May 22, 2015
Seventy five years ago in 1940 a brand new race track in opened
in Thompson, CT. The land on which the track was built had been transformed
from a dairy farm into a speedway following the farm’s destruction at the
hands of the infamous 1938 hurricane. Property owner John Hoenig had
constructed the largest race track in the northeast and had bucked
conventional wisdom by making the racing surface out of macadam instead of
the traditional dirt, clay or wood that topped most tracks of the day.
Hoenig had built the first ‘asphalt’ race track in the United States. Racers
of the day could not wait to test the all-new, high banked speedway. None
had ever raced on a surface like the one Hoenig had used, but that did not
keep them or race fans away. A full field of racecars and the huge
grandstands were filled to capacity for this grand opening. Opening day had
brought virtually every big name in the sport. The grandstands, made from
trees that had been blown down in the hurricane, were full and when the time
trial session was complete, it was the D’Amore #10 that had set the fast
time of the day at 26.4 seconds. “Dizzy” Vance then drove the D’Amore #10 to
a win in the very first qualifying race at Thompson.
Once the qualifying heats and the consolation race were completed, the
race teams worked feverishly to improve the performance of their dirt track
racecars. After all, none had ever competed on a hard and fast surface like
they encountered on that day in May of 1940. The feature event cars were
then lined up and the green flag dropped on the field of twelve cars.
Excitement filled the air and the cars roared down the long straight-a-ways
and slid sideways through the turns just as if they were on a dirt track.
The competition was fierce, but when the final flag flew on this historic
opening day, it was the D’Amore #10 that had done it all. Yes, “Dizzy” Vance
had set fast time, won his qualifying heat and then went on to claim victory
in the very first feature race ever run at the Thompson Speedway.
Special thanks to Russ Dowd who provided the info on the Grand Opening of
the Big T.
Sixty years ago in 1955, Don Collins
scored his fourth win of the season at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl.
Lou Tetreault, who was equally as hot, scored his fifth of the year in the
Fifty five years ago, in 1960, Bill
Slater won his fourth feature in a row at the Norwood Arena. Ted Stack was
the Modified feature winner at the Waterford Speedbowl. In other action at
the shoreline oval Tom Sutcliff was the non-Ford winner and Newt Palm scored
his third Bomber win.
Fifty years ago in 1965 Ted Stack was
still winning at the Waterford Speedbowl as he took the Modified feature.
Bill Scrivner was the winner in the Bomber ranks. Pete Corey led the New
York State invasion at Stafford as he won the Friday night event on the
dirt. Paul Marshall took the win at Fonda on Saturday night. At Riverside
Park, Dick Dixon recorded the win. Little did anyone know it would be his
last win at the amusement park speedway as he would lose his life later in
the year at the Thompson Speedway when he hit a light pole on the
backstretch. Jerry Cook took the Sunday night win at Utica-Rome. Tom Kotary
and Elton Hill followed. Down in the southland at the Southside Speedway in
Richmond, VA, Ted Hairfield won a 150 lap Modified event. Ed Flemke was
scheduled to appear but fell victim to car trouble while enroute to the
track and never made it.
Forty five years ago in 1970, Fred
DeSarro made it two in a row in Friday night action at Malta. Eddie
Pieniezak finished second with Dick Fowler, third. Stafford ran a 100 lapper
on Saturday night. Ray Hendrick, up from Virginia for the weekend was a
surprise winner after DeSarro had a brake lock up while leading. The biased
New England crowd booed Hendrick in victory lane because they thought he had
put out DeSarro. De Sarro got on the mike and told the crowd what really
happened and the entire mood of the crowd changed. This was to be Hendricks'
only career win at Stafford. Eddie Flemke finished second and was followed
by DeSarro, Leo Cleary and Bobby Santos. Eddie Pieniezak and Irv Taylor
shared victory lane in twin 25's at Fonda and at Plattsburg it was Dick
Nephew over Andy Romano. Walt Dombrowski, a sheet metal fabricator at the
Electric Boat shipyard in Groton , CT won his second Modified feature of the
year driving the Majewski L&M. George Allum was the Late Model Daredevil
winner. At Thompson on Sunday, Hendrick won a 100 lapper over DeSarro and
Flemke. A make-up 35 lapper was also run with Flemke taking the win over
Hendrick and Santos. John Kollar was the Sunday night winner at Utica-Rome.
Forty years ago in 1975, rain washed
out Friday night action at Stafford, Freeport and Utica-Rome. Islip ran a
100-lap double point event with Fred Harbach taking the win over Tom McCann
and Gary Winters. At Lancaster it was Maynard Troyer over Roger Treichler
and Dean Hoag. Billy Harman made it two in a row in Modified action at
Waterford. Don Fowler scored his second Late Model Daredevil win of the
season at the shoreline oval. Sunday night at Fulton saw Richie Evans
returned to his winning ways as he beat out George Kent and Jerry Cook. At
Thompson, it rained.
Thirty five years ago in 1980, the
New England Drivers and Owners Club, (NEDOC), voted to notify track
operators of Stafford, Thompson, Westboro and Monadnock that they wanted a
reduction in pit fees for drivers, owners and mechanics. With the exception
of Thompson, all complied with NEDOC's wishes. Stafford ran the Manchester
Oil Heat 100 on Friday night. Richie Evans took the win over Ronnie
Bouchard, Satch Worley, Jerry Cook and Mike Stefanik. Evans carried his
winning ways over to Riverside on Saturday where he took the victory over
Bob Polverari and Ray Miller. At Westboro it was Ronnie Bouchard over Bob
Fuller. Shangri-La, Spencer, Waterford, Islip and Claremont fell victim to
rain. Other weekend action saw John Blewett Jr. take the win at New Egypt on
Wednesday following a tangle by leaders Jerry Cook and Evans. Stash Gregger
took a 100 lap open event at Plainville, also on Wednesday, after Charlie
Jarzombek hit the wall. On Sunday, a strike was called at Thompson and the
Sunday night racing was cancelled after only six cars entered the pit area.
Thirty years ago in 1985, Brian Ross
made it two in a row in Friday night action at Stafford. Jeff Fuller
finished second with Bugsy Stevens, third. Kerry Malone was the SK mod
winner. New Egypt ran a 100 lapper with Bob Park holding off Jim Spencer for
the win. Saturday night at Waterford, Kenny Bouchard in the Ted Marsh No.55
took the top spot over Bob Potter. Mike Lovetere was the Superstock winner.
At Shangri-La, Richie Evans was in top form as he beat out Jim Spencer and
Jan Leaty. At Riverside it was Doug Hevron over Bob Polverari and at
Riverhead, Don Howe edged out Bob Park for the win. At Thompson on Sunday,
Charlie Jarzombek closed out the weekend with a convincing win over Evans
and Hevron. In SK type Modified action at Thompson, Kerry Malone took his
second win of the weekend.
In Winston Cup action at Riverside, California, Terry LaBonte mastered
the twisting road course.
Twenty five years ago in 1990, SK
modified action at Stafford saw Bob Potter take the win. At Riverhead on
Saturday night, Mike Ewanitsko beat veteran Fred Harbach for the win and at
Riverside, Reggie Ruggerio won a 100 lapper over Bob Polverari and Mike
Stefanik. At Shangri La, Andy Romano ended a 20-year dry spell as he won the
mod feature over Dave Nichols. The mod tour was at Thompson on Sunday for a
100 lapper. NASCAR put in a mandatory pit stop, which made the racing
better, but when the dust had settled, it was Mike Stefanik taking the win
over Mike McLaughlin. Jeff Barry was the SK mod winner. Also on Sunday,
Jerry Marquis in the Bob Judkins 2x won at Monadnock over Bruce Dell and
Twenty years ago in 1995, Steve
Chowanski was the Friday night winner at Stafford. Bo Gunning finished
second with Mike Christopher, third. It was a night of intense action and
contact. Jim Broderick and Ted Christopher were ejected for rough riding and
John Anderson was ejected for climbing the starters stand to vent his
feelings. The Featherlite Modified Tour was at Lee Raceway. Tim Connolly in
the Bobby Fuller No.17 took the win over Tony Hirschman, Ed Flemke Jr and
Tom Cravenho. Waterford cancelled at 11:00am on Saturday because of
forecasted rain and by race time the sun was out! At Riverside Park, Steve
Park in the Brady Bunch modified took the win over Doug Meservy and Reggie
Ruggerio and at Riverhead, Tim Contarino beat out Tom Tillotson for the win.
Mike McLaughlin got his first Busch Grandnational win at Dover Downs on
Saturday at the expense of fellow New Yorker, Doug Hevron who lost an engine
while leading the late stages of the event. Kyle Petty won the Winston Cup
Fifteen years ago in 2000, Eddie
Flemke Jr used an early pit stop to his advantage as he brought the Hill
Enterprises No.79 home in the top spot at the Featherlite Modified Tour 150
at Stafford. Flemke pitted on lap 59 and when the rest of the field stopped
on lap 85 he found himself in the lead, which he never gave up. Tim Connolly
finished second and was followed by Tony Hirshman, LW Miller, Chris Kopec
and Ted Christopher. Christopher overcame being put to the rear during the
early going of the SK modified 50 lapper and took the lead in that event
with one to go. At Waterford on Saturday, Jeff Pearl beat out Ed Reed Jr for
the win and in SK Mod action at Thompson on Sunday; Christopher won out over
Todd Ceravolo and Bert Marvin. In Winston Cup action at Charlotte, Matt
Kenseth took the win. Jeff Burton was the GN winner. Five pit crewmembers
were injured during a pre-race pyro show. In Daytona Beach, a group of
blacks picketed NASCAR headquarters when the sanctioning body refused an
entry of a black driver. In all fairness to NASCAR, the driver in question
was very slow in a practice session at Martinsville and wasn't even close to
being competitive. They made the right decision!
Ten years ago in 2005 At Stafford on
Friday night Ted Christopher collected his 79th career win in the 40 lap SK
Modified feature. Woody Pitkat appeared to be heading for the win when, on
the last lap, he and Frank Ruocco tangled. While Pitkat and Ruocco were
trying to collect themselves, Christopher who was running third, took
advantage of their misfortune as he assumed the lead and eventual win.
Pitkat recovered to finish second with Ruocco, third. Jeff Baral and Todd
Owen rounded out the top five. Jay Stuart took a controversial win in the
Late Models and Michael Bennett scored his fourth win in five starts in the
Limited Sportsman division. Joey Ferrigno was the Dare Stock feature winner.
The Waterford Speedbowl continues to keep fans and competitors buzzing
over the recent announcement that the track’s days are numbered. Speedbowl
operator Terry Eames called a meeting on Wednesday, May 18, to explain to
competitors what was really going on. Speaking in general terms Eames told
those in attendance that the property owner, 1080 Hartford Road, LLC, had
entered into an agreement that could potentially sell the property on which
the Speedbowl is located to a real estate developer. He did specify that the
2005 season would continue as planned and there was a good chance that the
2006 season would also go on as planned. Rumor had it that the asking price
was close to $5 million. Property values in southeastern Connecticut had
soared in the last ten years and have created a housing shortage. It was
also announced that the New London Submarine Base was on the US Government’s
Base Closure list. If that became a reality property values could take a
dive and building houses or condos on the Speedbowl property could be a bad
investment. Electric Boat, which builds submarines for the US Navy had cut
their workforce in half over the last ten years. The regions largest
employers are the casinos which, in many cases, have hired displaced workers
at low paying jobs. It’s a good guess that if the base goes the Speedbowl
will stay. There are some who feel that Eames had betrayed them. When he
took over operation of the track a few years back he stated that he was in
it for “The Long Haul”. Evidently he hit a bump in the road !
Seventeen year old Jeffrey Paul made his open wheel Modified debut at the
shoreline oval in the “Wacky Wednesday” program. A standout competitor in
the Legends Cars, Paul took to the limited X-Modified like a duck would take
to water as he won the event Paul came back to the Speedbowl on Saturday to
win the 20 lap Legends race. In Bud Nationals qualifying at Waterford on
Saturday there were 29 SK Modifieds on hand. Despite the increased purse
only two non-regulars plus Jim Broderick who was pinch hitting for Mark Pane
who had a date at the altar, were on hand. Broderick who has been
semi-retired the last few years hasn’t lost his touch as he set fast time
for the 150-lap event during time trials. Frank Ruocco was second fastest
with Tom Fox, third and Ted Christopher, fourth. Rounding out the top five
qualifiers was Chris Pasteryak. Drizzle and the prediction for more forced
the postponement of the second day of the Budweiser Modified Nationals
Sunday at Waterford Speedbowl.
In some sad news, Freddy Doolittle of Norwich, CT, a Modified car owner
and sponsor for many years passed away at the age of 77 on Monday, May 16.
Fred owned and operated Freddy's TV in Norwich for 52 years. During his 30+
years as a car owner the Freddy’s TV No.23 ran up and down the east coast
with drivers like Bob Potter, Ron Narducci, Ed Yerrington, Moose Hewitt and
Kenny Bouchard at the controls.
Five years ago in 2010, the NASCAR
Whelen Modified Tour Series continued on "Spring Break" After two events
Bobby Santos sat firmly atop the point standings with a 15 point lead over
Ted Christopher. Mike Stefanik sat in third spot, some 25 points behind the
leader. Tied for fourth spot were Rowan Pennink and Todd Szegedy. Sixth
through tenth were Eric Berndt, Ryan Preece, Chris Pasteryak, Eric Goodale
and Erick Rudolph. After two events a total of 39 different drivers had
entered into competition.
The Late Model division took center stage on Friday at the Stafford Motor
Speedway with the 16th Annual Lincoln Technical Institute Late Model 100.
Woody Pitkat scored a dominating win, leading the race from lap-17 all the
way to lap-100 to pick up his first win of the 2010 season and the first win
ever for his car owner Billy Snow, Sr. Frank Ruocco scored a dominating
feature victory in the 40-lap SK Modified® feature, David Webb won the
20-lap SK Light Modified feature, George Nocera, Jr. won the 20-lap Limited
Late Model feature, and Jeff Jolly wired the field in the 15-lap DARE Stock
In the 40-lap SK Modified® feature event, Ted Christopher took the lead
from Frank Ruocco in the outside groove to lead the field, but Ruocco was
glued to Christopher's back bumper. After several cautions slowed the action
in the first several laps of the race, Christopher held the lead until lap-6
when Ruocco went to the front of the field. Keith Rocco was third behind
Christopher with Mark Bakaj in fourth and Zach Sylvester in fifth.
Ruocco continued to hold the lead while Christopher and Rocco were having a
great duel for second place. Rocco worked Christopher over and he finally
was able to get by Christopher for second on lap-20. A spin by Brad Hietala
brought the yellow out with 20 laps complete. Ruocco continued to lead on
the restart, with Rocco and Christopher side by side for second. Christopher
took the spot, but he spun on lap-23 after contact with Rocco, which brought
the caution back out. Rocco was sent to the rear of the field for over
aggressive driving, moving Sylvester into second, Jeff Malave into third,
and Jeff Baral into fourth for the restart.
Ruocco again held the lead with Sylvester, Malave, Baral, and Dan Avery
behind him in the top-5. The top-5 ran in line until the caution came back
out with 29 laps complete for a spin by Brad Hietala. Ruocco again got a
good restart and kept the lead with Malave moving into second and Baral into
third. Keith Rocco was now back in the mix after his penalty and moved into
fourth with Ryan Preece moving into fifth place. Rocco got by Baral on the
last lap, but it was all Ruocco as he led the race from lap-6 to the
checkered flag to take his first SK Modified® feature victory of the 2010
season. Malave finished second, with Rocco, Baral, and Preece rounding out
Racing at the Waterford Speedbowl was cancelled due to rain. The sun was
out at 3:00pm and it ended up being a pleasant day and evening. There was
lots of standing water in the infield which meant that the water table at
the shoreline oval was quite high. Keith Rocco held a commanding 19 point
lead over Ron Yuhas jr in the SK Modified division. Sitting in third, 64
points in arears was Diego Monahan. Tyler Chadwick and Rob Janovic were tied
In Long Island racing action, defending NASCAR Modified champion John
Fortin of Holtsville escaped a close call late in Saturday's 35-lap feature
event at Riverhead Raceway to drive to his 23rd career victory before a
chilled and windswept collection of die hard fans. The win moved John into
sole possession of 11th on the all-time win list, four behind Don Howe and
John Berkoski who share 9th at 27 victories.
The Bowman-Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem NC ran a 100 lapper on Saturday
night in front of another packed house. MadHouse TV star Burt Myers scored
his first victory of the year at the historic track. Myers started 16th on
the field. Brian Loftin finished second with Brentt Elliott, third and Brad
Robbins, fourth. Defending track champ Tim Brown rounded out the top five.
Jason Myers, another MadHouse star finished ninth after drawing the scratch
starting spot. Junior Miller ended up 15th.
Internet web site Speed 51 reported that defending Bowman Gray Stadium
(NC) Modified champion and Madhouse television personality Tim Brown told
Speed 51 Radio that SPEED TV had been negotiating with the History Channel
to buy the rights to the reality television show. Brown said that even
though he wasn't happy with how he was portrayed in the first season of the
show he would consider being a part of a second season. He told 51 Radio
that although a film crew has been taping at Bowman Gray this year, it might
be too late into the season for a deal to be made and a possible SPEED
version of Madhouse might not appear until the 2011 season.
Because of the fact that it was Mother's Day weekend the Nationwide
Series ran on Friday and the Sprint Cup race was run on Saturday night at
the Darlington Raceway. The weekend belonged to Denny Hamlin as he won both
Last year, 2014, The Thompson
Speedway Motorsports Park fought through scattered rain showers to get in an
almost full schedule of racing for the Food Bank Night & Late Model 20/20
Sprint. In Late Model action, Rick Gentes fought back in the third of three
segments to derail a clean sweep by Keith Rocco, who won two 20-lap Late
Model segments. Gentes’ third segment win was not enough to stop Rocco from
winning the overall finish, however.
In other NASCAR Whelen All-American Series action, Robert Palmer earned
his first career win in the Lite Modified division while Corey Hutchings
checkered the Xtra Mart Limited Sportsman division and Chad Baxter won the
Monster Mini Stock feature.
The Sunoco Modified division ran 13 laps of their 30-lap feature before rain
forced them to reschedule the remainder of the event until May 29. Woody
Pitkat, Keith Rocco, and Ryan Preece made up the top-three when it was
All in all, the racing at Thompson provided a high level of competition.
In the Limited Sportsman event Corey Hutchings and Larry Barnett put on a
brilliant display of driving as they ran lap after lap, side by side, for
the lead. Hutchings prevailed to take the win as Barnett settled for second.
Chris Moose Douton finished third. The Late Model 20/20 Sprint was also
highly competitive. The first 20 lapper for the Late Models saw Rick Gentes
coming off the fourth turn on the final lap with the checkered flag in sight
when a slight nudge from Rocco caused him to lose just a bit of momentum to
allow Rocco by and take the win. In the second 20 for the Late Models the
lead lap cars were inverted for the start. Rocco got the break as Gentes
brushed the wall, losing valuable distance he would never make up. Rocco
took the lead in the second 20 on lap 11 and never looked back. Rocco
started on the pole for the final 10 laps but his worn tires were not up to
the task. Gentes took the lead on lap 7. A strong performance was turned in
by Glen Boss who turned in a third, second and a third for the night.
The re-configure of the Thompson Speedway is just about complete. Great
pains were taken to make it a fully functional oval and road course
facility. With the road course looping through the parking lot which is now
fenced off it will be interesting to see where spectators cars are parked.
The only major complaint from competitors is the way the divisions are
spread out from what used to be the old pit. Some of the older mechanics and
car owners feel there is way too much walking involved especially to the gas
pumps and parts truck. Hopefully the Thompson management will address these
issues which would make the facility more competitor friendly.
The Stafford Speedway fell victim to rain on Friday.
Racing action at the Waterford Speedbowl saw Joe Gada take his first win
of the year in the SK Modifieds. Joining Gada as new faces in Victory Lane
for 2014 were Bruce Thomas Jr., picking up the checkered flag in Valenti
Auto Mall Late Model race, and Ray Christian III, winner in the Mini Stocks.
Josh Galvin of Franklin won his third Street Stock feature in a row and
Corey Barry won his second SK Light Modified race on the year. Mike
Christopher Jr. of Wolcott claimed another INEX Legend Cars feature to round
out the Saturday night winners. The SK Modified and Late Model features went
Gada started the race from the pole position and left Nichole Morgillo
behind exiting turn two. Excitement picked up on the opening lap when
several cars made contact down the back chute, sending Shawn Thibeault
through the infield but continuing on without a caution flag. Gada was out
to a blistering pace while Ed Puleo quickly moved to second position. Ted
Christopher was already up to third and Keith Rocco was charging through the
top-ten and was hot on Christopher’s tail in fourth just four laps in. Rocco
was not content and immediately looked for racing room on Christopher,
making an inside move to jump to third on lap-5. Ahead, Gada stretched his
lead on Puleo as Rocco closed in. The battle for second picked up on lap-10
with Rocco all over Puleo. After several laps trying, Rocco could not unseat
Puleo for the spot. Christopher was all alone in fourth with Tim Jordan
rounding out the top five as the race reached halfway all under the green
Over the second half of the race, Puleo began to slowly reel in Gada as
Rocco started to fade in third. Christopher was closing the gap back to
Rocco and Jordan continued in fifth. By lap-25 Puleo was two car lengths
back of Gada and three laps later he was on his rear bumper. Puleo looked to
the inside of Gada more than once, but Gada was quick off the corners
running his groove. Puleo tested Gada’s rear bumper on a couple occasions,
including lap-32 when both cars briefly got sideways entering turn one.
Gada withstood Puleo’s efforts to win by a car length at the checkered
flag in a clean but well contested event. The win marked Gada’s second in
the division. His first victory came in 2013. Gada’s father Dennis is one of
the all-time best open-wheeled drivers in track history, claiming seven
division titles. The caution free race took 9 minutes and 33 seconds from
start to finish. Puleo rebounded from a hard wreck last Saturday to finish
second and Rocco held back Ted Christopher for third. Tim Jordan rounded out
the top five.
In the Late Models, Thomas won for the first time on the year to halt
Rocco’s stranglehold in the Valenti Auto Mall sponsored division. Rocco won
the final five races in 2013 and the first five features to begin 2014.
Thomas, one of the division’s all-time best, finally found the answer to
best Rocco in the 30-lap race. Rocco finished second. Christopher won for
the fourth consecutive time in the INEX Legend Cars.
Howie Brode held off Ryan Preece and Timmy Solomito to take the Modified
win at the Riverhead Raceway on Long Island. Tom Rogers and Ron Silk rounded
out the top five.
In Modified racing in the southland, Chris Fleming was the 100 lap NASCAR
Modified feature winner at the Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, NC.
Burt Myers finished second with Kyle Ebersole, third.
Jamie McMurray, a 40-1 long shot, had a $1 million payday with an upset
victory in the Sprint All-Star Race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway.
McMurray was second on the restart for the 10-lap sprint to the checkered
flag. Lined up outside of pole-sitter Carl Edwards, McMurray waged a
door-to-door battle with the leader for a lap around Charlotte Motor
Speedway, with McMurray surging slightly ahead several times. The two cars
appeared to touch more than once, and McMurray finally cleared Edwards for
the lead two laps into the fifth segment.
Sam Hornish Jr. beat Ryan Blaney off a restart with 21 laps to go and
hung on to win the NASCAR Nationwide Series race Sunday at Iowa Speedway.
Pole-sitter Ryan Blaney was second, followed by Regan Smith, Chase Elliott
and Elliott Sadler in the first stand-alone event of the season. Hornish, in
the No. 54 car usually driven by Kyle Busch, led 167 of 250 laps.
In Pole position qualifying for the Indy 500, Ed Carpenter took
back-to-back pole victories, posting a four-lap average of 231.067 mph to
take the top spot in the 500 for the second straight year.
On a sad note, former Waterford Speedbowl announcer Dave Shippee passed
away last week. Dave had a lifelong love of auto racing and was at one time,
during the early 70's, the track announcer at Waterford Speedbowl. No one
who was there will forget the night the recording of the National Anthem
broke and he gave a stirring solo rendition. David was a gifted writer. He
had his own column in several now defunct publications including, "Dave's
Stockpile" and "Tiques and Fleas", an ode to antiquing.
That’s 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
Smith / Looking Back A Bit