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

Column Compiled By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WESTERLY, RI – Forty five years ago in 1978, the NASCAR Modifieds made their annual early spring trip to Martinsville. Richie Evans, who had 143 victories to his credit going into the 1978 season, added another to the list as he won the 250-lap event.

Geoff Bodine, who would end up with 55 wins at season’s end finished second. Billy Hensley finished third with Jerry Cook and Brian Ross rounding out the top five. New England favorites Bugsy Stevens and Fred DeSarro did not have luck on their side as they both dropped put with mechanical problems.

DeSarro lost an engine and Stevens lost a transmission.

Forty years ago, in 1983, Richard Petty took the Winston Cup win at Rockingham after Geoff Bodine wrecked in the late stages while leading. Bill Elliott finished second with Darrell Waltrip, third. Bodine ended up 19th. Ron Bouchard was 20th.

Thirty five years ago, in 1988, Mike Mclaughlin found himself to be a surprise winner in the NASCAR Modified 200 at Martinsville. Jim Spencer was the apparent winner until he was disqualified in a post race inspection when it was determined that he had an oversized fuel tank. Satch Worley finished second with Reggie Ruggerio, third. George Kent finished fourth with Dave Reszendes, fifth. Rounding out the top ten were Jeff Fuller, Rick Fuller, Billy Meyers, Wayne Edwards and Carl Pasteryak.

Thirty years ago in 1993, Winston Cup and Busch Grandnational events scheduled for Atlanta were cancelled when a blizzard hit the area.

Twenty five years ago in 1998, the Busch Grandnationals were in Nashville as the Winston Cup stars had a weekend off. Seventeen year old Casey Atwood took the pole. Robert Pressley was leading with eight laps to go when he clipped Mark Green causing him to spin and wreck. Mike Mclaughlin, running second at the time, inherited the lead and took the win under caution. Atwood finished second with Dale Earnhardt Jr., third.

Twenty years ago in 2003, Ricky Craven passed Kurt Busch coming off the fourth turn on the last lap and after a lot of contact, won the Winston Cup event at Darlington. Because of foul weather the Busch Series was forced to run their event on Monday. Todd Bodine took the win after crashing with Jamie McMurray on the final lap.

Fifteen years ago in 2008, the big news was the announcement of the end of racing at the Wall Township Speedway in New Jersey. Timothy H. Shinn, Managing Member for The four partners that own the Jersey shore facility made the official announcement. According to Shinn the partners did everything in their power the past six years since 2002, to provide top quality short-track racing and keep the doors to the Speedway open. “We have made numerous attempts to create a scenario which would enable us to continue with the Speedway operation, all to no avail”, he said. Unless someone comes along to buy the facility the 1/3 mile oval that was fashioned after the famed Lonsdale Sports Arena in Rhode Island will fade away to oblivion. The speedway had provided continuous auto racing for 57 years.

Jeff Burton took the Sprint Cup win at Bristol after Kevin Harvick wrecked Tony Stewart with 2 to go. Harvick bumped Stewart, sending both cars sliding and opened a hole for Burton to squeeze through and go on to victory. Stewart, who finished 14th, was livid on his radio after the accident but had calmed down by the time he climbed from his car and took partial responsibility for the contact. Harvick finished 2nd and Clint Bowyer finished 3rd. Dale Jarrett finished 37th in the final start in a points race of his 24-year career. Also at Bristol, Clint Bowyer grabbed the win in the Sharpie Mini 300 when rain moved back into the track just past the halfway mark and the race was called after 171 laps. The race started 2 hours late because of showers at the track earlier in the day. Kasey Kahne, who battled Bowyer hard for the lead prior to the rain, finished second.

Ten years ago in 2013, The NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour was back in action for the KOMA Unwind Relaxation Drink 150 at Southern National Motorsports Park in Kenly, N.C. It was the second of 12 scheduled events of the series.

Burt Myers redeemed himself from a season opening non-finish at Caraway on March 16 to a win at Southern National on the eve of Palm Sunday. Myers,who started third on the 25 car starting grid, charged into the lead just past the midway point of the 150-lap race and never looked back. The victory marked the ninth career tour win for the 2010 Whelen Southern Modified Tour champion. NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour regular Ryan Preece, who won his first Whelen Southern Modified Tour Coors Light Pole Award in qualifying and led the first 80 laps, finished second. He was followed by Tim Brown, George Brunnhoelzl III and Andy Seuss.

Ted Christopher, Kyle Ebersole, Danny Bohn, Brandon Ward and Woody Pitkat rounded out the top 10.

There were four caution periods, three of those for minor spins plus a mandatory half-way stop. There were 16 cars on the lead lap at the finish. Among those was series opener winner Jason Myers who finished 12th after starting seventh.

In NASCAR Sprint Cup racing in Fontana, CA Joey Logano appeared headed for victory until the final lap. Denny Hamlin and Logano raced side by side into the final lap, two bitter rivals unwilling to give even an inch, right up until they made contact with less than a mile to go. Logano all but parked Hamlin in the wall as he attempted to pass for the lead. While the two were banging Kyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt JR went by and ended up one-two at the finish. The race ended with Hamlin in the hospital and Logano in a shoving match with Tony Stewart. Stewart went after Logano after he deliberately blocked him on the final restart. Stewart who warned of payback felt that Logano cost him the win.

Hamlin, who hit the infield barrier head on collapsed after exiting his car, was airlifted away from the track to a local hospital. Logano managed to finish third despite wrecking into the outside wall after hitting Hamlin. Hamlin suffered a compression fracture in his back.

The win for Busch completed a perfect weekend as he earned JGR’s ninth consecutive Nationwide victory at Fontana on Saturday, comfortably beating Sam Hornish Jr. for his third win in five races this season.

New England Auto Racing lost an icon on March 20 when (NEAR) Hall-of-Fame inductee “Charlie” Elliott, 96, passed away in his sleep at his home in Hernando, FL. He built three new speedways with his own hands and refurbished three more. Elliott’s operation of race tracks began in the late 1940’s, first in Sanford, ME and then the former Dover (N.H.) Speedway between 1953 and 1965.

Nobody actually built more speedways in New England than Charlie Elliott. His vision for new racing facilities coincided with the formation of the New England Super-Modified Racing Association (NESMRA) in 1965. Teaming with Ken Smith and Russ Conway, the trio opened Elliott’s newly built Star Speedway, a quarter mile oval in Epping, N.H., in early August of 1967, just hours after the track paving had been completed. Another “Charlie Project” developed in 1978 when he purchased the dilapidated Hudson (N.H.) Speedway. Again with his hands and grit, the track was refurbished and returned to life. Along with help from Smith, Conway, and his family, Hudson flourished with successful events throughout the 1980’s. Yet Elliott looked for more, purchasing the old Lee Raceway triangle track in 1982. He completely redesigned and built a new oval track on the site, Lee USA Speedway, which opened July 4, 1984.

In 1988, he again got the itch to build. His company purchased the dirt Canaan Fairgrounds Speedway in Canaan, N.H. Charlie’s hands and mind were working while he operated a bulldozer, grader and water truck restoring the track. He also built a banquet facility, rebuilt and purchased the former Benson Animal Farm Merry-Go-Round for the grounds, and then donated a new Little League Baseball park on the grounds to the town. To make it a multi-track facility, he built a new paved quarter mile oval speedway at Canaan, only 800-feet from his dirt oval track. That was followed by a motorcycle mountain climb competition trail, also in Canaan.

Five years ago in 2018, The Thompson Speedway Test and Tune session scheduled for Saturday was postponed due to the remaining snow, and unfavorable forecast for melting. It was good to hear that Rowan Pennink has been cleared by his doctor to return to racing. Pennink was forced to miss the season opening event at Myrtle Beach because of back surgery. Ryan Preece will also return to the Whelen Modifieds after being in competition in the NASCAR Xfinity series in Fontana, CA.

The SK Modified competitors got a tremendous shot in the arm from NASCAR Monster Cup driver Kevin Harvick. Following his March 11th victory at ISM Raceway, Harvick expressed his frustration with the disconnect between the short tracks of America and the highest levels of NASCAR. ‘When I look at our hardcore fans, they’re all sitting at those short tracks and they’re mad,’ Harvick said in his post race press conference following his 2nd consecutive win. Since that remark the NASCAR community has been buzzing with talk of returning to the roots and supporting local short track racing. Harvick, the 2014 Cup Series Champion, is backing up his comments with contingency support at Stafford Speedway in 2018.

Through his company, KHI Management, Harvick will present two weekly bonuses to the SK Modified® division in 2018, both in honor of Stafford Speedway legend Ted Christopher. Weekly, both the leader on lap-13 and the 13th place finisher will receive a $125 bonus provided by Kevin Harvick and KHI Management in remembrance of Ted Christopher’s number 13.

When the 2018 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series season kicks off at Stafford Speedway, it will mark the 20th consecutive season New England Racing Fuel, Sunoco Brand with John Holland and Mike Joy have been part of the track’s contingency program. N.E. Racing Fuel was a charter member of the contingency program in 1999 and have been a member every year since. Since the 1999 season, N.E. Racing Fuel, Sunoco Brand has distributed over $125,000 in gas certificates to drivers from each of Stafford’s NASCAR Weekly All-American Series racing divisions.

Area Auto Racing News announced that the TV show “Madhouse” will return on the Discovery Channel. Originally shown on the History Channel, “Madhouse” followed the trials, tribulations and personalities that compete at the Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Bowman-Gray, a quarter mile flat track around a football field is one of NASCAR’s oldest venues.

On a sad note, Wrentham, Mass., native Tom Dunn, Modified car owner, Drag Racer and NEAR Hall of Fame member, passed away. Fielding the famous No. T-5 Pinto wagon, a who’s-who of Modified stars drove for Dunn including Freddy Schulz, Bentley Warren, Leo Cleary and Jeff Fuller. Championships came with drivers Fred Schulz, Leo Cleary, and Jeff Fuller, and Cleary and Dave Lind won titles in Dunn’s Pro-4 cars. Dunn was also revered as a master engine builder, working with Modified, Mini-Modified, and Midget teams. He was a prolific winner both in straight lines and on short tracks. He began drag racing in 1953 and at one point enjoyed an incredible five-year undefeated streak; his top victory came in an NHRA national event at Lebanon Valley (N.Y.) Dragway in 1964. He was the first to go 200mph on pump gas.

John H. Richmond, Jr., 75, of Wakefield, RI passed away on Tuesday, March 20, 2018. He was the husband of the late Margaret (Russell) Richmond. Born in South Kingstown, a son of the late John H. Richmond, Sr. and Georgette (Smith) Richmond. Mr. Richmond was a self-employed welder and heavy equipment mechanic. He enjoyed auto racing and tractor pulling. He drove the No. 93 at dirt tracks in New England and New York state.

I t took nearly six years, 190 races and three different teams, but Clint Bowyer finally ended his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drought with a stirring victory in Monday’s snow-delayed STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway. Heavy snow wiped out qualifying and the original Sunday date.

Bowyer dominated the second half of the race, taking the lead shortly after the start of the final stage when he charged to the inside of then-leader Ryan Blaney in turns three and four to assume command over the field. Kyle Busch finished second.

Last year, 2022, In SMART tour action at the Southern National Speedway in North Carolina last Saturday it was Matt Hirschman scoring his 204th career win before a somewhat sparse crowd. For Hirschman it was a Sunday drive except it took place on Saturday.

There were 28 cars on hand with 25 taking time. Jonathon (John Boy) Brown grabbed the pole with a time of 14.893 with Bobby Labonte, a close.041 behind Brown. After the re-draw Jeremy Gershner and Joey Coultier would start on the front row with Hirschman, third.

At the drop of the green Gershner would jump into the lead followed by Coultier who would quickly would grab that lead from Gershner A 30 lap break was planned. The top three ran away as the rest of the field ran side by side. At the 30 lap break few pitted as they were allowed only one tire.

Following a lap 59 caution most of the field pitted to bolt on their allotted tire. Hirschman’s crew replaced the right rear. Restarting third Hirschman turned up the aggression mode and within a lap was in the lead. Max Mclaughlin came alive and moved into the second spot with Burt Myers, third and Bobby Labonte, fourth.

Hirschman ruled the roost for the remaining laps as he cruised to his 204th career win. Try as he might, McLaughlin had nothing for Hirschman and had to settle for second. Myers finished third with Brandon Ward, fourth and Labonte, fifth.

Word comes from Bob Finan, Public Relations director of the Riverhead Raceway that Scott Tapley had resigned his position as Race Director at the eastern Long Island racing facility. GM John Ellwood would assume the Race Director role on top of his existing duties. Said Finan, “Scott did an amazing job at Riverhead Raceway and now he no longer faces the Long Island to Maine commute Sunday morning. Given the fuel prices these days his timing is perfect.”

Tapley will not be idle by any means. Along with continuing to lead race day operations at Vermont’s Thunder Road , Connecticut’s Stafford Speedway and Thompson Speedway as well as the 13-event ACT Late Model Tour, Tapley will also run operations at White Mountain in 2022.

In NASCAR Cup Racing, the “New” Atlanta Motor Speedway produced a fifth different 2022 winner, William Byron, who managed to keep an angry pack of drafting cars behind him for the final 10 laps of Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500. In a race that produced 46 lead changes among 20 drivers, both track records, Byron crossed the finish line 0.109s ahead of Christopher Bell and 0.145s ahead of Ross Chastain.
Bell, however, was penalized for passing below the boundary line on the backstretch on the final lap and was demoted to 23rd, the last position on the lead lap. That elevated Chastain to his second straight runner-up finish.

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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