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Friday October 15, 2010
 

By Phil Smith

Sixty years ago, in 1950, Ralph Moody won a scheduled modified race at Thompson.

Forty five years ago in 1965 promoters Al Gerber and Irv Fried paved the legendary Langhorne (Pa.) Speedway, a dirt oval since 1926. Pete Zanardi, a close friend of Bill Slater, wrote the following: Jim McElreath won in a champ car on June 20 and again Aug. 8. The Modifieds got their chance in the $23,000 National Open Oct. 12. Gerber and Fried brought the National Open to Langhorne in 1951 and very soon it was seen as “the poor man’s Indianapolis.” A few tons of asphalt wasn’t going to change that. Sixty-two Modifieds lined up behind pole sitter Dutch Hoag. Ron Lux set fast time, but Dutch Hoag’s guaranteed starter status put him on the pin. A number of tracks sent “guaranteed starters” to Langhorne, a key in the event’s stature.

Bill Slater survived a multitude of crashes to carry away the gigantic trophy. The final 20 laps were especially crazy. Coming from 18th, Slater, in the legendary V8, led only the final two of what turned out to be 128 laps because of the reds and yellows. “Langhorne demanded a reliable car and it demanded patience. The race was 100 miles and I was determined to finish it,” Slater told Zanardi. Unsure of where he was in the late stages, he recalled suddenly becoming aware of having to pass Herbie Tillman. “At that point, I didn’t remember him passing me, nor did I remember my passing him.” He got it done in the backstretch.

Slater and owners Bob Vitari and Vic Bombaci were enjoying a sensational season. NASCAR modified stalwarts; they had scored major wins at Norwood (Mass.), Thompson (Conn.), Malta (N.Y.) and Oxford Plains (Maine) and chased Ray Hendrick home at Trenton (N.J.). “Money was the reason we went to Langhorne,” recalled Slater. “Those guys operated like a business and we went where the money was.” Reliability and patience were factors. Fortune also played a part. Hoag, who had won three opens on the dirt, was heading for another when rain brought out the red flag with 80 laps complete. Hoag’s dominance was interrupted by another red flag seven laps later. Slater had to be getting weary at that point. He had left Langhorne late Saturday (after qualifying) and flown to Boston where he was battling for the championship at nearby Norwood Arena. After driving a borrowed car to second (and the championship), he drove back to Langhorne “in a ’59 Chevy with 300,000 miles on it” in time “to get a couple hours of sleep.”

Hoag got away again, but suddenly his engine soured. Freddy Adam inherited the lead, but his luck was equally bad. The advantage fell to Tillman. Slater sneaked past with two laps left and accepted what was a controversial and contested victory. Stan Ploski also got by Tillman to claim second. It capped off a $49,000 season for the V8.

Thirty five years ago in 1975, the season came to an end at Martinsville. Geoff Bodine took the win with Bugsy Stevens, second. Satch Worley finished third and was followed by Richie Evans, Jerry Cook, Ronnie Bouchard, Maynard Troyer and Fred DeSarro.

Thirty years ago in 1980, Martinsville's season ender was a 250-lap event. Richie Evans ducked by Greg Sacks on lap 144 of the 250-lap contest as he finished out the year with a win, the 350th of his career. Ronnie Bouchard in the Dick Armstrong No.1 finished second and was followed by Geoff Bodine and Brian Ross.

Twenty five years ago in 1985, George Kent won the World Series at Thompson. Mike McLaughlin finished second with Jeff Fuller, third. Richie Evans finished fifth and wrapped up the 1985 National Championship. Little did anyone know but popular champion would be dead just four days later when his car would slam into the third turn wall at Martinsville. In Winston Cup action at Rockingham, Darrell Waltrip took the win. Brett Bodine was the Grandnational winner.

Twenty years ago in 1990, Jeff Fuller won the World Series 75 lapper at Thompson Mike Stefanik finished second and was followed by Ricky Fuller, Tom Bolles and Doug Hevron. Ed Ballenger was the Super Modified winner, Ted Christopher beat his brother Mikey in SK action and Ricky Shawn was the late model winner. David Gada won a season ending 60 lapper at Waterford

Fifteen years ago in 1995, the Race of Champions was run at Flemington. John Blewett III led the last 20 laps to take the win over Billy Paunch and Todd Gray. Rick Zacharis won the rain shortened AAA-TAR-SK race, which was checkered after State Police stopped the event, which was being run in the rain. Ken Wooly finished second. Steve Whitt won the Street Stock-Late Model race. Tom Fox and Dan Turbush were fighting for the win when they tangled on the last lap. Fox was put last for dumping Turbush. Brad Boisoneault stated later that Turbush hit just about everyone in the field including Fox, three times, and deserved to get dumped. Poor weather kept the crowds down which necessitated that competitors were paid by check. The checks were bad and bounced like balls. From then on, competitors have avoided the Race, which at one time was the most prestigious modified event run. In other weekend action, Tucker Reynolds Jr. won the modified portion of the Lee Octoberfest.

Ten years ago in 2000, Nascar Featherlite Modified Tour Official Bill Brice was severely injured after being hit by a car near his place of business. George Kent won the Race of Champions on Saturday at Oswego. Ted Christopher finished second. It was also World Series weekend at Thompson. Sixteen Thousand plus spectators were on hand for the two day event which featured the Featherlite Modifieds which would run 125 laps for a purse of $63,511.Jerry Marquis and Reggie Ruggiero were in contention for championship honors. Mike Ewanitsko led the first 63 laps until getting taken out when Tony Hirschman lost it on a restart. Ewanitsko hit the wall with such force that he suffered a broken elbow. The ensuing wreck also collected Marquis and Ruggiero. Marquis suffered body damage and Ruggiero received extensive suspension damage. When all was said and done, Tom Cravenho took the win over Mike Stefanik, Ted Christopher and Hirschman. Marquis finished fifth and sewed up the series title. Ruggiero finished a distant 12th.Eric Berndt was the SK Modified winner. The Race of Champions was run the night before at Oswego with George Kent taking the win over Ted Christopher and Ken Wooley. On a sad note, NASCAR Craftsman Truck driver Tony Roper died from injuries received in an accident at the Texas Motor Speedway.

Five years ago in 2005, based on the fact that the forecast for the weekend was for more rain the World Series was cancelled again. The decision was made at noon on Friday which should have saved both competitors and fans wasting the time and fuel to travel to Thompson. In a combined statement from NASCAR Director Don Hawk and speedway owner Don Hoenig the World Series had been rescheduled to following weekend and would become a two day program. The Thompson Speedway also changed their admission prices for this event, considerably lower than previously advertised. For this event Adult General Admission is set at $35, Juniors 6-14, $10 and Pit Admission is only $45. The only downer is that the Whelen Modified Tour Series will lose the make up event that was originally scheduled to run on Saturday. If NASCAR has their Team Player of the Year award this year it should definitely go to Bill Roth of the Waterford Speedbowl who has once again changed the date of the Town Fair Tire Fall Finale so as to avoid a conflict with the World Series at Thompson. The Waterford Fall Finale was scheduled for November 4-5-6. There would be no conflict with the North-South Shootout and no conflict with the Thompson Flea Market. Waterford's admission for adults was $30, Youths $5 and pits with license is $40.

Eddie Partridge and the gang at T/S Haulers in Riverhead, NY were in the process of restoring the 1982 Troyer Modified that was owned by Ernie Wilsberg and won every major race that year. With Greg Sacks behind the wheel, that car cleaned house wherever it went. Partridge also owned and maintained the Modifieds and SK Modifieds that were driven by Jimmy Blewett.

Clint Bowyer won his second Busch Series race of the season, rallying from deep in the field to win the Sam's Town 250 at Memphis Motorsports Park in Millington, Tenn., Saturday. Jeff Gordon held off Tony Stewart in a three-lap dash to win the Subway 500 on Sunday at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, his first victory since May 1. Stewart, meanwhile, dominated early and took a 15-point lead over third-place finisher Jimmie Johnson in the Chase. The yellow flag came out a track-record 19 times, and 113 laps were run under caution. The call came with the 13th caution on lap 343 after a spin by Casey Mears. Told to stay on the track, Gordon assumed the lead when he and five others didn't follow the other top contenders onto pit road. Also staying out were the Roush Racing trio of Greg Biffle, Mark Martin and Matt Kenseth. Stewart came off pit road seventh. Stewart had dominated to that point, leading 283 of 343 laps, and he made quick work of the first six cars and seemed content to wait for Gordon to fade. Gordon was racing on tires more than 50 laps older than Stewart's, but instead pulled away. Gordon held the lead through three more restarts to win by .235 of a second.

Last year, 2009, the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Series was supposed to wind up the 2009 season but Mother Nature had different ideas as a “Noreaster” dumped a large amount of rain and wet snow in the northeast corner of Connecticut forcing the Thompson Speedway Management and NASCAR to postpone the World Series. As it turned out the Thompson Speedway management and NASCAR made the right decision as high winds and heavy rain mixed with snow pounded the entire New England area on Sunday.

The scheduled foreclosure proceedings of the property in which the Waterford Speedbowl is located was still on for Saturday, October 31. Property owner Terry Eames had stated that he had “turned the corner” and would stave off the impending sale of the property. Unlike Jerry Robinson who never paid competitors who raced in the 2008 Fall Finale at the shoreline oval, Eames had paid his competitors when they have raced.

Dick Ceravolo showed a major improvement in his condition. After first opening his eyes the popular former Waterford Speedbowl Modified Champion progressed to the point two weeks previous that he began to speak. He was now breathing and eating on his own and was heading toward a full recovery. Seven weeks ago it appeared that he was in dire straits but because of a strong will, a little luck, a lot of support and prayers from his family and friends he had now left the Yale-New Haven Hospital and had been transferred to the Avalon Rehabilitation Facility in Mystic, CT. Ceravolo, 70, suffered serious injuries on Aug 21 while attempting to jumpstart a farm tractor.

Forbes magazine named ISC Chief Executive Officer Lesa France Kennedy the Most Powerful Woman in Sports. The article dated October 14, 2009, stated France Kennedy's "26-year career at ISC spaned a period that expanded the sport past its Southern base." The article added, "She rose to president in 2003 and to CEO in June 2009. Analysts say she's played a big role in most all of the company's acquisitions and improvement projects dating back to the 1990s."

Kyle Busch, still dealing with a flu that developed into walking pneumonia, dominated the Nationwide Series race at Lowe's Motor Speedway on Friday night, picking up his seventh victory of the year to move closer to his first series title. In Sprint Cup action, Denny Hamlin was already at home when Jimmie Johnson crossed the finish line for his third victory in five championship races.

This week are several vintage racing photos of "Wild Bill" Slater Courtesy of SpeedwayLineReport.com & Dave Dyke's Racing ThroughTime.com
Click on Photo for Full Size

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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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