Tuesday April 10, 2012

By Phil Smith                                                                                             

The northeastern hills of Connecticut come alive this coming weekend on Sunday, April 15 with the sound of ground pounding NASCAR Modifieds as the Men that live by the Grace of God and 600 horsepower will be off on the run back under the sun as the Whelen Modified Tour Series begins the 2012 season with the running of the annual IceBreaker at the Thompson Speedway.
Picking up where the 2011 season left off, and where Ron Silk captured his first championship, the Whelen Modified Tour returns to the high banks to begin its 28th season of competition. The .625-mile oval in northeast Connecticut has played host to more events than any other facility in the Tour’s history: the 2012 Icebreaker will be the 117th there since 1985.

Ted Christopher, who has won seven of the last 11 Whelen Modified Tour races at Thompson, is the defending race winner.

The 2012 Icebreaker will also be the first time for many familiar faces to run different cars, and it has resulted in the addition of two full-time teams. Mike Stefanik, from Coventry, R.I., is now a permanent fixture with the No. 66 team, new to the Whelen Modified Tour. Ryan Preece from Berlin, Conn., who succeeded Stefanik, is now cemented in the No. 16. Another new full-time team will be the No. 11, which after a limited schedule last year, will have Woody Pitkat behind the wheel. Ed Flemke Jr., who will extend his Whelen Modified Tour record for consecutive starts to 355 at Thompson, has moved from the No. 10 to the No. 28 seat vacated by Pitkat.

There are also driver changes in both the No. 3 and No. 4 teams, perhaps the two most recognizable cars in all of NASCAR’s regional touring ranks. The No. 3 “Ole Blue” of Boehler Racing Enterprises has welcomed 2010 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Champion Keith Rocco to the team full-time while the No. 4 “Mystic Missile” of Mystic Missile Racing has rejoined forces with Donny Lia, who delivered championships to the team in 2007 and 2009.

Action for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour will begin at Thompson on Saturday, April 14 with practice and qualifying. The 150-lap season-opening race is slated for a green flag on Sunday, April 15 at approximately 3 p.m
Joining the Whelen Modified Tour will be Thompson’s NASCAR Whelen All-American “Super 6” weekly divisions. The competition in these divisions is both fierce and fast. Many of New England’s very best drivers compete in these divisions throughout the season and offer edge-of-the-seat excitement for race fans. Thompson Int’l Speedway is southern New England’s largest and fastest race track.

Practice and qualifying for the Icebreaker will be held on Saturday, April 14th. WMT cars will qualify through time trials and All-American series divisions will compete in qualifying races. Feature event races will begin at 12:30 PM on Sunday, April 15th. Tickets for this outstanding season opener are available by calling the Thompson Speedway track office. (860-923-2280) The complete weekend schedule of events is available on the track’s web page.

The Waterford Speedbowl endured some bone chilling weather and a smashed retaining wall but managed to get their first Saturday night racing program in the record books. Claiming the opening Saturday night feature wins included Justin Gaydosh who wired the SK Modified® race, leading from start to finish and Dillon Moltz, who won his first career victory in the Bob Valenti Auto Mall Late Model division at his hometown track. Corey Hutchings took the win in the night’s Street Stock feature while Ken Cassidy Jr. won his second consecutive Mini Stock feature to begin the year. Thirteen-year old Kaz Grala of Westboro, MA won the night’s Legends Cars feature and Ken Morin Jr. of Old Saybrook reached Victory Lane in the Bandolero feature.

The 35-lap SK Modified® feature saw Gaydosh jump to the race lead ahead of Harry Rheaume at the drop of the green flag. While Gaydosh moved out to a brief early lead, Kyle James and Nichole Morgillo also snuck past Rheaume’s inside before he was able to get in line in fourth position. The field clicked away the early laps with James slicing into Gaydosh’s lead and Morgillo alone in third place. Behind Morgillo, Rheaume led a train of cars that included Tom Abele, Diego Monahan and Rob Janovic Jr. Monahan was the first to jump out of line on lap-4, moving by both Abele and then Rheaume to sweep into fourth position.

As James began to pressure Gaydosh for the lead, the running order remained the same through lap-9 when trouble broke out in the pack of cars battling for fifth position. Rheaume, Abele, Tyler Chadwick and Ed Puleo all made contact exiting turn two, sending Rheaume and Chadwick hard into the retaining wall. The violent impact sent Rheaume’s car airborne as the field continued to scatter behind the wreck. The incident drew the red flag, resulting in a 35-minute delay for repairs to the wall necessitated by the severe impact. All the drivers walked away from the incident, however only Puleo was able to resume after pitting for repairs.

Keith Rocco was looking to make it two in a row at the shoreline oval before his luck ran out. Following a restart, Gaydosh and Rocco made slight contacting entering turn one battling for the lead. Rocco got momentarily crossed up, coming together with Janovic who tried to race by Rocco’s inside into second. The two did a masterful job of keeping their cars pointed straight ahead down the backchute, but the contact damaged both cars suspension. Janovic slowed dramatically in turn four, drawing another caution flag. Both Janovic and Rocco pitted but were unable to resume before racing went back to green. The new running order for the final restart saw James line up to Gaydosh’s outside, with Jeff Rocco, Monahan and Pearl rounding out the top-five.

The final laps were run without caution after Gaydosh got another good jump on the restart. James was again able to close the gap back to the leader as the race reached the final laps. James was in striking position, valiantly trying to put a crossover move on Gaydosh who defended each attempt. James’ best run came on lap-33 as he drove off Gaydosh’s right rear as the exited turn two. Gaydosh again defended the run and pulled back ahead to set up the final two laps. James tried a last ditch effort on the final lap but settled for second. Jeff Rocco, Monahan and Pearl held their positions to round out the top-five.

One of the promising young rookies in the Late Model division has put his future as a driver on hold for a while. Ryan Morgan, who is a graduate of the Quarter Midget, Legend Cars and the Thompson Modifieds, made the move up this year and on opening day finished a solid fourth. During his qualifying heat this past Saturday night he had the misfortune of having his throttle stick wide open while going down the backstretch. The Ledyard High School student hit the wall a ton and all but destroyed the car that was owned by his dad, John. Ryan was transported to the L&M Hospital in New London and later sent for observation at the Yale-New Haven Hospital. The end result was no broken bones but a lot of soreness.

The NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour returned to the Caraway Speedway in North Carolina last Saturday night where Brian Loftin took the lead early and paced the field to the finish to win the Farm Bureau Insurance 150.

It was an emotional Victory Lane, marking Loftin's first win since the passing of his wife a year ago. The win gives the Lexington, N.C., driver a tour-leading eight victories at Caraway and marked his 12th career tour win overall. Loftin, who started third on the field, took the lead from Frank Fleming a third of the way through the 150-lap event and then held on through four restarts in the second half of the race to score the win. L.W. Miller followed Loftin across the finish line in second to collect a second podium finish at Caraway for a second consecutive week. Rookie Daniel Hemric finished third, with Tim Brown rebounding from a flat tire to finish fourth and Danny Bohn taking fifth.

Sixth thru tenth were Patrick Emerling, defending champion George Brunnhoelzl III, Jason Myers, Burt Myers and Andy Seuss. There were 22 cars on hand.

With his victory in the Farm Bureau Insurance 150, Loftin locked up a spot in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Series race at the UNOH Battle At The Beach at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway next February during Speedweeks.
The NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour will return to action for the South Boston (Va.) 150 on Saturday, April 14.

Get well wishes to George Summers, one of the all-time great Modified drivers in the northeast, who has been hospitalized in a Mass. hospital with pneumonia. Cards of cheer can be sent to George Summers, P.O.Box 8001, Upton, Ma. 01568.

It has been announced that the 8th annual Norwood Arena Reunion will be held on Sunday, June 3 at Bezema Motors on Route 1 in Norwood, Mass.

The reunion has become an annual party for race fans in celebration of the famous but shuttered Norwood Arena. The quarter-mile oval was torn down in 1972 to make way for the current industrial park. The NASCAR-sanctioned venue was the scene of many fierce and exciting races on its high banks on Saturday nights during the racing season.

As in previous years celebrations, many drivers who raced at the arena will be present once again on June 3. Also partaking in the event will be those die-hard fans who didn't think of being anywhere else when that short track was going strong offering exciting racing every single Saturday night. The reunion is hosted by the Bezema family who are responsible for making this event happen on the first Sunday in June every year. They also generously provide a free light lunch for attendees in their adjacent Marty's Cafe. The late Martin Bezema, Sr., raced at Norwood Arena for many years, and this is a tribute to him as well as to the other competitors.

Norwood Arena was the scene of some hotly contested midget, cutdown, modified, late model, sports car and motorcycle races from 1948 through 1972. In later years the gravel parking lot was paved and turned into a 1/8-mile drag strip dubbed the "New England Dragway South."

Among those expected to be on hand were three of Norwood's biggest winners, Wild Bill Slater, Carl Bugs Stevens and Leo Cleary. Also expected again is Don Thomas, the Norwood Arena webmaster, who flies in every year to display his work and to take pictures to update his webpage. Fans are encouraged to bring old programs, pictures, etc. to the reunion to share viewing with others in attendance. Various collectable vendors will also be on hand. Also expected is the NEAR mobile Hall of Fame truck in concert with the Pro9 racing museum of Pawtucket, RI. Former drivers are always eager to sign autographs on pictures and programs.

The Norwood Arena Reunion, starts at 10 a.m. and goes until 4 p.m., rain or shine. For more information, contact Bezema Motors at 781-769-4700, or organizer Lou Modestino at 781-784-7857 in Sharon, MA. Invitations to this party have gone out to various competitors, officials and fans.

In TV land, viewing on the Speed Channel begins on Tuesday, at 6:00pm with NASCAR Race Hub. Race Hub will also be shown on Wednesday and Thursday at the same time. NASCAR Now will be on espn2 at 3:00pm on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and on Friday at 2:30pm.

Race viewing begins on Wednesday at noon with a Sprint Cup replay of the recent Auto Club Speedway event on Speed. On Thursday at noon Speed replays the recent Martinsville Sprint Cup event. At 3:00pm Speed shows a NASCAR K&N Pro Series event that was run in Phoenix.

Friday's action begins at 2:30pm when Speed goes live with NASCAR Live at the Texas Speedway. Sprint Cup practice follows at 3:00pm. NASCAR Live breaks it up at 4:30. At 5:00pm the Nationwide Series has their qualifying session at the Texas Speedway, Sprint Cup qualifying follows at 6:30pm. At 8:00pm the action shifts to ESPN2 for the Nationwide Series pre-race show that will lead to the 8:30pm start of the Nationwide Series O'Reilly Auto Parts 300 at the Texas Speedway.

Saturday's viewing begins at 11:00am on ESPN@ with NASCAR Now. At 4:00pm Speed has NASCAR Performance followed by Speed Center. At 5:00pm aSpeed begins a two hour RaceDay preview of the Texas Speedway race. FOX goes live at 7:00pm with their pre-race show that will lead to the 7:30pm start of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Samsung Mobile 500 at the Texas Speedway. NASCAR Victory Lane on Speed wraps it up at 11:00pm.
Sunday's viewing gets the green at noon with Speed Center on Speed. At 12:30pm the Speed Channel moves to Rockingham, NC for the Truck Series pre-race show which leads to the 12:30pm start of the NASCAR Truck Series Good Sam Roadside Assistance Carolina 200.

On Sunday night, the Speed Channel will have Speed Center at 7:00pm and Wind Tunnel with Dave Despain at 8:00pm. NASCAR Victory Lane at Texas follows at 9:00pm.

On the Speedway Stock Market scene last week, trading was limited to four days as the stock market was closed to observe Good Friday. Two of the three speedway stocks ended the week on a positive note. The International Speedway Corporation went up 0.81 to 28.56 and Dover Entertainment went up 0.07 to 1,55 while Speedway Motorsports dropped 0.23 to 18.45. NASCAR cup sponsor Sprint dropped 0.09 to 2.76 while NASCAR fuel supplier Sun Oil jumped 0.76 to 38.91. Goodyear was also down for the week as they dropped 0.20 to 11.02. The car builders were also down. Ford dropped 0.01 to 12.42 while General Motors dropped 0.84 to 24.81 and Toyota dropped 2.96 to 83.86. In the home improvement sector, Home Depot went up 0.31 to 50.62 while Lowes dropped 0.03 to 31.35. The car sponsors also had a not so good week. Coca-Cola went up 0.13 to 62.87 and Aarons Rentals went up 0.03 to 25.93 while Dupont dropped 0.20 to 52.70, Target Department Stores dropped 0.55 to 57.72 and Fedex dropped 1.57 to 90.39.

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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