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Friday April 8, 2011
 

By Phil Smith

Forty five years ago in 1966, Lou Toro was the opening day 30 lap Modified winner at the Waterford Speedbowl. Eddie Bunnell was the Bomber winner.

Forty years ago in 1971, the only racing action saw Bugsy Stevens take a 30 lap open competition win at Thompson. Little did anyone know that it was Stevens' last ride in the mighty no.3 of Len Boehler that had carried him to three NASCAR National Modified Championships. Stevens had been hired by Sonny Koszela to replace Fred DeSarro who, after a disagreement, had been let go. Bob Santos finished second and was followed by Leo Cleary and Ralph "Hop" Harrington. Harrington was in the recently purchased Tant/Mitchell Coupe that had been bought by Richard Armstrong. The Modifieds also ran at Hickory, N.C. Ray Hendrick took the win there and was followed by Max Berrier, Joe Thurman and Paul Radford.

Thirty five years ago in 1976, there was no racing that weekend.

Thirty years ago in 1981, the Winston Cup cars were at North Wilkesboro. Richard Petty took the win. Ronnie Bouchard finished seventh. The Danbury RaceArena opened for the season with Bob Riley taking the Modified feature over Danny Galullo and Joe Chowanski. Randy LaJoie was the Sportsman winner.

Twenty-five years ago in 1986, it was cold at Riverside Park but it didn't stop Reggie Ruggiero as he put Mike Greci's No.11 in victory lane after a 50-lap grind. Stan Greger finished second. The Thompson Ice Breaker was scheduled to run on Sunday but heavy rain forced a postponement. In Winston Cup racing at Bristol, Rusty Wallace took the win. Geoff Bodine was the pole sitter but ended up 24th. Ron Bouchard had rear end problems and finished 25th.Doug Hevron finished 21st after losing an engine.

Twenty years ago in 1991, Reggie Ruggiero drove the Bob Polverari 711 to a convincing win at Riverside Park on Saturday night. Jerry Marquis in the Judkins 2x finished second with Ricky Fuller, third. At the Thompson Ice Breaker on Sunday, Fuller started eighth and after a series of pit stops, came out on top with five laps to go in the 125 lapper. Mike Stefanik finished second and was followed by Tom Baldwin and Richie Gallup. Ricky Shawn was the late model winner and Mike Christopher went pole to pole to win the SK 30 lapper. Richie Gallup in the Dick Ceravolo No.31 finished second and was followed by Bo Gunning and Bob Potter.

Fifteen years ago in 1996, it was Easter weekend. Riverside was scheduled to run on Saturday night but was rained out. In the southland, David Green was the Busch Grandnational winner at Hickory in North Carolina.

Ten years ago in 2001, rain and sleet postponed the Featherlite Modified Series event and SK Modified event at Waterford. In Saturday qualifying, 46 FMS cars and 23 SK's were on hand. Rob Summers was the Mod Tour pole sitter and Dennis Gada was on the pole for the SK event. In Winston Cup action at Martinsville, Dale Jarrett took the lead from Ricky Rudd with six laps to go and went on to score the win.

Five years ago in 2006 the Thompson Speedway opened for the season with IceBreaker í06. This yearís IceBreaker 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 found victory lane in the Sunoco Mods and Late Models on Saturday night. Todd 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. 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 wasnít 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.

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 felt confident that Speed Vision coverage in 2007 would improve quite a bit.

In Nextel Cup action in Fort Worth TX. Kasey Kahne took the win. Kurt Busch won the companion Busch Series event.

Last year, 2010, The Waterford Speedbowl began its 60th season with renewed vigor with Blast Off 2010. When fans and competitors arrived for practice on Friday many improvements were noted including new concrete barrier walls along the front and back straight-aways and an all new coat of paint in the grandstand area. The shoreline oval was one of 10 tracks nationwide to receive funds through NASCAR's Capital Improvement Grants program.
 
Speedbowl owner Terry Eames told the Norwich Bulletin that he was still working on a deal to get the Speedbowl on firmer financial footing, but that wonít affect the 2010 racing season. He also stated that any businessman whose company is in Chapter 11 canít say theyíre in great shape. But he felt confident that he and his creditors will agree on a plan in the next six to nine months, and that the plan will save the place forever.

Qualifying for all divisions was held in blustery, winter like weather. With somewhere between 230-250 cars on hand, Race Director Tom Fox said the actual count was 244, the north and south pit areas were jammed to capacity.

The Bob Valenti Modified Racing Series portion of Blast Off drew 35 cars. Among the early casualties was Rob Goodenough who lost his left front tire and hit the wall. Chris Jensen and Ed Dachenhausen withdrew because of engine problems. Dave Etheridge, Jon McKennedy and Rowan Pennick were the qualifying heat winners. Todd Annarummo was the consolation winner.

It was almost 4:30pm when the SK Modifieds ran their qualifying heats. With the sun on the way down, the temp dropped below 40deg. Keith Rocco, Ron Yuhas jr. and Jeffrey Paul were the SK Modified heat winners. Conspicuous by his absence was Ted Christopher.

Feature winners Saturday were Allen Coates (25-lap All-American Series Truck), Anthony Mocella (25-lap NEMA Lites), Norm Wrenn (25-lap Pro4 Modifieds), Max Zachem (25-lap Legends Car) and Chris Lomartire (15-lap Bandoleros).

Sunday dawned a cloudy-windy day which kept many fans home as the grandstand was a little over half full. Not bad considering. Keith Rocco started the track season off right as he led pole to pole in the SK Modified 60 lapper. Ron Yuhas jr dogged the leader in the early going but it was Todd Ceravolo who gave the winner the biggest pressure. Ceravolo, who started 11th, moved into the second spot on lap 13 and despite eight restarts Ceravolo could not muster the extra needed speed to out gun the leader. Jeff Pearl turned in a fine run as he finished third after starting near the rear. Yuhas faded to fourth while Tyler Chadwick rounded out the top five.

The Bob Valente Auto Mall.com Modified Racing Series turned out to be quite competitive. Doug Coby was the eventual winner but the star of the show was Rowan Pennick who came from dead last to challenge for the lead. Pennick actually had Coby covered at one point but Coby ran him up on a couple of restarts and if he hadn't backed out of it he would have certainly found himself in the wall. In the end it was all for naught as Pennick appeared to run out of gas on a restart with 10 laps remaining. Matt Hirschman, who came from a 17th starting spot, seized the opportunity and took over the runner up spot to the finish. Jon McKennedy, who led the early going finished third. Andy Seuss and Jacob Dore rounded out the top five. Sixth through tenth were Les Hinkley, Eric Goodale, Steve Masse, Dave Etheridge and Pennick. Pre-race favorite Mike Stefanik had mechanical problems right from the start as he completed only two laps, finishing 26th.

Other Sunday winners at the Speedbowl on Sunday were Chris Leonard in the NEMA Midgets, Tim Jordan in the Late Models, Ed Puleo in the Street Stocks and Danny Field in the Mini Stocks.
Racing continues at the shoreline oval this Saturday night. A tip of the hat to Race Director Tom Fox for running a fast-efficient program.

At Thompson, Test and Tune sessions were on Saturday from 11:00am to 6:00pm. Among those on hand was Bobby Santos III in the Mystic Missile. According to those on hand the young gun looked extremely sharp in the storied car.

MadHouse star Burt Myers confirmed to Russ Dowd that he would be in competition at the upcoming IceBreaker Whelen Modified Tour Series event. Myers is one of the featured drivers in the History Channel reality series which depicts the trials and tribulations of Modified competitors at the Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, NC.

Denny Hamlin passed Ryan Newman, Matt Kenseth and leader Jeff Gordon following the final restart to get his third career Sprint Cup victory at the Martinsville Speedway. The race was run on Monday due to the fact that heavy rain pelted the state of Virginia on Sunday. Kevin Harvick was the Truck Series race at Martinsville.

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


Red Foote


Andy Romano


Curley Lemay


Charlie Webster

Ev Pierce

Fred Harbach

Thatís 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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