The Chrome Horn - Looking Back A Bit with Phil Smith

November 25, 2016

  Fifty years ago in 1966, an era came to an end when it was announced that the half mile dirt track at the Stafford Springs Fairgrounds would be paved for the 1967 season. Stafford had been a Friday night hot bed as many of the big guns from New York including Kenny Shoemaker, Pete Corey, Maynard Forette, Don Wayman and Lou Lazzaro would come to Stafford to do battle with the likes of Bill Slater, Bob Janoski, Gene Bergin and Rene Charland. Once paved, Stafford became part of the weekend circuit known as the Circuit of Champions which consisted of Stafford on Friday night, Norwood Arena on Saturday night and Thompson on Sundays. It was the beginning of the Golden Era of Modified Racing in New England.

  Forty years ago in 1976, the Thanksgiving weekend Turkey Derby at Wall Stadium was a true Open Competition Modified event which drew cars from through out the northeast.  It was 65 degrees on race day with 63 Modifieds on hand for the 150-lap event. Seasoned veteran Jim Hendrickson, driving the Tony Ferrente Sr.No.x3 took the win. Maynard Troyer finished second and was followed by Geoff Bodine, Jerry Cook, Fred Harbach, Dick Dunn, Charlie Jarzombek, Jim Hoffman and Pete Fiandaca.

  Thirty five years ago in 1981, the Turkey Derby was still a big modified event and drew 75 cars. New Jersey natives Jamie Tomaino and John Blewett Jr. finished one-two. Richie Evans was the early leader until a flat tire did him in. Evidently Blewett was a bit unhappy with Tomaino as he spun him after the completion of the event. In the season ending Winston Cup event at Riverside, California, Darrell Waltrip was the pole sitter but it was Bobby Allison taking the win. Ronnie Bouchard finished tenth and wrapped up Rookie of the Year honors in NASCAR's elite division. Waltrip was the division champion.

  Thirty years ago in 1986, the Turkey Derby still featured the Modifieds but with the Featherlite Modified Tour now in place, many of the top tour runners chose not to support the event, even though their season was over .Local favorite and soon to be co-owner of the Jersey shore oval, Tom Mauser took the win. Jerry Cranmer finished second and was followed by Jamie Tomaino, Tom Baldwin, Gil Hearne and Parker Bohn.

  Twenty five years ago in 1991, Tony Siscone was the winner of the Thanksgiving Classic at Wall Stadium. It was, for the most part, an all New Jersey show. Ken Wooley finished second and was followed by Doug Wolcott, Harry Reed, Jerry Cranmer, Martin Truex and Tim Arre.

  Twenty years ago in 1996, selected Winston Cup teams were in Japan for an exhibition event. Sad news came as former driver and Winston Cup pace car driver Elmo Langley suffered a heart attack and passed away.

  Fifteen years ago in 2001, the Blewett brothers cleaned house at the annual Turkey Derby at the Wall Stadium. The event was split into three 50-lap segments. Jimmy Blewett won the first two 50 lappers and his brother John III won the third segment. In Winston Cup action at Loudon, Robbie Gordon spun Jeff Gordon with 15 laps to go and went on to take the win. Jeff Gordon retaliated and was put in the penalty box for one lap.

  Ten year ago in 2006, The Thanksgiving weekend officially wrapped up the 2006 Modified Racing season. The traditional Turkey Derby was run at the Wall Township Speedway in New Jersey and the Mason-Dixon Meltdown at the South Boston Speedway in Virginia. Wall drew 32 Modifieds while South Boston drew 24.
  At the New Jersey oval Jimmy Blewett and Steve Reed split the Wall Township Speedway Turkey Derby XXXIII twin 100-lap modified mains on Saturday night. Blewett, took the lead from Donnie Lia with five laps to go and held off Les Hinckley's last-lap pass by 1.527 sec. to win the open modified main. Blewett came from 13th starting spot to shadow front row starter Ken Wooley, Jr., and inherited the lead when the pair banged wheels on lap 71, breaking the latter's steering rack. Hinckley, Lia, John Blewett III and Rowan Pennink rounded out the top five of 12 finishers. Lia set a 12.036 sec., 99.601 mph fast time among 33 Whelen and Race of Champions tour modified men Saturday afternoon. There were more boos than cheers when Blewett, who proudly carries the nickname "Showtime," won perhaps the most exciting race in Turkey Derby history. Blewett squeezed hard-charging Hinckley, who came off the fourth turn of the final lap on a mission to win the race. Brief contact was made between the leaders and Blewett held his position, as sparks flew, and tires and fenders rubbed as the 100-lap Tour-type modified feature hit the finish line.
  "What don't they understand," Blewett said, "I came here to win this race." And win it he did, in typical Jimmy Blewett fashion. He raced everyone hard, raced everyone including his brother, John, as tough as can be. Ken Woolley Jr. was the leader for the first 71 laps, driving Dick Barney's tour modified flawlessly. As Woolley and Jimmy Blewett were approaching the start/finish line of the next lap, the two came together and Woolley's modified suffered a broken rack, then he was hit from behind by John Blewett III as he sat helplessly on the track. "He didn't hit me that hard," Woolley said. "I couldn't steer. I had to get out of the throttle. I said, "Hang on.' " Woolley end up crashing into the concrete barriers in the infield, as track crew members and photographs ran for safety. Jimmy Blewett was the leader off the restart with Rowan Pennick, driving a modified he bought from the Blewetts, and John Blewett II in third place. At lap 85 it was Blewett and Blewett in front before Jimmy made contact with John coming out of the fourth turn. With four laps to go, Hinckley was flying and passed John Blewett III and began his run at the leader, setting the stage for the unpopular finish. Winning Turkey Derby "feels great," said Blewett, who won $5,853 with bonuses and contingencies yet to be counted.
  Reed, was the only one of the 27 starters who did not pit, let alone change tires, in the 100-lap race for WTS/True Value/B mods. The RTS Transmission Repair RTS-Chevy No. 55 driver held off John Blewett III by .696 sec. for his third WTS feature victory of the season. WTS Modifieds are very similar to the New England SK Modifieds. Tim Arre took third and Mike Carpenter rounded out the top five of 11 finishers.
  Matt Hirschman, who won the recent North-South Shootout in North Carolina continued his post season streak as he won the Mason-Dixon Meltdown. Hirschman and Eric Beers battled over the final laps, but the young Hirschman was able to get the best of the veteran Beers to become the first-ever Mason-Dixon Meltdown Tour-Type Modified champion. James Civali crossed beneath the checkered flag third, while Burt Myers and Rusty Smith rounded out the top-five. On the lap 104 restart Hirschman took the lead from Myers. Among those who encountered problems was Chris Pasteryak who lost a left rear tire and hit the turn two wall on lap 96.
  Among the missing from both events was Ted Christopher who tied the knot.
  Jim Hunter, NASCAR's vice president of corporate communications said at the recent Nextel Cup event at the Homestead Speedway in Florida that he anticipated a 14 race schedule for the Modifieds. Waterford was not on the current schedule and Thompson and Stafford, which accounted for nine races in 2006 would have six or seven combined in 2007. "Stafford and Thompson have been the backbone of the Modified Division for a long time and will continue" Hunter said. Two major new dates for Whelen teams are at Mansfield OH and Irwindale Speedway in California. The mods will be part of the Showdown program in November at Irwindale that includes Busch East and West competitors. According to Hunter the Modified purse will be in the $200,000 range. He also said $1,500 in tow money will be provided teams traveling from the Northeast to California. It is a long ride to Irwindale. One fan calculated the distance at 2778 miles and 41 hours from New York City.

  Five years ago in 2011, Tony Stewart used a powerful and relentless drive, some might suggest the best in NASCAR history, on Sunday in the season finale at the Homestead-Miami Speedway to seize his third NASCAR championship. He overcame a hole in the grill of his Chevrolet, a rain delay, used debatable fuel strategy and made 118 passes on the track to win. Edwards, who started the race with a three-point lead in the standings, did everything he could from the minute he arrived in Florida. His Roush-Fenway Racing team put his Ford on the pole, he led a race-high 119 of the 267 laps and still finished a helpless second.
  The two actually ended up tied in the final standings, a NASCAR first, but Stewart won the title based on his five victories, all in the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup championship to Edwards’ one.
  Stewart became the first owner/driver to win the championship since the late Alan Kulwicki in 1992, and the driver to end Jimmie Johnson’s record five-year title run. His last title was in 2005, the year before Johnson’s began his reign.
  Ricky Stenhouse won the Nationwide Series title long before the checkered flag dropped at the season finale Saturday. He clinched his first championship about 30 laps into the 200-lap race, securing the title when six cars officially dropped out of the 300-mile event at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Stenhouse was running fourth when NASCAR officials announced he had wrapped up the title. He finished second behind Brad Keselowski. Carl Edwards was third, followed by Clint Bowyer, Denny Hamlin and Elliott Sadler.
  With the 2011 Stafford Motor Speedway NASCAR Racing season in the history books the Arute family and their staff hosted the 42nd Annual Stafford Motor Speedway Champions Awards Ceremony at the La Renaissance Banquet Facility in East Windsor this past Friday. In addition to crowning their division champions the speedway released their schedule for 2012.
  Guests of honor were Ryan Preece, Ryan Posocco, Matt Galko, Kevin Gambacorta, and Don Wood as the 2011 Stafford Motor Speedway NASCAR Whelen All-American Series track champions. Also honored were the top-20 points finishers from the SK Modified®, Late Model, SK Light, Limited Late Model, and DARE Stock divisions. Other awards that were presented during the evening's festivities were Most Popular Driver Awards, Most Improved Driver Awards, Reliable Welding & Speed Rookie of the Year awards, and the Craftsman Mechanic of the Year Award.
Receiving awards for Most Improved Driver were Michael Gervais, Jr. in the SK Modified® division, Patrick Townsend in the Late Model division, Steve Greer in the SK Light division, and Duane Provost in the Limited Late Model division. The Reliable Welding & Speed Rookie of the Year awards were presented by Brad and Linda Hietala of Reliable Welding and Speed to Heather DesRochers from the SK Modified® division, Peter Thickett from the Late Model division, Cody Gneiting from the SK Light division, and D.J. Burnham from the Limited Late Model division. The awards will be worth a $700.00 bonus to DesRochers, and $500.00 bonuses to Thickett, Gneiting, and Burnham from Reliable Welding and Speed.
  The winners of the Most Popular Driver Awards were Woody Pitkat in the SK Modified® and Late Model divisions, Joey Cipriano from the SK Light division, Cory Casagrande from the Limited Late Model division, and David Arute from the DARE Stock division. The Craftsman Mechanic of the Year Award was awarded to Rick Casagrande. Casagrande prepared and maintained cars for his two sons, Cory and Kyle Casagrande. Cory won three races and narrowly missed out on winning Rookie of the Year honors in the Limited Late Model division, while Kyle tied for the DARE Stock division lead with 5 feature wins.
  Congratulations were in order for Modified racing pioneers Moe Gherzi, Jerry Humiston and Roland Lapierre, Sr. who were selected by the Veterans Committee of the New England Auto Racers Hall of Fame. The trio would be inducted along with drivers Reggie Ruggiero and Joey Kourafas, owner/mechanics Mario Fiore and Jim Jorgensen and track operators/promoters Irene Venditti and Donald Hoenig at the 15th annual Hall of Fame Banquet on Sunday Jan. 29, 2012 at the LaRenaissance Banquet Hall in East Windsor, CT.
  Racing scribe Lou Modestino reported that New England racing history would be featured in the new state-of-the-art Northeast Motorsports Museum at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. The Racing History Preservation Group and “The Magic Mile” announced the beginning of fund raising efforts to create a 20,000-square-foot motorsports museum on Rt. 106 in Loudon, N.H. The announcement was made by Jerry Gappens, executive vice president and general manager of the speedway, RHPG president Dick Berggren and New England fan favorite and former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Ricky Craven.
  The Board was filled with New England racing greats including Ricky Craven, Ron Bouchard, Lew Boyd, Russ Conway, Andy Cusack, Ken Smith, Ed Shea, Joe Lombardo, Ric Mariscal, Skip Matczak, R.A. Silvia, George Summers and Pete vonSneidern.

  Last year, 2015, All was not well on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Series. While those at NASCAR who govern the sport and continually pat themselves on the back, the core of the series is being eaten away by a cancer in the form of bad decisions made by officials and expensive mandates by the sanctioning body. Since the season ended at the World Series at Thompson the series has lost three of its top teams. Robert Our, who fielded cars for Tommy Barrett Jr, Keith Rocco and Ted Christopher says he just doesn't enjoy it any more and is in the process of selling all of his racing equipment. Eddie Partridge, who along with his wife Connie recently purchased the Riverhead Raceway on Long Island says he has had enough of the politics and indecision. The final decision will be based on Ryan Preece's situation in 2016. Strike three comes from Long Island Chevy dealer Buzz Chew who fielded the car for Woody Pitkat. Chew echoes Partridge's sentiments concerning officiating. Chew will concentrate his efforts in 2016 on the up-state New York DIRT circuit.
  Rather than pat themselves on the back, higher-ups at the sanctioning body needed to talk to competitors in order to get the solution to a problem that could bring the division down. NASCAR and it's touring competitors will gather in Charlotte, NC on December 12 for their awards banquet. That would be an excellent time to discuss the issues at hand.
  The Stafford Motor Speedway welcomed a guest list of nearly 500 people consisting of teams, drivers, sponsors, and employees at Maneely’s in South Windsor to officially honor Rowan Pennink, Michael Bennett, Stephen Kopcik, Al Saunders, Frank L’Etoile, And Devin O’Connell as the 2015 Stafford Motor Speedway NASCAR Whelen All-American Series track champions.
  With Stafford Motor Speedway broadcasters Darren Ayotte and Matt Buckler serving as the Masters of Ceremony, the 46th annual Stafford Motor Speedway NASCAR Champions Awards Ceremony not only honored the six track champions, they also recognized the top-15 points finishers from the SK Modified®, Late Model, SK Light, Limited Late Model, DARE Stock, and U.S. Legend Cars divisions. Special awards that were presented during the evening’s festivities were Most Popular Driver Awards, SPAFCO Race Chassis & Parts Rookie of the Year, R.A.D. Automachine and T/A Engines Rookie of the Year, R.A.D. Automachine DARE Stock Rookie of the Year, and the UNOH Youth Achievement Award.
  The 2015 SK Modified® season saw Rowan Pennink, who traveled each and every week from his home in Pennsylvania, continue a hot streak that began with his victory in the 2014 NAPA SK 5k. Including that SK 5k victory, Pennink scored 5 wins in the final 10 races of the year and he and the #99 Van Wickle NAPA Auto Supply team served notice right out of the gate that they would be contenders in 2015 as they won the season opening NAPA Spring Sizzler feature. Pennink went on to score 5 more wins for a total of 6 to go along with 17 top-5 and 19 top-10 finishes this season. Pennink’s average finish for the season was 4.5 and he claimed the track title by a 10 point margin over Ryan Preece.
  The SPAFCO Race Chassis and Parts Rookie of the Year awards were presented to Tyler Hines from the SK Modified® division and Michael Wray from the Late Model division. Taking home R.A.D. Automachine and T/A Engines Rookie of the Year honors were Daniel Wesson in the SK Light division and David Comeau in the Limited Late Model division, and taking home R.A.D. Automachine Rookie of the Year honors was Zack Robinson in the DARE Stock division. The awards will be worth an $1,100.00 bonus to Hines and Wray from SPAFCO, $1,000 bonuses each to Wesson and Comeau from R.A.D. Automachine and T/A Engines, and a $500 bonus to Robinson from R.A.D. Automachine. Each Rookie of the Year bonus will be paid out in $100.00 weekly increments to each driver as they attend events during the 2016 season.
  The winners of the Most Popular Driver Awards were Ronnie Williams in the SK Modified® division, Tom Butler in the Late Model division, Nick Salva from the SK Light division, David Comeau from the Limited Late Model division, Doug Marcello Rufrano in the DARE Stock division, and Teddy Hodgdon in the U.S. Legend Cars division. The Most Popular Driver Awards are voted on by the fans who attend Stafford Motor Speedway race events and fill out the ballots found in the track’s weekly PitStopper Magazine.
  The UNOH Youth Achievement award was won by SK Light Modified driver Stephen Kopcik. The UNOH Youth Achievement Award is a program that is open to all drivers at Stafford between the ages of 14-17. The eligible driver who scored the most track points from their best 14 finishes this season won a $500 cash award from UNOH as well as a $500 scholarship award from UNOH.
  The New London-Waterford Speedbowl management is wasting little time as heavy equipment is on site removing the battered Armco barrier. It will be interesting to see what the new retaining wall will be made of. The end result was concrete with an all new catch fence.
  Kyle Busch started the season at Daytona Int’l Speedway being loaded into an ambulance. On Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway he ended it by winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.
  Busch took the lead during a restart with seven laps left in Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 and outran defending series champion and fellow title contender Kevin Harvick to win not only the race, but the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.
  In the Xfinity series event at Homestead, Chris Buescher did exactly what he had to do on Saturday.
  Knowing his car wasn’t capable of winning, Buescher took care of his No. 60 Fastenal Ford throughout the Ford EcoBoost 300. By finishing 11th, Buescher beat Chase Elliott by 15 points to score his first NASCAR XFINITY Series championship in a race that Kyle Larson rallied to win.

  That’s about it for this week from 11 Gardner Drive, Westerly, and R.I.02891.Ring my chimes at 401-596-5467.E-Mail,

Phil Smith has been a columnist for Speedway Scene and various
other publications for over 3 decades.

Looking Back Archive

Source: Phil Smith / Looking Back A Bit
Posted: November 25, 2016

2007-2016 © GeeLaw Motorsports/RGeePro/Wolf Pack Ventures, Inc.   Do not duplicate or redistribute in any form without written prior consent