November 28, 2014
Forty years ago in 1974 Gil Hearne won the inaugural 150 lap
Turkey Derby at the Wall Stadium Speedway. Driving the Tom Durkin No.12,
Hearne led 107 of the scheduled 150 laps for a $2,000 pay day. Richie Evans,
the pole sitter, was a pre-race favorite but fell by the wayside with motor
troubles. Charlie Kremer Jr was second fastest but he too, had engine
problems. Dick Dunn was third fastest and was also plagued by bad luck as he
flipped the Al Gaudreau No.3 on the back stretch. Fred Harbach survived to
finish second with Jerry Bartlet, third. Rounding out the
top five were Tom
Baldwin and Kenny Bouchard.
Five years ago in 2009, all eyes were
on the annual Wall Stadium Turkey Derby XXXVI. The Turkey Derby officially
closed out the 2009 outdoor racing season in the northeast. Despite the fact
that a bad storm left high winds to buffet the New Jersey speedway the
entire two-day program was completed.
Rowan Pennink capped off a breakout year with a win in the Modified Tour
type portion of the Turkey Derby. Pennink started third, took the lead from
Matt Hirschman on a lap40 restart only to lose it after being roughed up by
Jimmy Blewett. Blewett led until lap 91 when he reluctantly left the
speedway after being black flagged for leaking fluid. Following the race
Jamie Tomaino and Pete Britain said they saw no fluid coming from the #66
car of Jimmy Blewett. Rowan Pennink said the officials stopped him and
checked the fluid on his windshield that was why they black flagged Blewett.
Pennink re-assumed the lead and went on to take the 100 lap win over Pete
Britain. Jamie Tomaino finished third with Jon McKennedy and Anthony Sesely
rounding out the top five. Hirschman ended up 8th while Blewett finished in
18th spot. Ted Christopher, in a Pennink team, car finished 13th.
Jimmy Blewett won the SK type 100 after taking the lead from Anthony
Sesely on lap 76. Rowan Pennink finished third with Chas Okerson and Tim
Arre rounding out the top five. Numerous accidents slowed the 100 lapper
including a mean one by local runner Robert Geibel who flew out of the
ballpark on the backstretch.
In some sad news, Ernie Gahan, the 1966 NASCAR Modified national
champion, passed away Thursday night, November 26, at his home in Cranberry
Isles, Maine at the age of 83.
Ron Hedger, National Speed Sport Correspondent reported that asphalt
repaving of the Albany-Saratoga Speedway in Malta, NY was complete. The
banking at the top of the turns had been extended and the backstretch had
been pushed out another lane. In addition to the New England based Modified
Racing Series future plans called for the Race of Champions Modified Series
along with the ISMA Supers and the ACT Late Models.
Last year, 2013, The 2013 racing
season has wound down in the northeast. The Thanksgiving weekend Turkey
Derby at the Wall Stadium Speedway in New Jersey last weekend wrapped it up.
This year marked the 40th running of the Turkey Derby at the Jersey shore
oval. Last Saturday dawned clear, crisp and cold. For the tour type Modified
portion of the Derby there were 30 cars. All took time on the high banked
oval with Matt Hirschman the fastest as he toured the one third mile oval in
New Jersey runner Danny Bohn led the first 120 laps of the 150 lap Derby
before pitting for fresh tires. Hirschman who had pitted earlier, took the
lead following a lap 120 restart from Rowan Pennink. Hirschman made a
determined run from there as he never looked back as he sprinted to the win,
his second in a row. Doug Coby finished second with Pennink, third. Ryan
Preece and Mike Bohn rounded out the top five.
Hirschman tried to sweep both modified races, but in the SK/Wall Modified
100-lap feature he had an uphill battle and fell short as he settled for
second behind Anthony Sesely. Nicole Morgillo, who was the first young lady
to ever win a SK Modified feature at the Waterford Speedbowl, finished 10th
and Rowan Pennink, finished 16th.
The Thompson Speedway honored its 2013 track champions and celebrated its
73rd season of racing at its annual awards banquet last Friday evening in a
post Thanksgiving gala. Champions in all five NASCAR Whelen All-American
Series divisions took center stage as they put an exclamation point on a
season defined by competitive racing in spite of a rain-plagued year. Keith
Rocco of Meriden, Conn. led a contingent of drivers to earn series crowns
with a championship in the coveted Sunoco Modified division.
Other champions included: Rick Gentes of Burriville, RI in the Late
Models, Cam McDermott in the Lite Modified division, Steve Kenneway in the
Xtra Mart Limited Sportsman division, and Monster Mini Stock Champion Eric
Mini Stock driver Mike Viens of Seekonk, Mass. and Late Model driver Marc
Curtis, Jr. of Worcester, Mass. were the recipients of the Chief Starter’s
Award presented by Tim Bennett. The award recognizes sportsmanship displayed
by drivers in the NASCAR Whelen All American Series divisions.
The Sunoco Modified division crown was decided in a highly contested
battle that went right down to the last lap of the last race. Rocco, who
held a mere two point lead heading into the final regular season event,
finished second that night to Woody Pitkat of Stafford Springs, Conn., whose
race win tied him for the championship. Rocco’s division-leading five
victories served as the tie-breaker and catapulted Rocco to the head table
for Friday night’s festivities to celebrate his fourth Thompson Speedway
track championship. Rocco accomplished a total of nine top-five finishes
throughout the season. Cassie Rocco shared in the honors as the championship
car owner. Rocco’s accomplishments at Thompson and throughout the state also
earned him the title of NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Connecticut State
Champion and would also be honored by NASCAR in Charlotte in December.
“This championship was different because it was my first as a car owner.
Without the people behind me – this team, the people who show up every
Thursday – this championship wouldn’t be possible,” said Rocco. “It was a
short season, but we made sure we had fun. We laughed, we joked. The people
on my team are just awesome and they make this sport fun.” Rocco also said
he would be returning to Thompson for another full season in 2014.
Special awards were presented to Sunoco Modified Most Improved driver, Jason
Sundeen, and Rookie-of-the-Year, Paul Newcomb.
The evening concluded with the presentation of the John Hoenig Memorial
Award. The award, which recognizes one individual for their hard work and
dedication to the Speedway, was presented to Richard “Mouse” Morrill.
The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Series received a shot in the arm when it
was announced on the internet web site Racedayct.com that Derek Ramstrom and
Tommy Barrett Jr would be racing in the division in 2014. Both drivers are
highly qualified and experienced. Ramstrom is a 3-time Super Late Model
Champion at the Thompson Speedway and a seasoned veteran of the PASS North
and South divisions. Now 22, Ramstrom has been racing since the age of six,
getting his start in the Quarter Midgets. Barrett need no introduction as he
is the runner-up to Rowan Pennink in the 2013 Valenti Modified Racing Series
Championship. Like Ramstrom, Barrett got his start in the Quarter Midgets at
the age of 5. Prior to racing in the Valenti Modified Racing Series Barrett
ran in the SK Lites where he recorded 14 wins.
NASCAR purchased the Iowa Speedway. NASCAR is owned by the France family
that owns the majority of the International Speedway Corporation. The
agreement under a wholly owned subsidiary, Iowa Speedway, LLC, was effective
immediately. The facility, located 30 miles east of Des Moines in Newton,
features a seven-eighths-mile asphalt paved tri-oval designed by NASCAR Hall
of Famer Rusty Wallace.
That’s about it for another year from 11 Gardner Drive, Westerly, RI
02891. Ring My Chimes at 401-596-5467. Looking Back will return in time for
Speedweeks in 2015. Happy Holidays!
Phil Smith has been a
columnist for Speedway Scene and various
other publications for over 3 decades.
Looking Back Archive
Smith / Looking Back A Bit