RPW Column: The Champ Trail: Fun Times On Long Island; The Islip 300 At Riverhead Raceway

Column Compiled By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WESTERLY, RI – The Islip 300 took center stage at the Riverhead Raceway on the east end of Long Island on Saturday, November 12.

A total purse of $32,650 awarded the winner $7,000. The late Eddie Partridge was the originator of the event. Anthony Nocella survived a slam-bang affair to take his first win at Riverhead Raceway in Saturday evening’s Islip 300.

The event turned into a marathon session for competitors, fans and officials.

Now in its sixth year at the New York quarter-mile, today’s Islip 300 is a tribute to the long-distance races staged at the long-defunct Islip Speedway, a fifth-mile oval that was razed in the mid-1980s. The Islip 300 name was resurrected in 2017 as a year-ending Tour-type Modified showdown for the last active oval track on Long Island, with the track going as far as to paint the walls to resemble Islip itself. It took some nine and a half hours to run the event. Numerous cautions, poor performance by track crews and poor performance by race officials in coming up with restart lineups were a big problem.

The five prior Islip 300s have had a distinctly local flavor, despite the predictable influx of touring challengers. National star Ryan Preece, driving for Riverhead owner Eddie Partridge, won the 2018 and 2020 Islip 300s. Local racers Dillon Steuer, Kyle Soper and J.B. Fortin earned victories in the other three.

John Beatty, Jr. and Jimmy Blewett brought the field to the green flag, with Timmy Solomito charging to the lead early. Blewett settled in toward the front, but his evening ended early when he was pushed into the wall by defending winner John Fortin. Blewett exited his car and attempted to run down the fleeing Fortin to no avail. They met for tea later in the event.

Despite a lot of rough riding throughout the pack early on, Solomito was on his game at halfway to keep the trophy on Long Island.

Nocella cycled into the lead after pit stops with a third of the race still to go. As Nocella dueled with Roger Turbush out front, Matt Hirschman and Kyle Bonsignore sliced through the top ten on fresher tires, breaking the top five with 75 circuits left on the scoreboard. When the leaders opted to pit for their own tires under caution, Hirschman and Bonsignore assumed the lead. Driving a car prepared locally by Baker Racing rather than his more familiar mounts, Hirschman survived two quick restarts as Bonsignore dueled with Soper for second. A lap-277 caution and a red flag for track cleanup gave Bonsignore another shot at the lead, but contact coming to the green flag sent him for a spin across the frontstretch, collecting Soper and ending the evening for the 2019 winner. Beatty lined up alongside Hirschman for the restart, and as the two drove off from the field, Nocella sliced through traffic to crack the top three with eleven laps left. A restart erased the leaders’ advantage, and Nocella cleared Beatty quickly on the restart before grabbing the lead from Hirschman. Another caution froze the field with nine laps to go, and Hirschman was moved back to the lead.

Hirschman ran Nocella high off turn four on the restart, but the Massachusetts veteran was unfazed, diving back under Hirschman a lap later for the lead. Hirschman cut down to defend, but the two made contact, with Hirschman sliding up the banking and out of the lead. Long after the sun disappeared, Nocella drove off and held on to take the win, with Beatty second and Hirschman third. Matthew Brode and Justin Brown rounded out the top five. Sixth thru tenth included Kyle Bonsignore Brett Meservey, Jeff Goodale, JB Fortin and Mike Christopher Jr.

Nocella’s $7,000 win came on the heels of his first Monaco Modified Tri-Track Series win in October at Seekonk Speedway in Massachusetts. A week later, in a New England Supermodified Series feature at New London-Waterford (Conn.) Speedbowl, Nocella took his first-ever big-block Supermodified checkered flag. In only four starts with the NASCAR Tour, the young racer still managed his first win in that sanction, stealing a victory at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

The event was shown live by FloRacing. Bob Finan, who has been the voice of auto racing on Long Island for many years, called the race before retiring to Florida.

The concept of the Islip 300 is a good one but the format needs to be changed. Count cautions is one way and eliminate a division is another way. Keeping fans for 9-1/2 hours is a bit much and will only drive them away,

Stafford Speedway officials have put the finishing touches on their 2023 racing schedule. 23 events dot the calendar from late April to late September with a focus on weekly racing highlighted by special events throughout the season. The 2023 season marks the 53rd consecutive season the Stafford Springs, CT half-mile has been operated by the Arute family and will kick off with the biggest Modified event in the country, the 51st running of the NAPA Auto Parts Spring Sizzler®, April 29th & 30th.

The 2023 NAPA Spring Sizzler® Weekend will once again be one of the biggest short track events of the year and will feature two separate days of racing. The NAPA Auto Parts Duel, two 40-lap qualifying races, will be held Saturday, April 29th and will set the field for Sunday’s 51st Spring Sizzler®. Also on the card for Saturday will be the Street Stocks, Limited Late Model, Vintage All-Stars, and for the first since 1985, the American Canadian Tour (ACT) Late Models.

Sunday, April 30th will play host to the highest paying Modified race in the country, the $20,000 to win 51st running of the NAPA Auto Parts Spring Sizzler®. The SK Modified®, SK Light Modified, and Late Model divisions will accompany the Modifieds for a packed afternoon of racing. “Drivers and fans responded well to the Spring Sizzler® format in 2022,” explained Stafford CEO Mark Arute. “We went back to the roots of the Sizzler® with a shorter 100-lap race but also added a twist with the duel qualifiers on Saturday. The 2023 edition will be similar but new in 2023 the winner will go home with a guaranteed $20,000 before bonuses.”

“The core of the 2023 Stafford Speedway schedule remains weekly racing,” continued Arute. “Our weekly competitors put on a great show week in and week out. We are proud that they call Stafford Speedway home and look forward to continuing to tell each of their stories and further connect the race fans to the drivers that compete on the half-mile.”

Stafford’s 5 weekly divisions, including SK Modified®, Late Model, SK Light Modified, Limited Late Model, and Street Stocks, are scheduled to compete every Friday night beginning with Opening Night on May 12th and running throughout 2023 culminating with the NAPA Auto Parts Champions Night on Friday, September 29th, where the season champions will be crowned.

Each of Stafford’s 5 weekly divisions will have at least one special event night beginning with the first of two 40-lap SK Light Modified Double Down races on Friday, May 26th. The second SK Light double down race will be held July 21st with Dunleavy’s Modifiedz Night. Bonuses for the highest average finishes across both 40-lap events will be awarded. Limited Late Models will go an extra 10 laps on June 9th, Street Stocks will run an extra 10 laps on June 30th for the annual Midstate Site Development Firecracker 30, and Paradiso Insurance returns as the presenting sponsor for the Late Model 50 on September 1st. Stafford’s top weekly division, the SK Modifieds®, will have 3 special events in 2023 including: Bud Light Senators Cup – June 23rd, NAPA SK 5K – August 4th and the TC 13 SK Modified® Shootout – September 8th.

Four Friday Night Open Modified events return to the Stafford speedway schedule in 2023, one per month throughout the season: May 19th – Call Before You Dig Open Modified 81, June 16th – Casella Waste Systems Open Modified 80, July 7th – GAF Roofing Open Modified 80 and August 18th – Lincoln Tech Open Modified 80. “Our Open Modified program has taken on a life of its own over the last few seasons,” explained Arute. “We’ll look to continue that success and further develop those events to become can’t miss races for drivers and fans. The 80-lap sprint style has proven to be the perfect format for great racing.”

In addition and capping off the season will be The Monaco Modified Tri-Track Series which will return to headline the NAPA Auto Parts Fall Final with an 80-lap, $15,000 to win event on Saturday, September 23rd. The 2022 NAPA Fall Final saw 46 drivers vie for 33 starting spots.

Season tickets for the 2023 season are now available online at StaffordSpeedway.com/tickets. Early discount pricing is available through December 15th. Contact the track office with any questions. For more information, visit www.staffordspeedway.com, checkout Stafford Speedway on Facebook or Twitter, or contact the track office at 860-684-2783.

The SBM 125 began in 2011 as an Open Modified event at Star Speedway in Epping, New Hampshire. The race has been run under different forms of leadership since Jon McKennedy earned $7,225 by winning the inaugural SBM as a local track event in 2011. Next season it will take on a different chapter in its successful history as a premiere event at the quarter-mile. The 12th Annual SBM 125 will now take place as part of Star Classic Weekend, and will be managed by the Modified Racing Series. The Sunday, September 17 event will come with an enhanced base payoff for competing MRS teams.

The Modified Racing Series had a bit of a resurgence in this past fall, drawing a full field of cars to Star this past September, and 32 race teams for the season finale at Thompson, Conn., last month, where Jacob Perry surpassed Kirk Alexander to win the MRS Drivers Championship. Gary Casella took home the car owner hardware. Both are eager to return to Star for the 2023 event.

Happy Birthday wishes to Robert “Slim” Ross who recently turned his 90th lap. Ross owned and built the Bounty Hunter 222 that was driven at the Norwood Arena by the late Fred DeSarro.

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.

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