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Friday February 6, 2008

By Phil Smith 

Fifty years ago in 1959, Bill France's dream came true as the Daytona Speedway was completed and the doors were opened for practice and qualifying for the inaugural Daytona 500. Seventy-five cars were on hand and in time trials, Glenn Fireball Roberts took the pole with a speed of 140.581 mph in a 1959 Pontiac. Second fastest was Tim Flock in a 1959 Ford Thunderbird. During the opening week, the track claimed its first life when Marshall Teague rolled his Indy type car five times before being ejected onto the racetrack.

Forty five years ago in 1964, Ford products were clearly outclassed in Daytona 500 qualifying. Forty six entries were on hand with Paul Goldsmith taking the pole with a speed of 174.910 mph in a Plymouth. Richard Petty, also in a Plymouth, was second fastest. The Fords were 15 mph slower.


Marshall Teague pictured with his daughter Patty in 1952.
 
(Courtesy Florida Photographic Collection)


Forty years ago in 1969, Buddy Baker set a new qualifying mark as he toured the Daytona oval at 189.901 mph. Bobby Isaac was second fastest.

Thirty five years ago in 1974, the Modifieds were not part of the World Series at New Smyrna but they did have a spot on the venue at the Daytona Speedway where they were scheduled for a 200 mile event on the 4.1 mile infield road course. Among those entered were Bob Park, Geoff Bodine, Denis Giroux, Bugsy Stevens, Jerry Cook, Richie Evans and Charlie Jarzombek. Also on the entry list were Winston Cup drivers Bobby Allison and Tiny Lund and road racers Paul Newman and Gene Felton.

Thirty years ago in 1979, the Modifieds were out in full force at New Smyrna. Among those entered were Richie Evans, Ronnie Bouchard, Satch Worley, Moose Hewitt, George Kent and Charlie Jarzombek. Evans and Bouchard were also entered for the Daytona 200 event.

Twenty five years ago in 1984, Cale Yarborough became the first to break the 200mph barrier as he took the pole position at Daytona with a run of 201.848 mph. It was not without incident as he went on his roof before he completed his second lap. Terry Labonte was the outside pole sitter. Neil Bonnett was the winner of the 50 lap Busch Clash. Yarborough finished second and was followed by Buddy Baker and Joe Ruttman. Richie Evans won the first two events at New Smyrna. Charlie Jarzombek finished second, both nights. The modifieds were long gone from Daytona.

Twenty years ago in 1989, a law suit between Tim Richmond and NASCAR for $20million was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount. Ken Schrader had a good weekend as he won both the Daytona 500 pole and the Busch Clash. Reggie Ruggerio was the opening night winner at New Smyrna. Jamie Tomaino finished second and was followed by Tom Baldwin and Mike Ewanitsko. Ewanitsko came back on night No.2 to take the win over Ruggerio, Tomaino and Tony Jankowiac. Thirty modifieds were on hand. On Sunday night, Ruggerio made it two out of three as Tomaino, Baldwin, Dick Trickle and Frank Fleming rounded out the top five.
 


Neil Bonnett lost his life at Daytona in 1994.

Fifteen years ago in 1994, Neil Bonnett lost his life in a practice crash at Daytona. Loy Allen Jr. became the first rookie to win the Daytona 500 pole with a speed of 190.158mph. Dale Earnhardt was second fastest. Jeff Gordon won the Busch Clash. Brett Bodine finished second. Goodys Dash Champion Rodney Orr became the second fatality of speedweeks after he hit the wall in turn two during practice. Ricky Fuller was the opening night winner at New Smyrna as he beat out Steve Park, Tom Baldwin, Jamie Tomaino and Ted Christopher. Richie Gallup won night No.2 and Fuller came back to win on Sunday night. Things were about to get ugly with many drivers getting over aggressive. Tensions were building and would boil over later in the week.

Ten years ago in 1999, opening night at New Smyrna saw a full field of modifieds.

The main event started at 12:30am on Saturday morning but the late hour didn't slow George Kent as he led the 25 lap feature from pole to pole. Ted Christopher finished second and was followed by Tim Arre, Jamie Tomaino, Eric Beers and Doug French. On Saturday afternoon, 58 Winston Cup cars took time at the Daytona Speedway for the Daytona 500 pole. Jeff Gordon toured the 2-1/2 mile speedway at 195.067mph and took the pole. Second fastest was rookie, Tony Stewart. Saturday night at New Smyrna, Jamie Tomaino started on the outside pole and led all 25 laps. For the second night in a row, Ted Christopher finished second. George Kent finished third with Eric Beers, fourth. On Sunday at Daytona, Mike Skinner won the Busch Shoot-out consi. Mark Martin got his first Daytona win after starting 13th and leading 16 of the 25-lap contest. Ken Schrader finished second. Jeff Gordon overshot his pit when he stopped and was held for 15 seconds. Gordon chose not to reenter the event and parked it. Bobby Gerhart won the ARCA 200 with Shauna Robinson, second. The big excitement of the afternoon came when Joe Cooksie rear-ended and destroyed the pace car. Sunday night at New Smyrna saw Jamie Tomaino leading almost the entire distance until he broke a rocker arm and had to give way to Ted Christopher. Tomaino managed to hang on for second and was followed by Tim Arre.

Five years ago in 2004, the action began at the New Smyrna Speedway in Florida on Friday night, February 6. The speedway actually opened on Thursday for competitor parking, tech inspection and a practice session. There were 28 tour-type Modifieds and six SK-type Modifieds on hand. Among the quickest in the first session of practice was Donnie Lia, the 2003 NASCAR Featherlite Modified Tour Series Rookie of the Year. Despite the fact that the weather was threatening, Round One of the World Series at New Smyrna Speedway in Florida made it into the books. Ted Christopher, of Plainville, CT went pole to pole to win the 25 lap modified opener. The event, which went green for the first 22 laps, had only one caution, that for Long Islander JR Bertuccio, who spun. Eric Beers, who had dogged Christopher from the start, missed a shift on the re-start but managed to recover and finish second. John Blewett III, who was driving Christopher’s championship ride from 2003, finished third. George Kent and Jeff Malave rounded out the top five. Donnie Lia finished sixth and Bertuccio recovered from his spin to finish seventh. The temperature at New Smyrna took a dive on Saturday night. Charlie Pasteryak, didn’t let the chill in the air slow him down as he went pole to pole to win Round Two of the modified portion of the World Series. Eric Beers, who finished second to Ted Christopher on Friday night, finished second again with Christopher third. Donnie Lia turned his program up a notch as he finished fourth. Rounding out the top five was Kevin Goodale of Riverhead, NY. Numerous cautions slowed the event, as the full moon syndrome was evident. Numerous spins were the norm. Among the casualties were John Blewett III who hit a spinning JR Bertuccio, head on. Blewett’s mount, the Joe Brady No.00 sustained severe damage and was removed to a local race shop for repairs. Passing for position has been all but non-existent so far. The top cars are pretty equal plus the cold temperatures produce less than ideal racing conditions. Over in Daytona, Dale Jarrett came out of no where to win the Busch Shootout. Run on Sunday afternoons in previous years, the Shootout was moved to prime time on Saturday night. While the front stretch grandstands looked just about full, the surrounding area short tracks suffered. The same situation could be seen in the New England and New York area during the summer months when NEXTEL racing is done on Saturday night. At the Daytona International Speedway on Sunday 46 NEXTEL Cup cars attempted to qualify for the following Sunday’s Daytona 500. Greg Biffle in a Jack Roush Ford took the pole position with a speed of 188.387 mph. Second fastest was Elliott Sadler who went 188.355 mph.
 

As a side note, former Waterford Speedbowl modified driver Bob Gada Jr. is one of those who work in the Jack Roush motor shop. On a sad note, 44 year old Ray Weaver, supervisor of the track crew at Daytona was struck and killed on Sunday while out in the middle of the track during a caution period. He was picking up debris left on the speedway after a Goody’s Dash race incident. Ray Paprota, a paraplegic who uses hand controls to drive his car, accidentally hit him. Sunday night at New Smyrna ended up being another crash fest and another night of virtually no passing. The upper groove of the ˝ mile high-banked speedway has not come in like many competitors expected it would. Donnie Lia went pole to pole to win the 25-lap event over JR Bertuccio, Eric Beers, George Kent and Ted Christopher. As drivers get frustrated accidents happen.


In 2004 former Waterford Speedbowl competitor and a part of the "Gada Clan", Bob Gada was working for Jack Roush Racing.
(Photo from the Danny Pardi Collection)

For the second night in a row John Blewett III saw his hopes for a decent finish get trashed. After numerous tries to re-start the event after a lap five caution Blewett found himself in the fence with his car suffering severe damage. His crew had worked all night long after a Saturday night crash to get the car back together. Blewett missed time trials and was forced to start the main event in the rear. It only took him five laps to get to the top five when bad luck struck again. The Modifieds had a night off on Monday, February 9, to re-group and would be back at it on Tuesday. Among the missing were pre-entries Chuck Hossfeld and Ed Flemke Jr. After three nights Eric Beers led the modified point standings. Beers, with 330 points, held a four-point lead over defending series champion Ted Christopher. Donnie Lia was third, eight points behind with Charlie Pasteryak and George Kent rounding out the top five. In other matters, Preston Connecticut car owner Art Barry announced that he would field a two-car team on the NASCAR Featherlite Modified Tour Series for 2004. Barry, who owns and operates Spearpoint Auto in Preston, CT announced that his son Kenny and 2003 NEMA Rookie of the Year Sean Caisse will comprise a two car team and run the entire series. Bob Bahre, owner and promoter of the New Hampshire International Speedway in Loudon, New Hampshire who was seriously injured in an automobile accident when his SUV went off the road in Brownfield Maine and struck a tree was listed in stable condition at the Maine Medical Center in Portland. In addition to bruises and cuts Bahre, 71, suffered a cracked vertebra.

Last year, 2008, after a long winter’s wait the 2008 racing season began on Friday night with the 42nd Annual version of the World Series of auto racing at the New Smyrna Speedway. It was also the beginning of the 2008 NASCAR Sprint Cup season. The Budweiser Shootout and Daytona 500 pole qualifying started their season at the Daytona International Speedway.

At New Smyrna for the Friday night opener there were 17 SK type Modifieds and 17 Tour type Modifieds on hand. Jimmy Blewett scored a one-two punch as he was the top qualifier in both divisions. The only casualty during qualifying was Long Islander JR Bertuccio hitting the wall and doing extensive damage to the Connecticut based Bear Motorsports Tour type entry.

In the Tour type Modified 25 lapper Blewett started on the pole and held off Chuck Hossfeld for the first 18 laps when it appeared that Blewett’s motor developed a skip and began losing power. Hossfeld, in a move on the low side, took the lead and never looked back. As Blewett continued to fade Bob Grigas III moved into the second spot. The top two ran nose to tail the balance of the event. Ted Christopher, Andy Seuss and Eric Beers rounded out the top five. Blewett managed to hang on and finish eighth. Immediately following the Modified feature Blewett’s crew discovered that the fuel pump had malfunctioned.

In the Friday night SK type Modified feature there was no touching Jimmy Blewett as romped to a convincing win over Kenny Horton. It was more of a race for second place as Horton and Josh Sylvester slugged it out for the runner-up spot. The two ended up getting together with Sylvester coming up short as he spun out of contention. He was able to rebound as he ended up 11th in the final rundown. David Cranmer finished third and was followed by Billy Anderson and Glen Griswold.

At the Daytona Int. Speedway on Friday night emotions ran high after an on track practice wreck which involved Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch. Actually there were two wrecks that seriously damaged four race cars which resulted in the teams of Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch going to back-up cars for the Bud Shootout. The team of 2007 winner Tony Stewart elected to repair his damaged mount.

The first wreck was triggered by Clint Bowyer, who wrecked the Dodge of Ryan Newman, also collected the Chevys of Johnson and Gordon plus others. While that wreck was much more dramatic on track, the two-car incident involving Stewart and Busch triggered on-track retaliation from Busch and landed both combatants in the NASCAR office for a reprimand.

Busch hit Stewart's Toyota three times while both were en route to the pits following the accident on the backstretch. Once both cars got to the garage, NASCAR ordered Busch and Stewart to the Sprint Cup office for a discussion. Neither driver would comment as to what transpired inside the meeting with NASCAR officials.

Jimmy Blewett went two for two on Saturday night at New Smyrna as he won both Tour type and SK type Modified events. In Tour type Modified action Chuck Hossfeld turned the first sub-17 second lap during qualifying. For comparison purposes the New Smyrna Speedway is a half mile oval as is the Stafford Motor Speedway. New Smyrna is high banked, Stafford is semi-banked. Fast time for a Modified at Stafford is in the mid to low 18’s. Bob Grigas III was the second fastest with Ted Christopher, third. In the draw for starting positions Blewett, who was fifth fastest, drew the pole. In SK type qualifying Blewett was the fastest. Kenny Horton and Glen Griswold rounded out the top three.

Blewett went pole to pole, putting his fuel pump problems behind him, to take the Tour type 25 lap Modified win. Ted Christopher finished second after a spirited battle with Charlie Pasteryak. Pasteryak later faded and finished 14th. Chuck Hossfeld ended up third. Eric Beers and Kevin Goodale rounded out the top five. There were 18 Tour type Modifieds on hand. In SK type action Kevin Goodale started on the pole but Blewett was on a mission as he put him away in short order as he recorded his second feature win of the night. Blewett’s only pressure came in the early stages of the 20 lapper from Josh Sylvester. Glen Griswold moved into second in the late stages as Sylvester slipped to third. Billy Anderson and Goodale rounded out the top five. There were 18 SK type Modifieds on hand.

The Tour type Modifieds and the SK type Modifieds were off on Sunday night.
 
In Bud Shootout action at the Daytona Int Speedway Dale Earnhardt took the win with a dominating run Saturday night in his new Hendrick Motorsports ride, powering past Tony Stewart with two laps to go and holding on for his first win against Cup drivers since early 2006.

Fifty three NASCAR Sprint Cup cars lined up last Sunday for Daytona 500 pole and outside pole position qualifying. When all was said and done defending series champion Jimmy Johnson was the fastest of the fast as he locked himself into a front row starting spot for what is known as the Great American Race. Michael Waltrip who sat on the sidelines and watched last years event locked up the outside pole starting spot in his Toyota powered car.

NASCAR announced that former driver Chad Little had been named the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour director. Little had been an official with NASCAR since 2005, most recently as advisor to the NASCAR Mexico Series. Former tour director Ed Cox would handle special projects with the NASCAR competition division. NASCAR also announced that Whelen Modified Tour Series Champion Don Lia had secured a ride in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series for 2008 with TRG Motorsports. Lia will drive the No. 71 Chevrolet Silverado for Kevin Buckler and TRG Motorsports. Lia was not eligible to drive in the season-opening Chevy Silverado 250 in Daytona since required rookie testing at the track had already passed. Mike Bliss would be in the truck at Daytona. Lia would make his debut for TRG Motorsports at California Speedway in the San Bernardino 200 on Feb. 23, and was scheduled to run the remainder of the season. With that being said it looked like Bob Garbarino would retire as a Whelen Modified Tour Series car owner. Garbarino had previously stated that his plans for 2008 would be based on those of his driver. Needless to say, Garbarino changed his mind at the urging of his wife and reunited with Chuck Hossfeld for the 2008 season.

Colchester CT native Phil Moran was named Car Chief of the No.22 Caterpiller Bill Davis Racing Toyota driven by Dave Blaney on NASCAR’s Sprint Cup circuit. Moran cut his racing teeth and honed his skills as a race car mechanic and fabricator as he worked with Spearpoint Auto, Pasteryak Racing, Jerry Pearl Racing and Todd Szegedy Racing. Moran followed a long line of New England drivers, mechanics and fabricators who have made it to NASCAR’s senior circuit. Tom Baldwin JR is the Crew Chief. Baldwin is a product of the Modified circuit on Long Island.

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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