Column Compiled By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WESTERLY, RI – The regular Friday night racing series at Stafford never fails to excite.
The SK Lights were the main attraction with their first of two 40-lap Double Down extra distance feature events for the 2023 season. Brian Sullivan was the big winner of the night taking down his second win of the 2023 season in the 40-lap SK Light feature event. Stephen Kopcik scored his first win of the season in the SK Modified® feature, Adam Gray was a first-time 2023 winner in the Late Model feature, Matt Clement notched win #2 of the season in the Limited Late Model feature, and Travis Hydar won the Street Stock feature after finishing first in the first two races of the season.
The SK Modifieds went non-stop in their 40 lapper. Kopcik started fourth and wasted little time as he took the lead from Marcello Rufrano on lap 8. Keith Rocco followed Kopcik and appeared to have a potential winning car until shortly after half way when his car began to fall off. Rocco ended his night in sixth spot. While Kopcik and Rufrano slugged it out for the lead, Jimmy Blewett, who was mired in traffic for the first half of the event finally broke out from his 10th starting spot. On lap 32 Blewett made a bonsai move down low in the dirt going into turn three, taking third from Corey DiMatteo. Blewett had nothing left for the leaders. Rounding out the top five was Dylan Kopec. Sixth thru tenth included Rocco, Todd Owen, Teddy Hodgdon, David Arute and Tyler Hines.
In the Double Down 40 lapper for the SK Lights George Bessette closed in on Brian Sullivan’s back bumper and he gave Sullivan a shot going into turn 3 on the final lap but Sullivan was able to hold on and take the checkered flag for his second win of the 2023 season. Jason Chapman finished third with Alexander Pearl and Nick Anglace rounding out the top-5.
The Bowman Gray Stadium in North Carolina cancelled their racing program due to impending rain. The SMART tour ran at the Franklin County Speedway in Virginia on Friday night with Burt Myers ending a long dry spell with a win.
The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Series traveled to New Hampshire for Granite State Derby at Lee USA Speedway on Saturday with a somewhat light field of cars, 21 were on hand. Matt Hirschman cleaned house as he took a Sunday drive on a Saturday night. Taking the lead on lap three of the event from Doug Coby, Hirschman ran away and hid. Jon McKennedy finished second with Austin Beers, third. Sam Rameau and Ronnie Silk rounded out the top five. One caution slowed the event, that coming on lap 69 when Max Zachem spun. With a slipping clutch over the final half of the race, Coby fell to the bottom of the top-10 and worked his way back up in the final laps to score a sixth-place finish.
Among the missing was Eric Goodale who has announced that he is cutting back to racing on a part time status. Goodale who, with his family owns and operates Riverhead Building Supplies has been a regular on the Whelen Modified Tour Series since 2008 and has competed in 207 events.
The Whelen Modified Tour Series heads to the Seekonk Speedway on Saturday, June 10. Justin Bonsignore leads the current standings with a one point edge over Ron Silk. Austin Beers sits third, 19 points back.
The Memorial Day weekend continued for racers on Sunday for the season opening Tri-Track event at the Thunder Road Speedbowl in Barre Vermont. The 23 cars on hand drew for starting spots. Austin Beers drew the pole with Anthony Noscella on the outside and Doug Coby, third. Pre-race favorite Matt Hirschman drew sixth while Ronnie Williams drew 12th.
At the drop of the green Beers took the point as Coby moved into second. The first caution flew on lap eight when Les Hinkley and Chris Pasteryak got together on the front chute. After an extended yellow-red the field restarted. Pasteryak was able to drive away. Before one lap was completed a mass tangle ensued in turn three. A left rear tire blew on the Hirschman mount which caused the field to scatter. Hirschman would rejoin the field but would never be a factor. Coby took the lead on the restart with Chace Dowling, second and Ron Williams, third as Beers began to backslide. By lap 32 Williams had closed in on the bumper of the Cody machine and on lap 35 executed the move to take the lead which he never gave up. Coby finished second with Woody Pitkat, third. Chris Pasteryak made a remarkable recovery from his lap 8 crash to finish fourth with Matt Swanson, fifth. David Arute drove a strong hesds up race to finish sixth with Hirschman, seventh. Rounding out the top ten was Dowling, Ron Silk and Mike Christopher Jr.
Down on the Connecticut shoreline at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl Eric Berndt became the third different winner in SK Modified competition. Timmy Jordan finished second withJon Puleo, third. Ray Christian III won the 60-lap Late Model feature.Andrew Molleur and Matt Lowinski-Loh followed. Jake Hines won the 25-lap SK Light Modified feature. Tom Abele Jr. was second and Tyler Chapman, third.
Congratulations to Matt Buckler on his return to announcing at the Speedbowl. Despite losing a foot Buckler kept a positive attitude and returned to being the man behind the mic.
Across the big pond at the Riverhead Raceway on the east end of Long Island, Tom Rogers Jr. made a triumphant return to victory lane Saturday when he topped a caution free 50-lap NASCAR Modified feature. The win was the 62nd of Tom’s NASCAR Modified career leaving him just one shy of “Charging” Charlie Jarzombek’s all-time mark of 63. What maybe more concerning for Tom’s competition came in a quick comment the five-time champion made post-race, “we made an adjustment, it’s good, but we can make it better”. Dillon Steuer finished second with JR Bertuccio, third. Dylan Slepian and John Beatty Jr.rounded out the top five.
Area Auto Racing News reported that while much of the attention at Mahoning Valley on May 21 focused on race winner Matt Hirschman following his win in the Tom Wanick Jr. Memorial 150 on Sunday, May 21, a number of people were watching what went on in the pit area. The focus was centered around the trailer of Jimmy Blewett after a pair of on track incidents, one of which sent Austin Kochenash to the hospital.
During the early stages of the race, while racing inside the top five, Blewett and Blake Barney touched wheels. Blewett stormed through the infield grass before running into the back of Barney under the next caution. “We were running side-by-side and he was trying to get down. I was running myself down into the infield trying to keep the car off of him and he ran into me and we locked tires, we have open-wheeled cars. Then he runs into the back of me under caution and tries to rip my left front off three times,” said a calm Barney while loading up.
Blewett clearly had fast race car ran inside the top five the whole race before pitting on lap 88 with the rest of the leaders. As Blewett was following Hirschman back to the front, Blewett’s left front touched Earl Paules’ rear bumper resulting in a left front flat, again sending him pit side. Charging back through the field with a handful of laps remaining in the 150-lap feature event, trying to gain as many positions as he could, Blewett and Austin Kochenash made contact in turns three and four which collected a number of cars forcing a green-white-checkered finish.
While under the red flag as officials cleaned up the incident, Kochenash pulled up alongside Blewett. Hand gestures exchanged between the two were clearly unpleasant. Blewett was then put to the rear for over aggressive driving. As the race resumed for its final two lap stint, while Hirschman was taking the checkered flag, Blewett and Kochenash again made contact in turns three and four. Kochenash backed it in and made hard contact with the concrete outside retaining wall collecting Blewett.
Kochenash, who took his time exiting the car following the incident, fell to the pavement when he climbed from his self-built No. 66. After a few tense minutes, Kochenash stood up and took off running towards the pit entrance, clearly in search of Blewett, before he was stopped prior to walking to the ambulance under his own power. “He (Kochenash) wasn’t clear. He thought he was clear and went to clear himself and came down on me and I wasn’t going to give him an inch because he wants to drive me all over the race track every time I’m near him,” asserted Blewett about the first incident while helping his team pack up as team members from Kochenash’s team continued to yell from across the pit area.
“That kid over there is the same way,” said Blewett, while he pointed to Barney’s trailer. “They’re all quick to run into you, but when you pay the piper, they want to cry ‘poor me’ saying ‘someone is going to get hurt’. They know what they’re doing, they’re messing with the wrong guy.” Both Blewett and Kochenash were disqualified from Sunday’s feature event, Blewett for the contact on the race track and Kochenash for the actions of his crew members following the race.
Barney, who was right behind the incident between Blewett and Kochenash on the last lap, described what happened from his point of view. “That was a disgrace what he did at the end to the 66 (Kochenash),” Barney stated. “We’re all racers, we’ve all been around the race track our whole lives. He wasn’t racing him from a car length back, going into three trying to advance his position. He was riding around with his headhunter vibe. “I lifted going down the backstretch because I thought he was coming after me. It seems like when he doesn’t have a good car or a car to win, he’s like a wrecking ball and you just have to avoid it.”
Kochenash was released from the hospital on Sunday night with all tests coming back negative. He had no concussion, but was ‘just really sore’.
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).