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 Friday March 24, 2006

By Phil Smith
 
Thirty-five years ago in 1971, the Modifieds and Busch Grandnationals shared the twin bill at Martinsville. Ray Hendrick was the 250 lap GN winner. The modified 250 saw on of the biggest wrecks ever as over a dozen cars piled up in turn four in the closing stages. Sneaking thru and taking a surprise win was popular Bernie Miller from Cannestota, N.Y. Jimmy Hensley finished second. Bobby Santos finished third and was followed by Leo Cleary, Jerry Cook and Mike Loescher. Fred DeSarro was the defending national champion and the outside pole sitter. During the opening laps, he and Ray Hendrick banged wheels and DeSarro parked it for the day with front end problems. Unknown to him at the time, the Martinsville race was to be his last in the Koszela N0.15 as car owner Sonny Koszela was in the process of securing the services of Bugsy Stevens.
 
Thirty years ago in 1976, the Modifieds were quiet.
 
Twenty five years ago in 1981, quiet again.
 
Twenty years ago in 1986, Brett Bodine put the Art Barry No.21 in victory lane at Martinsville. Driving one of the last chassis built by the late Richie Evans, Bodine took the lead on lap 188 of the 200 lap event. Jamie Tomaino who led the most laps finished second despite running on worn out tires. Maynard Troyer finished third and was followed by George Kent and Corky Cookman. Bodine, who was in the process of making the move to Grandnational racing in the south was in contention to win the GN 200 and was dumped by Kyle Petty while leading on lap 21.Mike Porter was the eventual winner. Dale Jarrett who was running second on the last lap, ran out of gas, allowing Larry Pearson to slip into second spot at the finish. Fifty one Modifieds were on hand and seventeen thousand witnessed the event.
 
Fifteen years ago in 1991, Riverside Park was scheduled to open but freezing rain ruled. The Featherlite Modified Tour was at Richmond on Sunday, Mike Stefanik, in his family owned No.15 took the win. Doug Hevron finished second and was followed by George Kent, Tom Bolles, Reggie Ruggiero, Tony Hirschman and Tom Baldwin. Announced attendance was 18,000.
 
Ten years ago in 1996, Riverside Park opened with 27 Modifieds and 4795 chilled fans. At race time, the chill factor was below zero but the show went on. Chris Kopec started second and took the lead from Reggie Ruggerio on lap 12 and went on to record the 75 lap win. Doug Meservy finished second and was followed by Ruggerio, Ted Riggott, Richard Savory and Dave Berube. At Darlington in Winston Cup action, Dale Jarrett took the lead with fifteen laps to go only to run out of gas with two to go. Jarrett missed his pit and ended up in the Ernie Irvan pit. He got a splash of gas but was penalized a lap by NASCAR for stopping in the wrong pit. Jeff Gordon took the win with Bob Labonte, second. Penske Motorsports went public on the stock market. After opening at 24, the stock jumped to 31-3/4 the first day.
 
Five years ago in 2001, the Dutch Inn in Martinsville burned and in Daytona a shake-up was taking place as NASCAR Vice-President Tom Deery was relieved of his duties and replaced by Jim Hunter. It was also on this weekend that New York driving legend Kenny Shoemaker passed away at the age of 71. Elliott Sadler got a long overdue win for the Wood Brothers at Bristol. Action on the final lap was hot and heavy as Tony Stewart spun while trying to pass Jeff Gordon. Stewart felt that Gordon had done it on purpose and retaliated against Gordon, spinning him out on pit road. NASCAR fined Stewart $10,000 and put him on probation.
 
Last year, 2005, competitors and fans were glad to hear that the Seekonk Speedway in Massachusetts was installing a new electronic scoreboard which would be in place and would be operational. The Venditti family which has owned and operated the speedway since its inception in 1946 had also embarked on a major construction project which would permit pit access from the third turn of the oval. Modified racing can be full of surprises at times. One such surprise occurred when Hillbilly Racing, based in Westfield North Carolina, announced that Ted Christopher would be driving the Hill’s Enterprises No.79 in a Southern Modified Tour event at the Caraway Speedway in Asheboro, NC.
 
The Plainfield Connecticut Planning and Zoning Commission voted 3-2 to defer a decision on a zoning change sought by New England Raceway LLC and Connecticut Yankee Greyhound Racing Inc. to give members time to review a more than 200-page transcript of a public hearing on the matter. The commission would conduct a special meeting to consider the so-called text amendment, which would accommodate plans for a domed auto racetrack, in the Plainfield Town Hall auditorium. Close to 300 people were on hand.

The Waterford Speedbowl held their annual season preview car show at the Crystal Mall in Waterford. Among the cars on display were the Modifieds of Shawn and Diego Monahan, Dennis Cherette and Rob Janovic, Late Models on display were those of Allen Coates, Larry Goss and Brandon Plemmends along with the Sportsman driven by Roger Perry, the Mini Stock driven by Chris Williams, the Legend Car driven by Jeffrey Paul and the X-Car of Vic Williams. The Speedbowl had announced that following week’s Nationals SK-Modified 150 would carry a purse of $20,000 and would pay $5,000 to win.
 
Carl Edwards scored a one-two punch as he won the Busch Series and Nextel Cup events at the Atlanta Motor Speedway. He was headed toward a Busch win the previous week at Las Vegas before he cut a tire and spun while leading late. He made up for it by going four-wide Saturday in his charge to the front in the final laps. He beat Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson for the Busch Series win. Johnson appeared as if he would hold off Edwards to win the Nextel Cup event. Johnson has almost more career Cup wins (15) than Edwards has series starts (17). Edwards' chances seemed over when his car slid sideways exiting turn 2 with five laps to go. Instead, Edwards kept going. Edwards nipped Johnson after rubbing wheels as they headed for the finish line.

That’s about it for this week from 40 Clark St, Westerly, and R.I.02891. Ring my chimes at 401-596-5467 or days at 860-433-5250.E-mail _ HYPERLINK mailto: smithpe_97_97@yahoo.com

Phil Smith has been a columnist for Speedway Scene for over 3 decades.
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