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 Friday April 21, 2006

By Phil Smith

Forty years ago in 1966 the Albany Saratoga Speedway in Malta, NY received a NASCAR sanction for their Friday night Modified and Sportsman racing events. Malta, which had opened in mid-1965, had been sanctioned by Harvey Tattersall’s United Stock Car Racing Club. Speedway owner and promoter Joe Lesik had originally tried for a NASCAR sanction in 1965 but had been shot down because of opposition from John Hoenig of the Thompson Speedway. Lou Toro won the NASCAR opening 30 lap event and was followed at the finish by Gene Bergin, Frank Mahalia, Kenny Shoemaker and Bill Wimble. Saturday night racing on the dirt at the Fonda Speedway was rained out.

Thirty five years ago in 1971, the shot heard round the modified world came to be as Fred DeSarro and Sonny Koszela, who had successfully won the 1970 NASCAR National Modified Championship parted company and Koszela successfully hired Bugsy Stevens away from Len Boehler, who had supplied cars that had carried Stevens to modified championships in 1967,1968 and 1969. Stevens' first outing in the Koszela car was at Thompson where he cleaned house, winning the twin 25 lap features. The mighty No.3 was warmed up and ready but Boehler, who had not contacted DeSarro, had assumed that the defending champ would show but he didn't. No one drove the Boehler car that day but the stage was set for one of the biggest racing rivalries that New England ever saw. Finishing second in the first 25 lapper behind Stevens was Leo Cleary who was followed by Bobby Santos, Ed Yerrington and Don Flynn. Bob Melnick finished second in the nightcap and was followed by Cleary, Bernie Miller and Jerry Cook. Once Boehler returned home, a call was made and DeSarro agreed to be his driver. DeSarro would go on to win many features until his untimely death on November 1, 1978. In other weekend action, Fonda opened for the season with crowd favorite Lou Lazzaro taking the win over Harry Peek and Eddie Pieniezak. At the Waterford Speedbowl, on a chilly Saturday night, Jerry Glaude won his second feature of the year. Leo Hill finished second with Joe Trudeau, third.

Thirty years ago in 1976, the Modifieds headed south for the Saturday 150 at Martinsville. Jerry Cook took the lead when Bobby Allison lost an engine. Paul Radford finished second and was followed by Wayne Anderson and Gerald Compton. Richie Evans had mechanical problems and finished 19th.As soon as the checker dropped, Cook and Anderson hopped a plane and headed for Islip on Long Island for their season opening Saturday night event. Hometown favorite Greg Sacks, in his family owned No.18x took the win over legend Al De Angelo. Cook finished third and was followed by Fred Harbach, Tom Baldwin, Cliff Tyler and Wayne Anderson.

Twenty five years ago in 1981, Shangri-La Speedway in Owego, NY. opened the season with an 81 lap event. George Kent took the win after Richie Evans lost a tire in the late going. Greg Sacks,in the Cal Smalles No.41 finished second and was followed by Maynard Troyer, Jerry Cook and Doug Hewitt. On Sunday, the Modifieds ran at North Wilkesboro in North Carolina. Richie Evans took the white flag, leading the event and lost an engine. Paul Radford in the Wayne "Speedy" Thomas No.07 took the 99 lap win. Jerry Cook finished second and was followed by George Kent, John Blewett Jr, Evans and Satch Worley.

Twenty years ago in 1986, John Rosati dusted Bob Polverari at Riverside on Saturday night. Mike Stefanik finished third. The Thompson Ice Breaker was 75 laps and before over 7500 fans, Charlie Jarzombek took a convincing win. Reggie Ruggiero finished second and was followed by George Kent .In Winston Cup action at North Wilkesboro, Geoff Bodine was the pole sitter and finished third. Willie T. Ribbs became the third black driver to ever qualify for a Winston Cup event and finished 22nd.Jan Leaty bypassed Thompson and scored a victory in a companion modified event at North Wilkesboro. In some sad news, Firestone Tire Dealer Gene White passed away.

Fifteen years ago in 1991, Riverside Park rained out for the second week in a row. Rain also washed out the Spring Sizzler at Stafford. The top five in Modified tour points were Mike Stefanik, Doug Hevron, Ricky Fuller, Tom Baldwin and Reggie Ruggiero.

Ten years ago in 1996, For the third consecutive week Chris Kopec started on the pole at Riverside and won his third in a row. Dave Berube finished second. Jim Broderick out ran Don Fowler to take the Saturday night win at Waterford and at Riverhead, Ed Brunnhoelzl Jr won the season opener at the Long Island oval. Ricky Fuller dominated the first 150 laps of the 200 lap Spring Sizzler at Stafford on Sunday. Jan Leaty waited for Fuller to use up his tires as he took the lead with 50 to go and romped home to the checkered flag. Fuller hung on to finish second and was followed by Tony Hirschman, Tom Bolles, Ed Kennedy and Charlie Pasteryak. Bo Gunning was the winner of the SK mod 50 lapper. Steve Park finished second with Mike Christopher, third. In Winston Cup action at Martinsville, Terry Labonte broke Richard Petty’s streak for the most consecutive starts. Rusty Wallace passed Jeff Gordon with two to go to pick up his 42nd Winston Cup win. Ricky Craven garnered his first ever Winston Cup pole and crew chief Doug Hewitt was fined $5,000 and suspended for three events for having an illegal clutch in his car.

Five years ago in 2001, the Thompson Ice Breaker drew 51Modifieds. Bob Polverari set a new record on the new asphalt as he toured the 5/8 mile oval in 18.505 seconds. Polverari led the 150 lap Featherlite Modified Touring Series event from the start until he pitted on lap 89.Ed Flemke took the lead for two laps when he was passed by Rob Summers. Summers, in the Mystic Missile appeared to be heading to his first Tour win when a tire started going soft and gave way to Ricky Fuller on lap 125.Once Fuller took the lead he never looked back as he romped home for the win. Mike Stefanik finished second and was followed by Charlie Pasteryak, Reggie Ruggiero, John Blewett III and Jerry Marquis. Jim Broderick in the Angie Cerese No.5 took the SK-Modified 30 lapper over Bert Marvin and Curt Brainard. At Waterford on Saturday night, Dennis Gada took the modified win over John Brouwer and Tom Fox. On the Island at Riverhead, Dan Jivenelli took the opening night win over Ken Heagy and Eddie Brunnhoelzl Jr. In Winston Cup action at Talledega, Bobby Hamilton won the non-stop event. Mike McLaughlin was the Busch Grandnational winner.

Last year, 2005, The Waterford Speedbowl ran under clear but cool skies. Rob Summers made up for the previous weeks disappointment as he won the SK Modified feature. Summers never got to race on opening night as his engine expired during a qualifying heat. Summers started on the pole. Mike Finkeldey had a career high second place finish. Finkeldey now had Rick Ceravolo as his crew chief. Rob Janovic, Jay Miller and Kurt Lenehan rounded out the top five. Carl Eriksson edged Bruce Thomas for the Late Model win and Jim Procaccini was the Sportsman winner. George Whitney took the victory in the Legands Car feature.

In Whelen Modified Tour Series news, Eric Beers, driver of the Boehler Racing Enterprises No.3 was on the mend at his home in North Hampton, PA after suffering a broken collar bone and hairline fractures of two ribs at the Thompson Ice Breaker. Beers stated that he hoped to be in competition at Stafford next weekend and would like it to be known that his LaJoie seat and the rugged construction of the Boehler No.3 saved him from what could have been severe injuries. After much thought it was decided by Beers and car owner Mike Boehler to put Todd Szegedy in Ole Blu for the Sizzler.

Connecticut Speedway Developer Gene Arganese was forced to wait until April 25 to learn what property will be rezoned to establish the resort/recreational development (C-5) zones he needs to build his proposed racetrack and convention center in the town of Plainfield. On April 12 the Planning and Zoning Commission decided to delay a decision on creating the zones on land off Interstate 395 exits 87 and 88 until the Town Planner could define more clearly the properties that could be included in the zones.

In some sad news it was learned that Leon Drake, known better as Leo Hill, passed away on April 9 at the age of 66. For many years Drake’s garage in North Stonington Ct housed the Modified driven by Johnny Thompson at the Norwood Arena and later at Thompson and Stafford. Drake was a Plumber by trade and was also a welder and steel fabricator as he did numerous repairs and built more than his share of race cars including a replacement V-8 for Bill Slater when he was hurt at Thompson in the late 60’s.

Greg Biffle won the Nextel Cup event at the Texas Motorspeedway. Kasey Kahne was the Busch Series winner. Junior Miller won the Whelen Southern Modified Tour 100 at the Caraway Speedway in North Carolina.

That’s about it for this week from 40 Clark St, Westerly, and R.I.02891. Ring my chimes at 401-596-5467 or days at 860-433-5250.E-mail _ HYPERLINK mailto: smithpe_97_97@yahoo.com

Phil Smith has been a columnist for Speedway Scene for over 3 decades.
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