Tuesday January 20, 2009

By Phil Smith                                                                                             

It will be here before you know it. As of this Friday, January 23 only 14 days remain before the start of Speedweeks in Florida. 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.

Among the early entries for the World Series at New Smyrna are Ted Christopher, JR Bertuccio, Bobby Grigas, Pete Jarvis, Jimmy Blewett, Chuck Hossfeld, Kenny Horton and Ryan Preece along with Matt Hirschman and Ronnie Silk. Preece will also be driving Florida Modified 2x which is owned by his famous grandfather, Bobby Judkins..

The Thompson International Speedway will pay tribute to its six NASCAR Whelen All American Series champions this coming weekend on Friday, 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.

The New England Auto Racers Hall of Fame Induction Banquet takes center stage this weekend on Sunday Jan. 25 at LaRenaissance Banquet Hall in East Windsor, CT.

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.

Word comes from Dale Wolbrink, the young lady who does a great job of running the Thompson Speedway press box, that the Orange County Speedway in Durham, NC will host the first annual Frostbite 250 on March 5 & 6.

Long time Super Modified stand-out Paul Richardson is one of the inductees into the New England Auto Racers Hall of Fame January 25th.

The event will be open competition for Modifieds with Modified Tour rules in effect. The event will pay $600 to start the 125 lap Modified feature. More details will be announced shortly. Wolbrink also alluded to the fact that this years North – South Shootout will be televised on FOX Sports South.

Thousands of race fans turned out last weekend for the 24th annual Motorsports Race Car & Trade Show at the Atlantic City, NJ Convention Center. The show, offered just about everything imaginable in motorsports, Close to 200 motorsports vehicles were on display and more than 300 exhibit areas offered products and services for racers, collectibles for fans, racing schedules for racers and fans.

NASCAR Sprint Cup superstars Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano and Dave Blaney were signing autographs during the weekend. NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion Johnny Benson was also there to meet fans and sign autographs along with fellow competitor David Starr. Nitro Fish Racing’s Pro Stock Motorcycle racers Matt Smith and Angie McBride visited with their many fans and NHRA Pro Stock racer Kenny Koretsky was sign autographs. NHRA Top Fuel Dragster driver Antron Brown, a former New Jersey resident, was also at the show.

Ray Evernham was at the Trenton Speedway Tribute display. The former New Jersey resident competed in the final event ever run at Trenton in an asphalt modified stock car. Former Indianapolis car great Wally Dallenbach Sr. and NASCAR Sprint Car racer James Hylton anchored a Trenton Speedway Reunion Autograph Session on Saturday.

One of the major news items to come out of Motorsports 2009 is that auto racing is returning to Rhode Island. The Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence will host a two-day indoor racing event on Friday and Saturday, March 6 and 7. The small, but powerful Three-Quarter Midget Cars will headline the program with top- named drivers from several Northeast states planning to compete. Speeds reaching 70 mph are expected to produce thrills and spills for the fans. Exciting Senior Champ Kart racing will be on the under card.

Rhode Island is credited with holding the first ever oval track race in United States history, in 1896. The smallest state which holds claim to pioneering Modified Stock Car events at the Lonsdale Arena and Kingston Fairgrounds has not had professional auto racing excitement within its boundaries for many years.

“We look forward to bringing live auto racing back to Rhode Island,” said event co-promoter Len Sammons. “The Northeast is noted for great racing, and we proud to bring this event to Providence to add to the heritage and future of the sport in the state.” Details about the program will be released in the forthcoming days. However, Sammons indicated that each night of competition will include complete shows (qualifying and main events) for both classes.

The events are expected to draw top drivers from many different racing divisions, including NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion Ted Christopher of Plainville, Conn.

Sammons, who is also the editor and publisher of Area Auto Racing News, has organized previous indoor events in Philadelphia , Pa. , and Atlantic City , N.J.

In fact, the seventh annual Gambler’s Classic at Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall was held this past Saturday in front of a near-capacity crowd. Ted Christopher opened the 2009 racing season in a big way by winning the Gambler’s Classic TQ Midget/600 cc Micro Sprint Car race at Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall on Saturday night. The defending NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion earned $5,000 for claiming his first-career indoor race at the New Jersey shore. “I’ve won a lot of things over the years, but this one surely ranks up there as one of the best,” Christopher said. “This race has so much history and it’s a hard event to win.” Christopher, 50, of Plainville, Conn. , started 14th in the 25-car starting field and topped two-time Gambler’s Classic winner Joey Payne at the finish.

With a win in his name for the month of January Christopher now has a good chance of winning a race in each of the 12 months of the year provided he can find a race to run next December.

Bristol Motor Speedway officials announced just before Christmas that the Tennessee track will add a visit by the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour to its August race week. The Modified Tour, which dates back 60 years, will run a 150-lap race at Bristol on Wednesday, Aug. 19. It will be part of an opening day double-header that also features a Camping World Truck Series race. The Bristol race will be the championship event for both the Whelen Modified and Whelen Southern Modified tours.

BMS vice president of public affairs Kevin Triplett said he believes the pairing of BMS and the Modifieds is a natural. “It’s kind of like that old commercial where you put chocolate and peanut butter together, then get that ‘wow’ effect,” Triplett said. “This news has already created a tremendous buzz within the industry from people who understand what Bristol and the Modifieds represent.”

The Modifieds are so powerful that NASCAR officials have been forced to use restrictor plates to reduce engine power on large tracks such as New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Triplett said BMS administrators have had several discussions regarding the feasibility of bringing the Modifieds to their tight oval. The series has long been popular in the Northeast and at famed Bowman-Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, N.C. Modified events also have a long history at Martinsville Speedway.

“In the four years I’ve been at Bristol, Modifieds have been in the conversation,” Triplett said. “I always enjoyed the Modified events when I worked at NASCAR, so I’m excited to have them here at Bristol.

It was announced last week that NASCAR will hold a test session at Bristol on February 24. Six teams, three from the north and three from the south are expected to try out the high banked ˝ mile oval. The average daytime highs for Bristol in February average between 45 and 50 degrees. Among those mentioned to be getting invites to participate are Todd Szegedy, Ronnie Silk and Mike Stefanik or Ted Christopher from the north and Brian Loftin, Bobby Hutchens and LW Miller from the south.

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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