Column Compiled By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WESTERLY, RI – Five years ago in 2015 , All was not well on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Series. While those at NASCAR who govern the sport and continually pat themselves on the back, the core of the series is being eaten away by a cancer in the form of bad decisions made by officials and expensive mandates by the sanctioning body.
Since the season ended at the World Series at Thompson the series has lost three of its top teams. Robert Our, who fielded cars for Tommy Barrett Jr, Keith Rocco and Ted Christopher says he just doesn’t enjoy it any more and is in the process of selling all of his racing equipment. Eddie Partridge, who along with his wife Connie recently purchased the Riverhead Raceway on Long Island says he has had enough of the politics and indecision. The final decision will be based on Ryan Preece’s situation in 2016. Strike three comes from Long Island Chevy dealer Buzz Chew who fielded the car for Woody Pitkat. Chew echoes Partridge’s sentiments concerning officiating. Chew will concentrate his efforts in 2016 on the up-state New York DIRT circuit.
Rather than pat themselves on the back, higher-ups at the sanctioning body needed to talk to competitors in order to get the solution to a problem that could bring the division down. NASCAR and it’s touring competitors will gather in Charlotte, NC on December 12 for their awards banquet. That would be an excellent time to discuss the issues at hand.
The Stafford Motor Speedway welcomed a guest list of nearly 500 people consisting of teams, drivers, sponsors, and employees at Maneely’s in South Windsor to officially honor Rowan Pennink, Michael Bennett, Stephen Kopcik, Al Saunders, Frank L’Etoile, And Devin O’Connell as the 2015 Stafford Motor Speedway NASCAR Whelen All-American Series track champions.
With Stafford Motor Speedway broadcasters Darren Ayotte and Matt Buckler serving as the Masters of Ceremony, the 46th annual Stafford Motor Speedway NASCAR Champions Awards Ceremony not only honored the six track champions, they also recognized the top-15 points finishers from the SK Modified®, Late Model, SK Light, Limited Late Model, DARE Stock, and U.S. Legend Cars divisions. Special awards that were presented during the evening’s festivities were Most Popular Driver Awards, SPAFCO Race Chassis & Parts Rookie of the Year, R.A.D. Automachine and T/A Engines Rookie of the Year, R.A.D. Automachine DARE Stock Rookie of the Year, and the UNOH Youth Achievement Award.
The 2015 SK Modified® season saw Rowan Pennink, who traveled each and every week from his home in Pennsylvania, continue a hot streak that began with his victory in the 2014 NAPA SK 5k. Including that SK 5k victory, Pennink scored 5 wins in the final 10 races of the year and he and the #99 Van Wickle NAPA Auto Supply team served notice right out of the gate that they would be contenders in 2015 as they won the season opening NAPA Spring Sizzler feature. Pennink went on to score 5 more wins for a total of 6 to go along with 17 top-5 and 19 top-10 finishes this season. Pennink’s average finish for the season was 4.5 and he claimed the track title by a 10 point margin over Ryan Preece.
The SPAFCO Race Chassis and Parts Rookie of the Year awards were presented to Tyler Hines from the SK Modified® division and Michael Wray from the Late Model division. Taking home R.A.D. Automachine and T/A Engines Rookie of the Year honors were Daniel Wesson in the SK Light division and David Comeau in the Limited Late Model division, and taking home R.A.D. Automachine Rookie of the Year honors was Zack Robinson in the DARE Stock division. The awards will be worth an $1,100.00 bonus to Hines and Wray from SPAFCO, $1,000 bonuses each to Wesson and Comeau from R.A.D. Automachine and T/A Engines, and a $500 bonus to Robinson from R.A.D. Automachine. Each Rookie of the Year bonus will be paid out in $100.00 weekly increments to each driver as they attend events during the 2016 season.
The winners of the Most Popular Driver Awards were Ronnie Williams in the SK Modified® division, Tom Butler in the Late Model division, Nick Salva from the SK Light division, David Comeau from the Limited Late Model division, Doug Marcello Rufrano in the DARE Stock division, and Teddy Hodgdon in the U.S. Legend Cars division. The Most Popular Driver Awards are voted on by the fans who attend Stafford Motor Speedway race events and fill out the ballots found in the track’s weekly PitStopper Magazine.
The UNOH Youth Achievement award was won by SK Light Modified driver Stephen Kopcik. The UNOH Youth Achievement Award is a program that is open to all drivers at Stafford between the ages of 14-17. The eligible driver who scored the most track points from their best 14 finishes this season won a $500 cash award from UNOH as well as a $500 scholarship award from UNOH.
The New London-Waterford Speedbowl management is wasting little time as heavy equipment is on site removing the battered Armco barrier. It will be interesting to see what the new retaining wall will be made of. The end result was concrete with an all new catch fence.
Kyle Busch started the season at Daytona Int’l Speedway being loaded into an ambulance. On Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway he ended it by winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.
Busch took the lead during a restart with seven laps left in Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 and outran defending series champion and fellow title contender Kevin Harvick to win not only the race, but the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.
In the Xfinity series event at Homestead, Chris Buescher did exactly what he had to do on Saturday.
Knowing his car wasn’t capable of winning, Buescher took care of his No. 60 Fastenal Ford throughout the Ford EcoBoost 300. By finishing 11th, Buescher beat Chase Elliott by 15 points to score his first NASCAR XFINITY Series championship in a race that Kyle Larson rallied to win.
Last year, 2020, The season ending Turkey Derby at the Wall Stadium in New Jersey has been a tradition since 1974. Thanks to the Coronavirus and the Governor of the Garden State it won’t happen this year. Late last week it was announced that the event was postponed to maybe Jan 1st 2nd and 3rd or March 13th 14th and 20th 2021.
There was Modified racing south of the Mason-Dixon line in Florence, SC. The first running of the South Carolina 400 at Florence Motor Speedway (SC) is set to carry on one of the Southeast’s great Late Model Stock Car traditions, but on Saturday night the ‘Mighty Modifieds’ of the rejuvenated SMART Tour stole the show with a thrilling dash to the finish over the final five laps.
Brandon Ward seemed to have a large enough advantage once Brian Loftin had moved to second place with five to go, but Loftin wore the advantage away by the time the top two passed under the white flag. With a small tap to Ward’s back bumper in Turn 1, Loftin took the Shady Grady No. 15 inside and to the lead.
Loftin survived a final bump from Ward in the Coulter Motorsports No. 2 in turn three to hold on for his second SMART Tour win of the short 2020 season. For Ward, it was mistiming his final charge to the finish that resulted in the runner-up finish.
Burt Myers came on strong at the end, but was only able to finish in the third position. Former NASCAR Cup Series champion Bobby Labonte led early, but also faded late, settling for fourth in an eventful Modified debut. Jeff Fultz came back from an opening lap pileup to complete the top five.
The way it looks right now the Stafford Motor Speedway will be the epicenter of NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour racing with three events in New England in 2021. Thompson will run Modifieds but not sanctioned by NASCAR. The fourth generation Hoenig family that runs Thompson has all but turned their backs on oval track racing in favor of Sports Cars. If not for American-Canadian Tour owner Cris Michaud and Pro All-Stars Series owner Tom Mayberry there would be no oval track racing at Thompson. The New London – Waterford Speedbowl has rebounded with a complete rebuild and new management in place. Fields of cars have grown with more coming in 2021. NASCAR turned their back on the Speedbowl when property owner Bruce Bemer got in trouble a few years ago. Now on firm ground, its going to be a long time before you see NASCAR back there. White Mountain Motorsports Park and Monadnock Speedway in New Hampshire are possibilities as is Seekonk in Massachusetts, Wall Stadium in New Jersey and Jennerstown in Pennsylvania along with Riverhead on Long Island are good bets for the Whelen Modified Tour in 2021.
On the positive side, in addition to the three events at Stafford, NASCAR announced Whelen Modified Tour events at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway (April 8), Lancaster (N.Y) Speedway on July 31 and Richmond Raceway (Sept. 10).
Justin Bonsignore won his second NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour title. Craig Lutz, Ron Silk, Doug Coby and Bobby Santos III went to Victory Lane. All these moments, and more, will be celebrated online and on social media in December as part of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Virtual Championship Celebration. The spotlights will include interviews presented by MRN Radio’s NASCAR Coast To Coast, videos and photo galleries.
The season spotlight will run from Dec. 7-10 on NASCAR.com, and NASCAR Roots on Facebook, Twitter and Instragram.
Five years ago in 2016, The highlight of last 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.
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.