Column Compiled By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WESTERLY, RI – For the second week in a row it was so ungodly hot and humid that you could almost hear yourself sweat at the Stafford Motor Speedway where they hosted the biggest and richest SK Modified® race of the 2022 season on Friday, August 5 with the 9th Annual NAPA Auto Parts SK 5k.
A draw just prior to the start of the race determined the feature distance would be either 60, 70, or 80 laps and the 80 lap number was drawn by NAPA rep Bruce Pinto. Marcello Rufrano scored his first career SK Modified® victory in the biggest race of the season.
Rufrano’s win gave him a payday of $5,725 in purse and contingency money from total posted awards of over $35,000. Other feature wins on the night were scored by Tom Fearn in the Late Model feature, his 59th, Tyler Alkas in the SK Light feature, his first ever, Jeremy Lavoie in the Limited Late Model feature, and Travis Downey in the Street Stock feature.
In the 80-lap NAPA Auto Parts SK 5K feature event, Jon Puleo took the lead at the start of the race with Dan Wesson taking second. Mikey Flynn was third followed by Cory DiMatteo and Michael Christopher, Jr. Christopher went around DiMatteo to take fourth on lap-4with Marcello Rufrano, who started 10th, taking fifth to drop DiMatteo back to sixth as up front, Wesson took the lead from Puleo on lap-5. Flynn moved up to second with Flynn third as Puleo slid back to seventh place. Ronnie Williams was fourth with Todd Owen in fifth and Stephen Kopcik up to sixth.
Rufrano took the lead from Wesson lap-12 with Williams and Flynn side by side for third, just in front of fifth place Owen. The caution flag flew with 14 laps complete for DiMatteo, who came to a rest against the turn 2 wall with a flat right front tire. On the restart Rufrano bolted into the lead with Wesson in second. Owen went by Williams on lap-18 to move into third with Flynn holding the fifth position. The caution came back out with 22 laps complete for spins on the backstretch by Noah Korner and R.J. Marcotte and a spin in turn 4 by Williams. Bryan Narducci was sent to the rear for over aggressive driving after he hit Williams.
Rufrano continued to hold the lead on the restart but the caution came back out for a multi-car wreck in turn 1 with 24 laps complete when Stephen Kopcik and Wesson touched wheels, which sent Wesson into the turn 1 wall and collected the car of Flynn as well as several others. Kopsic and Wesson were involved in a brief scuffle following the encounter.
Rufrano held off a challenge from Owen on the restart to maintain the lead. Keith Rocco, who started 11th was now up to third behind Rufrano and Owen with Puleo in fourth with Christopher and David Arute dueling for fifth place. Arute took to the high groove to get by Christopher and take over fifth place on lap-28 while Owen was applying heavy pressure to Rufrano for the lead. Owen was finally able to make a pass on Rufrano to move into the lead with a pass coming out of turn 4 on lap-33. The caution came back out with 36 laps complete as Korner got into the turn 1 wall. RJ Marcotte was black-flagged for over aggressive driving.
Rufrano took the lead from Owen on the restart with Rocco moving into second. Owen was locked in a side-by-side duel with Puleo for third with Tyler Hines up to fifth place. With 50 laps on the board, Rufrano continued to hold the race lead with Rocco still in hot pursuit. Owen was third in line with Hines fourth and David Arute in fifth. Anthony Bello was in sixth place, followed by Puleo, Andrew Molleur, Michael Gervais, Jr., and Anthony Flannery. With 20 laps to go, the top-5 remained the same with Rufrano having stretched out his lead over Rocco to several car lengths. Owen took second place from Owen on lap-68 but he was 1.5 seconds behind Rufrano in the fight for the lead. Owen couldn’t close the gap to Rufrano over the final 12 laps as Rufrano scored his first career SK Modified® victory in the biggest race of the season. Rocco finished third with Hines and Arute rounding out the top-5.
At the New London-Waterford Speedbowl on Saturday night the Tri Track Open Modified Series drew 44 Modifieds and a packed house on an extremely hot and steamy night. Dana DiMatteo was a surprise winner in what came down to a green-white checkered finish over Mike Christopher Jr and Kyle Bonsignore, Ryan Preece and Woody Pitkat rounded out the top five. Sixth thru tenth were Andrew Molleur, Max Zachem, Matt Hirschman, Matt Swanson and Teddy Hodgdon.
In SK Modified action at the shoreline oval Andrew Molleur took the win overTodd Owen, Dana DiMatteo, Rob Janovic and Eric Berndt.
Across the big pond at the Riverhead Raceway on Long Island, despite being under the weather during the week, Dylan Slepian of Dix Hills felt just fine Saturday at Riverhead Raceway once strapped into his NASCAR Modified. He felt even better at the end of 50-laps after executing a late race outside pass of Jack Handley Jr. of Medford to score his second win of the season. In the companion Sare Sylvester Memorial INEX Legend Race Car National Qualifier controversy reined after four of the top five finishers were DQ’D in post race tech. Cam Bolin of Sharon, NC who crossed the line second was declared the race winner, his third win in as many starts at Riverhead. An astounding 170 cars took part in the action Saturday.
Down in the southland, the North Wilkesboro Speedway in North Carolina which had all but abandoned for many years came alive last Tuesday thanks to the efforts of many including Dale Earnhardt Jr., Marcus Smith of Speedway Motorsports and promoter Barry Braun of XR Events.
Thirty three Modifieds were on hand in front of a packed front stretch grandstand. Ryan Newman took the win over Spencer Davis and Matt Hirschman. Ryan Preece and Burt Myers rounded out the top five. Sixth thru tenth included Tom Buzze, Jimmy Blewett, Brandon Ward, Brian Loftin and Max Zachem.
The extremely abrasive surface at North Wilkesboro produced pack race with everyone racing two-by-two in the pursuit of making their tires last through lap 50. The exception was Spencer Davis, who was penalized for pouring ice water on their right rear after time trials, a misunderstanding from NASCAR rules to what is allowed in the SMART Tour.
As a result of the penalty, Davis had to drive through the 33-car field but was leading by Lap 8. He led the most laps until he was overtaken by Ryan Preece on lap 35. But Preece couldn’t hold it and was back to fourth two laps later. Davis would again hold the lead through Lap 44 when he was passed by Newman, who would lead the final six laps to score the first win at North Wilkesboro in a decade.
Matt Hirschman won the Tour Type Modified finale at North Wilkesboro Speedway on Wednesday night. The victory was the 34th different track ‘Big Money Matt’ has driven a car to Victory Lane on but this one was especially rewarding due to how unlikely it seemed over the past decade. Brian Loftin finished second with Bobby Labonte, third. Rounding out the top five were Ryan Preece and Burt Myers. Sixth thru tenth included Spencer Davis, Max Zachem, Max McLaughlin, Jimmy Blewett and Jonathan Brown.
Hirschman led the most laps from the pole, briefly losing the top spot to Spencer Davis on Lap 6 before regaining it on Lap 10. Bobby Labonte ran second to Hirschman for much of the race before getting passed by a hard charging Brian Loftin. After a frustrating debut event finish, Labonte was proud to have a competitive showing at a track where he’s enjoyed NASCAR success.
Ryan Preece posted fourth place finishes on both nights and believes he was much better on Wednesday than Tuesday if not for a flat right rear dropping him from the mix in the closing laps. Both nights of racing played to a full front stretch grandstand.
At the Bowman Gray Stadium Burt Myers won his 87th career race, a 100 lapper, second most to Tim Brown’s 94 wins. Brown has been stuck on 94 wins since late July of last year. On the previous six restarts, Brown was clean and quick and stayed out in front, but Myers finally got door to door on the seventh caution. On turn 2 after the green flag, Myers got around Brown on the outside. As Brown continues to search for that first win, he’s still in good shape to win his 12th points championship.
Winning the Fans Challenge and an extra $3,000 was John Holloman, who battled from the rear of the field to finish fourth. Danny Bohn wound up third.
It almost seems like Officials from the American-Canadian Tour (ACT) and Pro All Stars Series (PASS) are trying to commit promotional suicide as they have announced the full schedule of events for the Thompson Speedway mid-week Doubleheader on Tuesday, August 16th and Wednesday August 17th. Twisted Tea Tuesday will feature twin-50 lap special events for the Sunoco Modifieds and a Street Stock/Limited Sportsman Open along with Night #1 of the new SK Lite Modified Double Down Showdown, a $300-to-Win Mini Stock feature and Fireworks to cap the night! Wednesday brings the return of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour for the Phoenix Communications 150 along with Night #2 of the SK Lite Double Down Showdown with ACT-type Late Models and Limited Sportsman.
The Twisted Tea Tuesday Night Special is headlined by the $3,000-to-Win Sunoco Modified 50 Lap barnburner with Sunoco Modified Masters Keith Rocco, Todd Owen and Stephen Kopcik expected to bring down the house in the extra distance, extra money extravaganza. The Sunoco Modified 50-lap purse also features a $1,500 prize for the second-place finisher, $1,200 to third and $400 to start. Also on the docket will be a $1,500-to-Win, 50-lap Street Stock Open Competition event as the local Limited Sportsman defend their home turf from New England Street Stock invaders for the long-distance cash prize.
As if two specials weren’t enough, the SK Lites are on schedule with an all-new Double Down Showdown – 30-Lap feature events on both Tuesday and Wednesday of the Midweek Doubleheader, each paying $750-to-Win, double the normal weekly purse for the SK Lites! The fast and furious Thompson Mini Stocks will also be featured on the Twisted Tea Tuesday schedule with a $300-to-Win, 25-lap feature as Kevin Moore leads the war over defending champion Jared Roy. An epic Fireworks presentation will round out Night #1! Pit Gates will open at 3:00pm with Grandstands Open and Practice Starting at 5:00pm Tuesday. Post Time is set for 7:00pm with General Admission set at $25 for adults, $10 for kids 6-12 and kids 5 and under are free.
Wednesday, August 17th brings the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour back to Northeast Connecticut for the Phoenix Communications 150! Alongside the Touring Modified stars will be the Championship event for the SK Lite Modified Double Down Showdown with another $750 at stake for the winner. There is also a $1,000 Point Fund for the top three SK Lites who total the most points in the two 30-Lap events with $500 going to the Double Down Showdown Champion, $300 to the runner up and $200 to the third-place finisher in final points.
Wednesday will also feature the ACT-type Late Models and Thompson Limited Sportsman as they continue their 2022 Track Championship battles for the large crowd expected to witness the return of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour! Full race day schedule will be released upon confirmation from NASCAR. General Admission is set at $40 for adults, $15 for kids 6-12 and kids 5 and under are free! The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour event will be live streamed on FloRacing.
On a sad note reported by JAYSKI, Buddy Arrington, a longtime independent racer who competed in the NASCAR Cup Series throughout the 1960s, 70s and 80s, has died at the age of 84. A native of Southern Virginia and one of NASCAR’s last true independents who both owned and drove his cars, Arrington became famous for his extreme loyalty to Mopar cars and engines, as well as his very recognizable red and blue No. 67. Making his debut in 1963, Arrington raced throughout the next 25 years on a limited budget and with a volunteer crew, financing his racing career through various occupations: Arrington worked as a tobacco farmer, as a used car salesman and even had a stint as a moonshiner.
With the cooperation of the Arute family a book has been published with pictures and biographies of the 50 Greatest Drivers at Stafford.
The Stafford Motor Speedway had become the epicenter of NASCAR Modified racing in the northeast by the late 1980’s. From its dirt beginnings to its lightning fast asphalt, Stafford had become the toughest and most gratifying track to score a victory. The Arute family which has owned and guided the destiny of the facility commissioned their thousands of loyal fans to name their favorite drivers. In alphabetical order so as not to offend anyone.
Tom Baldwin, Gene Bergin, Brett Bodine, Geoff Bodine, Ken Bouchard, Ron Bouchard, Mario “Fats” Caruso, Rene Charland, Ted Christopher, Leo Cleary, Tim Connolly, Jerry Cook, Corky Cookman, Pete Corey, Fred DeSarro, Richie Evans, Mike Ewanitsko, Ed Flemke, Sr., Jeff Fuller, Rick Fuller, Ernie Gahan, Bill Greco, Bo Gunning, Ray Hendrick, George “Moose” Hewitt, Tony Hirschman, George Janoski, Charlie Jarzombek, George Kent, Buddy Krebs, Randy LaJoie, Jan Leaty, Jerry Marquis, Mike McLaughlin, Ray Miller, Steve Park, Bob Polverari, Bob Potter, Brian Ross, John “Reggie” Ruggiero, Greg Sacks, Ollie Silva, “Wild” Bill Slater, Jimmy Spencer, Mike Stefanik, Carl “Bugsy” Stevens, George Summers, Jamie “The Jet” Tomaino, Maynard Troyer and Satch Worley.
Books are priced at $17.95 each and be purchased at the track at the Novelty Booth or at the Stafford Motor Speedway on line store. Books are also available at Amazon.com and at Coastal181 (877-907-8181.