RPW Column: The Champ Trail: Mod Action At Richmond & South Boston, Icebreaker Cut In Half & More…

Column Compiled By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WESTERLY, RI – Modified action got the green this past Friday, Saturday and Sunday, April 1 thru 3.

The Richmond International Raceway in Virginia played host to the Whelen Modified Tour Series on Friday night.

On Saturday the action moved to the South Boston Speedway in Virginia for a SMART Tour event or to the Thompson Speedway in Connecticut for the Open Competition IceBreaker. From now until the end of October it will be non-stop action just about every weekend.

After a more than month-long break following the opening round of the 2022 season in February at the New Smyrna Speedway in Florida, the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour shifted back into high gear this past Friday night as the tour invaded the Richmond Raceway for the Virginia is for Racing Lovers 150.

Twenty eight modifieds were on hand for the event which had a sparse crowd on hand. The only pre-race casualty was that of Anthony Nocella who suffered engine failure.

Justin Bonsignore started from the pole and led early, but pit strategy shuffled him out of the lead and into the pack for much of the race. Tommy Catalano was the star of the race, taking multiple turns at the front of the field as he appeared destined for his maiden Tour win. Catalano had the handles and the speed as he was the class of the field.

With two thirds of the race in the books, Bonsignore found himself in second spot and began to close in on Catalano. With ten laps to go Bonsignore made his move for the lead as it appeared that Catalano’s tires had started to lose their grip. He led the rest of the way for his first Tour win of the year and 32nd of his career. Catalano finished a respectful second with Chuck Hossfeld, third. Kyle Ebersole and Tyler Rypkema rounded out the top five. Sixth thru tenth were Eric Goodale, Jimmy Blewett, Jon McKennedy, Donny Lia and Ron Silk.

There was never a dull moment as there was action a plenty. On lap 12, Bonsignore’s cousin Kyle Bonsignore took the race lead on the high side in turn 1. Bryan Dauzat would bring out the first caution with a flat right rear tire.On the restart, the two Bonsignores battled for the lead, while longtime NASCAR Cup Series competitor Ryan Newman worked his way to third. A lap later, Newman would follow Justin Bonsignore, who moved to the lead, into second around Kyle Bonsignore.

While Newman and then Tommy Catalano would apply pressure to Bonsignore under this green flag run, the three-time series champion would keep his composure and held the point until the caution flag flew again on lap 51 for a spin from Jeremy Gerstner in turn four. Under this caution, Justin Bonsignore would have issues on pit road, which would drop him to ninth in the running order.

On the restart, Newman would work his way to the lead with a rear-tire only call on pit road, but it was short lived as Catalano swooped by two laps later. From here on, Catalano would assert himself as the guy to beat, while Bonsignore was bogged down in the field. Catalano would lead 69 of the next 79 laps of this race, only interrupted for 10 laps by Max McLaughlin, who snagged the lead on a lap 97 restart.

Catalano would retake the lead from McLaughlin on lap 107, but Bonsignore came to life and was reeling Catalano in as the race drew to a close. In turn 4 with 11 laps to go, Catalano got loose and Bonsignore shot to the inside lane to take the lead.

The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour season resumes May 14 at Long Island New York’s Riverhead Raceway. After two events Eric Goodale and Tommy Catalano are tied for the point lead with 80 points each. Tyler Rypkema sits in third spot, just one point back. Jon McKennedy, who, despite having to make an extra pit stop after dragging his gas can out of the pit, sits in fourth spot, just four spots out of the lead. Rounding out the top five is Ron Silk, eight points out of the lead. Sixth thru tenth include Jimmy Blewett, Craig Lutz, Austin Beers, Justin Bonsignore, 20 points out of the lead and JB Fortin.

In SMART tour action at the South Boston Speedway on Saturday afternoon, thirty modifieds were on hand for the event that celebrated the late Ray Hendrick and the Tant /Mitchell Flying 11 that he drove to over 700 wins.

Matt Hirschman left little doubt of his ability and his effort as he scored an impressive win in front of a near capacity crowd. Starting eleventh after a re-draw, Hirschman worked his way to the front and took the lead following a restart with 51 laps to go in the 99 lap contest. Pitting a short time later, Hirschman pressured leader JD Fortin who was obviously blocking. Hirschman finally put Fortin away for the lead on lap 60. The caution flew again on lap 72 for a spin by Gary Young. Most of the front runners pitted for fresh rubber.

Tom Buzze led the restart with Jonathan Brown and Caleb Heady following. By lap 78 Brown had taken the lead as Hirschman moved into the top three. Brown led thru lap 89 when Hirschman shot by for the lead.

Hirschman led the final 10 laps to score the win, the 205th of his career. Jonathan Brown finished second and was followed by Caleb Heady, Bobby Labonte, Tom Buzze, Burt Myers and Danny Bohn.

The SMART tour moves to the Franklin County Speedway this coming Sunday.

The IceBreaker at the Thompson Speedway was also scheduled for last weekend but the finicky New England weather had other ideas. With weather for Sunday looking far less than favorable, the decision was made Saturday to postpone Sunday’s Icebreaker 125 schedule to Saturday, April 9th. This coming Saturday the rescheduled $10,000-to-win Icebreaker 125 will roll alongside the Thompson ACT-type Late Models, SK Lite Modifieds and Limited Sportsman. There was feature racing on Saturday.

Starting off feature racing action on Saturday was the first event for the Sunoco Modifieds in 2022. The 30-lap sprint proved coming off Thompson’s Turn 2 straight and true is no easy feat with all four cautions resulting from spins coming off the East corner of the track. Newton, Connecticut’s Stephen Kopcik kept the lead from the initial green before Jon Puleo drove his No.7 to the bottom coming out of Turn 2. Puleo would lose the lead with another bonsai move from Kopick when Stafford Speedway super star Todd Owen started pressuring the duo at the halfway point.

The final caution on lap 26 bunched up the field, leaving Kopick with a rearview mirror full of Owen and fellow standout Mike Christopher, Jr. With Christopher in second, Kopick drove on the defense as the two swapped lanes again and again in the final five laps. Coming down to the checkered flag, Christopher threw one last, desperate shot to the bottom of Turn 4 underneath Kopick, but it was too little, too late. Stephen Kopick would claim the Sunoco Modified’s Icebreaker victory with Wolcott’s Christopher in second and Somers’ Owen in third. Troy Talman and Puleo rounded out the top five. Keith Rocco finished sixth.

In other Saturday action at Thompson, Todd Bertrand was the NEMA Lite winner, DJ Shaw was the PASS Super Late Model winner, Jarred Roy was the Mini Stock winner and Gerard Giordano was the Pro Truck winner.

The weekly racing purse at the Stafford Motor Speedway continues to grow. Paul Arute advises that another new partner has joined the Stafford Speedway contingency program for the 2022 season. Casella Waste Systems will pay a $125 bonus to the 2nd place finisher in each SK Modified® feature boosting the 2nd place prize money to $1,050. After acquiring locally based Willimantic Waste Paper Company, Casella is looking to expand their reach into the Connecticut region. Arute alluded to the fact that it seems that each new season marks a stronger SK Modified® division, 2022 is shaping up to be one of the deepest SK Modified® rosters of all-time. A remarkable 60+ teams have registered an SK Modified® number to compete at Stafford this season. All drivers will be chasing 2021 champion Todd Owen as he looks to defend his first SK Modified® title.

Late last week Arute announced that NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee and 2000 NASCAR Winston Cup Champion Bobby Labonte has entered the 50th running of the NAPA Auto Parts Spring Sizzler at Stafford Speedway April 23rd and 24th. CFMoto and Wicked Powersports of Stafford Springs, CT has provided the backing to bring Labonte’s #25 Mike Smith owned Modified north to compete in the Greatest Race in the History of Spring.

“I’m really glad to get the opportunity to come up to Stafford to run in the 50th NAPA Spring Sizzler®,” explained Labonte. “Stafford is definitely a track that I have had on my bucket list for a while, especially after I started to run the Modified. I have to give a big thanks to everyone at CFMoto and Wicked Powersports for helping make this happen.”

The 2022 Stafford Speedway season begins with the 50th running of the NAPA Auto Parts Spring Sizzler® April 23rd & 24th. Tickets for the 50th NAPA Spring Sizzler® are available at staffordspeedway.com/tickets. For more information on Stafford Speedway visit staffordspeedway.com, checkout Stafford Speedway on Facebook or Twitter, or contact the track office at 860-684-2783

Coming up in two weeks on Easter weekend is the New England Racers Reunion presented by Wall’s Ford and the Northeast Classic set for April 16th. The New England Racers Reunion will feature a variety of vintage and modern race cars for outdoor display at the North East Motor Sports Museum (922 Route 106, Loudon, NH) on Saturday April 16th. In addition the event will feature five exhibits from New England racing museums. These exhibits will showcase unique auto racing memorabilia and artifacts from around the region. In the afternoon make sure to check out all the feature racing action at the Northeast Classic on the New Hampshire Motor Speedway oval.

Museums committed for display include the Ron Bouchard Museum, ProNyne Motorsports Museum, Ollie Silva Museum, New England Antique Racers and the Maine Vintage Race Car Association.

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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