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

Column Compiled By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WESTERLY, RI – Fifty five years ago in 1967, the Dogwood 300 was run at Martinsville to open the season. Ray Hendrick in the famous Tant/Mitchell No.11 cleaned house!

Fifty years ago in 1972, it was quiet in the northeast as the NASCAR Modifieds were at Hickory, NC. for a 125 lap event. Richie Evans took the win over Geoff Bodine, Gerald Compton, Satch Worley and John Bryant.

Forty five years ago in 1977, Bugsy Stevens took the Small Block Modified portion of the season opening Ice Breaker at Thompson. Leo Cleary finished second with Ronnie Bouchard, Dick Caso and Ollie Silva rounding out the top five. The event was marred by an accident that took the life of Dave Peterson. This incident was the beginning of a scandal, which led to one of the speedway employees getting put in an embarrassing position when it was discovered that pit sign in sheets were missing, and Petersons name was found added on a sheet where it didn’t belong.

Forty years ago in 1982, after a rain out the previous week, the Modifieds returned to Martinsville for the NASCAR Modified season opener. Forty-seven Modifieds were on hand. Geoff Bodine was the pole sitter but it was Greg Sacks in the Ernie Wilsburg No.5 that ruled the roost. It was the beginning of a storybook season for Sacks and Wilsburg as they would win just about every major race during the course of the season. Richie Evans finished second with Jim Spencer, third. Roger Treichler, Reggie Ruggiero, Jamie Tomaino, Bob Polverari, Doug Hewitt, Doug Hevron and Ralph Brinkley would round out the top ten. Attrition was quite high as only 12 of the original 40 starters were running at the end of 250 laps. Among the dnf’s were Tom Druar, Geoff Bodine and Roger Hill who lost engines, Jerry Cook overheated and wrecks eliminated Wayne Anderson, Tom Baldwin, John Blewett Jr and George Summers. Sam Ard won the late model portion of the Martinsville event.

Thirty five years ago in 1987, Riverside Park Speedway opened for the season with a 100 lapper. Jim Spencer took the win. Mike Stefanik finished second with Tom Bolles, third. At the Thompson Ice Breaker on Sunday, Spencer made it two for two on the weekend as he beat George Summers and Corky Cookman to the stripe. Spencer started fifth and took the lead on lap 60 of the 125-lap event. In victory lane, Spencer, who finished second in 1986, stated, “Charlie taught me how to win this race “. Jarzombek had passed away a week earlier at Martinsville. In SK-Modified action, Richie Gallup took the win over Mike Christopher, Marcel L’Etiole and Ted Christopher. In Winston Cup action at Darlington, Dale Earnhardt took the lead and the win on the last lap when Bill Elliott ran out of gas. Earnhardt also won the Busch Grandnational event held on Saturday. Geoff Bodine finished second.

Thirty years ago in 1992, after hitting the wall at Martinsville the previous week, Jeff Fuller was on a mission at the Ice Breaker at Thompson. Fuller took the lead on lap 76 of the 125-lap event and never looked back as he redeemed himself with a hard fought win. Mike McLaughlin, in the Art Barry No.21, had the misfortune of hitting the wall in Saturday practice. The Barry crew worked all night putting a new snout on the car. Starting last, McLaughlin rewarded their efforts as he finished second. Tom Baldwin finished third and was followed by Steve Park, Tom Bolles, Jan Leaty, Tim Connolly, Wayne Anderson and Charlie Pasteryak. Eddie StAngelo was the winner of the SK-Modified event. Bob Potter finished second with Ted Christopher, Ronnie Rocco and Mike Christopher rounding out the top five.

Twenty five years ago in 1997, it was Easter Weekend. The only action was at Hickory where Dick Trickle took the Grandnational win over Randy LaJoie.

Twenty years ago in 2002, NASCAR’s Winston Cup and Busch Grandnationals were idle because of the Easter weekend. The Wall Township Speedway in New Jersey opened under new management. Frank Polimedia went pole to pole to win the opener. John Blewett III finished second with Dave Michael, third. Jimmy Blewett and Harry Reed rounded out the top five. The southern modified series SMART had a scheduled event at Caraway in North Carolina, which was rained out

Fifteen years ago in 2007, The Southern New England countryside came alive with the sound of engines roaring as the Waterford Speedbowl opened for their 57th season. The shoreline oval opened under new management on Saturday and Sunday. A new and rejuvenated look plus an entirely different attitude on the part of all new management greeted fans and competitors. The Speedbowl had been the scene of a “Big Dig” as a huge septic cement tank has been installed. As Pete Zanardi stated, “Our cup no longer overflowith”. Thanks to the hard work of the new management the tracks rest rooms have been put back in working order. No longer would hip boots be required in order to enter the rest rooms. Thousands of dollars were spent in the grandstand area which showed a lot of progress.

Sunny skies greeted competitors and fans at the Speedbowl on Saturday for Bud Nationals qualifying. Outside invaders Jimmy Blewett, Matt Hirschman and Kenny Horton blew away the Waterford regulars in SK Modified time trials as they took the top spots. Blewett toured the 1/3 mile oval in 14.233 seconds. Waterford regulars Tommy Fox and Shawn Monahan rounded out the top five. Among those who failed to make the cut for the top 20 was six time track champion David Gada who was forced to run in the Last Chance 25 lap consolation event. Thirty one SK Modifieds were on hand to qualify for the 28 starting spots. Jeff Paul won the Last Chance event. Tyler Chadwick finished second with Dennis Gada, nursing a sick engine, finishing third.

The more things change at the Speedbowl the more things stay the same. Jeff Pearl ended up having the biggest day of his career as he won the SK Modified portion of the Bud Nationals on Sunday. The new management showed hope and promise for the shoreline oval but a general house cleaning of those in charge of the on track action was sorely needed. Confusion and indecision by track officials dragged out the many caution periods. Case in point, Jimmy Blewett was put to the rear for an accident that involved Frank Ruocco and Doug Coby. They were running second and third when they tangled first in turn two and then in turn three where they spun. Blewett, who was running fourth at the time avoided the spinning cars and went low to take over second. Needless to say, the track made a bad call when they said he was involved and had to go to the rear with 11 laps remaining in the 150 lap feature. In plain English, Blewett and his car owner Eddie Partridge were royally screwed by the Speedbowl race officials. Funny thing though, with only four laps remaining local runner Shawn Monahan deliberately turned Tyler Chadwick, another local runner into the first turn fence. Nothing was said or done about this incident. Track racing director Steve Harraka made the final call in the Blewett incident and turned a blind eye in the Monahan incident.

The SK Modified 150 took the green at 4:02pm and finished up at 5:30. Jimmy Blewett took the lead at the start with Kenny Horton and Frank Ruocco in tow. By lap 25 Blewett began having handling problems in the turns and on lap 30 gave way to Ruocco. Blewett began backing up as Don Fowler shot into the second spot. Rob Summers passed both Ruocco and Fowler on lap 46. Just shy of half way with Summers leading Fowler and Horton, Blewett was hit and spun in the third turn by Rob Janovic. Blewett pitted with a flat left rear and returned with an all new set of tires for the run to the finish. By lap 125 Blewett had worked his way back to the top five It was actually lap 136 when Ruocco and Coby tangled. Between the Blewett fiasco and the Monahan dumping incident the race was settled in a three lap sprint which saw Jeff Pearl running wheel to wheel with Matt Hirschman with Pearl winning by inches. Summers ended up third with Frank Ruocco, fourth and Shawn Monahan, fifth. Sixth through tenth were Wendell Dailey, Dave Sazarulo, Tyler Chadwick, Jay Miller and Doug Coby. Blewett ended up 15th. Other winners were Bruce Thomas Jr. (Late Models), Billy Gertsch Jr. (Sportsman), Joe Godbout III (Mini Stocks) and Lou Ciccone (NEMA Midgets).

Andy Seuss scored his first career NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour victory in breathtaking fashion on Sunday afternoon in the Whelen 150 at Music City Motorplex. Seuss had to do it in overtime due to a late caution that set the stage for a green-white-checkered finish. On the final restart, the Hampstead, N.H. native was looking to hold off the second-place car of Tim Brown. However Brown would not get up to speed and dropped back through the pack while L.W. Miller moved up to the runner-up position where he ultimately finished.

Jimmie Johnson withstood Jeff Gordon’s 53-lap challenge that included plenty of banging Sunday and held him off by a bumper for his third NASCAR Nextel Cup win in six races, the latest in Martinsville. Michael Waltrip continued his streak of not qualifying as he missed the field for the fifth consecutive time.

Ten years ago in 2012, Snow, rain and a dismal forecast forced the Thompson International Speedway management to postpone Saturday’s open practice session for 24 hours. Among those taking advantage of the early season practice session on Sunday were Whelen Modified Tour Series competitors Todd Szegedy, Ryan Preece, Ron Yuhas, Bryon Chew, Eric Beers, Donny Lia, Patrick Emerling, Richie Pallai, Jr, Rob Fuller and Eric Berndt.

The Waterford Speedbowl, one of the nations oldest and most historic racing venues in the country, opened its gates for the 62nd consecutive season-opener with the annual Budweiser Blastoff Weekend. In addition to the shoreline ovals usual bill of fare the NEMA Midgets and the Valenti Modified Racing Series on the racing card. Competitors waited out the rain finally getting on the track to practice shortly after three PM. There were 25 SK Modifieds and 28 Valenti Modified Racing Series Modifieds on hand.

First on tap for Sunday’s main events were the SK Modifieds who ran a 62 lap feature. Tom Abele, Jr brought the field down for the green. His lead was short lived as Todd Ceravolo stormed to the lead after a restart. Ceravolo, with his future son-in-law Keith Rocco hot on his tail, led until lap 14 when he gave way to the defending track champion. Rocco ran the rest of the 62 lap distance without faltering as he captured his first win of 2012. It was his 37th career win at the Connecticut shoreline oval.

Ceravolo had a lock on the runner-up spot until less than five laps to go when he was passed by Rob Janovic. Janovic ended up in second and was followed by Ceravolo, Jeff Pearl and Doug Coby.

Jon McKennedy jumped out from his outside pole starting spot and led all 100 laps to record the win in the season opener for the Valenti Modified Racing Series. McKennedy drove a car owned by Preston CTs Art Barry. Rowan Pennink finished second with Norm Wrenn, third. Even though McKennedy went pole to pole the event was far from boring. Pennink came from deep in the field twice in the event and Wrenn, who came from a 26th starting spot, overcame going a lap down at one point.

Rounding out the top five were Mike Holdredge and Dave Etheridge. Sixth through tenth were Charlie Pasteryak, Tommy Barrett, Doug Coby, Les Hinkley and Chris Pasteryak.

In other opening weekend action at Waterford, Keith Rocco doubled up, taking down the win in the Bob Valenti Auto Mall Late Model division event. Charles Beal of Ledyard was a first time Street Stock winner and Ken Cassidy Jr. of Lisbon won the Mini Stock feature. Another first time winner found victory lane in the NEMA Midget feature, as Louisville, KY driver John Zych was victorious.

The Speedbowl also ran numerous feature races on Saturday. Picking up wins included Paul French of Andover, who won the evening’s NASCAR Whelen All-American Series SK Light Modified race, Ryan Bigelow of East Hampton who found Victory Lane in the NEMA Light touring series race, and Corey Coates of Ledyard who won in the visiting New England Truck Series. In INEX racing, Dave Garbo Jr. of Stonington claimed the win in the opening day Legends Cars feature and Jacob Urch in the afternoon’s Bandolero race. Other winners included Jon Porter of Canterbury in Super X-Cars, Chris Garside of Waterford in X-Cars and James Logan of Dighton, MA in the New England Four Cylinder Pro Stock tour event.

Lou Modestino, who has been the Brockton, MA Enterprise’s Motorsports Writer for over four decades, announced that Ted Hebert, owner of Teddy Bear Pools and Spas of Chicopee, Mass., has agreed to become an associate sponsor of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour event at the Monadnock Speedway on Saturday night, May 12.

Following an idea created by Modified race fan Jim Schaefer at his home track, the Riverhead Raceway on Long Island, the Monadnock NASCAR WMT event purse would be bolstered $5,000 by Teddy Bear Pools, the #1 Dealer of Pools and Spas in all of Massachusetts. All competing drivers who sport a provided Teddy Bear Pools sticker on their cars will be eligible to compete for the added bonus money.

The NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour series started their season with a lot of heat both on and off the track, the Caraway Speedway in North Carolina. A restart shortly after the halfway break set up a battle at the front of the field, one that left Andy Seuss’ car both out of contention and destroyed. Contact with L.W. Miller’s machine as the two tried to make advances on eventual winner George Brunnhoelzl III, left both crews fuming with one another and plenty of hot tempers on a warm spring night. Seuss drove all the way from 12th on the starting grid to challenge for the lead before Lap 100.

Brunnhoelzl was on the inside of the front row, with Seuss to his outside and Miller behind them in third as the field raced through Turns 1 and 2 on the Lap 95 restart. Contact sent sparks flying, and Seuss’ car hit the outside wall hard with the right front.

Brunnhoelzl went on to take the win. Jason Myers eased by Miller with two laps to go and ended up second. Miller finished third. Rounding out the top five were Brandon Ward and John Smith.

Congratulations went out to Tom Fox, a 30 plus year veteran of weekly short track racing, who had joined the Stafford Motor Speedway staff as Director of Racing Operations and Competition. Fox’s duties during the season would entail working alongside Frank Sgambato Jr in the Race Control booth during races and oversee post-race technical inspection in the CBYD Inspection Zone. Fox joined the SMS staff for the final 4 races of the 2011 season as an observer to better prepare him for his 2012 duties.

As a former racer Fox knew quite well some of the frustrations and hard work that a competitor must go through in order to get his car to the track and in the competition with others on the track. It should be a good fit.

NASCAR has announced the 2012 race season programming for the NASCAR K&N Pro Series and NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour on the SPEED Channel. As in the past, the Whelen Modifieds once again got what the cow left behind after jumping over the fence.

The case of Jeremy Mayfield vs. NASCAR may finally be over. A three-judge panel of 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled on the side of U.S. District Judge Graham Mullen in his previous dismissal of the Mayfield’s complaint against NASCAR.

Mayfield was suspended by NASCAR in May of 2009 after failing a random drug test and later sued NASCAR and its Chairman Brian France for defamation, unfair and deceptive trade practices and breach of contract. Mullen ruled that Mayfield had signed documents waiving his right to sue and tossed the case out of court despite Mayfield’s arguments that over-the-counter medications led to his positive test.

For the fourth time Kevin Harvick started on the pole for a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race and for the fourth time, he went to victory lane in the Kroger 250 at Martinsville Speedway.

Harvick started on the pole and led 248 of the 250 laps of the .525-mile race track in beating his Richard Childress Racing teammate Ty Dillon to the checkered flag by three car lengths as the Chevrolet teammates swept the top two spots.

In Sprint Cup racing, Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson dominated Sunday’s Goody’s Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway, but neither brought team owner Rick Hendrick his 200th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory.

Instead Ryan Newman celebrated his first victory of the season and the fourth for Stewart-Haas Racing. Newman lost a lap after a pit-lane speeding penalty early in the race and was in position to take advantage when all heck broke loose at the end of the race.

Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson were racing side by side for the lead when David Reutimann stopped on the track with two laps remaining, setting up the green-white-checkered finish. They were the only two drivers not to pit during the yellow flag and when the green flag waved, Clint Bowyer riding on fresh tires powered his Toyota three wide into the first turn pushing Gordon and Johnson high on the track with Johnson and Bowyer spinning and Ryan Newman shooting to the lead as the yellow flag waved again.

On the second attempt at a green-white-checkered finish, Newman and A.J. Allmendinger battled side by side for a lap before Newman gained control and carried his Outback Steakhouse Chevrolet to a .537-second victory over Allmendinger in a race that ran 515 laps of the .525-mile asphalt oval. Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished third.

Five years ago in 2017, Despite efforts to remove snow from the race track and venue grounds, Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park Officials were forced to cancel Saturday’s Test & Tune, as a result of remaining snow and ice. The event will not be made up, and attention now turns to the 43rd running of the Icebreaker, this coming weekend, beginning March 31 – April 2.

Ted Christopher is the all-time winner at Thompson with 98 wins. Rick Gentes has 74 wins and the late Fred DeSarro has 63 wins.

In non-NASCAR Modified racing below the Mason-Dixon line Brandon Ward, driver of the New Day Motorsports No. 19, has always enjoyed racing at the three-eighths mile Orange County Speedway. Last Saturday night he enjoyed it even more in victory lane after winning the Orange Blossom 125 Southern Modified Racing Series (SMRS) feature. It was his career-first win in the series. A fast race car and a well-executed pit stop were the keys to victory for the 36-year-old Winston-Salem driver.

The fast race car was established early by winning the $150 Precision Spindle Pole Award in the afternoon. Ward started the race in the fourth spot, based on a re-draw among the top six qualifiers. In the first half of the race Ward stayed solidly inside the top-10; a lap 75 caution flag gave him the opportunity to lead. Quick pit work by the crew got him off pit road first and once back on track that fast race car took over and Ward controlled the last 50 laps of the race.

Danny Bohn led the first 75 laps and finished second. James Civali wheeled his car to third with Jason Myers and Jeremy Gerstner completing the top five. Sixth thru tenth were Bobby Measmer Jr, Burt Myers, Jimmy Zacharias, Gary Putnam and Joe Degracia. There were 16 cars on hand. Among those who finished out of the top ten were Ryan Preece who finished 14th, Tim Brown who finished 15th and J.R. Bertuccio who ended up 16th.

Kyle Larson held off Joey Logano to win Saturday’s Service King 300 NASCAR XFINITY Series race at California’s Auto Club Speedway.

A late-race yellow flag negated Larson’s lead and sent the field pit side for fresh rubber. Larson’s crew kept him out front and he controlled the restart with four laps remaining and held off Logano’s last-lap charge for his first victory of the season aboard the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet.

After three-straight second-place finishes, Kyle Larson finally sealed the deal with a victory in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway. The victory completed a weekend sweep for Larson at Auto Club Speedway. Larson started from the pole and dominated Sunday’s race, leading a race-high 110 laps, but several caution flags in the final laps forced Larson to work a bit harder for his second career NASCAR Cup Series victory.

Brad Keselowski overcame contact during the initial restart and a spin on lap six to finish second. Clint Bowyer finished third, his first top-five in 52 races. Ryan Truex ended the day in fourth after leading more than 70 laps. Joey Logano competed the top-five.

On a sad note, NEAR Hall of Famer Pete Hamilton passed away at the age of 74. From his HOF biography; Pete Hamilton’s rise to the top was a fast one. He started driving a street division racer in 1962 at the Norwood Arena. He went on to be the Thompson World Series Twin 50’s champion in 1965, and won the NASCAR National Sportsman championship in 1967 driving the Worcester Sand & gravel #69. Hamilton’s star really began to shine when he moved South at the end of the 67 season. He was the 1968 Grand National Rookie of the Year and went on to win 12 of 26 Grand American Division (pony cars, camaro’s mustangs etc.) in 69. Pete made 64 Grand National (now Winston Cup) starts with impressive results. He scored 33 top ten finishes, 26 top fives, and 4 wins along with 3 poles. But unquestionably, Pete Hamilton’s greatest victory came in 1970 when he won the Daytona 500 in the Petty Enterprises #40 Superbird. He won twice more at both Talladega races in 1970 and got his fourth and final super speedway win at the July race at Daytona driving for Cotton Owens. He also won a Daytona 125 qualifier in 1971. He was the first driver to win $100,000 on a super speedway in a single season. He retired later in 1971 at the height of his career because of a recurring neck injury suffered in a 1969 Grand American race. Hamilton went on to be a very successful car builder. Hamilton never forgot where he came from and many times credited his mentors, Eddie Flemke and Jack Malone, for his success in racing and life in general.

Last year, 2021, Ryan Newman and Ryan Preece tested NASCAR Modifieds last Wednesday morning at the .526-mile oval. Both of them are set to race in April when the Tour runs at Martinsville for the first time in 11 years. Newman will be racing for Gary Putnam in the No. 77, while Preece is set to be behind the wheel of the No. 6, owned by Eddie and Connie Partridge. Jon McKennedy, who finished second on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour in 2020 for car owner Tommy Baldwin Jr., also turned some laps Wednesday.

Down in the southland the SMART Modifieds were at the Florence SC Speedway based on a report from website Speed51. With just over ten laps to go, Modified rookie Caleb Heady had Southeast Modified aces and a NASCAR Hall of Famer looking to steal a win at Florence Motor Speedway. However, the Kentucky driver would not be denied. In just his second-ever Tour-Type Modified start for Tommy Baldwin Racing, Heady fended off a charge from 2000 NASCAR Cup Series champion Bobby Labonte to take the SMART Modified Tour win in South Carolina.

After setting fast time in qualifying, he saved his tires for the majority of the event before taking the lead from Burt Myers with 20 laps to go. After a pair of late cautions, he was left to fend off a field of drivers with fresh tires.

Heady has come far since his first Modified test session held earlier in the year at Carteret County Speedway, when he crashed. He looked back on that test session and the progress he has made both physically and mentally behind the wheel.

It was a case of too little, too late for Labonte in the final laps of Saturday’s race. After hanging out towards the rear most of the race, he took his one new tire with 12 laps to go and made a charge towards the front. After restarting in the latter parts of the top-ten in the final restart, he finished the race just under three-tenths behind Heady at the checkered.

Brian Loftin, Gary Putnam and Burt Myers rounded out the top-five.

Kyle Larson dominated Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. But it was Ryan Blaney who claimed the checkered flag. Blaney closed on Larson as the laps wound down and took the lead with nine laps to go. He went on to win by more than two seconds and became the sixth different winner in as many Cup races this season. Kyle Larson finished second with Alex Bowman, third. Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch rounded out the top five. Ryan Preece finished 25th.

May 31, 1968 Bugsy Stevens in the mighty No.3 of Len Boehler took the win in the 75 lap Nutmeg Classic Memorial Day weekend special event over Fred DeSarro, Eddie Flemke, Fred Harbach and Tommy Borget. Stevens passed Eddie Flemke on lap 57. Flemke had led the event since lap 13.
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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