Tuesday December 3, 2013

By Phil Smith                                                                                             

The 2013 racing season has wound down in the northeast. The Thanksgiving weekend Turkey Derby at the Wall Stadium Speedway in New Jersey last weekend wrapped it up. This year marked the 40th running of the Turkey Derby at the Jersey shore oval. Last Saturday dawned clear, crisp and cold. For the tour type Modified portion of the Derby there were 30 cars. All took time on the high banked oval with Matt Hirschman the fastest as he toured the one third mile oval in 11.85 seconds.

New Jersey runner Danny Bohn led the first 120 laps of the 150 lap Derby before pitting for fresh tires. Hirschman who had pitted earlier, took the lead following a lap 120 restart from Rowan Pennink. Hirschman made a determined run from there as he never looked back as he sprinted to the win, his second in a row. Doug Coby finished second with Pennink, third. Ryan Preece and Mike Bohn rounded out the top five.

Hirschman tried to sweep both modified races, but in the SK/Wall Modified 100-lap feature he had an uphill battle and fell short as he settled for second behind Anthony Sesely. Nicole Morgillo, who was the first young lady to ever win a SK Modified feature at the Waterford Speedbowl, finished 10th and Rowan Pennink, finished 16th.

The Thompson Speedway honored its 2013 track champions and celebrated its 73rd season of racing at its annual awards banquet last Friday evening in a post Thanksgiving gala. Champions in all five NASCAR Whelen All-American Series divisions took center stage as they put an exclamation point on a season defined by competitive racing in spite of a rain-plagued year. Keith Rocco of Meriden, Conn. led a contingent of drivers to earn series crowns with a championship in the coveted Sunoco Modified division.

Other champions included: Rick Gentes of Burriville, RI in the Late Models, Cam McDermott in the Lite Modified division, Steve Kenneway in the Xtra Mart Limited Sportsman division, and Monster Mini Stock Champion Eric Bourgeois.

Mini Stock driver Mike Viens of Seekonk, Mass. and Late Model driver Marc Curtis, Jr. of Worcester, Mass. were the recipients of the Chief Starter’s Award presented by Tim Bennett. The award recognizes sportsmanship displayed by drivers in the NASCAR Whelen All American Series divisions.

The Sunoco Modified division crown was decided in a highly contested battle that went right down to the last lap of the last race. Rocco, who held a mere two point lead heading into the final regular season event, finished second that night to Woody Pitkat of Stafford Springs, Conn., whose race win tied him for the championship. Rocco’s division-leading five victories served as the tie-breaker and catapulted Rocco to the head table for Friday night’s festivities to celebrate his fourth Thompson Speedway track championship. Rocco accomplished a total of nine top-five finishes throughout the season. Cassie Rocco shared in the honors as the championship car owner. Rocco’s accomplishments at Thompson and throughout the state also earned him the title of NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Connecticut State Champion and will also be honored by NASCAR in Charlotte in December.

“This championship was different because it was my first as a car owner. Without the people behind me – this team, the people who show up every Thursday – this championship wouldn’t be possible,” said Rocco. “It was a short season, but we made sure we had fun. We laughed, we joked. The people on my team are just awesome and they make this sport fun.” Rocco also said he would be returning to Thompson for another full season in 2014.

Special awards were presented to Sunoco Modified Most Improved driver, Jason Sundeen, and Rookie-of-the-Year, Paul Newcomb.
The evening concluded with the presentation of the John Hoenig Memorial Award. The award, which recognizes one individual for their hard work and dedication to the Speedway, was presented to Richard “Mouse” Morrill.

Morrill has worked for the speedway for 47 years in various capacities, but it best known for his role as leader of one of the very best track crews in the country. Thompson officials have depended on his leadership to keep them informed on track conditions. He directs accident scenes and the cleanup that follows. He has earned the respect of not only every race official at Thompson Speedway, but has received rave reviews from touring series directors for his ability to deal with on-track problems and to accurately report back to them the exact conditions that exist on the track surface.

The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Series received a shot in the arm when it was announced on the internet web site that Derek Ramstrom and Tommy Barrett Jr would be racing in the division in 2014. Both drivers are highly qualified and experienced. Ramstrom is a 3-time Super Late Model Champion at the Thompson Speedway and a seasoned veteran of the PASS North and South divisions. Now 22, Ramstrom has been racing since the age of six, getting his start in the Quarter Midgets. Barrett need no introduction as he is the runner-up to Rowan Pennink in the 2013 Valenti Modified Racing Series Championship. Like Ramstrom, Barrett got his start in the Quarter Midgets at the age of 5. Prior to racing in the Valenti Modified Racing Series Barrett ran in the SK Lites where he recorded 14 wins.

NASCAR has purchased the Iowa Speedway. NASCAR is owned by the France family that owns the majority of the International Speedway Corporation. The agreement under a wholly owned subsidiary, Iowa Speedway, LLC, is effective immediately. The facility, located 30 miles east of Des Moines in Newton, features a seven-eighths-mile asphalt paved tri-oval designed by NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace. The speedway released its 2014 schedule earlier this month, encompassing three weekends, one each in May, July and August. The schedule will include two NASCAR Nationwide Series races, a combination NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and IndyCar Series weekend, plus two additional NASCAR K&N Pro Series support races. NASCAR has no plans for Iowa Speedway to host a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race next year or in the immediate future.

Before we know it the clock will tick over to 2014 and it will time for some of the northeast Modified teams to begin preparations for Speedweeks in Florida be it at Daytona International Speedway for the second annual Battle at the Beach or at the New Smyrna Speedway for the 48th annual World Series.

New Smyrna will run every night beginning on Friday, Feb 14 through Saturday night Feb 22 with the exception of Tuesday night, Feb 18 when the speedway will shut down to avoid any conflicts with the Battle at the Beach. The Tour type Modifieds will run on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday, 2/14 thru 2/17 plus the John Blewett III 76 lap Memorial on Wednesday, Feb 19, a regular feature on Thurs, Feb 20 and the 28th annual Richie Evans 100 on Friday, June 21. The Super Late Models will close out the World Series with a 100 lapper on Saturday, February 22. Among those who have stated that they will be racing at New Smyrna are Ted Christopher, Matt Hirschman, Chris and Charlie Pasteryak and Ron Silk with more to come.

On the Speedway Stock Market Scene last week the speedway stocks were consistently inconsistent. Speedway Motorsports went up 0.43 to 20.13 and Dover Entertainment remained unchanged while the International Speedway Corporation dropped 0.04 to 34.33. NASCAR Cup sponsor Sprint went up 0.56 to 8.39, NASCAR fuel supplier Sunoco (Energy Transfer)went up 0.11 to 54.16 and NASCAR tire supplier Goodyear went up 0.51 to 22.26. In the car building industry General Motors went up 1.10 to 38.73 and Ford went up 0.07 to 17.08 while Toyota dropped 1.26 to 125.05. In the home improvement sector, Home Depot went up 1.49 to to 80.67 while Lowes dropped 0.42 to 47.48. Race team sponsors stock had a good week with a couple exceptions. Dupont dropped 0.32 to 61.38 and Aarons Rentals dropped 0.37 to 28.64 while Coca-Cola went up 1.55 to 67.90, Target Department Stores went up 0.23 to 63.93 and Fedex went up 1.63 to 138.70.

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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