Tuesday May 1, 2012

By Phil Smith                                                                                             

The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Series headed to the Stafford Motor Speedway this past weekend, April 27-29 for the annual Spring Sizzler. There were 34 cars on hand for Modified time trials on Saturday. Ryan Preece earned his second Coors Light Pole Award in as many attempts this season when he took the top qualifying spot. Preece blistered the half-mile with a record lap of 17.924 seconds (100.424 mph). Corey LaJoie, a full-time NASCAR Kids and Nephews (K&N Pro Series East) driver that made his Whelen Modified Tour debut was second-fastest with a qualifying lap of 17.936 (100.357). Rounding out the top five were Eric Berndt, Mike Stefanik and Justin Bonsignore. Donny Lia, Doug Coby, Ron Silk, Keith Rocco and Jimmy Blewett brought home the rest of the top 10 qualifiers.

The track's SK Modified division enjoyed an extremely high car count that necessitated the running of four qualifying heats. The high car count didn't phase Ted Christopher as he went out and scored his 95th career win in the division at Stafford. Christopher took the lead from Ryan Preece on lap 11. Preece pressured Christopher until the final moments when he gave way to Eric Berndt who ended up in second at the checkered flag. Preece finished third with Danny Cates and Chris Jones rounding out the top five. Sixth through tenth were Curt Brainard, Michael Gervais, Glen Reen, Woody Pitkat, Matt Galo and John Jensen. Pre-race favorite Keith Rocco suffered mechanical issues and fell out early finishing in 30th spot. Rocco got a little redemption as he won the Late Model feature.

Doug Coby sailed to his third career NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour victory in the CARQUEST Tech-Net Spring Sizzler. The Milford, Conn., driver led the final 89 laps of the 200-lap event en route to the victory over a pair of drivers who are well accustom to success on the historic half-mile . Pole sitter Ryan Preece and Keith Rocco finished second and third respectively. Preece was the 2011 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series SK Modified Division champion at Stafford and Rocco was the 2008 and 2010 track champ. Rounding out the top five were Ron Silk and Jimmy Blewett. Justin Bonsignore was sixth, followed by Ron Yuhas Jr., Woody Pitkat, Mike Stefanik and Bryon Chew.

There were three lead changes among three drivers. Preece led from the drop of the green until lap 98. Preece had roughly a quarter lap lead on Doug Coby when the caution came out for a spin by Rowan Pennink. Eric Berndt assumed the lead when most of the top ten pitted. Berndt led through lap 109 when he was passed by Preece and Coby. Two laps later Coby surged into the lead and never looked back. With the victory, Coby secured a locked-in starting position for the inaugural UNOH Battle at the Beach during 2013 Speedweeks on a temporary short track at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway.

Six cautions slowed the field which kept Coby's average speed at 92.260 MPH. Caution No.1 came on lap 21 when Gary McDonald spun in turn two. John Jensen spun in turn four on lap 33 bringing out the second caution. The third caution was for Rowan Pennink who spun in turn two into the grass area on Lap 95. McDonald brought out the 4th caution as his engine expired on lap 123. Caution No.5 came on Lap 150 as car Donny Lia spun into the grass on the infield of the front stretch. The final caution of the day came on lap 160 for a spin that involved Richie Pallai. Fifteen of the original 28 starters finished on the lead lap. Among those who failed to finish were Corey LaJoie and Ted Christopher. LaJoie retired with suspension damage after making contact with another car. Christopher had a loose spark plug wire and ultimately retired from competition on lap 187 with a severe vibration.

At the Waterford Speedbowl, defending track champion Keith Rocco earned his third win of the season as he took the 35-lap SK Modified feature at the Connecticut shoreline oval. Rocco started eighth in but moved into second place following a restart on lap 4 and flew past Frank Mucciacciaro on lap 6. Never looking back, he held off Jeff Pearl following a pair of mid-race restarts and then Rob Janovic Jr. over the final 10 laps. Janovic ended up in the runner-up spot at the finish while Pearl finished third, Tom Abele and Mucciacciaro rounded out the top five.

In Late Model competition Dillon Moltz won his second race by capturing the 30-lap Late Model feature, Ken Cassidy won the 25-lap Mini Stock feature for his fourth victory of the year and Walt Hovey took the checkered flag in the 25-lap Street Stock feature. Other winners were Scott Limkemann (20-lap X-Cars feature) and Duane Noll (25-lap New England Truck Series feature).

The sparks will be flying on the east end of Long Island this coming Saturday night. Riverhead Raceway is one of the oldest stock car race tracks in the country, having been built in 1949. Riverhead is a one-quarter mile asphalt, high-banked oval which includes a Figure 8 course. Riverhead Raceway is part of the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series circuit and has been part of NASCAR for most of its existence. It is the only NASCAR stock car track in the New York metropolitan area.

The raceway will have a new level of competition this year as Ted Christopher has indicated that he will be a weekly competitor in the tracks NASCAR Modified divison. Christopher will be driving for Wayne Anderson. Christopher is a hard charger and is not one to be shy about using his bumper. Christopher has a three-tap rule. The first tap means "Imm here, give me some room". The second tap means "You are blocking and it need to stop". When you get the third tap you are on your way in a spin!

Riverhead is the only track in the northeast that runs "Tour type" Modifieds on a weekly basis.

The NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour goes into an extended Spring Break and will be back in action next on July 6 for the Firecracker 150 at Caraway Speedway. In the mean time the Modifieds will be racing at Bowman-Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, NC. Ernie Saxton reported in the Area Auto Racing News that the race promoters at Bowman-Gray recently signed a lease with Stadium owners, the Winston-Salem NC City Council for the City of Winston-Salem, which would expire in August, 2031. The contract stated that $4,260 would be paid to the city per race night. Saturday night racing events at Bowman-Gray draw consistently 10,000 fans who pay $10.00 each.

Burt Myers won the season opener at Bowman-Gray for the second straight year, on the heels of winning a second straight season championship. The race, a 200 lapper for the featured Modified Division, had a few interesting twists for a near-capacity crowd at the 17,000-seat stadium. Myers unseated Jeffreys, who was seeking his first season-opening victory since 2005, for the final time in the 161st lap. Myers tagged Jeffreys from behind coming out of the fourth turn, and that sent Jeffreys spinning to an eighth-place finish.

Myers lost the lead once more, when he was passed on the outside, by brother Jason Myers. But Burt Myers made the final pass, from the outside, and took the lead for good with 21 laps left. Transplanted New Jersey racer Danny Bohn ended up second with Tim Brown, third.

In TV land, viewing on the Speed Channel begins on Tuesday, at 6:00pm with NASCAR Race Hub. Race Hub will also be shown on Wednesday and Thursday at the same time. NASCAR Now will be on espn2 at 3:00pm on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and on Friday.
Race viewing on the Speed Channel begins on Wednesday at noon with a replay of last weekend's Sprint Cup event that was run in Richmond, VA. The Richmond Nationwide Series event will be run on Thursday at noon. At 2:30 on Thursday, Speed presents the Ten Most Bizarre in NASCAR. Following that will be the NASCAR Kids and Nephews (K&N) Series event that was run in Greenville, SC recently. The Lucas Oil Midgets follow at 4:00pm.

Speed goes live on Friday at 2:00pm with Sprint Cup practice from Talladega. NASCAR Live follows at 3:00 before the Sprint Cup final practice at 3:30pm. Following the practice session will be another segment of NASCAR Live at 4:30pm. The ARCA Racing Series at Talladega takes center stage at 5:00pm. Trackside at 7:30pm and Speed Center at 8:00pm round out the day.

Saturday's viewing on the Speed Channel begins at 11:30am with TrackSide at Talladega. Sprint Cup qualifying follows at noon. At 3:30pm the action switches to ABC for the Nationwide Series 300 at Talladega.

Speed starts it off on Sunday morning at 10:00am with a two hour segment of RaceDay. At noon the action moves to FOX for live coverage of the Sprint Cup Talladega 500.

On Sunday night, the Speed Channel will have Speed Center at 7:00pm and Wind Tunnel with Dave Despain at 8:00pm. NASCAR Victory Lane follows at 9:00pm.

On the Speedway Stock Market scene last week all three speedway stocks finished on the positive side. Leading the way was Speedway Motorsports which went up 0.37 to 17.21. Dover Motorsports went up 0.02 to 1.51 and the International Speedway Corporation went up 0.02 to 26.61. NASCAR Cup sponsor Sprint dropped 0.01 to 2.36 while NASCAR fuel supplier Sun Oil went up 1.49 to 40.91 and NASCAR tire supplier Goodyear went up 0.08 to 11.32. Two of the three car makers had positive results. Ford went up 0.19 to 11.60 and Toyota went up 1.75 to 80.29 while General Motors dropped 0.07 to 23.53. In the home improvement sector Home Depot went up 0.49 to 51.95 while Lowes dropped 0.04 to 31.61. With the exception of Fedex which dropped 1.43 to 88.24, the big team sponsors were positive for the week. Dupont went up 1.10 to 53.72 while Coca-Cola went up 2.07 to 64.49, Target Department Stores went up 0.98 to 58.26 and Aarons Rentals went up 2.34 to 27.90.

Thatís 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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