Friday November 24, 2006

By Phil Smith                                                          Click On Any Photo For Full Size Version

Forty years ago in 1966, an era came to an end when it was announced that the half mile dirt track at the Stafford Springs Fairgrounds would be paved for the 1967 season. Stafford had been a Friday night hot bed as many of the big guns from New York including Kenny Shoemaker, Pete Corey, Maynard Forette, Don Wayman and Lou Lazzaro would come to Stafford to do battle with the likes of Bill Slater, Bob Janoski, Gene Bergin and Rene Charland. Once paved, Stafford became part of the weekend circuit known as the Circuit of Champions which consisted of Stafford on Friday night, Norwood Arena on Saturday night and Thompson on Sundays. It was the beginning of the Golden Era of Modified Racing in New England.

Thirty years ago in 1976, the Thanksgiving weekend Turkey Derby at Wall Stadium was a true Open Competition Modified event which drew cars from through out the northeast. It was 65 degrees on race day with 63 Modifieds on hand for the 150 lap event. Seasoned veteran Jim Hendrickson, driving the Tony Ferrente Sr.No.x3 took the win. Maynard Troyer finished second and was followed by Geoff Bodine, Jerry Marquis, Jerry Cook, Fred Harbach, Dick Dunn, Charlie Jarzombek, Jim Hoffman and Pete Fiandaca.

Twenty five years ago in 1981, the Turkey Derby was still a big modified event and drew 46 cars. New Jersey natives Jamie Tomaino and John Blewett Jr. finished one-two. Richie Evans was the early leader until a flat tire did him in. Evidently Blewett was a bit unhappy with Tomaino as he spun him after the completion of the event. In the season ending Winston Cup event at Riverside, California, Darrell Waltrip was the pole sitter but it was Bobby Allison taking the win. Ronnie Bouchard finished tenth and wrapped up Rookie of the Year honors in NASCAR's elite division. Waltrip was the division champion.

Twenty years ago in 1986, the Turkey Derby still featured the Modifieds but with the Featherlite Modified Tour now in place, many of the top tour runners chose not to support the event, even though their season was over. Local favorite and soon to be co-owner of the Jersey shore oval, Tom Mauser took the win. Jerry Cranmer finished second and was followed by Jamie Tomaino, Tom Baldwin, Gil Hearne and Parker Bohn.

Fifteen years ago in 1991, Tony Siscone was the winner of the Thanksgiving Classic at Wall Stadium. It was, for the most part, an all New Jersey show. Ken Wooley finished second and was followed by Doug Wolcott, Harry Reed, Jerry Cranmer, Martin Truex and Tim Arre.

Ten years ago in 1996, selected Winston Cup teams were in Japan for an exhibition event. Sad news came as former driver and Winston Cup pace car driver Elmo Langley suffered a heart attack and passed away.

Five years ago in 1991the Blewett brothers cleaned house at the annual Turkey Derby at the Wall Stadium. The event was split into three 50 lap segments. Jimmy Blewett won the first two 50 lappers and his brother John III won the third segment. In Winston Cup action at Loudon, Robbie Gordon spun Jeff Gordon with 15 laps to go and went on to take the win. Jeff Gordon retaliated and was put in the penalty box for one lap.

Last year, The Wall Township Speedway on the New Jersey shore closed out the northeast racing season with the running of the 32nd annual Turkey Derby. The Turkey Derby was actually a 3-race affair of 50 lappers. Local runner Rich Mongeau took the overall win. His main rivals were the Blewett brothers, John III and Jimmy. Both had mechanical problems in the final event. Mongeau won the first 50 lapper, finished fourth in the second one and eighth in the nightcap. The Race of Champions Modifieds, similar to the NASCAR Tour type, ran a 100 lapper of their own. Numerous caution periods, at least 12, for wrecks and spins, slowed the event. In the end it was John Blewett III taking the win over Ken Wooley, Matt Hirschman, Eric Beers and Tony Ferrante Jr. Ted Christopher was on hand with the Bear Motorsports No.14. Starting on the pole, Christopher led the opening laps only to suffer a flat tire on lap 10. Christopher pitted for a new one and upon returning couldn’t get hooked up the way he wanted. Christopher pitted again on lap 51 for three tires. Now hooked up he began a determined march to the front. By lap 58 he had broken into the top ten. By lap 60 he was sixth. It all came to an end on lap 71 when he got together with Tim Arre and crashed hard into the fence on the backstretch.

Charlie Mitchell and Lou Modestino were added to the list of Jack Ratta Memorial Media Award winners at the New England Antique Racers Hall of Fame Induction Banquet Sunday, Jan. 29 at La Renaissance Banquet Facility in East Windsor, CT. Mitchell’s coverage of auto racing for the Norwalk (CT) Hour began in 1971. His talents and character are recognized throughout the country and he is generally acknowledged as ‘the dean" of the New England auto racing writers. Mitchell, who retired after five years as The Hour sports editor in 2000, began covering Danbury Racearena and Orange County Speedway. Modestino, who began writing sports at the Brockton Enterprise, widened New England’s exposure with columns and stories in Stock Car and Circle Track magazines in the late 1960s. The Hall of Fame inductees are drivers Robbie Crouch, Phil Libby, the late Joe Rosenfield and Dick Wolstenhulme, owners/builders Gene Angelillo, the late Fred ‘Sharkey" Gaudiosi, Champ Car giant Jim McGee and the V-8 duo of Bob Vitari and Vic Bombacci and promoter/officials Bob Libby and the Ken Smith-Russ Conway combo. They will be joined by Veterans Committee selections the late Billy Randall, Johnny Kay and Red Cummings.

DIRT Motorsports Senior VP of Media Productions Terri Metzger announced that eight tape-delayed Advance Auto Parts Modified Super DIRT Series events are scheduled to be broadcast in 2006 on SPEED Channel. These broadcasts will be the Eckerd 200 during Super DIRT Week XXXV at the New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse. The Rush Hour on Dirt Series is by far, the best racing seen on TV.
In some sad news it was learned that Ernest Lloyd "Sonny" Hutchins, 76, of Richmond Virginia, passed away November 21, 2005. Although he never raced in New England, Hutchins was known by many New England fans and competitors. During the years when the Late Model Sportsman shared the Martinsville Speedway Hutchins, driving for Emanuel Zervakis staged some classic battles with the late Ray Hendrick. He also drove for Junie Donleavy, a long time Modified, Sportsman and Nextel Cup owner. Also, condolences go out to long time New England racing reporter, Lou Modestino on the passing of his mom.

That’s about it for this week from 40 Clark St, Westerly, and R.I.02891. Ring my chimes at 401-596-5467 E-mail:

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

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