The Chrome Horn - Looking Back A Bit with Phil Smith


October 17, 2014

  Sixty five years ago the Buffalo Civic Stadium in western New York closed out their season with a 100 lapper. The race was called after 67 laps because of curfew with Bob Minet declared the winner. Bill Rafter was declared the track champion.

  Sixty years ago in 1954, The New London Waterford Speedbowl wrapped up their fourth season with a 50 lap Cavalcade of Champions event for the Sportsman and 20 lapper for the non-Fords. Moe Gherzi lived up to the name "Money Bags" as he took the victory. It was Gherzi's 14th victory of the season but he lacked consistency as Fred Luchesi, in the Sgambato #9 with five wins, took the track title. Tom Van Epps, with his 14th victory in the Dennis Thornton entry, wrapped up the non-Ford title. Sadly, Van Epps would never race again as he lost his life in an automobile accident in March of 1955.

  Fifty-five years ago in 1959, the 9th Annual Race of Champions was 100-mile event on the dirt at the Langhorne Speedway in Pennsylvania. Jim Delaney took the win over Ray Hendrick. Lionel Arielwon the season finale on the dirt at Stafford. George Janoski was declared the Modified Track Champion and Don Rounds was declared the Sportsman Track Champion. Wild Bill Slater won the 50 lap Sportsman October Championship on Sunday at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl. Other winners at the Speedbowl were Charlie Webster in the non-Fords and Newt Palm in the Bombers.

  Fifty years ago in 1964, the final version of the dirt Race of Champions was run at the Langhorne Speedway. Freddy Adam took the 100 Mile National Open over Ken Shoemaker and Bill Wimble.

  Forty five years ago in 1969, the big event of the weekend was the annual Race of Champions at the Langhorne Speedway in Langhorne, Pa. Ray Hendrick and Dutch Hoag were the pole sitters. These two legends put on one of the greatest races ever seen as they ran wheel to wheel for 90 laps until Hoag lost oil pressure and had to drop out. From there on, Hendrick cruised to the 200-mile victory. Roger Treichler finished second and was followed by Jerry Cook, Chuck Boos, Merv Treichler, Guy Chartrand and Richie Evans.

  Gary London, who was a scribe for National Speed Sport News made the following observation when Hendrick pulled into victory lane. " One of his crewman slashed one of his tires, The replacement was so heavy it took three guys to lift it". A great way to "make weight", he added. Carl Miller backed London up, "Yeah I saw that with my own eyes, was standing there with my Dad. I think it was the left front. Freddy Harbach told me later that it was filled with sand."

  Forty years ago in 1974, the Race of Champions had moved to Trenton and was stretched to 300 miles in the 1-1/2 mile kidney shaped oval. Fred DeSarro who had had a sub par season showed up with a tri-colored creation owned by Len Boehler and preceded to put on one of the best all time performances at the New Jersey oval. DeSarro was in the hunt all day but it all came down to the last lap when he and long time rival Bugsy Stevens came off of turn four wheel to wheel. With the crowd on its feet, the two raced to the finish line with DeSarro winning by less than six inches. Stevens finished second with Satch Worley, third.

  Thirty five years ago in 1979, the Thompson World Series was on tap. A 50 lapper was run for the modifieds. Richie Evans took the win and was followed by Dave Thomas, Charlie Jarzombek, Ronnie Bouchard and Eddie St Angelo. Denny Wheeler won the Supermodified portion. Bentley Warren finished second with Doug Hevron, third. Bobby Fuller was the late model winner.

  Thirty years ago in 1984, the World Series at Thompson saw Reggie Ruggiero beat the master, Richie Evans. Brian Ross ended up third. At Wall Stadium, Doug Wolcott took the Saturday night main event over Tony Siscone and Gil Hearne.

  Twenty five years ago in 1989, the World Series was scheduled at Thompson, qualifying was done on Saturday and just before the Sunday features were to begin the main grandstand collapsed. Luckily only a few spectators were in their seats and only a few minor injuries incurred. Needless to say, the event was cancelled and was rescheduled to November 12.The grandstand had been in place since the speedway was built in 1939.What was left was bulldozed and carted away and a new all steel grandstand which is in place today was erected.

  Twenty years ago in 1994, the World Series at Thompson drew a record of 467 cars for nine divisions and a near record attendance of 14,000 fans. In the Modified Tour Series 125,Jan Leaty pitted early for tires and drove his way to the front to take the lead on lap 74 and the eventual win. Mike Ewanitsko finished second and was followed by Reggie Ruggiero, Tim Connolly, Satch Worley and Mike Stefanik. John Anderson was the SK winner over Tom Tagg and Bert Marvin and Tommy Fox was victorious in the Late Models.

  Fifteen years ago, in 1999, it was a big weekend and a sad one to say the least. Riverside Park, a Saturday night institution for many ran its last events before the speedway would be destroyed to make way for more amusement park rides. Bob Polverari, a many time Park champion, scored his 38th career victory after Ed Flemke Jr. and Brad Hietella tangled with eight laps to go in the 100 lap modified feature. Chris Wenzel finished second with Flemke, third and Rob Summers, fourth. Todd Szegedy was the SK modified winner. Prior to the final event, Richie Evans, Polverari, Mike Stefanik and NASCAR Chief Steward Richard Brooks were inducted into the Riverside Park Hall of Fame. At Thompson, Rick Fuller won the rained out World Series-Featherlite Modified Tour Series 125. Fuller took the lead from Tim Connolly on lap 118.Conelly finished second and was followed by Tony Hirschman, Ed Flemke Jr. and Tom Cravenho. Hirschman was declared the 1999 series champion. Todd Szegedy carried his winning momentum from Riverside to Thompson as he won the 30 SK World Series main. Szegedy started last. Mike Christopher finished second with Chris Kopec, third. Driving a Super Modified normally driven by Mike Ordway, Ted Christopher started dead last and with the entire grandstand cheering, took the lead in the event with two laps to go and went on to victory. Bryan Wall won the Busch North Finale at Lime Rock. In Winston Cup action at Talladega, Dale Earnhardt Sr. took the win.

  Ten years ago, in 2004, the NASCAR Featherlite Modified Tour Series was at the Thompson Speedway. It was showdown time between Tony Hirschman and Eddie Flemke Jr. for the series title. Fifty Modifieds were on hand for time trials. The Long Island gang dominated the top spots as Mike Andrews, a regular competitor at the Riverhead Raceway and Donnie Lia were the fastest. Andrews went 119.827 mph and Lia, the Bud Pole Champion for 2004, clocked in at 118.997 mph. The top six re-drew for starting spots with third fastest qualifier Tony Hirschman drawing the pole starting spot. Todd Szegedy, the 2003 series champion, drew the outside pole. Eddie Flemke was not so fortunate as he qualified in 24th spot

  In what had to be one of the best events ever put on by the Modified Tour Series, Mike Stefanik came from a dead last starting spot to ring down the curtain on 2004 with a convincing win. Tony Hirschman, who led the first 33 laps ended up third in the final rundown and secured his fourth Modified Tour Series Championship. Hirschman, who was in contention with Eddie Flemke JR for the title, was able to breathe easier after an incident on a lap 58 restart that ultimately eliminated Flemke from the title chase. It appeared that Ted Christopher checked up or brake checked Todd Szegedy as they exited turn two which resulted in a scramble on the back chute which saw Flemke suffer front end damage that would cause him to lose laps in the pits making repairs. Prior to that, all eyes were on the Southington, Connecticut racer as he put on a brilliant display of driving as he came from his 24th starting spot to as high as fourth. Christopher continued to lead until he hit the turn two wall on lap 82 and ended up spinning in turn four with a flat right rear tire. Szegedy assumed the lead from that point. Mike Stefanik, who pitted early in the event for a front-end adjustment, worked his way to the front and on lap 92 took the lead. Stefanik and Szegedy traded the lead back and forth until lap 97 when Stefanik was able to put a little distance on the 2003 series champion. Szegedy ran second to Stefanik until lap 123 when he brushed the wall in turn two. Chuck Hossfeld moved into second with Hirschman moving up to third. Rookie’s Zach Sylvester and Kenny Barry rounded out the top five. Barry and Sylvester ended up tied for the Rookie of the Year title. Barry was given the nod, as he was higher in the final point standings. An estimated crowd of 9,500 sat in the sun drenched grandstands.

  Tony Hirschman, who was a guest on Gary Danko’s radio show during the week, hinted that he might cut back his racing schedule in 2005. Hirschman hoped to help his son, Matt, further his racing career and feels that if he still races it could alter his focus. Because of the fact that Mike Stefanik was committed to the Busch North Series at the Wall Township Speedway on Saturday Todd Ceravolo was asked to qualify his Mod Tour ride at Thompson. Congratulations to Modified Tour Series photographer Mary Hodge as she was presented the Yvonne Durocher Woman in Racing Award at the recent New England Antique Racers Awards Banquet. Mary and her husband Howie do an excellent job of covering the Modified Series tour with their pictures, which are seen in every major racing publication.

  The Busch North Series traveled to the Wall Township Speedway in New Jersey on Saturday to wrap up their season. On and off rain all day Saturday, on the Jersey shore forced officials to cancel the event. It would not be made up. Andy Santerre had already wrapped up the series championship.

The Dodge Weekly Racing Series at Thompson on World Series weekend provided some excellent racing. Jim Civali gave Ted Christopher some of his own medicine as he took the win in the 30 lap Sunoco SK-type Modified event. Christopher started on the pole and led just about all the event except for a brief moment when Kerry Malone led before dropping out. Civali glued himself to Christopher’s bumper and when the opportunity presented itself when the pair exited the fourth turn on the final lap Civali made his move. Christopher attempted to block but Civali held fast and the pair touched. Christopher lifted long enough to allow Civali to forge ahead and take the win. During the slow down lap Christopher vented his frustrations as he spun Civali in turn two. Eric Berndt ended up third with Bert Marvin and Tom Cravenho rounding out the top five. David Berghman capped off his championship season in the Pro Stock division with a convincing win. Starting 29th, Berghman made a superb charge to the front and took the lead in the 30 lap feature on lap 18 to record his 9th victory of the season. Other winners on Sunday were Corey Hutchings in the Late Models, Chris Perley in the Supermodifieds and Mark Buonomo in the NEMA Midgets.

  The Stafford Motor Speedway hosted an automotive Flea Market over the weekend.

  The final point standings for 2004 at the Waterford Speedbowl were made official. Eddie Reed JR. was officially the SK Modified Champion. Reed had three wins to his credit. Dennis Gada, who was a five-time champion, finished second, 16 points back. Ron Yuhas JR, with two wins finished third with Chris Pasteryak and Rob Janovic rounding out the top five. Corey Hutchings was by far the class of the Late Model field as he won six events on his way to the title. Hutchings, also the Late Model champion at Thompson, beat Allen Coates by 46 points. Coates had five feature wins to his credit. Mark St.Hilaire, with two wins, ended up third. Former division champion Phil Rondeau, three wins and Carl Erickson round out the top five. Second generation driver Keith Rocco won the Sportsman division championship on the final lap of the final feature. Rocco, the son of Ronnie Rocco, beat Ed Gertsch by eight points. Rocco had three wins while Gertsch had six wins to his credit. Dwayne Conant, Norm Root and Roger Perry rounded out the top five. Glenn Colvin, with three wins, is the Mini Stock Champion. Colvin beat Tim Jordan by 22 points. Richard Brooks was the top feature winner with five victories and finished third in the final standings. Joe Bavalocco and Bill Leonard rounded out the top five. Michael Pepe, with two wins, is the Legends Champion. Pepe outdistanced Silas Hiscock JR by 50 points. Sixteen year old Jeffrey Paul ran in only eight events but he won six of them which placed him third in the final standings. Jim Ahern and Silas Hiscock Sr rounded out the top five.

  The Nextel Cup and the Busch Racing Series divisions of NASCAR were at the Lowes Motor Speedway in Charlotte, NC. Mike Bliss made a dramatic three wide pass in the closing stages to take the lead and eventual win on Friday night’s Busch Series event and on Saturday night Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon finished one-two. Casey Kahne had them covered until a blown out tire forced him into the wall and out of the event.

  Five years ago in 2009, the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Series was supposed to wind up the 2009 season but Mother Nature had different ideas as a “Noreaster” dumped a large amount of rain and wet snow in the northeast corner of Connecticut forcing the Thompson Speedway Management and NASCAR to postpone the World Series. As it turned out the Thompson Speedway management and NASCAR made the right decision as high winds and heavy rain mixed with snow pounded the entire New England area on Sunday.

  The scheduled foreclosure proceedings of the property in which the Waterford Speedbowl is located was still on for Saturday, October 31. Property owner Terry Eames had stated that he had “turned the corner” and would stave off the impending sale of the property. Unlike Jerry Robinson who never paid competitors who raced in the 2008 Fall Finale at the shoreline oval, Eames had paid his competitors when they have raced.

  Forbes magazine named ISC Chief Executive Officer Lesa France Kennedy the Most Powerful Woman in Sports. The article dated October 14, 2009, stated France Kennedy's "26-year career at ISC spanned a period that expanded the sport past its Southern base." The article added, "She rose to president in 2003 and to CEO in June 2009. Analysts say she's played a big role in most all of the company's acquisitions and improvement projects dating back to the 1990s."

  Kyle Busch, still dealing with a flu that developed into walking pneumonia, dominated the Nationwide Series race at Lowe's Motor Speedway on Friday night, picking up his seventh victory of the year to move closer to his first series title. In Sprint Cup action, Denny Hamlin was already at home when Jimmie Johnson crossed the finish line for his third victory in five championship races.

  Last year, 2013, the Thompson Speedway released a comprehensive seven race schedule for 2014. Speedway General Manager Josh Vanada made the announcement Sunday morning at the drivers meeting. The schedule would consist of three NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Series dates, The Icebreaker on April 5-6, Bud King of Beers 150 on Wednesday, August 15 and The World Series 150 on October 17-19. The Valenti Modified Racing Series will have two dates, Thursday, May 29 and at the World Series. The Granite State Pro Stocks will run as part of the Icebreaker and the World Series. Vanada further stated that all regular Thompson racing divisions would run at all races and NASCAR points will be awarded. Something new to New England racing would be segment style races will allow enough events to qualify for NASCAR Championships. This was done at Riverhead raceway in 2013.

  The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Series closed out the 2013 season at the Thompson Speedway. There were 29 cars on hand. Defending Sunoco World Series 150 presented by Xtra Mart winner Bobby Santos secured the Coors Light Pole Award in NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour qualifying Saturday at Thompson Speedway. Santos had a fast lap of 18.712 seconds (120.244 mph) around the .625-mile oval for his fifth Coors Light Pole of the season, and 13th of his career overall. Mike Stefanik posted the second-fastest qualifying lap at 18.715 (120.224).

  Fifteen divisions of race cars and trucks were in competition. There were 10 feature events Saturday evening after Bobby Santos posted the fastest time in NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour qualifying. Keith Rocco picked up the win in the Valenti Modified Racing Series 75-lapper while NASCAR Whelen All American Series victories went to Adam Norton, Corey Hutchings, Rick Gentes, and Mike Viens. Duane Noll earned the New England Truck Series win while Dan Meservey picked up a win in the Pro 4 Modified Series. Outlaw wins went to George Rego, Mike Viens and Wayne Coury, Jr.

  Keith Rocco ran a dominant race in the Valenti Modified Racing Series and was followed to victory lane by 2013 series champion Rowan Pennink. Many tried, but no one could knock Rocco from the point and he led wire-to-wire in the caution-filled race. Following Rocco and Pennink at the finish was Tommy Barrett, Jr., Richard Savary, Ted Christopher, Dave Etheridge, Jon McKennedy, Ryan Preece, Louie Mechalides and Brad VanHouten. There were 33 VMRS Modifieds on hand. It was Rocco's 29th feature win of the season.

 The Sunoco World Series of Auto Racing presented by Xtra Mart was highlighted by an exciting NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour finish that saw Rowan Pennink drive to victory lane and Ryan Preece earn a solid third place finish to earn the series championship. Other feature winners on the final day of the World Series were Kerry Malone in the Sunoco Modified Series, John Zych, Jr. in NEMA midgets, Ben Seitz in ISMA action, and Larry Gelinas in the Granite State Pro Stock Series.

  Rowan Pennink used a late-race pass on lap 133 to take the lead and eventual win in the Sunoco World Series 150 presented by Xtra Mart Sunday afternoon. The victory was Pennink’s second win in the series. Ryan Preece’s third place finish secured the 2013 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Championship for the driver, who becomes the youngest champion in series history at 22 years, 11 months and 25 days old. The championship also marks the second title for Flamingo Motorsports. The team previously won with driver Mike Stefanik in 2006.

  Bobby Santos led Justin Bonsignore and Mike Stefanik at the start of the 150-lap event. Doug Coby brought out the first caution on lap four after spinning in the middle of turns one and two. Coby was then penalized a lap for pulling up to pit too soon. Santos continued to lead on the restart with Pennink moving up to second and Mike Stefanik in third. Santos showed no signs of wavering and held strong out front until caution at lap 38 slowed him down. The caution was brought out when Rob Fuller spun into the front stretch inside retaining wall. Pennink made a bid for the lead on the restart, but is challenge allowed Matt Hirschman and Mike Stefanik to go by for second and third respectively. Santos pulled ahead to a comfortable lead over Hirschman for several laps, but Hirschman reeled him back in and used the bottom groove to go by for the lead on lap 66.

  Caution came out on lap 70 for Woody Pitkat and saw Hirschman come down pit road to pit. Santos assumed the lead for the restart, which quickly went back to yellow. The top-three - Santos, Stefanik, and Ted Christopher - elected to stay out rather than pit. Santos beat Christopher into turn one for the lead on the restart as Christopher and Ryan Preece battled it out for third. After a side-by-side battle with Christopher, Preece took the position and set his sights on Stefanik. He looked to the high groove and then shot down low to drive by for second on lap 83. Santos held off Preece on the restart following a quick caution period, but Preece was persistent and, on lap 92, drove to the bottom heading into turn three and took over the lead. Two separate incidents on the track brought out a caution at lap 98, but Santos still opted not to pit. He finally came down during a caution at lap 103.

  Preece, Donny Lia, Ron Silk, Justin Bonsignore, and Pennink made up the top-five for the restart at lap 109. The field strung out single file with Preece holding strong out front. Caution slowed the pace and put Preece and Lia side-by-side for a restart at lap 123. Lia got the advantage and took over the lead going into turn three. Preece and Lia continued to battle and got door-to-door on lap 127, but Pennink wanted a piece of the action and moved in to the mix. Lia retained the lead with Pennink taking over the second spot after all the dust had settled. Lia drove to the front on a lap 133 restart with Pennink up to second. Pennink passed Lia for the lead on the following circuit and pulled away to a three-car length advantage. Pennink continued to pull away as Preece kept Lia busy with his challenges for second. Pennink had a half a straightaway lead as he approached the checkered flag for the coveted World Series victory. Lia settled for the runner-up spot with Preece, third. Bobby Santos came back from a late pit stop to finish fourth with Ron Silk, fifth. Max Zachem turned in a fantastic performance as he finished sixth. Matt Hirschman, who challenged Santos in the early going, came back from a late race spin and finished seventh. Doug Coby, Todd Szegedy and Justin Bonsignore rounded out the top ten.

  It was a highly competitive event with six lead changes among five drivers.

  Kerry Malone led every lap en route to the Sunoco Modified Series victory on Sunoco World Series presented by Xtra Mart weekend. Malone’s win was no easy feat, however, as he had to hold off a hard charging Preece through countless restarts to make it to victory lane. Woody Pitkat finished third with Dennis Perry a solid fourth. Kyle James, in his first time at Thompson, finished fifth with Keith Rocco, sixth.

  Malone and Preece were disqualified following post race tech inspection. Malone had illegal fuel additives in his tank and Preece’s motor had illegal valve train components in addition to illegal fuel. Pitkat was awarded the win and Perry was moved up to the runner-up spot with James, third.

  Other feature winners on the final day of the World Series were John Zych, Jr. in NEMA midgets, Ben Seitz in ISMA action, and Larry Gelinas in the Granite State Pro Stock Series.

  Rumor had it that the New Smyrna Speedway may be the site of the "Battle at The Beach" come next February 2014 as a new MUSCO Lighting system was being installed for "TV quality lighting" . The 2013 "Battle" which was held at the Daytona Speedway was a total fiasco and discredit to the teams that make up NASCAR's touring divisions.

  In NASCAR Sprint Cup action at Talladega, Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth swapped spots at the top, Johnson led Kenseth by a scant four points instead of the other way around, but those two were still firmly in control of the Chase with four races left. Jamie McMurray won Sunday's race at Talladega. Johnson and Kenseth kept plenty of distance on the competition.

  Johnson steered around a last-lap crash and finished 13th. Kenseth dropped to second with a 20th-place showing, but it's another 22 points - a daunting margin - to Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick tied for third. Jeff Gordon, who had hoped Talladega's unpredictable nature might help him make a big push, made up only two points and is 34 behind the leader.

  Richard Petty Motorsports fired Todd Parrott for violating NASCAR's substance-abuse policy.

  Parrott was crew chief for the No. 43 car driven by Aric Almirola for the last year. NASCAR suspended him indefinitely for failing a random drug test.

  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: October 17, 2014

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