Tuesday May 26, 2009

By Phil Smith                                                                                             

The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, after the completion of the first two, of 14 events, has been on “Spring Break” since the Spring Sizzler at Stafford on April 26. This past Friday it was back to Stafford for the TSI HARLEY-DAVIDSON CONNECTICUT CLASSIC 100. Thirty-three Modifieds were on hand for the event. During a somewhat heated drivers meeting NASCAR did its best to alienate two of its top drivers when they questioned a restart policy. They, Mike Stefanik and Ed Flemke, were told to take it “off line”. A year or two from now NASCAR will wonder where the cars and loyalty went. In other words the Whelen Modified Tours outspoken drivers were told in so many words if you don’t like the way the races are run that’s just tough!

Jimmy Blewett was able to slow down Ted Christopher’s dominant start to the 2009 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour season when he took home the checkered flag in the TSI Harley-Davidson Classic Friday night at Stafford Motor Speedway. Blewett went pole to pole.

Christopher had won the first two races of the season, and earned his third-consecutive Coors Light Pole Award earlier on Friday, but Blewett started on the front row on the redraw and led flag-to-flag for his fifth career NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour victory.

Blewett survived six restarts during the race, including a green-white-checker finish, but would not be denied his second career win at the Connecticut half-mile. Todd Szegedy (No. 2 Wisk/Snuggle Ford) ran up front the majority of the race with Blewett, and tried once to go around on the outside late in the race, but Blewett never relinquished the lead. Szegedy settled for a third place finish when Christopher got past him on the white flag lap.

Mike Stefanik and Reggie Ruggiero rounded out the top five finishers in the 100-lap event. Chris Pasteryak, Rowan Pennink, Woody Pitkat, Doug Coby and Ryan Preece brought home the top 10.

It was spotted in the local paper in Martinsville that the upcoming Whelen Made In America 300, scheduled for Sunday, Sept 27, will be a doubleheader with a 50 lap Limited Sportsman Race. The modified race will be a 200-lap race while the limited sportsman will have 2 25-lap heat races followed by a 50-lap feature. Last year the Whelen Made In America 300 was a 300-lap Modified Tour Series race. Was this another one of those deals that NASCAR forgot to mention as they are awaiting for a release to be written and will send it out in the mail?

It’s a good business decision on the part of Martinsville Speedway as bringing in the Limited Sportsman will bring in 50-75 cars, which will increase local appeal at the front gate. Last year’s purse for the Modified event at Martinsville was $137,420 with $12,100 going to the inner, Ryan Preece. Will this year’s race purse be reduced by 1/3 like the distance? The recent WMT event at Stafford carried a purse of $69,880. The 2008 purse for the 150 lapper that was reduced to a 100 lapper this year was $89,010. Chuck Hossfeld won the TSI Harley 150 last year and was given $7600 for his efforts. Jimmy Blewett won this years slimmed down version and received $4900.

It was forty years ago in 1969 that the newly formed New England Drivers and Owners Club headed by Dick Armstrong called a drivers strike against Stafford, Norwood and Thompson Speedways as club members felt they were running for sub-par purses. Among the charter members were Jack Arute Sr who was a co-car owner of a modified team, Ed Yerrington who was a driver-owner at the time and later became the General Manager of the Stafford Speedway, Bob Garbarino who was a car owner then as he continues to be today and Bill Slater who was a owner-driver at the time. Maybe its time for another NEDOC. NASCAR and the tracks listened then; maybe they will listen again, just maybe!

Following the Stafford event the Whelen Modifieds are back on “Spring Break” again until Saturday, June 27 when they travel to the New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

The Stafford Motor Speedway weekly feature winners were Ted Christopher in the 40-lap SK Modified® feature, Michael Bennett in the 30-lap Late Model feature, Tommy Membrino, Jr. in the 20-lap SK Light Modified feature, Kevin Gambacorta in the 20-lap Limited Late Model feature, and Tony Membrino, Jr. in the 15-lap DARE Stock feature.
The 40-lap SK Modified® feature took the green flag with Curt Brainard taking the early lead. Brainard had Matt Gallo all over his back bumper looking to move to the front. After several laps of trying both the high and low grooves, Gallo was able to make a move into the lead on lap-6. Gallo's pass brought Frank Ruocco past Brainard and Ruocco moved by Gallo on lap-9 to move to the front.

Ted Christopher was behind Ruocco and the middle stages of the race saw some great racing between the top-2 as Christopher was searching for a way around Ruocco. Christopher was finally able to make a move to the inside of Ruocco on lap-28 and take the lead for the first time. The field was slowed by the caution with 30 laps complete.

On the lap-30 restart, the cars of Chris Jones and Ruocco came together in turn 1 while battling for second place, with Ruocco spinning and collecting the cars of Brad Hietala and Dave Salzarulo. Jones was sent to the rear of the field for rough riding by NASCAR officials. This put Brainard back alongside Christopher for the restart. Several late cautions kept the field in close contact, but Christopher was up to the task on each restart and he held off Brainard at the checkered flag for his first SK Modified® feature victory of the 2009 season. Rounding out the top-5 behind Christopher and Brainard was Gallo, Wade Mattesen, and Mark Bakaj.

After being penalized the previous week for allegedly jumping a restart Christopher swore up and down that he would not return to Stafford. Evidently someone gave him an attitude adjustment as he knuckled under and was back in the SK Modified lineup like nothing ever happened.

From the way it sounded the Race of Champions Series event run at the Oswego Speedway in upstate New York was far better than the Whelen Modified Tour Series at Stafford. Ted Christopher took advantage of Bill Putney’s locked up wheel with only three laps remaining of the 75 lap Richie Evans Memorial Port City 150. Christopher driving a car prepared and owned by Terry Zacharias of Candor, NY knew the last three laps were going to be tough. As defending RoC Champion Matt Hirschman of Northampton, Pa. was now in second and Matt who was undefeated at Oswego in 2008 was looking to keep his streak intact. Following another yellow on lap 72 a three-lap shootout was set and everyone in attendance knew it was going to be an exciting finish. Christopher, a multi time NASCAR National Modified Champion used plenty of different driving strategies to keep Hirschman at bay. However entering turn three on the final lap Hirschman got on the outside of Christopher and the two exited turn four side by side with the crowd standing on their feet. Christopher moved up the track just a hair but left Hirschman enough room to stay alongside of him. As the two drivers drag raced to the start finish line Christopher in his Ron Hutter powered Troyer chassis car had just enough to hold off Hirschman by inches for the $2,800 win. Jan Leaty of Williamson, NY who started 11th ended up in third with Eric Beers of Northampton, Pa. in fourth after starting 21st and Erick Rudolph of Ransomville, NY finishing fifth after starting 16th.

The Waterford Speedbowl managed to avoid the numerous showers that hit Connecticut on Saturday night. Groton native Ron Yuhas Jr. nearly won the Waterford Speedbowl’s opening Saturday night event in April before Keith Rocco stole the win by mere inches, but on Saturday night Yuhas would not be denied going on to win the 35-lap SK Modified main event. Ohio native Dave Shullick Jr. won the 50-lap ISMA SuperModified special in a caution filled event, Bruce Thomas Jr. the Late Model event, Josh Galvin in the Street Stocks, and Bill Leonard was the Mini Stock winner.

The SK Modifieds were first up with their 35-lap main event. Corey Hutchings jumped to the lead over Jeff Pearl on the initial green, and the field would stretch out over an extended period of green flag racing. Hutchings would pull a straightaway lead over the competition as laps clicked away. By halfway, Ron Yuhas Jr. and Keith Rocco were asserting themselves working through traffic. Yuhas jumped to the outside lane to move his way through the top five and into the top three. The event’s first caution flew on lap 28 when Jeff Paul, running second, went up in smoke in turn three ending his strong run to that point. Paul turned in the event’s fastest lap.

On the restart the action heated up with Yuhas looking outside Hutchings. Meanwhile, Rocco applied pressure to both Hutchings and Yuhas from third place. The entertaining action would be interrupted by caution when Justin Gaydosh spun on the backstretch with four laps to go. Yuhas battled his way into the lead in the outside lane on the restart, overcoming Hutchings with three laps remaining.

A couple of drivers who had a rough night at the Speedbowl was Robbie Summers (top) in the Supermodifieds and Todd Ceravolo in the SK division.
Keith Cyr Photos

The event’s final caution waved with two laps remaining setting up a green-white-checkered finish and a restart rematch with Hutchings outside Yuhas. Hutchings could not muster the steam from the outside, and would tuck into second behind Yuhas who would go on to win by a car length. Rocco took an impressive third, Tyler Chadwick ran a good race for fourth, and Rob Janovic Jr. rallied to finish fifth at the stripe.

There were 20 Modifieds on hand. Tough luck reared its ugly head when Todd Ceravolo and Keith Rocco made contact which ended up with Ceravolo’s car sustaining severe damage. Car owner Dickie Doo Ceravolo says it will be a few weeks before the car returns to action.

This coming Saturday night, May 30, the rescheduled Modified Nationals event will be in the spotlight at the shoreline oval featuring the $5,000 to win SK-150. The Bob Valenti Auto Mall Late Models will go 50-laps in distance, while the Street Stocks and Norwich Bulletin Mini Stocks will both run 30-laps events. The touring Pro 4 Modifieds will also join the racing action for a 25-lap main event. The evening kicks off with the popular ‘pit party’ at 5:00pm, where the fans can see the cars and meet the stars for an autograph session. It will also be Scout Night, with any Scout or Scout leader in uniform admitted free.

The True Value Modified Series was at the Thunder Road Speedway in Barre, Vermont. Steve Masse won his first ever True Value event. Rowan Pennickfinished second with Kirk Alexander, third. Ed Dachenhausen and Jack Bateman rounded out the top five. Chris Pasteryak led from the start until lap 87 when he had issues and began to fade.

The Thompson Speedway came alive on Thursday night with what had to be some of the best open wheeled Modified racing seen in quite a while. Keith Rocco of Wallingford, CT, scored the feature win in a dramatic finish for the Speedway’s premier division. It was the second win for Rocco at Thompson after his victory back in April on Icebreaker Saturday. In the early going Kerry Malone got the edge on pole sitter Ted Christopher before the caution flew for a pile-up exiting turn two. Danny Cates was sent spinning from the fifth position and several drivers took evasive action. Only the #36 of Tim Sullivan headed down pit road for service. He was able to rejoin the field. On the restart it was Malone moving out to a five-car length advantage over Jimmy Blewett. It was action-packed for the third spot as Josh Sylvester had his hands full with Christopher and Woody Pitkat. Keith Rocco, who was involved in the lap three caution, had worked his way back inside the top-ten by lap eight. With 10-laps down, Blewett and company had caught Malone. Blewett made a power move exiting turn two to take over the lead. Sylvester and Christopher followed through. Christopher made quick work of Sylvester to move into second. A single-lap later the caution flew for a spin by Dana Young. Under the caution, Malone gave up the fourth spot to head to pit road for adjustments. An incident that involved Harry Rheaume, Tim Sullivan, Dave LaCroix and Andy Gasper brought out the caution again on lap 16. The cars of Rheaume and Sullivan sustained heavy damage.

Back under green, Christopher was all but pushing leader Blewett while Sylvester, Pitkat and Rocco where locked in a heavy battle for third. Sparks flew when Christopher made a bid for the lead. Contact between the lead duo ended with Christopher stopped on the front stretch with a flat tire; necessitating the caution. Todd Ceravolo pitted from the fifth position under the caution. Ceravolo parked his car after it was determined that his mount had sustained suspension damage that could not be repaired. Pitkat looked like he was shot out of a cannon on the restart giving Blewett a run for the lead. Sylvester stood his ground. Pitkat slipped back to third behind Sylvester. Rocco was now fourth followed by Marvin, who had worked his way back into contention after being involved in the first caution. On lap 23, Rocco muscled his way passed both Pitkat and Sylvester and into the second spot. The young gun had five laps to chase down Blewett. It didn’t even take one as Rocco caught Blewett. In turn three, Rocco made a dive bomb move under Blewett. The car drifted up allowing Blewett to maintain his lead. The cat-and-mouse continued over the final two laps.

On the white flag lap, Rocco ran Blewett up toward the wall in turn one. Coming to the checkers, Rocco drifted high pushing Blewett toward the wall once again in turn three. Sylvester saw a glimmer of light in the middle while Pitkat looked low. All four cars had a shot at the victory. Slight contact with Sylvester slowed Rocco but not enough to derail the run to the victory. Blewett barely edged out Pitkat for second. Sylvester settled for fourth. Marvin completed the top-five.

Norm Wrenn of Nashua, NH, a winner during the Icebreaker in April, continued his winning ways in the Super Late Models while Rick Gentes of Woonsocket, RI edged out fan favorite Jeff Zuidema to earn the Late Model checkers. Scott Sundeen of Douglas, MA, in Limited Sportsman; Brian Sullivan of S. Windsor, CT in the TIS Modifieds; and Tim Taylor of Wauregan, CT in the Mini Stocks also visited victory lane on the opening Thursday night.

NASCAR New England, Stafford Motor Speedway's award winning television program, will return to the New England Sports Network (NESN) for the 2009 season with a 10-episode run beginning on Saturday, June 27. The show will air from 5pm-6pm each Saturday from June 27 through August 29. This year marks the fourth consecutive year that NASCAR New England will air on the most watched sports network in New England and the ninth consecutive season that Stafford Motor Speedway has produced the show.

The 2009 edition of NASCAR New England will once again showcase Stafford's SK Modified® and Late Model divisions with highlight coverage of Stafford's SK Light, Limited Late Model, and DARE Stock divisions. NASCAR New England will also continue to bring you stories showcasing the weekly racers behind the scenes. "The time slot we have for NASCAR New England leads into NESN's Red Sox coverage, which is an ideal time slot for us to occupy," said Mark Arute, SMS COO/GM. "With the Red Sox ownership group being involved with Roush Racing, there is a connection between Red Sox fans and NASCAR, which will help build a larger audience for NASCAR New England and give team and track sponsors a greater level of exposure."

In TV land this week, NASCAR Now on espn2 will be seen at 6:30pm on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Wednesday’s viewing on the Speed Channel begins at noon with the NASCAR Sprint Cup Replay of the Coca-Cola 600 that was run at the Lowes Motor Speedway. On Thursday at noon Speed will replay the 2006 Neighbourhood Excellence Sprint Cup 400 that was run at the Dover Intl. Speedway. The May 17th. The NASCAR Camping World Touring Series East/West Series event that was run at the Iowa Speedway follows at 3:00pm. Friday’s action begins at 10:00am with NASCAR Camping World Truck Series qualifying from Dover Int. Speedway. An hour and a half of Sprint Cup practice from Dover follows at 11:30am. At 1:00pm it’s the final practice for the Nationwide Series. At 2:30 NASCAR Live at Dover International Speedway serves as a 30-minute break before Sprint Cup qualifying at 3:00pm. At 4:30 its NASCAR Live again before the start of Truck Series qualifying at 5:30pm at Dover. At 7:00 Trackside at Dover reviews the days activities at the Delaware Speedway. The Camping World Truck Series has their pre-race show at 8:00, which will lead to an 8:30pm start of the Truck Series AAA Insurance 200 at Dover. Speed goes live at 10:00am on Saturday with Nationwide Series qualifying at Dover. Two and a half hours of Sprint Cup practice follows at 12:30. At 2:00pm the action moves to ABC for the Nationwide Series pre-race show, which leads in to a 2:30pm start of the Heluva Good! 200 at Dover. This event will be rerun by espn2 at 2:00am on Sunday. NASCAR Now on espn2 goes at 10:00am on Sunday. A two hour RaceDay on Speed, starting at 11:30am will preview the Dover Sprint Cup event. At 1:30 the action switches to FOX for the Dover pre-race program which will lead to a 2:00pm start of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Autism Speaks 400 at Dover. 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 two of the three speedway stocks were down for the week. Dover Downs ended up on the positive side as they went up 0.04 to 1.60. Speedway Motorsports dropped 0.75 to 14.76 and the International Speedway Corporation dropped 0.27 to 22.45. NASCAR Cup sponsor Sprint went up 0.11 to 5.16 while NASCAR fuel supplier Sun Oil dropped 0.79 to 27.38. Tire supplier Goodyear had a positive week ending as they went up 0.21 to 11.45. The car makers had a fairly good week with the exception of Ford which dropped 0.23 to 5.26. General Motors went up 0.34 to 1.43 and Toyota went up 0.92 to 75.32. The NASCAR team sponsors had a mixed bag. Dupont went up 0.84 to 27.77 while Coca-Cola dropped 1.35 to 47.57. Target Department Stores rose 0.37 to 40.74 while Aarons Rentals dropped 0.92 to 29.23. In the home improvement sector Home Depot dropped 1.54 to 22.86 while Lowes went up 0.92 to 19.37.

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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