RPW Column: Looking Back A Bit: Fourth Week Of February

Column Compiled By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WESTERLY, RI – Fifty years ago in 1972, Richard Petty started third and took the Winston Cup win at Richmond.  Forty five Years ago in 1977, Cale Yarborough won the Winston Cup event at Richmond, VA.

Forty years ago in 1982, Benny Parsons was the Winston Cup pole sitter at Rockingham. The event was rained out and rescheduled. NASCAR did not have a next clear day policy at the time.

Thirty five years ago in 1987, Davey Allison was the Winston Cup pole sitter at Rockingham. Geoff Bodine was second fastest. The Saturday Busch Grandnational event was cancelled because of heavy rain and not rescheduled. Dale Earnhardt Sr. won the Winston Cup event with Ricky Rudd, second.

Thirty years ago in 1992, Ward Burton won the 200 mile Busch Grandnational event at Rockingham. Bill Elliott in the Junior Johnson No.11 was the Winston Cup winner.

Twenty five years ago in 1997, Mark Martin was the pole sitter for both the Busch Grandnational and Winston Cup events at Rockingham. Martin won the BGN event while Jeff Gordon took advantage of Dale Jarrett’s late slip and won the Winston Cup event. On a sad note, George “Moose” Hewitt, a former track champion at Waterford, passed away at the age of 62.

Twenty years ago in 2002, Minority shareholders of Speedway Motorsports sued NASCAR for breach of contract and anti-trust matters because the shareholders claimed that NASCAR re-neged on its promise for a second Winston Cup date at the Texas Speedway. The suit has yet to be settled. In Winston Cup action at Rockingham, Ricky Craven was the Busch Pole sitter. Jeff Green took the Busch Grandnational pole. Jason Keller was the Grandnational winner with Greg Biffle, second. Matt Kenseth passed Ricky Craven in the late stages of the Winston Cup event and went on to score the victory. The event finished under caution. Crew Chief Robbie Reiser was fined $30,000 after it was determined that the Kenseth car was ¼ inch too low.

Fifteen years ago in 2007, The only action of the weekend was on the west coast. Matt Kenseth took control in the closing laps Saturday night at California Speedway, driving off with his fourth NASCAR Busch Series victory in 12 tries on the 2-mile oval. Casey Mears grabbed second place 12 laps from the end and gave a big effort to try to catch Kenseth, but the Roush Fenway Racing driver wouldn’t let Mears get close enough for a serious challenge, driving across the finish line about five lengths ahead. Kenseth made a clean sweep as he won the Nextel Cup event. TV camera angles indicated the event was not a sell out.

The Northeast Racing News carried the announcement that HD Net would extend their coverage of Busch East events to 2007. A while back NASCAR had indicated that there would be extensive television coverage of Tour Series events. With Speedweeks in Florida over and most of the major announcements made it looked like the Modifieds and NASCAR’s other regional series got the short end of the stick again.

In some sad news, Malcolm R. “Johnny” Thompson, 78, of Pond Drive, formerly of Pendleton Hill Road, North Stonington, died on Monday morning, Feb. 19, 2007 at his home. Johnny, a die hard Ford man, drove at many racetracks throughout his career from the old Kingston Fairgrounds in Rhode Island then at the Waterford Speedbowl, Stafford Speedway and the Thompson Speedway in Connecticut. He achieved his greatest success at the Norwood Arena where he was a Modified Champion. For many years Thompson and the late Leo Hill shared a garage in North Stonington where they fabricated their own cars.

Ten years ago in 2012 NASCAR and the International Speedway Corporation stepped in a big pile of Do-Do, upset a lot a people by changing the date of the Daytona 500 but in the end came out smelling like a rose and could maybe starting a new trend by staging races during the week in prime time. The first ever Daytona 500 held in prime time was a home run for FOX Sports who enjoyed its highest rated Monday night viewing audience since game #5 of the 2010 World Series. FOX Sports reported that 36.5 million viewers watched the event, a 22 percent increase over the 30million that watched last year.

FOX Sports had enough juice at NASCAR to get them to change the date of the 500.

Kevin Rice advised that the June 16 SBM 125 at Star Speedway in Epping, NH got richer as the Long Island Mod Maniac, Jim Schaefer had decided to put up $790 for lap 79 in memory of Roger Hill. Roger and his son David Hill have been big supporters of the Star open shows. The lap would now pay $610 to the race leader and $180 to another top ten car by draw..

In NASCAR Sprint Cup competition at Phoenix, Denny Hamlin started 13th and briefly led a couple of times before beating Kevin Harvick off the line after a caution with 59 laps left. Harvick, NASCAR’s best finisher, put a scare into him toward the end, but ran out of gas on the final lap.

Elliott Sadler took the lead after a late caution and held on down the stretch to earn his first Nationwide win in 14 years at Phoenix International Raceway on Saturday. A former full-time driver in the Sprint Cup series, Sadler started eighth and didn’t get near the lead until the end of the race. He passed Brad Keselowski after a caution with 33 laps left and wasn’t really challenged on the way to his sixth career Nationwide win – first in 91 races in the series.

Keselowski finished second and defending series champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was third. Kevin Harvick led the most laps, but finished fifth behind Austin Dillon after pit strategy at the last caution backfired.

Five years ago in 2017, The World Series at New Smyrna shifted into high gear with the running of the first of five Tour type Modified events, a 50 lapper on the fast high banked ½ mile oval. A healthy field of 24 cars went to post with up-state New Yorker Amy Catalano on the pole and Jim Zacharias on the outside pole. At the drop of the green, Catalano faded quickly as Zacharias took the lead with JR Bertuccio in tow. Bertuccio took the lead from Zacharias on a lap-34 restart after riding him high. He then had to hold off Ryan Preece for a few laps and then a late charge from Matt Hirschman as well. Bertuccio beat Hirschman to the checkered flag by 0.237 seconds to take the victory. Preece finished third with Jon McKennedy and Ron Silk rounding out the top five.

In previous years the New Smyrna management was considering abandoning the Modifieds for the lack of participation. The biggest problem was the officiating, as tech inspectors often looked the other way when cheating occurred. As a result the fields of cars dwindled. A change in the Modified officials and stricter and fair enforcement of the rules has resulted in better fields of cars, which will allow the Modifieds to compete at the Florida track for many years to come. This yer’s World Series drew the largest field of cars in 17 years.

Round two of the Modified portion of the World Series was a 30 lapper on Tuesday night. Newcomer Tyler Ryptkema, from up-state New York, broke a rear end and transmission on opening night but was able to make repairs and came back with a vengeance as he led pole to pole in the non-stop event to score a convincing win over Jimmy Zacharias. Jon McKennedy finished third with Ryan Preece and Jimmy Blewett rounding out the top five. Round one winner JR Bertuccio had a solid third place finish up until the last corner of the last lap when he spun after making contact with Preece.

Bertuccio, who ended up 16th, lost his temper upon entering the pit area and ended up in a confrontation with his dad and then with Preece. Bertuccio made a mistake and couldn’t live up to the fact that he “blew it”. Ron Silk finished sixth and was followed by Chuck Hossfeldt, Matt Hirschman, Timmy Solomito and Tommy Catalano.

Heavy rain in central Florida washed out action at New Smyrna. The Modified John Blewett III Memorial that had been scheduled for Wednesday night was rescheduled for Thursday.

The skies cleared on Thursday night for the running of the John Blewett III Memorial. In what was a highly competitive event with a lot of passing, Ryan Preece scored a hard fought win over Matt Hirschman and Ron Silk. Twenty six cars went to post. Justin Bonsignore who started 19th was the show of the night as he fought his way to fourth at the finish. Jimmy Blewett, who started on the pole, rounded out the top five. Sixth thru tenth were Timmy Solomito, Richie Pallai Jr, Chuck Hossfeldt, JR Bertuccio and Calvin Caroll.

Preece and Jon McKennedy were tied for the point lead going into the event. McKennedy spun on the last lap and ended up 13th.

Matt Hirschman saved the best for last as he scored a convincing win in the Richie Evans Memorial 100 on Friday night at New Smyrna. Hirschman used his inside position on a restart with 13 laps remaining and was able to get by the leader from a majority of the race, Ron Silk, coming out of turn two. Despite the win, Hirschman never broke a smile as he credited his dad, former Mod tour champion Tony Hirschman, for doing a great job in building and setting up the car. Silk ended up second. Jon McKennedy, Ryan Preece and Justin Bonsignore rounded out the top five. Timmy Solomito, Chuck Hossfeld, Spencer Davis, JR Bertuccio and Richie Pallai Jr. made up the top ten.

Ryan Preece claimed his third straight World Series title in the Modified division. Preece edged Hirschman by just a mere one point in the final points tally.

Former driver John Jarush made an interesting observation, “The truck race Friday was a wreckfest and boring till I saw the Xfinity 4 hour race marathon ! NASCAR wants to make it more exciting ? Maybe during red flags have Brian France in the infield on a horse, like Joe Tinty on Sugarfoot at Plainville. Add to that put him in a clown suit and that would sum up the state of NASCAR, run by a clown (with no disrespect to clowns ) It`s been proven again and again, the first generation starts a business, the second builds it up and the third runs it into the ground !!! “

Congratulations to Josh Vanada, Thompson Motorsports Park Speedway GM who received the RPM Eastern Region Auto Racing Promoter of the Year Award.

Chace Elliott, who was already locked into the pole position for the 59th Daytona 500 after qualifying in time trials, won Thursday night’s Can-Am Duel Race No. 1.The 21-year-old Elliott, the son of two-time Daytona 500 winner Bill Elliott, became the youngest winner of a Daytona 500 qualifying race. Previously it was Jeff Gordon, who won a qualifying race in 1993 that was the youngest winner.

Elliott’s No. 24 NAPA Chevrolet finished .156 of a second ahead of Jamie McMurray’s Chevrolet. It was the second-year driver’s first win in a Cup car.

Denny Hamlin drove from worst to first as the Joe Gibbs Racing driver overcame a penalty on his pit stop to pick up the victory in Thursday night’s Can-Am Duel No. 2 at Daytona Int’l Speedway. Hamlin’s Toyota passed race-leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. heading to the white flag. Earnhardt’s Chevrolet was in front for 53 laps in the 60-lap race.

Rookie Kaz Grala, a high school Senior from Boston, Massachusetts attending Worcester Academy, won the NASCAR Truck Series season opener Friday night, getting through a massive wreck on the final lap at Daytona International Speedway.

The 18-year-old Grala who has raced at the Seekonk Speedway and at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl became the youngest winner in a NASCAR national series at Daytona. He was lucky to even make it to the checkered flag. Two-time series champion Matt Crafton was leading the 100-lap race when he got turned sideways and went for a wild ride that included several spins and a harrowing flip. Crafton’s No. 88 Toyota landed on all four tires, and he was able to walk away unscathed.

Grala managed to escape the carnage, and considering it was his first victory in 10 starts in the series, he had no idea what to do next.

Only 13 of 32 trucks finished on the lead lap, but even that doesn’t properly explain the all the damage done in a little more than two hours. NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt Jr. posted a picture on his Twitter page of two sailors shoveling money into a furnace with the caption “quick recap of tonight’s action.” More than half the field was involved in accidents, fairly routine at Daytona. Seventeen trucks were involved in a huge wreck on the second lap, knocking out a number of contenders. Austin Wayne Self was second.

Ryan Reed jumped to the lead on the final green-white-checkered restart and held off a final corner challenge from charging Kasey Kahne to collect his second XFINITY Series victory and his second at Daytona Int’l Speedway. He won the same race in 2015.

Last year, 2021, While New Smyrna competitors headed for the snowy north there was action aplenty in Florida for NASCAR’s top divisions. Because of the fact that the track at Fontana, California was being reconfigured an extra week was added to racing at the Daytona International Speedway but instead of racing on the 2-1/2 mile oval competition was on the infield road course.

On Friday night, the NASCAR Truck Series went into triple overtime on the Daytona Road Course. Ben Rhodes claimed the win to the frustration of Sheldon Creed. On numerous occasions, Creed and Rhodes were side by side for the lead. At one point, Rhodes pulled alongside into turn six, Creed then pinched him so much that it pushed Rhodes’ right side wheels into the grass. All night long, trucks were struggling to get into turn one on restarts. Late in the race, Creed wheel hopped into the corner. Rhodes then amplified the situation by getting into his rear bumper, slightly. Ben Rhodes won last week and now he has back to back wins at Daytona. 2 for 2 on the season.

Christopher Bell chased down Joey Logano on the winding Daytona road course Sunday for his first career Cup victory and a coveted spot in NASCAR’s playoffs. Bell won in his second race driving for Joe Gibbs Racing to give the team a pair of surprising victories at Daytona International Speedway. Preece finished ninth in the O’Reilly Auto Parts 253 on the road course Ty Gibbs, the 18-year-old grandson of team owner Joe Gibbs, won the Xfinity Series race Saturday night in his first career national series start.

NASCAR’s top divisions will remain in Florida for another week as they head for Homestead this week.

Ronnie Bouchard was a three time track at the Seekonk Speedway when he came to Stafford for the first time in 1972 to race in the inaugural Spring Sizzler. Driving his own no.35 the young gun impressed many with his ability and never give up attitude to race the high groove. Although his day ended in the fence his performance caught the eye of car owner Richard Armstrong who had recently purchased the Jack Tant coupe that had been driven to many wins. At the Pocono Raceway Bouchard started dead last in the consolation for a 200 lapper and in the main event was headed for victory when the engine expired. Bouchard returned to Seekonk where he wrapped up his fourth title but his days at the track they called the cement palace were numbered. A young car owner from the Waterford Speedbowl convinced Bouchard to drive his car at Stafford where he became a consistent winner and eventual track champion.

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!

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