Friday April 3, 2009

By Phil Smith                                                                                                        

Forty years ago in 1969, Ed Yerrington Sr won the season opening 30 lap Modified feature at the Waterford Speedbowl. Jim Mazzella was the 20 lap Daredevil winner.

Thirty five years ago in 1974, Don Bunnell won the season opener at the Waterford Speedbowl. Rick Elnicki was the Grand American winner.

Thirty years ago this week in 1979, Thompson opened for the season. Ronnie Bouchard won the small block Modified feature over John Rosati and Dunk Rudolph. Rudolph was subsequently disqualified when it was found that his car's engine had illegal heads. Bobby Fuller was the late model winner. The speedway sported a new look as the Connecticut DMV mandated that the Speedway eliminate all light poles from the infield.

The late Ed Yerrington was the Speedbowl winner in 1969.

Track owner Don Hoenig had purchased high intensity lighting that had been used at the Lincoln Downs Horse Track in Rhode Island. In other news, Dale Earnhardt won the Winston Cup event at Bristol as a rookie and Geoff Bodine was fired from the Jack Beebe Winston Cup Car.

3 time Riverside Champion Stan Greger was the winner this week in 1984. Howie Hodge Photo

Twenty five years ago in 1984, it was night No.2 at Riverside Park. Stan Greger wasted little time and took down the win. Jim Spencer finished second and was followed by Ray Miller, Richie Evans and Corky Cookman.

Twenty years ago in 1989, Reggie Ruggiero was the top dog at Riverside in the Mario Fiore No.44. There were only 21 cars on hand but they were all good ones. Stan Greger finished second and was followed by Dan Avery, Brad Hietella and John Zavisa.

Fifteen years ago, in 1994, the roles were reversed at Riverside as Greger took the win with Ruggiero, second. Avery finished third and was followed by Eddie Spiers, Wade Cole and Tom Jensen.

In SMART action at Caraway in North Carolina, Tim Arre won a 150 lap event over Frank Flemming, and in Hickory, N.C. Ricky Craven took the lead with 32 laps to go and went on to win the Sundrop 300 over Randy LaJoie.

Ten years ago, in 1999, David Green won the Busch Series 320 at Nashville. Casey Atwood finished second. Sterling Marlin provided the only competition but his day ended after his car spun and was wrecked by a wrecker in the pit area.

Five years ago in 2004, in a joint announcement from NASCAR and the Thompson Speedway last Thursday; the Thompson Speedway IceBreaker was postponed until April 17-18. The early cancellation was made in order to prevent fans and competitors from making a needless trip. The Thompson Connecticut area was pounded by over two inches of rain and with more forecast for the weekend, it was a wise move to pull the plug on the event. The Waterford Speedbowl also fell victim to rain as Saturday night’s races were canceled. In Nextel Cup action at the Texas Speedway Elliott Sadler won by inches over Kasey Kahne. Jeff Gordon recorded his best finish in quite a while as he finished third. Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished fourth. In Busch Racing Series action in Texas, Matt Kenseth took the win over Kyle Busch. The Caruso family sold the Oswego Speedway to Steve Gioia and Pat Furlong. In operation since 1951, Oswego is considered the next best thing to going to

Last year, 2008, the Thompson Speedway officially opened the 2008 racing season in the northeast and began the 2008 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Series. In what was supposed to be a fun filled and competitive weekend ended in tragedy and ultimately a wet note. A racing accident claimed the life of race driver Shane Hammond of Halifax, MA. The accident occurred on the fourth lap of a scheduled 25-lap Northeast Midget Association (NEMA) feature event race. Hammond was traveling down the backstretch of the 5/8 mile oval when he cart wheeled over the third turn wall and hit an advertisement sign. The 27 year old Hammond was transported to the Day Kimball Hospital in Putnam, CT where he was pronounced dead shortly after arrival.

For a good part of the day it was misting and threatening rain. Eddie Flemke Jr brought back fond remembrances of his father’s Thompson 300 win in 1978 as he elected not to pit when the leaders did and it paid off handsomely, $7,920, to the second generation driver.

The racing world tragically lost NEMA Midget driver Shane Hammond during last years IceBreaker.

Flemke, who started eighth, was running third and he inherited the lead on lap 71 when leader Todd Szegedy and second-place Reggie Ruggiero pitted. Flemke led until lap 92 when the race was finally red flagged because of extremely heavy mist that coated the track and made it unsafe. It was also the first win for Gary Teto, Flemke’s car owner.

A similar situation occurred years ago, 1978, and involved Flemke’s father and Bugsy Stevens. Stevens was clearly the fastest car during the running of the Thompson 300. When rain began falling Stevens was instructed to pit and handed the lead to Flemke. Flemke gambled that the rain would prevail and that it did!

Chuck Hossfeld, in Bob Garbarino’s Mystic Missile finished second and was followed by Bob Grigas, Long Islander Joe Hartmann and rookie Tom Abele. Sixth through tenth were James Civali who was the Coors Light Pole sitter and clearly the fastest on the track, Todd Szegedy, Reggie Ruggiero, Rowan Pennick and Ted Christopher. There were five caution periods for 53 laps. NASCAR Tour director Chad Little needed to get a better grip on this situation as it took way too long to get restart lineups correct. There were 39 Tour Modifieds on hand and despite the cold weather close to 8,000 fans turned out for the season opener.
Prior to the race, former champions Frankie Schneider (1952) and Donny Lia (2007), and the late Richie Evans (nine-time champion) were honored by NASCAR and series sponsor Whelen Engineering.

In other weekend racing at Thompson Bert Marvin was the Sunoco Modified (SK type) winner on Saturday night in the first of two events scheduled for the weekend. The Sunday event was rained out and will be rescheduled at a later date. Jimmy Blewett finished second and was followed by Doug Coby, Danny Cates and Josh Sylvester. Jeff Zuidema was the Late Model winner, Mike O’Sullivan was the Pro Stock winner, Jessie Gleason, the Limited Sportsman winner, Glenn Boss was victorious in the Thompson Modifieds and Danny Fields was the Mini Stock winner. The NEMA Midget feature was halted after the lap 4 accident and was not resumed. Erica Santos was the leader at that time.

In NASCAR Sprint Cup racing Carl Edwards ran away with the Samsung 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday for his series-best third win of the season, holding off Jimmie Johnson on a two-lap overtime sprint to the finish in Fort Worth. Kyle Busch, winner of the Nationwide Series race Saturday, was strong early but had nothing for Edwards in the end and faded to third.

This week are several vintage racing photos of the late Ed Yerrington, Courtesy of and
Click on Photo for Full Size

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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