Column Compiled By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WESTERLY, RI – Forty five years ago in 1976, the Falconi family that was operating the Westboro Speedway tried something different as they promoted a Modified race for mid November with heated grandstands. The Falconi’s owned and operated an oil company and closed in the under part of the grandstand and used huge fuel oil powered heaters. Needless to say, the experiment worked, as everyone was toasty warm. Leo Cleary in the Tiger Tom Dunn T-5 led the 50 lap main event from pole to pole. Bugsy Stevens finished second and was followed by George Murray, Mike Murphy, Bob Santos, Pete Fiandaca, Dick Caso and Roland LaPierre Jr.
Twenty years ago in 1991, the Oswego Speedway was put up for sale with a price tag of $3 million. In Winston Cup racing at Atlanta, Jerry Nadeau was in the lead and heading for the win when he ran out of gas with less than a half lap to go. Bobby Labonte took the lead with less than 100 yards to go and went on to record the win. Nadeau coasted across the finish line in fourth spot.
Fifteen years ago in 2006, the True Value Modified Series, which had become a less expensive alternative to the NASCAR Series, indicated that the Waterford Speedbowl may very well be on their schedule for 2007. The open wheel touring series, which first appeared at the Seekonk Speedway in October of 2004, would compete in four 100 green flag lap events, which would be preceded by a series of qualifying heats.
At the NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series Awards Banquet in Las Vegas, NASCAR recognized several racetracks for their outstanding promotional efforts in 2006. Among the honorees was the Thompson Speedway, which received the administrative award of excellence.
NASCAR’s Nextel Cup and Busch Series wrapped up their seasons at Homestead, Fla. Matt Kenseth took the Busch Series win. Kevin Harvick already had wrapped up the title. In Nextel Cup action, Greg Biffle took the win and Jimmie Johnson, the title.
Ten years ago in 2011, In NASCAR Sprint Cup action, Kasey Kahne snapped an 81-race winless streak with his victory at the Phoenix International Raceway, where Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart finished second and third to keep the title race tight headed into the following weekend’s season finale. Jeff Burton finished fourth and was followed by Ryan Newman. Kyle Busch, racing again after NASCAR parked him at Texas the previous weekend for intentionally wrecking Ron Hornaday Jr., worked his way up to third before his engine failed. He finished 36th. In Nationwide Series racing at Phoenix, Sam Hornish took his first NASCAR victory by passing points leader Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and leading the final 61 laps at slippery Phoenix International Raceway on Saturday. Stenhouse took a big step toward the Nationwide season title when Elliott Sadler was taken out with 25 laps left on a bump from behind by Jason Leffler. The unfortunate incident leaves Stenhouse with a nearly insurmountable 41-point lead over Sadler heading into the season finale at Homestead.
Five years ago in 2016, The highlight of the weekend was the induction dinner for the New England Auto Racers (NEAR) Hall of Fame. Among those inducted were drivers Ken Bouchard, Ricky Craven, Randy LaJoie, Jerry Marquis, Nokie Fornoro, George “Moose” Hewitt, Dwight Jarvis, and Fred Meeker, along with broadcaster Jack Arute Jr., multi-faceted John Burgess, and brothers Francis and Freelan Stanley, inventors of the “Stanley Steamer” automobile and former land speed record holders.
The inaugural Ron Bouchard Award, honoring lifetime service to the sport of auto racing, went to Vermont’s Ken Squier. NEAR President Paul Masse and Bouchard’s widow Paula Flemke Bouchard presented the award. Justin St. Louis accepted for Squire. The Danny Pardi Memorial Award, acknowledging service to the Hall of Fame, went to former NEAR President Al Fini. Presenter Fred Ciavola pointed out Fini’s long-time dedication to the club.
Phil Whipple of Maine’s Lewiston Sun Journal and Richard Bigelow shared the Mitchell/Ratta Media Award and Russ Dowd, a track announcer at Thompson for 35 years, was the recipient of the Frank Maratta Award which recognized “outstanding contribution and support of auto racing.”
Matt Buckler, who has been Master of Ceremonies for all but three of the induction affairs, kept the festivities moving. Buckler pointed out that the crowd of 360 plus included Bugs Stevens and Eddie West, members of the Hall’s first (1998) and second classes respectively. There were two – Donnie LaJoie and Ron Narducci – from the third class. Fred Rosner, Don Rounds and Denny Zimmerman represented the fourth class
The Stafford Motor Speedway became the first to announce a date for the 2017 Whelen Modified Tour. The 46th Annual NAPA Auto Parts Spring Sizzler wouldl be held on the weekend of April 28-30. Although their scheduled hadn’t been released the Stafford management said there would be 22 races with 10 Touring Series races in 2017.
A benefit party for Modified competitor Todd Ceravolo was held at the Groton Elks Club in Groton, Ct. Ceravolo was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma cancer in April. He had been battling to beat it ever since. Between 400 to 600 family and friends were on hand for the benefit, which was used to help defer medical costs. For eight months it had been a battle and Todd is now on the home stretch to a full recovery. Among those on hand was multi time NASCAR Modified and K&N (Busch North) champion Mike Stefanik, Stafford Motor Speedway SK Modified Champion Rowan Pennink, New London-Waterford and Thompson Motorsports Park Champion Keith Rocco and many time Stafford, Waterford and Thompson Track Champion Bob Potter. Noted author and fellow scribe Mark Bones Bourcier was also there. Todd was declared cancer free in 2021.
Modified driver Jeff Goodale announced on FaceBook that he was stepping away as a driver on the Whelen Modified Tour Series. Woody Pitkat would take his seat. He said, ” My priorities for next year (2017) are devoted to my family business, Riverhead Building Supply”. A business that has given me so much and has given me a life I am forever thankful for. I am so happy to finally give back and make a name for myself within the company. I owe it to my family to be the best asset I can possibly be. Aside from work I wanted to devote more time to my personal life. There is so much to enjoy and so many things in life aside from the racing scene that I would like to experience. I know Ill miss being behind the wheel, but I feel it is in my best interest, that missing it a little is the healthiest thing I can do for myself right now”.
Goodale will remain as team owner. “As for the future of Goodie Motorsports, I am very proud and excited to take a step back and become team owner. I am also pleased to announce our new driver, Woody Pitkat”. Goodale is the Assistant Manager at Riverhead Building Supply. Riverhead Building Supply offers fourteen convenient locations including two in Rhode Island in North Kingstown and Middletown.
Joey Logano snatched victory out of the jaws of defeat and won Sunday’s Can-Am 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at the Phoenix Int’l Raceway, earning a place in the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoff finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Kyle Busch finished second. Busch dominated Saturday’s race in usual Busch fashion, leading 190 of 200 laps to easily score his 10th XFINITY Series victory of the season.
Last year, 2020, The Stafford Speedway management has released their official 2021 race schedule for 2021. The 24-race schedule offers a blend of Stafford’s classic weekly racing events and special events. The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour is set to return to Stafford Speedway for 3 events in 2021.
The season gets the green flag with the 49th Annual NAPA Auto Parts Spring Sizzler® Weekend Saturday, April 24th and Sunday, April 25th. New for the 2021 Spring Sizzler® Saturday and Sunday will be two separate tickets with the Granite State Pro Stock Series joining the SK Modifieds®, Late Models, Limited Late Models and Street Stocks on Saturday. Spring Sizzler® Sunday will see the SK Modifieds® return for their 2nd race of the weekend along with the SK Light Modified division, the Vintage All-Stars, and finally the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour competing in the 150-lap NAPA Auto Parts Spring Sizzler®.
“We had multiple Friday and Saturday events this season due to Covid,” stated Mark Arute. “With capacity restriction as the big unknown entering 2021 we took a look at what we could do to ensure that even if we are at a reduced capacity we’d be able to run our entire schedule. This included making the 2021 NAPA Spring Sizzler Weekend a two day, two ticket event. The NASCAR Modified Tour will headline the weekend and we’ve added the Granite State Pro Stocks and the SK Modified® teams will run both Saturday and Sunday.”
Weekly Friday night racing at Stafford will commence Friday, May 7th after an off week following the NAPA Auto Parts Spring Sizzler® and will continue weekly through the fall. Headlined by Stafford’s SK Modified® division, Stafford’s 5 weekly divisions will compete at each Friday night event through the season. New for 2021, race teams will have their worst finish of the season dropped from their final championship point total allowing for an off week, if necessary. More information on this rule will be included in the 2021 general rules to be released in the near future.
The fan favorite Open Modifieds take to the Stafford half-mile 4 times in 2021, Friday, May 14th for the Modified Open 80, Friday, June 11th for the Twisted Tea 80, Friday, July 9th for the Bud Light 80, and Friday, August 20th for the Lincoln Tech 80. The 2020 season featured 4 different winners including Marcello Rufrano, Keith Rocco, Ronnie Williams, and Woody Pitkat.
New for 2021, the season will be extended one week beyond NAPA Auto Parts Fall Final Weekend with the addition of NAPA Auto Parts Championship night on Friday, October 1st. “We were forced to extend beyond the NAPA Fall Final this season due to Covid,” continued Arute. “The fans and drivers liked the NAPA Champions night format so we will continue that in 2021. Running our weekly divisions as the final night of the season gives our champions their own night in the spotlight.”
Season tickets for the 2021 season are now on sale at staffordspeedway.com/store. Early bird discount pricing is in effect until December 16th when prices increase. Season pass holders saved over 60% in 2020 when compared to purchasing a ticket every week. For more information, visit www.staffordspeedway.com.
The much anticipated return of the Tri-Track Series is not on the schedule.
Ryan Preece returned to his roots as he won the 4th annual Islip 300 at Riverhead Raceway on Saturday night. The win gave the driver of the No. 6 TS Haulers Modified a check of $7,000, his second win in the prestigious event in just four years. He outran one of the most talented Modified fields Riverhead has seen in years, with a mix of track regulars, Whelen Modified Tour drivers, Connecticut SK Modified champions and more.
Preece rode inside the top-five for the first 195 laps, before pitting for fresh tires under a caution while leader Justin Bonsignore elected to stay out. Preece charged back through the field, took the lead back, and drove away from the field in the final laps. Craig Lutz finished second, while NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion Bonsignore, Kyle Soper and track champion Tom Rogers Jr. rounded out the top-five.
Bonsignore and Lutz pitted for tires on lap 219, and a late flurry of cautions briefly slowed their chances to get back to the front. Lutz got through to second and was just five car lengths behind Preece, but lost ground in the final stages, and finished 1.95 seconds back. Rogers Jr. celebrated his fifth NASCAR Modified championship at Riverhead prior to the drop of the green flag. Kyle Soper, the 2019 winner of the Islip 300, led the field to the green and led much of the first third of the race. Once he slid back, it was Jon McKennedy, Preece and Bonsignore who were slugging it out inside the top-five. Early exits from the race included Eric Goodale, Ronnie Williams and 2017 race winner Dillon Steuer. Track regulars John Fortin Sr., Roger Turbush and John Beatty finished sixth through eighth, while Keith Rocco and Matt Galko rounded out the top 10.
The Islip 300, a race that stems from the old Islip Speedway history, has become the top Modified race of the season at the New York bullring. Riverhead Raceway’s 2020 season has now concluded — two months later than a normal year due to COVID-19. The finale of the season aired live on RiverheadRaceway.TV.
NASCAR is making up for lost ground in New England with an up-state New York addition to the Whelen Modified Tour Series schedule. The tour will visit New York International Raceway Park at Lancaster Speedway on Saturday, July 31. The night race will be 150 laps. Lancaster, located just outside of Buffalo, is steeped in Modified history. NASCAR Hall of Famer Richie Evans was a frequent winner at Lancaster, as was Modified pioneer Maynard Troyer. Tyler Rypkema, the 2020 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Sunoco Rookie of the Year, has also won at the .625-mile oval which first opened in 1959.
Late last week New Hampshire Motor Speedway executive vice president and general manager David McGrath dropped a bomb when he announced that the track would not bring its Full Throttle Weekend, featuring the Whelen Modified Tour Musket 200, back in 2021. He also revealed that as of this week NHMS does not have a Whelen Modified Tour event scheduled for its Cup Series Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 weekend in July 2021. Lack of fan support was the reason given for the decision.
On a sad note, It comes with great sadness to report that Norm Wrenn III has lost his battle with an infection and passed away.