Friday April 6, 2007

By Phil Smith                                                         

Thirty-five years ago in 1972, the only action was in the southland. Bowman-Grey Stadium in Winston-Salem , N.C. opened for the season on Saturday night. Wayne Lambreth took the win over Lloyd Ashby and Jerry Cook. At South Boston on Sunday, Max Berrier took the top spot with Gerald Compton, Paul Walton, Jerry Cook and Ashby rounding out the top five.

Thirty years ago in 1977, a 200-mile NASCAR National Modified Championship event was run at the Trenton , N.J. Fairgrounds on the 1-1/2 mile kidney shaped oval. Jerry Makara took the win over Fred DeSarro, Satch Worley and Geof Bodine. It was also the season opener at Thompson where Bugsy Stevens was the Small Block Modified winner. Freddie Schulz finished second with Ronnie Bouchard, third.

Twenty-Five years ago in 1982, the only action was at Darlington where Buddy Baker was the pole sitter and Dale Earnhardt took the win.

Twenty years ago in 1987, Wall Stadium opened for the season with Tony Siscone taking the win over Jerry Cranmer, Gil Hearne, Doug French and Tom Mauser. At North Wilkesboro , N.C. Donald “Satch" Worley took the win over John Bryant. Riverside Park was not as fortunate as rain washed out the program at the central Mass. Speedway.

Fifteen years ago in 1992, the then called Winston Modified Tour was at Richmond for a fast 150 lapper. Doug Hevron hit pay dirt with the Len Boehler No.3 as he outran Rick Fuller, Jan Leaty and Ed Flemke Jr. Rounding out the top five, down a lap, was Tom Baldwin. At Riverside Park , Jerry Marquis put the Bobby Judkins 2x in victory lane. Ed Kennedy and Bobby Gegetskas followed.

Ten years ago in 1997, Mark Martin was the Busch Grandnational winner at Texas . In Winston Cup action, most of the crowd could have taken a nap, as there was little or no passing. Jeff Burton got his first win with Dale Jarrett, second.

Five years ago in 2002, it took two days to run the Texas Winston Cup event. Rain forced a red flag after 116 of the scheduled 200 laps were run. Matt Kenseth ended up with the win after Dale Jarrett ran out of gas while leading with two laps to go. Jeff Gordon finished second. It was announced that the Stafford Speedway would have a weekly highlight program on Friday afternoons and in Texas it was announced that Johnnie Cochrain would be the leading lawyer in the anti-trust suit against the International Speedway Corporation and NASCAR.

Last year, 2006 The Thompson Speedway opened for the season with IceBreaker ’06. The event carried a race purse of. $89,573, an $11,600 increase over 2005. Heavy rain forced NASCAR Officials to reschedule qualifying for Icebreaker 2006. Qualifying for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour season opener was re-scheduled for high noon on Sunday. A total of 46 Whelen Modified Tour teams were on hand at Thompson including a bumper crop of 13 rookie drivers. Woody Pitkat and Pat Trudeau of Mansfield , CT found victory lane in the Sunoco Mods and Late Model. 1. Woody Pitkat, Stafford Springs , CT ; 2. Tommy Cravenho, Raynham , MA ; 3. Jeff Malave, S. Windsor , CT ; 4. Todd Ceravolo, Gales Ferry, CT; 5. Dan LaJeunesse, Norwich . Ceravolo and Pitkat switched spots on Sunday. Ceravolo took the lead in the Sunoco Modified feature shortly before the half way mark. Bert Marvin finished a close second with Tom Cravenho, third. Corey Hutchings of Salem , CT was victorious in the Late Models. Todd Owen of Somers , CT was tops in Pro Stocks ranks. Checkers also fell for Danny Cates of Chaplin , CT in the Limited Sportsman; Brian Vincent of W. Warwick , RI in the Mini Stocks and Roger Larson, Jr. of Milford , MA in the TIS Modifieds.

Mike Stefanik served notice that he intended to dethrone Tony Hirschman for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Championship. Stefanik won the opening round 150 lap IceBreaker. The former champion started ninth and after making a pit stop for tires at the half way mark made a determined march to the front and took the lead from Chuck Hossfeld on lap 127. It was the 67th career NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour victory for the six-time champion who led the series in all time victories. It was also the second career Icebreaker win for Stefanik who won this event in 1998.Ted Christopher moved to second and applied the pressure before Hossfeld regained second on lap 140. Hossfeld then chased Stefanik to the finish line with the pair both sideways coming off of Turn 4 on the final lap. Hossfeld ended up second with Reggie Ruggiero, third. Ted Christopher and Tony Hirschman rounded out the top five. Don Lia was running sixth until the closing moments when he ran out of gas. Jerry Marquis started on the pole and led the first 47 laps when his throttle stuck causing him to crash violently between turns one and two. Marquis emerged unhurt but his car, the Mystic Missile was damaged beyond repair.

Prior to the start of the Whelen Modified Feature event the Thompson Speedway management, competitors and fans paid tribute to the late Jack Arute with a moment of silence in his honor. The American flag in the infield was flown at half-mast.

In Whelen Modified Tour Series news, Long Islander Ed Whelen and his JS Motorsports # 36Team is loaded for bear as he had 4 new Troyer Modifieds in his race shop plus Mike Andrews' Riverhead car.

At a pre-race news conference held by Don Hawk it was stated that NASCAR was extremely happy with the Modified division. Two more dates, Jennerstown , PA and Holland , NY were added to the tour schedule. Safety wise, the NASCAR drivers are now the safest they have ever been. The new design of chassis is doing its job absorbing energy. As far as TV coverage goes Hawk feels confident that Speed Vision coverage in 2007 will improve quite a bit.

Jack Arute Sr. passed away on Monday, April 3 at the age of 79. Arute owned and operated the Stafford Motor Speedway since 1970 and is credited with saving the Modifieds from extinction. He pushed for class within the Modified ranks. The Stafford Speedway was about to go under when he bought the track in 1970. In a time when tracks were dumpy Arute dressed up Stafford with picnic tables and shrubs. He was responsible for the first ever owners point fund and the legalization of the Pinto body for use on Modifieds. He also is credited with the original idea of the SK Modified, a low cost version of what is now a tour type Modified. Arute was a dedicated businessman and family man. Hardnosed at times, he was always fair. Arute paid attention to his patrons and to the press, He wasn’t afraid of constructive criticism, in fact he used it to his advantage. He traded e-mails with many of us including yours truly. I greatly miss that. He was laid to rest on Friday, April 7, in the Bedford Center Cemetery in Bedford , New Hampshire
In Nextel Cup action in Fort Worth TX . Kasey Kahne took the win. Kurt Busch won the companion Busch Series event.

That’s about it for this week from 40 Clark St, 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.

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