RPW Column: Looking Back A Bit: Third Week Of February

Column Compiled By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WESTERLY, RI – Forty five years ago in 1978 Benny Parsons won the Richmond 400 as 20,000 spectators looked on. Lenny Pond finished second with Cale Yarborough, third. Darrel Waltrip and Dick Brooks rounded out the top five.

Forty years ago in 1983, Bobby Allison won the Richmond 400 Winston Cup event.

Thirty five years ago in 1988, the Winston Cup division of NASCAR was at Richmond and the tire war between Hoosier and Goodyear was on. Hoosier had the tire to beat. Morgan Shepherd took the pole on Hoosiers and Neil Bonnett took the win, also on Hoosiers.

Thirty years ago in 1993, Mark Martin won the Busch Grandnational 200. Todd Bodine was involved in a bad crash after he blew a tire and hit the wall. Rusty Wallace rebounded from his wreck at Daytona and dominated the Winston Cup event. Dale Earnhardt finished second.

Twenty five years ago in 1998, Speedway Motorsports exercised an option to buy the 800 acres and buildings that made up the Sears Point Raceway in Sonoma, California. In Winston Cup qualifying at Rockingham, Rick Mast was the Busch Pole sitter. Kenny Wallace was second fastest. Tony Stewart was the Busch Grandnational pole sitter. Mike Stefanik made it into the starting field with an owner’s provisional. In the GN 200, Matt Kenseth bumped Tony Stewart on the last lap and went on to take the win by a half car length. Stefanik finished 35th, 11 laps down. Jeff Gordon took the Winston Cup win after he passed Rusty Wallace in the late stages.

Twenty years ago in 2003, rain played a role at Rockingham as the wet stuff cancelled qualifying for both the Busch Series and the Winston Cup Series. Saturday’s Busch Series event was also rained out and re-scheduled for Monday. Jamie McMurray led the entire event to take the win over David Green. In Winston Cup action on Monday, Dale Jarrett and Kurt Busch swapped the lead four times during the final 11 laps with Jarrett coming out on top at the finish. On a sad note, Bill Colton Sr., who brought soft walls to Lancaster and Oswego Speedways passed away and Dexter Burnham, noted newspaper man and former Stafford Speedway Public Relations director passed away at the age of 79.

Fifteen years ago in 2008 Carl Edwards won the rain-delayed Auto Club 500 in Fontana CA on Monday, charging past NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson with 13 laps remaining. Johnson, winner of the past two Cup titles, came out of the final pit stop in the lead with 26 laps left. But Edwards surged from third to capture the eighth victory of his career. Jeff Gordon, who dominated Sunday’s racing, was third. He was followed by Kyle Busch and Roush’s Matt Kenseth, who had won the two previous February races at this track. Another Roush driver, Greg Biffle, won this event in 2005.

About 25,000 fans, far short of the approximate 120,000 capacity, showed up Monday, with the sun peeking out from high clouds and temperatures moving into the high 60s.

The drivers spent most of Sunday waiting through rain, track drying and attempts to stop water seeping through seams of the track. The race finally began about 2 1/2 hours late, followed by a rain delay of just more than an hour and then a five-hour wait after a downpour. NASCAR and track officials finally gave up after 11 p.m. and postponed the conclusion until Monday.

Tony Stewart won the Nationwide Series Stater Bros. 300 at Fontana on Monday afternoon following the Sprint Cup event for his second win of the season. He dominated the race, leading 136 of the 150 laps. The rest of the top 10 were Kyle Busch, Keving Harvick, David Reutimann, Carl Edwards, Jamie McMurray, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Jeff Burton, Clint Bowyer, and Stepen Leicht (who was the only driver in the top 10 who wasn’t in the Cup race earlier). The race was slowed by 5 cautions for 19 laps and there were 11 lead changes among 9 drivers.

Kyle Busch won the Craftsman Truck Series event that was run on Saturday. Don Lia, the defending Whelen Modified Tour Series champion, started 32nd and finished 26th, one lap down.

In some sad news, Ronnie Ambrosi, 78, of Stafford Springs, passed away on Saturday, (February 16, 2008) at Evergreen Health Care Center in Stafford Springs. Ron retired in 1992 as owner of the food concessions at Stafford Motor Speedway and Ronnies Restaurant where everyone came from far and wide to enjoy ice cream. Prior to the food concessions and the restaurant, Ron was co-promoter along with Clarence Benton of all events that took place at the speedway. He has had a relationship with the speedway for close to 67 years. As co-promoter of the track, which was dirt at the time, Ron had American Motorcycle Association motorcycle races on Sundays. On Thursday evenings he had semi-pro boxing. The ring was placed at the start-finish line of the racetrack. He was a member of the New England Antique Racing Association.

The International Speedway Corporation received a huge financial shot in the arm as they announced a 10-year, multi-million dollar partnership with the Automobile Club of Southern California (“Auto Club”), the nation’s largest member of the AAA federation, to re-name California Speedway as Auto Club Speedway of Southern California. Specific financial terms were not released.

Ten years ago in 2013 the big highlight of the weekend was the 54th annual Frank Maratta Auto and Race-A-Rama at the Big E in West Springfield, Ma. Hundreds of custom cars, Motorcycles and Race Cars were on display. Numerous speedways were represented plus many racing related vendors. Among the cars on display was the Valenti Modified Racing Series Championship entry of Art and Kenny Barry of Spearpoint Auto and the beautiful V-One No. 52 of John and Joe Catania. One of the highlights of the weekend was the pit crew competition which was won by the Jeff and Keith Rocco race team.

A hot topic of conversation was the exit of Frank Sgambato Jr from the Race Management team at the Stafford Speedway and the rumor that Tom Fox would be taking his place.

Word from Long Island indicated that Ted Christopher would not be a regular competitor at the Riverhead Raceway in 2013. Wayne Anderson, a former five-time Riverhead Raceway NASCAR Modified champion announced that 21-year old Timmy Solomito of Islip would drive his famed Eastport Feeds NASCAR Modified at the ultra-competitive quarter mile oval in 2013. The Anderson/Solomito pairing would start their quest not only for the NASCAR Modified championship at Riverhead but also the New York State title in the Whelen All-American Series on Saturday evening May 4th in Twin 30 main events. Solomito was the defending opening night winner.

Area Auto Racing News scribe Kevin Rice sent word that The Star Speedway in Epping, NH is very excited to announce a sponsorship donation of $4,400 from Long Island race fan Jim Schaefer that will go directly to the drivers who compete in the third annual SBM 125 Open Modified event at the quarter-mile oval on Saturday, June 15.

Each of the 24 drivers who qualify for the race will be handed $100 bills by Schaefer once they are officially in the star-studded field. This means that the race would now pay $600 to start and a minimum of $5,125 to win, even before the thousands of dollars in bonuses were added in.

At the 2012 event, race winner Matt Hirschman pocketed just under $9,000 when including the bonus cash. In fact 22 of the 28 race teams who entered the SBM 125 last June earned additional monies beyond the purse payout for their efforts.

In NASCAR Nationwide Series racing, Kyle Busch led 142 laps at Phoenix International Raceway on Saturday to end a 24-race Nationwide winless streak.

In Sprint Cup action, Carl Edwards pulled away on a late restart and snapped a 70-race winless streak on Sunday, the second long drought he’s ended at Phoenix. Danica Patrick became the first woman to win a pole and lead green-flag laps during NASCAR’s season opener, sending her popularity to a new level.

But she couldn’t stay with the leaders at Phoenix, ending her day with one of the hardest hits of her career. It happened with about 100 laps left, when the right-front tire on Patrick’s No. 10 Chevrolet went down and slammed her into the wall.

Five years ago in 2018, at Atlanta, Kevin Harvick dominated the 1.5-mile quad-oval on Sunday in his No. 4 Jimmy John’s Ford, staying out front for 181 of 325 laps, despite morning rains that delayed the scheduled start of the race by two and a half hours and threatened to wash out the entire day. The 2014 Cup Series champion powered away from Keselowski on the last restart of the race with 21 to go and drove out to a 2.690-second victory – his 38th in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and second at Atlanta.

Once the green flag finally waved, however, it was no contest. Harvick started third but found the lead for the first time by lap 21, winning the first stage with ease and only losing the second stage to Brad Keselowski after spinning his tires on a late restart.

Though Denny Hamlin tried to use pit strategy to steal the race out of Harvick’s grasp by using a two-stop gambit against Harvick’s three-stop plan on a 120-lap green flag run in the second half, Harvick never faltered and ultimately passed Hamlin for the final time with 35 laps to go after completing his final pit stop.

From there, not even a caution with 28 laps left when Trevor Bayne blew a motor on the backstretch could stop Harvick from racing into Atlanta’s victory lane for the first time since his inaugural Cup victory in 2001. Harvick also won the Xfinity series race at Atlanta.

Last year, 2022, Kyle Larson held off a charging Austin Dillon by .195 seconds at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., to notch his first victory of the season, his second at the 2-mile track and the 17th of his career.

In a race that featured 12 cautions for 59 laps, Larson, who started from the rear of the field because of unapproved adjustments to his Camaro, took the lead from Joey Logano on Lap 167 of 200 and held it for 27 of the final 34 circuits on the way to the victory.

Cole Custer was the winner of the Xfinity event.

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