RPW Column: Looking Back A Bit: Fourth Week Of March

Column Compiled By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WESTERLY, RI – Forty five years ago in 1971, Thompson opened their season with Modifieds and Supers running together. Bobby Santos in the Joe Brady No.41 took the 50-lap win. Lou Austin finished second. Howie Brown, in a Supermodified, finished third.

The Supers were very unreliable as most failed to finish. Rene Charland finished fourth and was followed by Bob Karvonen, Ernie Gahan and Billy Schulz. Jerry Glaude won the open competition opener at the Waterford Speedbowl. George Summers finished second and was followed by Joe Trudeau and Walt Dombrowski.

Forty years ago in 1976, it was all-quiet.

Thirty five years ago in 1981, The Thompson Speedway opened the season with Dick Williams as the promoter, under warm 70-degree skies. With over 12,000 fans on hand, Richie Evans followed up his Martinsville win with another win. George Kent finished second and was followed by Bugsy Stevens and Kenny Bouchard. Because of the huge crowd, Williams added $3,000 to the race purse and paid every non-qualifier $50.00. Jeff Fuller was the late model winner and was followed by Ron Cote and Pete Fiandaca. In the south at the Winston Cup event at Bristol, Ronnie Bouchard qualified third behind Darrell Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt. Bouchard ran in the top five until losing an engine at the half way mark. In Busch Grandnational action, Geoff Bodine went two for two as he won at Langley Field on Saturday and at South Boston, on Sunday. Both were 200 lap events.

Thirty years ago in 1986, Riverside Park opened for the season. Mike Stefanik took the 100-lap win as 10,280 race hungry fans looked on. Stan Gregger finished second with Bob Polverari, third.

Twenty five years ago in 1991, Riverside began their season with a 100 lapper that went non-stop with Reggie Ruggiero taking the win. Charlie Pasteryak finished second and was followed by Jerry Marquis, Stan Gregger and Rick Fuller.

Twenty years ago in 1996, Chris Kopec made it two for two at Riverside as he beat out Dave Berube and Reggie Ruggiero for the win. Thompson saw the Modified Tour on hand for a 125-lap event. Steve Park took the win after coming back from a pit stop for tires on lap 59.Park took the lead from Mike Stefanik on lap 98.Jerry Marquis finished second and was followed by Stefanik, Tony Hirschman and Bruce Del. Todd Ceravolo went pole to pole to win the 35 lapper for the SK’s. On a sad note, Fred DeSarro Sr. passed away after suffering congestive heart failure.

Fifteen years ago in 2001, the Featherlite Modifieds were off. Kevin Harvick led 114 laps of the Texas Grandnational 200 to take the win. Dale Earnhardt Jr was the Winston Cup pole sitter but it was Dale Jarrett and Steve Park who finished one-two.

Ten years ago in 2006 , The Waterford Speedbowl opened for the season with The Nationals. The two-day event hosted feature events for SK Modifieds (150 laps), Late Models (50 laps), Sportsman (30 laps), Mini-Stocks (30 laps), and NEMA Midgets (25 laps) plus Allison Legacy and American Race Trucks. All features were run on Sunday. “Don’t believe what you read in the papers” is what track owner Terry Eames alluded to at a drivers meeting on Saturday. He said the entire 2006 season would be run as scheduled. The Nationals, a big event that should have bolstered the Speedbowl’s checkbook, was disappointing at the box office, but a resounding success on the track. Good fields of cars and good racing didn’t disappoint those who came. Too bad the grandstands were less than half full. Lack of advertising was key. The race fans knew the Speedbowl was opening for the season but much of the general public didn’t. Frank Ruocco made a guest appearance at the Speedbowl, as did Jimmy Blewett and Ken Horton. They stole the SK Modified show from the regulars. Blewett started on the pole and led the event until he got loose and passed by Ruocco with about 12 laps to go. Blewett went non-stop without a tire change while Ruocco pitted for a fresh set shortly after the half way mark. Ruocco took the top spot while Blewett ended up fourth. Kenny Horton came from dead last to finish second while Chris Pasteryak was the top finishing Speedbowl regular in third spot. Dennis Gada rounded out the top five. Other winners were Joey Payne in the NEMA Midgets, Mark Esposito in the Legends, Dave Silvia in the Mini Stocks, Tayla Orleans in the Allison Legacy Cars, Corey Hutchings in the Late Models, Jason Heroux in the Pro Fours, Seth Duval in the Trucks and Dwayne Door in the Sportsman.

The proposed domed speedway in Plainfield Ct. had been out of the news in recent months. Now came word that the First Selectman, Kevin Cunningham, had asked the town planning commission to repeal the controversial zoning regulations that would have allowed a domed speedway to be built in a new commercial district near the existing greyhound track. Cunningham had allies in the Planning and Zoning Commission, which could work in his favor. If Cunningham ended up being successful and the zoning regulations were repealed, the roughly 820 acres that were designated as the Resort/Recreational Development District, known as the C5 District would revert back to their previous zoning designations, the possibility of building a domed speedway in Plainfield would be dead. It had been almost a year since the C5 District regulations were approved and the district was established in the southeastern section of the town. During this time town officials waited for an application to build a multimillion-dollar domed speedway, which would generate millions of dollars in tax revenue, and attract NASCAR-caliber events to the area. In the mean time, Eugene Arganese, and his New England Raceway LLC, had not submitted an application despite saying several times that one was in the works. He ended up buying a motel in Misquamicut, RI.

Five years ago in 2011, Kevin Rice reported that four VMRS teams were at Thompson on Saturday for the first of two Saturday practice sessions which would lead up to the Ice Breaker. Les Hinckley, Chris Pasteryak, Steve Masse and Tim Jordan were shaking down their mounts in preparation for the season opener at the Waterford Speedbowl.

Rice also noted that Whelen Modified Tour Series drivers including Matt Hirschman in the legendary Ole Blu of the Boehler family were on hand to get in a few shakedown runs. In addition to Hirschman, other tour drivers included Todd Szegedy, Bobby Santos III, Ronnie Silk, Glen Tyler, Tom Rogers, Kevin Goodale, Ryan Preece, Mike Stefanik, Woody Pitkat, Wade Cole, Justin Bonsignore, Doug Coby, Eric Goodale, Ron Yuhas, Rob Fuller and Bryon Chew.

Richie Pallai, Jr. was on hand with his new advisor and mentor Bob Potter. Potter is a multi-time winner at Stafford, Waterford and Thompson who has a wealth of driving experience and set-ups. Rick Gentes has thrown his hat in the ring for Rookie of the Year honors as he joins the Tour in 2011. Modified Tour competitors will not be allowed to practice at Thompson this week.

In the Sunoco Modified (SK type) ranks Ryan Preece started out the year on the wrong foot as he apparently had a throttle stick and ultimately did alot of damage when he crashed into the turn one concrete wall

Due to persistent rain overnight and a weather forecast calling for a cold rain throughout the weekend, NASCAR and Caraway Speedway postponed the Caraway 150 NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour race originally scheduled Saturday night

Matt Kobyluck, winner of 16 career races NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and the 2008 series champion, announced that he would not be competing in the 2011 racing season. Kobyluck’s longtime sponsor, Mohegan Sun Resort & Casino, announced the 2010 season would be their last on Kobyluck’s #40 cars. Kobyluck owns and operates a sand and gravel operation in southeastern Connecticut.

National Speed Sport News published its last issue. After more than 76 years, the publication, which was first published as National Auto Racing News on Aug. 16, 1934, printed its last issue, dated March 23, 2011.

Through the years National Speed Sport News was the industry leader in covering motorsports, much of it thanks to Chris Economaki, 90, who sold the first issue of NSSN at Ho-Ho-Kus Speedway in New Jersey, and began writing for the publication soon after that and became editor in 1950.

Economaki saw the publication through its glory days, launching a career on television and taking his newspaper into thousands of homes across America. In a time when there was no Internet and very little racing was on television or radio, National Speed Sport News thrived.

NASCAR’s top divisions were on the West coast. It was another dismal crowd at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., Sunday afternoon. Despite a shift from the second race of the season to the fifth, more than half the seats at the two-mile superspeedway were empty for Sunday’s Auto Club 400. Interestingly, the race came down to a battle between California natives with Bakersfield’s Kevin Harvick edging El Cajon’s Jimmie Johnson. Harvick passed Johnson on the final turn at Auto Club Speedway to win after trailing the entire race.Kyle Busch had the dominant car most of the day and led a race-high 151 laps, including off a restart with nine laps left. Johnson, a five-time winner at Fontana, had the late burst, chasing down Busch for the lead with two laps left.

Kyle Busch came out of the pits in the lead after taking two tires on a late stop, then held off Edwards and Harvick to win his third straight Nationwide race at Auto Club Speedway on Saturday.

Last year, 2020, The threat of coronavirus continued to cripple our country. Its amazing things have got so bad. People are hoarding everything from toilet paper to dog food and there appears that current conditions will continue for a while. Try to keep your distance from others, don’t get carried away at the grocery stores and hopefully in a few short weeks things will return to normal. Thanks to the wonders of the internet life will not be boring.

Web site You Tube provides thousands of hours of entertainment from the world of auto racing. Numerous racing events have been recorded and can be accessed without charge. Just about every track and series is there. One of the best programs available are the Pod Casts from the Stafford Speedway which usually last over an hour. Kyle Rickey and Paul Arute do a great job of looking inside our sport as they have interviewed many of the personality’s involved in the sport of auto racing. Sid’s View has documented the History of the New London-Waterford Speedbowl. It will take a couple of weeks to go thru these two programs.

Once we get thru April hopefully we can look back at the coronavirus as a bad memory!

The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour season opener scheduled for Saturday, March 21 at South Boston Speedway (VA) was postponed. The announcement came as a result of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic that is forcing the postponement, suspension or cancelation of many sporting events throughout the United States. A make up date for the event has not been announced at this time.

NASCAR President Steve Phelps held a teleconference with the sport’s media on Tuesday addressing questions and reassuring that the hope is, yes, the full season’s 36 points races will be run, with the safety of the sport’s fans and its participants of utmost importance during the current worldwide COVID-19 virus outbreak.

NASCAR announced on Monday, March 17 that races through at least May 3 will have to be rescheduled.

“The health and safety of our fans, industry and the communities in which we race is our most important priority, so in accordance with recent CDC guidance, NASCAR is currently postponing all race events through May 3rd, with plans to return racing in Martinsville,’’ the NASCAR statement read in part. “We appreciate the patience of our fans and we look forward to returning to the racetrack.’’

The official word from the Stafford Motor Speedway indicates that the NAPA Auto Parts Spring Sizzler Weekend has been rescheduled to May 30th & 31st following directive from NASCAR, the CDC, and the State of Connecticut relating to Covid-19 (coronavirus). The 2020 season will kick-off Friday, May 22nd with a full card of NASCAR weekly racing.

The previously scheduled Call Before You Dig Pro Late Model 81 slated for Friday, May 29th will remain on the schedule, setting up a double-header weekend for all 5 of Stafford’s NASCAR weekly racing series divisions.

“We’re making adjustments to the 2020 schedule due to the coronavirus and the executive order implemented by the governor,” explained Stafford Speedway CEO Mark Arute. “We’ve worked with NASCAR to reschedule the Sizzler to the end of May. We will have an exciting weekend for race fans with the inaugural Call Before You Dig Pro Late Model 81 on Friday and the 49th Annual NAPA Spring Sizzler® Saturday and Sunday.”

Open practice has been moved to Saturday, May 9th. All teams competing at Stafford Speedway in 2020 are welcomed to attend. Events scheduled for Friday, May 1st and Friday, May 8th have been canceled. The May 15th Modified Open 80 event has been rescheduled to Friday, September 4th to eliminate conflicts with Thompson Speedway’s opening event. The Late Model 50 scheduled for September 4th has been moved to Friday, September 11th.

“We are in some unprecedented circumstances but we look forward to getting back on track whenever it is safe for drivers, teams, and fans,” continued Arute. “Safety is the number one concern right now but looking at the double header this sets up at the end of May we have a unique opportunity to have a really exciting weekend for fans and teams. 13 races over the course of 3 days is something we’ve never done. We’ve taken a hard look at the schedule and reshuffled dates to make it work. We want to thank all the fans for their patience.”

Stafford Speedway is set to host 13 feature races over three days from May 29th through May 31st. The Inaugural Call Before You Dig Pro Late Model 81 will kick off the weekend Friday, May 29th along with all 5 of Stafford’s weekly divisions. Stafford Speedway will return to action the following day with practice and qualifying for all 5 of Stafford’s weekly divisions, Vintage All-Stars® and the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. The Street Stock, Limited Late Model, and Vintage All-Stars® will run feature events Saturday, May 30th. The weekend will cap off Sunday with the NAPA Pit Party and feature racing from the SK Modified®, Late Model, SK Light Modified, and the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour.

“All future dates remain tentative, pending any additional guidance from the CDC, state of Connecticut, or NASCAR,” explained Arute. “We will continue to monitor the situation and take additional action if necessary. We look forward to seeing everyone back at the track soon.”

The previously scheduled Call Before You Dig Pro Late Model 81 slated for Friday, May 29th will remain on the schedule, setting up a double-header weekend for all 5 of Stafford’s NASCAR weekly racing series divisions.

Word comes from North Carolina that the MadHouse, Bowman Gray Stadium will also have a delayed schedule. Their season Opener Hayes Jewelers 200 has been Postponed Until May 9.

On a sad note, NASCAR Whelen Modified tour competitor Wade Cole was killed while working on his race car late Sunday, March 15. Hartland Connecticut’s longtime first selectman, Wade Cole, died following an accident at his home, the town’s second selectman and Cole’s longtime friend said Monday.

Cole was found Monday morning, Magi Winslow said. He was apparently injured while working on his race car.

Noted writer Mark “Bones” Bourcier reports the passing of Ray Stonkus, who laid his wrenches on more winning race cars than an average mechanic ever even touches. Ray worked on everything from Saturday-night coupes to All Pro Late Models to NASCAR Trucks, and made fast racers like Pete Hamilton and Gary Balough even faster. Pete always called Ray’s “Flyin’ 9” coupe “my first really good race car,” and in my home region, New England, the Stonkus and Hamilton names will be forever linked.

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