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Tuesday January 3, 2012
 

By Phil Smith                                                                                             

While some race fans are settling into the New Year almost all are looking foreword to 2012 when racing begins again. As of this Friday, Jan 6, six weeks remain before the start of the annual World Series at New Smyrna and Speedweek at the Daytona International Speedway. Racing at New Smyrna begins on Friday night, Feb 17 and the 34th annual season-opening Sprint Cup Shootout event launches Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday, Feb. 18. Speedweek is actually one week later than usual this year.

The 15th annual New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame Induction Banquet takes place on Sunday Jan. 29 at the LaRenaissance Banquet Hall in East Windsor, CT.

Traditionally a sold-out affair, more information on this year’s event including details on ticket purchase, can be found at www.near1.com.

Driver Reggie Ruggiero and car owner Mario Fiore, at one time a powerful force on the modified scene, head up the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame class of 2012. Drivers Joey Kourafas, car owner/mechanic Jim Jorgensen and track owner Irene Venditti are also members of the class. A trio of modified racing pioneers, Moe Gherzi, Jerry Humiston and Roland Lapierre, Sr. are the 2012 Veterans Committee inductees.

Starting at the now closed Plainville Stadium, Ruggiero went on to score well over 200 feature wins, including 44 on the Modified Tour and a record 93 at Riverside Park . Between The Park, Stafford , New Smyrna and Monadnock Speedways he claimed 10 championships. In addition to Fiore, “The Reg” drove for the likes of Mike Greci, Ed Cloce, Bill Pelley and Tony Moffo compiling a resume that included a Race of Champions triumph and wins at some 20 different tracks including New Hampshire International, Martinsville and Oswego Speedways.

The 2000 NASCAR Modified crown with Jerry Marquis aboard tops Fiore’s statistics. The list of drivers, in addition to Ruggiero, includes Gary Coultiri, Greg Sacks, Rick Fuller, Mike Stefanik, Mike Ewantitsko and Doug Heveron and among the 200 plus victories are two Race of Champions, two Spring Sizzlers, and a Thompson 300. In addition to wins at Oswego , and NHIS, the Riverside Park product claimed nine track titles.
 
Tabbed “The Kid” after winning the prestigious Oxford 250 at age 21, Bay Stater, Kourafas went on to an outstanding career. Coming out of Norwood Arena, he became a NASCAR North stalwart with championships at Airborne and Thunder Road Speedways. The 1974 NASCAR Late Model Sportsman North championship and the 1987 Busch Grand National title and some 50 victories up and down the Atlantic Coast top his list of accomplishments.

Irene Venditti, one of New England ’s grand ladies, joins her late husband D. Anthony in the Hall. “Mrs. V” was, in fact, at her late husband’s side since the track beginning in 1946, handling duties like publicity and handicapping in the pre-computer days. Laboring in the interests of the “cement place” into the mid 1990s, she has an incredible rapport with generations of competitors.

A near-miss at the Indianapolis 500 in 1969 capped Jorgensen’s career. “Jorgy” took an impressive list of achievements to the Indy car circuit including success with the Flying Zero Modified at Riverside Park in the late 1950s and early 1960s with drivers Buddy Krebs and Gene Bergin. He moved on to the URC sprints winning with driver Bill Brown before teaming with Buzz Harvey to form the Bulldog Stables in 1968. The team was first alternate at Indy in 1969.

The colorful Gherzi was one of Southern New England ’s first racing stars. Driving for a number of owners including the Sgambato and Garuti families, Gherzi, who started in the Midgets, built an impressive stock car resume in the formative years at Plainville Stadium, Riverside Park and the Waterford Speedbowl. Following his 25-plus years in the cockpit, Gherzi was racing director at the Plainville Stadium.

Jerry Humiston was one of the United Stock Car Club’s brightest stars for over two decades driving both Modifieds and Grand American cars. While the Bay State native is usually associated with Riverside Park (three championships, two 500 wins), his prowess stretched throughout the northeast with wins as far away as Utica-Rome Speedway.

The popular Roland Lapierre is associated with the number 134 which he picked up when he was the 134th car in line at Lonsdale Arena during the late 1940s. “Pappy” scored his first victory at Lonsdale in 1950 and his last at Norwood Arena in 1969, four years before he retired. In between the Rhode Island native raced at over 25 venues finding success at now legendary ovals like Keene , NH , the Medford Bowl, and Westboro, West Peabody and Seekonk Speedways.
 
Since 1998, NEAR has inducted over 100 individuals into the New England Auto Racers Hall Of Fame, which is administered by the New England Antique Racers. Some very notable inductees include Richie Evans, Ron Bouchard, Bugs Stevens, Rene Charland, Pete Hamilton, Fred DeSarro, Ed Flemke, Sr. and Billy Greco.

As winter sets in, nearly all of the 2012 auto racing schedules have been finalized, bringing the Star Speedway SBM 125 tour-type Modified Open to a scheduled date of June 16. Because of cooperation from both the Monadnock and Thompson Speedway's, those scheduling conflicts of last season are gone, bringing the promise for a larger field of cars, and a payout that could exceed the $33,675 purse that was available to race teams in 2011. Among those expected are Todd Szegedy, Mike Stefanik and Richard Savary along with Todd Patnode and Kirk Alexander.

In TV land, viewing begins on Thursday at 3:00am on the Speed Channel with a rebroadcast of last summer’s Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge at Watkins Glen. Speed replays the Kansas Speedway NASCAR Sprint Cup event at noon. On Friday evening beginning at 8:00pm Speed replays Hall of Fame Biography’s of Darrell Waltrip and Richie Evans. Both programs will be repeated at 10:00pm. Coverage of winter testing from Daytona will begin on Thursday, Jan 12. That's all there is!

On the Speedway Stock Market scene last week all three speedway stocks ended the week on a positive note. Leading the pack was Speedway Motorsports which went up 1.40 to 15.33. The International Speedway Corporation went up 0.16 to 25.35 and Dover Motorsports went up 0.03 to 1.04. NASCAR Cup sponsor Sprint went up 0.03 to 2.34 and NASCAR fuel supplier Sun Oil went up 0.29 to 41.02 while NASCAR tire supplier Goodyear went down 0.15 to 14.77. Two of the three traded car dealers were down for the week. Toyota went up 1.18 to 66.13 while Ford dropped 0.19 to 10.76 and General Motors dropped 0.23 to 20.27. In the home improvement sector, Home Depot dropped 0.05 to 42.04 while Lowes went up 0.11 to 25.38. The team sponsor stocks, with the exception of Coca-Cola, which went up 1.70 to 58.55, were down. Dupont dropped 0.39 to 45.78 while Target Department Stores dropped 0.48 to 51.22, Aarons Rentals dropped 0.46 to 26.68 and Fedex dropped 1.41 to 83.51.

That’s it for this week from 11 Gardner Drive, Westerly RI 02891. Ring my chimes at 401-596-5467. E-Mail is smithpe_97_97@yahoo.com


Phil Smith has been a columnist for Speedway Scene and other publications for over 3 decades.

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