Tuesday June 9, 2009

By Phil Smith                                                                                             

The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, after the completion of the first three, of 14 events, has gone back on “Spring Break” until June 27 when the ground pounders travel to Loudon, NH. Evidently NASCAR has chosen to ignore competitor’s requests for a “Town Hall” type of meeting where they can air their concerns and complaints.

Defending WMT Champion Ted Christopher had himself a busy schedule last weekend. Starting off at Thompson on Thursday night where he finished sixth, he had planned on running at Stafford until the rain prevailed. To round out the weekend Christopher traveled to the Franklin County Speedway, which is located in the Moonshine Capitol of the world, Callaway, VA. The Virginia event, which drew only 14 cars, was won by Brian King. Burt Myers was second with Danny Bohn, third. Christopher and Ron Silk drove team cars for Roger Hill’s Hillbilly Racing and finished eighth and ninth respectively. Christopher will head south again this weekend for a 100 lapper at the Bowman Grey Stadium in Winston-Salem, NC.

Preston Connecticut car owner Art Barry, now 70, says he plans on bringing a car to Loudon for the June 27 WMT event. No driver has been mentioned as yet.

The Bristol Motor Speedway hosted another Modified Test session this past Monday, June 8th. The rain date for the test was on Tuesday, June 9th. Details next week.

In Thursday Night Thunder action at the Thompson Speedway Danny Cates of Chaplin, CT, was the big winner as he scored his first-ever Sunoco Modified feature event win. Derek Ramstrom of was tops in the Super Late Models while Rick Gentes celebrated his birthday with a Late Model victory. Leo Oliveira earned the TIS Modified feature win in a photo-finish. Leadfoot Larry Barnett of Ledyard, CT, took down the Limited Sportsman feature win on Thompson Night at the races. Tim Taylor made it two straight in Mini Stocks.

Cates took advantage when a situation erupted between Keith Rocco and Todd Ceravolo when they were fighting for the lead in the closing moments and ultimately crashed. Both drivers escaped unhurt but their cars sustained thousands of dollars in damages. Setting the stage for the confrontation, Ceravolo took the lead from Kerry Malone on a lap 18 restart. By lap 22 Rocco had moved into second spot. On lap 25 of the 30 lap contest Rocco drilled into the side of Ceravolo’s car, almost pushing him into the concrete wall between turns one and two. Ceravolo lost a couple of spots as he managed to regain control of his family owned mount. By lap 27 Ceravolo had worked his way back into second spot. As the pair entered the third turn Ceravolo dove in low. Rocco attempted to block and the two made contact with the end result showing Rocco taking a hard shot into the wall along with Ceravolo.

In the beginning, Kerry Malone drove by pole-sitter Ted Christopher to lead lap one. Josh Sylvester ran in third ahead of Woody Pitkat and Ceravolo. The cars got strung out immediately throughout the pack. The first car to step out of line was Pitkat looking for position on Sylvester. Keith Rocco was a bit more successful taking the ninth position from Jimmy Blewett. Ceravolo was making his way toward the front taking the fourth spot from Pitkat. A lap later, he took the third spot from Sylvester. Rocco was mired behind a double-file battle between Bert Marvin and Cates.

On lap 10, Marvin was able to free himself of Cates. Rocco followed through. Up front, Malone had worked his way out to a half straightaway advantage over a brewing battle between Christopher and Ceravolo.

Ceravolo was able to take over the second position on lap 14. Rocco made a bonsai move exiting turn three to shove Marvin out of the groove. Rocco gained the edge and the position. He made quick work of Sylvester making his first appearance in the top five. Jimmy Blewett was off the pace with a faulty ignition on lap 18, coming to a stop in turn one, to bring out the event’s first caution. On the restart, Pitkat got out of shape nearly making contact with the backstretch wall. He fell back as far as ninth. Rocco got a run on Christopher to take over the third position. A spin by Blewett brought out another caution on lap 22.

On the restart, Ceravolo got the jump leaving Malone to defend his position against Rocco and Cates. Contact between Pitkat and Christopher on lap 23 resulted in a melee on the front stretch. Cars also involved included Malone, who had slipped back to fourth, Sylvester, Marvin, Dave LaCroix, Ricky Shawn, John Catania, Brett LeBlanc, and Carl Oberg.

Rocco was able to muscle the lead away from Ceravolo on the restart. Cates moved into the second position following Rocco. Ceravolo gathered it back in to make a run at Rocco. The two made contact on several occasions. The final blow resulted in the two making hard contact with the outside wall in turn four. Cates emerged to take the caution as the new leader. On the restart, Danny Cates could taste his first career victory rocketing to the lead. He sailed under the checkers to take down the coveted win.Despite an eventful night for both Pitkat and Blewett, they were able to come home second and third respectively. Malone also salvaged a good finish in fourth ahead of Rowan Pennink.

The racing at Thompson so far has been nothing short of being exciting and spectacular!

The Stafford Motor Speedway fell victim to rain for the second week in a row. The Coors Lite 100 will get the green this coming Friday night.

The Waterford Speedbowl managed to get their racing program in the record books despite the threatening coastal fog that was creeping in. Jeffrey Paul earned his first 2009 win by passing pole-sitter Don Fowler with 9 laps to go on a restart in the SK Modified main event. Paul survived some incredibly rough driving by Don Fowler. Fowler has a reputation of being a blocker. Rob Janovic, Keith Rocco, Tom Abele and Tyler Chadwick completed the top 5. Other wins on Saturday night went to Vin Esposito in the 30-lap Bob Valenti Auto Mall Late-Model Stock Car feature; Ed Puleo in the 20-lap Street Stock feature, and to Jay Palmer in the 20-lap Legends Cars feature.

After winning his heat race, in a new car, young driving sensation Flyin Ryan Morgan started the 20 lap feature event in sixth position. On lap four, Ryan took the lead and looked like he was in a position to win his second feature event of the season until Jason Palmer, the winner of all feature events he completed this season, made a pass for the lead with five to go. Ryan's car developed a push near the end of the race and crossed the finish line a close second, not what the team wanted, but not bad for being the first time on the track with a new race car.

The RVM race team is scheduled to compete the next two Saturday nights, 6-13 and 6-20 at the Speedbowl.

The True Value Modified Series traveled to the Twin State Speedway in Claremont, NH. for the running of the “Granite State Harley- Davidson 100.” Jon McKennedy became the fourth different winner in four races, winning the True Value Modified Racing Series sanctioned event. It was McKennedy’s first win this season and his third career TVMRS victory. Rowan Pennink, from his pole starting position, took the lead at the drop of the green flag and held it until lap 19 when three-time series champion Kirk Alexander snuck by. Pennink regained the lead three laps later, lost it to defending champion Chris Pasteryak, regained it again on lap 27, before turning it over to Alexander on lap 29, at which point the series all time winning driver took control until the mid-way mark.

Dwight Jarvis, who started 24th on the field, worked his way to the front to contest for the lead. Jarvis and Alexander tossed the lead back and forth between laps 51 and 70. McKennedy, who started third in the lineup, faded to fifth in the early going and then methodically made his way to the front by mid-race. The part time ISMA supermodified driver moved to fourth on lap 46, third on lap 53, and then the lead as he passed both Jarvis and Alexander on lap 71. Jarvis took the lead back for one circuit on lap 87 only to turn it over to the race winner a lap later.

Jarvis finished a strong second, Alexander third, Eddie Dachenhausen, fourth, and Steve Masse, fifth. Pasteryak, Les Hinckley, Ron Goodenough, Sean Bodreau, and Mike Holdridge, rounded out the top ten. 18 of the original 24 starters finished the event. Nine caution flags for minor spins slowed the race that took 52 minutes 59 seconds to complete. The top 15 drivers finished on the lead lap. 26 teams entered the event.

The next event for New England’s premier modified touring series is Saturday night, June 13, at Seekonk, MA., followed by a special Thursday night appearance at the Thompson, CT Speedway, June 18.

The True Value Modified Series is heading for the Thompson Speedway. The True Value Modified Series will invade the Thompson International Speedway on Thursday, June 18th for the Town Fair Tire 75-lap race. This much anticipated event has fans talking about the excitement that the True Value Modified Series generates at every stop on its schedule.

In its sixth year, the True Value Modified Series has skyrocketed in popularity by presenting an excellent race event with young, aggressive talent mixed with many of the regions top-rated veteran talents. Every event is filled with exciting racing action and each of the drivers has the opportunity to shine when they get turned loose on the big 5/8ths mile oval at Thompson.

Lou Modestino reported that Sunday’s fourth annual Norwood Arena Reunion saw a huge gathering of the competitors, officials and fans who frequented the famed Massachusetts quarter-mile oval every Saturday night during the spring, summer and fall. The event was held again at Bezema Buick, Pontiac, GMC on the Auto Mile located on Route 1 in Norwood. Norwood ran its last event in 1972. Among those on hand were Bill Slater, John Grady, Val LeSeur, Lew Boyd, Bruce Cohen, Bugsy Stevens, Leo Cleary and Deke Astle.

Marvin Rifchin, owner of the former M&H Tire Company in Watertown, MA, passed away on Tuesday, June 2, at the age of 94. Rifchin started in racing after WWII as the owner of midgets. Later on he got involved in stock cars. His cars raced at many area tracks, including Thompson and Waterford. He won championships at Seekonk and Stafford. The last raced car he owned was the #7 pinto bodied modified, driven by Ron Bouchard in the years before Bouchard moved south to become the 1981 Winston Cup Rookie of the Year. M&H shod Modifieds, Supermodifieds and Midgets won just about everywhere. During the 1970's, he was at the top of his game as was Dick Dunn, driving Al & Peg Gaudreau's #3 to four straight Modified titles at the Waterford Speedbowl. Rifchin took on Firestone and Goodyear, beating them both. Rifchin was also a man of his own convictions. When the New England Drivers and Owners Club attempted to institute a track tire at Stafford, Seekonk and Thompson Rifchin felt that he was being put out of business and filed an anti-trust suit against the club and the tracks as well as Hoosier Tire. He eventually lost the suit in the appeal process. Following his defeat he focused on the Midgets where he spent most of his time until his passing. Rifchin was a tough businessman but he was also a friend to many racers as he helped thousands with tires and money in order to keep them racing. RIP!

In other sad news, Frank E. Anyzeski, of Ashaway, RI the beloved husband of Ann (Palmer) Anyzeski for 46 years, died on Friday, June 5, 2009 at R.I. Hospital in Providence, at the age of 67. Frank, also known as Frankie Edwards, was a former All American Six Cylinder Champion at the Stafford Motor Speedway. He was the half brother of the late Leo “Ace” Hill of North Stonington, CT.

In TV land this week, NASCAR Now on espn2 will be seen at 5:00pm on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and at 6:00pm on Friday. This weeks viewing on the Speed Channel begins on Tuesday at 4:30pm with the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series, SuperClean Diamond Nationals that was run at the Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland, MO on May 9. Wednesdays viewing on Speed begins at noon with a replay of last weeks NASCAR Sprint Cup Pocono 500 that was run at the Pocono Raceway. At 4:30 it’s the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series again, this time it’s the Talladega Short Track Nationals that were run at Talladega, AL on June 14. Thursday’s action on Speed gets the green at noon with the 2006 3M Performance 400 that was run at the Michigan Intl. Speedway. At 3:00pm it’s the June 6th NASCAR Camping World Touring Series East Tioga Downs Casino 125 that was run at Watkins Glen International in New York. Speed goes live at 11:30am on Friday at the Michigan International Speedway for Sprint Cup practice. NASCAR Live fills a break in the action at 1:00 followed by 90 minutes of practice for the NASCAR Trucks. Sprint Cup qualifying at MIS gets the green at 3:00. The ARCA RE/MAX Series Racing for Wildlife 200 at Michigan Intl follows at 5:00pm. The action switches to espn2 at 6:30pm for Nationwide Series final practice at the Kentucky Speedway. Trackside (NASCAR) at the Michigan International Speedway rounds out the day on the Speed Channel at 8:00pm. Saturday’s action starts at noon with 90 minutes of Sprint Cup practice on the Speed Channel. At 1:30 Speed has the pre-race show for a 2;20 pm start of the Camping World Truck Series Michigan 200. At 5:00 its back to espn2 for Nationwide Series qualifying followed by the NASCAR Nationwide Series Meijer 300 at the Kentucky Speedway at 8:45. This event will be repeated at 12:30am on Sunday morning. NASCAR Now on espn2starts Sunday off at 9:00am. At 10:30 the action moves to the Speed Channel for two hours of NASCAR RaceDay. At 12:30 the action moves to TNT for 90 minutes of pre-race talk, which leads up to, a 2:00pm start of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Lifelock 400 at the Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn MI. The Speed Channel wraps up the weekend with The Speed Report at 7:00pm, NASCAR Victory Lane at 8:00pm and Wind Tunnel with Dave Despain at 9:00pm.

On the Speedway Stock Market Scene last week all three speedway stocks ended the week with positive results. Leading the way was the International Speedway Corporation which went up 1.53 to 26.32. Speedway Motorsports went up 0.44 to 15.74 and Dover Downs went up 0.03 to 1.60. NASCAR Cup sponsor Sprint dropped 0.04 to 5.11 while NASCAR fuel supplier Sun Oil dropped 2.25 to 28.18. Tire supplier Goodyear went up 1.49 to 12.94. Car Maker General Motors was removed from trading when they moved into bankruptcy. Ford went up 0.61 to 6.36 while Toyota dropped 0.35 to 79.80. With the exception of Dupont which dropped 1.44 to 27.03, team sponsors had a fairly good week. Coca-Cola went up 7.90 to 56.68. Target Department Stores went up 1.19 to 40.49 and Aarons Rentals went up 0.31 to 32.88. In the home improvement sector Lowes jumped up 1.03 to 20.04 while Home Depot jumped 1.01 to 24.17.

BusinessWeek Magazine reported less than a week after NASCAR called a mandatory state-of-the-circuit meeting for all Sprint cup drivers and team owners to discuss the dire economy, General Motors filed for the largest industrial bankruptcy in U.S. history. While the U.S. government will pump an estimated $50 billion into the failed company, ensuring at least its short-term survival, there was no word as to what the bankruptcy might mean for GM's motorsports sponsorship programs, putting their estimated $125 million annual NASCAR investment into question.

NASCAR has likely been hurt more than any other sport as a result of the current economic climate. Attendance is down because of the high cost of traveling to races, while TV ratings are off due to a perceived lack of exciting ones. Every telecast on FOX has seen a drop in ratings from the respective 2008 broadcast, with total ratings on the network down 13% from last year. And only an estimated 100,000 people attended the NASCAR Sprint Cup Autism Speaks 400 at Dover International Speedway, well off the approximate 140,000 in years past.

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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