Tuesday July 5, 2011

By Phil Smith                                                                                             

The Whelen Modified Tour made its second visit of the season to the Thompson Speedway last Thursday. Despite the fact that there were only 27 Modifieds on hand, 20 of them were potential winners. In New Jersey they refer to Jimmy Blewett as "Show Time". In New England that moniker belongs to Ted Christopher. Christopher put on a display of hard charging - belly to the ground racing as he scored a convincing win in the Budweiser ‘King of Beers’ 150 at the high banked, northeastern Connecticut oval. After setting fast time for the pole position Christopher was sent to the rear of the field at the start of the race after missing the driver’s meeting, and then had to come through the field again after getting involved in a spin on Lap 66, but it didn’t stop the Plainville, Conn., driver from picking up his fourth-consecutive NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour win at Thompson. Christopher pitted for a second time on Lap 121 and knifed through the field after restarting outside the top 10. He made the decisive pass of Ron Silk on Lap 142 and survived a four-lap sprint to the finish after the final caution flag was given to the field on Lap 143.

The victory was the 40th in Christopher’s Whelen Modified Tour career and 13th at Thompson. He has won seven of the last nine races at the .625-mile oval. Silk held on for second and point leader Rowan Pennink enjoyed another consistent run with a third-place finish. Bobby Santos and Eric Berndt completed the top five. Todd Szegedy, Doug Coby, Eric Beers, James Civali and Eric Goodale rounded out the top 10.

Rowan Pennink inherited the pole position for the start and after taking the lead at the initial start led the opening 56 laps before giving way to Doug Coby. Bryon Chew became the first casualty when his engine expired on lap 29. Matt Hirschman was having a less than impressive run in the early going as he became a lapped car on lap 50. Hirschman rebounded to finish 12th after a pit stop for adjustments and receiving the Lucky Dog award which put him back on the lead lap. The first caution of the night flew for Mike Stefanik who stopped on the racing surface after his engine sputtered and quit. It was later determined that the fuel pump on his engine had malfunctioned and quit. Stefanik ended up 26th. Under caution, Pennink pitted along with Bobby Santos, Todd Szegedy and Ron Silk. Coby, who chose not to pit, inherited the lead with Justin Bonsignore hot on his tail. Shortly after the green came out on lap 62, Santos came alive as he moved into the second spot.

The second caution flew on lap 66 when three cars including that of Christopher made contact in turn three. Coby led the restart on lap 71. Pennink, who had made his way to fourth, moved into the second spot on lap 72 as Santos began to fade. Shortly after completing lap 75 Pennink shot by Coby as they entered turn three. Bonsignore, who had been running in the top five, dropped out on lap 83 when his battery shorted out and killed his engine. Bonsignore ended up 24th in the final run-down. The third caution flew on lap 118 for Wade Cole who spun in turn two. Meanwhile, a determined Christopher had worked his way back into the top ten. Shortly after the field restarted on lap 124 Ronnie Silk took the lead in turn two. Christopher had now broken into the top five. On lap 133 Christopher passed Santos for third only to see the field slow again for a spin by Richie Pallai. One lap after the lap 139 restart Christopher shot from third to second and after completing lap 141 took the lead from Silk in turn four. A minor spin on lap 142 and a restart on lap146 did not hinder Christopher's efforts as he sprinted home the winner.

It was simply a fantastic race, especially the last half. The checkered flag dropped at 10:02pm.

In regular weekly action at Thompson, Keith Rocco waged a heated battle with Ryan Preece to score a victory in the Sunoco Modifieds. Mike O’Sullivan was victorious in the Super Model division. His triumph was matched by his brother Tommy O’Sullivan who scored his second straight Late Model feature win. Chris Douton earned the victory in a rough-and-tumble Limited Sportsman feature. Glenn Boss wired the field to score his first TIS Modified feature win of the season. Danny Field continues to make history at Thompson International Speedway with his sixth consecutive victory in the Mini Stocks.

The Sunoco Modified field which drew a season high 14 cars saw Rocco take down a hotly contested event to score his third win of the season at Thompson. Todd Ceravolo and Ryan Preece went wheel-to-wheel to kick-off the Sunoco Modified feature. Preece rocketed into the lead. Keith Rocco was able to motor by Ceravolo and into second. Ceravolo ran third followed by Rick Fuller and Woody Pitkat.

It only took a single lap for Rocco to catch Preece. Rocco ran Preece up the wall in turn four to muscle the lead away. On the same lap, Pitkat was able to grab the fourth spot from Fuller. A caution for debris set up a restart with Rocco grabbing the lead once again. Preece was getting alongside Rocco on the backstretch. He moved around Rocco for the lead coming out of turn four. Rocco remained glued to his back bumper with Ceravolo in third. Pitkat caught Ceravolo on lap nine. Exiting turn four on lap nine, the lead swapped once again. Rocco could not get away from Preece. The two ran nose-to-tail. Pitkat edged out Ceravolo for third. On lap 10, the caution flew when John Catania encountered problems. Cates came to pit road for service to his mount under the caution.

Following a lap 11 restart, Preece got a great run on the outside of Rocco exiting turn four to take the lead. Pitkat came along for the ride; moving Rocco back to third. Rocco chased for a pair of laps before taking the second position away from Pitkat. At halfway, Preece enjoyed a five-car-length advantage over Preece. Rocco had a similar advantage over Pitkat. Ceravolo, Fuller, and Ricky Shawn ran in a tight pack at the end of the top five. Under race conditions, Rocco had erased the advantage that Preece had previously enjoyed. Rocco once again began his assault on Preece. A bobble by Ceravolo opened the door for Fuller. With five laps remaining, Rocco pushed Preece by the start/finish line. Rocco slid below Preece exiting turn four on lap 27 to retake the lead once again. Preece stayed right with Rocco over the final laps. With two to go, Preece got inside Rocco to no avail. Over the final lap, Rocco edged ahead and cruised under the checkers a car length over Preece. Pitkat ran alone to finish the race in third. Fuller and Ceravolo completed the top five.

The Stafford Motor Speedway started the week off on Tuesday night with the 8th annual CARQUEST Extreme Tuesday program. Chris Perley won the 50-lap ISMA Supermodified feature, Russ Stoehr won the 30-lap NEMA Midget feature event, and Norm Wrenn made it four wins in a row at Stafford by taking the 25-lap Pro-4 Modified feature event. In the CARQUEST Champions For Charities event, Keith Rocco took the checkered flag but the real winner was charity as the 14 champion drivers raised over $40,000 for their selected charities.

In the Supermodified feature, Perley made the pass for the lead on lap-43 and he led the remaining 7 laps as early leader Ted Christopher began to fall back from Perley. Johnny Benson came home in third behind Perley and Christopher, with Timmy Jedrzejek, and Russ Wood making up the top-5.

In regular Friday night action at Stafford Keith Rocco carried his winning ways over. Rocco was the big winner of the night as he doubled up by winning both the 40-lap SK Modified® feature event and the 30-lap Late Model feature, Joey Cipriano took his third feature win of the season in the 20-lap SK Light Modified feature, Cory Casagrande was the winner of the 20-lap Limited Late Model feature, and Cory's brother Kyle Casagrande nailed down his third win of the season in the 15-lap DARE Stock feature.

In action at the Waterford Speedbowl, the shoreline oval presented the 300 mid-season championship event Saturday evening. In all, six divisions were on hand with five competing in extra-distance length races. Scoring NASCAR Whelen All-American Series victories were Keith Rocco, who claimed his second consecutive and sixth overall win in the SK Modified® division on the year. Ray Parent Jr. won the Bob Valenti Auto Mall Late Model feature, Ed Puleo took the Street Stocks and Ken Cassidy Jr. was the winner in the Mini Stock feature. Dana Dimatteo was the benefactor of a last-lap tangle in the Legends Cars race, vaulting him to the checkered flag. Twelve-year old Ken Morin Jr. rounded out the winners on the night, taking down the Bandolero feature win.
For Rocco, the 100 lap win capped off a perfect weekend as his stats showed three for three in open wheel Modified competition. The defending NASCAR National Champion had also won the Late Model event at Stafford on Friday night.

The SK Modified field was led to the green flag for its 100-lap event by veteran Tucker Reynolds Jr. The first two laps saw Reynolds battle Tom Abele Jr. when Kyle James slipped from third position into the infield off turn four, eventually coming to rest at the apron of the track in turn two to draw the caution flag. Reynolds held the lead for the restart. Tyler Chadwick moved by Abele on the restart, bringing Jeff Pearl with him. Behind Pearl, Rocco raced to the inside of Rob Janovic Jr. for fourth position. Chadwick and Pearl cleared the traffic to make it a three-car breakaway. Abele ducked in line behind Pearl and ahead of Janovic to make up the early top-five in the race. Janovic raced around the outside of Abele to take fourth position on lap-13. Rocco moved past Abele’s outside on lap-19, then watched as Janovic used the inside lane to get past Pearl on lap-23. Rocco duplicated the move on lap-25, dropping Pearl to fifth. Caution came out again on lap-30 when Brent Sweet and Wendell Dailey spun in turn two.

The caution period proved as Chadwick’s opportunity to pull alongside Reynolds, and when racing returned he used that as his chance to pull into the race lead. Rocco was outside Janovic for third, making the pass then immediately looking to race outside Reynolds who slammed the door out of turn two. Rocco made the move outside Reynolds again, with success on lap-35. Rocco moved to Chadwick’s bumper, finally diving underneath the leader in turn three on lap-42. Chadwick fought off the challenge to stay in the lead until caution came out on lap-48 for Diego Monahan who stopped on the track in turn one.

Rocco used the restart to finally move around Chadwick for good on lap-51. He withstood a final restart on lap-56, but got a great jump over Chadwick to regain his lead. The proved to be the race’s final restart and the final 44 laps were ticked off in rapid fire. Over that stretch Ted Christopher was on the move, climbing his way into the top-five on lap-70 when he got around Pearl.

Chadwick could not catch Rocco out front however, and the lead began to stretch out as the race hit its final 15 circuits. Rocco would go on to win by nearly 3.5 seconds over Chadwick. Janovic finished in third ahead of Reynolds, who hung to fourth position over Christopher. With his win, Rocco tightened the points race with Pearl.

The Valenti Modified Racing Series was at the Monadnock Speedway in Winchester, NH for a 100 lapper on Saturday night. Jon McKennedy scored his first ever win at the fast quarter mile oval. McKennedy, who started seventh broke the strangle hold that Kirk Alexander had previously held as he won the previous four races at the place they call "Mad Dog". McKennedy took the lead from Alexander on lap 65 and never looked back. Alexander finished second and was followed by Les Hinckley, Rowan Pennink and Rob Goodenough. Sixth through tenth were Dwight Jarvis, Mike Holdridge, Jim Boniface, Chris Pasteryak and Max Zachem.

The race, slowed by three caution flags, was completed in 40 minutes. There were 23 race teams entered in the event, 17 cars were running at the conclusion, 14 on the lead lap.

In the Southland at the Caraway Speedway in Asheboro, NC, L.W. Miller capped off a dominating run Friday night with a furious finish to claim the Whelen Southern Modified Tour Firecracker 150 presented by Budweiser. Miller held off George Brunnhoelzl III on two green-white-checkered finish attempts before claiming his first NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified win since August 10, 2010.

Andy Seuss finished third. John Smith and Burt Myers were fourth and fifth, respectively.

The Bowman-Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, NC was silent and will resume racing this week.

At the Riverhead Raceway on Long Island, Shawn Solomito was the Modified winner.

In TV land NASCAR Race Hub will air on the Speed Channel at 7:00pm on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. NASCAR Now on espn2 airs at 6:00pm on Tuesday and at 6:30pm on Wednesday. This weeks race viewing begins on Wednesday at noon when the Speed Channel replays last Saturday night's NASCAR Sprint Cup Coke Zero 400 that was held at the Daytona Intl. Speedway. At 6:00pm Speed will show the June 25 NASCAR K&N Pro Series West, Thunder Valley Casino Resort 200 that was run at the Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, CA. On Thursday at noon Speed replays last Friday night's NASCAR Nationwide Series Subway Jalapeño 250 that was held at the Daytona Intl. Speedway. At 3:00pm Speed replays the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup Lenox Industrial Tools 301 that was run at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Speed goes live at 6:00pm at the Kentucky Speedway with NASCAR Camping World Truck Series qualifying. At 7:30 Speed has the pre-race show that will lead in to the 8:00pm start of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series UNOH 225 at the Kentucky Speedway. Friday's viewing starts at 11:00am on Speed with NASCAR Live at Kentucky Speedway. NASCAR Sprint Cup practice at the Kentucky Speedway follows at 11:30am. NASCAR Live follows at 12:30pm. At 1:30pm the final practice for the Sprint Cup cars begins. Anothe NASCAR Live follows at 3:00pm. At 3:30 Speed covers the Nationwide Series as they qualify at the Kentucky Speedway. Sprint Cup qualifying at Kentucky follows at 5:00pm. The action moves to ESPN at 7:00pm with the Nationwide Series pre-race show that will lead to the 7:30pm start of the NASCAR Nationwide Series Feed The Children 300 at the Kentucky Speedway. Trackside on Speed at 11:00pm wraps up the day. Saturday's viewing gets the green at 11:00am with Trackside at Kentucky Speedway. NASCAR Now on espn2 goes at noon. At 1:00pm Speed shows the June 24 World of Outlaws late models, Firecracker 100 that was run at the Lernerville Speedway in Sarver, PA. At 3:00pmthe Speed Channel has a special dedicated to Darrell Waltrip: Hometown Hero, The Legend of Darrell Waltrip. Speed Center follows at 4:00pm. At 4:30 NASCAR Raceday previews the upcoming Sprint Cup event at Kentucky. At 6:30 the action shifts to TNT for the pre race show that leads into the 7:30pm start of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Quaker State 400 at the Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, KY. On Sunday, Speed Center at 7:00pm and NASCAR Victory Lane at 8:00pm sum up the day's racing. At 9:00pm Wind Tunnel with Dave Despain closes out the weekend.

On the Speedway Stock Market scene last week two of the three speedway stocks entered the holiday weekend on a positive note. Speedway Motorsports went up 0.68 to 14.52 while the International Speedway Corporation went up 3.41 to 30.24. ISC shares climbed 6.4% after brokerage house Raymond James upgraded the promoter of motor-sports events to outperform from underperform. Dover Motorsports dropped 0.08 to 1.84. NASCAR Cup sponsor Sprint went up 0.43 to 5.43 while fuel supplier Sun Oil vaulted 3.08 to 42.23. No wonder John Holland is smiling these days! NASCAR tire supplier Goodyear went up 1.41 to 17.29. The car makers were all positive. Toyota went up 2.16 to 83.45 while Ford went up 0.78 to 14.02 and General Motors went up 0.66 to 30.58. In the home improvement sector Home Depot went up 1.65 to 36.73 while Lowes went up 0.57 to 23.82. With the exception of Coca-Cola which dropped 0.51 to 67.33 the major team sponsors had a good week. Dupont went up 2.51 to 54.47 while Target Department Stores went up 1.60 to 47.93, Aarons Rentals went up 1.81 to 28.81 and Fedex went up 4.65 to 96.52.

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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