The Chrome Horn - Looking Back A Bit with Phil Smith


November 1, 2013

    Thirty five years ago in 1978, Fred DeSarro was laid to rest on November 4.The following day, the Thompson Speedway hosted a benefit race which saw all proceeds go to Fredís kids and wife. The pit area was jammed, as was the grandstand. The competitors raced for nothing and the entire purse was donated. Bugsy Stevens, who had been a fierce competitor and close friend, was driving the Joe Brady No.41 and was driving down the backstretch on the parade lap when a ball joint broke. Stevens swore that DeSarro had given him a message and became quite upset. Brady's car was towed off and Stevens joined chief starter Dick Brooks and his assistant Bob Gelinas on the starter stand. Stevens dropped the green and the race was on. The event was scheduled for 50 laps. Geoff Bodine took an early lead and was cruising to another win. When Brooksie waved the white flag, Bodine slowed and as the checker waved the next time around, Bodine turned into the infield pit area and the rest of the field followed suit. The Speedway became so quiet that one could hear a pin drop! It was a fitting tribute to a fallen hero and fellow competitor. Bodine was credited with the win which happened to be his 55th which set an all time modified record which still stands today. Richie Evans was credited with finishing second and was followed by Ronnie Bouchard, John Rosati, Dick Dunn, Charlie Jarzombek and Bobby Vee. It was a day, which many of us will never forget.
   Five years ago in 2008, The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Series settled into a long winterís sleep with the exception of the upcoming Banquet of Champions, which would be held at the Mohegan Sun Casino on Saturday, September 13.

   The weekly stars of NASCAR headed for Las Vegas for the 27th annual NASCAR Whelen All-American Series awards banquet at the Rio Hotel. NASCAR, series sponsor Whelen Engineering and track operators gathered to honor national champion Philip Morris, plus U.S. state, Canadian provincial, and track champions from throughout North America.

   Morris, of Ruckersville, Va., made history, becoming only the second driver to win the title more than once. Morris, the champion also in 2006, joined five-time champion Larry Phillips in the seriesí very elite category.

   Morris, who raced at the Motor Mile Speedway in Virginia entered 28 events and scored 14 victories. Including the wins he had 23 top fives. Finishing second was Brian Harris who raced at the West Liberty Raceway in Iowa. Harris had 35 top fives in 38 starts including 20 wins. Third is Marty Ward who raced at the Greenville-Pickens Speedway in South Carolina. Ward recorded 22 top fives in 24 starts including 13 wins. Fourth was New Englandís own, Keith Rocco who raced at Stafford, Waterford and Thompson. Rocco entered 49 events and scored 32 top fives including 11 wins. Rocco drove for three different car owners. Rounding out the top five was Jeff Strunk who raced at the Grandview Speedway in Pennsylvania. Strunk ran in only 20 events but made the best of it as he had 19 top fives which included four wins.

   NASCAR also honored their state champions. Rocco, who made his Whelen Modified Tour debut at the 2008 World Series at Thompson took top honors as the Connecticut State Champion. Rocco was also the 2008 SK Modified Champion at the Stafford Motor Speedway. Woody Pitkat, who, like Rocco raced at all three tracks, finished second. Pitkat entered 29 events and recorded 13 top fives, which included six wins. Jimmy Blewett, with 12 top fives in 25 starts, finished third. Blewett raced at Thompson and Stafford. Doug Coby, who also raced at all three tracks, finished fourth. Dennis Gada who won a record seventh Modified Track Championship at the Waterford Speedbowl, rounded out the top five. Gada, who raced only at Waterford, scored 13 top fives in 21 starts which included three wins. Sixth through tenth in the final NASCAR State standings are Rob Janovic from the Waterford Speedbowl, Todd Ceravolo from the Thompson Speedway, Jeffrey Paul from Waterford, Ted Christopher from the Stafford Motor Speedway and Tyler Chadwick from the Waterford Speedbowl.

   At the Waterford Speedbowl the word had it that Jerry Robinsonís lease of the shoreline oval was up as of November 1. According to reports Mr. Robinson had removed himself and his belongings from the facility. In the mean time competitors who raced in the season ending Fall Finale had not been paid.

   In NASCAR Sprint Cup action, Carl Edwards won for the second straight week, squeezing a victory out of his last tank of gas. The combination of the win by Edwards and a 15th-place finish by Jimmie Johnson in the Dickies 500 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth left Edwards 106 points behind NASCAR Sprint Cup points leader Johnson with two races remaining. Edwards dominated most of the race, leading 199 of the first 264 laps on the 1 1/2-mile oval. Edwards, who inherited the lead when Greg Biffle pitted with 13 laps remaining, beat runner-up Jeff Gordon by more than 8 seconds still had enough gas left to do a couple of victory doughnuts. Edwards went the final 103.5 miles on his last fill-up.

   Kyle Busch won the O'Reilly Challenge Nationwide event at Texas Motor Speedway to capture his 10th win of the season, tying him with Sam Ard for the most wins in a season in the series, and giving Joe Gibbs Racing it's 19th win of the year. Carl Edwards finished second followed by Mark Martin, Joey Logano, and David Ragan. The race was slowed by 5 cautions for 20 laps and there were 4 lead changes among 10 leaders.

   On November 4 Barak Obama became the first African-American to be elected as the President of the United States.

   Last year, 2012, The Waterford Speedbowl closed out their season Saturday, and championships were decided in both the SK Modified and Street Stock events. Jeff Rocco, twin brother to Keith Rocco, took his first career victory in the 50-lap SK Modified race while Tyler Chadwick of Ledyard secured his first ever Speedbowl title in the division. Walt Hovey left no doubt in the Street Stocks, winning both the race and the track championship. Also winning races Saturday were Bruce Thomas Jr in the Late Models and Ken Cassidy Jr. in the Mini Stocks.

   Rocco was the man to beat once he made his way into the race lead. Craig Lutz started in the pole position and led through a lap 3 restart. Lutz gave way to Kyle James while Rocco moved into second position. Another caution on lap 5 enabled Rocco to line up alongside James for the ensuing restart. Rocco powered past James when racing resumed, leading lap 6. Rocco survived four more restarts the rest of the way.

   Todd Ceravolo finished out the year on a high note, finished second to Rocco in the SK Modified race while Shawn Monahan came from the rear to finish third. Jeff Rocco is the twin brother of two-time track champion Keith Rocco. Chadwick began the event with a 21-point lead over Jeff Pearl. He finished the race ninth, running a cautious race to stay out of trouble and claim the crown.

   Thomas led throughout the Late Model race, with Jeff Smith finishing second and Dillon Moltz the champion in the division, finishing third.
Hovey rose to the lead on lap 24 in the Street Stocks race then survived multiple caution flags over the remainder of the race. Corey Hutchings was second and Chris Meyer came in third. Cassidy resumed the final 28 laps of the Mini Stock race from a lead he held back on October 7th when rain halted the race. Ray Christian III of Norwich was second and Jeff Cembruch finished third. Cassidy's victory was his 12th of the year in the division, good for the all-time single season record in division wins.

   On a sad note Auto Racing lost a true friend with the passing of Charlie Mitchell. Charlie was well known and highly respected by his peers for his writing in the Norwalk (CT) Hour. Charlie was the dean of New England racing writers. The respect he had from competitors, from promoters, from fans and, especially from other media members, remains unparalleled. Having Charlie in the press box signified that it was indeed an event worthy of coverage. He brought the skills he used covering other sports to auto racing. He was one of a tiny group that was instrumental in making our sport part of the general media scene. In that regard, he was a revolutionary figure in New England auto racing history.

   In NASCAR Sprint Cup racing at the Martinsville Speedway, Jimmie Johnson started from the pole and dominated the race, leading 191 of the 500 laps en route to his seventh victory at the historic .526-mile asphalt oval. However, the victory didnít come easy.

   Jeff Gordon was attempting to work his way around Johnson when the caution flag waved on lap 474 when Kevin Harvickís engine expired. All of the lead-lap cars pitted under caution except championship leader Brad Keselowski and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Johnson restarted third behind Keselowski and Earnhardt and quickly drove his way around both drivers, retaking the lead on lap 485. On lap 491 the final caution flag of the day waved when Carl Edwards and Earnhardt spun in turn two, giving second-place Kyle Busch one final shot at Johnson.

   The field returned to green-flag racing with five laps left and Johnson quickly pulled into the lead with Busch in hot pursuit. Busch gave it everything he could, but Johnson was able to hold on for the victory.

   The Nationwide Series was off for the weekend.

   Thatís 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 Racing

Click on Photo for Full Sized

Jerry Humiston                                        Cannonball Baker                                    Larry LaFayette

      Moe Gherzi                                                 Pete Fiandaca                                       Smokey Boutwell

Looking Back Archive

SourcePhil Smith / Looking Back A Bit
Posted: November 1, 2013

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