The Chrome Horn - Champ Trail with Phil Smith


April 8, 2014

  The Thompson Speedway opened this past weekend, on April 6 with the Icebreaker which included the opening event of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Series. The Icebreaker, presented by Town Fair Tire, marked the beginning of Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park’s 74th season of operation. The 2014 running of the event marked the 40th time it has been held. The traditional season-opening event featured nine divisions, headlined by the first championship race for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour (NWMT).

  The Thompson Speedway Icebreaker also marked the beginning of an era of live TV broadcasting of events by which is a ground-breaking collaborative digital platform from AMA Pro Racing, IMSA and NASCAR that will have live stream various races not covered by broadcast television, giving fans new opportunities to follow their favorite series. It also enhances fans’ viewing experience at the track with the ability to watch multiple cameras on their tablet or mobile device, and access archived broadcasts on demand. Thompson had one manned camera on the race control roof following the action and included audio from Victory Lane Radio.

  Twenty seven NASCAR Tour Modifieds were on hand at Thompson for the season opener. The Modified Tour crews and their cars christened the all new garage which has been built over the weekend. Woody Pitkat looked extremely stout in the Buzz Chew Chevrolet entry during early practice. Among the early casualties was Tommie Barrett who lost control of his Robert Our mount and hit the wall hard between turns one and two. Other excitement included the East Thompson Fire Truck getting stuck in the mud in the turn one area.

  Woody Pitkat, from Stafford, Conn., posted a fast lap of 18.724 seconds (120.167 mph) to take the Icebreaker pole in his first race with the Buzz Chew Motorsports No. 88 Chevrolet team. It was also the first pole position for the Long Island based car owner. Justin Bonsignore posted a fast lap of 18.796 (119.706) to earn a front row starting position alongside Pitkat. Both Pitkat’s and Bonsignore’s race cars are powered by the NASCAR-approved spec engine.

  The Icebreaker ended up being a slugfest between two Long Island based cars. Justin Bonsignore took his fourth career victory and his second at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park. Bonsignore took the lead from Woody Pitkat for the second and final time at lap 142. Don Lia, a Long Islander who drives a Connecticut based car, the Mystic Missile of Bob Garbarino was also in the mix as he was leading until he found himself in the wall after being run up the track by Pitkat on lap 123. Pitkat led the early laps of the race, but lost the lead to Bonsignore on a lap 18 restart. On lap 21, Pitkat challenged Bonsignore for the lead and went high in turn one only to lose the lead to Rowan Pennink in turn four. Pennink, Pitkat and Bonsignore settled in line nose-to-tail for several laps, but Pennink and Pitkat broke away by a commanding ten-car length advantage.

  After a long green flag run, the caution flew and tightened up the field. A few cars opted to pit, but Pennink, Pitkat and Bonsignore were among the majority that stayed out. Pennink wasted no time in jumping right back out to the lead on the restart, but he would have to do it all over again after a car spun on the front stretch at lap 63. Pennink jumped to the front again, but Pitkat was on his bumper and applying the pressure. On lap 79, Pitkat got a run on Pennink and was able to take over the lead. Pitkat put two-car lengths breathing room over him and the duo pulled ahead to a commanding two-second lead over Timmy Solomito, Bonsignore, and Ron Yuhas. On lap 96, Pennink’s day took a turn for the worse when he hard in turn three and his No. 93 suffered heavy damage.

  A majority of the field pitted after the conclusion of the red flag. Donny Lia inherited the lead followed by Matt Hirschman and Keith Rocco. Green flag racing resumed at lap 105 with Lia leading the way. Coming up quick, however, was Pitkat and Bonsignore now fifth and sixth respectively. Bonsignore muscled his way by Pitkat en route to the third position and challenged for second by lap 114. Bonsignore was still on the move and about to make a run on Lia for the lead when the caution came out and relegated him back to third. Lia drove to the lead on the lap 118 restart as Pitkat got by Bonsignore for third. Pitkat and Bonsignore both got by Hirschman to take over second and third. Coming around on lap 123, Pitkat drove to the inside lane in a challenge on Lia for the lead, riding Lia high into the turn two wall.

  In the end Bonsignore pulled out to a ten-car length advantage over Pitkat and soared to the checkered flag unchallenged. Doug Coby finished third with Timmy Solomito and Eric Goodale, both Long Islanders, rounding out the top five. Ron Yuhas had an extremely strong run as he came home in sixth. Ron Silk, Ted Christopher, Ryan Preece and Jim Zacharias rounded out the top ten.

  Some of the potential front runners had their problems which kept them out of a top spot. Bobby Santos finished a distant 18th after losing laps while repairs were made to a leaking oil line. Keith Rocco dropped out after 135 laps when his steering malfunctioned. He finished 20th. Lia was credited with 21st and Pennink, 22nd, after their wrecks. Tommy Barrett finished 23rd after being forced out after 100 laps with a defective ignition. Also a DNF was Mike Stefanik who finished 24th after losing oil pressure.

  The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour is back in action next on Sunday, April 27 for the NAPA Spring Sizzler 200 at Stafford (Conn.) Motor Speedway.

  In other Sunday action at Thompson, Keith Rocco scored two NASCAR Whelen All American Series wins in one day in both the Sunoco Modified and Late Model divisions. Shawn Monahan of earned his second in as many days in the Xtra Mart Limited Sportsman division while Steve Dickey, Jr. checkered the Monster Mini Stocks. Mike O’Sullivan won the Granite State Pro Stock Series 50-lap affair and Vintage Outlaw checkers flew for Joe Baxter.

  When Keith Rocco scored his two wins at Thompson plus one at Waterford it made for three victories for the weekend. Coupled with Ed Puleo's win at Waterford and Shawn Monahan's two wins at Thompson. sponsor Mr. Rooter had six wins to his credit.

  Among the missing at Thompson last weekend was 2013 Whelen Modified Tour Series Rookie of the Year Cole Powell. Powell announced on his team's website that the decision to skip the event was made so that he could be with his family while his Aunt Kathy battles Glioblastoma, the most aggressive and hardest to fight brain cancer that one can get. Ed Flemke Jr has indicated that his driving career could be over and at 58 years of age he is making a smart decision. He will continue to be seen at the tracks in a support and advisory position to customers of his Race Works Chassis fabrication business.

  Numerous changes and moves have taken place for the 2014 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Series. Leading the changes are three past champions that are now with different teams than when we last saw them in last year’s Thompson World Series. The headlining transaction saw 2012 champ Doug Coby move to the No. 2 of Mike Smeriglio III Racing while 2008 series champion Ted Christopher has combined his own resources with those of Berkley Racing to return the No. 13 to the tour. Seven-time champ Mike Stefanik has reunited with car owner Ed Marceau and will pilot a Chevrolet numbered 1 on a part-time basis.

  In other moves, Matt Hirschman has returned to the tour for the first time since 2011 to replace Coby in the Darling Racing No. 52, and rookie Tommy Barrett Jr. replaced Stefanik in the Our Racing No. 22. Bryon Chew also stepped out of his family’s No. 88 and tabbed Woody Pitkat to fill the seat for the coming season. Consequently, the Hillbilly Racing No. 79 that Pitkat left will have rookie Spencer Davis behind the wheel for a part-time northern slate while competing full-time with the Whelen Southern Modified Tour.

  At least two new teams are set to join the tour, one for the first time in 2014. Keith Rocco, the 2012 Sunoco Rookie of the Year, plans to run all eight Connecticut races for car owner John Rufano in the No. 48 while Melissa Fifield will contend for top rookie honors this year in her family’s No. 01.

  The NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour visited the South Boston, VA Speedway last Saturday with 17 cars. Andy Seuss, who started second on the grid, took the lead from pole sitter Danny Bohn, who won his second career Coors Light Pole Award earlier in the day, in the opening laps and made it look easy from there. Seuss had to survive five restarts, but was able to handle challenges from Bohn, JR Bertuccio and Kyle Ebersole in short order.

  Four-time and defending Southern Modified Tour champion George Brunnhoelzl III charged to the front and finished second after starting from the rear of the field. He qualified seventh, but had to drop to the rear prior to the initial green flag due to an unapproved adjustment to the car following qualifying. Bohn crossed the line in third for his first top-five finish of the season followed by Luke Fleming in fourth and JR Bertuccio in fifth. Brothers Burt and Jason Myers, Gary Putnam, rookie Joe Ryan Osborne and Ebersole completed the top 10.

  After suffering a rain-out on their scheduled opener on the last weekend in March the Waterford Speedbowl season began this past Saturday, April 5th when the track hosted its opening Saturday night NASCAR Whelen All-American Series event. The new Blastoff date will be this coming Saturday, April 12th and Sunday, April 13th. Blastoff Weekend was supposed to open the track’s 64th consecutive season of racing with the Valenti Modified Racing Series, Northeastern Midget Association and the track’s NASCAR Whelen All-American Series racing divisions along with many more. Those divisions will return.

  Chilly weather greeted fans in attendance for the opener on Saturday night but the action on the track was hot as a first-time winner in the SK Modified® ranks delighted the fans. Ed Puleo held off all challengers including a late rally by defending division champion Keith Rocco. Puleo made it two wins on the night by also picking up the Street Stock victory. Rocco would not be outdone in the Valenti Auto Mall Late Models, scoring the win. Another first-timer found the winner’s circle in the Mini Stocks as Doug Curry took the victory. Jon Porter and Zach Thomas won the night’s Super X-Car and X-Car divisions respectively, and defending Legend Cars champion Dylan Izzo checkered that division’s opening race of the year.

  Puleo put together a strong performance in taking the 35-lap NASCAR Whelen All-American Series SK Modified® feature. Earlier in the night he won his heat race and began the event in the pole starting position. He lost the lead to Craig Lutz early on, however reclaimed the spot following a lap-7 caution flag. Puleo had to withstand multiple challenges from Lutz over the next 25 laps as well as a late race charge by Rocco over the final two circuits. Rocco’s inside bid coming to the white flag was not enough and Puleo powered ahead over the last lap to claim the win, his first in the division. Rocco came back from a spin on lap-2 to claim second with Lutz finishing third. Ryan Preece ran a strong race to end up fourth after starting deep in the field while hometown driver Rob Janovic Jr. finished fifth.

  Rocco picked up where he left off in the Valenti Auto Mall Late Model division one year ago. The defending division champion checkered the 30-lap NASCAR Whelen All-American Series feature after starting the race in the 11th position, using the race’s only caution flag on lap-21 to catch leader Vin Esposito.

  Work continues on the restoration of the grandstands. Speedway owner Terry Eames stated " We opened with about 40% of the total seating area available. We will continue opening sections throughout April. We plan on having everything open by May 3rd".

  The upcoming opener of the Tri-Track Modified Series at the Lee USA Speedway in New Hampshire continues to gather momentum for the May 11 event. To date 40 race teams have verbally committed their participation in the event which will pay $5,000 to win plus lap money and B-Main money.

  The voting has begun for the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2015! Please vote daily until May 20th, which happens to be Mike Stefanik's birthday!

  On a sad note, Mrs. Lynda Petty, wife of Richard Petty, passed away on March 14 after a long battle with cancer.

  On the speedway stock market scene last week the International Speedway Corporation ended the week on a positive note as they went up 0.02 to 33.04. Speedway Motorsports dropped 0.40 to 18.16 and Dover Motorsports remained stagnant at 2.40. NASCAR fuel supplier Sunoco (Energy Transfer) went up 0.44 to 54.45 while NASCAR tire supplier Goodyear dropped 0.39 to 25.55 and NASCAR Cup sponsor Sprint dropped 0.03 to 9.26. With the exception of Toyota which dropped 1.60 to 111.23 the car builders had a fairly good week. Ford went up 0.69 to 16.14 and General Motors went up 0.09 to 34.82. In the home improvement sector, Lowes dropped 0.49 to 48.43 while Home Depot remained stagnant at 78.72. With the exception of Coca-Cola which dropped 6.10 to 79.15 the big team sponsor stocks had a good week. Dupont went up 0.73 to 67.35, Target went up 1.15 to 61.13, Aarons Rentals went up 0.43 to 30.77 and FedEx went up 2.35 to 134.36.

On the tube this week:

Wednesday, April 9

2:30 AM, NASCAR Now, ESPN2
12:00 PM, NASCAR Race Hub, Fox Sports1
5:00 PM, NASCAR America, NBC SportsNetwork

Thursday, April 10
2:30 AM, NASCAR Now, ESPN2
12:00 PM, NASCAR Race Hub, FS1

Friday, April 11
2:00 AM, NASCAR Now, ESPN2
3:00 AM, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Texas race re-air, FS1
11:30 AM, NSCS Darlington practice, FS1
1:00 PM, NASCAR Live, FS1
2:00 PM, NSCS Darlington practice, FS1
6:00 PM, NSCS Darlington qualifying, FS1
7:30 PM, NASCAR Countdown, ESPN2
8:00 PM, NASCAR Nationwide Series Darlington race, ESPN2

Saturday, April 12
3:00 AM, NSCS Darlington practice re-air, FS1
3:30 AM, NNS Darlington race re-air, ESPN2
4:30 AM, NSCS Darlington qualifying re-air, FS1
6:00 PM, NSCS Darlington race, FOX

   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.

SourcePhil Smith / Champ Trail
Posted: April 8, 2014

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