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Friday September 27, 2013
 

By Phil Smith

Sixty years ago in 1953, Fred Luchesi took the top spot in the final Saturday night Sportsman event that was run at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl. Tom VanEpps was the non-Ford winner.

Fifty five years ago in 1958, rain washed out all racing at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl.

Fifty years ago in 1963, the Speedbowl was again awash.

Forty five years ago in 1968, Fred DeSarro won the season ender at the Norwood Arena. Leo Cleary, driving for Joe Brady sewed up the track championship. Little did anyone know there would only be one more year of open wheeled modified competition at the famed Massachusetts oval. Daring Dick Caso dazzled the troops at the New London Waterford Speedbowl where he won the 36 lap Modified feature. Matt Tinker was the Daredevil winner. At Thompson, on Sunday, Don MacTavish took the feature win. The Thompson win ended up being his last, as he would lose his life in Daytona during the Permatex 300.

Forty years ago, in 1973, the annual Race of Champions was run at Trenton on the mile and a half kidney shaped speedway. Richie Evans took the win and was followed by Eddie Flemke and Roger Treichler. It was also on this day that a then unknown driver by the name of Brian Ross got a big break. Dick Armstrong had brought two Modifieds to Trenton. Ray Hendrick drove one of them and Fred DeSarro convinced Armstrong to put Ross in the seat. Ross put on quite a show and was running in the top ten when he was called in for a driver change as Hendrick had lost an engine. Armstrong should have left well enough alone because shortly after, Hendrick blew up the engine in the other car too. Ross, none the less, got to show his stuff and went on to become one of the top drivers in the modified division. Waterford ran on Saturday night with Dick Dunn taking the Modified win. Big Mike Daignault was the Late Model Grand American winner. Dunn wrapped up his second of four in a row Modified Championships that he earned driving for Al Gaudreau.

Thirty-five years ago this week, in 1978, New England had one of its darkest racing days as popular Fred DeSarro went over the third turn bank at Thompson and suffered what would end up being fatal injuries. DeSarro was warming up the Len Boehler No.3 when, for no reason, went out of the track. Kenny Bouchard and Bugsy Stevens were first on the scene and assisted rescue crews. DeSarro was taken to the Rhode Island Hospital where he laid in a coma for a month before passing away. The races at Thompson went on and Bouchard, who had torn the roof off of DeSarros' car earlier in the day, took the win with a heavy heart. Ray Miller finished second and was followed by George Summers. At Monadnock on the same afternoon, Geoff Bodine took a 100-lap win over Reggie Ruggiero, Punky Caron, Bob Karvonen and Allen Whipple.

Thirty years ago in 1983, the Oswego Speedway ran their season ending 35 lap-modified event. Reggie Ruggiero took the win over George Kent, Richie Evans and Doug Hewitt. At Waterford, Bob Potter won the season finale. Glynn Shafer finished second with Don Bunnell, third. Brian McCarthy was the late model winner. Alan Johnson won the DIRT Syracuse 200.In Winston Cup action at Charlotte; Tim Richmond took the Busch Pole with Benny Parsons on the outside. Richard Petty took the win. A post race inspection revealed that Petty's engine was illegal and his tires were also illegal. Petty was not stripped of the win but was fined $35,000.

Twenty-Five years ago in 1988, Ricky Fuller, driving the Bob Sterns U2 scored his first Modified Tour Series win as he won the modified portion of the annual World Series at Thompson. Fuller took the lead from Tom Bolles on a lap 26 restart and paced the field for the remainder of the 50-lap contest. Bolles finished second and was followed by Brian Ross, Mike Mclaughlin, Jeff Fuller and Doug Hevron. Bob Potter was the winner of the companion SK modified event.

Twenty years ago in 1993, Jeff Fuller was the Thompson World Series winner. Fuller took the lead from Jan Leaty on lap 45 and held it until pitting on lap 62 for tires and fuel. Fuller was first out of the pits and led the rest of the125 lap distance. Mike Stefanik started dead last in the 32-car field and finished second. Satch Worley finished third and was followed by Leaty, Jamie Tomaino, Ricky Fuller and Tony Ferrente. Lloyd Agor took the checker in the SK modified 30 lapper but was disqualified due to illegal heads. Tom Tagg got the win with Richie Gallup, second. Brett Hearne won the Syracuse 200 and in Winston Cup action at Charlotte, Ernie Irvan cleaned house.

Fifteen years ago, in 1998, the Thompson World Series and the D.Anthony Venditti Memorial at Seekonk were rained out. Despite rain, the DIRT organization got their Syracuse 300 in the record books. Billy Decker took the $50,000 win.

Ten years ago in 2003, the NASCAR Featherlite Modified Tour Series Fall Final was supposed to go off on Saturday afternoon but rain interrupted the event at the completion of the preliminary late model event, which forced NASCAR and the Speedway management to use Sunday as a rain date. This created a confliction with the Waterford Fall Finale but because of the coming weeks schedule, NASCAR had little choice. The PASS event scheduled for Thompson on Saturday was also rained out and re-scheduled for Sunday. Three tracks within 50 miles of each other held races on Sunday. All three had poor crowds. It wasn’t meant to be that way but the New England weather has a nasty habit of letting it rain at the wrong time. Plus the fact the tracks were competing against the Winston Cup on TV, NFL Football and the baseball playoffs. Jerry Marquis won the NASCAR Featherlite Modified Fall Final 150 at Stafford. Marquis, who started deep in the field, passed Tony Hirshman when he went high following a restart on lap 134. Hirschman had attempted to go the distance non-stop without a change of tires. Marquis pitted and had fresher tires. Hirschman held on to finish second and was followed by Chuck Hossfeld, Chris Kopec, Nevin George and John Blewett III. Mike Johnson was the Busch North Series winner. Jerry McCarthy finished second with Andy Santerre, third. Ed Flemke Jr., Ricky Fuller, Ted Christopher and Mike Stefanik rounded out the top ten in the Modified 150. Todd Szegedy, despite having motor problems and finishing 17th, continued to lead the point standings by 36 points over Chuck Hossfeld. John Blewett III sat in third, ten points behind Hossfeld. The Stafford Speedway was able to get in their Late Model portion of the Fall Final before the rains came on Saturday. Tom Butler won his first feature in four years as he beat out Woody Pitkat for the win. Ryan Posocco started 12th and finished fourth. Ted Christopher, who ran in all three events, took his sixth win of the year when he won the SK-Modified event. Todd Szegedy finished second. Second generation driver Kerry Malone finished seventh and wrapped up the 2003 SK Modified Championship. At the Waterford Speedbowl on Sunday Dennis Gada took the lead from Jeff Pearl following a restart and went on to record the win and the track championship, his fifth in a row. It all came down to a restart with two laps to go when Ron Yuhas and Gada made contact. Gada almost went into the fence but somehow held on. Ted Christopher, who arrived from Stafford just as the cars were called to post, finished third. It was Gada’s 42nd win in 120 starts over the last six years. Other Sunday winners at Waterford were Chris Burton in the Mini Stocks, Chuck Rogers in the Sportsman, Bob Santos III in the NEMA Midgets and Mark StHillaire in the Late Models. The Elmira New York Savings and Loan started foreclosure action that could lead to the auction of the Chemung Speedrome as property owner and speedway promoter Bob Stapleton was two years behind in his payments. In Winston Cup action at Kansas City Ryan Newman scored his eighth win.

Last year, 2012, The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour traveled to the Stafford Motor Speedway for the annual Fall Final. Rain dampened all activities at the track on Friday as competitors set up shop for the weekend. Twenty six Modifieds signed in to compete on Saturday. Ron Silk and Bryan Chew had a NASCAR "spec" motor in their cars. Jimmy Blewett won the Coors Light Pole Award on Saturday.
 
Among the announcements made to competitors was that in 2013 all the Mod tour seats are going to have to be SFI approved which will ultimately weed some cars out. Just what the car owners need, spend more money!

Bobby Santos waited until the end to make his move and then powered past Woody Pitkat to win the CARQUEST Fall Final Sunday at Stafford Motor Speedway. Santos also beat the rain which came shortly after the checker flew. Santos, who started on the outside pole saved the best for last as he took the lead from Pitkat with four laps to go in the 150 lap contest. Pitkat led a race-high 128 laps at his hometown track. The Stafford driver had a cushion of over a second late in the race before Santos cleared lapped traffic and tracked him down. Santos wound up winning by .644 seconds. Pitkat's car suffered power steering problems which made it difficult to steer. Jimmy Blewett finished third. Blewett pitted early for tires but the strategy backfired when the race ran 93 laps under green. Neither Santos nor Pitkat pitted.

Ron Silk and Ryan Preece finished fourth and fifth, respectively. Mike Stefanik was sixth, followed by Donny Lia, Bryon Chew, Doug Coby and Matt Hirschman. also on the lead lap at the finish was Justin Bonsignore, Ron Yuhas, Jr, Eric Beers, Richie Pallai,, Jr., Rowan Pennink, Jamie Tomaino and Eric Goodale. One lap down and rounding out the top 20 were Ed Flemke, Jr., Tommy Barrett, Jr., and Ted Christopher.

Among those who had problems and failed to finish was Keith Rocco who finished dead last in 26th spot as a result of engine trouble on lap 10.

Blewett took the lead at the drop of the green but his time on the point was short as Ronnie Silk took over the top spot shortly before completing three laps. Silk led thru lap 16 before giving way to Pitkat. Pitkat was clearly the class of the field in his Hillbilly Racing entry as he led thru lap 144 when he couldn't hold on any longer with a car that steered like a truck.
In other action at Stafford Eric Berndt took the checkered flag in the 40-lap SK Modified® feature, while Ted Christopher clinched his 8th career SK Modified® track championship. Mark St. Hilaire came up as the winner of the 30-lap Late Model feature with a dramatic last lap pass and Woody Pitkat clinched the championship even though he was caught up in a first lap crash that saw him finish 20th.

In the 40-lap SK Modified® feature, Kyle Spencer led the field to the green, but he spun in turn 2 and the cars of Curt Brainard, Mike King, and Raymond Grassetti were also involved to bring the caution out before a lap could be completed. Glen Reen took the lead on the restart with Brian Sullivan and Tom Bolles side by side for second. Keith Rocco was in fourth, just in front of a side-by-side battle between Dan Avery and Danny Cates. Rocco made a move to the inside of Bolles to take over third place on lap-4 while Reen continued to hold the lead ahead of Sullivan. Rocco continued his charge to the front as he moved under Sullivan on lap-5 to take over second. Dylan Kopec hit the turn 3 wall to bring the yellow out with 5 laps complete.

Reen and Rocco were side by side for a lap and a half on the restart before Reen got clear into the lead. Michael Gervais, Jr. spun in turns 3+4 to bring the caution out with 6 laps complete. Rocco charged by Reen on the restart to take over the race lead, but Dan Avery, Todd Owen, and Tommy Membrino, Jr. piled into one another against the frontstretch wall to bring the caution back out and put Reen back in front for the restart. Reen took the lead with Rocco settling into second behind him. Sullivan and Cates washed up the track in turn 2 on lap-8, which allowed Ryan Preece to charge his way by both cars and move into third place. Just as Preece made his move, Rowan Pennink spun to bring the caution back out and negate the pass. Reen took the lead on the restart with Cates pulling alongside Rocco in a fight for second place. Eric Berndt was fourth, with Preece and Sullivan side by side for fifth place. Cates took the lead from Reen in turn 4 on lap-12 and Rocco moved into second, dropping Reen from the lead back to third. Reen continued to slide backwards as Berndt and then Preece worked their way by, dropping Reen back to fifth place on lap-15. The caution came out with 17 laps complete as Rocco made contact with Cates on the backstretch while making a move to the inside of Cates that shot Cates into the wall and brought the caution out. Rocco was sent to the rear of the field for the contact with Cates, putting Berndt and Preece on the front row for the restart. Berndt and Preece were side by side for two laps before Preece fell into line behind Berndt, with Reen, Matt Galko, Sullivan, and Joey Cipriano lined up behind them. Spencer made contact with Tom Bolles on lap-22, but both cars were able to continue and Spencer was given a drive through penalty for the contact with Bolles.

Preece was beginning to search for a groove that would give him a run to make a pass on Berndt for the lead, but Berndt was able to maintain the lead. Reen was third behind Preece, with several car lengths back to Galko, Sullivan, Ted Christopher, and Sean Foster with 25 laps complete. Christopher pulled alongside Sullivan on lap-30 and he made the pass for fifth place. Foster followed in Christopher’s tire tracks as he was also able to get by Sullivan while Berndt continued to lead Preece and Reen.

Preece was shown the black flag on lap-31 for leaking fluid out of his car, which moved Reen into second behind Berndt. Galko was third, with Christopher and Foster behind him. Tom Bolles spun coming out of turn 4 to bring the caution out with 36 laps complete and set up a four lap sprint to the finish.

On the restart, Pennink spun on the frontstretch and Heather DesRochers went through the infield grass to bring the yellow back out. Reen was nose to nose with Berndt for a lap on the restart before he fell into line behind Berndt. Galko was third, but the caution came out again with 39 laps complete as Sean Foster spun while running in fourth place, setting up a green white checkered finish.

Berndt took the lead on the restart ahead of Reen and Galko, but Christopher spun on the backstretch to bring the caution out. Berndt and Reen were side by side with Berndt getting the lead by a car length at the white flag. Berndt led the field back to the checkered flag as Ruocco got around Reen for second on the final lap. Sullivan finished fourth, with Rocco finishing in the fifth position. Christopher recovered from his spin to finish 13th, which was enough to give him his 8th career SK Modified® track championship at Stafford.

Reen was disqualified from this third place finishing position for violating the track’s rules concerning cylinder heads. A release from the track cited rule 20E-5.6 of the 2012 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series SK Modified rulebook stating: “Cylinder Heads (All other head modifications ARE NOT ALLOWED including but not limited to: porting, polishing or ANY grinding in ports or combustion chambers, chemical milling, glass beading or removal of any flashing or casting marks.).” The violation was discovered in a post-race inspection after Sunday’s event.

In an unrelated matter, Jimmy Milo, longtime senior manager in charge of safety at Stafford Speedway, confirmed that he resigned his position at the track. Milo said he is planning on relocating.

In Saturday night action at the Waterford Speedbowl track management was forced to cancel its NASCAR Whelen All-American Series racing program that was scheduled. A lingering light rain and drizzle persisted over the speedway for several hours, preventing track drying efforts from successfully occurring.

In NASCAR Nationwide Series action at Dover De. Joey Logano led 184 of the 200 laps and raced to his series-leading seventh victory of the season. He won for the 16th time in 105 career Nationwide starts and moved into a tie for 16th on the series' career victory list. Brad Keselowski held off a late push from runner-up Jeff Gordon on Sunday to win the Sprint Cup race at the Deleware track.

The racing community lost a true legend on Wednesday, Sept 26, when Bob Newton, the founder of Hoosier Racing Tire, died at the age of 84. Hoosier Racing Tire is the largest racing tire manufacturer in the world. Newton’s vision to create a company specifically to build racing tires was a radical one, but the company has become synonymous with auto racing.

Two days later on Friday, Sept 28, legendary motorsports journalist Chris Economacki died. Known as “The Dean of Motorsports Journalism”, Economacki was 91 years old. Economacki, a Brookyln, N.Y. native began selling copies of National Speed Sport News at age 13 and later became the editor of the publication. Economacki's “Editor’s Notebook” was must read material within motorsports.

Noted and highly respected auto racing writer and columnist Gary London had been involved with Economacki for 49 years and had this to say. "The loss of Chris Economaki hurts both personally and professionally, I don’t think I have to say too much regarding the influence National Speed Sport News had on auto racing". He added, "For many years our sport was ignored by daily newspapers, It had no voice. Chris came along and NSSN was a big factor to elevating our sport to a more significant status, He was a tireless worker from the days as a teenager when he was selling National Auto Racing News, the precursor to NSSN, to becoming the editor and publisher".

This week are several vintage racing photos from the collection of the late Danny Pardi, courtesy of SpeedwayLineReport.com & RacingThroughTime.com.
Click on Photo for Full Size



George Summers



Don MacTavish


Parker Bohn


Sal Dee

Smokey Boutwell

Sonney Seamon

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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