The Chrome Horn - Looking Back A Bit with Phil Smith



March 28, 2014

  Fifty years ago in 1964 Don Collins won the Easter Sunday opening 25 lap Modified event at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl. Collins drove the Billy Simons #9 Excavator Special. Bob Tetreault was the Bomber winner.

  Thirty five years ago in 1979, a late winter snowstorm cancelled a scheduled modified event at the Franklin County Speedway in Callaway, VA. The event was not rescheduled. Despite the success of the 1978 season at the Waterford Speedbowl under the Dick Williams' Coastal Racing League, Harvey Tattersall Jr did not renew their lease and once again took over the day-to-day operations of the Speedbowl under his United Stock Car Championship banner. Race Director Bill Slater & Chief Starter Dick Brooks left with Williams.

  Thirty years ago, in 1984, Eddie Flemke, a modified legend in his own time, passed away. Flemke had put in a long day plowing snow and had come home to rest. When he failed to come into his house his wife went to check on him, as he had not exited his vehicle. Mrs. Flemke sadly discovered that he husband had suffered a heart attack and had passed away at the age of 53. During his career Flemke won over 600 features and played a vital part in the development of the racing careers of Pete Hamilton, Richie Evans and Ronnie Bouchard. Flemke was one of the great thinkers of the sport. He would study his competition and then figure out what their weaknesses were and beat them. He was also an accomplished racecar designer and fabricator. Two days later, Riverside Park opened for the season with Richie Evans taking the win and promptly dedicated it to his deceased friend and mentor. Eddie Flemke was one of the greatest drivers of all time. At Riverside, Marty Radwick finished second and George Kent was third. In Winston Cup action at Bristol, Ricky Rudd was the pole sitter. Darrell Waltrip took the win. Ronnie Bouchard qualified 13th and finished third.

  Twenty five years ago in 1989, the Riverside Park season opener was a test of man and machine as only six cars were left running at the finish of the 100 lap grind. Taking the win was John Zavisa, who started on the pole. Pre race favorite Reggie Ruggiero wrecked during warm-ups and was unable to start the feature.

  Twenty years ago in 1994, Chris Kopec benefited from Reggie Ruggiero's misfortune and went on to win the season opener at Riverside Park in front of a packed house. Ruggiero had been leading until his brakes went away in the late stages of the event. Jamie Tomaino finished second and was followed by Tom Cravenho, Dan Avery and Ruggiero. In Busch Grandnational action at Darlington, Mark Martin started on the pole and won the no contest event over Larry Pearson and Randy LaJoie. In Winston Cup action, Bill Elliott was the pole sitter but the day belonged to Dale Earnhardt.

  Fifteen years ago, in 1999, the Featherlite Modified Tour Series started on a wet note as the season opener at Riverside Park rained out. Qualifying was done on Saturday. Bob Polverari was the Busch Pole sitter and David Berghman was second fastest. The rained out event was rescheduled for April 18, which would put it head to head with Waterford's opener.

  Ten years ago in 2004 after many months of waiting the Northeast-racing season finally began under less than ideal weather conditions at the Waterford Speedbowl. Thirty-one SK Modifieds were on hand at the shoreline oval on Saturday for qualifying. Outsiders Ronnie Silk and Doug Coby were the top time trialers. Silk toured the 1/3-mile oval in 14.482 seconds and Coby turned a lap in 14.503 seconds. James Civale was the top regular with a time of 14.598 seconds. Defending track champion Dennis Gada was 11th fastest with a time of 14.796 seconds. In what had to be one of the most wreck strewn events ever seen, James Civale turned a pre race misfortune into a victory as he won the 150 lap SK-Modified portion of the Waterford Nationals. As the cars circled the 1/3-mile oval in a warm-up prior to the start of the event it was discovered that his scoring transponder wasn’t working. Civale stopped at the pit gate where his pit crew got it operating. Speedway officials treated the incident as if he had pitted and forced him to start at the rear of the 31 car-starting field. Upset at the time, starting at the rear proved to be an omen as most of the wrecks and spins involved those who started at or near the front. Civale managed to avoid trouble and took the lead on the 57th lap and went on to hold off Ted Christopher for the win. Christopher, who was considered one of the pre-race favorites, made numerous pit stops, as he was involved in many of the 11 caution periods that consumed 66 laps. Christopher moved into second spot with 11 laps to go but couldn’t muster the needed steam to make the pass for the win. Pole sitter Ron Silk got collected in the first caution on lap three and suffered sufficient damage to keep him out of contention. The blustery cold weather was a definite factor, as the hard compound track tires could not generate enough heat to provide the needed traction. The wrecks and spins got so bad that single file restarts were mandated shortly after the half way mark of the event. With the exception of Civale and third place finisher Jay Miller the entire field showed scars of battle. Defending division champion Dennis Gada and previous years runner-up Ed Reed Jr. were taken out of contention because of wrecks as were Rick Young, Tom Fox and Jeff Pearl. Rob Janovic finished fourth with Chris Pasteryak, fifth. Dennis Gada finished sixth, one lap down. Corey Hutchins won the Late Model 50 lapper in an all but no contest event. Mark StHillaire finished second with Jay Stuart, third. Second generation driver Keith Rocco was the Limited Sportsman winner and Tim Jordan won in the MiniStocks.

  NASCAR announced that they had a new weapon to use to detect cheaters, especially those who use tire softeners. The Irwindale Speedway in California engaged the use of a retired bomb-sniffing dog to detect tires that have been altered with chemicals. It seems that when the animal is walked up and down pit road it will stop and sit next to tires that have been treated. Tire soaking has taken place at all levels of racing, in fact it got so bad in the NASCAR Featherlite Modified Tour Series a year ago that NASCAR mandated that all competitors buy their tires on the day of the race. It had also been announced that the NASCAR TV ratings took a dive after recent boring events at Las Vegas and Atlanta. FOX’s season ratings after three Nextel Cup events have fallen 9%.

  In Nextel Cup action at Bristol, Tennessee, Ryan Newman captured his third Busch Pole of the year on Friday. The Busch Racing Series ran on Saturday with New Jersey native Martin Truex Jr. getting his first ever Busch Series win. Truex is a former competitor in the Busch North Series and a former weekly competitor at the Wall Township Speedway in New Jersey. Kurt Busch gambled when he chose not to pit for fresh tires late in the Bristol 500 and beat a frustrated Rusty Wallace to the finish line. It was Busch’s third victory in a row at the ultra fast high-banked half-mile oval.

  It appeared that the anti-trust suit filed by Speedway Motorsports stockholders Francis Ferko and Rusty Vaughn against NASCAR may be headed for an out of court settlement. It had been strongly rumored that the International Speedway Corporation, which is owned by the France family that also owns NASCAR, would sell speedways in Darlington, South Carolina and Rockingham, North Carolina to Speedway Motorsports who in turn could move two of the three Nextel Cup dates that go with those speedways to Texas and Las Vegas. The remaining date would alternate between Darlington and Rockingham. In a non-related matter, the International Speedway Corporation and its subsidiary, Southeastern Hay and Nursery bought 168 acres of land for $5.5 million.

  On a sad note, Nolan Swift, eight time Oswego Speedway track champion, died at the age of 81. Swift was considered the father of the Supermodifieds.

  Five years ago in 2009,, In the never ending soap opera at the Waterford Speedbowl there was some good news and some stability for the shoreline oval. Track owner Terry Eames announced on Thursday, March 19 that its affiliation with NASCAR will continue in 2009. The Speedbowl’s SK Modified®, Late Model, Street Stock, and Mini Stock divisions would all participate in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series and be eligible to earn NASCAR points

  In regards to money being owed to competitors from the 2008 season, Jason Christley who works in the public relations department at NASCAR told the Hartford Courant that NASCAR did guarantee the NASCAR point fund to the Waterford Speedbowl. That guarantee stands regardless of things that might occur like the track closing or the promoter failing to meet obligations. In reality, that money came from Whelen Engineering which sponsors the Weekly Racing Series. Evidently NASCAR had changed its way of thinking as far as protecting drivers from unscrupulous promoters and track operators. In other words, even though a racer has a NASCAR license and races at a NASCAR sanctioned track there is no guarantee that he will be paid unless NASCAR has a sponsor who will supply the money. Bill France Sr founded NASCAR to protect drivers from shady promoters and track operators who ran off with purse money without paying drivers. He must be rolling over in his grave!

  Ted Christopher made the trip down south to the Concord Speedway worth his while. Christopher, driving for Joe Brady, passed Burt Myers on the opening lap and led wire-to-wire to win the Capital Bank 150 in the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour season opener. It was his third career NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour race and the first Tour event held at the half-mile, tri-oval. Rowan Pennink followed in second. George Brunnhoelzl III came through the field to finish third after starting last because of engine problems. Myers, who won his series record 18th Coors Light Pole Award earlier in the day, finished fourth and Erick Rudolph completed the top five.

  Among the Whelen Modified Tour cars and competitors on hand for shakedown runs at the Thompson Speedway were Eric Beers, Mike Stefanik, Chris Pasteryak, Rob Summers, Carl Pasteryak, Richard Savory, a new Ole Blu with Ryan Preece, Jimmy Blewett and Glen Reen. There were quite a few SK types too. Participants included Tom Cravenho, Bert Marvin, Tim Sullivan, Keith Rocco, Todd Ceravolo, Ricky Shawn, Woody Pitkat, Kerry Malone and Josh Sylvester. Sylvester hit the wall a ton and did a lot of damage to his mount.

  Congratulations went out to Keith Rocco who was recognized by Connecticut Governor Jodi Rell at the state capitol in Hartford. In winning the Connecticut State Championship Rocco had 11 wins, 32 top fives and 38 top 10s racing at three Connecticut short tracks: Stafford Motor Speedway, Thompson International Speedway and the Waterford Speedbowl.

  In Sprint Cup racing, Kyle Busch was furious when his pit crew cost him a win at Bristol Motor Speedway, where he angrily ditched his car on the race track and walked to his motor home. The following day, he drove to Victory Lane, averaging 92.139 mph. Busch bounced back from one of his many Bristol heartbreaks with a win Sunday, leading 378 of 503 laps for his second Sprint Cup Series victory of the season. Teammate Denny Hamlin was second, 0.391 of a second back, and Jimmie Johnson third.

  Kevin Harvick proved just how strong his organization is Saturday by winning the Nationwide Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway in his own race car. Harvick led 44 laps in his Kevin Harvick Inc.-owned Chevrolet, his first victory in a car fielded by the race team he built with his wife. Carl Edwards finished second and Clint Bowyer was third.

  Last year, 2013 The northeastern hills and the eastern shoreline of Connecticut came alive with the sound of racing engines. The Thompson Speedway which doesn't officially open for the season until April 14 held their first of two open practice dates.. The Waterford Speedbowl, which opens for the season this coming weekend, also was open for practice. Both tracks appeared to have respectable car counts but overall Waterford had the edge. What put Waterford over the top were the 25 Valenti Modified Racing Series cars.

  Among the casualties at Waterford were Tom Barrett and Jeff Rocco who did considerable damage to their cars after hitting the wall. Keith Rocco has indicated that he will seek the NASCAR National Championship as he intends on racing at Thompson, Stafford and at Waterford on a weekly basis. In addition to his SK Modified ride at Waterford Rocco has a Late Model and a Legend ride lined up.NASCAR's top divisions had the week off to celebrate Easter.

   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 28, 2014

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