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Friday October 23, 2009

By Phil Smith

Forty years ago in 1969, triple 25's closed out the season at Thompson. Taking the wins were Smokey Boutwell, Bill Greco and Eddie Flemke. The overall winner was Boutwell. Flemke ended up second and was followed by Freddie Schulz, Red O'Keefe, Greco, Ernie Gahan, George Pendergast and Sal Dee. The Nascar Modifieds were at North Wilkesboro where Max Berrier took the win over Ray Hendrick, Perk Brown, Jimmie Hensley, Billy Hensley and Jerry Cook. Fred DeSarro finished a distant 28th after an early race crash that saw him break a steering box.

Thirty five years ago in 1974, Riverhead ran their season finale with Charlie Jarzombek taking the win over Geoff Bodine and Keilor. Thompson ran open competition big and small block events. Ronnie Bouchard won both events, driving the Manchester Sand and Gravel No.10 in the small block event and the Bob Johnson No.17 in the big block event. In the small block event, Tony Russo finished second and was followed by Fats Caruso and Mike Weeden. In the big block event, Bugsy Stevens finished second with Weeden, third.

Thirty years ago in 1979, the Fall Final at Stafford was run on a chilly Friday night after being rained out on its original date. Richie Evans took the win and was followed by Jerry Cook, Bugsy Stevens and Geoff Bodine. On Sunday, Evans and Cook finished one-two at Kingsport; Tenn. Westboro closed out their season on Sunday with Roland LaPierre Jr. taking the win with Joe Howard and Gomer Taylor, third.

Twenty five years ago in 1984, the only action in the northeast was at Wall Stadium in New Jersey. Tony Siscone took the final Saturday night modified event over Lenny Boyd. At Rockingham, N.C., Geoff Bodine had quite a weekend as he was the Busch Grandnational winner and Winston Cup pole sitter. Bill Elliott won the Winston Cup event.

Twenty years ago in 1989, all was quiet with the exception of the reconstruction of the grandstand that fell at Thompson.

Fifteen years ago in 1994, the Race of Champions was on tap at Flemington but heavy rain wreaked havoc with both the competition and the crowd. The only event run was the triple A-SK type event. Conditions were wet to say the least as 14 cautions slowed the event. Steve Park was the eventual winner and was followed by Ted Christopher, Kevin Collins, Ken Wooley and Richie Gallup. The actual Race of Champions was rained out and rescheduled for Oct.30. Lee Speedway got their Octoberfest in on Sunday and it was David Berghman picking up his first win. At Rockingham, Dale Earnhardt won the Winston Cup event and sewed up his seventh title, which tied Richard Petty’s record. Mark Martin was the Grandnational winner.

Ten years ago in 1999, Lee Raceway ran their Octoberfest with Rob Summers taking the Modified win over Charlie Pasteryak. In Winston Cup action at Rockingham, Jeff and Ward Burton finished one-two. Mark Martin was the Grandnational winner. It was also the week that the Seekonk Speedway was awarded a NASCAR sanction for their weekly racing series in 2000.

Five years ago in 2004, NASCAR released The NASCAR Featherlite Modified final point standings for 2004. Tony Hirschman, of North Hampton, Pa. was now officially the series champion. Hirschman, who had four wins in 19 starts beat Eddie Flemke JR. by 104 points. Flemke, of Southington, Ct. had two wins in 19 starts. Jerry Marquis, of Broadbrook, Ct finished third, 281 points behind the champion. Marquis also had two wins in 19 starts. Ted Christopher of Plainville, Ct. finished fourth despite being the top money winner with three wins in 19 starts. Christopher earned $55,615 but his lack of consistency kept him 403 points behind the leader at season’s end. Rounding out the top five was Rick Fuller of Auburn, Mass. Fuller, 443 points behind the leader went winless in 19 starts. Sixth through tenth in the final standings were Jamie Tomaino, Chuck Hossfeld, Donnie Lia, Kenny Barry and Zach Sylvester. Barry, of Griswold, Ct. was crowned Rookie of the Year.

The Featherlite Modified Tour Series continued to be one of the strongest NASCAR Touring divisions. During 2004 87 different drivers attempted to qualify for events. Twelve drivers competed in all events. Car counts were high as consistently 40 to 50 cars were at each event. NASCAR Modified Tour Series director Ed Cox said that talks were in progress for races at Martinsville, Va., Jennerstown, Pa and at Myrtle Beach in South Carolina. It was also stated that the mods would not be going to the Lake Erie Speedway in Pa. in 2005.

It looked like the Busch North Series would not be returning to the Seekonk Speedway in Massachusetts for the 2005 season. NASCAR had doubled the purse requirements for the division for their short track events. Seekonk, which would be celebrating their 60th anniversary season, would host the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Series on July 30. The had also booked the NEMA Boston Louie Midget event for August 27 and the True Value Northern New England Modifieds for two visits, May 28 and August 20. Busch North Series Director Lee Roy said that sanctioning agreements being made up for 2005 would address the rainout problems incurred during 2004. An event at the Beech Ridge Speedway in Maine was rained out as well as a scheduled event at the Wall Township Speedway in New Jersey.

When the Thompson Speedway broke the news that they were planning to start up a new division of racecars similar to the Florida/IMSA Modifieds the rumor mill shifted into high gear with stories about the demise of the Pro Stock division. The speedway management put all that to rest as they announced that the Pro Stocks at Thompson were there to stay. In the beginning the Pro Stocks were a slam-bang rolling demolition derby. In the last couple of years the division has evolved into a first class racing program with good competition with the minimum amount of wrecks and spins.
 
Speaking of rumors, rumor had it that the management of the New England Dragway in Epping, New Hampshire had expressed interest in buying the near-by-Star Speedway, a ¼ mile oval. If the deal didn’t fly the dragway owners were thinking of building their own oval.

The NASCAR Busch Series was in Nashville Tenn. on Saturday. Martin Truex Jr., a graduate of the weekly ranks at the Wall Township Speedway and the Busch North Series, beat out Gregg Biffle in a green-white-checker finish for his sixth victory of the year. Todd Szegedy, who drove the No.50 Featherlite Modified, finished 15th. In Nextel Cup action at Martinsville, Va. Jimmie Johnson out ran Jamie McMurray for the win. Ryan Newman survived a late race confrontation with teammate Rusty Wallace to finish third. On a sad note, it was announced that a plane carrying members of the Hendrick Racing organization had crashed in the Bull Mountain area of Stuart, Va. Said to be on board were Ricky Hendrick, son of Rick Hendrick, John Hendrick, brother of Rick Hendrick and engine builder Randy Dorton. Virginia State Police dispatched a helicopter to the area and no survivors were observed.

On an additional sad note, Dick Watson, a NEAR Hall of Fame inductee lost a long battle with cancer and passed away. It was also learned that Ricky Miller, the last Riverside Park Track champion had passed away.

Boundless Motorsports Racing Inc announced that they had officially changed their company name to DIRT Motorsports Inc. The company owns various dirt track racing series including the DIRT Modified Series, the World of Outlaws Sprint Series, and the World of Outlaws Late Model Series. Among the numerous television broadcasts that the company produces is the popular “Rush Hour on Dirt” which features the ground pounding Big Block Modifieds.

Last year, 2008, the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Series wound its way to the Thompson Speedway as the division finished out their 2008 season at the annul World Series. Forty-one Modifieds were on hand for time trials, which were held on Saturday. Taking the pole was Eric Beers who also broke the track record with a fast time of 18.429. Second fastest was young sensation Ryan Preece in the mighty No. 3 of the Boehler family. Third was championship contender Matt Hirschman with Jimmy Blewett and Chuck Hossfeld rounding out the top five. In the re-draw for the feature start Blewett drew the pole with Mike Stefanik drawing the outside pole. Preece drew third, Hossfeld, fourth and Ted Christopher, fifth. Beers drew sixth. Among those in the field was Stafford Motor Speedway SK Modified Champion Keith Rocco who placed the Joe Brady No.00 solidly in the field in 14th spot. Among those who didn’t qualify were Reggie Ruggiero and Billy Pauch Jr. Among those who had problems and had to rely on provisional starting spots were Todd Szegedy, Ed Flemke Jr, Danny Sammonds and Jamie Tomaino.

Ted Christopher went into Sunday’s World Series with a different mindset than normal. Known as a hard charger, go for broke driver he was forced to take a conservative route. With Matt Hirschman breathing down his neck in the point standings the Plainville CT driver didn’t want a wreck ruining his chances. For the first half of the 150 lapper Hirschman and Christopher ran ninth and tenth. Both appeared to be waiting for the other to have problems. By the 100-lap mark the championship contenders were running fifth and sixth. On lap 120, while running third, Hirschman began to slow. Two laps later he was behind the pit wall with engine problems. Once Christopher got the word from Crew Chief Brad Lafountain Christopher put the hammer down and went after the victory. Christopher passed Ron Silk for the lead on lap 134 and was never headed after that. Chuck Hossfeld ended up in second spot and was followed by Silk, Doug Coby and Eric Rudolph. There were 11 cautions for 49 laps and six lead changes among 5 drivers. Hirschman, who re-entered the event 21 laps down on lap 143 ended up in 25th spot. In addition to Hirschman the other hard luck story belonged to Ryan Preece. Preece was running fourth on lap 80 when his right front tire went flat. Preece pitted under green and lost a lap. The determined youngster made a determined bid as he ended up 14th, on the lead lap.

Shortly after the checkered flag dropped Matt Hirschman congratulated the new champ. What he didn’t know was that one of his car owners, Ed Bennett, was waiting in the pits to tell him he was fired from his car. Hirschman had split his driving time between Bennett’s mount and that of Wayne Darling. Hirschman, who had won at Chemung and had finished second at Stafford in Bennett’s car, was driving Darling’s car at Thompson.

Thompson World Series feature activity kicked off on Saturday evening with eight (8) events. Corey Hutchings scored the victory in the Outlaw Late Models; Howard Payne came out of retirement to win in the All Star Race Trucks. Scott Michalski was up to his old tricks winning in the Mini Stocks. Scott Foster bested his brother to take top honors in the Outlaw Strictly Stock. Norm Wrenn, topped the Pro-Four Modifieds and Chris “Moose” Douton won in the Limited Sportsman division.

During pre-race activities on Sunday NASCAR continued their 60 years of racing recognition with 1955 Champion Bill Widenhouse from NC, 1970 Champion Fred DeSarro and 1967 thru 1969 Champion Carl 'Bugsy' Stevens honored.

Keith Rocco put a cap on what was considered a break-out season as he won the the NASCAR 30-lap Whelen All-American Series SK (SUNOCO) Modified feature. Rocco, a second generation racer, won the season ending SK Modified event at the Waterford Speedbowl and finished second in Stafford’s season ender to wrap up the SK Modified championship there. Rocco was the 2007 champion at Thompson. Bert Marvin served up a spirited battle to finish second. Josh Sylvester finished third with Eric Goodale and Brian McCarthy rounding out the top five. Kerry Malone, who had previously wrapped up the track title, finished 19th in the high attrition event.

In other World Series events run on Sunday Chris Perley continued to be the dominant force in the International Supermodified Association taking down a strong victory at the World Series. Randy Cabral worked his magic taking his third straight Northeastern Midget Association feature victory. Derek Ramstrom turned in a dominating performance in the Pro Stocks; and Rick Gentes was victorious in the Late Models to conclude the race season at Thompson.

Congratulations to two-time NASCAR Featherlite Modified champion car owner Art Barry of Preston who was part of the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame Class of 2009. Among his many accomplishments were back-to-back NASCAR Whelen National Modified championships (2001-02 with driver Mike Stefanik) top the resume of Barry, 73. In 56 years of competition, Barry, who started racing at the Waterford Speedbowl, has won on 26 tracks from Maine to the Carolinas. His major wins included two Thompson 300 wins, two Stafford Springs Motor Speedway Spring Sizzler wins, two wins at Martinsville, VA and two at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and the National Open at Lancaster. Barry’s SPAFCO race chassis brand is one of the top of chassis in Modified racing. In addition to Stefanik his many drivers included Jerry Dostie, Bobby Santos, Leo Cleary, Bob Potter, Jeff Fuller plus his son, Kenny. In the beginning Barry was a typical back yard racer as he fabricated his own chassis and built his own motors. In 1970 Barry’s racing career and working career almost came to an end when he suffered two crushed legs while directing a backing fire truck at the Preston City Fire house. Sheer determination and a lot of help from his friends helped Barry resume a normal life and a return to racing.

Barry joined fellow Nutmegger John Fitch, a one-time International road racer and founder of Lime Rock Park. The list also included drivers Bobby Dragon and Paul Richardson, promoters Bob Bahre, Jim McConnell and Tom Curley and car owner/ builder Rollie Lindblad.

Jimmie Johnson led 339 laps as he dominated the NASCAR Sprint Cup event at Martinsville Speedway, and the two-time defending Sprint Cup champion padded his lead in his bid for a record-tying third straight championship with four races remaining. Only Cale Yarborough, from 1976-78, has won three straight championships in stock car racing's premier series, and Johnson is looking more and more as if he'll be the second. Johnson's sixth victory of the year extended his points lead from 69 to 149, and while his closest challengers vowed that the Chase race isn't over, the plaudits keep coming, too. Dale Earnhardt Jr was second, followed by Carl Edwards and Jeff Gordon, giving Hendrick three of the top four spots. Denny Hamlin was fifth and Casey Mears, the fourth Hendrick driver, was sixth.
 

This week are several vintage racing photos of Hall of Famer Dick Watson who passed away 5 years ago this week, courtesy of the SpeedwayLineReport.com & VintageModifieds.com.
Click on Photo for Full Size

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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