flynn                                                 Dave Monaco                                           Dave Romano

Dick Chapman                                            Dom Delaura                                                Newt Palm     

Looking Back Archive

SourcePhil Smith / Looking Back A Bit
Posted: April 5, 2013

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