RPW Column: The Champ Trail: A Memorable Night For Everyone At Riverhead Saturday

Column Compiled By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WESTERLY, RI – At the Riverhead Raceway on Long Island a solemn crowd paid tribute to fallen track owner Eddie Partridge as the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Series rolled into town on Saturday.

Earlier in the day a funeral mass was celebrated in his honor at the St John the Baptist Church in Wading River on Long Island. Following the service, Partridge’s casket was loaded on to one of his tractors and was taken to the Riverhead Raceway where fans, competitors and officials paid homage to the fallen friend and mentor to many.

From the raceway he was taken to the Wading River Cemetery where he was laid to rest.

Partridge would have wanted to have their scheduled event at Riverhead and race they did!

Twenty six cars were on hand for the 200 lap event. Pre-qualifying practice showed Justin Bonsignore to be the fastest followed by Doug Coby, Patrick Emerling, Dave Sapienza and Craig Lutz who was pinch hitting for Anthony Noscella who had other commitments.

Time trials proved to be a big surprise as local runner Tom Rogers took the pole after turning a lap in 11.51 seconds. Second fastest was Doug Coby who turned in an 11.58 second lap. Third was another local runner, Dave Brigati. Rounding out the top five was Justin Bonsignore and JB Fortin.

Patrick Emerling started off eighth and didn’t pose a threat early, mired in the middle of the top 10 but not making quick work of any competitor in particular. But a rash of cautions over the middle portion of the race allowed Emerling to methodically work into the top five.

Emerling got his best break after a lap 106 caution that saw leader Riverhead regular Dave Brigati turn another regular, Tim Rogers Jr., sideways in front of the field. Ron Silk climbed the left-front tire of Rogers’ car but all continued forward with the exception of Brigati and Mike Christopher Jr., who suffered a flat right front.

That chaos allowed Emerling to restart on the front row alongside Kyle Soper. Emerling got the better of Soper on that and multiple restarts and eventually pulled away to hold off a final charge from Bonsignore.

The race started clean and green with a 45-lap run led entirely by Rogers before Tyler Rypkema turned around and brought out the first caution of the day.

Shortly after the restart, Doug Coby found his trouble in Turn 3 and saw his hopes of a three-peat vanish. Coby was looking for the hat trick at Riverhead this year, but contact between him, Tom Rogers and the outside wall entering Turn 3 destroyed his front suspension at lap 54. Rogers moved up as Coby attempted to pass. That sent Coby behind the wall early and jeopardizes his chances at the 2021 owner’s championship heading into Stafford.

At lap 90, a pileup involving J.B. Fortin, Kyle Bonsignore and Craig Lutz in Turns 1 and 2 brought out the red flag after Lutz’s motor expired and laid oil on the racetrack. Lutz, pinch hitting for Anthony Noscella was hoping to break into the top 15 in points so as to cash in at seasons end.

The seventh caution of the race came at lap 133 when Dylan Slepian and Chuck Hossfeld got together and turned Slepian sideways in Turn 1.The final caution waved on lap 146 when Silk, Kyle Elwood and Eric Goodale tangled in turn one.

On the ensuing restart, Emerling got the jump and never looked back. Justin Bonsignore finished second with Roger Turbush, third. Kyle Soper and Eric Goodale rounded out the top five. Sixth thru tenth included Woody Pitkat, Timmy Solomito, Tom Rogers and Andy Jankowiak.

Going into the season ending event, this weeks Fall Final at Stafford, Justin Bonsignore holds a 16 point edge over Patrick Emerling. Ron Silk sits third, some 68 points back. Kyle Bonsignore has moved into fourth spot and is 74 points down while Woody Pitkat rounds out the top five, 77 points down from the leader. Doug Coby has slipped to sixth and Jon McKennedy, who missed Riverhead to compete in the SuperModified Classic at Star Speedway which he won, slipped to eighth while Eric Goodale has moved into seventh.

The top 15 spots pay point money. Melissa Fifield completed only seven laps Saturday before going pitside.  She has, however, moved into 15th spot, leading Ryan Preece by five points and Craig Lutz by 17 points

Ronnie Williams made it two in a row in the Thompson Speedway Outlaw, non-NASCAR Open Modified Series by winning the Twisted Tea Tripoint Showdown 75 at the northeast Connecticut oval on Wednesday, September 15. Williams followed a pattern to his Midsummer 75 victory in August by coming on strong late in the going to take home another $5,000 top prize at the final tune-up for the $20,000-to-win Thompson 300.

The pole starting position was left open in honor of car owner and Riverhead Raceway owner Eddie Partridge who passed away the previous week. Williams and Chase Dowling led the field to the green flag with Williams leading the first seven laps in his Casella Racing machine before Dowling muscled inside entering turn two, bringing Jon McKennedy with him. After initially coming back on McKennedy, Williams began to drift back in the field. As he did, McKennedy made his move, grabbing the point from Dowling on lap 25. McKennedy then led a four-car breakaway of Dowling, Chris Pasteryak, and Richard Savary.

The complexion race shifted on lap 36 when Russ Hersey came to a halt at the pit road entrance, bringing out the first caution. Every lead lap car except McKennedy headed to the pits with all of them putting on a fresh right rear tire and some also making chassis adjustments. Chris Pasteryak won the race off pit road to restart second with Matt Swanson, Williams, Tyler Barry, and Dowling in tow.

McKennedy’s gamble looked good at first as the field diced for second on the restart, which allowed him to open a big lead. But once they got organized, Williams, Dowling, and Swanson ran McKennedy down. Williams dove under McKennedy coming into turn three on the 52nd circuit, then completed the crossover attempt to reassume the lead.

Five laps later, Barry’s Modified went up in smoke to trigger the second caution. McKennedy finally decided to pit, handing the second spot to Dowling with Swanson and Keith Rocco in his rear-view mirror. Keith Rocco, who had started the feature at tail after problems in qualifying, grabbed third on the restart and took second from Dowling a couple laps later.

Rocco had nothing for Williams, whose crew had again made all the right calls. The former Stafford Speedway champion was off into the night, pulling farther and farther away over the final laps and making him an early favorite for the Thompson 300 on October 10. Dowling attempted to put some heat on Rocco down the stretch before settling for third. Swanson and Richard Savary had solid top-five efforts while McKennedy could climb no higher than sixth after his late pit stop. Brett Meservey, Pasteryak, Rob Richardi Jr., and Paul Charette completed the top-10

In other Wednesday night action, Ryan Morgan padded his Late Model point lead with his first win of the year. Nicholas Hovey sped to his first career Thompson Speedway victory in the Vandi Auto Supply Limited Sportsmen. SK Light Modified point leader Anthony Bello of Newtown, CT extended the gap between himself and the competition with his second win of the season. Jared Roy made it three victories in four events for the Mini Stock division.

Car counts still need to grow. There were 19 Modifieds while all but six would be considered back markers. The Limited Sportsman field totaled 20. The Late Model field consisted of 11 cars. Most were competitive but not enough for a 5/8 mile track. The SK Lights numbered 10, enough for one good heat but not a feature. The Mini Stocks numbered nine, not so long ago their field numbered in the mid 20s. Whats the answer? Race purses are good maybe it is the stigma that was given off by the track owners.

Prior to the start of the racing program a pit meeting was conducted by track management. Cris Michaud, the co-owner of the American-Canadian Tour and Tom Mayberry, who owns the Pro All-Stars Series have overseen operations of the six-event schedule on the Thompson Oval in 2021. The management team will be back in 2022. Both have a vast experience in the operation of speedways. Michaud co-owns Thunder Road International Speedbowl in Barre, VT and White Mountain Motorsports Park in North Woodstock, N.H. Mayberry owns Oxford Plains Speedway in Oxford, Maine.

Thompson Speedway winds up its 2021 racing season with the annual Sunoco World Series of Speedway Racing from Friday, October 8 to Sunday, October 10. The Sunday portion of the World Series features the return of the $20,000-to-win Thompson 300 for the Outlaw Open Modified Series. The weekend also includes the Sunoco Modified Triple Crown Series, ACT Late Model Tour, PASS Super Late Models, all local divisions, an 8-Cylinder Street Stock Open, and much more. Conspicuous by their absence are the SuperModifieds and the Modified Racing Series (MRS).

Last Friday at Stafford competitors enjoyed the night off as they prepared for this week’s Fall Final weekend. The Fall Final will consist of two separate racing events with separate tickets needed for each. On Friday night the Stafford Weekly Racing divisions will be showcased with SK Modifieds, Late Models, SK Lights, Limited Late Models and Street Stocks. Saturday’s racing will consist of the 48th annual NAPA Fall Final 150 for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour which will crown the 2021 Champion, SK Lights, Limited Late Models, Vintage All Stars and the NAPA Pit Party.

Also on tap this weekend is the annual Race of Champions. The odds on favorite to take the win in the 71st Lucas Oil Race of Champions 250 at Lake Erie Speedway is “Big Money” Matt Hirschman.

Hirschman’s record speaks for itself. Eight times he has captured the RoC 250 including the last six in a row. The Modified series point leader is also closing in on his eighth title which would extend that record there as well. Hirschman has picked up 19 wins overall in 2021 across all racing series.

At the New London-Waterford Speedbowl Timmy Jordan nipped Todd Owen in the Fast 5 SK Modified feature that was run in honor of George and Rick Summers. Jordan took the lead from Owen with 18 laps remaining on a restart and held off a furious Owen charge on the final laps to win by 0.138sec. Rob Janovic finished third with Matt Galco, fourth. The Speedbowl drew its largest field of cars for the year with 29 SK Modifieds on hand.

RJ Marcotte was the Bubby Brouwer SK Lite Memorial winner as Ryan Morgan carried over his winning ways at Thompson to record his first Late Model win at the shoreline oval. Ryan Waterman was the Street Stock winner and John O’Sullivan was victorious in the Legends. Sam Mesick was the X-Car winner.

Matt Hirshman had a good week for himself as he won a 99 lap SMART event at the Dominion Raceway in Virginia and a Modified event at the Evergreen Speedway in Pennsylvania.

Congratulations to Doug Coby who drove the No. 24 Mayhew Tools Truck to a solid 12th-place finish in his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series debut at Bristol Motor Speedway on Thursday, September 16. Driving for GMS Racing, Coby started 30th, with no practice or qualifying due to NASCAR’s new race policies and no previous laps in a truck.

NASCAR released its 2022 Cup Series schedule Wednesday morning, adding World Wide Technology Raceway to its premier circuit. The 1.25-mile oval, which has held NASCAR national series races since 1997 with the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series, will make its Cup debut Sunday, June 5, 2022.

The track, which is located in Madison, Illinois, near St. Louis, also has been the host of the NTT IndyCar Series for the past six seasons.

The 2022 season will open Feb. 20 with the Daytona 500, two weeks after the exhibition Clash race will take place Feb. 6 on a quarter-mile oval at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The Cup cars visit NHIS on Sunday, July 31 and Pocono on July 24.

This week is a somber week for many. In addition to the passing of Eddie Partridge we lost Mike Stefanik two years ago and Ted Christopher, three years ago.

August 28, 1971 Bob Melnick scored his only win at Stafford as he out dueled Moose Hewitt. Melnick, a member of the imfamous Gasoline Alley Gang from Needham, Mass.,became the seventh driver in the previous eight races to win at Stafford, Melnick took the lead from early leader Bobby Vee going into turn three on the second lap. Three cautions slowed the event. Freddie Schulz, in the Joe Brady No.41 found himself in the wall on lap seven. On the restart Tony Russo and Ed Yerrington tangled on the backstretch. After one more try the field got the green from Frank Sgambato and went non-stop from there. Gene Bergin lost oil pressure in the engine of the Bob Judkins 2x and drove the Armstrong No.1 to a third place finish. Rene Charland, finished fourth in the Bob Johnson No.17 with Fred DeSarro, fifth. Bob Santos, Ray Miller, Leo Cleary, Bernie Miller and Ernie Gahan followed. Gary Ryan won the All American Sportsman feature and Bob Wright Sr. took top honors in the Mini-Midgets.It was Seymour the Clowns’ birthday and Rene Charland presented him with a cream pie, right in the kisser. It was also announced that Pete Zanardi, then a sportswriter for the now defunct Hartford Times had been named as the first New England member of the Pure Oil Panel of Experts.

Read all about it in the all-new book, The Modified Years At Stafford, by the Grace of God and 600 hp, which is gaining interest and has become a must have in race fans and competitors library. Race by Race, Year by Year, it’s all there. Read all about it! Books are now available on Amazon.com and Coastal 181 (877-907-8181 toll free) and are available thru Stafford’s web site in their store. Order yours now. Makes a great gift!

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