The Chrome Horn - Looking Back A Bit with Phil Smith


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 non-Fords.

  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 Kirby Montieth.

  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 event.

  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 feature.

  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 the top-5.

  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 for fifth.

  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 events.

  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 postponed.

  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 non-stop.

  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 flag.

  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

Source: Phil Smith / Looking Back A Bit
Posted: May 22, 2015

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