The Chrome Horn - Looking Back A Bit with Phil Smith



March 14, 2014

  Forty five years ago, in 1969, the NASCAR Modifieds started their season with the Dogwood 500 at Martinsville. The hot tire was the Firestone Indy-Supersport Steamroller, which was fifteen inches wide. Ray Hendrick, driving the legendary Tant/Mitchell No. 11, established himself as the one to beat as he took the pole for the 500-lap event. Defending Modified Champion Carl Bugsy Stevens in the mighty No.3 of Len Boehler was second fastest. At the drop of the green, the two ran wheel to wheel in a contest to see who was to be supreme. Their race ended on lap 19 when the two came together on the front stretch and crashed into the wall. Fred DeSarro, who was in his own car at the time, assumed the lead on lap 20 and all but dominated the field. DeSarro's hope for a win came to a halt on lap 492 when his battery shorted out and he coasted to the pit. Jerry Cook, who was running second, a lap down, assumed the lead and went on to record his first major victory.

  Cale Yarborough was the Grandnational winner at Atlanta.

  Forty years ago in 1974 at Martinsville, George Kent, driving for Cal Smalles won the 250 lap Dogwood Modified 250. Merv Treichler finished second and was followed by Kenny Bouchard, Richie Evans and Bob Dragon.

  Thirty years ago, in 1984, the Modifieds were no longer a part of the March racing at Martinsville as car counts and fans had declined. Their event had been moved to April where they served as a preliminary event to the Winston Cup event.

  Twenty five years ago in 1989, the Modifieds were back Martinsville. With forty-one cars on hand, Mike Stefanik took the pole with Tony Hirschman, outside. Rob Moroso was the Grand National pole sitter. Hirschman took the lead at the start and held the point until lap 19 when Mike Ewanitsko took command. Ewanitsko never looked back as he went on to win the 200-lap event. Mike McLaughlin finished second and was followed by Stefanik, Rick Fuller, Jan Leaty and Doug Hevron. Reggie Ruggerio, driving for Mario Fiore was one of the pre race favorites but had his engine confiscated when it was deemed illegal by NASCAR. Ruggerio used a back-up engine and ended up finishing 17th, seven laps down. Tommy Ellis was the Grand National winner.

  Twenty years ago, in 1994, the cup cars and Grandnationals were in Atlanta. Loy Allen took the Winston Cup pole with Geoff Bodine on the outside. Shawna Robinson became the first woman to take a pole position as she took the top spot in Grandnational qualifying. Harry Gant took the GN win after Mark Martinís car quit with 40 laps to go. Randy LaJoie was running second until he lost a cylinder in the closing laps and allowed Larry Pearson to sneak into second spot at the finish.

  Fifteen years ago, in 1999, Dave Blaney took the pole for the Busch Series event at Atlanta. There were 12 Winston Cup drivers in the field which meant that 12 Busch Series regulars went home. Mike Skinner led 92 of the 195 lap distance and took the win over Blaney and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Skinner was disqualified after a post race inspection revealed his engine had unapproved cylinder head modifications and the win was awarded to Blaney. Skinner appealed the disqualification the following Wednesday and was awarded the win without any money. Jeff Gordon took the Winston Cup win over Bobby Labonte. It was Gordonís 44th career win on NASCARís senior circuit.

  Ten years ago in 2004, it appeared that NASCAR had not raised the minimum purse requirements for the Featherlite Modified Tour Series events, as the Icebreaker payout for 2004 was the same as 2003, which was $73,675 with $4800 to win. It was early in 2003 when NASCAR sent CEO George Pyne to calm the waters at Thompson when there was a hint of general revolt among the Modified competitors. Pyne told competitors that he would look into improving purse structures for the division. Evidently good old George was still looking as nothing had changed! NASCAR did announce that the Auto Meter Corporation would be sponsoring the Rookie of the Year awards for their touring series. The Modified Rookie of the Year would receive a $3,000 bonus plus a package of Auto Meter products. NASCAR also announced the addition of five more contingency sponsors for the Featherlite Modified Tour Series. CV Products, Holley, MAC Tools and Mechanix Wear had added over $43,000 in post season awards bringing the total season contingency awards to over $107,000. The 2004 19-race tour had a purse payout of $940,000.

  Chuck Hossfeld, who finished second in the NASCAR Featherlite Modified Tour Series standings in 2003, had indicated that he would be in competition on a weekly basis at Stafford in 2004 driving for a team sponsored by Wisk and Clorox. Hossfeld joined Doug Coby, Ted Christopher, Ed Flemke Jr. and Jim Broderick who would also be at Stafford on a weekly basis.

  Chad Allum, formerly of Norwich, Connecticut and living in Mooresville, North Carolina set the fastest time at the Hickory Motor Speedway during United Sprint Car Series practice. Allumís dad, George, won quite a few races at the Waterford Speedbowl during the 1970ís and was a fabricator at Art Barryís Spear Point Auto in Preston.

  In Nextel Cup action at Atlanta Dale Earnhardt Jr. got back on track to take the win over Jeremy Mayfield. Rookie Kasey Kahne finished third.

  Five years ago in 2009, after a 50 year absence, auto racing returned to the state of Rhode Island. Mike Iles of Medford, N.J., pulled off a huge upset Friday night at the Dunkin Donuts Center by claiming the 20-lap TQ Midget feature race. TQ Midget star Joey Payne of Fairlawn, N.J., finished second, while Ryan Smith of Kunkletown, Pa., was third, Timex Morgan of Rochester, N.Y., was fourth and Matt Roselli of Broadheadsville, Pa., completed the top five spots. Lou Cicconi Jr., a top name on the indoor Midget Car racing circuit, was running in the second spot and pressuring Iles for the lead when a water line broke and sent his car and others into the wall in turn one. Cicconiís car crashed and collected many other front runners including cars driven by Matt Janisch, multi-time NASCAR Modified champion Mike Stefanik, defending NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion Ted Christopher, Mike Lichty and Jeff Heotzler.

  Christopher rebounded from his Friday night crash to take the win on Saturday night. Christopher was the only driver in the country to score wins in the first three months of the year. Christopher had a busy 24 hours in Rhode Island. After Fridayís race Christopher had to take his TQ Midget to Seekonk, Mass., where it was repaired at Wayne Darlingís race shop. In his qualifying heat race on Saturday, Christopher barely qualified after a rear radius mount broke. The team went to work and made the respective repair just in time for the main event. Mike Stefanik wasnít as fortunate as he ended up 21st.

  Promoter Len Sammons said he was happy with the racing and the turnout. About 3,500 people attended on Friday, which was about half the capacity. Sammons had been running TQ Midget indoor racing in January in Atlantic City since 2003 and this was his first move to expand out of the Garden State. He plans to make indoor racing in Rhode Island an annual event.

  A sparse field of 20 Modifieds was on hand for the Frostbite Modified Nationals at the Orange County Speedway in North Carolina. Ronnie Silk in the Roger Hill No.79 was the top qualifier. Second fastest was Matt Hirschman. Charlie Pasteryak, George Brunnhoelzl III and Burt Myers rounded out the top five. Few details were available except for the fact that Hirschman passed Silk in the closing moments to take the win. Silk settled for the runner-up spot and was followed by Charlie Pasteryak, Brunnhoelzl III, JR Bertuccio and Jay Foley.

  Spencer Speedway, a weekly racing venue in upstate New York, took a bold step which should have been followed by others. As we all know, the overall economy in this country was on a down slide which has put many out of work and many others being forced to take pay cuts in order to keep their jobs. That being said, Spencer promoter John White reduced regular admission prices from $12 adult admission to $10. Senior citizen admission was reduced to $8.00 from $10. It was Whiteís feeling that his move would attract families on limited entertainment budgets. Spencer Speedway is located west of Syracuse, near Rochester. Waterford Speedbowl Race Director Tom Fox indicated that the shoreline oval would implement aggressive pricing strategies to make it easier for fans and families to take in the races. Former Stafford and Waterford promoter Ed Yerrington often said, "Every empty seat is lost money". Even if you let fans in for free promoters will still make money as most will spend on food and drink. Fox also indicated that he would be driving a Late Model owned by Scott Gregory in Thursday Night Thunder competition at the Thompson Speedway.

  The Wilkes Journal Patriot, a newspaper in North Carolina, reported that former NASCAR driver Dean Combs was charged with making moonshine. Charges were filed in connection with a large liquor still found near the North Wilkesboro Speedway on Speedway Road. The illegal distilling plant was so large it had to be blown up by authorities. Carl Dean Combs 57, of Speedway Road, North Wilkesboro [NC], was charged with manufacturing non-tax paid liquor, as well as one count each of possessing, possessing ingredients to manufacture and possessing equipment to manufacture non-tax paid liquor, said N.C. Alcohol Law Enforcement (ALE) Agent Shon Tally. Tally said Combs was at his nearby residence when he and other ALE agents found the still in the back of a gray shop building behind a go-cart track, near the North Wilkesboro Speedway. Combs made 24 Sprint Cup starts from 1981-1984 with a best finish of 8th at Atlanta in Nov 1983. He also was a five-time champion in NASCAR's now-defunct Goody's Dash Series and was a crew chief for car owner Junior Johnson.

  Kurt Busch led more laps in one afternoon than he did all of 2008 (164). Not even a couple of heavy scrapes with the wall and a late caution that knocked him out of the lead could deny the victory. He blew by Carl Edwards on the restart and beat Jeff Gordon to the line for a 0.332-second victory that really wasn't that close. With four laps to go, Robby Gordon shredded a tire to bring out the final caution flag of the race. Edwards gambled as all the leaders ducked into the pits, changing only two tires so he got back on the track first. Busch and Jeff Gordon both went with four new tires, coming out second and third behind Edwards. But the leader had no chance of holding off Busch on the two-lap finish, watching him blow by on the backstretch and cruise to his 19th career victory. Gordon also got by Edwards, who settled for third.
There were huge sections of empty seats along the front stretch of the track that is south of Atlanta, which was no more than two-thirds filled on a warm, sunny day. Without a doubt, the economy was taking its toll on NASCAR's fan base.

  Kyle Busch won his second straight NASCAR truck race, holding off Kevin Harvick on the final lap at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Even though he struggled on restarts after losing both second and third gear in his Toyota, Busch surged past Todd Bodine on the back straightaway with five laps to go and held on the rest of the way to win the American Commercial Lines 200.

  Last year, 2013, The NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour Series opened for the season at the Caraway Speedway in Sophia, NC. Caraway. For most of his racing life Jason Myers had played second fiddle to his flamboyant brother Burt. Fortunes reversed in the series opener as Burt ended the night sitting in the infield with a blown engine and Jason found himself in victory lane.

  It was a gift of sort for Jason, who, with five laps to go was running behind former Bowman-Gray Stadium champion Tim Brown. Brown's car slowed with an apparent fuel problem, setting up a free for all restart between Myers and George Brunnhoelzl, III. With the event exted three laps to accommodate a green-white-checkered finish Brunnhoelzl slipped up as they drag raced down the front stretch, which allowed Myers to get away en route to his third career victory in his 97th start. Brunnhoelzl, the defending tour champion, settled for second while Kyle Ebersole rallied from two laps down to finish third. Ted Christopher and Andy Seuss were fourth and fifth, respectively.

  Twenty Modifieds took the green.

  In Nationwide Series racing at Bristol Kyle Larson stalked Kyle Busch over the closing laps around Bristol Motor Speedway waiting to make a move. It came as they closed in on the finish line, and Larson made a last-gasp push on the high side that fell just short as Busch held on for his second win of the season.

  But in chasing the win the right way, the 20-year-old Larson cleaned up some of the criticism that had followed him from Daytona last month after spinning C.E. Falk III on the final lap of the "Battle at the Beach" late model race.

  In Sprint Cup action, Casey Kahne and Brad Keselowski staged a spectacular battle for the lead, only for a caution to put them side-by-side for a restart with 39 laps to go. Keselowski had an issue, he either spun his tires or the Hamlin-Logano feud disrupted his start, and Kahne sailed away for his first career victory at Bristol.

   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.

Looking Back Archive

SourcePhil Smith / Looking Back A Bit
Posted: March 14, 2014

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