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

Column Compiled By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WESTERLY, RI – Fifty five years ago in 1968, Bugsy Stevens scored his first of many Martinsville wins as he won the Dogwood 300 beating Paul Radford by two laps. Early leader Ray Hendrick blew an engine after completing 230 laps. Jimmy Hensley, Leo Cleary and Hank Thomas rounded out the top five.

Fifty Years ago in 1973, Paul Radford took the modified win at Martinsville. Richie Evans finished second with Gene Bergin, Ed Flemke and Denis Giroux rounding out the top five.

Forty years ago, in 1983, the NASCAR Modifieds had their season opener at Martinsville. Richie Evans started on the pole and ended up winning the event. Greg Sacks started on the outside pole. His run lasted one lap as he lost an engine going into turn three and headed for the pits. It was not a good weekend for Sacks as he received word on Sunday morning that his sister and brother-in-law were involved in a bad accident on Long Island. His brother-in-law perished and his sister was seriously injured. Evans and Tony Hirschman pretty much dominated the event. Hirschman ended up in second spot and was followed by Brett Bodine, Roger Treichler, Bob Fuller and Joe Mamolito. Ray Hendrick, Martinsville’s winningest driver, announced his retirement.

Thirty five years ago, in 1988, the NASCAR Winston Modified Tour standings indicated that after two events Mike McLaughlin was the point leader. Reggie Ruggerio was in second spot with Satch Worley, Dave Reszendes and Rick Fuller rounding out the top five. Sixth thru tenth included Jeff Fuller, George Kent, Carl Pasteryak, Tom Bolles and Kerry Malone.

Thirty years ago in 1993, the Winston Cup contingent was in Atlanta. Morgan Shepherd was a surprise winner when Jeff Gordon pitted for fuel while leading in the late stages of the event. Ernie Irvan finished second with Rusty Wallace, third. Gordon finished fourth. Mark Martin dominated the early stages before breaking a camshaft. A scheduled Busch Grandnational event at Martinsville was cancelled due to rain.

Twenty five years ago in 1998, Riverside Park opened up the 1998 season with a 200 lap modified event. With 52 cars and 7200 spectators on hand Mike Stefanik took the pole. Stefanik led the early going until getting passed by Chris Kopec on lap 41. Reggie Ruggerio considered by many to be the master at Riverside came from his 25th starting position to take the lead on lap 108. While Ruggerio led, Stefanik was battling with Ted Christopher for second spot. The pot boiled over on lap 187 when Christopher attempted to pass and made contact with Stefanik resulting in both of them spinning. Stefanik was able to restart and finished in third spot behind Ruggerio who took the win and Tony Hirschman, who finished second. In a post race interview Stefanik quipped, “when he (Christopher) falls out of his tree he hits all the branches on the way down”. Dan Avery finished fourth with Ed Flemke Jr., fifth.

Twenty years ago in 2003, the Wall Township Speedway signed with NASCAR for a weekly sanction and Featherlite Modified Tour series event. NASCAR’s elite converged upon the Bristol Raceway for the sanctioning body’s 2000th event. Ryan Newman took the pole with Jeff Gordon on the outside. In the preliminary Busch Series event Kevin Harvick and Tony Raines survived numerous wrecks to finish one-two on the event. Twenty-three of the original 42 starters were running at the finish. The Winston Cup was also plagued with numerous wrecks. Kurt Busch survived to take the win. On March 23, Sammy Packard passed away at the age of 83. Packard, originally from Rhode Island, was the last surviving member of the group that met with Bill France Sr. in 1947 to form NASCAR.

Fifteen years ago in 2008, the Whelen Southern Modified Tour Series began their 2008 season on Saturday, March 22, at the high banked Caraway Speedway in Ashboro, NC. And the Thompson Speedway hosted the first of two open practice sessions, also on Saturday from 12 Noon until 6 PM.

At Thompson, despite chilling conditions, a good sample of things to come in 2008 were seen. Competitors and fans got to see the new lighting that was installed at the speedway which would provide daylight type conditions once the speedway began its Thursday night Thunder series. Mike Stefanik braved the cold and the wind to give his mount a shakedown along with numerous other competitors.

In North Carolina, LW Miller scored the victory in the Whelen Southern Modified Tour 150 with a thrilling dash to the checked flag over second-place finisher Ted Christopher. Southerners Brian Loftin and Tim Brown finished third and fourth. Bob Grigas III who races on the True Value Modified Series and the Whelen Northern Modified Tour rounded out the top five. Ronnie Silk, who hails from Norwalk, CT and who drove the Westfield, NC based Hill Enterprises No.79 finished sixth.

For the first time transponders were used to score and time the race. In the past only races at Loudon and Martinsville used this technology. Restarts were determined by the last completed green flag lap and double file “Cup Style”restarts with the lead lap cars on the outside were used.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup teams had the weekend off to celebrate Easter. It was not all quiet as Scott Wimmer passed Richard Childress Racing teammate Clint Bowyer with 21 laps to go and held on to win the Nationwide Series’ Pepsi 300 on Saturday at Nashville Superspeedway. Wimmer edged Bowyer by 0.578 seconds for his sixth victory in 149 Nationwide Series starts and first since 2003. Carl Edwards was third, followed by Brad Keselowski and Kelly Bires. Bowyer took the series points lead from Kevin Harvick, the fellow Childress Sprint Cup driver who skipped the Nashville race.

Kyle Busch started on the pole and was the class of the field, leading a race-high 125 laps before spinning out with 62 laps left. The Sprint Cup points leader grazed Bowyer, who was passing on the inside, and was forced to pit for repairs. Busch finished 16th. It was the first stand-alone Nationwide race of the year and Wimmer became the first non-Sprint Cup regular to win in the series.

Ten years ago in 2013, The northeastern hills and the eastern shoreline of Connecticut came alive with the sound of racing engines. The Thompson Speedway which didn’t officially open for the season until April 14 held their first of two open practice dates.. The Waterford Speedbowl, which opens for the season this coming weekend, also was open for practice. Both tracks appeared to have respectable car counts but overall Waterford had the edge. What put Waterford over the top were the 25 Valenti Modified Racing Series cars.

Among the casualties at Waterford were Tom Barrett and Jeff Rocco who did considerable damage to their cars after hitting the wall. Keith Rocco has indicated that he will seek the NASCAR National Championship as he intends on racing at Thompson, Stafford and at Waterford on a weekly basis. In addition to his SK Modified ride at Waterford Rocco has a Late Model and a Legend ride lined up.

NASCAR’s top divisions had the week off to celebrate Easter.

Five years ago in 2018, it was all quiet.

Last year, 2022, In SMART tour action at the Caraway Speedway in North Carolina Caleb Heady in the Tommy Baldwin scored an upset victory in the Warrior 99 on Saturday night. With 50-degree temps twenty -five cars went to post. Jonathon (John Boy) Brown was the top time setter with pre-race favorite Matt Hirschman a close second. The top 6 re-draw saw Brown drawing the pole with Heady on the outside pole. Hirschman drew fifth.

At the drop of the green Brown would take the lead and hold it for the first 2 laps with Heady close behind. Heady would take over the lead on lap three and lead the field to take the thirty lap Jerry Hunt SuperCenter Competition Caution to claim the $300 bonus. Brown and Bobby Labonte followed as the caution would wave.

Following the thirty-lap break Brown would regain the point and lead laps thirty-one to fourty-five when the caution would fly on lap 46 for Craig Young who spun. The front runners pitted for their allotted tire. Luke Fleming, who remained on the track, assumed the lead. Shortly after the drop of the green the caution waved again for Jeremy Gerstner who stalled on the front stretch

On the restart Fleming would lead till lap 57 when Bobby Measner would take over the top spot on Lap 58. Fleming took it back on lap 65for two laps when Labonte made his move on lap 78. While all this was going on Hirschman got bogged down in traffic, dropping out of the top ten.

The third caution of the night would wave on lap 86 when several cars piled up as they exited turn 2. Among those collected were Fleming and Brown. On the restart lap 87 Heady and Brandon Ward would be on the front row with Burt Myers and Anthony Bello following. Caution would come out once again on lap 88 for another muti-car pileup which took Bello out of the mix. This would allow more drivers to come in and take on their one tire allowed and the restart would put Heady and Myers on the front for the restart. Hirschman and Labonte made up the second row.

The last caution for the night came out on lap 95 for a Bryan Weber spin in turn 3. Myers turned up the heat for the final laps but could not muster that little extra to get by Heady. Burt Myers finished second with Bobby Labonte, third. Hirschman and Brian Loftin rounded out the top five. Sixth thru tenth included Bobby Measmer, Gary Putnam, Brandon Ward, Dennis Holdren and Jonathan Brown.

In NASCAR Cup racing, After grabbing the lead in the final corner, Ross Chastain raced off to a 1.331-second victory over Hendrick Motorsports driver Bowman, who unlike Allmendinger was able to recover from the last lap contact and continue to the checkered flag at the Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas. Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell, Hendrick Motorsports Chase Elliott and Richard Childress Racing’s Tyler Reddick rounding out the top five.

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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