Tuesday April 17, 2012

By Phil Smith                                                                                             

The northeastern hills of Connecticut came alive last 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 were off on the run back under the sun as the Whelen Modified Tour Series began the 2012 season with the running of the annual IceBreaker at the Thompson Speedway.

The speedway came alive on Friday with hundreds of camp trailers and race car carriers entering the speedway grounds. With gasoline hovering around the $4.15 mark many just decided to bite the bullet and went to enjoy their favorite form of auto racing.

Summer-like weather greeted fans and competitors on Saturday morning. Twenty nine Modifieds were on hand. In 2010 the IceBreaker drew 37 of the ground pounders. Maybe it is a sign of the times. The recent announcement by NASCAR that only one Whelen Modified Tour would be televised while 26 NASCAR K&N (Kids and Nephews) Development Series events would be seen on television. Granted, the Whelen Modified Tour Series is regional but their competition and fan appeal is far above many of The K&N events that are run in front of almost empty grandstands. Whelen Industries pours millions into the Modified series and the lack of television is a slap in the face to the Connecticut sponsor. Even though the Whelen Modifieds are primarily in the Northeast there are many potential sponsors out there and if television coverage existed maybe there would be a few who would like to see their company names on the sides of the cars. A race team can not exist on race purses alone. Sponsorship dollars are desperately needed to keep the division alive or more race teams will fall by the wayside.

Ryan Preece, who took over the seat formerly occupied by Mike Stefanik, posted a lap of 18.387 seconds (122.369 mph) to break Bobby Santosí previous mark of 18.418 (122.163) set in this event last year. Justin Bonsignore also went under Santosí previous mark as he posted a fast lap of 18.402 (122.269).

Santos had the third-fastest lap of Saturday qualifying at 18.545 (121.327). Keith Rocco (18.560/121.228) and Rowan Pennink (18.594/121.007) rounded out the top-five qualifiers.

Ron Yuhas Jr., Mike Stefanik, defending Whelen Modified Tour Champion Ron Silk, Todd Szegedy and Donny Lia rounded out the top 10 qualifiers for Sundayís event. Don Lia who is in Santos' former ride was 11th and defending race winner Ted Christopher was 12th fastest.

Keith Rocco made a hasty retreat to the Waterford Speedbowl where he made it two out of three in SK Modified competition. Rocco saved the best for last as he passed Tom Abele Jr., who had led from the start of the 35-lap feature, on the final turn on the 1/3 mile oval. Other winners at the Connecticut shoreline oval were Ken Cassidy Jr. who won his third straight Mini Stock feature. Tyler Jackson picked up his first career win in the SK Light Modified race and Chris Meyer found Victory Lane in the Street Stock feature. In Saturday Showdown Series action, Dan Butler won the Super X-Car feature race and Scott Limkemann scored the win in the accompanying X-Car event. The Late Models had the weekend off.

Ron Silk celebrated his eighth career NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour victory in an extended 159-lap Thompson IceBreaker after Rowan Pennink was posted for not allowing Silk, who chose to take the inside groove for the final restart, to set the pace. He officially jumped the restart.

ďI had a better car than Rowan (Pennink),Ē said Silk after the race. ďBefore the last restart, he had me up in the marbles. He didnít even give me a chance to have a line. You canít beat the leader to the line. If you do, you have to lift. Iím happy to win and we had a better car than he did. I ran him down and passed him with 15 to go. The rule is in black and white. You canít beat the leader to the line.Ē Ted Christopher was sitting in the cat bird seat and had the best view of what happened. Christopher stated that Pennink went early and when Silk realized what was happening he jabbed the gas and spun the wheels. As a penalty NASCAR placed Pennink at the tail of the lead lap which gave him a tenth place finish. The official order of finish saw Christopher finishing second with Mike Stefanik, third. Jimmy Blewett and Don Lia rounded out the top five. Sixth through ninth were Jamie Tomaino, Patrick Emerling, Doug Coby and Wade Cole. Fifteen of the original 29 starters were running at the finish.

Silk started the race in eighth and led just one time throughout the race distance taking the lead at lap 138 when he dove underneath Pennink in turn three. Ryan Preece took the lead at the start and led through lap 84 before giving way to Bobby Santos III. Santos led for only two laps when Preece took the lead back, but only momentarily as Don Lia took his turn at the point. Lia led from lap 89 to lap 129 when Pennink took control following a restart on lap 130. Pennink and Silk slugged it out until lap 138 when Silk took the lead for the final time.

There were 12 caution periods that slowed the 157 lap event with some of them taking out some of the pre-race favorites. The first caution flew on lap 9 when Patrick Emerling , Doug Coby and John Jensen spun in turn 2. The second caution occurred on lap 39 when Todd Szegedy spun while attempting to pass Mike Stefanik. It was during this caution that Jensen dropped out with engine troubles. Caution no.3 came on lap 52 when Eric Goodale spun in turn four. Eddie Flemke JR and Doug Coby got together for a spin in turn two on lap 69 to bring out the fourth caution. One lap later Long Islander Ken Heagy dropped out with engine woes. Coby spun with Keith Rocco during a restart on lap 74 for caution No. 5. The field had no sooner taken the green on lap 78 when Patrick Emerling got sideways coming out of turn two. Szegedy and Silk went on the defensive. Silk survived but Szegedy didn't as he went into the inside wall a ton, ending his day. Caution no.7 on lap 85 had to be considered "The Big One" as it involved 13 cars and caused NASCAR to throw the red in order to clean the track of multiple wrecks. Rob Fuller and Bryon made the initial contact in turn one that triggered the mess. Among those who were collected and eliminated were Tony Ferrante Jr, Eric Berndt, Eric Goodale, Eric Beers, Ron Yuhas Jr and Keith Rocco along with Fuller. Doug Coby spun in turn 2 on lap 113 for yellow No.8. Another multi car wreck on lap 122 brought out caution no. 9. Mike Stefanik hit the rear of Ryan Preeces' car sending him into a spin in turn three. Preece made contact with the wall and destroyed his radiator, putting him out for the day. Also eliminated was Bobby Santos III. On lap 142 Wade Cole spun, for caution No. 10, in turn two setting the stage for the first green-white checker. When the field went back to green on lap 149 Lia and Justin Bonsignore tangled. Lia was able to continue but Bonsignore had terminal suspension damage and was done for the day. On the restart, Christopher wrested the lead from Silk only to lose it because Cole spun again bringing out the 12th and final caution of the day.

The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Series takes this weekend off before heading to the Stafford Motor Speedway next weekend, April 27-29 for the annual Spring Sizzler. Many tour competitors are expected to partake in the Valenti Modified Racing Series that heads to the Monadnock Speedway in Winchester, NH this Saturday night.

In other Thompson IceBreaker action, Ryan Preece, Tommy OíSullivan, Derek Ramstrom, Glenn Boss, Scott Sundeen, and Tyler Poulin all took victories in NASCAR Whelen All-American Series divisions.
Preece jumped to the lead in the Sunoco Modified feature and held off Woody Pitkat for the win in the 30-lap Sunoco Modified feature. It was Preece at the drop of the green with Woody Pitkat getting by Ted Christopher for the second position. As Preece began pulling away, the first caution flew at lap four when John Catania spun and hit the backstretch wall. The green quickly went to yellow when on the restart Shawn Thibeault, Wayne Arute, and Moose Douton got tangled up in turn four. The action continued with Pitkat and Preece side-by-side through turn one and Pitkat pulling ahead by a nose in turn two, however, it was Preece ahead at the line with Pitkat in tow. Todd Ceravolo rounded out the top-three and the trio pulled away to a significant lead over the rest of the field.

The torrid pace of Preece and Pitkat saw them lapping the field by the 17th circuit, and as they maneuvered through lapped traffic, Ceravolo dropped a half a straightaway in the rear view mirror. Preece took the checkers in commanding style followed by Pitkat, Ceravolo, and Christopher, who was later disqualified for an altered muffler. Christopher's finish was reinstated after it was determined that his mufflers had not been altered. There were 18 Sunoco (SK) Modifieds on hand.

The Thompson Speedway will be silent until Sunday, May 20 when the Valenti Modified Racing Series will have a 75 Lap Special. In addition there will be the normal six NASCAR divisions in competition. Thursday Night Thunder begins on May 31.

The NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour returned to action for the South Boston (Va.) 150 on Saturday, April 14. While the Whelen Modified Tour Series in the north has been losing some of it's competitors the southern series appears to be gaining as 27 cars were on hand for the event. Brandon Ward won the South Boston 150 on Saturday night in NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour action at South Boston Speedway. Ward took the lead from defending tour champion George Brunnhoelzl III, who led a race-high 130 laps, on Lap 131 and never looked back over the 19 laps of the race. It was Wardís first tour victory in 17 starts. Andy Seuss rebounded from an early-race incident to finish second followed by Danny Bohn in third. Kyle Ebersole and L.W. Miller rounded out the top five. Sixth through tenth were Thomas Stinson, Burt Myers, Brunnhoelzl, Renee Dupuis and John Smith.

The Stafford Motor Speedway management has announced that veteran car owner Bob Garbarino will be the Grand Marshal of the upcoming Spring Sizzler. Garbarino has been an avid supporter of Modified racing at Stafford since the track was paved in 1967. His Mystic Missile has carried some of NASCAR Modified's Greatest drivers includuing Dick Watson, Ted Stack, Hop Harrington, Leo Cleary, Gene Bergin, Geoff Bodine, Tim Connelly, Satch Worley, Brian Ross, Bugsy Stevens and SJ Evonsion. In recent years Bobby Santos III and Don Lia have steered the Missile. Garbarino owns and operates the Mystic River Marina in Mystic, CT.

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, Thursday and on Friday.

Race viewing begins on Wednesday at noon when the Speed Channel replays the recent Sprint Cup event in Texas. On Thursday at noon Speed replays the recent Nationwide Series event that was run in Texas. At 2:30pm Speed presents "The Ten" followed by the NASCAR K&N (Kids and Nephews) Series at Bristol at 3:00pm.

Speed goes live at the Kansas Speedway at 1:30pm on Friday for Sprint Cup practice. Truck Series practice follows at 3:00pm. Sprint Cup final practice goes at 4:30pm. Trackside on Speed at 6:00pm wraps up the day.

Saturday's action on Speed starts at 10:30am with Truck Series qualifying at the Kansas Speedway. NASCAR Live on Speed follows at 11:30am. Sprint Cup qualifying will begin at noon on Speed. At 1:30pm the Speed Channel has the Truck Series pre-race show that will lead to the 2:00pm start of the SFP 250 at the Kansas Speedway. Rounding out the day will be NASCAR Performance at 4:30pm.

Sunday's viewing begins at 10:00am with Speed Center on Speed. NASCAR RaceDay takes over for two hours starting at 10:30am. At 12:30pm FOX goes live with their pre-race show that will lead into the 1:00pm start of the STP 400 at the Kansas Speedway.

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 Kansas follows at 9:00pm.

On the Speedway Stock Market scene last week, just about everything took a hit. All three speedway stocks were down for the week. Taking the biggest hit was the International Speedway Corporation which dropped 1.84 to 26.72. Speedway Motorsports dropped 1.62 to 16.83 and Dover Motorsports dropped 0.05 to 1.50. NASCAR Cup sponsor Sprint dropped 0.08 to 2.68 while NASCAR fuel supplier Sun Oil dropped 1.01 to 37.90 and NASCAR tire supplier Goodyear dropped 0.43 to 10.59. The car makers were also down for the week. Toyota took the biggest hit of the three as they dropped 2.44 to 81.42. General Motors dropped 1.01 to 23.80 and Ford dropped 0.55 to 11.92. In the home improvement sector Home Depot went up 0.34 to 50.96 and Lowes went up 0.34 to 31.69. The big team sponsors were also down. Dupont dropped 0.68 to 52.02 while Coca-Cola dropped 0.56 to 62.31, Target Department Stores dropped 0.29 to 57.43, Aarons Rentals dropped 1.02 to 24.91 and Fedex dropped 2.36 to 88.03.

Thatís 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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