RPW Column: The Champ Trail; NASCAR Mod Tour Returns To Thompson, Great Racing At Stafford, Bowman Gray & More…
Column Compiled By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WESTERLY, RI – It was an interesting week at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park. Wednesday’s return of the NASCAR Modifieds was postponed due to a forecast of rain and rescheduled to Thursday.
On Tuesday evening, the Sunoco Modifieds went the 40 lap distance non-stop. Stephen Kopcik made it three in a row after he took the lead from Troy Talman on lap 25. Talman finished second with Todd Owen, third. Other winners were Kevin Moore in the Mini’s, John O’Sullivan in the SK Lights and Paul Newcomb in the Strictly Stocks.
The skies were clear on Thursday as twenty-four Whelen Modified Tour entries came thru the Thompson pit gate. With a good crowd on hand, the Long Island gang led a one two finish as Craig Lutz and Eric Goodale finished the event in the top spots. Doug Coby finished third. Earlier in the evening Jimmy Blewett in the Tommy Baldwin 7ny took the pole position with a 19.073 second tour around the 5/8 mile oval. Ron Silk was second fastest with Lutz, third.
Blewett led the field to green with Ron Williams jumping into the second spot followed by Eric Goodale. Blewetts time in the spotlight didn’t last as Justin Bonsignore took the lead in turn two on lap 2. Williams took his turn at the point on lap 4 but by lap 7 Lutz was in control.
The race settled down until the first caution was displayed on lap 59 when the lapped car of Gary McDonald spun to the infield grass after contact with Goodale who was running third at the time. Most of the leaders with the exception of Lutz and John McKennedy pitted for tires. The green was displayed on lap 67 with Lutz in the lead followed by McKennedy, Blewett and Ron Silk. Yellow fever continued as Walt Sutcliff spun off the backstretch. The green was displayed onlap 73 with Goodale on the point followed by McKennedy and Ron Silk.
Caution no.3 flew on lap 76 when Tyler Rypkema hit Doug Coby who hit Andrew Krause. Williams and Dave Sapienza were also involved. The lap 81 restart saw McKennedy in the lead followed by Blewett and Silk. One lap later on lap 82 Krause, JD Fortin and Dave Sapienza were eliminated in a grinding wreck in turn 4 for caution #4. The field went green on lap 90. By the time they reached turn 2 Blewett was in the lead. Caution #5 flew on lap 91. Silk, who was running third, hit McKennedy who was running second. As McKennedy was sliding Silk rode over his left rear and went airborne. Silk suffered flat tires on the left front and right rear. Both were able to drive away. Tommy Catalano led the restart on lap 98 with Austin Beers on his tail. One lap later Lutz was back on the point.
Caution #6 waved on lap 100. Jimmy Blewett was the meat in the sandwich with Doug Coby on the bottom. In turn 3. The two bumped each other on the front chute and Blewett sailed into the front stretch wall, shearing the right front tire and suspension which sailed over the wall. Both drivers blamed each other. Blewett, who is slated to be Coby’s crew chief at Oswego said a pay-back is coming. Car owner Tommy Baldwin was extremely mad over the entire situation. The race resumed on lap 106 with Lutz leading Catalano, Beers and Ryan Preece. Preece, who was pinch hitting for Bob Santos, was on the move as he took over second with Goodale, Coby and Donny Lia following. The seventh caution flew on lap 138. McKennedy pinched Silk into the wall. Silk had nerf bar and body damage and had to pit for repairs. On the restart Donny Lia and Beers came together in turn 2. Both cars were damaged. The green flew for the final time on lap 143. Lutz opened up a good lead and romped home with the win. Eric Goodale finished second with Doug Coby, third. Jon McKennedy and Justin Bonsignore rounded out the top five. Sixth thru tenth included Ryan Preece, Kyle Bonsignore, Timmy Solomito, Patrick Emerling and Spencer Davis.
In other action at Thompson on Thursday Woody Pitkat won the Late Model event which happened to be his 50th career victory at Thompson. Ryan Morgan finished second. Corey Fanning won the the 20-lap Limited Sportsman feature.
Stafford Speedway had a big night under the stars. In addition to their regular weekly program the Open Competition Modifieds returned for the Lincoln Tech 80 lap. Prior to the start of the night;s program the speedway management conducted a Moment of Silence to honor the passing of car owner and long time supporter of the track, Art Barry. Very fitting!
Ronnie Williams scored his second win of the season in the SK Modified® feature, Adam Gray notched his sixth win of 2022 in the Late Model feature, Alexander Pearl took down his third win of 2022 in the SK Light feature, Jeremy Lavoie was also a winner for the third time in 2022 in the Limited Late Model feature, and Travis Downey became a 3-time winner this season in the Street Stock feature.
Williams started sixth in the 40 lap SK Modified feature and wasted little time as he took the lead in turn 3 on lap three from Troy Talman.. Talman. pressured Williams over the entire distance and finished a close second. It was the 21st career win at Stafford for Williams. Bryan Narducci finished third and was followed by Jon Puleo and Cory DiMatteo.
In the SK Light 20 lapper, Pearl led Tyler Chapman to the checkered flag to pick up his third win of the 2022 season. Nick Anglace finished third with Jason Chapman and Amanda West rounding out the top-5.
Open Modified cars, 31 of them, returned to Stafford for their fifth and final visit of the 2022 season for the Lincoln Tech 80. Woody Pitkat held off a furious challenge from Ryan Preece over the final 5 laps of the race to win the Lincoln Tech 80, his third consecutive Open Modified win at Stafford. Preece tried every trick in the book to pass Pitkat but to no avail and in the end settled for second. Williams capped off a successful night as he finished third with Teddy Hodgdon and Matt Swanson rounding out the top-5.
Mike Christopher Jr, one of the pre-race favorites started off strong and had taken the lead from early leader Ryan Preece on lap three only to drop out following a restart on lap 5 with fuel delivery problems and was forced to park the Tommy Baldwin 7ny for the night. Max Zachem, another pre-race favorite had his night cut short with electrical problems. Keith Rocco had his luck run out when he was collected in a wreck on lap five and was forced to park it with front end damage. Eric Goodale had his engine go sour on lap 35.
Pitkat’s win, his 81st at Stafford puts him second on the all-time winner’s list behind the late Ted Christopher.
Down on the Connecticut shoreline at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl Timmy Jordan was the SK Modified winner in a race held over from May 14. Todd Owen finished second with Eric Berndt, third.
Across the big pond at the Riverhead Raceway on Long Island, Chris Turbush won the Bubba 150 over Kyle Soped and Dylan Slepian. Mike Christopher Jr finished fourth. Turbush was penalized earlier in the race for rough driving after contact with another competitor. Instead of throwing in the towel Turbush and his team pulled up their bootstraps went to work and drove back to the front for the win.
Down in the southland at the Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem NC the historic track ended their season with a 150-lap double points event. Jason Myers led all 150 laps to score the win as a capacity crowd of 14,000 looked on. Burt Myers was second. Tim Brown finished third and wrapped up his 12th track championship.
On a sad note, legendary car owner Art Barry passed away on Tuesday, August 16. Barry dedicated his adult life to building Modifieds. For close to 60 years Barry’s cars were some of the best looking and highly competitive Modifieds.
The one driver that Barry really wanted was the late Fred DeSarro. DeSarro actually drove the Barry #09 coupe once, that being at the Pocono Raceway in 1973. Bobby Santos Sr was driving for Barry but was having problems getting around on the tricky ¾ mile oval. DeSarro, who had parked the Len Boehler #3 after its engine soured, was asked to drive the Barry car. After changing the steering wheel and a few tweeks to the chassis DeSarro started in the rear and was headed to the front of the field when the water pump seized, putting him out of the event. For the remainder of the year Barry left the car the way DeSarro had set it up. Santos remained as Barry’s driver and ended up with many big wins that Fall including those at Lancaster, Martinsville and at the Albany-Saratoga Speedway. His cars also scored victories in some of the sport’s biggest events, including the Stafford Speedway Spring Sizzler, the Thompson Speedway 300 and at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Among his many drivers were, in addition to Santos and DeSarro were Ed Flemke Sr., Leo Cleary, George Summers, Bob Potter, Bobby Santos Sr., Mike McLaughlin, Mike Stefanik, Jeff Fuller, Rick Fuller, Mike Ewanitsko, Reggie Ruggiero, Brett Bodine, Greg Sacks, Justin Bonsignore and Jon McKennedy. Barry also fielded Modifieds for his son Ken Barry, who was the 2004 Whelen Modified Tour Rookie of the Year.
Barry won two NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour championships with Stefanik as his driver in 2001 and 2002. He also won Modified Racing Series championships with McKennedy in 2012 and Bonsignore in 2014. A crowning achievement was when he was inducted into the NEAR New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 2009.
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.