Tuesday April 7, 2009

By Phil Smith                                                                                             

The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour began its 25th anniversary year at the Thompson Speedway ICEBREAKER last weekend. This year’s event marked the 107th time that the WMT has raced at Thompson since the formation of the Tour in 1985. An outstanding field of competitors attempted to qualify on Saturday afternoon for a starting spot in the 150-lap main event which was run on Sunday. The WMT was joined by Thompson’s “Super 6” NASCAR Whelen All American Series divisions in this two-day racing spectacle that has ushered in the beginning of the auto racing season in New England for well over 40 years.

Thirty five NASCAR Whelen Modifieds were on hand for practice and qualifying at Thompson on Saturday. Jimmy Blewett made himself the pre-race favorite as he was the fastest in pre-time trial practice.

Jamie Tomaino (center) was honored during pre-race ceremonies for his 500th career NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour start.
(Photo Credit: Howie Hodge/NASCAR)

Blewett toured the 5/8 mile oval in 18.612 seconds, 120.890 mph. Also up to speed and in contention were Doug Coby, Jamie Tomaino, Todd Szegedy and Reggie Ruggiero.
Blewett might have been the fastest one in practice but Ted Christopher was the fastest when it counted. Christopher won the Coors Light Pole in qualifying for the Icebreaker 2009 at Thompson Speedway. With a lap of 18.642 seconds (120.890 MPH), Christopher earned his 19th career WMT pole and his eighth career pole at Thompson. Doug Coby qualified second. There were a few surprises in qualifying including Glenn Reen, Jamie Tomaino and Rowan Pennink who rounded out the top-five. After the redraw, Coby and Pennink ended up on the front row while Tomaino, who would make his record-setting 500th career start would go third. Christopher picked the fourth position followed by Mike Stefanik and Reen.
Christopher began his title defense the way he ended it, with a win at Thompson. Once the green flag was displayed to start the 150 lapper Christopher wasted little time in showing what he had as he took the lead from Doug Coby on lap 10. Jamie Tomaino, who was making his 500th start, was quite stout in the early going as he wrestled the lead from Christopher on lap 41 and held it until a restart on lap 58 when he gave way to Mike Stefanik. A caution on lap 48 when John Busch spun out in turn two opened the door for pit stops by Christopher along with Don Lia, Ron Silk, Jimmy Blewett and Rowan Pennick. Stefanik and Tomaino had elected to remain on the track. By lap 62 Lia had worked his way back to 4th spot and had Christopher and Silk in tow. Four laps later Lia was third. Tomaino retook the lead on lap 67. Stefanik began to fade with obvious worn tires. Tomaino was able to hold on until lap 74 when his tires went south as Christopher stormed by Lia to take the lead. By lap 120 Christopher continued to lead as Ronnie Silk had moved him into the second spot. For all intents and purposes Silks run for the front ended a few laps later when Jimmy Blewett roughed him up and almost planted him in the first turn wall. Blewett also roughed up Lia before he passed him for the second spot. A caution on lap 133 for a Reggie Ruggeri spin set the stage for some late race excitement. With Blewett on the outside and Christopher on the inside they led the field to a restart on lap137. As Christopher entered turn three Blewett made a bottom shot and in the process moved him up to take the lead. Christopher returned the favor in turn four as he retook the lead. A Woody Pitkat spin on lap 148 precipitated a Green – White – Checkered finish. The field restarted for the final time on lap 152, single file. Despite the fact that Blewett beat and banged on the back of Christopher the defending champion never gave the aggressor the opportunity for another bottom shot as he scored an impressive win. Blewett, reluctantly settled for the runner-up spot with Lia, third. Ryan Preece and Todd Szegedy rounded out the top five. Sixth through tenth were Silk, Stefanik, Coby, Penneck and Bob Grigas.

For his efforts Christopher pocketed $8,800. He also received the first commemorative Tissot wrist watch, which will be presented by NASCAR and tour sponsor Whelen Engineering to each of the 14 race winners throughout the 25th anniversary season. The win was Christopher’s eighth at Thompson and his third in the track’s Icebreaker. He also won the traditional season-opener, which hosted the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour’s first race in 1985, in 2004 and 2005. Christopher also moved into sole possession of fourth-place on the tour’s all-time win list with his 32nd victory. He trails only Mike Stefanik (69), Reggie Ruggiero (44) and Tony Hirschman (35).

The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour will return to action with the Tech-Net Spring Sizzler presented by CARQUEST at Stafford (Conn.) Motor Speedway on April 26.

In Saturday night Sunoco Modified action at Thompson Keith Rocco of Wallingford, CT, scored his first win of the 2009 season in a fiercely competitive opener. Rocco jumped out from his front row starting spot to take the lead in the early going. In the early moments of the event Tommy Cravenho ran second with heavy pressure from Josh Sylvester with Todd Ceravolo and Ted Christopher rounding out the top five. The battle for the fifth position with Ceravolo, Christopher, Bert Marvin, and Kerry Malone was beginning to heat up when the first caution of the event flew on lap six for a spin by Harry Rheaume. During the caution, Jimmy Blewett headed down pit road for service. A pass for the lead by Christopher was negated when the third caution flew on lap 14 for a spin by Andrew Charron. Rocco was up for the challenge on the restart but had his hands full with Christopher and Malone. Christopher was able to make a pass for the lead in turn one but Rocco fought his way back. Coming out of the corner, Christopher bobbled slightly and was collected by Sylvester sending Christopher spinning in front of the field. A number of cars were involved including Danny Cates, Woody Pitkat and Marvin. The restart pitted Malone against Rocco, who was not about to break under pressure. After another quick caution, things settled down up front with Rocco extending his lead slightly over Ceravolo and Malone. The cars on the move were Christopher and Blewett. The two who had started at the rear of the field were picking off cars one-by-one heading back to the front. On lap 22, Malone gave up the third position heading to pit road with mechanical woes.

As Rocco crossed the line to take down the victory, contact between Cravenho and Christopher sent Christopher head-on into the turn four wall. Christopher took a hard hit but walked away from the incident. Ceravolo finished a strong second over Eric Goodale, Rowan Pennink, and Zach Sylvester. After post-race technical inspection, Goodale was stripped of his third-place finish; moving Pennink and Sylvester up a position and Jimmy Blewett inside the top five.

Defending division champion Jeff Zuidema of North Brookfield, CT, led wire-to-wire to win the first of two Late Model main events scheduled for the weekend.

Todd Ceravolo earned a hard-fought victory among a strong field of Sunoco Modifieds on Sunday afternoon. Norm Wrenn of Nashua, NH, kicked- off a new era in full-fendered racing at Thompson Speedway with the first-ever Super Late Model victory. Jeff Zuidema of N. Brookfield, CT, went two-for-two in Late Model competition on Icebreaker weekend winning both ends of the double-header.

Joe Arena of Bristol, CT, turned in a dominating performance to score the victory in the season-opener for the Limited Sportsman division. Chuck Rogers of Quaker Hill, CT, scored his first-ever winner at the Thompson Speedway in the Mini Stocks. Brian Sullivan of S. Windsor, CT picked up where he left off winning TIS Modified features.

The Sunoco Modifieds took to the track on Sunday afternoon to run the second of the Icebreaker double-header. At the conclusion of the 25-lapper, veteran and former Series champion, Todd Ceravolo of Gales Ferry, CT, was victorious. Ceravolo jumped out to the early lead of the main event followed by Keith Rocco. Mired deep in the field, Kerry Malone and Woody Pitkat were making tracks to the front. When the caution flew on lap 3 Malone was already inside the top ten. With five laps down, Bert Marvin had moved into the third position and began chasing down the leaders. Malone had worked his way into the fourth spot by lap ten. The two Falmouth Ready Mix cars driven by Tommy Cravenho and Rowan Pennink ran in fifth and six, respectively. At the halfway marker, things were starting to heat up as Rocco had his hands full with both Marvin and Malone. Smoke billowed from the #15 of Harry Rheaume to bring out the caution cooling the battle for the time being.

Under the caution, Pennink headed down pit road for service to his #31x. On restart, shuffling at the head of the pack resulted in the charging Malone being double-hooked. Things settled down on the ensuing restart as Ceravolo continued to lead with Rocco, Marvin and Cravenho in tow. Pitkat had worked his way into the fifth position. A restart at lap 18 opened the door for Marvin. Ceravolo headed out in the lead once again. Slight contact between Marvin and Rocco, gave Marvin the edge; moving into the second position. Lap-after-lap Marvin dogged Ceravolo.

On the final lap, Marvin could get up alongside Marvin but could not muster up enough momentum to make the pass. Ceravolo rolled into victory lane for his first win of the season. Marvin had to settle for second followed by Rocco. Pitkat had a strong run to finish fourth. Cravenho completed the top five.

The Waterford Speedbowl tried to open for the season this past weekend but a forecast of rain and possible snow put a damper on action at the shoreline oval. The Speedbowl will try again next week.

The True Value Modified Racing Series reports that a record 53 teams have secured numbers and paid fee’s to compete in 2009. Series founder Jack Bateman has structured a 16 race schedule in response and additional prize money will be paid this year. Among those who plan on competing is Rowan Pennink, from Huntington Valley, PA. With the exception of one conflict with the Whelen Modified Tour Series, Pennick has announced his plan to compete full time with the TVMRS. Pennink ran a few races for veteran and well respected car owner, Gary Casella. Casella has owned and driven modified cars for many years on the True Value Series with a number of different drivers. This year, Pennink will compete in the Monk Mechanics, Roscoe Racing sponsored #25.

The 2009 TVMS gets the green on Saturday night, April 25, at the lightning fast ¼ mile Monadnock Speedway in Winchester, NH. Based on the fact that only one confliction with the NASCAR Whelen Modified tour exists one can assume that quite a few tour drivers will spend some time racing with their TVMS counterparts.

In TV land this week, the pickings will be thin as the Sprint Cup and Truck divisions have the weekend off to celebrate Easter with their families. On Tuesday, NASCAR Now airs on espn2 at 5:00pm. Wednesdays viewing heats up at noon when the Speed Channel replays last Sundays Samsung 500 that was held at the Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. NASCAR Now airs on espn2 at 6:00pm. Thursday’s viewing on Speed begins at noon with a three hour session of the Barrett-Jackson Automobile Auction from Palm Beach, FL. At 3:00pm Speed replays last Saturday’s NASCAR Camping World West Touring Series Toyota/NAPA Auto Parts 150 that was held at the All American Speedway in Roseville, CA. NASCAR Now on espn2 goes at 4:30pm. At 8:00pm it’s an eight hour session of the Barrett-Jackson Automobile Auction in Palm Beach that lasts until 4:00am on Friday. Automobile Auction action from Palm Beach resumes at noon on Friday for another three hours. NASCAR Now on espn2 goes at 5:30. Saturday’s viewing on Speed begins at 11:00am with an eight hour session of Auction action from Palm Beach. ESPN goes live at 3:00pm with their pre-race show for the NASCAR Nationwide Series Pepsi 300 at the Nashville Superspeedway which is scheduled to go green at 4:15. Because of Easter, Sunday will be quiet except for the replay of Saturdays Nationwide Series Pepsi 300 at the Nashville Superspeedway. The Speed Channel has the Speed Report at 7:00pm and Wind Tunnel with Dave Despain at 9:00pm on Sunday night.

On the Speedway Stock Market Scene last week racing related stocks continued to rebound. All three speedway stocks had positive endings for the week. Leading the way was the International Speedway Corporation which went up 2.98 to 24.74. Speedway Motorsports went up 1.44 to 12.89. Dover Downs went up 0.16 to 2.07. NASCAR Cup sponsor Sprint continues to climb as they went up 0.23 to 4.19. NASCAR fuel supplier Sun Oil jumped 1.20 to 28.54 while tire supplier Goodyear went up 0.55 to 7.40. Two of the three automakers involved in racing had good weeks. Toyota went up 9.52 to 75.11 while Ford went up 0.41 to 3.25. On the down side, General Motors dropped 1.52 to 2.10. The major NASCAR team sponsors also had a good week. Dupont went up 3.27 to 25.97 while Target Department Stores went up 2.51 to 36.68. Aarons Rentals went up 2.56 as Coca-Cola showed a modest gain as they went up 0.13 to 51.81. In the home improvement sector, Home Depot went up 1.37 to 25.00and Lowes went up 0.31 to 19.12.

That’s it for this week from 11 Gardner Drive, Westerly RI 02891. Ring my chimes at 401-596-5467. E-Mail is

Phil Smith has been a columnist for Speedway Scene and other publications for over 3 decades.

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