The Chrome Horn - Looking Back A Bit with Phil Smith


February 27, 2015

  Forty years ago in 1975, the NASCAR Modifieds made their annual spring trek to Martinsville for a 250-lap event. Bugsy Stevens in the Koszela No.15 took the win over Ronnie Bouchard, Jerry Cook and Mike Loescher. A horrific fire on the front stretch marred the day when Brian Ross in the Bob Garbarino Mystic Missile was rear ended by a bumper-less car driven by Melvin Chilton. Chilton's bare frame rail tore into Ross' fuel cell and ignited the fuel. Flames raged as high as the grandstand roof but luckily Ross emerged unhurt. To add insult to injury, when fire crews arrived on the scene, the fixture that was supposed to dispense the purple-K wouldn't work and the fire had to be extinguished with water and hand held extinguishers.

  Twenty five years ago in 1990, Reggie Ruggiero started 17th and took the lead from Jamie Tomaino on lap 142 and went on to win the season opening 200 lapper at Martinsville. Jeff Fuller finished second and was followed by Jamie Tomaino, George Kent and Jerry Cranmer.

  Twenty years ago in 1995, the Modifieds were silent as the action was in Atlanta. Johnny Benson passed Ken Schrader with eight laps to go and went on to win the Busch Grandnational event. Jeff Gordon dominated the Winston Cup event.

  Fifteen years ago, in 2000, Mark Martin was the Busch Grandnational winner at Atlanta after waiting out a six-hour rain delay. Dale Earnhardt Sr. was the Winston Cup winner after teammate Mike Skinner lost an engine in the closing laps.

  Ten years ago in 2005, the big news of the week was the announcement that the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Series would be returning to Martinsville, Virginia on Saturday night, September 3. The event, 250 laps in length, would carry a purse of $110,000. The speedway would install temporary Musco lighting to illuminate the .525 mile speedway. Speedway President Clay Campbell stated that the event would be held in combination with NASCARís newly-formed Southern Modified Tour. Drivers will earn championship points for their respective divisions. The Martinsville event will be NASCARís version of the highly popular North Ė South Shootout that is run as an open competition Modified event at the Concord Motorsports Park.

  In the opinion of many the NEAR display at the annual Race-a-Rama was the highlight of the show. Plenty of drivers from years gone by and the present were on hand to sign autographs including Bob Polverari, Billy Greco, Jap Membrino, Ray Miller, Moon Burgess and Bob Potter. It was also announced that Eddie Flemke Sr, a charter member of NEAR and a member of the Hall of Fame would be inducted into the New Britain CT. Sports Hall of Fame on March 31. Flemke, who became a Modified Legend in his own time has over 500 wins to his credit and is responsible for mentoring many including Pete Hamilton, Richie Evans and Ronnie Bouchard. A hot topic of conversation was the momentum that the True Value Modified Series is gaining. The True Value Modifieds are an affordable alternative to the Whelen Modified Tour. Series leader Jack Bateman says he has 46 teams lined up to compete in 2005. The TVMS was born when the Modified division was displaced from the Claremont Speedway in New Hampshire. Since then the series has branched out to other tracks in the state as well as those in Vermont and now Massachusetts as they have three dates at the Seekonk Speedway.

  It looked like the voting taxpayers in the State of Florida didnít want to subsidize a proposed NASCAR Auto Racing Hall of Fame in the Daytona Beach area. The Quinnipac University in Hamden, Ct released results of a poll taken that showed that voters, by an 81 percent to 16 percent margin, opposed the possibility of giving $75 million to help Daytona Beach land a NASCAR Hall of Fame. To add insult to injury, even NASCAR fans didnít like the idea: They opposed it by a margin of 63 percent to 35 percent. The poll was taken of 1,007 voters in the state. Known for its exactness and thoroughness, the Quinnipac poll was selected a "winner" by the New York Post for the most accurate prediction on the Schumer-D'Amato Senate race in 1998, and results are featured regularly in The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, and on national network news broadcasts.

  Martin Truex, Jr. won the first Busch series race held outside of the United States by pulling away from the field following the final caution flag. Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards followed him across the line six seconds behind; Adrian Fernandez in 10th was the highest finishing Mexican national.

  Five years ago in 2010, with Speedweeks in Florida and the New Smyrna World Series history most of the auto racing snow birds had headed back north to await the beginning of the 2010 season at their favorite tracks. For the most part race fans and teams endured the cold, wind and rain during their stays in the sunshine state. The racing at New Smyrna could have been better but the somewhat short fields didnít help. Ted Christopher was off his game a bit as many thought he would clean house in Fla. Keith Rocco had a chance to prove himself but he blew it when he went after Ron Silk. Rocco has a lot of raw talent but he needed to tone it down a bit.

  A big disappointment was the fact that Burt Myers didnít come to New Smyrna to trade paint with the northern boys. Myers has become somewhat of a racing personality because of his part in the Mad House reality show on the History Channel.

  Had occasion to speak to Bob Garbarino who stated that he was surprised to hear from Donny Lia that he was going with the trucks. In the mean time, he said, no deals with any one had been made. It could very well mean that the Mystic Missile has taken its final lap.

  Lou Modestino reported that the recession has hit the Daytona Beach area hard with several businesses closed up, and there were lots of half-priced tickets for the big events at Daytona International Speedway. He also stated that there were a lot of room vacancies, even though the room rates at the major hotels had dropped prices, some as much as two-thirds.

  Between the weather and the ailing economy, things were way off from a few years ago in the Daytona Beach area.

  Kyle Busch barely overtook Greg Biffle out of the final turn in a green-white-checker finish to win by 0.051 seconds in the NASCAR Nationwide race at Fontana, California on Saturday, with Brad Keselowski right behind them.

  It was a heartbreaking loss for polesitter Joey Logano, who led 130 laps and was up front when the final caution came out. Busch's Joe Gibbs Racing teammate finished fifth.

  Danica Patrick was 31st in her second Nationwide race, three laps off the pace and ahead of six other cars that were still running at the end.

  In Sprint Cup action Jimmie Johnson held of Kevin Harvick to take the win at Fontana. Johnson scored his 48th career victory, which came at the same track where he got his first one eight years previous. He led eight times for 101 laps to win for the fifth time in 15 starts at California, including the last three fall races there. Harvick finished 1.523 seconds behind Johnson, with teammate Jeff Burton in third. Clint Bowyer was eighth, putting all three Childress drivers in the top 11 for the second straight week.

  Last year, 2014 based on his performance and skill at the Modified Battle at the Beach Doug Coby definitely had a leg up on the competition as the Modifieds closed in on their season opener at Thompson on April 6. Car owner Mike Smeriglio and crew chief Phil Moran had two complete cars with motors ready to go. Coby was cool as a cucumber as he survived a last lap Jason Myers punt as he closed in on his Daytona victory. With the absence of Mike Stefanik and Ted Christopher only Jamie Tomaino remains from the "Old Guard". It has been said that Tomaino will be relocating to North Carolina once his New Jersey home is sold. Jason Bonsignore is also one to watch. A young member of the Long Island Gang, Bonsignore is now equipped with a SPAFCO chassis and is hot to trot for a Whelen Modified Tour Series win and title. They will get plenty of competition from Donnie Lia and Ron Silk. Tommy Barrett went to New Smyrna and Daytona with a potentially winning car and a proven winning crew chief. He showed flashes of speed but in the end didnít produce. His luck wasnít the greatest so its too early to pass judgment.

  It had been reported that this yearís Battle at the Beach had a lot better attendance this year than last. AREA AUTO RACING NEWS reported that the backstretch grandstands at the Daytona Speedway will not come down until 2015. After that options for the race location include the Daytona infield road course, a yet to be built track on the Daytona front chute, New Smyrna or none at all.

  Kevin Harvick charged to the front early and dominated the rest of the way Sunday for his second straight Sprint Cup victory at Phoenix International Raceway. Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished second, pole sitter Brad Keselowski was third and Penske Racing teammate Joey Logano fourth. Jeff Gordon rounded out the top five on a warm and partly cloudy day.

  Kyle Busch took an early lead and was still out front when the Nationwide Series race was halted with 32 laps left in the 200-mile race around Phoenix's odd-shaped mile oval. After a delay of more than two hours, the race was called, giving Busch his series-record 64th Nationwide victory.

  Busch led 155 laps for his 10th overall victory, seven in Nationwide, at PIR and the fourth straight Nationwide win for Joe Gibbs Racing at the track. It also was the fourth straight win at PIR for Busch's crew chief Adam Stevens, who was at the helm when Joey Logano won for JGR in the 2012 fall race. Kevin Harvick finished second and pole sitter Brad Keselowski was third, followed by Kyle Larson and Matt Kenseth.

  Thatís about it for this week from 11 Gardner Drive, Westerly, R.I.02891. Ring my chimes at 401-596-5467.

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: February 27, 2015

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