Column Compiled By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WESTERLY, RI – Seventy five years ago in 1947, racing history was made in Rhode Island. Noted writer Pete Zanardi tells it best: Lonsdale Arena, a relatively short-lived high-banked third-mile oval just outside Providence, Rhode Island, hosted one of the of the most important events in stock-car racing history on Oct. 26, 1947.
The late Bill Tuthill, the man who organized it, believed “it was the most significant stock-car race ever run.” The race, Tuthill said some 35 years later, “opened the way into the sport for everybody, and without it a lot of tracks that were built for midgets would have gone out of business.” Tuthill was a “midget guy,” part of the huge success the sport enjoyed. Still, he saw signs of trouble ahead. “Big money,” was taking over. He decided to see if stock cars, running with some success on the dirt in the South, could run on small asphalt midget tracks. Lonsdale, with its high banks and 34,000 seats, was the place to do it. Tuthill paid a young radio guy in Pawtucket, R.I., named Chris Schenkel (who went to national fame) $25 a week to help out and the Providence Journal didn’t hurt, especially when Rhode Island native Sammy Packard became the first entry.
When it became apparent Packard was the only entry, Tuthill called Bill France. France got involved and made the race part of his National Championship Stock Car circuit.
Buddy Shuman, the so-called “King of the Asphalt” signed on first and soon others followed. Race-day fans (an announced crowd of 9,000 paid $1.20 each) saw the likes of Fonty Flock, Red Byron and Junior Samples, all from the deep South, and Tommy Bradshaw, Tommy Coates and Pepper Cunningham, the latter New Jersey racers. Johnny Brunner, who went on to a long relationship with NASCAR, was the flagman. Byron won the pole with an 18.5 second run on Saturday with Samples and Shuman posting identical 19.1 runs for second fastest. Shuman beat Byron in the first heat,with Samples and Cunningham also winning heats. “Pickles” Bicklehaupt won the consi and Long Islander Bill Frick won the “New England Championship” race. Flock jumped to an early lead and never gave it up in the 30-lap headliner, claiming $625 from the $3,500 purse. He also gained momentum toward the 1947 NCSCC championship. Shuman, Samples, Byron and Bradshaw followed at the checkered flag.
“I remember being very surprised [learning the] crowd figure. I suspected it then and I still suspect that figure. I believe we had more people,” Tuthill told this reporter in 1980.
France and Tuthill split the $1,100 profit.
Lonsdale Sports Arena was a high-banked 1/3 mile high-banked paved oval located two miles north of Pawtucket, Rhode Island on Mendon Road in Cumberland, Rhode Island, on the banks of the Blackstone River. The track operated from 1947 to 1956. Ironically, its location near the river would prove a key factor in its ultimate demise. The Stop & Shop plaza now occupies where Lonsdale was.
The Lonsdale Arena hosted racing until 1956 when the nearby Blackstone River overflowed its banks and carried away much of the backstretch and third turn. The track was never rebuilt. The Wall Stadium, in New Jersey, is patterned after now gone Lonsdale Arena.
Seventy years ago in 1952 Jim Holt won the season ending 50 lap Sportsman feature at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl. Big Butch Caswell was the Claiming Car winner.
Forty five years ago, in 1977, the Monadnock Speedway hosted a 100 lap, open-competition event. Dynamite Ollie Silva was the class of the field as he cleaned house on this cool fall day. Ray Miller finished second with Reggie Ruggiero, Bugsy Stevens and John Rosati rounding out the top five. Little did anyone know, Silva’s racing career would come to an end the following year at the Winchester, New Hampshire track when his car flew off the back stretch and hit a tree. The NASCAR Modifieds ran a special event at Kingsport, Tenn. Ronnie Bouchard took the win over Jerry Cook, Paul Radford, Wayne Anderson, Roger Hill and Bob Park.
Forty years ago, in 1982, It was all-quiet on the racing front. The Winston Cup division of NASCAR had a scheduled event at Rockingham, North Carolina but because of rain, had to be postponed to the end of the month which would conflict with the season ending Cardinal 500 at Martinsville.
Thirty five years ago, in 1987, the NASCAR Modifieds were in Rougemont, North Carolina. Jeff Fuller, driving the Art Barry No.21 took the win over Bugsy Stevens, Jim Spencer, Mike Mclaughlin, Dave Reszendes, Jay Hedgecock and Tom Baldwin. The Waterford Speedbowl ran their season ender with Bob Potter taking a 100 lap win over Dickie Doo Ceravolo, Ronnie Rocco, John Anderson, Dale Holdredge and Jerry Pearl. C.J. Freye was the Late Model winner.
Thirty Years ago, in 1992, it was all quiet as teams were making preparations for the season ending World Series.
Twenty five years ago, in 1997, Waterford’s final program was rained out. Todd Ceravolo was declared the Modified track champion. At the Lee Octoberfest, Tucker Reynolds won the modified portion. Ted Christopher finished second and was followed by Charlie Pasteryak, David Berghman and Jeff Pearl. At Rockingham, N.C., Mark Martin scored his 32nd Grand National win and broke the record that had previously been held by Jack Ingram. Martin took the lead from Ricky Craven on lap 184 of the 197-lap grind. Dick Trickle finished second with Craven, third. Randy LaJoie finished 20th on the lead lap and sewed up the division championship. It was also on this weekend last year that Bob O’Rourke, long time Nascar Track Steward on Long Island, died after a long bout with cancer.
Twenty years ago in 2002, The NASCAR Featherlite Modified Tour was at the Thompson Speedway last weekend for the season ending World Series. Heavy rain washed out qualifying which had to be re-scheduled to Sunday. Ted Christopher was the fastest of the fifty-two Modifieds on hand. The top ten re-drew for starting spots with Jerry Marquis picking the pole and Charlie Pasteryak, the outside pole. Marquis led the start. The first of only two yellows occurred on lap four when Bo Gunning became the first casualty when he wrecked in turn four. Marqius led the re-start. Christopher, who started third, moved into second spot with John Blewett III in third spot. The second yellow occurred on lap seven when a mass tangle unfolded in turn four, which collected nine cars. Martinsville winner L.W Miller ended up in the wall with heavy front-end damage. Also in the mix was Ricky Fuller who sustained front end and nerf bar damage. Fuller had been second in points behind Mike Stefanik and had been the center of attention as many thought that a confrontation with Ted Christopher was in the making. Marquis again led the restart but held on for only one lap before being overtaken by Ted Christopher. Christopher’s time on the point was short as Blewett powered by one lap later and never looked back. Running at a torrid pace, Blewett lapped all but the top six when he took the checkered flag. Chuck Hossfeld, who got within striking distance a few times, has to settle for second. Christopher ended up third and was followed by Charlie Pasteryak, Nevin George and Marquis, in the lead lap. Rounding out the top ten were Ed Flemke Jr, Chris Kopec, Mike Stefanik and Zach Sylvester. Stefanik, who complained about a bouncing tire, garnered enough points to secure his sixth Featherlite Modified Tour Series Title.
The Busch North Series finally dodged the raindrops enough to finish their season at Lime Rock where Dennis Doyle got his first win. Andy Santerre garnered enough points to take the title by nine points over Matt Kobyluck. The event, which had been delayed and shortened by rain, was stopped 10 minutes before the track’s noise curfew took effect.
The World Series at Thompson drew a total of 653 racecars. It was a marathon session on Sunday that started at noon and lasted 11-1/2 hours when the final event was run. All things considered with the amounts of cars and divisions the speedway management did an outstanding job of keeping the show rolling. High attrition for the supers was evident as 13 of the original 30 starters completed the 50-lap contest. Russ Wood took the win and recorded his sixth ISMA championship. Bo Gunning won the SK/Sunoco Modified 25 lapper that saw 40 cars start. Pre-race favorite Ted Christopher lost an engine.
Fifteen years ago in 2007, NASCAR finally got around to updating the Whelen Modified Tour Series point standings. Donnie Lia ended the season in the top spot despite the fact that he dropped out of the season ending World Series at Thompson with a blown engine. Lia had sewed up the title after the Stafford event. In 16 events Lia scored 13 top tens, which included six wins. His season winning total is $83,800. Todd Szegedy ended up in second spot, 180 points behind. Szegedy, in 16 events, scored 11 top tens, which included two wins which brought his season totals to $60,225. Although winless Matt Hirschman used consistency in order to finish up third in the final standings. In 16 events the second-generation racer recorded 11 top tens which included five top fives. Ronnie Silk with one win and Ted Christopher with one win rounded out the top five. Sixth through tenth were James Civali with three wins, Mike Stefanik with one win, Jimmy Blewett with one win, Jamie Tomaino and Eddie Flemke JR.
Jimmie Johnson won the wreck marred Nextel Cup event at the Atlanta Motor Speedway. Carl Edwards, who had not been a factor most of the race, wound up second He was followed by Reed Sorenson, Matt Kenseth, Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer. David Reutimann dominated a crash-filled race and survived a green-white-checker finish at Memphis to win the Sam’s Town 250 for his first career Busch Series win. Mike Bliss finished second followed by David Ragan Marcos Ambrose, Jason Leffler, Scott Wimmer, Jamie McMurray, Jason Keller, Brad Keselowski, and Brian Keselowski. Points leader Carl Edwards was caught in a spin on the last lap and finished 25th.
Ten years ago in 2012, The Waterford Speedbowl closed out their season and championships were decided in both the SK Modified and Street Stock events. Jeff Rocco, twin brother to Keith Rocco, took his first career victory in the 50-lap SK Modified race while Tyler Chadwick of Ledyard secured his first ever Speedbowl title in the division. Walt Hovey left no doubt in the Street Stocks, winning both the race and the track championship. Also winning races Saturday were Bruce Thomas Jr in the Late Models and Ken Cassidy Jr. in the Mini Stocks.
Rocco was the man to beat once he made his way into the race lead. Craig Lutz started in the pole position and led through a lap 3 restart. Lutz gave way to Kyle James while Rocco moved into second position. Another caution on lap 5 enabled Rocco to line up alongside James for the ensuing restart. Rocco powered past James when racing resumed, leading lap 6. Rocco survived four more restarts the rest of the way.
Todd Ceravolo finished out the year on a high note, finished second to Rocco in the SK Modified race while Shawn Monahan came from the rear to finish third. Jeff Rocco is the twin brother of two-time track champion Keith Rocco. Chadwick began the event with a 21-point lead over Jeff Pearl. He finished the race ninth, running a cautious race to stay out of trouble and claim the crown.
Thomas led throughout the Late Model race, with Jeff Smith finishing second and Dillon Moltz the champion in the division, finishing third.
Hovey rose to the lead on lap 24 in the Street Stocks race then survived multiple caution flags over the remainder of the race. Corey Hutchings was second and Chris Meyer came in third. Cassidy resumed the final 28 laps of the Mini Stock race from a lead he held back on October 7th when rain halted the race. Ray Christian III of Norwich was second and Jeff Cembruch finished third. Cassidy’s victory was his 12th of the year in the division, good for the all-time single season record in division wins.
On a sad note Auto Racing lost a true friend with the passing of Charlie Mitchell. Charlie was well known and highly respected by his peers for his writing in the Norwalk (CT) Hour. Charlie was the dean of New England racing writers. The respect he had from competitors, from promoters, from fans and, especially from other media members, remains unparalleled. Having Charlie in the press box signified that it was indeed an event worthy of coverage. He brought the skills he used covering other sports to auto racing. He was one of a tiny group that was instrumental in making our sport part of the general media scene. In that regard, he was a revolutionary figure in New England auto racing history.
In NASCAR Sprint Cup racing at the Martinsville Speedway, Jimmie Johnson started from the pole and dominated the race, leading 191 of the 500 laps en route to his seventh victory at the historic .526-mile asphalt oval. However, the victory didn’t come easy.
Jeff Gordon was attempting to work his way around Johnson when the caution flag waved on lap 474 when Kevin Harvick’s engine expired. All of the lead-lap cars pitted under caution except championship leader Brad Keselowski and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Johnson restarted third behind Keselowski and Earnhardt and quickly drove his way around both drivers, retaking the lead on lap 485. On lap 491 the final caution flag of the day waved when Carl Edwards and Earnhardt spun in turn two, giving second-place Kyle Busch one final shot at Johnson.
The field returned to green-flag racing with five laps left and Johnson quickly pulled into the lead with Busch in hot pursuit. Busch gave it everything he could, but Johnson was able to hold on for the victory.
The Nationwide Series was off for the weekend.
Five years ago in 2017, Two major storms enveloped the New England weekend. On came in the form of a ‘noreaster which came up from the south, dumping tons of rain. The other storm came from North Hampton, Pa. In the form of Matt Hirschman who won an excitement filled Tri-Track Open Haunted 100 at the Seekonk Speedway. Prior to the event at Seekonk race officials announced a bounty of $1,500 to anyone who beat the high-flying king of the Big Money events.
With 39 Modifieds on hand an afternoon of high caliber racing was the order of the day. Twenty six went to post with Ron Silk on the pole and Steve Masse on the outside. Hirschman started a distant 14th and Anthony Nocella, sixth. Pitkat led until just past the ¼ mark at lap 29 when Russ Hersey took the top spot. Hirschman had broke into the top ten and was running 8th. Two laps later when Richard Savory spun Hirschman had moved into the sixth spot. At the half way mark Hersey continued to lead. Silk was running second with Rowan Pennink, third. Johnny Kay was fourth as Hirschman broke into the top five. By lap 58, Kay had slipped out of the top five as Anthony Nocella moved into the fifth spot.
Ryan Preece, who was having an off day, spun for the second time on lap 69 as Hirschman moved into the second spot. By lap 83 Nocella was third. A caution on lap 90 when Blake Barney stopped in turn four, set the stage for some intense racing and exciting finish.
When the green flag was shown on lap 91, Hirschman got a big bump, taking the lead for the first time. Nocella moved into the second spot. By lap 94: Hirschman’s lead was about a car length over Nocella. As the laps clicked off Nocella closed to within inches off the leader’s bumper. On lap 97 Nocella stuck his nose low and found enough room to go side by side for the lead. With two to go, Nocella inched his way into the lead. Not to be denied, Hirschman pulled off a cross-over on the white flag lap. They touched but didn’t spin. Hirschman crossed the finish line in the top spot and recorded the victory.
Rowan Pennink finished third and was followed by Richard Savory and Les Hinkley. Sixth thru tenth were Steve Masse, Andrew Krause, Keith Rocco, Ron Frees and Chris Pasteryak.
What appeared to be Chase Elliott’s race to win Sunday night at Martinsville Speedway devolved into a twisted, steaming mess of unmitigated chaos in the final laps.
Ultimately it was Kyle Busch who survived a knock-down, drag-out slugfest in the First Data 500, punching his ticket to the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway by way of a thrilling last-lap pass for the victory.
Elliott was the unrivaled favorite as the final third of the race wore on and the lights came to life at the Virginia half-mile, powering inside of then-leader Brad Keselowski in turns three and four with 115 laps left and opening up a commanding margin at several points during the closing stages.
Keselowski chose the outside for a four-lap dash and restarted with Elliott alongside.
Keselowski hoped that he would be able to use the rubbered-in groove on the top of the track to clear Elliott when the green flag waved, but the end result was anything but what he had planned on.
Elliott forced his way through turns one and two to stay alongside Keselowski before shoving him out of the groove going into turn three, taking over the top spot on lap 497 as Denny Hamlin moved into second behind Elliott.
When the field got back to the backstretch again, Hamlin sailed into turn three on Elliott’s back bumper as Elliott slowed for the corner, sending Elliott careening up the track and ultimately spinning the second-generation driver into the outside wall as a result. That ended Elliott’s chance for the win, but the madness still wasn’t over.
Hamlin restarted as the leader for an overtime attempt, with Busch alongside, but Busch stumbled on the restart and Hamlin got away cleanly for the lead. However, Hamlin got loose entering turn three and Busch was able to get back to his rear quarter-panel, narrowly missing leading at the white flag but being in the cat-bird’s seat going back into turn one.
Contact between the two teammates sent Hamlin wide in the center of the corner and allowed Busch to seize the lead, and though Martin Truex Jr. snuck inside Busch in turns three and four, Busch was able to power off the outside and get back to the checkered flag first as everyone from fifth on back crashed behind him.
On Nov. 4, George Summers would claim a permanent space in the North-East Motor Sports Museum in Loudon, New Hampshire as a living “Legend” in modified racing. After being inducted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 2000, and being put onto the Wall of Fame at the Seekonk Speedway, this, he said, is a humbling addition after 34 years off the circuit.
Summers was still the winningest driver at the Seekonk Speedway for the last 70 years of the track’s existence. For that impressive feat, among others, he is being honored, said museum president Dick Berggren.
In Summers’ career, on and off for NASCAR, he won more than 200 races, and more than 100 of them were at Seekonk. George was so good that certain tracks offered a “bounty” to defeat him; whoever did would earn a bonus.
“People who have participated in sports usually sort of wither away and people forget,” Berggren said. “But George’s career was so profound and so strong, he is hardly forgotten. He was respectful, successful, and very well liked.”
The museum opened in June and this is the first commemoration celebration the facility has held, meaning that, once again, Summers is ahead of the pack. “His career was long and profoundly successful,” Berggren said. “He raced against the best we had in this part of the world and he beat them, and he beat them often.”
Summers’ interest in cars started when he was young. At 12 years old, once school had let out for the day, he would head to the garage of Jack Griffin in downtown Upton. Griffin had a race car, and Summers couldn’t resist, he said.
“As soon as I got out of school I was down to the race car shop,” he laughed. Summers hung around with Griffin helping around the shop for years, and when he turned 17, he bought one of his own. Little did Summers know he would be racing for 31 more successful years. Sadly, his mentor Griffin, would lose his life in a racing accident at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl.
From 1952 to 1983, Summers watched cars become more advanced. The speeds became faster, the lanes tighter, but Summers never wavered. He embraced the evolution of racing that he witnessed, and succeeded because of it. “I had a wonderful career, and I met a lot of nice people,” he said. “It’s an honor to have all of these things that have happened.”
Summers has owned and operated a successfull trucking company for the last 50 years, and still works there. But after he put the brakes on his racing career for good in 1983, he wasn’t sure how to spend his free time. “When I quit racing, I didn’t know what the hell to do with myself, so I started playing golf,” he said. Among his other trophies for racing, sit three hole-in-one plaques, indicating that no matter what Summers does, he comes out on top. Among his many golfing partners were the late Leo Cleary and the late Ronnie Bouchard.
The success of former modified race car driver and Upton native George Summers, 82, is easy to gauge by taking a walk through his living room and basement. Hundreds of trophies sit on shelves while plaques and photographs fill the rest of the wall space.
Last year, 2021, The big news of the weekend was the fact that the Thompson Speedway will return to the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour schedule in 2022 with a Wednesday, Aug. 17, race. The Connecticut 5/8-mile track has hosted 148 Whelen Modified Tour races, starting in 1985.
Oval track promoters the American-Canadian Tour (ACT) and Pro All Stars Series (PASS) announced they had reached an agreement with NASCAR to host the Thompson 150 on Wednesday, August 17, 2022.
It will be the 149th time the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour has visited Thompson Speedway and the first since the 2020 Sunoco World Series 150, which was won by Craig Lutz.
It has previously announced that Whelen Modified Tour Series events will be held at the New Smyrna Speedway in Florida during Speedweek, Richmond International Speedway on April 1 and at Loudon on July 16.
This past weekend, Saturday, October 23, Seekonk Speedway roared back to life for the final time in 2021 with the return of the Haunted Hundred. The Saturday afternoon special, showcased the top stars from the Modifieds, Pro Stocks and Late Models from across New England with the Tri Track Open Modified Series, Pro All Star Series and American-Canadian Tour.
Thirty eight Modifieds made up the Tri-Track portion. Doug Coby, Dana DiMatteo, Ron Silk and Chase Dowling were the qualifying heat winners. Anthony Sesely and Tommy Catalano took the top spots in the two 15-lap consolation heats. Anthony Nocella got a provisional into the starting field to set the 27-car main event lineup. Pre-race favorite Matt Hirschman finished third in the fourth heat. Last years season ending event at Stafford drew 51 Modifieds.
Chase Dowling started at the front and never relinquished the top spot in a victorious afternoon. Dowling bested the field in the Tri Track Open Modified Series Haunted Hundred, outlasting 26 of the top Modified drivers in New England to score a $6,000 check in the season-finale. Dowling was one of few front-running cars that didn’t pit for a fresh tire during the race, while Ron Silk, who charged to finish second, pitted and raced through the field. Jake Johnson, in his debut in a Tour Modified, fought to third, while Matt Hirschman and Ronnie Williams finished the top-five.
While Dowling held the checkered flag, Matt Hirschman’s fourth-place finish was enough for him to hoist his sixth Tri Track championship. Hirschman entered the day needing to finish 17th or better to win the crown, but the Pennsylvania veteran did much better than that after a pit stop as he charged through the field in the late laps to get to the top-five, where he settled to win the crown. It’s the sixth time in eight years that Hirschman is the series champion.
Sixth thru tenth included Tommy Catalano, Max Zachem, Richard Savary, Matt Swanson and Dylan Izzo.
Dowling was originally slated to start fourth in the feature, but a spin of a wheel determined there would be a four-car invert, placing Dowling on the pole, and in control, for the 100-lap feature. He was also honored on Saturday for being the winner of the inaugural Call 811 Before You Dig Modified Challenge, worth $8,111, prior to the race.
Outside of the headliner, the American-Canadian Tour and Pro All Star Series also joined the Seekonk show to wrap the year in front of a packed house. Ben Rowe defeated DJ Shaw in a final lap dash to seal the win, and the championship, in the ACT 100. In the third Pro All Star Series race of the season at the third-mile, Johnny Clark made it two wins at Seekonk in 2021, storming by Angelo Belsito in the final laps to get the win.
Rowe gave the 30th American-Canadian Tour (ACT) Late Model season one of the most dramatic finishes in series history by passing D.J. Shaw on the final lap to win the Haunted Hundred at Massachusetts’ Seekonk Speedway on Saturday, October 23. Rowe rode the outside rim on a green-white-championship finish to beat his rival by 0.043 seconds for the win and by five points for the championship.
In Dirt track action in Middletown, NY at the Eastern States 200 at Orange County, where Matt Sheppard went three-for-four on the week, taking down the $40,000 victory to add to his two $5000 checks from Friday. Sheppard and second-place finisher Stewart Friesen battled intensely for the lead throughout the 200-lap race. Third place went to Mat Williamson in a borrowed ride after destroying his primary in a Friday night crash.
In NASCAR Cup action Kyle Larson did the heavy-lifting on Sunday, leading nine different times for a race-high 130 laps, ultimately crossing the finish line a hefty 3.619-seconds ahead of the field to earn a NASCAR Cup Series-best ninth win of the season (15th of his career) in the Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway. Ryan Preece finished 21st.
If all goes well and the catch fence is repaired the New London-Waterford Speedbowl will swing into action this coming weekend. The shoreline Connecticut track was scheduled to host its annual Smacktoberfest family fun show this past Saturday (Oct. 23). Smacktoberfest will now be rescheduled to Oct. 30, with the final 58 laps of the SK Modified finale added to the event card that day.
Hopefully Glen Reen will not be allowed to restart the event as he intentionally drilled Timmy Jordon into the backstretch wall and resulted on the turn three catch fence being destroyed.
Bob Finan advises that the 2021 Riverhead Raceway Champiosa will be honored prior to the season ending ISLIP 300 which will be held 0n Saturday, Nov 13th.