RPW Column: Looking Back A Bit: First Week Of April

Column Compiled By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WESTERLY, RI – Fifty five years ago in 1967, Newt Palm was the opening day winner at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl. John DeLong was the 15 lap Daredevil feature winner. Ronnie Bouchard was the opening day winner at the Seekonk Speedway

Fifty years ago in 1972, Bowman-Grey Stadium in Winston-Salem, N.C. opened for the season on Saturday night. Wayne Lambreth took the win over Lloyd Ashby and Jerry Cook. At South Boston on Sunday, Max Berrier took the top spot with Gerald Compton, Paul Walton, Jerry Cook and Ashby rounding out the top five. Steady Eddie Flemke, driving the Frank Vigliorolo No.34 which was the original Bob Judkins Pinto, breezed to an easy win as he dominated the competition at the 50 lap Blast Off at the Waterford Speedbowl. Bob Mott was the Sportsman Sedan winner.

Forty five years ago in 1977, a 200-mile NASCAR National Modified Championship event was run at the Trenton, N.J. Fairgrounds on the 1-1/2 mile kidney shaped oval. Jerry Makara took the win over Fred DeSarro, Satch Worley and Geof Bodine. It was also the season opener at Thompson where Bugsy Stevens was the Small Block Modified winner. Freddie Schulz finished second with Ronnie Bouchard, third.

Forty years ago in 1982, the only action was at Darlington where Buddy Baker was the pole sitter and Dale Earnhardt took the win.

Thirty five years ago in 1987, Wall Stadium opened for the season with Tony Siscone taking the win over Jerry Cranmer, Gil Hearne, Doug French and Tom Mauser. At North Wilkesboro, N.C. Donald “Satch” Worley took the win over John Bryant. Riverside Park was not as fortunate as rain washed out the program at the central Mass. Speedway.

Thirty years ago in 1992, the then called Winston Modified Tour was at Richmond for a fast 150 lapper. Doug Hevron hit pay dirt with the Len Boehler No.3 as he outran Rick Fuller, Jan Leaty and Ed Flemke Jr. Rounding out the top five, down a lap, was Tom Baldwin. At Riverside Park, Jerry Marquis put the Bobby Judkins 2x in victory lane. Ed Kennedy and Bobby Gegetskas followed.

Twenty five years ago in 1997, Mark Martin was the Busch Grandnational winner at Texas. In Winston Cup action, most of the crowd could have taken a nap, as there was little or no passing. Jeff Burton got his first win with Dale Jarrett, second.

Twenty years ago in 2002, it took two days to run the Texas Winston Cup event. Rain forced a red flag after 116 of the scheduled 200 laps were run. Matt Kenseth ended up with the win after Dale Jarrett ran out of gas while leading with two laps to go. Jeff Gordon finished second. It was announced that the Stafford Speedway would have a weekly highlight program on Friday afternoons and in Texas it was announced that Johnnie Cochrain would be the leading lawyer in the anti-trust suit against the International Speedway Corporation and NASCAR. Cochrain sucessfully defended OJ Simpson who was accused of murdering his wife and her boy friend.

Fifteen years ago in 2007, The Waterford Speedbowl was slated to begin its regular Saturday night schedule. Fans and competitors were still buzzing about the poor officiating at the recent Bud Nationals, especially the Jimmy Blewett incident. A ten shot photo series by noted photographer Howie Hodge told the story. Doug Coby got into the back of Frank Ruocco as they exited turn two. Blewett, running in fourth spot at the time went low to avoid the car of Ruocco only to be hit accidentally by Ruocco. Jimmy Blewett was below the white line when Ruocco’s left front tire hit Blewett’s nerf bar. As stated previously it was a bad call! A video by Nick Teto verified what really took place and what the Waterford on track officials failed to acknowledge.

Extremely bone chilling temperatures put a damper on the Speedbowl as racing was cancelled on Friday.

While the northeast continued in a deep freeze the action south of the Mason-Dixon Line was hot. In the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour American Revolution 150 at the Greenville-Pickens Speedway in South Carolina Junior Miller rode around in the top five for the majority of the race behind the dominant car of Matt Hirschman. Hirschman ran out front from lap five until lap 129, when Miller drove underneath him to take the lead away. Miller led the rest of the way en route to his 10th career NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour victory. After Miller took the lead, Hirschman fell back to second until he spun coming off the fourth turn after contact with Tim Brown. Hirschman’s late spin set the stage for a green-white-checkered finish with Miller holding off Brian Pack for the win.

Miller’s win allowed him to take over the Whelen Southern Modified Tour point lead by 28 points over Burt Myers. L.W. Miller, who held the point lead coming into Saturday night’s race, was knocked out of the race on lap 45 due to electrical problems. For Pack, his runner-up effort tied a career best NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour finish from last year at Motor Mile (Va.) Speedway. Andy Seuss and Brandon Ward. Burt Myers, Jason Myers, Chuck Hossfeld, Bobby Hutchens and John Smith rounded out the top 10.Hirschman spun after contact with Brown on lap 147, necessitating the overtime finish. Hirschman wound 11th, the last car on the lead lap.

Among the new driver-owner combinations slated to debut are Rick Fuller who will be driving the Bear Motorsports entry. Don Lia in the Mystic Missile and Jerry Marquis in the Brady Bunch entry. In addition Zach Sylvester will make his first run in the Curt Chace No.77. The Blewett brothers will make their team debut during ICEBREAKER weekend

The NASCAR Nextel Cup division had a weekend off to celebrate Easter. The Busch Series raced on Saturday. Carl Edwards raced to his second consecutive NASCAR Busch Series victory, easily winning the Pepsi 300 in chilly conditions at the Nashville Superspeedway in Gladeville, Tenn., to extend his lead in the standings. The Nextel Cup driver led the final 25 laps and crossed the finish line 4.7 seconds ahead of David Reutimann. Dave Blaney, who was involved in an early fracas, rallied to finish third. Jason Leffler was fourth, followed by Regan Smith

It was announced that sponsors of a $368 million NASCAR race track proposal for Washington State had abandoned their efforts after encountering stiff opposition from local officials and resistance at the state Legislature. Great Western Sports, a subsidiary of International Speedway Corp., announced the decision to drop the plan for the motorsports venue in Kitsap County, across Puget Sound from the Seattle metropolitan area. ISC spokesman Lenny Santiago said his group hasn’t taken Washington state completely off the table, but could not see a way to proceed this year. Developers had touted the racetrack as a $4 billion boon to the state’s economy, including thousands of jobs. But legislation to help finance the track had gone nowhere. The company’s proposal had called for taxpayers to pay for about half of the facility, with ISC contributing $180 million. The company had said it would pay for any cost overruns. The state share would have been paid through bonds. Despite the setback on the west coast ISC raised its annual dividend by 2 cents to 10 cents a share. The dividend will be payable on June 29 to stockholders of record May 31, the company said in a statement.

The company also said its board approved an additional $39.6 million for capital projects.

Ten years ago in 2012, the Waterford Speedbowl endured some bone chilling weather and a smashed retaining wall but managed to get their first Saturday night racing program in the record books. Claiming the opening Saturday night feature wins included Justin Gaydosh who wired the SK Modified® race, leading from start to finish and Dillon Moltz, who won his first career victory in the Bob Valenti Auto Mall Late Model division at his hometown track. Corey Hutchings took the win in the night’s Street Stock feature while Ken Cassidy Jr. won his second consecutive Mini Stock feature to begin the year. Thirteen-year old Kaz Grala of Westboro, MA won the night’s Legends Cars feature and Ken Morin Jr. of Old Saybrook reached Victory Lane in the Bandolero feature.

The 35-lap SK Modified® feature saw Gaydosh jump to the race lead ahead of Harry Rheaume at the drop of the green flag. While Gaydosh moved out to a brief early lead, Kyle James and Nichole Morgillo also snuck past Rheaume’s inside before he was able to get in line in fourth position. The field clicked away the early laps with James slicing into Gaydosh’s lead and Morgillo alone in third place. Behind Morgillo, Rheaume led a train of cars that included Tom Abele, Diego Monahan and Rob Janovic Jr. Monahan was the first to jump out of line on lap-4, moving by both Abele and then Rheaume to sweep into fourth position.

As James began to pressure Gaydosh for the lead, the running order remained the same through lap-9 when trouble broke out in the pack of cars battling for fifth position. Rheaume, Abele, Tyler Chadwick and Ed Puleo all made contact exiting turn two, sending Rheaume and Chadwick hard into the retaining wall. The violent impact sent Rheaume’s car airborne as the field continued to scatter behind the wreck. The incident drew the red flag, resulting in a 35-minute delay for repairs to the wall necessitated by the severe impact. All the drivers walked away from the incident, however only Puleo was able to resume after pitting for repairs.

Keith Rocco was looking to make it two in a row at the shoreline oval before his luck ran out. Following a restart, Gaydosh and Rocco made slight contacting entering turn one battling for the lead. Rocco got momentarily crossed up, coming together with Janovic who tried to race by Rocco’s inside into second. The two did a masterful job of keeping their cars pointed straight ahead down the backchute, but the contact damaged both cars suspension. Janovic slowed dramatically in turn four, drawing another caution flag. Both Janovic and Rocco pitted but were unable to resume before racing went back to green. The new running order for the final restart saw James line up to Gaydosh’s outside, with Jeff Rocco, Monahan and Pearl rounding out the top-five.

The final laps were run without caution after Gaydosh got another good jump on the restart. James was again able to close the gap back to the leader as the race reached the final laps. James was in striking position, valiantly trying to put a crossover move on Gaydosh who defended each attempt. James’ best run came on lap-33 as he drove off Gaydosh’s right rear as the exited turn two. Gaydosh again defended the run and pulled back ahead to set up the final two laps. James tried a last ditch effort on the final lap but settled for second. Jeff Rocco, Monahan and Pearl held their positions to round out the top-five.

One of the promising young rookies in the Waterford Late Model division put his future as a driver on hold for a while. Ryan Morgan, who is a graduate of the Quarter Midget, Legend Cars and the Thompson Modifieds, made the move up this year and on opening day finished a solid fourth. During his qualifying heat this past Saturday night he had the misfortune of having his throttle stick wide open while going down the backstretch. The Ledyard High School student hit the wall a ton and all but destroyed the car that was owned by his dad, John. Ryan was transported to the L&M Hospital in New London and later sent for observation at the Yale-New Haven Hospital. The end result was no broken bones but a lot of soreness.

The NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour returned to the Caraway Speedway in North Carolina last Saturday night where Brian Loftin took the lead early and paced the field to the finish to win the Farm Bureau Insurance 150.

It was an emotional Victory Lane, marking Loftin’s first win since the passing of his wife a year ago. The win gives the Lexington, N.C., driver a tour-leading eight victories at Caraway and marked his 12th career tour win overall. Loftin, who started third on the field, took the lead from Frank Fleming a third of the way through the 150-lap event and then held on through four restarts in the second half of the race to score the win. L.W. Miller followed Loftin across the finish line in second to collect a second podium finish at Caraway for a second consecutive week. Rookie Daniel Hemric finished third, with Tim Brown rebounding from a flat tire to finish fourth and Danny Bohn taking fifth.

Sixth thru tenth were Patrick Emerling, defending champion George Brunnhoelzl III, Jason Myers, Burt Myers and Andy Seuss. There were 22 cars on hand.

With his victory in the Farm Bureau Insurance 150, Loftin locked up a spot in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Series race at the UNOH Battle At The Beach at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway next February during Speedweeks.

Get well wishes went out to George Summers, one of the all-time great Modified drivers in the northeast, who had been hospitalized in a Mass. hospital with pneumonia.

NASCAR’s Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Truck Series had the weekend off to observe Easter.

Five years ago in 2017, Just when things never looked better at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl the track’s outlook suffered yet another blow when track owner Bruce Bemer was arrested on human trafficking charges. What he did was wrong and hopefully the track and its future won’t be affected. Bemer saved the track from possible extinction after Terry Eames all but ran the shoreline oval into the ground. Hopefully the track will survive this latest calamity.

Two men were arrested in connection with a human trafficking ring that Danbury CT police say may have been in operation for decades and exploited young males with mental health issues.

Bruce J. Bemer, 63, of Glastonbury, and William Trefzger, 71, of Westport, were arrested on warrants by Danbury detectives and special agents of the FBI for their roles in a ring that operated out of the city but reached other cities, Danbury police announced Thursday. Police previously arrested Robert King, 50, of Danbury for promoting prostitution and witness tampering in connection with the ring.

Police allege the ring exploited young males with mental health issues by delivering them to wealthy “clients” statewide for the purpose of sex for money. The investigation began in January of 2016, but police say the ring may have been in operation for decades. Bemer is the owner of Glastonbury-based Bemer Petroleum and the New London-Waterford Speedbowl. Police say they arrested Bemer at his petroleum company’s office.

He was arrested on a charge of patronizing a trafficked person and is being held on a $500,000 cash-only bond. Trefzger was arrested on the same charge and held on a $500,000 cash-only bond.

Due to bad weather and poor track conditions the 43rd Annual Icebreaker scheduled for the weekend was postponed, The event, which is highlighted by the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour’s Icebreaker 150, will be run on April 7-9.

The weather broke for the best on Sunday and the track allowed weekly divisions the opportunity to practice.

In January, within four days, the Northeast Modified racing community lost two pioneers. Photographer, Howie Hodge, and Modified legend, Leo “The Lion” Cleary, both passed away. At the Icebreaker, Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park Officials have announced that they will honor the memory of both men, inviting their families’ as honored guests.

Howie Hodge, who has been a photographer on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, as well as other NASCAR regional touring series, has also frequented the infields of short tracks throughout the country, but most consistently in his home state of Connecticut. For nearly 50 years, Howie shared his passion for motorsports photography with his wife, Mary. Mary, along with her son, Kevin, will be on hand to honor Howie’s late memory during pre-race ceremonies on Sunday afternoon, April 2. Also, Kevin Hodge will act as the Honorary Starter for the 150-lap NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour race.

Three short days after Hodge’s passing, Leo Cleary passed away. Known for being an cagey and aggressive driver, Cleary earned the nickname of “The Lion.” He was fearless, and raced as often as he could, frequenting tracks throughout the northeast. Cleary etched his name indelibly into the Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park record books in 1967, winning a Modified Championship.

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 made it two in a row as he won the $3,000 top prize Saturday at Concord Speedway in the Spring Explosion 125 Southern Modified Racing Series race.

As was the case the previous week at Orange County, Ward established early in the day at Concord that he had a fast car by winning the Precision Spindle Pole award in qualifying. The draw for a starting spot found Ward third at the start. Ward maintained a solid spot inside the top-three as Bryan Dauzat, Bobby Measmer Jr. and Andy Seuss each took turns leading the race. On lap 90, Ward made his move past Seuss to the top spot. He survived a pair of late race restarts and a challenge from Measmer to get the victory.

Measmer charged late in the race but came up short finishing in the second spot. Burt Myers and his brother Jason Myers rallied in the final 25 laps to finish third and fourth, with John Smith rounding out the top five. Sixth thru tenth were Andy Seuss, Tyler Truex, Kyle Bonsignore, J.R. Bertuccio and Danny Bohn.

In some sad news, Legendary NASCAR driver Sam Ard died. He was 78 years old. Ard was born in Pamplico, S.C., was a native of Asheboro, N.C. He was champion of what is now known as the NASCAR XFINITY Series in 1983 and ’84, earning most popular driver honors each season.

Ard, who retired after a serious injury in a crash at North Carolina Speedway in 1984, won 22 races and 24 poles in the XFINITY Series during his career.

In a Sunday afternoon battle of the titans, Brad Keselowski outlasted a day full of carnage, a stretch run to the finish and a persistent challenge from Kyle Busch to notch his second Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win of the season at Martinsville Speedway.

Last year, 2021, When Matt Hirschman pulled out of the pit area at the Wall Stadium on Saturday he should have attached a broom to his tire rack as he scored a clean sweep of the twin 50s that made up the tour type Modified Turkey Derby. Hirschman displayed total domination as he ran lap after lap with the precision of a surgeon performing a heart transplant. Wall Stadium is a high speed – high banked 1/3 mile speedway. Hirschman mastered it, no doubt about it!

After posting fast time in time trial qualifying, Hirschman jumped to the lead of the first 50-lapper and never looked back. Tom Martino, Jr. chased Hirschman most of the way before Andrew Krause slipped into second in the final laps. Martino held on for third at the finish, with Long Island’s Timmy Solomito and Ron Frees rounding out the top five.

In the second 50-lapper Martino was the early leader as Hirschman came from fourth spot. Hirschman advanced to second by lap four and then closed on the bumper of Martino for nearly 30 laps. Hirschman then dove to the inside to take the lead as Krause advanced to second seven laps later. Krause then chased Hirschman to the finish line with Martino, Solomito and Anthony Sesely completing the top five.

Originally scheduled to be a 150 lapper the Turkey Derby was changed to twin 50s because of a poor car count.

The Winston-Salem NC Journal reported that buying a ticket to Bowman Gray Stadium racing just got easier. Gov. Roy Cooper’s announcement that outdoor sporting events can now have up to 50% capacity sent a shockwave of good news to those who provide outdoor entertainment.

“Our official attendance is around 16,000, so the 8,000 number is a better number,” said Gray Garrison, promoter of Winston-Salem Speedway Inc., which puts on the NASCAR-sanctioned series each summer at Bowman Gray. “One of the things we have to do as the management company is we need to find out the other stipulations that go along with this.” Social distancing requirements will have to be analyzed, Garrison said, before they decide just how many tickets can be sold. The 72nd season of racing as one of the oldest tracks in the state is scheduled to begin April 17.

In NASCAR Cup racing at Bristol, Joey Logano made history Monday afternoon. Leading the final 61 laps in the face of a determined charge by Denny Hamlin, Logano won the rain-delayed Food City Dirt Race in overtime at Bristol Motor Speedway, the first dirt-track race for the NASCAR Cup Series since 1970.
Logano grabbed the lead from Daniel Suarez on Lap 193 of a scheduled 250 and held it the rest of the way through a caution for the second stage break and a late yellow that sent the race three laps beyond the prescribed distance. On the final restart on Lap 252, Logano pulled away, as Hamlin tried and failed to find grip in the outside lane and fell to third behind runner-up Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Logano‘s winning margin over Stenhouse was .554 seconds. Ryan Preece finished 18th on the lead lap.

June 14, 1968 Bugsy Stevens put the mighty No.3 of Len Boehler in victory lane at Stafford. Don MacTavish finished second with Eddie Flemke, Holly Wilder and Mario Fats Caruso rounding out the top five. 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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