RPW Column: Looking Back A Bit: First Week Of April

Column Compiled By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WESTERLY, RI – Seventy years ago in 1953, New London native Dom DeLaura won the season opening 25 lap Sportsman feature at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl. Lou Tetreault was the 20 lap non-Ford winner.

Sixty five years ago in 1963, Wild Bill Slater won the Easter Sunday Opening Day 25 lap Modified feature at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl. Daring Dick Caso was the Bomber feature winner.

Fifty five years ago in 1968, SJ Evonsion scored his first win at the Riverside Park Speedway which was a 1/8 mile oval at the time. Bob Potter won the opening day 30 lap Modified feature at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl. Ray Hendrick won a 200 lap NASCAR Modified event at South Boston.

Fifty years ago, rain prevailed at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl and at Seekonk.

Forty five years ago, in 1978, the Modifieds ran a spring event at the 1-1/2 mile Trenton Speedway. Richie Evans took the lead and the win when Bugsy Stevens ran out of gas with two laps to go. Stevens managed to coast home in second spot. Geoff Bodine finished third with Charlie Jarzombek and Satch Worley rounding out the top five.

Forty years ago, in 1983, all was quiet

Thirty five years ago, in 1988, all was quiet

Thirty years ago in 1993, the NASCAR Featherlite Modified Tour Series was in Richmond, VA. Mike Stefanik took the lead from Jan Leaty with three laps to go as he went on to record the victory. Jeff Fuller finished second with Leaty third over Mike Ewanitsko and Doug Hevron rounding out the top five.

Twenty five years ago in 1998, the Thompson Speedway took center stage with the running of the Ice Breaker. Fifty-two Modifieds were on hand for the 125 lap event which saw Mike Stefanik take the lead from Tony Ferrente with four laps to go. At the finish, Ferrente faded to third as Tony Hirschman powered his way into the second spot. Ed Flemke Jr. and Jan Leaty rounded out the top five. Jim Broderick won the Sunoco-SK Modified event. Also running that weekend was a 40 lap Race of Champions event at Tioga which was won by George Kent. In Winston Cup action in Texas, qualifying had to be put off for a day because of water seeping up through the track. Jeremy Mayfield ended up with the pole position but it was Mark Martin who would score the win. A big wreck on lap two took out Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Earnhardt Jr. won the Busch Series event.

Twenty years ago in 2003 sleet and ice forced NASCAR and the Thompson Speedway management to postpone the season opening Icebreaker to April 14. During the weekend at Thompson, George Pyne met with the Featherlite Modified Tour car owners and assured them that their status within NASCAR was safe. Pyne also told the owners he would look into improving the purse structures of the tour events. Looks like good old George is still looking!

Fifteen years ago in 2008, the Thompson Speedway officially opened the 2008 racing season in the northeast and began the 2008 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Series. In what was supposed to be a fun filled and competitive weekend ended in tragedy and ultimately a wet note. A racing accident claimed the life of race driver Shane Hammond of Halifax, MA. The accident occurred on the fourth lap of a scheduled 25-lap Northeast Midget Association (NEMA) feature event race. Hammond was traveling down the backstretch of the 5/8 mile oval when he cart wheeled over the third turn wall and hit an advertisement sign. The 27 year old Hammond was transported to the Day Kimball Hospital in Putnam, CT where he was pronounced dead shortly after arrival.

For a good part of the day it was misting and threatening rain. Eddie Flemke Jr brought back fond remembrances of his father’s Thompson 300 win in 1978 as he elected not to pit when the leaders did and it paid off handsomely, $7,920, to the second generation driver. Flemke, who started eighth, was running third and he inherited the lead on lap 71 when leader Todd Szegedy and second-place Reggie Ruggiero pitted. Flemke led until lap 92 when the race was finally red flagged because of extremely heavy mist that coated the track and made it unsafe. It was also the first win for Gary Teto, Flemke’s car owner.

A similar situation occurred years ago, 1978, and involved Flemke’s father and Bugsy Stevens. Stevens was clearly the fastest car during the running of the Thompson 300. When rain began falling Stevens was instructed to pit and handed the lead to Flemke. Flemke gambled that the rain would prevail and that it did!

Chuck Hossfeld, in Bob Garbarino’s Mystic Missile finished second and was followed by Bob Grigas, Long Islander Joe Hartmann and rookie Tom Abele. Sixth through tenth were James Civali who was the Coors Light Pole sitter and clearly the fastest on the track, Todd Szegedy, Reggie Ruggiero, Rowan Pennick and Ted Christopher. There were five caution periods for 53 laps. NASCAR Tour director Chad Little needed to get a better grip on this situation as it took way too long to get restart lineups correct. There were 39 Tour Modifieds on hand and despite the cold weather close to 8,000 fans turned out for the season opener.

Prior to the race, former champions Frankie Schneider (1952) and Donny Lia (2007), and the late Richie Evans (nine-time champion) were honored by NASCAR and series sponsor Whelen Engineering.

In other weekend racing at Thompson Bert Marvin was the Sunoco Modified (SK type) winner on Saturday night in the first of two events scheduled for the weekend. The Sunday event was rained out and will be rescheduled at a later date. Jimmy Blewett finished second and was followed by Doug Coby, Danny Cates and Josh Sylvester. Jeff Zuidema was the Late Model winner, Mike O’Sullivan was the Pro Stock winner, Jessie Gleason, the Limited Sportsman winner, Glenn Boss was victorious in the Thompson Modifieds and Danny Fields was the Mini Stock winner. The NEMA Midget feature was halted after the lap 4 accident and was not resumed. Erica Santos was the leader at that time.

In NASCAR Sprint Cup racing Carl Edwards ran away with the Samsung 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday for his series-best third win of the season, holding off Jimmie Johnson on a two-lap overtime sprint to the finish in Fort Worth. Kyle Busch, winner of the Nationwide Series race Saturday, was strong early but had nothing for Edwards in the end and faded to third.

Ten years ago in 2013, The Thompson Speedway opened for the season with IceBreaker 2013. The Ice Breaker officially began the 2013 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Series. Mike Stefanik, still disappointed the way NASCAR handled the bump and run incident in which he was intentionally spun out of the lead in the February Battle at the Beach, eased the pain a bit during qualifying for the IceBreaker. The last car out in qualifying, Stefanik took the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Coors Light Pole Award on the second of his two laps in advance of Sunday’s season-opening Icebreaker. Has fast lap was recorded at 18.668 seconds (120.527 mph). The pole was the 48th of Stefanik’s career and the 10th at Thompson. From Coventry, R.I., Stefanik has a pair of wins in the Icebreaker, the last coming in 2006. He also holds the Whelen Modified Tour record for overall wins at Thompson with 14.

Prior to Stefanik’s last-lap run, Ryan Preece was in position for the Coors Light Pole. He would instead join Stefanik in the front row on Sunday thanks to a fast qualifying lap of 18.707 (120.276). Rowan Pennink qualified third at 18.745 (120.032) while Chuck Hossfeld was fourth-fastest at 18.781 (119.802). Ron Silk rounded out the top five. There were 29 cars on hand for the qualifying session. Hossfeld’s qualifying run was later disallowed after his No. 72 failed post-qualifying technical inspection. The fuel in his car failed to meet NASCAR’s specs. He was placed at the rear of the starting field.

Stefanik is not an overly religious person but he got redemption following his bitter defeat at the hands of Steve Park in Daytona. After an almost fatal flub in the opening moments of the IceBreaker 150 the former NASCAR Champion regained his rhythm to come back to take the lead on a restart with ten laps to go and went on to score the victory, his 73rd, in Whelen Modified Tour Series action. Rowan Pennink finished second followed by Ryan Preece, Ron Silk and Ted Christopher. Jimmy Blewett, Doug Coby, Justin Bonsignore, Chuck Hossfeld and Timmy Solomito rounded out the top ten the top 10.

Pennink, who led a race-high 79 laps, first took the lead from Preece on Lap 7. The pair swapped it two more times based on their pit strategy. Preece led 61 total laps. The race was slowed by seven cautions for 33 laps with two red flags. Three of those caution periods were caused by Gary McDonald who spun in turn 2 on lap 25, turn 4 on lap 43 and the front chute on lap 53.

There were 17 cars on the lead lap at the finish. Among those who didn’t was Eric Berndt who parked it after 28 laps with an oil leak, Ron Yuhas Jr and Rob Fuller who got collected in a turn 1 wreck and Bryon Chew who was involved in a four car tangle in turn 2 on lap 135.

The Whelen Modified Tour Series takes a week off to prepare for the April 28 Spring Sizzler at the Stafford Motor Speedway.

NASCAR Whelen All American Series wins went to Keith Rocco, Glenn Boss, Cam McDermott, Larry Barnett, and Scott Michalski. The Granite State Pro Stocks showcased a 50-lap event that was won by George Bessette.

The Sunoco Modified feature started with a bang when a wreck on the front stretch brought the field under caution, and ended with a dominating performance by Keith Rocco, who registered his first Thompson win of the season. On the restart, Rocco got a run on the outside groove to take the lead from Ryan Preece. Kerry Malone and Woody Pitkat also passed Preece to take over second and third respectively. The top four pulled away with a car length between each spot as they set a torrid pace that fifth place driver Todd Ceravolo could not close up.

Pitkat turned up the heat on lap 13 when he dove to the bottom groove in a challenge against Malone. Malone held him off, but Pitkat was determined and continued to keep the pressure on. Meanwhile, Rocco was solid in the lead as he maneuvered through lapped traffic. On lap 19, Pitkat dove to the bottom again in turn four and drove into second place. Pitkat was on the move and closed in on Rocco. On lap 24, Pitkat used the bottom groove to his advantage again and got alongside Rocco, where he battled for an entire circuit before taking the lead at lap 26. Rocco returned the favor and challenged Pitkat from the inside. The two were side-by-side on lap 27 heading into turn two when Pitkat’s No. 00 turned around and spun into the infield grass. Rocco and Malone brought the field back to green after the caution with Rocco jumping out into the lead. Malone, Preece, Ceravolo, and Pitkat rounded out the top-five as they came around to complete the 28th circuit. Pitkat moved up to third with Rocco dominating up front as they came to the checkered flag. The official finish showed Keith Rocco taking the win over Kerry Malone, Woody Pitkat, Ryan Preece and Todd Ceravolo. Sixth through tenth were Dennis Perry, John Catania, Paul Newcomb, Nick Boivin and Joe Williams.

It appeared that car counts at Thompson were headed in the right direction. There were 19 SK Modifieds that took the green. There were 24 Limited Sportsman, 22 Mini Stocks, 14 Late Models and 10 SK Lites. The speedway management expects these numbers to improve as the season progresses.

On a sad note, SK Modified division driver Jimmy Smith of Woodstock. CT passed away Saturday after suffering a medical issue in his race car at the track following a qualifying event. Smith was 62-years old. He had just finished racing in an SK Modified division heat race when he came off the track and parked his car behind his hauler in the Thompson pits.

The Waterford Speedbowl switched to its regular Saturday night venue. Once the sun went down the temperature dropped but it didn’t seem to slow Tyler Chadwick who took the victory in the SK Modified feature. Chadwick took the lead from Todd Ceravolo with an inside move on lap 10, survived a challenge from Kyle James following a restart one lap later and pulled away over the final six laps to win by 10 car lengths. James finished second and Norwich’s Tom Abele Jr. was third. Also claiming feature wins were Keith Rocco (Late Models), Salem’s Corey Hutchings (Street Stocks), Groton’s Ray Christian III (Mini Stocks), Dylan Izzo (Legends) and Jon Porter (X-Cars).

The NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour was at the South Boston (Va.) Speedway on Saturday, April 13. George Brunnhoelzl III led wire-to-wire to score his 18th career victory. Brian Loftin finished second with Kyle Ebersole, third. John Smith and Tim Brown rounded out the top five. Sixth through tenth were Burt Myers, Jason Myers, Gary Putnam, Jeremy Gerstner and Renee Dupuis.

Kyle Busch got a NASCAR weekend sweep at Texas as he won the Nationwide Series and Sprint Cup races. It was the second time this season, and a NASCAR-record seventh time in his career, that Busch won Cup and Nationwide races in the same weekend. He was the polesitter Saturday night, and won the Nationwide race Friday night on the 1½-mile, high-banked track.

Busch, who also won both races at Fontana in March, led eight times for 171 of 334 laps. He is the first driver to win in all three series at Texas, with six Nationwide wins and two in trucks.

Five years ago in 2018 The 2018 season of racing at Thompson, the 78th, kicked off Friday, April 6, with a blanket of snow. On SaturdayApril 7, the temperatures rose into the 40’s and the snow disappeared. With the exception of the Whelen Modified Tour Series who would qualify on Sunday qualifying for all divisions was completed.

Third generation racer Bryan Narducci carried over his winning ways from 2017 to record a run-away win in the SK Lite Modifieds. Rowan Pennink, in his first competition since back surgery in January, scored the victory in the 50 lap Valenti Modified Racing Series 50 lapper. It was Pennink’s 12th VMRS win. Starting fourth in the 26 car starting field, Pennink quickly moved into second spot by lap three and took over the lead from Richard Savory following a restart on lap 20. Pennink led the remaining laps as Savory faded to 11th at the finish. Chase Dowling applied some late race pressure but couldn’t muster the necessary steam to take the top spot as he settled for the runner-up spot at the finish. Anthony Nocella finished third with Woody Pitkat and Sam Rameau rounding out the top five. Keith Rocco was strong at the start as he was running third in the early going before dropping out with mechanical problems, ending his day in 25th spot. Eric Goodale, making his maiden run in the Ceravolo family car was solidly in the top ten when he dropped out with mechanical problems with seven laps to go, giving him a 22nd finish. Third generation racer Jacob Perry tested the waters with somewhat fair results as he finished 20th.

Despite temperatures in the low 40’s an almost full house crowd was on hand for Sunday’s racing.

In Sunoco SK type Modified racing the fastest car doesn’t always win. Case in point, Ryan Preece had the fastest Sunoco SK in the 30 lapper part of the IceBreaker. Preece had spent most of Saturday in Texas at an Xfinity Series event where he finished fifth. After an over-night flight to Thompson he started 18th and appeared to have the car to beat until losing two laps because of a flat left rear tire. Preece ended up 19th. Keith Rocco took the lead from Todd Owen on lap 18 and led the remaining laps to score the victory. The win took Rocco over the top to a career overall total of 252 wins.

Troy Talman, Kyle James and Joey Gada rounded out the top five.

Thirty six Whelen Modifieds were on hand for the IceBreaker 150. It was a tale of mis-fortune for Jon McKennedy and a tale of some good luck for Justin Bonsignore. McKennedy was well on his way to making it two in a row in Whelen Modified Tour competition when he ran out of fuel while leading with only three laps to go. McKennedy lost laps getting restarted while Bonsignore led the restart. After banging wheels with Ronnie Williams Bonsignore went on to take the win as Williams sat planted in the wall. The race finished under caution with Bonsignore taking the win. Craig Lutz finished second with Rowan Pennink, third. Rounding out the top five was Ryan Preece and Matt Swanson. Sixth thru tenth were Doug Coby, Rob Summers, Chase Dowling, Bobby Santos and Timmy Solomito.

There were 11 cautions for 56 laps. The race started off with a bang when Justin Bonsignore entered turn three a little too hot and triggered a wreck that parked Max Zachem with severe front end damage. The most spectacular wreck occurred on lap 134 when Jimmy Blewett, Andy Seuss and Eric Goodale wrecked. When the dust cleared, Blewett was on his roof and done for the day. Leader mistakes made for a competitive and unpredictable 150-lap feature. Early leader Doug Coby’s undoing was the result of an early race pit that put him near the back of the field and in the path of the accident that spoiled his day. Chase Dowling also led in the mid portion in the event, but was penalized for jumping a restart while Jon McKennedy, who was leading with two laps to go, ran out of fuel and sacrificed the lead after a strong race. The one driver who had good luck in the race was Justin Bonsignore who came back from an incident on the first lap of the race to battle for the lead and benefited from the mistakes of his competition to claim his sixth win at Thompson and his 13th win overall in the series after going winless in 2017.

Other winners at the IceBreaker were Derek Griffith in the PASS event, Shawn Monahan in the Limited Sportsman, William Wall in the Late Models and Eric Bourgeois in the Mini Stocks.

The Stafford Motor Speedway management has been beating the bushes gaining huge support for their weekly divisions. Cassagrande Builders are the latest to sign on for contingency payouts which bring the weekly purse to a record $9,460 which includes $1,900 to win in the SK Modifieds. Following suit is the management of the New London-Waterford Speedbowl who have secured sponsorship for every feature event of the up-coming Blast Off.

In the SK Modifieds, Brody”s Seafood will award $50 to the winner. In addition there will be a $25 PitStewardMatch and $25 for the 13th place finisher. Former Speedbowl Modified Champion Bob Potter will present $50 to the Sk Light winner. There will also be a Pit Steward Match of $25 and a $25 hard charger award. In the Late Models, Olsen Sanitation will present $50 to the winner, a $25 Pit Steward Match and $25 for 3rd place finisher.

Similar monitory awards will be presented to Sportsman competitors, Mini Stock competitors, Legends, Bandoleros, Trucks, Super X and X-Car competitors.

Tony Stewart and the parents of the late Kevin Ward Jr. came to an agreement to settle the wrongful-death lawsuit against Stewart. ESPN reported that U.S. District Court Judge David Hurd scheduled a settlement hearing for April 12 in Utica, N.Y., to put the terms of the settlement on public record.

The settlement would bring to an end the civil lawsuit filed roughly a year after Ward’s death on Aug. 9, 2014 when he was struck by a sprint car Stewart was driving during an Empire Super Sprints event at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park.

A trial regarding the wrongful-death lawsuit was scheduled to begin on May 7. This settlement will keep both sides from having to testify and watch video of the incident, which saw contact between the two on the track that resulted in Ward’s car crashing out of the race.

Ward returned to the track to show his displeasure with Stewart and moments later Stewart’s car struck Ward. A grand jury later cleared Stewart of any criminal charges in Ward’s death. An autopsy revealed that Ward was under the influence of drugs when the incident occurred.

Kyle Busch was the Monster Energy Cup winner in Texas. Ryan Blaney was the Xfinity Series winner. Ryan Preece started 13th and finished fifth.

Last year, 2022, It took two separate weekends to get it in and despite a long day of rain, thunder and hail IceBreaker 22 at the Thompson Speedway is now in the record books. A somewhat slim field of 23 tour type modifieds were on hand for the $10,000 to win-125 lap feature event.

Second generation driver Mike Christopher Jr started 13th and was running second, a full straightaway behind Jon McKennedy when a caution flew for Keith Rocco and Artie Pederson who tangled. The caution closed up the field and on the restart Christopher took the lead and went on to lead the final 26 laps. McKennedy finished second and was followed by Eric Goodale, Anthony Nocella with Bobby Santos rounding out the top five. Sixth thru tenth included Chris Pasteryak, Teddy Hodgdon, JB Fortin, Todd Owen, and Buddy Charette.

Other Feature winners were Corey Fanning who took the win in the Limited Sportsman feature over Aaron Plemons and Larry Barnett, Kevin Moore took the Mini Stock feature over Steve Michalski and Scott Michalski, Steven Chapman won the SK Light feature over George Bessette Jr. and Tyler Chapman and the Late Model feature was won by Derek Gluchacki over Brian Tagg and Nick Johnson.

In SMART tour action at the Franklin County Speedway in Callaway, Va, Jonathan(John Boy) Brown scored a convincing win on the ultra fast high banked 3/8 mile speedway. Jeremy Gerstner finished second with Bobby Measmer, third. Burt Myers and Bobby Labonte rounded out the top five.

The SMART Tour goes on Summer break so as not to interfere with racing at the Bowman Gray Stadium which starts on April 23.

In NASCAR Cup racing action, Saturday’s Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 400 at Martinsville Speedway was different, as the NASCAR Cup Series debuted the Next Gen car at the half-mile paperclip. William Byron, who also captured victory in Thursday’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event, probably didn’t mind, as the 24-year-old picked up his second win of the season and the fourth of his NASCAR Cup Series career. Joey Logano would finish a season-best second, after a failed attempt to move Byron up the track. Austin Dillon was third.

Brandon Jones’ No. 19 Menards Toyota GR Supra passed all aspects of post-race inspection, meaning he is the official winner of the eighth NASCAR Xfinity Series event of the season.

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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