Tuesday May 17, 2011

By Phil Smith                                                                                             

The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour continues on Spring Break before returning on Friday, May 27 at Stafford for the TSI Harley-Davidson 125.

The Thompson Speedway began its weekly Thursday Night Thunder Series. Keith Rocco of held off Ted Christopher to score the victory in the Sunoco Modified feature event. Derek Ramstrom was the feature winner of the Super Late Models and Rick Gentes was triumphant in Late Model action. Jay Sundeen wired the field to score the victory in the TIS Modifieds while Larry Barnett the all-time winning most driver in the Limited Sportsman division, added to his tally with a victory and Danny Field was the top dog in the Mini Stock main event; making it two-in-a-row for the Icebreaker winner.

Once the sun went down the temperatures dropped but the action on the track kept spectators warm. The competition was very good but the fields of cars, with the exception of the Limited Sportsman (26) and the Mini Stocks (23) was sparse. There were 13 Late Models, eleven Sunoco (SK) Modifieds, eight Super Late Models and nine Thompson Modifieds. Ben Dodge, special assistant to speedway owner Don Hoenig, stated that times are tough because of the fact that many who own cars are unemployed and just don't have the funds to run their cars. "We are stressing quality, not quantity", he said. Last Thursday's Sunoco Modified event paid $2,000 to win because of extra moneys that were added to the weekly purse. Dodge added, "Olivia Bouchard and Josh Hoenig, grandchildren of the speedway owner, have been actively pursuing contingency and monetary sponsors for all events". It was through their efforts that $2,500 was added to the weekly $7,700 purse.

The payoff is good, so where are the cars. Brad Lafontaine, a former car owner and now a successful Crew Chief and Race Cars and parts dealer offered a possible solution. Lafontaine has seen the Sunoco Modifieds (SKs) go from an affordable alternative to full blown Modified racing to a highly expensive racing machine with high dollar engines that the average out of his wallet car owner can't afford. "We still have the high dollar teams (5 or 6) that are supported by wealthy car owners and we still have the back markers (5 or 6), he said. "It's the middle of the pack runners that are missing", he added. Lafontaine has proposed that the Speedway conduct a test that invites competitors from Waterford and Stafford to a test session at Thompson. One an initial round has been staged Lafontaine has proposed that a restrictor plate be put in place and see how the competition stacks up from there. Its a known fact that one needs a top dollar motor to run up front at Thompson because of it's 5/8 mile expanse. Those running at Waterford and Stafford can get the job done without breaking the bank at the motor shop. It may not be the complete answer but its worth a try.

Keith Rocco led green to checker to score the victory in the 30-lap Sunoco Modified feature event. Danny Cates and Rocco brought the field to green. After a brief battle, Rocco took command. Todd Ceravolo, Ryan Preece and Christopher followed through like a high-speed freight train; relegating Cates to fifth. Rocco had a single car-length advantage over Ceravolo, who enjoyed a similar margin over a brewing battle between Preece and Christopher.
Christopher took the third spot on lap five. Rocco and Ceravolo had a two-car breakaway from Christopher in third. Preece and Cates ran fourth and fifth. During a stretch of green flag racing, Christopher had caught the back bumper of Ceravolo. Rocco entered lapped traffic. A spin by John Hanafin in turn two brought out the caution on lap 12. Under the caution, Preece headed to pit road for service to his #31. He was joined on pit road by Andrew Charron. Charron stalled coming off pit road just as the field had taken the green to bring out the caution once again.

Rocco retained his lead on the restart but with company from Ceravolo. Christopher was getting racy with Ceravolo when a hard wreck in turn three involving Hanafin and Jeffrey. Cates was on pit road during the caution period. It was another solid restart for Rocco. At halfway, the top five of Rocco, Ceravolo, Christopher, Preece and Cates ran nose-to-tail. Christopher began to work on Ceravolo once again. Christopher tried the dive-bomb move exiting turn two on lap 19 without success. A similar move in turn four resulted in the pass. Ceravolo lost traction as he was forced to the outside groove; falling into the grasp of Preece.

Now in second, Christopher had several car lengths to go to catch Rocco. Lap-after-lap, he edged ever closer to Rocco. With five laps to go the margin was down to two car-lengths. With two-to-go it was down to one. Although Christopher had closed the gap, Rocco was able to hold back the advances to claim the victory. Christopher ran home second followed by Ceravolo, Preece, and Cates.

The Stafford Motor Speedway ran on Friday night and boasted 25 SK Modifieds in the pit area. Ted Christopher recovered from his race ending broken crankshaft on opening night to pick up his first win of the 2011 season with a dominating performance in the 40-lap SK Modified® feature event, Dillon Moltz was the winner of the 30-lap Late Model feature, Tommy Barrett, Jr. was the winner of the 20-lap SK Light Modified feature, George Nocera, Jr. became the first repeat feature winner of the 2011 season with a victory in the 20-lap Limited Late Model feature, and Andrew Hayes drove to victory in the 15-lap DARE Stock feature.

In the 40-lap SK Modified® feature event, Nichole Morgillo and Brad Hietala were locked in a side by side duel for the lead over the first two laps. The two cars touched wheels and Morgillo and several cars behind her spun and brought the caution out. Hietala took the lead on the restart, but Ted Christopher was on a mission and he quickly moved into second on lap-4 and then he took the lead from Hietala on lap-6.

After a second caution period slowed the action with 8 laps complete, Christopher took the lead on the restart and began to set sail from the rest of the competition. Christopher opened up a large lead under green flag conditions and the race ran caution free for the remainder of the race and Christopher was never seriously challenged as he recorded his first win of the 2011 season, which was his 93rd career SK Modified® feature victory and 110th overall feature victory at Stafford. Woody Pitkat finished second, with Ryan Preece, last week's winner Keith Rocco, and Dan Avery rounding out the top-5.

Preece is the current point leader as he holds a four point edge over Rocco and an eight point edge over Dan Avery. Glen Reen and Woody Pitkat round out the top five

In action at the Waterford Speedbowl, Six divisions were in competition on Saturday night, with Keith Rocco, the defending division champion, returning to the winner’s circle in the SK Modifieds®.

Brian Andronaco Jr. was the Bob Valenti Auto Mall Late Model race, his first on the season. Ed Puleo made it two in a row in the Street Stocks. A first time winner took the checkered flag in the Mini Stock feature with third generation racer Jeffrey Cembruch took the win. Rounding out the night’s winners were Dana Dimatteo in the Legends Cars and Taylor Martin who won the Bandolero feature.

Rocco, who has 70 career wins to his credit, wasn't fooling around as he wasted little time in his march to the front of the SK Modified feature. Glenn Pressel was the early leader, taking command at the initial start of the race. Tom Abele Jr., Tucker Reynolds Jr., and Rocco bolted by the inside of Joe Perry to make up the top-four positions as the field completed lap-3. Abele quickly got by Pressel for the race lead, trying to put distance between himself and the field that followed. Rocco was outside of Reynolds for third two laps later, taking the position on lap-5. He then dove to the inside of Pressel to take second position a lap later. He then closed in on Abele for the race lead, moving to the leader’s back bumper pressuring for the spot. Rocco looked low down the backstretch on lap-7, tucked back in line, then used the same move down the backstretch to find room underneath Abele into turn three on lap-8. He spent a lap underneath Abele before taking possession of the lead as the field raced to lap-9. From then on, the defending NASCAR Champion never looked back as he cruised to a convincing win over Tyler Chadwick. Kyle James, who, earlier in the day had assisted in lying his grandfather to rest, finished third . Abele and Reynolds completed the top-five.

Waterford drew 19 Modifieds which is fairly respectable. The Street Stock field, which at on time numbered over 100 per night, was a mere 11.

In Modified action south of the Mason-Dixon line at the Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, NC early evening rain forced cancellation of the scheduled event.

In TV land NASCAR Now on espn2 can be seen at 5:00pm on Tuesday, Wednesday and on Thursday. NASCAR Race Hub will air on the Speed Channel at 7:00pm on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. This weeks race viewing begins on Versus at 4:00pm on Tuesday with IndyCar Open Wheel Weekly. On Wednesday at noon Speed will replay last Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup FedEx 400 that was run at Dover. On Thursday at noon Speed replays last Saturday's NASCAR Nationwide Series 5-hour Energy 200 that was run at Dover. At 3:00pm Speed replays the 2010 Sprint Cup All Star Race that was run at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. The April 28 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, Blue Ox 100 that was run at Richmond follows at 6:00pm. At 8:00pm the Speed Channel presents the Sprint Pit Crew Challenge that brings Forty Sprint Cup and Nationwide teams together to compete to determine who will reign as the fastest pit crew. Friday's action begins at 9:30am with Truck Series practice at Charlotte. Three hours of Sprint Cup practice at Charlotte follows at noon. NASCAR Live goes at 3:00pm on Speed with Truck Series qualifying at 4:00 and Sprint Cup qualifying at 5:00pm. At 7:30 Speed hosts the Truck series pre-race show that will lead to the 8:00pm start of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series North Carolina Education Lottery 200 at Charlotte. SPEED Center wraps it up at 10:30pm. Saturday's viewing starts at 9:30am on Speed with SPEED Center, All-Star Edition. The action switches to espn2 at 11:00pm for NASCAR Now. At noon Versus takes center stage as they have exclusive coverage of the IZOD IndyCar Series Qualifying Day 1, Part 1, of the Indianapolis 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Speed has Speed Center at 3:00pm followed by a three hour NASCAR RaceDay, preview the upcoming NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte. At 4:30pm it's back to Versus for the final two hours of the IZOD IndyCar Series Qualifying Day Part 2 at Indy. At 7:00pm the action shifts back to the Speed Channel at Charlotte for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway (expect the ‘Showdown’ to go green about 7:30P and the ‘All-Star’ to go green about 9:00P). NASCAR Victory Lane wraps it up at 11:00pm. Starting at noon on Sunday, Versus has six hours of coverage of "Bump Day" at Indianapolis. At 1:30pm ABC has a pre-race show that will lead to the 2:00pm start of the NASCAR Nationwide Series John Deere Dealers 250 at the Iowa Speedway in Newton, IA.. Rounding out the day will be Speed Center at 7:00, Victory Lane at 8:00. Inside the Headsets: An intense, thirty-minute recap of the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup All Star race goes at 8:30pm and Wind Tunnel with Dave Despain at 9:00.

On the Speedway Stock Market scene last week two of the three speedway stocks ended the week on a negative note. Speedway Motorsports had positive results as they went up 0.34 to 14.88. Dover Motorsports dropped 0.03 to 1.99 and the International Speedway Corporation dropped 0.25 to 29.43. NASCAR Cup sponsor Sprint dropped 0.10 to 5.10 while NASCAR fuel supplier Sun Oil dropped 0.82 to 40.27 and NASCAR tire supplier Goodyear went up 0.21 to 17.77. Two of the three car makers were down for the week. Ford dropped 0.03 to 15.08 and General Motors dropped 0.84 to 31.07 while Toyota jumped 4.28 to 83.35. In the home improvement sector Lowes went up 0.12 to 25.76 while Home Depot went up 0.02 to 37.01. The big team sponsors showed ups and downs. Dupont went down 1.72 to 52.91 while Coca-Cola went up 2.40 to 68.73 and Target Department Stores went up 1.01 to 51.52. Fedex dropped 2.07 to 93.58 while Aarons Rentals went up 0.16 to 27.59.

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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