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Friday November 25, 2011
 

By Phil Smith

Forty five 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 five 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.

Thirty 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 five 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.

Twenty 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.

Fifteen 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.

Ten 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.

Five year ago in 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.

Last year, 2010, The final racing program in the Northeast for 2010 took place at the Wall Stadium in New Jersey. John Blewett, Sr. and Don Ling, members of longtime racing families, teamed up to stage the track’s 37th annual Turkey Derby Thanksgiving weekend.

The track’s 2010 season was abruptly ended in early September due to a conflict between the track’s ownership group and then-promoter Jim Morton. Future racing of any type appeared to be in jeopardy until Blewett and Ling got together with Timothy Shinn’s five-member owner group.

Despite bone chilling winds and cool temperatures fans and competitors rallied behind the Blewetts and the Lings as the Jersey shore speedway was packed to the brim for the Turkey Derby. There were 30 Tour Type Modifieds and 30 SK type Modifieds on hand.

Matt Hirschman, who set the fastest time for both the SK types and the Tour types, went pole to pole to win the SK type 100 lapper. Anthony Sesley finished second and was followed by Chris Okerson, Keith Rocco and Jeff Malave.

Jimmy Blewett won the Tour type Turkey Derby 150. Blewett was booed in victory lane because of his driving tactics. Matt Hirschman finished second and was followed by Tom Farrell III, Shaun Carrig and John Markovick. Twenty four cautions slowed the event which took a few minutes shy of two hours to run. Nine of the original 30 starters completed the 150 lap distance. Sixth through tenth were Ken Wolley Jr., Les Hinckley, Ryan Truex, Brian DeFebo, and Billy Weichert.
 
Al Robinson reported that Blewett may not have scored many style points in winning the event for the second time in three years, but he earned the right to his opinion by charging from 19th place on lap 58 to the lead on lap 88. Runner-up Matt Hirschman, who set a track record in time trials and led the first 87 circuits, offered a dissenting opinion. “We didn’t have any problems all day. We just got run over by Jimmy Blewett,” Hirschman said post-race.

Robinson added, on the 88th lap Hirschman left a lane open on the bottom of turn three on the high-banked third-mile and Blewett filled the gap. In the middle of the corner contact was made, and Hirschman, who alone among the leaders was trying to go the distance without a tire change, slid up the track allowing Pete Brittain to move into second. Brittain, seeking his second Derby win on the 20th anniversary of his first, made three runs at Blewett late in the event. On lap 92 he stuck his nose under the leader in turn two, only to find the door slammed at the end of the back straight. Coming to the two-lap sign he moved boldly to the outside, drawing even at the flag stand, but was unable to complete the pass. Brittain’s final effort, to the high side on the final lap, saw him spin in turn two as Blewett headed for the checkers. Brttain finished 17th, the last car on the lead lap. Blewett outran Hirschman by just under one second with Steve Reed, Earl Paules and Tom Rogers completing the top five.

Jimmie Johnson became the first driver in the seven-year history of the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship to overcome a points deficit in the season finale, finishing second Sunday to race winner Carl Edwards while winning his record fifth consecutive title at the Miami-Homestead Speedway. He became only the third driver to overcome a points deficit in the season's final race and win the championship since 1975. The final margin was 39 points over Denny Hamlin, and 41 over Kevin Harvick, who finished third in the race.

Kyle Busch won both the Truck and Nationwide series events.

General Motors returned to the stock market with an IPO by opening at $35 a share. It traded as high as $35.99 before closing at $34.19. A total of 458 million shares traded hands.

Jon McKennedy of East Chelmsford, MA, was crowned the Valenti Modified Racing series champion for the second year in a row Saturday night, November 20, as the Modified Racing Series, sponsored by Bob Valenti AutoMall.Com, held it’s 7th annual awards banquet at the Clarion Hotel in W. Springfield, MA. McKennedy also claimed top honors in the car owner’s category. The 23-year-old driver was a four-time winner this season claiming wins at Lee, N.H., Waterford, CT., Seekonk, MA., and Claremont, N.H. The evening was highlighted by the crowning of McKennedy, the presentation of specialty awards, the 2011 schedule being disclosed, and a major announcement for Ricky’s Race For Kids, in honor of the late Ricky Miller, an annual event that benefits David’s House, Lebanon, N.H.

Following opening remarks by host Peter Newsham, series president and founder Jack Bateman gave his annual State of the Series presentation speaking of another successful season and what competitors can expect looking ahead to 2011. Bateman announced that the signing of a three-year deal with Bob Valenti Auto Mall as the title sponsor for the series. Beginning in 2011, the touring division will be known as the Valenti Modified Racing Series.
 
In addition to McKennedy, the top 15 drivers were recognized and presented awards with Dwight Jarvis, Les Hinckley, Stephen Masse, and Kenny Barry making of the top five in the standings. Rowan Pennink, Todd Annarummo, Max Zachem, Rob Goodenough, and Jacob Dore finished sixth through tenth with Joey Jarvis, Jack Bateman, Norm Wrenn, Eddie Spiers, and Chris Pasteryak, rounding out the top 15 positions. The top 15 car owners were presented awards with Gary Casella, Chuck Montville, Bonnie Jarvis,and Art Barry making up the top five positions behind McKennedy. Sixth through tenth were Steven Masse, Vinnie Annarummo, Max Zachem, Rob Goodenough, and Robert Worrell. Bateman, Wally Albro, CCP Inc, Advance Gas Distributors, and M&D Racing rounded out the top 15 positions.

Specialty Awards were presented in eleven categories, six of which are selected by series officials. Eddy Spiers was voted the SPAFCO Most Improved Driver Award while the Tough Luck Award was given to Jimmy Dolan. The Sportsmanship Award was presented to CCP INC race teams, the Pasteryak family, with the 2010 Mechanic Of The Year Award going to Mark Tilton, of Jack Bateman Racing. The Koszela Speed Rookie Of The Year award was presented to Todd Annarummo, who won his first series race at Seekonk, MA. The Dedication To Racing Award was given to long-time racer, Dale Holdridge, whose career spanned three decades. A very successful and popular driver, Holdridge oversees his son Mike’s career. Dart Steel Head Engine Award recipient was rookie Max Zachem. The Hoosier Tire East Award went to Jon McKennedy while Rowan Pennink was the recipient of the Sunoco Race Fuels Hard Charger Award.

The second annual Above and Beyond Award was presented to Peter Frappier. Frappier, who is the series technical director, was recognized for his dedication to the series. The former driver is considered one of the top tech men in New England racing. The sixth annual “7-11” Award, named in honor of New England Hall of Fame driver Bob Polverari, was presented to Rob Goodenough. Former winners Jack Bateman, Dwight Jarvis, Ed Dachenhausen, Vinnie Annarummo, and Jimmy Dolan, made the selection while Rusty Grant and Rick Czarnecki, on behalf of Polverari, made the presentation.

Series President Jack Bateman announced a tentative 18-race schedule for the 2011 season. “The schedule is tentative at this point while some options are worked out,” Bateman told the gathering.
The newly announced line-up features a return to Waterford, CT., Speedbowl for that tracks tenative season opener, a second date at Stafford Springs Motor Speedway, Stafford Springs, CT., and a return to Airborne Speedway, Plattsburgh, NY. Gone from the schedule are Thunder Road Speed Bowl, Barre, VT, and Albany Saratoga Speedway, Malta, NY.

This week are several vintage racing photos Courtesy of SpeedwayLineReport.com & Dave Dykes Racing ThroughTime.com
Click on Photo for Full Size


Rene Charland


Tom Baldwin


Don Wayman


George Janowski

Maynard Forette

Jim Hendrickson

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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