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Friday May 21, 2010
 

By Phil Smith

Seventy years ago in 1940 a brand new race track in opened in Thompson, CT. The land on which the track was built had been transformed from a dairy farm into a speedway following the farm’s destruction at the hands of the infamous 1938 hurricane. Property owner John Hoenig had constructed the largest race track in the northeast and had bucked conventional wisdom by making the racing surface out of macadam instead of the traditional dirt, clay or wood that topped most tracks of the day. Hoenig had built the first ‘asphalt’ race track in the United States. Racers of the day could not wait to test the all-new, high banked speedway. None had ever raced on a surface like the one Hoenig had used, but that did not keep them or race fans away. A full field of racecars and the huge grandstands were filled to capacity for this grand opening. Opening day had brought virtually every big name in the sport. The grandstands, made from trees that had been blown down in the hurricane, were full and when the time trial session was complete, it was the D’Amore #10 that had set the fast time of the day at 26.4 seconds. “Dizzy” Vance then drove the D’Amore #10 to a win in the very first qualifying race at Thompson.

Once the qualifying heats and the consolation race were completed, the race teams worked feverishly to improve the performance of their dirt track racecars. After all, none had ever competed on a hard and fast surface like they encountered on that day in May of 1940. The feature event cars were then lined up and the green flag dropped on the field of twelve cars. Excitement filled the air and the cars roared down the long straight-a-ways and slid sideways through the turns just as if they were on a dirt track. The competition was fierce, but when the final flag flew on this historic opening day, it was the D’Amore #10 that had done it all. Yes, “Dizzy” Vance had set fast time, won his qualifying heat and then went on to claim victory in the very first feature race ever run at the Thompson Speedway.

Special thanks to Russ Dowd who provided the info on the Grand Opening of the Big T.

Fifty years ago, in 1960, Bill Slater won his fourth feature in a row at the Norwood Arena. Ted Stack was the Modified feature winner at the Waterford Speedbowl. In other action at the shoreline oval Tom Sutcliff was the non-Ford winner and Newt Palm scored his third Bomber win.

Forty five years ago in 1965 Ted Stack was still winning at the Waterford Speedbowl as he took the Modified feature. Bill Scrivner was the winner in the Bomber ranks. Pete Corey led the New York State invasion at Stafford as he won the Friday night event on the dirt. Paul Marshall took the win at Fonda on Saturday night. At Riverside Park, Dick Dixon recorded the win. Little did anyone know it would be his last win at the amusement park speedway as he would lose his life later in the year at the Thompson Speedway when he hit a light pole on the backstretch. Jerry Cook took the Sunday night win at Utica-Rome. Tom Kotary and Elton Hill followed.

Forty years ago in 1970, Fred DeSarro made it two in a row in Friday night action at Malta. Eddie Pieniezak finished second with Dick Fowler, third. Stafford ran a 100 lapper on Saturday night. Ray Hendrick, up from Virginia for the weekend was a surprise winner after DeSarro had a brake lock up while leading. The biased New England crowd booed Hendrick in victory lane because they thought he had put out DeSarro. De Sarro got on the mike and told the crowd what really happened and the entire mood of the crowd changed. This was to be Hendricks' only career win at Stafford. Eddie Flemke finished second and was followed by DeSarro, Leo Cleary and Bobby Santos. Eddie Pieniezak and Irv Taylor shared victory lane in twin 25's at Fonda and at Plattsburg it was Dick Nephew over Andy Romano. Walt Dombrowski, a sheet metal fabricator at the Electric Boat shipyard in Groton , CT won his second Modified feature of the year driving the Majewski L&M. George Allum was the Late Model Daredevil winner. At Thompson on Sunday, Hendrick won a 100 lapper over DeSarro and Flemke. A make-up 35 lapper was also run with Flemke taking the win over Hendrick and Santos. John Kollar was the Sunday night winner at Utica-Rome.

Thirty five years ago in 1975, rain washed out Friday night action at Stafford, Freeport and Utica-Rome. Islip ran a 100-lap double point event with Fred Harbach taking the win over Tom McCann and Gary Winters. At Lancaster it was Maynard Troyer over Roger Treichler and Dean Hoag. Billy Harman made it two in a row in Modified action at Waterford. Don Fowler scored his second Late Model Daredevil win of the season at the shoreline oval. Sunday night at Fulton saw Richie Evans returned to his winning ways as he beat out George Kent and Jerry Cook. At Thompson, it rained.

Thirty years ago in 1980, the New England Drivers and Owners Club, (NEDOC), voted to notify track operators of Stafford, Thompson, Westboro and Monadnock that they wanted a reduction in pit fees for drivers, owners and mechanics. With the exception of Thompson, all complied with NEDOC's wishes. Stafford ran the Manchester Oil Heat 100 on Friday night. Richie Evans took the win over Ronnie Bouchard, Satch Worley, Jerry Cook and Mike Stefanik. Evans carried his winning ways over to Riverside on Saturday where he took the victory over Bob Polverari and Ray Miller. At Westboro it was Ronnie Bouchard over Bob Fuller. Shangri-La, Spencer, Waterford, Islip and Claremont fell victim to rain. Other weekend action saw John Blewett Jr. take the win at New Egypt on Wednesday following a tangle by leaders Jerry Cook and Evans. Stash Greger took a 100 lap open event at Plainville, also on Wednesday, after Charlie Jarzombek hit the wall. On Sunday, a strike was called at Thompson and the Sunday night racing was cancelled after only six cars entered the pit area.

Twenty five years ago in 1985, Brian Ross made it two in a row in Friday night action at Stafford. Jeff Fuller finished second with Bugsy Stevens, third. Kerry Malone was the SK mod winner. New Egypt ran a 100 lapper with Bob Park holding off Jim Spencer for the win. Saturday night at Waterford, Kenny Bouchard in the Ted Marsh No.55 took the top spot over Bob Potter. Mike Lovetere was the Superstock winner. At Shangri-La, Richie Evans was in top form as he beat out Jim Spencer and Jan Leaty. At Riverside it was Doug Hevron over Bob Polverari and at Riverhead, Don Howe edged out Bob Park for the win. At Thompson on Sunday, Charlie Jarzombek closed out the weekend with a convincing win over Evans and Hevron. In SK type Modified action at Thompson, Kerry Malone took his second win of the weekend.
In Winston Cup action at Riverside, California, Terry LaBonte mastered the twisting road course.

Twenty years ago in 1990, SK modified action at Stafford saw Bob Potter take the win. At Riverhead on Saturday night, Mike Ewanitsko beat veteran Fred Harbach for the win and at Riverside, Reggie Ruggerio won a 100 lapper over Bob Polverari and Mike Stefanik. At Shangri La, Andy Romano ended a 20-year dry spell as he won the mod feature over Dave Nichols. The mod tour was at Thompson on Sunday for a 100 lapper. NASCAR put in a mandatory pit stop, which made the racing better, but when the dust had settled, it was Mike Stefanik taking the win over Mike McLaughlin. Jeff Barry was the SK mod winner. Also on Sunday, Jerry Marquis in the Bob Judkins 2x won at Monadnock over Bruce Dell and Kirby Montieth.

Fifteen years ago in 1995, Steve Chowanski was the Friday night winner at Stafford. Bo Gunning finished second with Mike Christopher, third. It was a night of intense action and contact. Jim Broderick and Ted Christopher were ejected for rough riding and John Anderson was ejected for climbing the starters stand to vent his feelings. The Featherlite Modified Tour was at Lee Raceway. Tim Connolly in the Bobby Fuller No.17 took the win over Tony Hirshman, Ed Flemke Jr and Tom Cravenho. Waterford cancelled at 11:00am on Saturday because of forecasted rain and by race time the sun was out! At Riverside Park, Steve Park in the Brady Bunch modified took the win over Doug Meservy and Reggie Ruggerio and at Riverhead, Tim Cintarino beat out Tom Tillotson for the win. Mike McLaughlin got his first Busch Grandnational win at Dover Downs on Saturday at the expense of fellow New Yorker, Doug Hevron who lost an engine while leading the late stages of the event. Kyle Petty won the Winston Cup event.

Ten years ago in 2000, Eddie Flemke Jr used an early pit stop to his advantage as he brought the Hill Enterprises No.79 home in the top spot at the Featherlite Modified Tour 150 at Stafford. Flemke pitted on lap 59 and when the rest of the field stopped on lap 85 he found himself in the lead, which he never gave up. Tim Connolly finished second and was followed by Tony Hirshman, LW Miller, Chris Kopec and Ted Christopher. Christopher overcame being put to the rear during the early going of the SK modified 50 lapper and took the lead in that event with one to go. At Waterford on Saturday, Jeff Pearl beat out Ed Reed Jr for the win and in SK Mod action at Thompson on Sunday; Christopher won out over Todd Ceravolo and Bert Marvin. In Winston Cup action at Charlotte, Matt Kenseth took the win. Jeff Burton was the GN winner. Five pit crewmembers were injured during a pre-race pyro show. In Daytona Beach, a group of blacks picketed NASCAR headquarters when the sanctioning body refused an entry of a black driver. In all fairness to NASCAR, the driver in question was very slow in a practice session at Martinsville and wasn't even close to being competitive. They made the right decision!

Five years ago in 2005 At Stafford on Friday night Ted Christopher collected his 79th career win in the 40 lap SK Modified feature. Woody Pitkat appeared to be heading for the win when, on the last lap, he and Frank Ruocco tangled. While Pitkat and Ruocco were trying to collect themselves, Christopher who was running third, took advantage of their misfortune as he assumed the lead and eventual win. Pitkat recovered to finish second with Ruocco, third. Jeff Baral and Todd Owen rounded out the top five. Jay Stuart took a controversial win in the Late Models and Michael Bennett scored his fourth win in five starts in the Limited Sportsman division. Joey Ferrigno was the Dare Stock feature winner.

The Waterford Speedbowl continued to keep fans and competitors buzzing over the recent announcement that the track’s days were numbered. Speedbowl operator Terry Eames called a meeting on Wednesday, May 18, to explain to competitors what was really going on. Speaking in general terms Eames told those in attendance that the property owner, 1080 Hartford Road, LLC, had entered into an agreement that could potentially sell the property on which the Speedbowl is located to a real estate developer. He did specify that the 2005 season would continue as planned and there was a good chance that the 2006 season would also go on as planned. Rumor had it that the asking price was close to $5 million. Property values in southeastern Connecticut had soared in the last ten years and have created a housing shortage. It was also announced that the New London Submarine Base was on the US Government’s Base Closure list. If that became a reality property values could take a dive and building houses or condos on the Speedbowl property could be a bad investment. Electric Boat, which builds submarines for the US Navy had cut their workforce in half over the last ten years. The regions largest employers are the casinos which, in many cases, have hired displaced workers at low paying jobs. It’s a good guess that if the base goes the Speedbowl will stay. There are some who feel that Eames had betrayed them. When he took over operation of the track a few years back he stated that he was in it for “The Long Haul”. Evidently he hit a bump in the road !

Seventeen year old Jeffrey Paul made his open wheel Modified debut at the shoreline oval in the “Wacky Wednesday” program. A standout competitor in the Legends Cars, Paul took to the limited X-Modified like a duck would take to water as he won the event Paul came back to the Speedbowl on Saturday to win the 20 lap Legends race. In Bud Nationals qualifying at Waterford on Saturday there were 29 SK Modifieds on hand. Despite the increased purse only two non-regulars plus Jim Broderick who was pinch hitting for Mark Pane who had a date at the altar, were on hand. Broderick who has been semi-retired the last few years hasn’t lost his touch as he set fast time for the 150-lap event during time trials. Frank Ruocco was second fastest with Tom Fox, third and Ted Christopher, fourth. Rounding out the top five qualifiers was Chris Pasteryak. Drizzle and the prediction for more forced the postponement of the second day of the Budweiser Modified Nationals Sunday at Waterford Speedbowl.

In some sad news, Freddy Doolittle of Norwich, CT, a Modified car owner and sponsor for many years passed away at the age of 77 on Monday, May 16. Fred owned and operated Freddy's TV in Norwich for 52 years. During his 30+ years as a car owner the Freddy’s TV No.23 ran up and down the east coast with drivers like Bob Potter, Ron Narducci, Ed Yerrington, Moose Hewitt and Kenny Bouchard at the controls.

Last year, 2009, the Stafford Motor Speedway returned to racing action with Whelen Event. Taking down feature victories were Keith Rocco in the SK Modified feature and Ryan Posocco in the Late Model feature. Tony Santangelo scored his second consecutive SK Light Modified feature win, while Shawn Thibeault took his first career Limited Late Model feature victory. With two DARE Stock feature events on the card, Robert Thompson and Todd LaPorta drove to CARQUEST Victory Lane.

The 40-lap SK Modified feature took the green flag with the action at the front of the pack fast and furious. Keith Rocco moved to the lead on lap-2 after riding side by side with Curt Brainard for the first lap. Frank Ruocco made a bid for the lead on lap-3, taking the lead from Rocco in turn 3 only to have Rocco pull the crossover move and retake the lead coming out of the fourth turn. Rocco held the lead until lap-12 when Ted Christopher made a move to the inside of Rocco in turn 4. Christopher and Rocco ran nose to tail until lap-23 when Rocco made a bottom shot move on Christohper in turn 1 to retake the lead. Rocco began to stretch his lead out over Christopher, but his lead was erased when the caution came out with 37 laps complete for a spin by Nichole Morgillo. On the restart, Christopher was judged to have jumped the restart and was penalized one lap. That put Woody Pitkat alongside Rocco for the restart. After several more caution periods, it was down to a green white checkered finish. Pitkat hung tough on the outside of Rocco, but he came up a half car length short at the checkered flag. Rounding out the top-5 behind Rocco and Pitkat was Ruocco, Jeff Malave, and Curt Brainard. Christopher, who parked his car after being penalized, ended up 15th. The defending Whelen Modified Tour Series Champion felt that the call by race director Frank Sgambato was unfair. Christopher told the Hartford Current that he will not be back at Stafford except for Whelen Modified Tour Series events.

The Waterford Speedbowl was forced to cancel their NASCAR Whelen All-American Series racing program and Little League Night festivities due to inclement weather. A persistent fog, mist, and drizzle intensified as the practice rounds were underway and continued into the evening.

Howard Hodge who, along with his wife Mary have done so much to promote the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Series with their cameras, report while at Loudon for the recent Vintage Celebration they got a chance to see some of the construction going on at the Whelen Modifieds arrive for their June event they will see that the infield between the tunnel and the garages will be totally changed. The brook will be in a culvert and the access road will be changed. (One road near the backstretch fence). They are moving the entrance gate to the south garage. The plan is to make more room for the series (WMT, CWSE and ACT) that have to use the infield for a pit area. The idea is to have no one pitted on the access road. The Hodges also reported that the front stretch fencing was also gone as work to install a new stronger fence had started.

Congratulations went out to nationally recognized public relations, motorsports marketing and promotions specialist Ernie Saxton who had been named recipient of the 2009 Leonard J. Sammons Jr. Memorial Award which recognizes outstanding contributions to auto racing. Saxton would be honored when the 18th annual Northeast Modified Hall of Fame driver inductions and special award ceremonies take place Sunday, May 24 on the Cayuga County Fairgrounds in New York State.

General Motors and Chrysler announced that they were eliminating close to 2,000 dealerships.

Tony Stewart passed Matt Kenseth with two laps to go in a thrilling final 10-lap shootout to win for the first time in 11 All-Star event starts at the Lowes Motor Speedway. It was the first victory since he left Joe Gibbs Racing after two championships and 10 successful seasons, to become co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing. Matt Kenseth was second, followed by Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards.

After a follow-the-leader parade for most of the first three segments, the action picked up at the drop of the flag of the final shootout. Kyle Busch used a three-wide pass to dart from fourth to first, aggressive driving that slowed the cars behind him. Denny Hamlin ran into the back of Jimmie Johnson, sending Johnson into a spin that he masterfully saved from a race-ending accident. A caution period set up another restart, and this time Jeff Gordon raced to the front. Newman decided to enter the action with a three-wide move to the outside, and Gordon and Kyle Busch touched at least once before all three cars collided. It sent Gordon into a spin through the grass then back up across the track, where he crashed into the outside wall to end his race.

Kenseth eventually moved to the front, but he and Busch knew Stewart was coming quickly. Stewart was third on the final restart with five laps to go, and made several charges for the lead before finally getting past Kenseth with two laps remaining. The late-race action moved the attention back to the track after a week spent discussing Jeremy Mayfield's indefinite suspension for failing a random drug test. Despite his ban from the track, Mayfield was on track property early Saturday night, complete with camera crew in tow, as he watched J.J. Yeley drive the Mayfield Motorsports entry to a 22nd-place finish in the preliminary race. Mayfield spoke with reporters who found him in the infield, insisting his positive test was not because of illegal drug use. Instead, he said it was the combination of a prescription drug, which he would not identify, and Claritin-D, which he said he used to combat allergies at Richmond that were "really, really bad." Mayfield said he has hired legal representation and has undergone drug tests since his suspension. He declined to reveal those results.

This week are several vintage racing photos, courtesy of SpeedwayLineReport.com & VintageModifieds.com.
Click on Photo for Full Size




Jap Membrino



Billy Greco


Ronnie Wyckoff


Bugs Stevens

Smokey Boutwell

Gene Bergin

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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