Tuesday January 13, 2009

By Phil Smith                                                                                             

It will be here before you know it. As of this Friday, January 16 only 21 days remain before the start of Speedweeks in Florida and 71 days until the green drops at the Waterford Speedbowl. The New Smyrna Speedway World Series of Auto Racing begins on Friday night, Feb 6. Racing at the Daytona International Speedway begins on Feb 7 and 8. DIRT Modifieds will be running at the Volusia Speedway Park from Feb 11 through 14.

Despite all the turmoil and uncertainty the new management of the Waterford Speedbowl played host to the tracks 2008 Awards Banquet this past Saturday night, Jan 10 at the Groton Inn & Suites in Groton, CT. Speedbowl history was made when Dennis Gada was crowned the 7-time SK Modified track champion, the most championships of any single competitor in the shoreline oval’s storied history dating back to 1951. Gada had previously been tied with Phil Rondeau (Late Model) and Bob Potter (Modified/SK Modified with six championships. Other awards in the Modified division were Rookie of the year to Rich Hammann, Most Improved – Tyler Chadwick, Sportsman – Rob Janovic Jr and Pit Crew – Keith Rocco. In the Late Models Bruce Thomas Jr was crowned the division champion. Thomas also received the Pit Crew award. Rookie of the Year – Joe Curioso III, Most Improved – Vin Esposito and Sportsman – Jeff Smith. Al Stone III was crowned the Sportsman Champion while Ken Cassidy Jr received top honors in the Mini- Stocks and Shaun Buffington in the Legends. Modified driver Jay Miller, who passed away last year, was also honored with a special Race Director’s Award. His crew was in attendance to accept the award.

The new management consisting of property owner and mortgage owner Terry Eames and Shawn Monihan have announced a tentative schedule for 2009 which will begin on March 28th and 29th with the running of the Waterford Nationals. There has been no announcement of a NASCAR sanction for the shoreline oval in 2009 as yet. With all that has happened in recent years at the shoreline oval maybe the Florida based sanctioning body has decided to keep their distance. Word of yet another foreclosure plus the fact that competitors were stiffed of their winnings from the Fall Finale last year are factors that could very well determine the future of NASCAR at the track and the actual existence of the track it self. If Eames could get his price, the track that has run every year since 1951 would be gobbled up by an industrial complex or a shopping center. Eames leased the track to Jerry Robinson for the 2007 and 2008 seasons. In all fairness it was Robinson who stiffed the competitors of their winnings.

As far as foreclosure proceedings are concerned it all boils down to the fact that Eames doesn’t like to pay what he owes. Former mortgage holder Washington Mutual had planned to foreclose on the property in July of 2007. It was at that time that Rocco Arbitell bought the paper that was being held and ultimately bailed Eames out. When Eames leased the track to Robinson one of the provisions of the lease was the fact that Robinson would pay the property taxes. Robinson didn’t believe in advertising and things went from bad to worse in 2008. When Robinson didn’t pay the property taxes Eames’ agreement with Arbitell was deemed in default. The state of Connecticut will take foreclosure action against Eames on March 2. Chances are Eames has another fish on the line who will bail him out at the last minute like Arbitell did. If Eames does not find another fish, the property, which was appraised at approximately $4 million could be auctioned off for the $750,000 that is owed Arbitell. According the Hartford Courant Auto Racing Blog, when Eames gave his speech at the banquet he alluded to the fact that he does have backers and has indicated that the Bowl will remain as a speedway, forever. He also led those on hand to believe that discussions with NASCAR will happen shortly. Hopefully he was not blowing smoke!

The Thompson Speedway has released their 2009 schedule. As previously announced the track will open on April 4&5 with IceBreaker 09 which will headline the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour along with the regular Thompson divisions which include the Sunoco (SK type) Modifieds, Super Late Models, Late Models, Strictly Stocks, Mini Stocks and Thompson Modifieds. As previously rumored the speedway will stage a non-NASCAR Tour type Modified Open Competition event on Thursday, June 18. Other special events include a NASCAR Camping World East 100 lapper on Saturday, July 11, the Whelen Modifieds on Thursday, Aug 13, a yet to be indicated special event on Thursday, Aug 27 and the season ending World Series on Oct 16 to 18. The Thompson 300 weekend in September has gone away. Thompson’s Thursday Night Thunder Series begins on May 7 and will run through Sept 24.

The Thompson International Speedway will pay tribute to its six NASCAR Whelen All American Series champions in two weeks on January 23rd and Saturday, January 24th. With the number of racers who attend the awards ceremonies, it takes two evenings to honor the 2008 champions along with those race teams that finished in the top ten in track points during the year just completed.

Pro Stock champion, Fred Astle, Jr will top the list during the Friday festivities and Kerry Malone will be honored as the Sunoco Modified champ on Saturday. Winners of division titles who will also be honored on Friday will be Limited Sportsman champ, Scott Sundeen and Mini Stock title holder, Danny Field.Saturday night’s festivities will not only pay tribute to Malone, but will also feature Late Model champion, Jeff Zuidema and the winner of the Thompson Modified title, Kurt Vigeant.

In addition to the drivers and race teams that reached the top in their 2008 racing efforts, Thompson International Speedway will honor drivers and race teams that finished in the top ten in each of the six NASCAR Whelen All American Series divisions that make up the exciting Thursday Night Thompson Thunder schedule.

Chris Economaki, “The Dean of American Motorsports” will receive the Jack Ratta Memorial Media Award at the New England Auto Racers Hall of Fame Induction Banquet Sunday Jan. 25 at LaRenaissance Banquet Hall in East Windsor, CT. “Hooked” on the sport since age nine, the 88-year-old National Speed Sport News and television stalwart, has spent a lifetime in auto racing. He played a leading role in New England’s auto racing history as both a writer and track announcer in the 1940s and early 1950s. He announced at, among other places, Thompson, West Haven and West Springfield speedways.

Economaki, who has been writing since age 14, joins an impressive list of honorees including inductees John Fitch, Bob Bahre, Tom Curley, Art Barry, Rollie Lindblad, Paul Richardson, Bobby Dragon, the late Jim McConnell, the late Bert Brooks, the late Bertha Small and Harold Hanaford. The latter three are Veterans Committee selections.

The deadline for ordering tickets for the New England Auto Racers Hall of Banquet being held on Jan. 25, 2009 is this Thursday Jan. 15th.

Three drivers, two owner/builders and three from the promotional side make up the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame Class of 2009. Drivers John Fitch, Bobby Dragon and Paul Richardson, promoters Bob Bahre, Jim McConnell and Tom Curley and car owner/ builders Rollie Lindblad and Art Barry will be inducted on Jan. 25, 2009 at LaRenaissance Banquet Hall in East Windsor, CT. Tickets, $42 each, are on sale on the New England Antique Racers website

Speaking of Halls of Fame, New York Famed stock car drivers Will Cagle, Billy Rafter and Dick Hansen and highly respected promoter Dick Waterman will be the focus of the New York State Stock Car Association’s Hall of Fame induction ceremonies on this coming Saturday, January 17 and Sunday, January 18, 2009.

After being inducted at the association’s annual banquet in front of a huge crowd on hand to recognize outstanding performances at area speedways on the 17th, the four will meet the public the following morning at 11 am in the Racing in New York gallery of the Saratoga Automobile Museum. The event will be held next to the association’s permanent display, which honors well over 100 racing legends from around the Empire State.

The Saratoga Automobile Museum is located on the Avenue of the Pines in the Saratoga Spa State Park.

In TV land this week, the viewing continues to be sparse. Pre-season testing in Daytona has started anfd the Speed Channel is there to provide coverage. Viewing begins this Tuesday, Jan13 at 6:30pm with NASCAR Preseason Thunder. At 7:00pm coverage moves to Arizona for five hours of coverage of the Barrett-Jackson Automobile Auction. At noon on Wednesday Speed continues their review of NASCAR’s 60th season with a recap of events that were run last April. At 6:00pm it’s NASCAR Preseason Thunder At 7:00 its back to Arizona for another five hours of the Barrett-Jackson Automobile Auction. Thursday’s viewing begins at noon with a three hour segment NASCAR: REVIEWING THE 60TH SEASON: May. At 6:00pm it’s the day’s recap of NASCAR Preseason Thunder at Daytona Beach. The day wouldn’t be complete without another five hour televised session of the Barrett-Jackson Automobile Auction. If that’s not enough Speed provides eight hours of continuous coverage of the Barrett-Jackson Automobile Auction on Friday beginning at 2:00pm. As luck would have it, ESPN Classic will show the 1999 Pepsi 400 at 7:00pm. Saturday’s viewing on the Speed Channel begins at noon with the Quaker Steak & Lube Summer Shootout, Round #7 which includes Legend Cars, Thunder Cars, Bandoleros and CRASHCars racing at the Lowes’ Motor Speedway in Charlotte, NC. At 1:00pm it’s the Daytona Fan Fest followed at 2:00 with 10 hours coverage of the Barrett-Jackson Automobile Auction. At noon on Sunday Speed heads for the snow as they provide coverage of the recent Bodine Bobsled Challenge at noon. At 2:00pm its more of the Barrett-Jackson Automobile Auction. The Speed Channel rounds out the weekend with the Speed Report at 7:00pm. On Monday at 7:00pm Speed goes live at Daytona with Trackside At Daytona. At 7:30 Preseason Thunder coverage continues.

On the Speedway Stock Market Scene last week two of the three speedway stocks ended the week in the green. Leading the pack was Speedway Motorsports which went up 0.56 to 17.11. Dover Downs went up 0.08 to 1.56. On the down side was the International Speedway Corporation which dropped 0.42 to 29.22. NASCAR Cup sponsor Sprint went up 0.64 while Nationwide announced that their stock will no longer be traded publicly. NASCAR fuel supplier Sun Oil dropped 1.73 to 42.15 while tire supplier Goodyear went up 1.12 to 7.63. The auto builders had a positive week. Genreal Motors went up 0.38 to 4.03, Ford went up 0.17 to 2.63 and Toyota went up 0.16 to 66.53. NASCAR team sponsors had a so-so week. Dupont dropped 0.77 to 25.41 while Coca-Cola went up 0.08 to 45.55. Target Department Stores went up 0.77 to 35.40 as Aarons Rentals dropped 1.06 to 25.73. In the home improvement sector Lowes dropped 1.45 to 21.19 while Home Depot dropped 0.27 to 23.86. Last but not
least is the World Racing Group which went up 0.03 to 0.04.

Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. has announced that it completed its purchase of the shares of its publicly traded retirement savings company Nationwide Financial Services Inc. that it did not already own.
Nationwide Mutual Insurance said in August that it will buy out Nationwide Financial for about $2.4 billion. The deal turns Nationwide Financial into a private company and a subsidiary of Nationwide Mutual Insurance. The diversified insurance company bought all of the outstanding Class A shares of Nationwide Financial for $52.25 per share in cash. The deal is valued at $2.4 billion based on about 46 million Class A common shares outstanding as of Oct. 31, according to a regulatory filing. Before the acquisition, Nationwide Mutual Insurance owned all the outstanding Class B shares, or a 66.3 percent equity stake. The company also held 95.2 percent of the combined voting power of Nationwide Financial shareholders.

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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