RPW Column: The Champ Trail: Stafford Motor Speedway’s 50th Spring Sizzler Was Great All Around

Column Compiled By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WESTERLY, RI – The Men that live by the Grace of God and 600 horsepower converged on the Stafford Motor Speedway for the running of the 50th annual Spring Sizzler.

It was also the opening weekend for the Bowman Gray Stadium in North Carolina. High car counts including 42 Open (Tour Type) Modifieds in the Stafford pit and a full field of NASCAR Modifieds at Bowman Gray started off the season on a positive note. One of the best ever Saturday qualifying crowds at Stafford and a full house, close to 10,000 at Bowman Gray made the day complete.

In the NAPA Auto Parts Duel 40 lappers as part of the 50th NAPA Spring Sizzler® Weekend, Ronnie Silk and Ryan Preece were the winners. Feature races were held for the Pro-All Star Series Late Models, Limited Late Models, Street Stocks, and Vintage All-Stars along with two 40-lap NAPA Duel races that set the top-20 lineup for Sunday’s 100-lap NAPA Spring Sizzler® main event.

In the first Modified duel Matt Swanson led the early going. A lap-20 restart saw Swanson and Silk race side by side for a lap before Swanson got clear into the lead. Chuck Hossfeld continued to run in third with Jon McKennedy and Stephen Kopcik making up the top-5. Silk took the lead from Swanson on lap-22 and one lap later saw McKennedy take third from Hossfeld. McKennedy’s move allowed Kopcik to take fourth and drop Hossfeld from third back to fifth. Mike Christopher Jr was now up to sixth with Blewett, Lutz, Flannery, and Bobby Labonte making up the top-10.

Silk ran unchallenged to the checkered flag to win NAPA Duel #1 and earn pole position for the 100-lap NAPA Spring Sizzler®. The remainder of the top-10 positions, which would make up the first 10 cars on the inside row for Sunday’s main event were Swanson, McKennedy, Hossfeld, Christopher, Kopcik, Jimmy Blewett, Bobby Labonte, Anthony Flannery, and Andrew Molleur.

In the second 40-lap NAPA Duel Race, it was like days of old as the car known as “Ole Blu” which was driven by Ryan Preece, won by a country mile. Woody Pitkat finished second with Matt Hirschman, third. Teddy Hodgdon and Matt Galko rounded out the top five. Sixth thru tenth were Ronnie Williams, Doug Coby, Chase Dowling, Chris Pasteryak and Marcello Rufrano. Among the casualties was Keith Rocco who suffered front end damage after being collected in an opening lap crash on the backstretch.

In other feature racing action on Saturday, Taking down wins were Eddie MacDonald in the 75-lap PASS Late Model race, Matt Scappini in the 20-lap Limited Late Model race, Travis Hydar in the 20-lap Street Stock feature, and Ben Levangie in the 15-lap Vintage All-Stars feature.

At the Bowman Gray Stadium, It was a slippery track that made things more interesting than usual, Danny Bohn’s dominant car was never threatened as he won the featured Hayes Jewelry 200 in the Modified Division. Bohn, who started in the second row, grabbed the lead on lap 6 and then pulled off several restarts to perfection to take the checkered flag in front of a sold-out stadium of more than 14,000 fans.

It was Bohn’s 16th victory in 121 starts for the New Jersey native who lives in Huntersville, NC. Finishing second was Brandon Ward in second spot. Jason Myers, Chris Fleming and John Smith rounded out the top five. Sixth was was Burt Myers with defending champion Tim Brown, eighth. It was Brown’s 600th start for the 11-time Modified champion.

By lap 130 there were just 14 cars left in the field that started out with 23 cars and at the end of the race just 13 cars were left on the track. There were 14 caution flags during the 200 laps.

Sizzler Sunday at Stafford dawned just like the original in 1972. It was cold, damp and downright miserable. Despite the weather a near capacity crowd turned out. In addition to the 42 Open (Tour Type) Modifieds on hand there were 34 SK Lite Modifieds and 34 SK Modifieds, 18 Late Models,16 Limited Late Models and 19 PASS Super Late Models.

Many of those who were involved in Sizzlers of years gone by were on hand to partake in the 50th Anniversary. Included in that group was 1974 winner Bugsy Stevens, Eddie Flemke Jr, son of 73 winner Eddie Flemke Sr, Bob Garbarino, four time winning car owner, Mike Christopher Sr, Julie Stefanik, Jerry Marquis, Ryan Preece, Tony Hirschman Sr, 2005 winner, Mike Boehler son of car owner Len Boehler, Rick Fuller, Ken Barry, son of Art Barry and crew chief for Mike Ewanitsko along with Sizzler originators Lew Boyd, Dick Berggren and Bruce Cohen.

Last chance qualifiers were run for the Open Mods. Anthony Noscella took the win over Jack Ely. Bobby Santos ‘s bad luck continued as he failed to finish after an early race tangle with Patrick Emerling. Keith Rocco found himself in a no win situation as he was collected in an opening lap wreck in turn one in the second consi. Anthony Bello was the eventual winner as the sun finally came out.

In Late Model action, After numerous wrecks that slowed event it was Michael Wray celebrating victory in the 30-lap Late Model feature. Michael Bennett of Willington was second and John Blake of North Haven third.

The SK Lite 20 lap feature had a somewhat surprise winner in the form of Derek Debbis. Alexander Pearl started on the pole and led the first 12 laps. George Bessette Jr was putting on the pressure attempting to pass on the outside as they entered turn three when Pearl jumped a wheel of a lapped car who had not dropped down to let the leaders by. After riding over the wheel Pearl was thrown up the track into Bessette who hit the wall. Debbis assumed the lead on the restart and went on to take the win over Tyler Chapman.

The SK Modified 40 lapper saw a photo finish as Todd Owen scored a 24/1000 sec win over Bryan Narducci. Ronnie Williams finished third with Daniel Wesson, fourth. Numerous cautions slowed the event. Jimmy Blewett seemed to be involved in many of the cautions beginning with him taking out Marcello Rufano on lap 7. His day ended on lap 39 when he spun going for the lead and was crunched by Stephen Kopcik.

In what has to be considered as one of the best races ever run at the Stafford Speedway, the 50th annual Spring Sizzler ranks as one of the best. Matt Hirschman led the race twice for a total of 43 laps, including 22 of the final 23 laps as he came out on top of a late race duel between himself and Ryan Preece. Hirschman took home a total of $24,100 in winnings between his finish in the NAPA Auto Parts Duel on Saturday and his race winnings and contingency bonuses for the NAPA Spring Sizzler® on Sunday. In winning the race, Hirschman and his father Tony become the first father/son duo in NAPA Spring Sizzler® history to have won the race. Tony Hirschman won the NAPA Spring Sizzler® back in 2005.

In what turned out to be a long day those who were on hand and those who watched on FloRacing got their money’s worth. The Sizzler took the green at 8:00pm and Hirschman took the checker at 9:23pm.

The race took the green flag with Ronnie Silk leading Ryan Preece by a nose at the line but just as the field completed the first lap, Anthony Bello and Anthony Flannery spun into the turn 1 wall to bring the caution out.

On the restart, Silk took the lead back under green but he only led the second lap as Woody Pitkat shot his way into the lead on lap-3. Silk was able to get in line in second with Matt Hirschman working his way into third. Ryan Preece and Matt Galko were side by side for fourth place with Galko taking the spot on lap-5. The caution came back out with 6 laps complete for Noah Korner, who spun in the middle of turns 3+4.

Pitkat took the lead on the restart with Hirschman taking second. Silk slipped into third with Galko fourth and Preece in fifth Sixth through tenth were Chase Dowling and Jon McKennedy, Doug Coby, Michael Christopher, Jr., and Chris Pasteryak. Hirschman was stalking Pitkat for the lead but Pitkat was able to maintain the lead for the time being. Yellow fever continued as Jeff Gallup spun coming out of turn 2 to bring the caution back out with 12 laps complete.

Pitkat again took the lead on the restart but Hirschman went to the front on lap-14 but just as he took the lead, the caution came out for Mikey Flynn, who came to a stop in turn 1 and with scoring going back to the last completed lap, Pitkat was again the leader for the restart. Pitkat took the lead on the restart with Hirschman looking high and low for a way to take the lead away from Pitkat. Galko moved up to third with Silk dropping a spot back to fourth and Preece was still running fifth. McKennedy was sixth followed by Christopher, Dowling, Ronnie Williams, and Coby. Hirschman tried to make a move on Pitkat for the lead on lap-20 but couldn’t make the pass stick, which allowed Galko to get by him to move into second. Galko was working the high and low lanes to find a way around Pitkat but Pitkat was able to shut down his challenges as the race clicked off lap-25.

With 32 laps complete, the top-4 cars of Pitkat, Galko, Hirschman, and McKennedy were racing in their own 4-car train ahead of Preece in fifth place. Silk was sixth with Williams, Christopher, Kopcik, and Teddy Hodgdon making up the top-10. Galko took the elad from Pitkat on lap-35 just before the caution came back out with 36 laps complete for a spin coming out of turn 4 by Christopher.

Like he was shot out of a cannon, Hirschman streaked his way by Galko and into the lead on the lap-36 restart. Pitkat also got by Galko to take second and drop Galko back to third place, just in front of Silk and McKennedy. Hodgdon was up to sixth followed by Williams, Pasteryak, Dowling, and Anthony Nocella.

At the halfway point of the race it was still Hirschman in the top spot with Galko, Pitkat, Silk, and McKennedy all giving chase. Hodgdon, Williams, Preece, Pasteryak, and Nocella rounded out the top-10 positions. The caution came back out with 56 laps complete for Marcello Rufrano, who got into the turn 2 wall.

Under the caution all but 3 lead lap cars came to pit road for tires and adjustments. This put Jimmy Blewett into the lead with Coby second and Gallup third for the restart. Silk was the first car off of pit road and he would restart fourth with Buddy Charette fifth, Hirschman sixth, Williams seventh, Preece eighth, Christopher ninth, and Pitkat tenth.

On the restart, Pitkat came to a stop in turn 1 to bring the caution right back out. The second lap-57 restart saw Blewett take the lead with Coby in second. Preece shot up to third with Silk fourth and Hirschman fifth. The caution flew again with 57 laps complete as Andrew Molleur, Bobby Labonte, Todd Owen, and Nocella spun through the frontstretch grass. Blewett held off a charge from Preece to maintain the lead on the lap-58 restart but Preece edged his nose in front of Blewett on lap-59 to take over the lead just before the caution came back out for spins in turn 1 by Molleur, Hodgdon, Korner, Owen, Jack Ely, and Swanson.

Preece took the lead on the lap-60 restart with Hirschman on the prowl, taking second. With worn tires Blewett fell back to third with McKennedy fourth and Silk fifth. Williams and Christopher were side by side for sixth place with Williams getting clear on lap-61. Chuck Hossfeld was up to eighth with Eric Goodale ninth and Galko tenth. Hirschman was stalking Preece for the lead, nearly taking the lead several times but he was unable to complete a pass as the leaders clicked off lap-70 and had 30 laps to go.

Hirschman continued to pressure Preece for the lead and he was finally able to complete a pass on lap-78 to retake the lead. Blewett was still third with Silk and Williams making up the top-5. McKennedy was sixth followed by Christopher, Galko, Hossfeld, and Goodale.

The epic battle began as Hirschman and Preece began to encounter lapped traffic with 15 laps to go but the traffic didn’t slow either car down as they stayed glued together as they navigated their way through. With 10 laps to go, Hirschman had a lead of several car lengths over Preece with more lapped cars just in front of them. The action was slowed by the caution flag with 95 laps complete for Charette and Ely, who both spun in turn 2.

Preece was able to beat Hirschman to the line by a nose on the restart to take the lead on lap-96 and just as they completed the lap, the caution came back out for Owen and Pasteryak, who came together and spun on the frontstretch. On the restart, Hirschman took the lead on the outside of Preece but the field was only able to complete one lap before the caution came back out for a spin in turn 1 by Korner.

Hirschman again took the lead on the restart with Preece getting sideways in trying to keep pace with Hirschman. Hirschman led Preece to the checkered flag to win the 50th Annual NAPA Spring Sizzler®. Silk finished third with Williams and Blewett rounding out the top-5. Sixth thru tenth included Matt Galko, Chase Dowling, Michael Christopher, Jr., Jon McKennedy and Craig Lutz.

For his efforts, Hirschman earned $15,000 for the victory. He also made $4,000 in contingency bonuses and $6,450 in lap money for leading 43 laps for a total of $25,450 for the event. He also earned $1,150 for his third place finish in his qualifying race Saturday to kick his weekend total to $26,600. As a bonus, he also earned a starting spot with the SRX Series when the division runs its second event at Stafford on July 2.

Over-all the Arute family hit a home run and the FloRacing.coverage was great.

July 5, 1968 Bugsy Stevens, who had won the night before at the Catamount Stadium in Milton, Vermont, won the Memorial Day 100. Fred Harbach finished second and was followed by Smokey Boutwell, Leo Cleary and Frank Faria.

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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