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October 26, 2012

By Phil Smith

Sixty five years ago racing history was made in Rhode Island. Noted writer Pete Zanardi tells it best: Lonsdale Arena, a relatively short-lived high-banked third-mile oval just outside Providence, Rhode Island, hosted one of the of the most important events in stock-car racing history on Oct. 26, 1947.

The late Bill Tuthill, the man who organized it, believed “it was the most significant stock-car race ever run.” The race, Tuthill said some 35 years later, “opened the way into the sport for everybody, and without it a lot of tracks that were built for midgets would have gone out of business.” Tuthill was a “midget guy,” part of the huge success the sport enjoyed. Still, he saw signs of trouble ahead. “Big money,” was taking over. He decided to see if stock cars, running with some success on the dirt in the South, could run on small asphalt midget tracks. Lonsdale, with its high banks and 34,000 seats, was the place to do it. Tuthill paid a young radio guy in Pawtucket, R.I., named Chris Schenkel (who went to national fame) $25 a week to help out and the Providence Journal didn’t hurt, especially when Rhode Island native Sammy Packard became the first entry.

When it became apparent Packard was the only entry, Tuthill called Bill France. France got involved and made the race part of his National Championship Stock Car circuit.

Buddy Shuman, the so-called “King of the Asphalt” signed on first and soon others followed. Race-day fans (an announced crowd of 9,000 paid $1.20 each) saw the likes of Fonty Flock, Red Byron and Junior Samples, all from the deep South, and Tommy Bradshaw, Tommy Coates and Pepper Cunningham, the latter New Jersey racers. Johnny Brunner, who went on to a long relationship with NASCAR, was the flagman. Byron won the pole with an 18.5 second run on Saturday with Samples and Shuman posting identical 19.1 runs for second fastest. Shuman beat Byron in the first heat,with Samples and Cunningham also winning heats. “Pickles” Bicklehaupt won the consi and Long Islander Bill Frick won the “New England Championship” race. Flock jumped to an early lead and never gave it up in the 30-lap headliner, claiming $625 from the $3,500 purse. He also gained momentum toward the 1947 NCSCC championship. Shuman, Samples, Byron and Bradshaw followed at the checkered flag.

“I remember being very surprised [learning the] crowd figure. I suspected it then and I still suspect that figure. I believe we had more people,” Tuthill told this reporter in 1980.

France and Tuthill split the $1,100 profit.

Lonsdale Sports Arena was a high-banked 1/3 mile high-banked paved oval located two miles north of Pawtucket, Rhode Island on Mendon Road in Cumberland, Rhode Island, on the banks of the Blackstone River. The track operated from 1947 to 1956. Ironically, its location near the river would prove a key factor in its ultimate demise. The Stop & Shop plaza now occupies where Lonsdale was.

The Lonsdale Arena hosted racing until 1956 when the nearby Blackstone River overflowed its banks and carried away much of the backstretch and third turn. The track was never rebuilt. The Wall Stadium, in New Jersey, is patterned after now gone Lonsdale Arena.

Sixty years ago in 1952 Jim Holt won the season ending 50 lap Sportsman feature at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl. Big Butch Caswell was the Claiming Car winner.

Thirty five years ago, in 1977, the Monadnock Speedway hosted a 100 lap, open-competition event. Dynamite Ollie Silva was the class of the field as he cleaned house on this cool fall day. Ray Miller finished second with Reggie Ruggiero, Bugsy Stevens and John Rosati rounding out the top five. Little did anyone know, Silva’s racing career would come to an end the following year at the Winchester, New Hampshire track when his car flew off the back stretch and hit a tree. The NASCAR Modifieds ran a special event at Kingsport, Tenn. Ronnie Bouchard took the win over Jerry Cook, Paul Radford, Wayne Anderson, Roger Hill and Bob Park.

Thirty years ago, in 1982, It was all-quiet on the racing front. The Winston Cup division of NASCAR had a scheduled event at Rockingham, North Carolina but because of rain, had to be postponed to the end of the month which would conflict with the season ending Cardinal 500 at Martinsville.

Twenty five years ago, in 1987, the NASCAR Modifieds were in Rougemont, North Carolina. Jeff Fuller, driving the Art Barry No.21 took the win over Bugsy Stevens, Jim Spencer, Mike Mclaughlin, Dave Reszendes, Jay Hedgecock and Tom Baldwin. The Waterford Speedbowl ran their season ender with Bob Potter taking a 100 lap win over Dickie Doo Ceravolo, Ronnie Rocco, John Anderson, Dale Holdredge and Jerry Pearl. C.J. Freye was the Late Model winner.

Twenty Years ago, in 1992, it was all quiet as teams were making preparations for the season ending World Series.

Fifteen years ago, in 1997, Waterford's final program was rained out. Todd Ceravolo was declared the Modified track champion. At the Lee Octoberfest, Tucker Reynolds won the modified portion. Ted Christopher finished second and was followed by Charlie Pasteryak, David Berghman and Jeff Pearl. At Rockingham, N.C., Mark Martin scored his 32nd Grand National win and broke the record that had previously been held by Jack Ingram. Martin took the lead from Ricky Craven on lap 184 of the 197-lap grind. Dick Trickle finished second with Craven, third. Randy LaJoie finished 20th on the lead lap and sewed up the division championship. It was also on this weekend last year that Bob O'Rourke, long time Nascar Track Steward on Long Island, died after a long bout with cancer.

Ten years ago in 2002, The NASCAR Featherlite Modified Tour was at the Thompson Speedway last weekend for the season ending World Series. Heavy rain washed out qualifying which had to be re-scheduled to Sunday. Ted Christopher was the fastest of the fifty-two Modifieds on hand. The top ten re-drew for starting spots with Jerry Marquis picking the pole and Charlie Pasteryak, the outside pole. Marquis led the start. The first of only two yellows occurred on lap four when Bo Gunning became the first casualty when he wrecked in turn four. Marqius led the re-start. Christopher, who started third, moved into second spot with John Blewett III in third spot. The second yellow occurred on lap seven when a mass tangle unfolded in turn four, which collected nine cars. Martinsville winner L.W Miller ended up in the wall with heavy front-end damage. Also in the mix was Ricky Fuller who sustained front end and nerf bar damage. Fuller had been second in points behind Mike Stefanik and had been the center of attention as many thought that a confrontation with Ted Christopher was in the making. Marquis again led the restart but held on for only one lap before being overtaken by Ted Christopher. Christopher’s time on the point was short as Blewett powered by one lap later and never looked back. Running at a torrid pace, Blewett lapped all but the top six when he took the checkered flag. Chuck Hossfeld, who got within striking distance a few times, has to settle for second. Christopher ended up third and was followed by Charlie Pasteryak, Nevin George and Marquis, in the lead lap. Rounding out the top ten were Ed Flemke Jr, Chris Kopec, Mike Stefanik and Zach Sylvester. Stefanik, who complained about a bouncing tire, garnered enough points to secure his sixth Featherlite Modified Tour Series Title.

The Busch North Series finally dodged the raindrops enough to finish their season at Lime Rock where Dennis Doyle got his first win. Andy Santerre garnered enough points to take the title by nine points over Matt Kobyluck. The event, which had been delayed and shortened by rain, was stopped 10 minutes before the track’s noise curfew took effect.
The World Series at Thompson drew a total of 653 racecars. It was a marathon session on Sunday that started at noon and lasted 11-1/2 hours when the final event was run. All things considered with the amounts of cars and divisions the speedway management did an outstanding job of keeping the show rolling. High attrition for the supers was evident as 13 of the original 30 starters completed the 50-lap contest. Russ Wood took the win and recorded his sixth ISMA championship. Bo Gunning won the SK/Sunoco Modified 25 lapper that saw 40 cars start. Pre-race favorite Ted Christopher lost an engine.

Five years ago in 2007, NASCAR finally got around to updating the Whelen Modified Tour Series point standings. Donnie Lia ended the season in the top spot despite the fact that he dropped out of the season ending World Series at Thompson with a blown engine. Lia had sewed up the title after the Stafford event. In 16 events Lia scored 13 top tens, which included six wins. His season winning total is $83,800. Todd Szegedy ended up in second spot, 180 points behind. Szegedy, in 16 events, scored 11 top tens, which included two wins which brought his season totals to $60,225. Although winless Matt Hirschman used consistency in order to finish up third in the final standings. In 16 events the second-generation racer recorded 11 top tens which included five top fives. Ronnie Silk with one win and Ted Christopher with one win rounded out the top five. Sixth through tenth were James Civali with three wins, Mike Stefanik with one win, Jimmy Blewett with one win, Jamie Tomaino and Eddie Flemke JR.

Jimmie Johnson won the wreck marred Nextel Cup event at the Atlanta Motor Speedway. Carl Edwards, who had not been a factor most of the race, wound up second He was followed by Reed Sorenson, Matt Kenseth, Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer. David Reutimann dominated a crash-filled race and survived a green-white-checker finish at Memphis to win the Sam's Town 250 for his first career Busch Series win. Mike Bliss finished second followed by David Ragan Marcos Ambrose, Jason Leffler, Scott Wimmer, Jamie McMurray, Jason Keller, Brad Keselowski, and Brian Keselowski. Points leader Carl Edwards was caught in a spin on the last lap and finished 25th.

Last year, 2011, the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Series had wrapped up their 2011 season. Congratulations to Ron Silk and the Eddie and Connie Partridge led TS Haulers Race Team. Silks season point total was 2443 while runner-up, Todd Szegedy amassed 2367 points. Eric Beers ended up in the third spot followed by Rowan Pennink and Doug Coby. Sixth through tenth were Matt Hirschman, Justin Bonsignore, Bobby Santos, Ted Christopher and Erick Rudolph. Fifty seven different drivers were in competition during the season. Fourteen different drivers ran all 16 events. Ted Christopher was the top winner with four victories to his credit. Silk and Szegedy each won three while Coby, Bonsignore and Santos had one each. Other winners were Mike Stefanik, Glen Reen and Ryan Newman.

Many race teams were taking a wait and see attitude before making plans for 2012. Lenny Sammons, Publisher and Editor of Area Auto Racing News got an interesting answer from car owner Bob Garbarino when asked about his plans for 2012. He stated that he was not making a decision about next year until he saw a schedule. Sammons quoted Garbarino, " I don't buy green bananas anymore" he said, alluding to the fact about making a decision when the schedule is unknown. Ryan Preece was all set for 2012 as it had been announced that he would drive the Flamingo Motorsports entry that was vacated by Mike Stefanik.

Doug Coby and Daniel Hemric were running second and third behind Glen Reen on a lap 160 restart in the recent World Series NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Series event at the Thompson Speedway and got together shortly after taking the green. Hemric, from Kanapolis, NC, was driving the Roger Hill No.79 and found himself in the turn one wall and Coby spun. Based on what was heard on a scanner it was assumed that NASCAR Control felt that Coby was overaggressive and placed him one lap down. Coby stated that NASCAR did not penalize him for over aggression. "I was the one who was taken out by the 79 on that late restart and I was penalized for passing cars under caution to attempt to get my second place spot back", he said. He added, "Brian Vance, the Tour Race Director, afterwards acknowledged that the one lap penalty was more a result of his frustration with all of the drivers for how the race was ending, and acknowledged that it may in fact have been inconsistent with other calls he made that day with regards to other drivers who were incorrectly lined up on the racetrack".

The Valenti Modified Racing Series was at the Lee USA Speedway in Lee New Hampshire last weekend, 32 cars strong. Qualifying heat race winners were Ken Barry, Chris Pasteryak and Mike Holdredge.

Rowan Pennink took the season ending win over Les Hinckley, Norm Wrenn, Rob Goodenough and Matt Hirschman. Chris Pasteryak finished ninth and has won his second VMRS Championship.

The NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour wrapped up their 2012 season at the Caraway Speedway in Asheboro, NC. There were 15 cars on hand. George Brunnhoelzl III started from the outside of the front row and led every lap en route to winning the Caraway 150 season-ending event.

Brunnhoelzl took the lead from his pole-sitter and Ideal Racing teammate Andy Seuss on the first lap and was never threatened as he picked up his fifth win of the season and 11th of his career. Burt Myers picked up his best finish of the season in second place with rookie Daniel Hemric finishing with his first-ever top-three finish. Andy Seuss was fourth and Brian Loftin completed the top five. Jason Myers completed his most consistent season on the tour with a sixth-place finish with Tim Brown rebounding from a spin to finish seventh. 2011 Sunoco Rookie of the Year Austin Pack was eighth with Brandon Ward ninth and L.W. Miller completing the top 10.

Brunnhoelzl entered the night with a comfortable lead in the point standings only needing to take the green flag to wrap up the series championship. Seuss finished second in the final point standings.

Clint Bowyer hung teammate Jeff Burton out to dry on the last lap of Sunday's Talladega race, pulling around him when the checkered flag was in sight to pick up his first win of the season and the 100th in the Sprint Cup Series for Richard Childress Racing.

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


Bill Raftner


Rene Charland


Gary Reddick

T
Billy Greco

Lonsdale under water 1956

Kenny Shoemaker

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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