RPW Column: The Champ Trail: There’s Lots Of News & Views In The Asphalt World This Week

Column Compiled By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WESTERLY, RI – As of this coming Friday, December 24, eight weeks remain before the start of the 2022 NASCAR Whelen Modified tour season at the New Smyrna Speedway in New Smyrna, Fl on Saturday, February 12. From New Smyrna the WMT will wind its way north for a total of 16 events and will end the season at the Martinsville Speedway on Thursday, October 27.

It will be interesting to see how many teams support the entire tour. Last year, with 14 events on the schedule only nine drivers supported the entire series with four more running 13 events. The Stafford Motor Speedway which in past years ran three, sometimes four tour events, dropped their sanction and will go the open competition event format for all Modified events including the season opening Spring Sizzler and the season ending Fall Final. Last year’s car counts consistently topped the 30 mark. Seventeen Modifieds are already entered for the Sizzler.

The Thompson Speedway will run a mixed bag meaning some are sanctioned, two, and some are open, four. Open events at Thompson have been less than ample. The two tour events should do well. A large percentage of the Modifieds that have supported tour events in the past are based in New England and on Long Island with a few from up-state NY. The Tri-Track Series has been a rousing success in both crowd draws and car counts and will visit just about every venue in New England except Thompson in 2022.

It’s not even New Years and the 2022 Modified schedule is almost full with only a few weekends open. The SMART Tour which has little effect on the Northeast schedule has not been released as yet and the Modified Racing Series (MRS) has not released a schedule except for one event at the White Mountain Motorsports Park. From April thru October only nine weekends are available. Among those are April 9 and 10, Palm Sunday weekend, April 16 and 17, Easter weekend, June 7and 8, Mothers Day weekend, June 11 and 12, July 2, 3, and 4, Aug 20 and 21, Sept 10 and 11, Oct 15 and 16 and Oct 29 and 30.

Matt Hirschman has been named as the Eastern Motorsports Association Driver of the Year. Hirschman entered 39 Modified events and won 22 of them.

On a sad note, Bernard J. “Bernie” Miller, 94, of 6549 Tuttle Road, Canastota, passed away on Wednesday, December 15, 2021, at Oneida Healthcare. He was born on July 22, 1927, in Oneida, the son of the late John and Daisy May (Trexler) Miller. Bernie spent his early years in Oneida, graduating from Oneida High School. He has lived in the Clockville area since 1946. He was a World War II Veteran, serving with the US Navy. Bernie worked as a mechanic for Oatman Chevrolet on Oneida from 1947-1955, East Syracuse Chevrolet from 1955-1963, and then ran a mechanic shop from his home from 1963-1989, when he retired. He started racing at the old Vernon Fairgrounds Track in 1949. His last race was at Utica-Rome Speedway in Vernon in 1978. During his years of racing, he amassed some notable accomplishments. Bernie won seven features in a row at Lafayette Speedway, and a track championship in 1953. He won a forty lap Championship Race and several features at Brookfield Speedway. Bernie set the fastest time in his heat in 1954 at the NYS Fairgrounds in Syracuse, which stood for a long time. He took a short hiatus from racing in the late 50’s. Bernie returned to the track on asphalt in the early 60’s at Utica-Rome and Fulton/Milray Speedways in the Overhead Division. In about 1965, he moved up to the Sportsman Division. He won the track championship in 1967 at Utica-Rome Speedway. He began racing in the Modified Division in 1968. In 1969, he began chasing NASCAR National points. This entailed racing all over, up and down the east coast. He met with success in his endeavors by finishing 3rd in 1970, 4th in 1971, and 3rd in 1972 in National points. Bernie, also, won the Modified portion of the Dogwood 500 at Martinsville Speedway in 1971, as well as several Sportsmanship awards, most notable of which was being the Don MacTavish Sportsmanship award in 1970. After the gas crunch of the early 1970’s, he decided to cut back on his National endeavors and concentrate on his local efforts, racing at Shangri-La in Owego, Fulton and Utica-Rome Speedways.

For the most part Bernie flat towed his race car without any help but he had the largest pit crew. Whenever he had problems the entire pit would pitch in to help. Everybody liked Bernie and would do anything to help him out.

After he retired from his racing career, he began building pulling engines for the Fenner Pulling Team, where his engines won several Championships over a period of years. Bernie enjoyed Modified Stock Car Racing, Garden Tractor pulls, gardening, bird watching, hiking, and spending time with his family. He married Hellen Rose Johansen on November 23, 1947, in Clockville. Hellen passed away on March 24, 2021. Surviving are: one son, William Garrow Miller and Patricia Carr of Peterboro; two granddaughters, Terri Lynn Stoner and Kenneth Ballard, and Jennifer Lee Miller; two great grandchildren, Michael Shanahan, II, and Ashlee Shanahan; as well as several nieces, nephews, and cousins. Bernie was predeceased by his son, George Porter Miller on March 21, 2020; and one sister, Florence Trexler. Calling hours will be held from 4 to 7 p.m. on Wednesday, December 22, 2021, at the J. Homer Ball Funeral Home, Inc., 201 James Street, Canastota. Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. on Thursday, December 23, 2021, at the funeral home. The Rev. William M. Wilcox will officiate. Burial will be in Mt. Pleasant Cemetery, Canastota.In his memory, contributions may be made to the Lincoln Volunteer Fire Department, 7224 Old County Road West, Canastota, NY 13032, or to the Greater Lenox Ambulance Service (GLAS), PO Box 382, Canastota, NY 13032, with envelopes available at the funeral home.

Ray Miller raced at Stafford both on dirt and asphalt. He ran the entire asphalt modified years and amassed 14 wins all while working full time at Pratt and Whitney Aircraft in East Hartford. Bugsy Stevens also raced on dirt and asphalt and is the all time Modified winner with 72 victories to his credit.

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. The book documents Modified Racing at the Stafford Motor Speedway from 1967 to 1986. 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!

Have a very Merry Christmas!

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