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November 30, 2012

By Phil Smith

Thirty five 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.

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

Twenty five 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.

Twenty 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.

Fifteen 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.

Ten 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.

Five years ago in 2007, the much talked about “Spec Engine” for the Whelen Modifieds continued to be a hot topic. According to Brett Bodine, the Director of Cost Research at the NASCAR Research and Development Center in Concord, NC, the “Spec Engine” can be built by anyone. Parts must be purchased from Provident Engineering (Gary Nelson) or from Carl Wagner. According to Bodine a complete engine, ready to install and run would cost $25,000. “It is not our intent to put anyone out of business” he said. Bodine, a former Modified Racer and currently driver of the pace car at NASCAR Cup events added “All parts of the engine are encrypted which eliminates any altering”. NASCAR has and will impound engines for spot checks which in turn will keep everybody honest. Already in use in NASCAR’s Busch East division, the power plant has proved itself in being competitive and durable. Joey Logano, who had recently won the Busch East Championship, used a “Spec Engine” in his Joe Gibbs Racing mount.

A test session was conducted at the Stafford Motor Speedway on Friday and Saturday. According to photographer Howie Hodge the cars seemed to be pretty even when they were on the track at the same time. Time wise, they were real close.

When Mark Arute made the statement “We looked at possibly bringing another touring modified division to Stafford, but in the end we decided that there was only one true touring modified division and that is the Whelen Modified Tour," he stirred up a hornet’s nest. It had been rumored that the True Value Modified Series might have had a shot at getting a date at the high profile speedway. Evidently that rumor could be put to rest as it would probably be a cold day before Jack Bateman would bring his competitors to Stafford. The TVMS had become an affordable alternate to running the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Series. It had never been Bateman’s intent to displace NASCAR’s oldest division. Likewise for the New York based Race of Champions Tour. The TVMS and the ROC Tours do in fact tour, maybe not to the extent of the NASCAR Tour but they do tour. The TVMS had conducted events at just about every track in New England including the Thompson Speedway and the Waterford Speedbowl in Connecticut. Hopefully Arute would retract his statement because one never knows when these divisions may be needed to fill a necessary void. Needless to say, he did!


Last year, 2011, the 2011 northeast racing wound up with 37th annual Turkey Derby at the Wall Stadium in New Jersey which was run in mid 60 degree temperatures. Local favorite Jimmy Blewett found himself in the right place at the right time in front of a near capacity crowd as he won both the Tour Type Modified 150 and the SK type 100. The event drew 25 tour type Modifieds and 29 SK types.

In the Turkey Derby 150 Modified event Matt Hirschman appeared to have victory in sight until contact from Les Hinkley, with five laps to go, took him out of contention and opened the door for Blewett. Blewett was the first to admit he did not have the best car in the race. Still, he was able to lead and then stay in contention as Doug Coby, Matt Hirschman and Rowan Pennink took turns leading the field. Coby appeared to have the field covered as he opened up a sizable lead and was on cruise control when his mount overheated. Pennink was the victim of a mysterious caution that was thrown while he was leading. Pennink ended up 15th, the last car on the lead lap. Hirschman ended up 12th. Worn tires played a big part in the outcome. Anthony Sesley ended up in second spot and was followed by Steven Reed, Chuck Hossfeldt and Danny Bohn. Twenty four caution periods slowed the event.

The 100-lapper for the SK/Wall Modified cars saw Blewett’s second mount run flawlessly from pole to pole. Hirschman and Woody Pitkat were among his challengers in this one, but Blewett was never headed. Hirschman ended up second in this accident-plagued event, with Chas Okerson of Freehold, Pitkat and Howell’s Ken Woolley, Jr. rounding out the top five. Doug Coby's mount suffered transmission problems. Despite a relatively good day Pitkat's day turned sour as he broke down in Greenwich Ct on the way home. Kieth Rocco was never a factor as he finished 10th, eight laps down.
Following the event local competitors at the Jersey shore oval received some real good news as promoters Diane and Cliff Krause announced that they have secured a deal to lease Wall Stadium for at least the next three years.

Good news for Whelen Modified Teams came via Kevin Rice and the Lowell (Mass) Sun. Rice reported that the 2012 New Hampshire Motor Speedway schedule would likely be changed, with the Truck Series out. The events at NHMS have been among the busiest weekends in all of racing. To help alleviate scheduling problems, the NASCAR K&N event in July will no longer be on the schedule either. This apparently brings an end to Thursday practice and qualifying, making the event much more appealing for Modified teams, who no longer will have to arrive on Wednesday for a Saturday race. With the truck series now off the September schedule, the Modifieds can practice and qualify on Friday for both weekends, saving them money.

That’s about it for this week from 11 Gardner Drive, Westerly R.I.02891.Ring my chimes at 401-596-5467.E-Mail smithpe_97_97@yahoo.com

This week are several Vintage photos, Courtesy of SpeedwayLineReport.com & Dave Dykes RacingThroughTime.com
Click on Photo for Full Size


Gil Hearne


Ron Bouchard


Richie Evans

T
Fred Harbach

Gene Bergin

Maynard Troyer

That’s it for this week from 11 Gardner Drive, 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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