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Friday March 28, 2008

By Phil Smith                                             Click on Photos at bottom of Page for Full Size                                

 
Twenty five years ago, in 1983, Greg Sacks rebounded from a blown engine at Martinsville as he won the New England season opening IceBreaker at Thompson. Sacks took the lead from Richie Evans with three laps to go in the 83-lap contest. George Kent finished second as Evans faded to third at the checker. Ray Miller and John Rosati rounded out the top five. Evans, who started on the pole, was forced to pit after suffering a flat left rear tire on the second lap. Sacks, who started on the outside pole, led until lap 46 when Evans re-took the lead. Evans clearly had the fastest car but his hard charge to the front took its toll on his tires. Cale Yarborough was the Winston Cup winner in Atlanta.

Twenty years ago, in 1988, Riverside Park opened their season with a 100 lapper, which was won by Reggie Ruggerio. Mike Stefanik in the Jack Koszela 15 finished second with Stan Greger, third. Rounding out the top five were Long Island invader Tom Baldwin and Marty Radwick.

Fifteen years ago in 1993, Riverside Park opened the season to a packed house of 8675 spectators. Famed car owner Bob Judkins suffered a heart attack and was unable to watch as Jerry Marquis took the win over Bruce D’Assandro, Chris Kopec and Mike Stefanik. In Winston Cup action at Darlington, Dale Earnhardt won out over Mark Martin. Robert Pressley won the Busch Grandnational event. The racing world was saddened when news spread that defending Winston Cup Champion Alan Kulwicki was killed in a plane crash on April 1 while heading to Bristol Tennessee.

Ten years ago in 1998, Riverside Park had the traditional New England opener. Reggie Ruggiero started 25th as a provisional. Working the Park like only Reggie could, Ruggiero marched his way to the front and took the lead from Cris Kopec on lap 108 and never looked back as he romped to victory. Pole sitter Mike Stefanik led the first 40 laps before giving way to Kopec. Stefanik, who ended up third behind Ruggerio and Tony Hirschman, was running in second spot on lap 187 of the 200-lap contest when Ted Christopher slid up, causing both to spin. Christopher lost a drive shaft and was done for the day. Dan Avery and Ed Flemke Jr. rounded out the top five. In Winston Cup action at Bristol Rusty Wallace dominated until running over debris and hitting the wall. Jeff Gordon inherited the lead and eventual win. Elliott Sadler was the Busch Grandnational winner. On a sad note, Tim Flock who was a pioneer in the sport back in the 50’s died after a long battle with cancer.

Five years ago in 2003 In Busch Grandnational action at the Texas Motor Speedway NASCAR pulled one of its biggest officiating blunders when they penalized Brian Vickers for passing before the starting line on a re-start. Joe Nemachek took the win. Videotape clearly showed that Vickers did not pass before the line. NASCAR held their ground, as the word from the Big Red Trailer was that he “Intended to Pass”. In SMART action at the Caraway Speedway in North Carolina, Jay Hedgecock took the win. Ryan Newman won the Winston Cup event that was run at the Texas track.

Last year, 2007, The Southern New England countryside came alive with the sound of engines roaring as the Waterford Speedbowl opened for their 57th season. The shoreline oval opened under new management on Saturday and Sunday. A new and rejuvenated look plus an entirely different attitude on the part of all new management greeted fans and competitors. The Speedbowl had been the scene of a “Big Dig” as a huge septic cement tank has been installed. As Pete Zanardi stated, “Our cup no longer overflowith”. Thanks to the hard work of the new management the tracks rest rooms have been put back in working order. No longer would hip boots be required in order to enter the rest rooms. Thousands of dollars were spent in the grandstand area which showed a lot of progress.

Sunny skies greeted competitors and fans at the Speedbowl on Saturday for Bud Nationals qualifying. Outside invaders Jimmy Blewett, Matt Hirschman and Kenny Horton blew away the Waterford regulars in SK Modified time trials as they took the top spots. Blewett toured the 1/3 mile oval in 14.233 seconds. Waterford regulars Tommy Fox and Shawn Monahan rounded out the top five. Among those who failed to make the cut for the top 20 was six time track champion David Gada who was forced to run in the Last Chance 25 lap consolation event. Thirty one SK Modifieds were on hand to qualify for the 28 starting spots. Jeff Paul won the Last Chance event. Tyler Chadwick finished second with Dennis Gada, nursing a sick engine, finishing third.

The more things change at the Speedbowl the more things stay the same. Jeff Pearl ended up having the biggest day of his career as he won the SK Modified portion of the Bud Nationals on Sunday. The new management shows hope and promise for the shoreline oval but a general house cleaning of those in charge of the on track action was sorely needed. Confusion and indecision by track officials dragged out the many caution periods. Case in point, Jimmy Blewett was put to the rear for an accident that involved Frank Ruocco and Doug Coby. They were running second and third when they tangled first in turn two and then in turn three where they spun. Blewett, who was running fourth at the time avoided the spinning cars and went low to take over second. Needless to say, the track made a bad call when they said he was involved and had to go to the rear with 11 laps remaining in the 150 lap feature. In plain English, Blewett and his car owner Eddie Partridge were royally screwed by the Speedbowl race officials. Funny thing though, with only four laps remaining local runner Shawn Monahan deliberately turned Tyler Chadwick, another local runner into the first turn fence. Nothing was said or done about this incident. Track racing director Steve Harraka made the final call in the Blewett incident and turned a blind eye in the Monahan incident.

The SK Modified 150 took the green at 4:02pm and finished up at 5:30. Jimmy Blewett took the lead at the start with Kenny Horton and Frank Ruocco in tow. By lap 25 Blewett began having handling problems in the turns and on lap 30 gave way to Ruocco. Blewett began backing up as Don Fowler shot into the second spot. Rob Summers passed both Ruocco and Fowler on lap 46. Just shy of half way with Summers leading Fowler and Horton, Blewett was hit and spun in the third turn by Rob Janovic. Blewett pitted with a flat left rear and returned with an all new set of tires for the run to the finish. By lap 125 Blewett had worked his way back to the top five. It was actually lap 136 when Ruocco and Coby tangled. Between the Blewett fiasco and the Monahan dumping incident the race was settled in a three lap sprint which saw Jeff Pearl running wheel to wheel with Matt Hirschman with Pearl winning by inches. Summers ended up third with Frank Ruocco, fourth and Shawn Monahan, fifth. Sixth through tenth were Wendell Dailey, Dave Sazarulo, Tyler Chadwick, Jay Miller and Doug Coby. Blewett ended up 15th. Other winners were Bruce Thomas Jr. (Late Models), Billy Gertsch Jr. (Sportsman), Joe Godbout III (Mini Stocks) and Lou Ciccone (NEMA Midgets).

Andy Seuss scored his first career NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour victory in breathtaking fashion on Sunday afternoon in the Whelen 150 at Music City Motorplex. Seuss had to do it in overtime due to a late caution that set the stage for a green-white-checkered finish. On the final restart, the Hampstead, N.H. native was looking to hold off the second-place car of Tim Brown. However Brown would not get up to speed and dropped back through the pack while L.W. Miller moved up to the runner-up position where he ultimately finished.

Jimmie Johnson withstood Jeff Gordon’s 53-lap challenge that included plenty of banging Sunday and held him off by a bumper for his third NASCAR Nextel Cup win in six races, the latest in Martinsville. Michael Waltrip continued his streak of not qualifying as he missed the field for the fifth consecutive time.

Remember the Gremlins. This week here are several vintage racing photos of the Gremlins courtesy of vintagemodifieds.com


                        Bobby Vee                                          Fred Alkas                                        Bones Stevens
                                                                                   
That’s it for this week from 40 Clark St. Westerly RI 02891. Ring my chimes at 401-596-5467

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

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