The Chrome Horn - Looking Back A Bit with Phil Smith

October 27, 2017

  Seventy years ago in 1947, racing history was made in Rhode Island. Noted writer Pete Zanardi tells it best: Lonsdale Arena, a relatively short-lived high-banked third-mile oval just outside Providence, Rhode Island, hosted one of the of the most important events in stock-car racing history on Oct. 26, 1947.
  The late Bill Tuthill, the man who organized it, believed “it was the most significant stock-car race ever run.” The race, Tuthill said some 35 years later, “opened the way into the sport for everybody, and without it a lot of tracks that were built for midgets would have gone out of business.” Tuthill was a “midget guy,” part of the huge success the sport enjoyed. Still, he saw signs of trouble ahead. “Big money,” was taking over. He decided to see if stock cars, running with some success on the dirt in the South, could run on small asphalt midget tracks. Lonsdale, with its high banks and 34,000 seats, was the place to do it. Tuthill paid a young radio guy in Pawtucket, R.I., named Chris Schenkel (who went to national fame) $25 a week to help out and the Providence Journal didn’t hurt, especially when Rhode Island native Sammy Packard became the first entry.
  When it became apparent Packard was the only entry, Tuthill called Bill France. France got involved and made the race part of his National Championship Stock Car circuit.
  Buddy Shuman, the so-called “King of the Asphalt” signed on first and soon others followed. Race-day fans (an announced crowd of 9,000 paid $1.20 each) saw the likes of Fonty Flock, Red Byron and Junior Samples, all from the deep South, and Tommy Bradshaw, Tommy Coates and Pepper Cunningham, the latter New Jersey racers. Johnny Brunner, who went on to a long relationship with NASCAR, was the flagman. Byron won the pole with an 18.5 second run on Saturday with Samples and Shuman posting identical 19.1 runs for second fastest. Shuman beat Byron in the first heat, with Samples and Cunningham also winning heats. “Pickles” Bicklehaupt won the consi and Long Islander Bill Frick won the “New England Championship” race. Flock jumped to an early lead and never gave it up in the 30-lap headliner, claiming $625 from the $3,500 purse. He also gained momentum toward the 1947 NCSCC championship. Shuman, Samples, Byron and Bradshaw followed at the checkered flag.
  “I remember being very surprised [learning the] crowd figure. I suspected it then and I still suspect that figure. I believe we had more people,” Tuthill told this reporter in 1980.
  France and Tuthill split the $1,100 profit.
  Lonsdale Sports Arena was a high-banked 1/3 mile high-banked paved oval located two miles north of Pawtucket, Rhode Island on Mendon Road in Cumberland, Rhode Island, on the banks of the Blackstone River. The track operated from 1947 to 1956. Ironically, its location near the river would prove a key factor in its ultimate demise. The Stop & Shop plaza now occupies where Lonsdale was.
  The Lonsdale Arena hosted racing until 1956 when the nearby Blackstone River overflowed its banks and carried away much of the backstretch and third turn. The track was never rebuilt. The Wall Stadium, in New Jersey, is patterned after now gone Lonsdale Arena.

  Sixty five years ago in 1952 Jim Holt won the season ending 50 lap Sportsman feature at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl. Big Butch Caswell was the Claiming Car winner.

  Forty years ago, in 1977, the Monadnock Speedway hosted a 100 lap, open-competition event. Dynamite Ollie Silva was the class of the field as he cleaned house on this cool fall day. Ray Miller finished second with Reggie Ruggiero, Bugsy Stevens and John Rosati rounding out the top five. Little did anyone know, Silva’s racing career would come to an end the following year at the Winchester, New Hampshire track when his car flew off the back stretch and hit a tree. The NASCAR Modifieds ran a special event at Kingsport, Tenn. Ronnie Bouchard took the win over Jerry Cook, Paul Radford, Wayne Anderson, Roger Hill and Bob Park.

  Thirty five years ago, in 1982, It was all-quiet on the racing front. The Winston Cup division of NASCAR had a scheduled event at Rockingham, North Carolina but because of rain, had to be postponed to the end of the month which would conflict with the season ending Cardinal 500 at Martinsville.

  Thirty years ago, in 1987, the NASCAR Modifieds were in Rougemont, North Carolina. Jeff Fuller, driving the Art Barry No.21 took the win over Bugsy Stevens, Jim Spencer, Mike Mclaughlin, Dave Reszendes, Jay Hedgecock and Tom Baldwin. The Waterford Speedbowl ran their season ender with Bob Potter taking a 100 lap win over Dickie Doo Ceravolo, Ronnie Rocco, John Anderson, Dale Holdredge and Jerry Pearl. C.J. Freye was the Late Model winner.

  Twenty five Years ago, in 1992, it was all quiet as teams were making preparations for the season ending World Series.

  Twenty years ago, in 1997, Waterford's final program was rained out. Todd Ceravolo was declared the Modified track champion. At the Lee Octoberfest, Tucker Reynolds won the modified portion. Ted Christopher finished second and was followed by Charlie Pasteryak, David Berghman and Jeff Pearl. At Rockingham, N.C., Mark Martin scored his 32nd Grand National win and broke the record that had previously been held by Jack Ingram. Martin took the lead from Ricky Craven on lap 184 of the 197-lap grind. Dick Trickle finished second with Craven, third. Randy LaJoie finished 20th on the lead lap and sewed up the division championship. It was also on this weekend last year that Bob O'Rourke, long time Nascar Track Steward on Long Island, died after a long bout with cancer.

  Fifteen years ago in 2002, The NASCAR Featherlite Modified Tour was at the Thompson Speedway last weekend for the season ending World Series. Heavy rain washed out qualifying which had to be re-scheduled to Sunday. Ted Christopher was the fastest of the fifty-two Modifieds on hand. The top ten re-drew for starting spots with Jerry Marquis picking the pole and Charlie Pasteryak, the outside pole. Marquis led the start. The first of only two yellows occurred on lap four when Bo Gunning became the first casualty when he wrecked in turn four. Marqius led the re-start. Christopher, who started third, moved into second spot with John Blewett III in third spot. The second yellow occurred on lap seven when a mass tangle unfolded in turn four, which collected nine cars. Martinsville winner L.W Miller ended up in the wall with heavy front-end damage. Also in the mix was Ricky Fuller who sustained front end and nerf bar damage. Fuller had been second in points behind Mike Stefanik and had been the center of attention as many thought that a confrontation with Ted Christopher was in the making. Marquis again led the restart but held on for only one lap before being overtaken by Ted Christopher. Christopher’s time on the point was short as Blewett powered by one lap later and never looked back. Running at a torrid pace, Blewett lapped all but the top six when he took the checkered flag. Chuck Hossfeld, who got within striking distance a few times, has to settle for second. Christopher ended up third and was followed by Charlie Pasteryak, Nevin George and Marquis, in the lead lap. Rounding out the top ten were Ed Flemke Jr, Chris Kopec, Mike Stefanik and Zach Sylvester. Stefanik, who complained about a bouncing tire, garnered enough points to secure his sixth Featherlite Modified Tour Series Title.
  The Busch North Series finally dodged the raindrops enough to finish their season at Lime Rock where Dennis Doyle got his first win. Andy Santerre garnered enough points to take the title by nine points over Matt Kobyluck. The event, which had been delayed and shortened by rain, was stopped 10 minutes before the track’s noise curfew took effect.
  The World Series at Thompson drew a total of 653 racecars. It was a marathon session on Sunday that started at noon and lasted 11-1/2 hours when the final event was run. All things considered with the amounts of cars and divisions the speedway management did an outstanding job of keeping the show rolling. High attrition for the supers was evident as 13 of the original 30 starters completed the 50-lap contest. Russ Wood took the win and recorded his sixth ISMA championship. Bo Gunning won the SK/Sunoco Modified 25 lapper that saw 40 cars start. Pre-race favorite Ted Christopher lost an engine.

  Ten years ago in 2007, NASCAR finally got around to updating the Whelen Modified Tour Series point standings. Donnie Lia ended the season in the top spot despite the fact that he dropped out of the season ending World Series at Thompson with a blown engine. Lia had sewed up the title after the Stafford event. In 16 events Lia scored 13 top tens, which included six wins. His season winning total is $83,800. Todd Szegedy ended up in second spot, 180 points behind. Szegedy, in 16 events, scored 11 top tens, which included two wins which brought his season totals to $60,225. Although winless Matt Hirschman used consistency in order to finish up third in the final standings. In 16 events the second-generation racer recorded 11 top tens which included five top fives. Ronnie Silk with one win and Ted Christopher with one win rounded out the top five. Sixth through tenth were James Civali with three wins, Mike Stefanik with one win, Jimmy Blewett with one win, Jamie Tomaino and Eddie Flemke JR.
  Jimmie Johnson won the wreck marred Nextel Cup event at the Atlanta Motor Speedway. Carl Edwards, who had not been a factor most of the race, wound up second He was followed by Reed Sorenson, Matt Kenseth, Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer. David Reutimann dominated a crash-filled race and survived a green-white-checker finish at Memphis to win the Sam's Town 250 for his first career Busch Series win. Mike Bliss finished second followed by David Ragan Marcos Ambrose, Jason Leffler, Scott Wimmer, Jamie McMurray, Jason Keller, Brad Keselowski, and Brian Keselowski. Points leader Carl Edwards was caught in a spin on the last lap and finished 25th.

  Five years ago in 2012, The Waterford Speedbowl closed out their season and championships were decided in both the SK Modified and Street Stock events. Jeff Rocco, twin brother to Keith Rocco, took his first career victory in the 50-lap SK Modified race while Tyler Chadwick of Ledyard secured his first ever Speedbowl title in the division. Walt Hovey left no doubt in the Street Stocks, winning both the race and the track championship. Also winning races Saturday were Bruce Thomas Jr in the Late Models and Ken Cassidy Jr. in the Mini Stocks.
  Rocco was the man to beat once he made his way into the race lead. Craig Lutz started in the pole position and led through a lap 3 restart. Lutz gave way to Kyle James while Rocco moved into second position. Another caution on lap 5 enabled Rocco to line up alongside James for the ensuing restart. Rocco powered past James when racing resumed, leading lap 6. Rocco survived four more restarts the rest of the way.
  Todd Ceravolo finished out the year on a high note, finished second to Rocco in the SK Modified race while Shawn Monahan came from the rear to finish third. Jeff Rocco is the twin brother of two-time track champion Keith Rocco. Chadwick began the event with a 21-point lead over Jeff Pearl. He finished the race ninth, running a cautious race to stay out of trouble and claim the crown.
  Thomas led throughout the Late Model race, with Jeff Smith finishing second and Dillon Moltz the champion in the division, finishing third.
  Hovey rose to the lead on lap 24 in the Street Stocks race then survived multiple caution flags over the remainder of the race. Corey Hutchings was second and Chris Meyer came in third. Cassidy resumed the final 28 laps of the Mini Stock race from a lead he held back on October 7th when rain halted the race. Ray Christian III of Norwich was second and Jeff Cembruch finished third. Cassidy's victory was his 12th of the year in the division, good for the all-time single season record in division wins.
  On a sad note Auto Racing lost a true friend with the passing of Charlie Mitchell. Charlie was well known and highly respected by his peers for his writing in the Norwalk (CT) Hour. Charlie was the dean of New England racing writers. The respect he had from competitors, from promoters, from fans and, especially from other media members, remains unparalleled. Having Charlie in the press box signified that it was indeed an event worthy of coverage. He brought the skills he used covering other sports to auto racing. He was one of a tiny group that was instrumental in making our sport part of the general media scene. In that regard, he was a revolutionary figure in New England auto racing history.
  In NASCAR Sprint Cup racing at the Martinsville Speedway, Jimmie Johnson started from the pole and dominated the race, leading 191 of the 500 laps en route to his seventh victory at the historic .526-mile asphalt oval. However, the victory didn’t come easy.
  Jeff Gordon was attempting to work his way around Johnson when the caution flag waved on lap 474 when Kevin Harvick’s engine expired. All of the lead-lap cars pitted under caution except championship leader Brad Keselowski and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Johnson restarted third behind Keselowski and Earnhardt and quickly drove his way around both drivers, retaking the lead on lap 485. On lap 491 the final caution flag of the day waved when Carl Edwards and Earnhardt spun in turn two, giving second-place Kyle Busch one final shot at Johnson.
  The field returned to green-flag racing with five laps left and Johnson quickly pulled into the lead with Busch in hot pursuit. Busch gave it everything he could, but Johnson was able to hold on for the victory.
  The Nationwide Series was off for the weekend.

  Last year, 2016, It took two long days but the season ending Bemers Big Show at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl was not completed but it wasn't because track management and competitors didn't try. Heavy rain and wind all but washed out the scheduled racing for Saturday. Late in the day the Granite State Pro Stock 75 lapper was run but that was it as rain again fell on the shoreline oval shutting activity down. The other 14 features that we were scheduled to run on Saturday will be run on Saturday, Oct. 29.In the Pro Stock event, Dave Farrington took the win after DJ Shaw, who had led from the start, pitted with tire problems with seven laps remaining.
  Forty one cars were in the pit for the Tri-Track Modified Series Finale. It was windy and cool and a good day for racing. Ron Silk took the lead following a restart on lap 15 and won the first of two 35 lap qualifying heats which carried a $3,000 payday. Justin Bonsignore finished second with Woody Pitkat, third. John Keivman, Dennis Perry and Ted Christopher followed. Tommy Barrett Jr has been all but invisible since his arrest for driving under the influence came back in a big way as he won the second 35 lap qualifying heat. Barrett passed pole sitter Keith Rocco following a restart on lap 15 and never looked back. Rocco finished second and was followed by Les Hinkley, Ryan Preece and Eric Berndt. Barrett started ninth. Steve Masse won the 25 lap consolation event.
  The entire starting field redrew for starting spots in the 65 lap main event. Jeff Gallup drew the pole with Mike Holdredge on the outside. Holdredge led the early going. The first yellow was displayed on lap 41 when Gallup spun on the home stretch. Shortly after, Woody Pitkat and Dwight Jarvis made contact in turn three with Pitkat taking a hard into the wall. Another quick caution slowed the race for a spin by Dennis Perry in turn two on lap 43 and then a final caution came out when Keith Rocco spun in turn two. Matt Hirschman, who started fifth was waiting in the wings took over from there and was never headed. Les Hinkley moved into the second spot just past the 40 lap mark but was unable to mount a challenge and at the checker was the runner-up. Hirschman received $5,000 for his efforts. Silk was able to come home in third spot after starting back in 22nd. Holdridge was able to hang on for a fourth place finish, while Richard Savary captured a fifth place finish. Rowan Pennink, Steve Masse, Ryan Preece, Andy Jankowiak and Rob Summers completed the top 10.
  The Waterford SK Modifieds were also part of the program. Internet web site RaceDayct reported that their feature, called the Nationals was scheduled for 75 laps but was cut short when Diego Monahan clobbered the pit gate to the extent that it was impossible to repair. Ted Christopher had just taken the lead from Ryan Preece after a bump and run and was declared the winner. The win was worth five grand but Christopher never got to spend it as he was disqualified when track officials found illegal fuel in his tank. Paul Kusheba IV, who finished fourth, was also disqualified for using illegal fuel. Both claimed they bought the fuel at the track. Maybe they should take legal action against the fuel company who sold them the illegal fuel. John Holland, president of New England Racing Fuels told internet site Speed51 that there was nothing wrong with his fuel.
  In the end, Preece got the big check. Ronnie Williams was moved from third to second and Keith Rocco from sixth to third. Todd Owen finished fourth. Steve Masse, who finished fifth in the original finish, was penalized two positions as he had a weight issue, but he still finished fifth because of the disqualifications. Rowan Pennink ended up sixth with Matt Hirschman seventh and Dennis Perry, eighth.
  Keith Rocco won the division championship with Dennis Perry finishing second. As a result of Christopher's disqualification Joey Gada ended up third behind Perry in the standings and Tyler Chadwick moved to fourth. It was Rocco's fourth consecutive SK Modified championship and sixth title in the division overall. Rocco's father-in-law former track champion Todd Ceravolo who is fighting cancer was the Grand Marshal of the event.
  In action below the Mason-Dixon line Burt Myers won at Caraway in North Carolina as he took the final feature and the season championship for the Southern Modified Racing Series. Brian Loftin finished second with Jason Myers, third. Tim Brown and LW Miller rounded out the top five in the 13-car field. It was sort of a triple crown achievement for Burt Myers as he also won the track championship at Bowman Gray Stadium and the NASCAR Whelen Southerm Modified championship.
  The Modified Touring Series organized by principal Gary Knight of Charlestown, NH has announced three races for 2017 at the Monadnock Speedway in Winchester, NH. The MTS held one race this year at that same track during the summer which paid $15,000 to the winner. Teams will be racing the 2017 season for a $40,000.00 point fund and a per race event of $3000.00 to win. MTS will also be introducing an exciting points chase that will ensure that each race will keep competitors and fans on the edge of their seats every time the drivers hit the track. Knight is currently in talks with other tracks for more dates for the upcoming season. Meanwhile the Tri Track Modified Series has issued the following: TTOMS wishes to thank all sponsors, teams, media, fans and competitors for their hard work and dedication to the racing for the 2016 season. It was announced that Wayne Darling and Mark Pennink would be taking over operation of the Tri-Track Open Modified Series.
  In NASCAR Sprint cup action Joey Logano punched his ticket to the third round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup with a victory Sunday afternoon in the Hellmann’s 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.

  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: October 27, 2017

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