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Friday April 22, 2011
 

By Phil Smith

Sixty years ago in 1951 what was then known as the New London-Waterford Speedbowl enjoyed it’s grand opening. The opening of the Speedbowl would fill a southern New England void that was created when the track at the Kingston Fairgrounds in Rhode Island was shut down. According to John Brouwer Jr's “A Racing History of the New London Waterford Speedbowl”, it took 40 men approximately 7 months to complete construction, a project, at the time, costing over $150,000.00. The first event was held on Sunday April 15, 1951. That night's feature winner was Bob Swift and the crowd was reported around 5,700, far short of the 8,000 who showed up the week before to watch the first practice session (that highly anticipated exhibition caused a 3-hour traffic delay in all directions).

The original track was made of crushed blue stone. Over the first 3 weeks of operation, attendance continually dwindled due to poor spectator visibility through the dust created from the track surface. The owners promptly closed the track and re-opened on Tuesday May 15th with an asphalt racing surface.

Fifty five years ago in 1956 the scheduled opening of the New London-Waterford Speedbowl was put on hold as the track was put up for sale.

Fifty years ago in 1961 the scheduled opening of the New London-Waterford Speedbowl was pushed back a week because of rain.

Forty-five years ago in 1966 the Albany Saratoga Speedway in Malta, NY received a NASCAR sanction for their Friday night Modified and Sportsman racing events. Harvey Tattersall’s United Stock Car Racing Club had sanctioned Malta, which had opened in mid-1965. 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. The New London-Waterford Speedbowl ran on Sunday with Wayne Wilkinson taking the Modified 30 lap win. Eddie Bunnell was the 15 lap Bomber winner and Lou Caso won in the Daredevils.

Forty 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 Sunday afternoon, Jerry Glaude won his second feature of the year. Leo Hill finished second with Joe Trudeau, third. Big Mike Daignault made it three in a row in Sportsman Sedan action.

Thirty five 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. Bugsy Stevens stayed close to home as he won the season opening Blast Off 100 at the Waterford Speedbowl. Wayne “Mysterious” Smith was the Late Model Grand American winner.

Thirty 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. Rit Patchen was the Modified winner at Danbury. Fred Drumm ended Randy LaJoie's winning streak in the Danbury Sportsman division. LaJoie finished second with Bo Gunning, third.

Twenty five 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.

Twenty 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.

Fifteen 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.

Ten years ago in 2001, the Thompson Ice Breaker drew 51 Modifieds. 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.

Five years ago in 2006 despite a rocky financial situation the Waterford Speedbowl continued to somehow survive. Thanks to the efforts of Bill Roth and Pete Zanardi plus friends and families of competitors, the track had been able to remain open. Going into the previous weekend two events had been held at the shoreline oval. Second generation driver Chris Pasteryak was the currant SK Modified point leader. Veteran Don Fowler and Rookie Jeffrey Paul were tied for the second spot. Dennis Gada was fourth with Frank Ruocco and Diego Monahan tied for fifth. Rain-washed out scheduled racing action at the Waterford Speedbowl on Saturday night. It was the second rainout in four programs.
The Whelen Modified Tour Series was off. Their southern counterparts, the Whelen Southern Modified Tour Series had a scheduled event at the Motor Mile Speedway in Radford, VA. rained out on Saturday, which was rescheduled for Sunday. LW Miller won the 200 lap contest. Ted Christopher, suffering a little jet lag from his trip back from Arizona, finished sixth. Chuck Hossfeld finished 12th and Andy Seuss was 14th.

The Busch East division, formerly the Busch North Series, was the subject of the latest schedule change as NASCAR and Don Hoenig announced that a Busch East race was added to the Thompson International Speedway’s Thursday, June 29 show, which already featured the Whelen Modified Tour. The addition of the Thompson date now gave eleven dates for the Busch East division.

Busch East competitor Matt Kobyluck who hails from Montville, CT was in Phoenix Arizona as was Ted Christopher. Kobyluck had a strong showing in a NASCAR Grandnational West event until losing an engine and eventually finishing 30th. Kobyluck led the event twice for 55 laps. Christopher ended up 21st after being involved in an accident.

Last year, 2010, The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Series opened for the 2010 season at the Thompson Speedway with the Icebreaker 150 that carried a race purse of $87,231. Thirty seven Modifieds including southern invader Burt Myers were on hand. Bobby Santos III showed his determination early as he was clearly the fastest in practice despite blustery winds and a cool temperature. Santos was a little more than a half mile per hour faster than Rowan Pennick. Myers, who had never laid eyes on the Thompson Speedway before, ran close to 60 laps in practice and was clocked 29th fastest at the time.
 
The NASCAR Modifieds qualified as the sun was beginning to go down. Bobby Santos III, in his first time out in the Mystic Missile, put the Bob Garbarino owned mount solidly on the pole for the Icebreaker. The third generation racer turned a fast lap of 18.418 seconds (122.163 mph) in qualifying for Sunday’s 150-lap season-opener. That lap surpassed the previous Whelen Modified Tour qualifying record at Thompson set by Eric Beers at 18.429 seconds (122.080 mph) prior to the 2008 World Series. Chris Pasteryak was the second-fastest qualifier on Saturday at 18.470 seconds (121.819 mph) followed by Ron Silk (18.514/121.530), Mike Stefanik (18.596/120.994) and Burt Myers (18.603/120.948). Ryan Preece, Doug Coby, Ted Christopher, Rowan Pennink and Eric Berndt rounded out the top 10 qualifiers.

Following qualifying, a redraw of the top-10 cars saw Santos also draw the No. 1 spot. He was joined on the front row by Coby, and the second row consisted of Stefanik and Berndt. Myers drew fifth.

It was a dream come true for Bobby Santos III as he all but cleaned house at the Thompson Speedway Icebreaker. Starting from the pole, Santos led 91 laps of the 150 lap Whelen Modified Tour opener. The Ron Hutter engine in the Garbarino Mystic Missile never missed a beat as it provided ample power when Santos nailed the accelerator. Santos took the lead for the final time during a restart on lap 119. After running side by side with Ryan Preece, who was in the Boehler Family No.3, for almost a lap Santos pulled ahead as they completed lap 120. The race, which produced seven caution periods for 26 laps, went green from lap 119 on. In the end, Santos finished a little more than a quarter secon ahead of Preece. Mike Stefanik, who led from lap 70 to 101, finished third. Stefanik was in contention the entire race. Ted Christopher and Todd Szegedy rounded out the top five. Christopher led from lap 61 to 69 after inheriting the lead when almost the entire field pitted for fuel and tires following a lap 57 caution. Christopher, who gave way to Stefanik after a lap 69 restart, elected to pit for fresh tires after James Civali hit the turn two wall on lap 96. Christopher took on both rear tires and a right front. His charge back to the front of the field fell short. Rowan Pennink, Chris Pasteryak, Ron Silk, Eric Goodale and Eric Beers rounded out the top 10.

Southern invader Burt Myers ran in the top ten during the first half before having transmission problems which hindered his efforts. Needless to say he finished 14th, on the lead lap, at the finish. While not to happy with his finish, Myers remained upbeat as he greeted hundreds of fans in the pit area after the event. Myers, who made himself available, hit a Public Relations Home Run. Myers stated that he likes Thompson Speedway very much and is looking foreward to returning when his schedule permits.

In other action at Thompson, Keith Rocco, running for a new team at Thompson for the 2010 season and the defending track champion, was back to his old and winning ways as he scored a victory in the first race of a weekend twin bill for the Sunoco Modifieds on Saturday night. Rocco and Ted Christopher swapped the lead position in the late stages but the young gun was able to dust the veteran in the end. The Super Late Models were the second of the twin bill on Saturday. Defending divisional champion, Derek Ramstrom bested the strong field of Super Late Models in convincing fashion.

Ted Christopher had to use his experience on restarts to score a victory in the Sunoco Modified feature event on Sunday. Defending champion, Derek Ramstrom swept the twin bill for the Super Late Models while Rick Gentes scored Late Model honors. Shawn Monahan bested a strong field of Limited Sportsman competitors to score the victory. Another champion, TIS Modified ace Brian Sullivan made a statement with an opening day victory. Leo Defevers opened Day Two of the Icebreaker with a victory in the Mini Stock Division.

The Waterford Speedbowl made a lasting impression with Southern invader Burt Myers. With the exception of eight SK Modifieds running on the lead lap when the race was stopped at the end of 12 laps, the remainder of the 23 starters were wrecked or disabled to the point where they were out for the night. Myers was one of them. There were eight cautions in the first six laps which made the rough and tumble action at the Bowman-Grey Stadium seem tame. Race Director Tom Fox ended the agony when he called for a red-checkered finish. Defending division champion Ron Yuhas Jr. was declared the winner, followed by Justin Gaydosh and Tyler Chadwick.

In other action at the shoreline oval three-time defending Late Model champion Bruce Thomas Jr. held off a late-charging Tim Jordan over the last three laps to win his first feature of the season. Other winners were Josh Galvin (Street Stocks) and Danny Field (Mini Stocks).

The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) and Whelen Engineering, Inc., announced an extension that will see Whelen remain as the entitlement sponsor for three of NASCAR’s developmental series through the 2019 racing season.

The extension means Whelen, which became an entitlement sponsor in 2004, is the longest running current entitlement contract for any of NASCAR's series.

The weekend saw the Mad House come to the Thompson Speedway and the Waterford Speedbowl. Mad House is a reality TV show that focus' on the racing and drivers at the Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, NC. Burt Myers, one of the stars of the show, raced at both tracks. Prior to heading North to compete Myers was an honored guest on the weekly radio program, Gary Danko's Speedway Line Report. Myers, a third generation racer, stated that he feels that the NASCAR Modifieds are the heart of NASCAR racing. His race shop includes two complete Troyer Modifieds, one that used exclusively at Bowman-Gray. As far as the reality show goes, Myers stated that it was business as usual at his shop and in general, the show was 90% accurate. When questioned about the aggressiveness of Junior Miller, Myers stated, "we would let it go if he would". The bad blood between Miller and the Myers family goes back to a motor deal between Gary Myers, Burt's dad and Miller, that went sour years ago. On the subject of Ted Christopher, Burt stated "I like Ted, he's a good guy". Myers added that Christopher didn't volunteer any tips on the Thompson Speedway. "He did tell me to get off Rt.395 at Exit 100." He found out later that exit 99 was the Speedway exit.

Mad House has portrayed Modified Racing on a short track the way it is. Despite the rough stuff the program has been good for the Modifieds. It is a true family sport and the show The New London Day reported that Waterford resident and Late Model driver Dillon Moltz was about to get the biggest shot of his 18-year-old racing life. Moltz, who drives in the Late Model division at Stafford Motor Speedway, was one of 12 drivers selected to participate in the Richard Petty Driver Search April 26-29 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in North Carolina. Moltz, and 11 others were picked from a pool of thousands of applicants from across the country.

Moltz, who was third in the Late Models at Stafford in 2009 with a division-high five wins, will have a busy week. After the season opens at Stafford April 23-25, he'll fly to Charlotte Sunday night and begin a week of racing on Monday. After that, he'll come back home and be ready for another full weekend at Stafford.

The winner of the competition will get a fully-funded ride in a Petty car in an ARCA race at Pocono Speedway on June 5. The competition will put the 12 drivers in four different cars and test each one in car control and knowledge, track management, mechanical knowledge, speed and other categories.

In some sad news, Speedway Illustrated Magazine has ceased operations.

A tip of the hat to NASCAR with the announcement by NASCAR and VERSUS of the broadcast schedule for the NASCAR Whelen Modified and NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tours in 2010.

VERSUS’ first NASCAR race will feature the Whelen Modified Tour’s annual appearance at Riverhead (N.Y.) Raceway on July 31 and the first Whelen Southern Modified Tour broadcast will be its stop at historic Bowman Gray Stadium on Aug 7 in Winston-Salem, N.C. The Riverhead event will air on Wednesday, August 4, at 7:00pm. The re-air date is Sunday, August 8 at 11:00pm. The Bowman Gray event will air on Wednesday, August 11 at 7:00pm and re-air on Sunday, August 15, at 11:00pm.

VERSUS’ on-air schedule will include nine races between the two Tours with the premiere one-hour race telecast airing on Wednesdays at 7 p.m. ET. All races will air again the Sunday following the initial telecast.
In addition to Riverhead, the Whelen Modified Tour broadcast schedule will also include August dates at longtime Modified strongholds Stafford ( Conn. ) Motor Speedway and Thompson ( Conn. ) International Speedway as well as the last two races of the season, also at Stafford and Thompson. The Whelen Southern Modified Tour broadcast schedule also includes the August date at Caraway Speedway (Asheboro, N.C.) and September races at Langley (Va.) Speedway and Tri-County Motor Speedway ( Hudson , N.C. ).

VERSUS’ schedule, combined with SPEED’s coverage of seven races between the two Tours, means that that nine of the 14 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour races will be shown on national television in 2010 as well as seven of the 10 NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour events. It was previously announced that SPEED would air seven races between the two Tours .

SPEED will broadcast Whelen Modified Tour events from Martinsville Speedway (June 6), New Hampshire Motor Speedway (June 26), Lime Rock Park (July 3), Bristol Motor Speedway (Aug. 18) and New Hampshire Motor Speedway (Sept. 18).

Ryan Newman ended a 77 race losing streak as he won the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at the Phoenix Int Raceway. Kyle Bush was the Nationwide Series winner at the Arizona track.

This week are several vintage racing photos Courtesy of SpeedwayLineReport.com & Dave Dyke's Racing ThroughTime.com
Click on Photo for Full Size


Bugs Stevens


John Georgidis


Tony Mordino


Bob Riley

Joe Tiezzi

Bill Slater

That’s it for this week from 11 Gardner Drive, Westerly RI 02891. Ring my chimes at 401-596-5467. E-Mail is: smithpe_97_97@yahoo.com

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

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