Friday April 17, 2009

By Phil Smith                                                                                                        

Forty years ago in 1969 the scheduled season Saturday night opener at the Norwood Arena was rained out. The skies cleared the following day as Fred DeSarro took the win at the Thompson Speedway. At the Waterford Speedbowl Charlie Webster took the Modified win and Bill Sweet won his first of four in a row at the shoreline oval. In Grandnational (Cup) racing at the North Wilkesboro Speedway in North Carolina, Bobby Allison took the win.

Thirty five years ago in 1974 there was plenty of action both in the north and the south. Three nights of Modified racing in North Carolina saw Richie Evans score a victory at Metrolina on Friday night over Harry Gant, Jerry Cook and Paul Radford. Radford turned the tables on Saturday night at Hickory as he won a 100 lapper over Gant, John Bryant, Cook and Evans.

"Gentleman" Dick Watson was the winner at the Waterford Speedbowl in 1974. (Rene Dugas Photo)

Action shifted to Ashboro on Sunday where Gant was the top gun over Radford, Cook and Evans. In New England, Thompson began their open competition small block modified series and it was Fred DeSarro taking the win over Daring Dick Caso, Deke Astle, Kenny Bouchard and Charlie Savage. Dick Watson was the Modified winner at Waterford. Ron Cote made it two in a row in Grand American action.

Thirty years ago in 1979, the Spring Sizzler at Stafford was rained out.

Twenty five years ago in 1984 it rained again, washing the Sizzler out.

Twenty Years ago in 1989 the cycle of rainy weekends continued.

Fifteen years ago in 1994, the rain cycle was finally broken. Riverside Park just beat the rain as Dan Avery took the checkered flag on Saturday night. Brian Miller finished second and was followed by Stan Greger and Chris Kopec. Loudon scheduled a double header for the Modifieds and Busch North Series. Qualifying for both divisions was rained out but it cleared on Sunday. Reggie Ruggiero blasted by a trapped Rick Fuller on the last lap and won the modified portion. Fuller finished second and was followed by Jan Leaty, Steve Park and Mike Ewanitsko. Kelly Moore was the BGNN winner over Mike Stefanik, Stub Fadden and Tom Bolles. In Winston Cup action at North Wilkesboro, Terry Labonte took the win over Rusty Wallace. Jim Spencer was penalized ten laps for spinning out Ken Schrader.

Ten years ago, in 1999, Rick Miller made it four in a row at Riverside Park on Saturday night. Rob Summers finished second and was followed by Dave Berube and Ted Christopher. On Sunday, Riverside ran their rained out Modified Tour Series event against Waterford's opener. Ed Flemke Jr. took advantage of Reggie Ruggerio's worn tires and took the lead on lap 182 and went on to take the win. Bob Polverari finished second with Tom Cravenho, third. Despite fading, Ruggiero was able to finish fourth. Ted Christopher finished tenth and made a fast trip to Waterford. Christopher started ninth and took the lead from Todd Ceravolo just before the half way mark. Christopher, who lost a power steering belt in the second half, was able to maintain enough of a lead to take the win. Ceravolo finished second and was followed by Bert Marvin, Ed Dachenhausen and Jerry Pearl. It was a big weekend for the Petty family at Martinsville as Jimmy Hensley won the Craftsman Truck event on Saturday and John Andretti won the Winston Cup event on Sunday.

Five years ago in 2004, the Thompson Speedway opened the 2004 NASCAR Featherlite Modified Tour Series on Sunday. The event drew 9000 fans. The outcome was a shocker. Defending series champion Todd Szegedy was the fastest time trialer and the apparent winner until a post race inspection revealed an illegal rear end gear ratio. Szegedy was disqualified and placed last in the final rundown. Ted Christopher, who crossed the finish line behind Szegedy was awarded the win. This was the third time in the history of the Tour series that began in 1985 that a winner has been disqualified. The 150 lap IceBreaker was one of the most competitive ever seen. With 47 Modifieds on hand for time trials it was difficult just to qualify as 21 cars were in the 18-second bracket. Todd Szegedy was the fastest with Tony Hirschman, second fastest. Szegedy, who had pitted on lap 71, charged his way to the front and took the lead from Jerry Marquis on lap 125. Running second, Marquis found himself in the wall on lap 126 after contact by a spinning Ed Flemke Jr. Flemke had been hit by Chuck Hossfeld. Flemke recovered, losing only one spot. Ted Christopher, who also pitted on lap 71, conserved his tires and was able to move into the second spot with two to go. Flemke got by Hossfeld on the final lap to cross the finish line behind Christopher. Zach Sylvester, who crossed the finish line in fifth spot, was moved up to fourth. Tony Hirschman was moved up to fifth. There were ten cautions for 52 laps. Eric Berndt and Ted Christopher shared victory lane in the Sunoco Modifieds as they each won separate twin 25 lap features. Twin features were also run for the Late Models with Corey Hutchings and Rick Gentes taking wins. Other weekend winners at Thompson were Scott Sundeen in the Limited Sportsman and Andy Publicover in the Mini-Stocks.

Dennis Gada returned to his winning ways Saturday night at the Waterford Speedbowl. Eddie Reed Jr, Tom Fox, Ted Christopher and Dennis Cherette rounded out the top five. Allen Coates was the Late Model winner with Dave Zemke taking the top spot in the Sportsman division. Tim Jordan was the Mini Stock winner and Justin Dougherty won the Legends feature.
In Nextel Cup action at the Martinsville Speedway in Virginia, Jeff Gordon was the Busch Pole sitter with Jamie McMurray on the outside. Rusty Wallace ended a long dry spell as he held off Bobby Labonte for the win.

NASCAR announced that Jim Hunter, former Vice President of Corporate Communications had been given the new title as Vice President of Corporate Communications / Regional Touring/NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series. Hunter would work with Don Hawk who had been hired as Director of Regional Racing Development. Chris Boals the Director of Regional Touring/NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series would remain in his present position. NASCAR Chairman/CEO Brian France said, “This revamped approach illustrates our commitment to grassroots racing which is the bedrock in our sports foundation”.

The American Speed Association, which has been primarily in the mid-west, had recently hired former NASCAR executives Dennis Huth and Tom Deery. The ASA had begun branching out and had taken the southern-based Southern Modified Auto Racing Tour (SMART) under their wing and was making an attempt to move into the northeast. NASCAR also announced that Brett Bodine had joined the sanctioning body’s Research and Development team as a Special Project Engineer at the R & D center in Concord, North Carolina. Bodine holds a degree as a Mechanical Engineer from the State University of New York. Bodine evidently had retired as a competitor on the Nextel Cup circuit. He is also a former Modified competitor in the Northeast. Before moving south Bodine raced at Stafford and Thompson. It was at Stafford in 1984 that he finished second to Brian Ross in the track’s final point standings. Bodine is also a former Race of Champions winner.

NASCAR also announced that the local track point funds for weekly racing series tracks had increased to $3,500 which would be paid out to the top ten at seasons end. In 2003, $2,000 was distributed to the top five.

Mike Joy, FOX anchorman for Nextel Cup and Busch Series telecasts spent some time in Washington, DC speaking to Senators and Representatives about a bill that was making its way through congress that could severely restrict speedway owners ability to improve their facilities. The IRS allowed motorsports facilities to fully depreciate capital improvements over a seven-year span. The IRS then wanted these improvements to be amortized as real estate improvements, stretching the recapture period to 30 years. Bill HR-2900, The Motorsports Facilities Fairness Act would preserve the seven-year benefit. All speedway owners and operators were urged to contact their congressmen to support this bill.

Last year, 2008, The Waterford Speedbowl moved into its regular Saturday night schedule. The management created a new flag for the starter to display. It was called the “Meatball” flag and it was to be waved at an individual who refuses to comply with the officials in charge or someone who makes a dumb move or decision. The “Meatball Flag” should have been shown to the Late Model driver who started on the pole of the Late Model feature who triggered a wreck that eliminated the potential winning cars of Larry Goss and Eddie Reed Jr. Starting on the pole as a rookie makes no sense at all. The individual who made the line-ups was also deserving of the “Meat Ball”. Bruce Thomas Jr was the eventual winner and is now two for two in Late Model competition at the shoreline oval.

Defending SK Modified champion Rob Janovic redeemed himself after a poor showing at the season opener as he scored a convincing win in the 35 SK Modified feature. Jeff Paul, who also had a poor showing on opening day, finished second. Tyler Chadwick, Justin Gaydosh and Diego Monahan rounded out the top five. Opening day Nationals winner Dennis Gada was eliminated after making contact with Dennis Charette who was the early leader after pole sitter Frank Mucciacciaro spun out on lap 11. The Gada-Charette confrontation occurred on lap 18 and also eliminated Jeff Pearl and Jeff Malave.
Other feature winners were Jack Aquilina (Sportsman), and, Randy Churchill Jr. (Mini Stocks). Also making an appearance were the New England Antique Racers, presenting exhibition events featuring the cars of a past era. With over twenty restored racers taking to the track, fans were treated to a view of the true “racing roots” of New England short track history.

The True Value Modified Series opened their 2008 season at the Lee USA Speedway in New Hampshire on Sunday. Twenty eight Modifieds were on hand. Kirk Alexander took the win over David Pinkham, Dale Evonsion, Mike Holdredge, Jon McKennedy. Ted Christopher Rob Goodenough, Les Hinckley, Ed Dachenhausen and Chris Pasteryak finished sixth through tenth.

Defending champion Alexander jumped into the lead on lap three and roared to victory in the” Governors Cup 100” Modified race. The win was Alexander’s 27th career victory with the touring series. The three-time champion survived a caution plagued race that was once stopped for an overheating racer that sprayed water on the racing surface resulting in six cars retired to the pit area. Sunday’s race was also the first of eight guaranteed starter races for the Sunoco Modified Mania 400 weekend at Thompson, CT. in September.

The Nationwide Series of NASCAR was in Mexico City while the Sprint Cup drivers had the weekend off to celebrate Passover with their families. Kyle Busch won his third consecutive race on NASCAR’s Nationwide Series, taking the Corona Mexico 200 by less than a second. This latest win was the 27th of his career in NASCAR’s top three series, and first on a road course. Marcos Ambrose finished a career best second after a hectic day in which he collided with Boris Said, knocking Said out of the race. Ambrose’s finish was his first top-10 finish of the year. He had six as a rookie in 2007. Ambrose trailed by 1.139 seconds in his Ford with two laps to go, and Busch was able to hold on for a 0.737-second win.

Busch led for 22 of 80 laps, second to Scott Pruett’s 36. Busch passed Pruett on the 72nd lap to take the lead. In a race that included seven cautions and two red flags, Busch stayed out of trouble in his Toyota on the 2.518-mile course at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez before making his decisive move past Pruett. Pruett finished third, followed by Carl Edwards, who is second in the points standings. He’s nine points behind Clint Bowyer, who finished sixth on Sunday. The third-place finish was a career best for the 48-year-old Pruett, a road-course ace making his 10th Nationwide start. He finished fifth in Mexico City last year.

This week are several vintage racing photos from the files of the cars of Legendary Car Owner Billy Simons and a portion of the great drivers who graced the wheel of the Simon's Excavating #9 over the years. Courtesy of and
Click on Photo for Full Size

Charlie Webster

Ray DeLisle

Gene Bergin

Ray Miller

 Billy Simons with driver Stan Greger

Bruce D'Alessandro

That’s it for this week from 11 Gardner Drive, Westerly RI 02891. Ring my chimes at 401-596-5467. E-Mail is:

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

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