The Chrome Horn - Looking Back A Bit with Phil Smith



March 21, 2014

  Thirty years ago, in 1984, the Winston Cup cars were at Atlanta. Buddy Baker was the pole sitter. Benny Parsons took the win. Ronnie Bouchard qualified 7th and finished 12th. Doug Hevron qualified 31st and wasn't as lucky as he lost a rear end and finished 30th.

  Twenty five years ago in 1989, the Modifieds were off as they were making preparations for the upcoming season that would open up a week later in the northeast.

  Twenty years ago in 1994, Mike Stefanik was informed that he had been released from the Busch Grandnational-Lux Air ride and on a sad note, Dick McCabes' wife Rosalie passed way. Subsequently, McCabe who was one of the top drivers in the Busch North Series would lose interest in racing and would end a brilliant career.

  Fifteen years ago in 1999, Riverside Park was slated to open the Featherlite Modified season but heavy rain changed their plans. Bob Polverari was the Busch pole sitter. At Darlington, Matt Kenseth was the Grandnational winner. Jeff Burton was the Winston Cup winner.
Ten years ago in 2004, after four months of testing the waters by Connecticut developer Gene Arganese, who hoped to build a $400 million speedway in North Stonington on Route 2, it appeared that the initial project had been sunk as Arganese then proposed to move his project from Exit 92 on I-95 to Exit 93. The new proposed site was centered on the north side of I-95 centered on the site of the former J. Romanella Gravel Bank. Ct. Route 49 and an access road that connects Exits 92-93 bound the new site. The new site also posed a potential problem to an underground aquifer. Anyone who lived in the area knew that the water table is only two or three feet below the gravel bank surface and there is no way that the Connecticut DEP would allow a speedway to be built there. North Stonington First Selectman Nicholas Mullane stated that Arganese had not yet addressed the towns concerns about health, Police, safety, utilities noise and the environment.

  Saturday’s practice session at the Waterford Speedbowl had to be scratched because of a snowstorm that blanketed the area. A practice session was also scheduled for Saturday at the Thompson Speedway but due to the fact that the speedway was pounded by seven inches of snow officials had no choice and had to scrub the session. NASCAR waived the rule that normally doesn’t allow practice at a speedway one week prior to a scheduled event. NASCAR announced that 18 Grand National division events would be shown on HD Net in 2004.Included in the package would be live telecasts of 15 events. This announcement was a huge shot in the arm to the Busch North Series, as 11 of their events would receive coverage. The Speed Channel would re-air on a taped delayed basis. Among the events covered were BNS at Lee USA on April 25, Thompson on May22, Lime Rock on May 29, Seekonk on June 12, Stafford on June 18, Holland on June 26, Loudon on July 24, Watkins Glen on August 14, Beech Ridge on August 21, Loudon on September 18 and Dover Downs on September 24. NASCAR and HD Net announced their TV event coverage contract is for three years.. In Nextel Cup action at Darlington in South Carolina Jimmie Johnson out ran Bobby Labonte for the win. Greg Biffle was the Busch Series winner.

  Five years ago in 2009 Thompson Speedway owner Don Hoenig shifted gears again at the northeastern Connecticut oval. In 2008 the Speedway hosted two Thursday night dates for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Series in addition to his traditional dates. For 2009 he announced that he was dropping the June event and replacing it with an open competition non-sanctioned Modified event. After much thought, Hoenig has decided to drop the idea of an open event and has replaced it with the True Value Modified Series and his regular Thursday Night Thunder Series divisions. Founded by Jack Bateman, the True Value Series runs at just about every track in New England.
Word had it that Donnie Lia would be back in the Mystic Missile for 2009. Through no fault of his own, Lia lost his full time truck ride due to the downturn on the economy. Chuck Hossfeld says he would run his own equipment in the New York area. In addition to the possibility of Hossfeld not being on the Whelen Modified Tour Series it looked like Matt Hirschman would also be missing from the line-up as he had not secured a ride as yet.

  The Waterford Speedbowl property continued to be a hot topic especially with a foreclosure looming in the near future. Years ago when the Arutes leased the Speedbowl, Ed Yerrington, who was the General Manager stated that the Speedbowl kept Stafford afloat while the track was rebuilding their weekly program after tossing out the Modifieds in favor of the SK Modifieds.

  The sounds of the open-wheel Modifieds returned to Orange County Speedway in North Carolina for the first time in over 15 years and despite cold weather and snowy conditions the teams in attendance knocked off some very competitive laps in preparation for the March 6 & 7 Frost Bite Modified Winter Nationals" at the Orange County Speedway in Rougemont, NC.

  Temperatures in the low 40’s and blowing snow did little to dampen the spirits of those on hand for the test and lap times were about a second a lap quicker than the regular OCS divisions. Ronnie Silk in the Hillbilly Racing #79 was the quickest of the group with laps in the 13:40 second range. Jay Foley wasn’t far behind in his Foley Machine Chevy with laps in the 13:60 bracket and Jason Myers in the Tranthem/Moorefield, Myers Racing Ford turned laps in the 13:80’s. Silk and Foley tested the softer M-20 and M-30 combination and Myers ran the set-up with the harder M-45 compound on the right rear. "The OCS track record for the Modifieds was 12:92 when we ran here last’, said Gary Myers, owner of the Jason Myers ride. The track is located on NC Hwy 57 half-way between Hillsborough and Roxboro, NC.
Kyle Busch did something Saturday that no NASCAR driver had done in the sanctioning body’s top divisions, won twice in the same day. Busch added a dominating NASCAR Nationwide Series victory under the lights to a similar Camping World Truck Series win earlier in the day at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. Busch led 95 of 100 laps in winning the truck race on the 2-mile oval, then was in front for 143 of 150 for his 22nd Nationwide victory. Kevin Harvick was second and Middletown native Joey Logano, Busch's Gibbs Racing teammate, was third. Carl Edwards beat Busch out of the pits on the last stops by the leaders Saturday night, but Busch took the lead on the restart 16 laps from the end and pulled away. Despite leads of up to 11 seconds at times, it came down to the restart on lap 135 after Edwards beat Busch out of the pits by the length of his hood.

  In Sprint Cup action, Matt Kenseth went the distance this week as he won the Auto Club 500 on Sunday. Kenseth, who won a rain-shortened Daytona 500 a week ago to open the Sprint Cup season, had to endure four short rain delays in the season's second race. But with the help of his pit crew, which several times got the No. 17 Ford off pit road first, Kenseth became the first driver since 1997 to win the season's first two points races. The last driver to start with two victories was Jeff Gordon, who fought furiously to deny Kenseth but settled for second. Middletown native Joey Logano finished 26th. Gordon, trying to snap the longest winless streak of his career at 42 races, passed Kenseth for the lead on lap 196 but lost the race off pit road on a caution 12 laps later and couldn't catch Kenseth.

  Gordon got almost to Kenseth's rear bumper on lap 232, but Kenseth held on for his 18th career victory. Kyle Busch, who made NASCAR history by winning both the truck and Nationwide races on Saturday, came up short of a weekend sweep, finishing third.

  Last year, 2013, The NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour was back in action for the KOMA Unwind Relaxation Drink 150 at Southern National Motorsports Park in Kenly, N.C. It was the second of 12 scheduled events of the series.

  Burt Myers redeemed himself from a season opening non-finish at Caraway on March 16 to a win at Southern National on the eve of Palm Sunday. Myers, who started third on the 25 car starting grid, charged into the lead just past the midway point of the 150-lap race and never looked back. The victory marked the ninth career tour win for the 2010 Whelen Southern Modified Tour champion. NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour regular Ryan Preece, who won his first Whelen Southern Modified Tour Coors Light Pole Award in qualifying and led the first 80 laps, finished second. He was followed by Tim Brown, George Brunnhoelzl III and Andy Seuss.

  Ted Christopher, Kyle Ebersole, Danny Bohn, Brandon Ward and Woody Pitkat rounded out the top 10.

  There were four caution periods, three of those for minor spins plus a mandatory half-way stop. There were 16 cars on the lead lap at the finish. Among those was series opener winner Jason Myers who finished 12th after starting seventh.

  In NASCAR Sprint Cup racing in Fontana, CA Joey Logano appeared headed for victory until the final lap. Denny Hamlin and Logano raced side by side into the final lap, two bitter rivals unwilling to give even an inch, right up until they made contact with less than a mile to go. Logano all but parked Hamlin in the wall as he attempted to pass for the lead. While the two were banging Kyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt JR went by and ended up one-two at the finish. The race ended with Hamlin in the hospital and Logano in a shoving match with Tony Stewart. Stewart went after Logano after he deliberately blocked him on the final restart. Stewart who warned of payback felt that Logano cost him the win.

  Hamlin, who hit the infield barrier head on collapsed after exiting his car, was airlifted away from the track to a local hospital. Logano managed to finish third despite wrecking into the outside wall after hitting Hamlin. Hamlin suffered a compression fracture in his back.
The win for Busch completed a perfect weekend as he earned JGR's ninth consecutive Nationwide victory at Fontana on Saturday, comfortably beating Sam Hornish Jr. for his third win in five races this season.

  New England Auto Racing lost an icon on March 20 when (NEAR) Hall-of-Fame inductee "Charlie" Elliott, 96, passed away in his sleep at his home in Hernando, FL. He built three new speedways with his own hands and refurbished three more. Elliott’s operation of race tracks began in the late 1940’s, first in Sanford, ME and then the former Dover (N.H.) Speedway between 1953 and 1965.

  Nobody actually built more speedways in New England than Charlie Elliott. His vision for new racing facilities coincided with the formation of the New England Super-Modified Racing Association (NESMRA) in 1965. Teaming with Ken Smith and Russ Conway, the trio opened Elliott’s newly built Star Speedway, a quarter mile oval in Epping, N.H., in early August of 1967, just hours after the track paving had been completed. Another "Charlie Project" developed in 1978 when he purchased the dilapidated Hudson (N.H.) Speedway. Again with his hands and grit, the track was refurbished and returned to life. Along with help from Smith, Conway, and his family, Hudson flourished with successful events throughout the 1980’s. Yet Elliott looked for more, purchasing the old Lee Raceway triangle track in 1982. He completely redesigned and built a new oval track on the site, Lee USA Speedway, which opened July 4, 1984.

  In 1988, he again got the itch to build. His company purchased the dirt Canaan Fairgrounds Speedway in Canaan, N.H. Charlie’s hands and mind were working while he operated a bulldozer, grader and water truck restoring the track. He also built a banquet facility, rebuilt and purchased the former Benson Animal Farm Merry-Go-Round for the grounds, and then donated a new Little League Baseball park on the grounds to the town. To make it a multi-track facility, he built a new paved quarter mile oval speedway at Canaan, only 800-feet from his dirt oval track. That was followed by a motorcycle mountain climb competition trail, also in Canaan.

   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.

Looking Back Archive

SourcePhil Smith / Looking Back A Bit
Posted: March 21, 2014

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