Tuesday January 29, 2008

By Phil Smith                                                                                             

On the local front in New England at the Waterford Speedbowl it has been announced that Tom Fox has hung up his driving suit and will assume the role as Chief Technical Inspector. Fox litterly grew up at the shoreline oval as his dad, Ron, was one of the original competitors in the Super Stock division when it was started by Harvey Tattersall in the mid-1970’s. Fox knows the ins and outs of building cars and should be a good choice for the position. As far as the future of the shoreline oval is concerned PR Director Dave Dykes stated ” We're trying to assure people that the situation at Waterford is in fact, a good one, and the old girl is gonna' be alright”.

For the most part it’s pretty quiet on the auto racing front. As of this Friday, Feb 1, its only 7 days before the green flag drops at the Annual World Series at the New Smyrna Speedway in Florida. Modified entries numbered 18 as of last weekend with more coming in every day.

The Thompson Speedway officially crowned their track champions last weekend. Keith Rocco was the Sunoco Modified Champion and Mike O’Sullivan was the Pro Stock Champ. Others taking top honors in their respective divisions were Rick Gentes in the Late Models, Kurt Vigeant in the Thimoson Modifieds, Keith DeSantis in the Limited Sportsman and Mike Romano in the Mini Stocks.

The chase for the Sunoco Modified championship went right down to the wire with the top-three of Rocco, Woody Pitkat, and Tommy Cravenho all within striking distance of the title. All three teams finished in the top-five on that final night, but it was Rocco claiming the title in exciting fashion and a six-point edge. Defending champions Woody Pitkat and car owners Robert Hitchcock and Kelly Iverson came home second over Tommy Cravenho and owners Al and Cathy Moniz. Veteran campaigner Kerry Malone finished the season in fourth while underdog Paul “Buddy” Charette had a breakout season to finish fifth in the final point standings. Todd Ceravolo, Bert Marvin, Danny Cates, Harry Rheaume and the late John Blewett III ended the season-long battle in sixth through tenth positions, respectively. Cates was also honored as the Rookie-of-the-Year. After catapulting from the Limited Sportman division to the Modifieds, Cates was impressive scoring three top-five and 10 top-ten finishes. Josh Steeves was recognized with the “Most Improved Driver” Award.

After a decade of trying, Rick Gentes was once again honored as a Thompson champion. On Saturday night, Gentes was honored among his peers for a season that found him in victory lane eight times. He also had 13 top-five and 14 top-ten finishes en route to the title. Like the Modifieds, the Late Model title hunt came down to the final night with three teams still in the hunt. A third-place finish was enough for Gentes to win his first championship in 10 years.

A very special award was presented by Speedway management on Saturday night. Track employee Mario Palladini was bestowed with a well-deserved honor when he was awarded with the prestigious John Hoenig Memorial Award. The award, named in honor of the track’s founder, is presented annually to the employee who exhibits a true dedication to the Speedway. Mario possess a genuine admiration for the Hoenig family, track management, his fellow employees, and the competitors. He is truly committed to maintaining the lore that is Thompson Speedway and to improving the weekly presentation.

The speedway management has announced that the track will be open for practice, Test and Tune on March 22 and 29, both Saturdays. The season opening IceBreaker is scheduled for April 5-6 and will include all regular weekly divisions plus a 150 lap event for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Series. Thursday night Thunder will begin on May 22.

The 11th Annual New England Antique Racers (NEAR) Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony & Dinner took place this past Sunday at the LaRenaissance Banquet Hall in E. Windsor, CT. A trio of “big winners” from the 1950s and 60s, Connecticut’s George Lombardo, Rhode Island’s Fred Luchesi and Vermont’s Paul Gammell, have joined the Class of 2008. The trio, representing hundreds of victories, was selected by the NEAR Veterans Committee. They join drivers Dave Alkas, Dave Darveau, Dick Batchelder and the late Howie Brown, car owners Joe Brady and the late Mike Scrivani Sr., the multi-talented Dr. Dick Berggren and writer Pete Zanardi.

Berggren and Zanardi represent the print and electronic media. They have been and still are key players in spreading the word concerning auto racing. Berggren, a competitor in his youth turned his passion into a career. He currently edits his own magazine, Speedway Illustrated, plus is a pit reporter for telecasts of NASCAR’s top divisions. Zanardi, now retired, was a pioneer in covering weekly auto racing in the now defunct Hartford Times. Zanardi is also responsible for setting up the original Public Relations department at the Stafford Motor Speedway when the Arute family bought the track in 1970. Zanardi is also partially responsible for keeping the Waterford Speedbowl afloat when the track almost faded into extinction.

A tip of the hat to the Arute family that owns and operates the Stafford Motor Speedway as they have announced that NASCAR New England, Stafford Motor Speedway's award winning television program, will return to the New England Sports Network (NESN) for the 2008 season, marking the third consecutive year that Stafford Motor Speedway's in-house produced show will air on the biggest sports network in New England. The 2008 edition of NASCAR New England will once again showcase Stafford's SK Modified and Late Model divisions with highlight coverage of Stafford's SK Light, Limited Late Model, and DARE Stock divisions. NASCAR New England will also continue to bring you stories showcasing the weekly racers behind the scenes. The show's success on NESN has produced a huge return for the track's competitors. Team sponsors, as well as track advertising partners have received liberal on air references and increased visibility as well as exposure to the core New England market as well as a national audience.

"Stafford embarked upon our TV project during the 2001 racing season with the goal to provide our competitors a unique tool that they could use to acquire individual team sponsorships," said Mark Arute, SMS CEO/GM. "As we embark on our third season of NASCAR New England on NESN, and our eighth overall season of NASCAR New England, we have evolved NASCAR New England from public access in Connecticut to a regional network that can reach every home in the United States." Stafford's NESN coverage is the only weekly television coverage of NASCAR's Whelen All American Series in New England, offering Stafford teams and their supporters a unique marketing opportunity. ABC/ESPN reporter Jack Arute will return as the show's host with Matt Buckler lending his voice to the play-by-play duties and former Whelen Modified Tour champion Rick Fuller serving as the race analyst. NASCAR New England will once again be produced by SMS Images & Teleproductions in association with NESN.
It’s amazing that that Stafford management can make television coverage of their events a reality while NASCAR continues to say well, maybe this year, as far as TV goes for the Whelen Modifieds!

For those who crave a winter fix on racing check out the Mototown USA complex at 1001 Dayhill Road in Windsor, CT. Mototown USA has seating for 1,800 spectators and provides a place for motorcycle riders to ride in the cold and snowy winter months as well as rainy and stormy conditions in the summer. Its walls are designed to absorb noise and deaden the sound of the bikes. One of the greatest features of the building is that it is designed for motocross. This allows proper and safe ventilation of annoying and harmful exhaust. Riders will no longer leave an indoor event with burning eyes and a nasty cough. Also, climate is controlled via an extensive HVAC system. This helps keep riders, family and spectators comfortable. The motocross track has more natural terrain and is sand based. The three race tracks features an automatic watering system built into the ceiling to help keep the tracks in peak condition. With some urging from Jack Arute, Mototown USA has added CAR RACING which will include Mini Sprints, Mod Lites, X Cars, and Super X Cars. Upcoming events are scheduled for this coming Sunday, January 27 as well as on Feb 3, Feb 15, Feb 24 and March 7. For more information call 860-688-5110.

In TV land this week NASCAR Pre-season Thunder testing moves to Las Vegas . Recaps will be seen on the Speed Channel at 7:00pm from Tuesday through Wednesday. Testing then moves to Fontana , CA on Friday. Also on Friday is Round #7 of the Summer Shootout for Legends Cars, Bandoleros and Thunder Roadsters at the Lowes Motor Speedway in Concord , NC at 1:00pm . Saturdays action starts at 7:30pm with the August 6 Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series from the LaSalle Speedway in LaSalle , IL . At 8:00pm it’s the Jan 25th Grand-Am Koni Challenge Series Fresh From Florida 200 that was run at the Daytona International Speedway. Round #8 of the Lowes Summer Shootout goes on Sunday at noon . Round #9 follows at 1:00pm . The Speed Channel wraps up the weekend with The Speed Report at 7:00 . NASCAR Now on ESPN2 debuts for the 2008 season on Monday, Feb4 at 5:30pm .

On the Speedway Stock Market Scene last week an overall recovery took place. Two of the three speedway stocks had positive finishes. Dover Downs went up 0.15 to 6.51and the International Speedway Corporation went up 0.08 to 39.29. Speedway Motorsports had a negative ending as they dropped 0.16 to 29.15. Sprint/Nextel finally had a positive finish as they went up 0.68 to 9.38. Sun Oil also had a good week as they went up 0.56 to 60.24. Speaking of petroleum, gas prices along the shore in southern Rhode Island dropped to $2.99 per gallon last Friday. First time in a long time that it was below $3.00. Goodyear went up 0.68 to 24.93. DIRT Motorsports is about to begin their annual Winter Tour in Florida . They dropped 0.01 to 0.37. The home improvement sector had a banner week. Lowes went up 2.52 to 26.71 and Home Depot went up 2.25 to 28.53. The parcel carriers followed suit. Fedex went up 5.95 to 89.96 and UPS went up 2.81 to 69.97. Coca Cola went up 3.77 to 60.01 while Dupont jumped up 2.02 to 44.72. Target went up 1.50 to 51.60 while Series sponsor Nationwide went up 0.60 to 39.61. Aarons Rentals also had a strong finish as they went up 2.72 to 18.02.

That’s it for this week from 40 Clark St. 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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