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Friday February 27, 2009

By Phil Smith                                                                                           

Thirty years ago in 1979, a late winter snowstorm cancelled a scheduled modified event at the Franklin County Speedway in Callaway, VA. The event was not rescheduled. Despite the success of the 1978 season under the Dick Williams' Coastal Racing League, Harvey Tattersall Jr did not renew their lease and once again took over the day-to-day operations of the Speedbowl under his United Stock Car Championship banner. Race Director Bill Slater & Chief Starter Dick Brooks left with Williams.
 

Twenty five years ago, in 1984, Eddie Flemke, a modified legend in his own time, passed away. Flemke had put in a log day plowing snow and had come home to rest. When he failed to come into his house his wife went to check on him, as he had not exited his vehicle. Mrs. Flemke sadly discovered that he husband had suffered a heart attack and had passed away at the age of 53. During his career Flemke won over 600 features and played a vital part in the development of the racing careers of Pete Hamilton, Richie Evans and Ronnie Bouchard. Flemke was one of the great thinkers of the sport. He would study his competition and then figure out what their weaknesses were and beat them. He was also an accomplished racecar designer and fabricator. Two days later, Riverside Park opened for the season with Richie Evans taking the win and promptly dedicated it to his deceased friend and mentor. Eddie Flemke was one of the greatest drivers of all time.


In what is believed to be the late Ed Flemke's last race, "The Boss" is pictured  in the Harry Reed #7A at Wall Stadium in 1982. Eddie suffered a fatal heart attack 25 years ago on March 30, 1984. (Photo Courtesy of Fran Lawlor)

At Riverside, Marty Radwick finished second and George Kent was third. In Winston Cup action at Bristol, Ricky Rudd was the pole sitter. Darrell Waltrip took the win. Ronnie Bouchard qualified 13th and finished third.

Twenty years ago in 1989, the Riverside Park season opener was a test of man and machine as only six cars were left running at the finish of the 100 lap grind. Taking the win was John Zavisa, who started on the pole. Pre race favorite Reggie Ruggiero wrecked during warm-ups and was unable to start the feature.

Fifteen years ago in 1994, Chris Kopec benefited from Reggie Ruggiero's misfortune and went on to win the season opener at Riverside Park in front of a packed house. Ruggiero had been leading until his brakes went away in the late stages of the event. Jamie Tomaino finished second and was followed by Tom Cravenho, Dan Avery and Ruggiero. In Busch Grandnational action at Darlington, Mark Martin started on the pole and won the no contest event over Larry Pearson and Randy LaJoie. In Winston Cup action, Bill Elliott was the pole sitter but the day belonged to Dale Earnhardt.

Ten years ago, in 1999, the Featherlite Modified Tour Series started on a wet note as the season opener at Riverside Park rained out. Qualifying was done on Saturday. Bob Polverari was the Busch Pole sitter and David Berghman was second fastest. The rained out event was rescheduled for April 18, which would put it head to head with Waterford's opener.

Five years ago in 2004 after many months of waiting the Northeast-racing season finally began under less than ideal weather conditions at the Waterford Speedbowl. Thirty-one SK Modifieds were on hand at the shoreline oval on Saturday for qualifying. Outsiders Ronnie Silk and Doug Coby were the top in time trials. Silk toured the 1/3-mile oval in 14.482 seconds and Coby turned a lap in 14.503 seconds. James Civali was the top regular with a time of 14.598 seconds. Defending track champion Dennis Gada was 11th fastest with a time of 14.796 seconds. In what had to be one of the most wreck strewn events ever seen James Civali turned a pre race misfortune into a victory as he won the 150 lap SK-Modified portion of the Waterford Nationals. As the cars circled the 1/3-mile oval in a warm-up prior to the start of the event it was discovered that his scoring transponder wasnít working. Civali stopped at the pit gate where his pit crew got it operating. Speedway officials treated the incident as if he had pitted and forced him to start at the rear of the 31 car-starting field. Upset at the time, starting at the rear proved to be an omen as most of the wrecks and spins involved those who started at or near the front. Civali managed to avoid trouble and took the lead on the 57th lap and went on to hold off Ted Christopher for the win. Christopher, who was considered one of the pre-race favorites, made numerous pit stops, as he was involved in many of the 11 caution periods that consumed 66 laps. Christopher moved into second spot with 11 laps to go but couldnít muster the needed steam to make the pass for the win. Pole sitter Ron Silk got collected in the first caution on lap three and suffered sufficient damage to keep him out of contention. The blustery cold weather was a definite factor, as the hard compound track tires could not generate enough heat to provide the needed traction. The wrecks and spins got so bad that single file restarts were mandated shortly after the half way mark of the event. With the exception of Civali and third place finisher Jay Miller the entire field showed scars of battle. Defending division champion Dennis Gada and last years runner-up Ed Reed Jr. were taken out of contention because of wrecks as were Rick Young, Tom Fox and Jeff Pearl. Rob Janovic finished fourth with Chris Pasteryak, fifth. Dennis Gada finished sixth, one lap down. Corey Hutchins won the Late Model 50 lapper in an all but no contest event. Mark St. Hillaire finished second with Jay Stuart, third. Second generation driver Keith Rocco was the Limited Sportsman winner and Tim Jordan won in the MiniStocks.

NASCAR announced that they had a new weapon to use to detect cheaters, especially those who use tire softeners. The Irwindale Speedway in California engaged the use of a retired bomb-sniffing dog to detect tires that have been altered with chemicals. It seems that when the animal is walked up and down pit road it will stop and sit next to tires that have been treated. Tire soaking has taken place at all levels of racing, in fact it got so bad in the NASCAR Featherlite Modified Tour Series a year ago that NASCAR mandated that all competitors buy their tires on the day of the race. It had also been announced that the NASCAR TV ratings took a dive after recent boring events at Las Vegas and Atlanta. FOXís season ratings after three Nextel Cup events have fallen 9%.

In Nextel Cup action at Bristol, Tennessee, Ryan Newman captured his third Busch Pole of the year on Friday. The Busch Racing Series ran on Saturday with New Jersey native Martin Truex Jr. getting his first ever Busch Series win. Truex is a former competitor in the Busch North Series and a former weekly competitor at the Wall Township Speedway in New Jersey. Kurt Busch gambled when he chose not to pit for fresh tires late in the Bristol 500 and beat a frustrated Rusty Wallace to the finish line. It was Buschís third victory in a row at the ultra fast high-banked half-mile oval.

It appeared that the anti-trust suit filed by Speedway Motorsports stockholders Francis Ferko and Rusty Vaughn against NASCAR may be headed for an out of court settlement. It had been strongly rumored that the International Speedway Corporation, which is owned by the France family that also owns NASCAR, would sell speedways in Darlington, South Carolina and Rockingham, North Carolina to Speedway Motorsports who in turn could move two of the three Nextel Cup dates that go with those speedways to Texas and Las Vegas. The remaining date would alternate between Darlington and Rockingham. In a non-related matter, the International Speedway Corporation and its subsidiary, Southeastern Hay and Nursery bought 168 acres of land for $5.5 million.
 


Nolan Swift (Photo courtesy of RetroRockets.org.)

On a sad note, Nolan Swift, eight time Oswego Speedway track champion, died at the age of 81. Swift was considered the father of the Supermodifieds.

Last year, 2008, the Thompson Speedway held their second of two practice sessions on Saturday in somewhat blustery conditions. According to Howie Hodge the following Whelen Modified Tour Series drivers were on hand to shakedown their cars: 0 - Danny Sammons, 3 - Ryan Preece, 10 - Ed Flemke, 11 - Anthony Sesely, 17 - Glen Reen, 21 - Richard Savory, 28 - James Civali, 32 - Tom Abele. Jr., 46 - Eric Beers, 58 - Kevin Goodale, 90 - Renee Dupuis, 93 - Rowan Pennink and 99 - Jamie Tomaino.

Kenny Barry, pinch hitting for Todd Ceravolo, in got in some decent runs in the Dick Ceravolo owned Sunoco Modified. The Ceravolos suffered engine problems the week previous and had installed a new power plant.

Denny Hamlin overtook Jeff Burton on the 427th lap and went on to win the Goody's 500 Nextel Cup event at the Martinsville Speedway in Virginia. For 389 laps, the race looked like it would be another victory for Hendrick Motorsports at the track it has dominated, winning eight of the previous 10 races.Hendrick drivers led 371 laps, but Hamlin and fellow Virginia native Jeff Burton made decisions under the next-to-last caution that allowed them to move up front. And Hamlin ruined Burton's decision to stay out while the rest of the leaders pitted. Jeff Gordon rallied to finish second, followed by Burton, Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart. Johnson had won three straight at Martinsville heading into the race.

Dennis Setzer assumed the lead when Kyle Busch had to brake to avoid a crash in front of him Saturday, then held on through numerous restarts to win the Kroger 250 Craftsman Truck Series race at Martinsville Speedway. The victory was the first for Dodge since the late Bobby Hamilton won at Mansfield in 2005, and the truck Setzer won in is co-owned by Hamilton's widow, Lori. Don Lia scored his first top ten as he finished ninth.
 

This week are several vintage racing photos of Eddie Flemke, the "Grand Master" of the short-tracks.
Courtesy of SpeedwayLineReport.com and RacingRemembrances.net. A Must Read is the book STEADY EDDIE!
Memories of Ed Flemke Modified Racingís Fastest Professor available from Coastal181.com.
Click on Photo for Full Size


A photo of Eddie in the Judkins 2x is a must.


In the Jake's Garage #61 at Riverside Park 1959. Ed's dad "Pops" owned "Jakes Garage'"


Plainville Stadium in the Manchester Sand & Gravel #10.


Riverside Park in the #302.


Eddie at Plainville in 1964 receiving the checkered from "Money Bags" Moe Gherzi, then Racing Director at the Plainville oval.


One of early Garuti Brothers creations at "The Park"

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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