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Friday November 30, 2007

By Phil Smith                                             Click on Photos for Full Size                                

Thirty years ago in 1977, the Turkey Derby at Wall Stadium in New Jersey was a 150-lap open competition modified event that drew modifieds from all over the northeast. Local favorite Gil Hearne showed his home court advantage as he took the top spot. Ronnie Bouchard finished second. Jim Hendrickson, Tom Baldwin, and Fred Harbach rounded out the top five. Blistering cold and wind greeted spectators and competitors alike. Following Harbach were Charlie Jarzombek, Jim Hoffman, Gene Bergin, John Rosati, Richie Evans, Sonny Seamon, Robert Hendrickson, Ollie Silva, Geoff Bodine and Maynard Troyer.

Twenty-five years ago, in 1982, at the Turkey Derby, Lenny Boyd took the win over Tony Hirshman, John Rosati, Gil Hearne and Jim Tyler.

Twenty years ago, in 1987, Tom Mauser survived to win the Turkey Derby. Reggie Ruggerio finished second with Tony Siscone, Tony Ferrente Jr. and Tom Baldwin in hot pursuit. In a surprise announcement, the Stafford Speedway announced that they would drop the Tour Modifieds completely from their schedule for the 1988 season. This would prove to be a mistake as the SK Modifieds had not developed into a big fan draw and the front gate would suffer.

Fifteen years ago, in 1992, local favorite Eddie Bohn would go pole to pole to win the Turkey Derby. Tony Siscone finished second and was followed by Jerry Cranmer, Martin Truex and John Blewett III. Rick Fuller, in the Mario Fiore 44 was the highest finishing New Englander as he crossed the finish line in ninth spot. The Martinsville Speedway dropped a bomb when they announced they were dropping the modifieds in favor of raising their Busch Grandnational purse. Also announced was the fact that the Oxford Plains Speedway in Maine had dropped their NASCAR sanction and signed up with Tom Curley’s ACT group.

Ten years ago, in 1997, the racing world was shocked with the news that NASCAR President Bill France Jr. had suffered from a heart attack while in Japan for an exhibition race.

Five years ago in 2002, The Wall Township Speedway in southern New Jersey closed out the 2002 Northeast racing season last weekend with the running of Turkey Derby XXVIIII. The event consisted of twin 150 lap events, one for tour type modifieds run last Friday and a 150 lap Wall Modified and SK Type Modified event on Saturday plus support divisions. It was mighty cold and blustery at the south Jersey shore oval last Friday. There were 28 tour type modifieds on hand including Ted Christopher and Jeff Malave. Ken Woolley Jr., a Wall regular won the event that took on the look of a demolition derby as only six cars were running at the finish. It was a combination of a cold track and numerous amounts of liquids dumped on the racing surface that made for less than ideal racing conditions. Jamie Tomaino, a veteran of the NASCAR Featherlite Modified Series survived to finish second. Wall Township Track Champion Jimmy Blewett finished third. Christopher’s day ended after hitting the wall while running in the top ten and Malave ran out of gas in the late going while running third. What began as a great weekend for the new management of the New Jersey oval turned into a major fiasco, thanks to the weather on Saturday. Wall regular Harry Reed drew the pole starting position and jumped out to an early lead with NASCAR Featherlite Modified Tour regular John Blewett III hot on his tail. The field was slowed at lap 39 of the 150-lap finale because of a caution being displayed. A few laps later rain began to fall. It had been stated prior to the event that the field would stop for fuel at the half way mark. Much to the dislike of those on hand, the field circled the 1/3rd mile oval until they completed 75 laps. All cars pitted to refuel and while a re-start was being determined the rain intensified and the race was ultimately deemed official with Reed declared the winner with Blewett III, second and Friday’s winner Ken Woolley Jr, third. Rounding out the top ten were Wall regulars Marc Rogers, Curtis Truex Jr., Track Champion Jimmie Blewett, Frank Polimeda, Kevin Flockart Dave Michael and Plainville Connecticut’s Ted Christopher. Making matters worse was the threat of a driver’s boycott over the race purse. As a gesture of good will, the speedway management gave all fans that stayed to the bitter end a free guest ticket for any one event at the Wall Township Speedway during the 2003 season.

Last year, 2006, The Thanksgiving weekend officially wrapped up the 2006 Modified Racing season. The traditional Turkey Derby was run at the Wall Township Speedway in New Jersey and the Mason-Dixon Meltdown at the South Boston Speedway in Virginia. Wall drew 32 Modifieds while South Boston drew 24.

At the New Jersey oval Jimmy Blewett and Steve Reed split the Wall Township Speedway Turkey Derby XXXIII twin 100-lap modified mains on Saturday night. Blewett, took the lead from Donnie Lia with five laps to go and held off Les Hinckley's last-lap pass by 1.527 sec. to win the open modified main. Blewett came from 13th starting spot to shadow front row starter Ken Wooley, Jr., and inherited the lead when the pair banged wheels on lap 71, breaking the latter's steering rack. Hinckley, Lia, John Blewett III and Rowan Pinnick rounded out the top five of 12 finishers. Lia set a 12.036 sec., 99.601 mph fast time among 33 Whelen and Race of Champions tour modified men Saturday afternoon. There were more boos than cheers when Blewett, who proudly carries the nickname "Showtime," won perhaps the most exciting race in Turkey Derby history. Blewett squeezed hard-charging Hinckley, who came off the fourth turn of the final lap on a mission to win the race. Brief contact was made between the leaders and Blewett held his position, as sparks flew, and tires and fenders rubbed as the 100-lap Tour-type modified feature hit the finish line.

"What don't they understand," Blewett said, "I came here to win this race." And win it he did, in typical Jimmy Blewett fashion. He raced everyone hard, raced everyone including his brother, John, as tough as can be. Ken Woolley Jr. was the leader for the first 71 laps, driving Dick Barney's tour modified flawlessly. As Woolley and Jimmy Blewett were approaching the start/finish line of the next lap, the two came together and Woolley's modified suffered a broken rack, then he was hit from behind by John Blewett III as he sat helplessly on the track."He didn't hit me that hard," Woolley said. "I couldn't steer. I had to get out of the throttle. I said, "Hang on.' " Woolley end up crashing into the concrete barriers in the infield, as track crew members and photographs ran for safety. Jimmy Blewett was the leader off the restart with Rowan Pennick, driving a modified he bought from the Blewetts, and John Blewett II in third place. At lap 85 it was Blewett and Blewett in front before Jimmy made contact with John coming out of the fourth turn. With four laps to go, Hinckley was flying and passed John Blewett III and began his run at the leader, setting the stage for the unpopular finish. Winning Turkey Derby "feels great," said Blewett, who won $5,853 with bonuses and contingencies yet to be counted.
Reed, was the only one of the 27 starters who did not pit, let alone change tires, in the 100-lap race for WTS/True Value/B mods. The RTS Transmission Repair RTS-Chevy No. 55 driver held off John Blewett III by .696 sec. for his third WTS feature victory of the season. WTS Modifieds are very similar to the New England SK Modifieds. Tim Arre took third and Mike Carpenter rounded out the top five of 11 finishers.

Matt Hirschman, who won the recent North-South Shootout in North Carolina continued his post season streak as he won the Mason-Dixon Meltdown. Hirschman and Eric Beers battled over the final laps, but the young Hirschman was able to get the best of the veteran Beers to become the first-ever Mason-Dixon Meltdown Tour-Type Modified champion. James Civali crossed beneath the checkered flag third, while Burt Myers and Rusty Smith rounded out the top-five. On the lap 104 restart Hirschman took the lead from Myers. Among those who encountered problems was Chris Pasteryak who lost a left rear tire and hit the turn two wall on lap 96.

Among the missing from both events was Ted Christopher who tied the knot.

Jim Hunter, NASCAR's vice president of corporate communications said at the recent Nextel Cup event at the Homestead Speedway in Florida that he anticipated a 14 race schedule for the Modifieds. Waterford was not on the current schedule and Thompson and Stafford, which accounted for nine races in 2006 would have six or seven combined in 2007. "Stafford and Thompson have been the backbone of the Modified Division for a long time and will continue" Hunter said. Two major new dates for Whelen teams are at Mansfield OH and Irwindale Speedway in California. The mods will be part of the Showdown program in November at Irwindale that includes Busch East and West competitors. According to Hunter the Modified purse will be in the $200,000 range. He also said $1,500 in tow money will be provided teams traveling from the Northeast to California. It is a long ride to Irwindale. One fan calculated the distance at 2778 miles and 41 hours from New York City.

Note: This is the final Looking Back for 2007. Looking Back returns during Speedweeks in Fla..

This week here are some vintage racing photos from vintagemodifieds.com
Spence Racine Photos


Gary Winters
 


Jim Shampine
 


Roger Hill
 

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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