RPW Column: Looking Back A Bit: Third Week Of April

Column Compiled By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WESTERLY, RI – Seventy years ago in 1951 what was then known as the New London-Waterford Speedbowl enjoyed it’s grand opening. The opening of the Speedbowl would fill a southern New England void that was created when the track at the Kingston Fairgrounds in Rhode Island was shut down.

According to John Brouwer Jr’s “A Racing History of the New London Waterford Speedbowl”, it took 40 men approximately 7 months to complete construction, a project, at the time, costing over $150,000.00. The first event was held on Sunday April 15, 1951. That night’s feature winner was Bob Swift and the crowd was reported around 5,700, far short of the 8,000 who showed up the week before to watch the first practice session (that highly anticipated exhibition caused a 3-hour traffic delay in all directions).

The original track was made of crushed blue stone. Over the first 3 weeks of operation, attendance continually dwindled due to poor spectator visibility through the dust created from the track surface. The owners promptly closed the track and re-opened on Tuesday May 15th with an asphalt racing surface.

“Moneybags Moe” Gherzi made it three in a row at the Plainville Stadium.

Sixty five years ago in 1956 the scheduled opening of the New London-Waterford Speedbowl was put on hold as the track was put up for sale. Tommy Elliott won the opener at the Old Bridge Speedway in New Jersey

Sixty years ago in 1961 the scheduled opening of the New London-Waterford Speedbowl was pushed back a week because of rain. Ray Hendrick won a 30 lapper at South Boston in Virginia.

Fifty five years ago in 1966 the Albany Saratoga Speedway in Malta, NY received a NASCAR sanction for their Friday night Modified and Sportsman racing events. Harvey Tattersall’s United Stock Car Racing Club had sanctioned Malta, which had opened in mid-1965. Speedway owner and promoter Joe Lesik had originally tried for a NASCAR sanction in 1965 but had been shot down because of opposition from John Hoenig of the Thompson Speedway. Lou Toro won the NASCAR opening 30-lap event and was followed at the finish by Gene Bergin, Frank Mahalia, Kenny Shoemaker and Bill Wimble. Saturday night racing on the dirt at the Fonda Speedway was rained out. Freddie Schulz took the win at Norwood while Dick Dixon won at Riverside Park and Fred Borden scored another win at Westboro. The New London-Waterford Speedbowl ran on Sunday with Wayne Wilkinson taking the Modified 30 lap win. Eddie Bunnell was the 15 lap Bomber winner and Lou Caso won in the Daredevils. At Thompson on Sunday it was Gene Bergin taking the win. Red Foote, transplanted from Connecticut, won a 150 lapper at South Boston.

Fifty years ago in 1971, the shot heard round the modified world came to be as Fred DeSarro and Sonny Koszela, who had successfully won the 1970 NASCAR National Modified Championship parted company and Koszela successfully hired Bugsy Stevens away from Len Boehler, who had supplied cars that had carried Stevens to modified championships in 1967,1968 and 1969. Stevens’ first outing in the Koszela car was at Thompson where he cleaned house, winning the twin 25 lap features. The mighty No.3 was warmed up and ready but Boehler, who had not contacted DeSarro, had assumed that the defending champ would show but he didn’t. No one drove the Boehler car that day but the stage was set for one of the biggest racing rivalries that New England ever saw. Finishing second in the first 25 lapper behind Stevens was Leo Cleary who was followed by Bobby Santos, Ed Yerrington and Don Flynn. Bob Melnick finished second in the nightcap and was followed by Cleary, Bernie Miller and Jerry Cook. Once Boehler returned home, a call was made and DeSarro agreed to be his driver. DeSarro would go on to win many features until his untimely death on November 1, 1978. In other weekend action, Fonda opened for the season with crowd favorite Lou Lazzaro taking the win over Harry Peek and Eddie Pieniezak. At the Waterford Speedbowl, on a chilly Sunday afternoon, Jerry Glaude won his second feature of the year. Leo Hill finished second with Joe Trudeau, third. Big Mike Daignault made it three in a row in Sportsman Sedan action. Ronnie Bouchard won the season opener at Seekonk.

Forty five years ago in 1976, the Modifieds headed south for the Saturday 150 at Martinsville. Jerry Cook took the lead when Bobby Allison lost an engine. Paul Radford finished second and was followed by Wayne Anderson and Gerald Compton. Richie Evans had mechanical problems and finished 19th.As soon as the checker dropped, Cook and Anderson hopped a plane and headed for Islip on Long Island for their season opening Saturday night event. Hometown favorite Greg Sacks, in his family owned No.18x took the win over legend Al De Angelo. Cook finished third and was followed by Fred Harbach, Tom Baldwin, Cliff Tyler and Wayne Anderson. Bugsy Stevens stayed close to home as he won the season opening Blast Off 100 at the Waterford Speedbowl. Wayne “Mysterious” Smith was the Late Model Grand American winner.

Forty years ago in 1981, Shangri-La Speedway in Owego, NY. opened the season with an 81 lap event. George Kent took the win after Richie Evans lost a tire in the late going. Greg Sacks,in the Cal Smalles No.41 finished second and was followed by Maynard Troyer, Jerry Cook and Doug Hewitt. On Sunday, the Modifieds ran at North Wilkesboro in North Carolina. Richie Evans took the white flag, leading the event and lost an engine. Paul Radford in the Wayne “Speedy” Thomas No.07 took the 99 lap win. Jerry Cook finished second and was followed by George Kent, John Blewett Jr, Evans and Satch Worley. Rit Patchen was the Modified winner at Danbury. Fred Drumm ended Randy LaJoie’s winning streak in the Danbury Sportsman division. LaJoie finished second with Bo Gunning, third.

Thirty five years ago in 1986, John Rosati dusted Bob Polverari at Riverside on Saturday night. Mike Stefanik finished third. The Thompson Ice Breaker was 75 laps and before over 7500 fans, Charlie Jarzombek took a convincing win. Reggie Ruggiero finished second and was followed by George Kent .In Winston Cup action at North Wilkesboro, Geoff Bodine was the pole sitter and finished third. Willie T. Ribbs became the third black driver to ever qualify for a Winston Cup event and finished 22nd.Jan Leaty bypassed Thompson and scored a victory in a companion modified event at North Wilkesboro. In some sad news, Firestone Tire Dealer Gene White passed away.

Thirty years ago in 1991, Riverside Park rained out for the second week in a row. Rain also washed out the Spring Sizzler at Stafford. The top five in Modified tour points were Mike Stefanik, Doug Hevron, Ricky Fuller, Tom Baldwin and Reggie Ruggiero.

Twenty five years ago in 1996, For the third consecutive week Chris Kopec started on the pole at Riverside and won his third in a row. Dave Berube finished second. Jim Broderick out ran Don Fowler to take the Saturday night win at Waterford and at Riverhead, Ed Brunnhoelzl Jr won the season opener at the Long Island oval. Ricky Fuller dominated the first 150 laps of the 200 lap Spring Sizzler at Stafford on Sunday. Jan Leaty waited for Fuller to use up his tires as he took the lead with 50 to go and romped home to the checkered flag. Fuller hung on to finish second and was followed by Tony Hirschman, Tom Bolles, Ed Kennedy and Charlie Pasteryak. Bo Gunning was the winner of the SK mod 50 lapper. Steve Park finished second with Mike Christopher, third.

In Winston Cup action at Martinsville, Terry Labonte broke Richard Petty’s streak for the most consecutive starts. Rusty Wallace passed Jeff Gordon with two to go to pick up his 42nd Winston Cup win. Ricky Craven garnered his first ever Winston Cup pole and crew chief Doug Hewitt was fined $5,000 and suspended for three events for having an illegal clutch in his car.

Twenty years ago in 2001, the Thompson Ice Breaker drew 51 Modifieds. Bob Polverari set a new record on the new asphalt as he toured the 5/8-mile oval in 18.505 seconds. Polverari led the 150 lap Featherlite Modified Touring Series event from the start until he pitted on lap 89.Ed Flemke took the lead for two laps when he was passed by Rob Summers. Summers, in the Mystic Missile appeared to be heading to his first Tour win when a tire started going soft and gave way to Ricky Fuller on lap 125.Once Fuller took the lead he never looked back as he romped home for the win. Mike Stefanik finished second and was followed by Charlie Pasteryak, Reggie Ruggiero, John Blewett III and Jerry Marquis. Jim Broderick in the Angie Cerese No.5 took the SK-Modified 30 lapper over Bert Marvin and Curt Brainard. At Waterford on Saturday night, Dennis Gada took the modified win over John Brouwer and Tom Fox. On the Island at Riverhead, Dan Jivenelli took the opening night win over Ken Heagy and Eddie Brunnhoelzl Jr. In Winston Cup action at Talledega, Bobby Hamilton won the non-stop event. Mike McLaughlin was the Busch Grandnational winner.

Fifteen years ago in 2006 despite a rocky financial situation the Waterford Speedbowl continued to somehow survive. Thanks to the efforts of Bill Roth and Pete Zanardi plus friends and families of competitors, the track had been able to remain open. Going into the previous weekend two events had been held at the shoreline oval. Second generation driver Chris Pasteryak was the currant SK Modified point leader. Veteran Don Fowler and Rookie Jeffrey Paul were tied for the second spot. Dennis Gada was fourth with Frank Ruocco and Diego Monahan tied for fifth. Rain-washed out scheduled racing action at the Waterford Speedbowl on Saturday night. It was the second rainout in four programs.

The Whelen Modified Tour Series was off. Their southern counterparts, the Whelen Southern Modified Tour Series had a scheduled event at the Motor Mile Speedway in Radford, VA. rained out on Saturday, which was rescheduled for Sunday. LW Miller won the 200 lap contest. Ted Christopher, suffering a little jet lag from his trip back from Arizona, finished sixth. Chuck Hossfeld finished 12th and Andy Seuss was 14th.

The Busch East division, formerly the Busch North Series, was the subject of the latest schedule change as NASCAR and Don Hoenig announced that a Busch East race was added to the Thompson International Speedway’s Thursday, June 29 show, which already featured the Whelen Modified Tour. The addition of the Thompson date now gave eleven dates for the Busch East division.

Busch East competitor Matt Kobyluck who hails from Montville, CT was in Phoenix Arizona as was Ted Christopher. Kobyluck had a strong showing in a NASCAR Grandnational West event until losing an engine and eventually finishing 30th. Kobyluck led the event twice for 55 laps. Christopher ended up 21st after being involved in an accident.

Ten years ago in 2011, the Whelen Modified Tour Series continued on a Spring Break before its next event which would be the annual Spring Sizzler at Stafford on Sunday, May 1. Ted Christopher’s perch at the top of the series point standings was short lived. Two days after taking the win at Thompson, Christopher along with 5th place finisher Justin Bonsingnore were docked 50 points for altered carburetor boosters. Teams owners were also fined points while crew chiefs Brad Lafontaine and Aaron Clifford were fined $500. New points leader was Rowan Pennink while Christopher dropped to 8th, was fined $500 and suspended by NASCAR until the fines are paid.

Christopher’s team owner Ed Whelen and Bonsignore’s team owner, Kenneth Massa were also docked 50 points in the owners standings. Christopher would keep his victory in the event. Tony Corrente, owner of Tony’s Competition Engines, built both power plants.

The set-back at Thompson plus injured hands didn’t slow down Ted Christopher as he traveled south to Virginia early Sunday morning and picked up a NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour victory in the South Boston 150 in the afternoon at South Boston Speedway. Driving the Joe Brady No.00 Christopher out dueled George Brunnhoelzl III, who won the first two Whelen Southern Modified Tour events in 2011, to earn yet another win in his storied career. Zach Brewer finished third followed by Tim Brown and John Smith.

The South Boston 150 was originally scheduled for Saturday night but because of heavy rains and Tornados forced officials to reschedule for Sunday. Christopher started 17th, broke into the top three by lap 40 and took the lead on a restart on lap 99 of the 150 lap event.

There were 19 cars on hand. Nine cars were on the lead lap at the finish. The NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour will be in action on Saturday, April 23 at Caraway Speedway in Sophia, N.C.

The Waterford Speedbowl pulled the plug on last Saturday’s races due to a forecast of cold weather and heavy rain along the Connecticut shoreline.

Fans and competitors of the season ending North-South Shootout found out that they will have to travel a little further south as the event would be moving from the Concord NC Speedway to the Myrtle Beach Speedway in South Carolina. Race promoter Charles Kepley stated high insurance costs prompted the move.

MADHOUSE Star and driver of the #1 Bowman Gray & Whelen Modified Series Car, Burt Myers violently wrecked a Supermodified in practice at the Ace Speedway in North Carolina on Friday afternoon. Preliminary reports from the speedway indicated a stuck throttle. He was reported to be awake and talking and has been taken to the hospital for further evaluation. After an extensive examination it was determined that He had three broken ribs and a punctured lung
During the driver’s meeting for the Whelen Modified Tour Series at the Thompson Speedway Whelen’s Phil Kurze stated that the Speed Channel would televise WMT events at Bristol and the September event at New Hampshire.

He had high hopes of working with NASCAR to put together a TV package that would include more events. Ratings from 2010 telecasts by Versus were quite high. Race announcers Jackie Arute and Jimmy Spencer did an outstanding job calling the events. NASCAR announced that 24 events for the NASCAR K&N Pro Series, NASCAR’s top developmental series, would be televised by the Speed Channel.

Mario Fiore, who, for many years had one of the top running and winning Modifieds in the Northeast made an interesting observation. “During the 1997 season there were eight televised NASCAR Modified events”, he said. “Those eight events generated a Total Television Dollar Value of $162, 425 in advertising for Gulf Oil”, he added. TV coverage is extremely important to the well being of the Whelen Modifieds.

Mike Joy was named the 2011 winner of the Henry T. McLemore Motorsports Journalism award. The McLemore is the most tenured motorsports journalism award, beginning in 1969 with inaugural winner Bloys Britt, who wrote for The Associated Press for 17 years. It is voted by peers, and today’s voters are past McLemore winners. It was presented at the International Motorsports Hall of Fame dinner and awards ceremony in Talladega, Ala.

Joy spent his entire adult life as a motorsports journalist. Raised in Windsor, Conn., Joy’s career started in 1970, working as the public address announcer at Riverside Park, the Stafford Motor Speedway and at the Thompson Speedway. He rose through the ranks of MRN Radio and chronicled the growth of NASCAR by announcing races on CBS, TNN, ESPN, TBS and now FOX, along with ancillary programming on SPEED.

His television career began on pit road, where he defined the position. He moved from pit road to the CBS anchor booth in 1998, where he called Dale Earnhardt’s historic Daytona 500 victory..
The Charlotte (NC) Observer reported that NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France filed a lawsuit against his ex-wife, claiming she has taped phone conversations without his consent in attempt to extort money from him. Brian France, 48, claims that Megan France, to whom he has twice married and divorced, has not only been taping their phone conversations but has threatened to distribute their contents.

The lawsuit claims that Megan France told her ex-husband she would not distribute the recordings if he paid her “substantial sums of money.” According to previous court documents, Megan France was awarded $9 million following her divorce, along with $32,500 a month in alimony for 10 years and $10,000 a month in child support.

Kyle Busch won under a yellow flag in a wild finish, taking the Nationwide race at Talladega Superspeedway when the last of 10 crashes sent Mike Wallace’s car flipping upside down. Busch captured his fourth win in seven Nationwide races – and 47th of his career, on a day when tandem racing produced a series-record 56 lead changes, 11 cautions and two red flags to clean up all the debris.

When Wallace’s car got clipped on the last lap going down the backstretch, spinning onto its roof, the yellow came out and Busch was assured of the win. Wallace’s car wound up back on its wheels and he actually drove it to the finish line of a race that lasted seven laps beyond its scheduled 117.

In Sprint Cup action, Dale Earnhardt Jr. decided being a good teammate was more important than winning his first Cup race in nearly three years. Earnhardt hooked up with Jimmie Johnson in a thrilling Talladega finish, pushing his Hendrick Motorsports teammate across the line about a foot ahead of Clint Bowyer in a finish that tied for the closest in NASCAR Sprint Cup history. Johnson claimed his first win of the season and 54th of his career.

Five years ago in 2016, In NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour action at the Caraway Speedway in North Carolina, Burt Myers, who recorded only two wins in his previous 54 starts at the speedway, was able to hold off his brother Jason on a green-white-checkered finish to score his second straight win at the track.

Danny Bohn won the Coors Light Pole Award and led the first six laps of the race before Burt Myers was able to get past him and stay out front until he made a pit stop during the first caution of the race on Lap 107. After pit stops Burt Myers remained in the top-five until he was able to pass Bohn once again for the lead on Lap 145 just before Bryan Dauzat brought out the third and final caution of the race on Lap 146 to set up the finish.

Burt held a slight led over Jason after they took the white flag as Dauzat spun in Turn 3 ending the race. Bohn came home third with Andy Seuss and George Brunnhoelzl III completing the top five. Rounding out the top-10 was Kyle Bonsignore, J.R. Bertuccio, Kyle Ebersole, Bobby Measmer Jr. and Dauzat.

There were 14 cars on hand. The Southern Modified Tour goes on “Spring Break” before returning to Caraway Speedway on July 1.

In NASCAR Sprint Cup action, Carl Edwards put in a dominating performance Sunday afternoon at Bristol Motor Speedway en route to victory in the Food City 500. Edwards was the class of the field all afternoon at the .533-mile oval, starting from the pole and leading a race-high 276 laps.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s car stumbled on the initial start of the race because of a dead battery, which dropped him two laps down. He managed to regain that lost time and fight his way back up to second at the checkers after a spirited battle with Kurt Busch in the final laps. Kurt Busch ended up third, followed by Elliott and Trevor Bayne.

Erik Jones performed the NASCAR version of grand theft on Saturday afternoon, slipping by Kyle Larson and Kyle Busch during a late-race restart to win the NASCAR XFINITY Series Fitzgerald Glider Kits 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway. Ryan Preece scored his second top-20 finish of his first Xfinity Series season Saturday, coming home 19th in the Fitzgerald Glider Kits 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Last year, 2020, The latest word from Daytona Beach is that NASCAR is postponing the scheduled events on May 8-9 at the Martinsville Speedway. Their intention remains to run all 36 races, with a potential return to racing without fans in attendance in May at a date and location to be determined. That also means that the Whelen Modified Tour event scheduled for May 8 at the southern Virginia tack is also cancelled and may or may not be rescheduled.

The Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park announced on Friday, Apr 17, that the 46th annual Liquid Death Icebreaker, originally rescheduled for May 15-16, will not happen during that weekend as it has been postponed to a yet to be announced later date.

Scheduled racing at Stafford is on track. Opening night will be on Friday, May 22 with a full card of live racing. One week later, Friday, May 29, will see the Call before You Dig Pro Late Model Special event followed om Saturday and Sunday with the Annual Spring Sizzler.

In the meantime, new events have been added to both Stafford Speedway’s driver and fan iRacing leagues including a new invite only Tour Type Modified Invitational set for Friday, May 15th. All Phases Renovations has stepped up as the presenting sponsor of the four event series that will include three different types of cars as well as weekly payouts for the top-3 finishers.

The 4-race schedule is set to include a Street Stock race, Late Model race, and two Tour-Type Modified races. The first 3 events will pay a weekly $250 purse across the top-3, including $150 to win, $75 for 2nd and $25 for 3rd. The Modified Invitational scheduled for Friday, May 15th will pay $350 to win, $200 for 2nd, and $150 for 3rd. The 80-lap Tour-Type Modified event will be invitation only. Winners from Friday’s events will have a guaranteed entry in the Invitational.

Additional criteria to enter the race will be announced in the coming weeks.

On a sad note noted race tire man Bobby Summers passed away at the age of 83. Summers began his 60-year career in the tire business in 1955 working for the Firestone Tire Company in Indianapolis. While with Firestone, Bob worked with some of the legends of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway such as; Mario Andretti, the Unser family, A.J. Foyt, as well as many NASCAR Grand National drivers. When Bob left Firestone in 1981, he got a phone call from Bob Newton, Hoosier Tire’s founder. Shortly thereafter, he got into the business as a Hoosier Tire distributor.

For over 30 years, Bob has built his business and enjoyed success by surrounding himself with a team of knowledgeable, hardworking people including his son Rob. High-performing Hoosier tires are products that provide customers with maximum performance at affordable prices. His family-oriented business model and personal philosophy have launched him into long-term success selling “Tires Designed for Champions.”

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