Tuesday October 1, 2013

By Phil Smith                                                                                             

Weekly racing as we know it will never be the same at the Thompson Speedway. The speedway is well into a $4 million project which will rebuild and modify an existing road course. The project is expected to be finished by June of 2014.

Thursday Night Thunder at Thompson which featured NASCAR Whelen Weekly racing for Sunoco Modifieds (SK type), Late Models, Ltd Sportsman and mini stocks will be no more. In past years Thursday Night Thunder ran from mid May thru September. Because of construction and rain the Thursday night schedule was cut short.

A spokesperson for the speedway said that only six to eight NASCAR-sanctioned events will be run in 2014 on the 5/8-mile oval. From 2015 on the intent is to run only six races per year.

While there have been some lean nights, Thursday Night Thunder has become quite popular with many in recent years. Its a shame to see it go away. The Thompson Speedway has provided some of the best high speed competition in the northeast second to none.

For the most part, Sports Car racing at Thompson will be non-spectator. Its hard to figure how the speedway will recoup their outlay of funds that will be spent on the project.

The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour was at the Stafford Motor Speedway for the Fall Final last weekend. The field of entrants continues to deplete as a mere 25 cars were on hand for qualifying. Don Lia recorded a fast lap of 18.295 seconds (98.388 mph) to edge Bobby Santos for the pole. Santos, who was attempting to become the first driver in Whelen Modified Tour history to sweep a season of pole awards at Stafford, finished second with a fast lap of 18.299 (98.366). Season points leader Ryan Preece qualified third around the historic half mile at 18.413 (97.757) while Rowan Pennink was fourth at 18.426 (97.688) and Chuck Hossfeld fifth at 18.430 (97.667).

Lia got redemption in the 150 lap Fall Final after being booted out of the lead on the last lap a Loudon on Sept. 21. From his pole starting position the Mystic Missile of Bob Garbarino carried him to a convincing win over Doug Coby by 3.231 seconds. The win was his first on the tour since Aug. 9 of 2012 at the Thompson (Conn.) Speedway. Lia led from lap 1 to lap 76 when he pitted for fuel and tires under a caution that was displayed after Ed Flemke Jr hit the wall on lap 72. Ron Silk beat him out of the pits and led laps 77-79 before Lia regained control of the lead, which he never relinquished. Rowan Pennink finished third with Todd Szegedy and Justin Bonsignore rounding out the top five. Mike Stefanik, Ted Christopher, Chuck Hossfeld, Bobby Santos and Ron Silk rounded out the top 10.

Point leader Ryan Preece carried a 41-point lead over Coby into the race and had a shot to clinch his first Whelen Modified Tour title, but after a 17th-place finish due to a late-race rear end failure, was not able to wrap it up. His advantage over Coby is now 26 points going into the season finale at the World Series at Thompson on Oct 20.

There were nine cars running on the lead lap at the finish. In addition to Preese, others having problems were Eric Goodale, mechanical problems, Patrick Emerling; engine, Eric Berndt; overheating, Flemke; wreck, Wade Cole, Cole Powell and Woody Pitkat; rear end problems and Richie Pallai; accident.

Not to be out done by Keith Rocco at Waterford, Woody Pitkat did his version of the double at Stafford on Sunday as he clinched the tracks SK Modified title and the Late Model title. Rocco took the checkered flag in the 40-lap SK Modified® feature, while Pitkat clinched his first career SK Modified® track championship with a third place finish. Pitkat also came up as the winner of the 30-lap Late Model feature.

In the 40-lap SK Modified® feature, Michael Gervais, Jr. got a good run on the outside of Curt Brainard to take the lead at the green flag. As the field came out of turn 4 to complete the first lap, Brainard got sideways and behind him Joey Cipriano got into the frontstretch wall and ripped the right front tire off of his car to bring out the caution and red flags as Cipriano’s right front briefly caught fire. The field did not complete the lap and there was a total restart of the race.

The next restart saw Gervais again get a good run on the outside of Brainard to take the lead with Doug Coby following Gervais by Brainard. Keith Rocco and Eric Berndt were also able to get past Brainard, dropping him back to fifth place. Ryan Preece was on the charge in the first couple laps, quickly working his way by Berndt and Coby to move into third on lap-4 with Gervais and Rocco occupying the top-2 positions. Rocco was beginning to apply heavy pressure to the back bumper of Gervais on lap-8 as he was looking to move into the race lead. Rocco made his move going into turn 1 on lap-11 to take over the race lead. Gervais was able to get back into line in second just in front of Preece, who was third. Berndt was fourth and Coby was fifth just in front of Rowan Pennink.

Pennink made a move under Coby on lap-12 and with 13 laps complete, Curt Brainard nearly spun and collected the car of Coby who did a 360 spin to bring the caution out. Back under green Rocco took the lead with Preece moving into second. Pennink moved up to third with Danny Cates moving by Gervais for fourth. Right behind Cates and Gervais was Woody Pitkat, who was fighting for the championship along with Preece. Tommy Membrino, Jr. spun in turns 3+4 to bring the caution out with 19 laps complete.

Rocco again took the lead with Preece settling into second. Pennink was third with Pitkat moving by Cates to take over fourth. Membrino spun coming off turn 4 and collected the cars of Brainard and Tim Sullivan to bring the caution out with 21 laps complete. Rocco resumed his lead with Preece holding off a challenge from Pennink to remain in second. Pitkat was fourth behind Pennink with Bobby Santos, III moving around Cates for fifth place. Preece was beginning to apply pressure to Rocco’s bumper for the race lead but Sean Foster spun in turn 4 to bring the yellow back out with 26 laps complete.

Rocco took the lead again back under green with Preece right behind him. Pennink was still third with Pitkat right behind him in fourth and Santos was fifth. Pennink got loose in turn 2 on lap 31 which allowed Pitkat and Santos to both get by and drop Pennink back to fifth. With Pitkat in third right behind Preece, he was in the position he needed to be in order to clinch the championship.

Rocco pulled away from Preece in the closing laps to pick up his second win of the 2013 season. Preece finished second while Pitkat finished third, which was enough to give Pitkat the SK Modified® championship by 2 points over Preece. Santos finished fourth and Pennink rounded out the top-5.
Saturday at the Waterford Speedbowl It was a big night for the Waterford Speedbowl's most-celebrated driver on Saturday. Keith Rocco, who unofficially won the Late Model seasonal points title on September 21 captured his third title in the SK-Modified division Saturday night. Rocco did the double as he won both features on the final regular Saturday of the racing season. It was his ninth win of the year in the SK-Modified race and fourth straight Late Model feature win. Rocco’s two wins on the night brought him within one victory of the single-season record of 23 wins at the track, accomplished by Don Collins in 1960. Rocco has four chances to eclipse the mark at the track’s Finale Weekend, next Saturday and Sunday, when he’s scheduled to compete in four different divisions.

Also at the Connecticut shoreline oval Corey Hutchings, Ken Cassidy Jr. and Dylan Izzo put the finishing touches on division titles. Hutchings clinched the Street Stock division, Cassidy the Mini Stock division and Izzo the Legends Cars division. Other feature winners Saturday were Phil Evans (Street Stocks), Cassidy with his third straight Mini Stock win, Izzo (Legends Cars), Brad Voglesong (X-Cars) and Dave Yardley (Super X-Cars).

In the 35 lap SK Modified feature, Rocco started in fourth position and quickly was in contention, moving up to second behind Monahan by lap-2 when Rob Janovic Jr. spun in turn one to trigger the yellow flag after the field scattered around his spinning car. Rocco powered into the lead over Monahan after two false starts by the front row trying to restart the race on lap-2. After a Jeff Gallup spin on lap-6, another great restart over Monahan enabled Rocco to drive away from the field. Kyle James moved to second place on lap-11 around Monahan and when Tom Abele Jr. tried to follow, Monahan shut the door and the two came together. Monahan collected his car and held the spot but lost ground to James, who began a pursuit of Rocco’s lead which already had grown to several car lengths.

Behind Rocco and James, the best battle was for third as four cars ran together. Abele continued to pester Monahan while Craig Lutz had caught the pair looking to improve his position as the race approached halfway. Abele went to the outside lane in his quest to get by Monahan, working hard as Monahan tried to hold him off. Finally on lap-21 Abele had the spot after several laps trying. Lutz struck quickly on Monahan to pick up fourth position, dropping Monahan to fifth a lap later. James couldn’t reel in Rocco, but the lead evaporated when Jim Larsen Jr. spun in turn four just ahead of Rocco, returning the race to caution with seven laps remaining.

A good restart allowed Rocco to easily resume his lead over James, who settled back into second over Abele. Rocco quickly extinguished any hopes James may have had to spoil his championship-clinching run, pulling away. Rocco went on to score the win unchallenged with James second and Abele third. Lutz finished fourth and Janovic rebounded from his spin to take fifth.

Rocco’s title in the SK Modifieds® gives him three for his career, joining back-to-back championship seasons in 2010 and 2011. Coupled with the Late Model championship he clinched last Saturday, Rocco becomes the only driver in Speedbowl history to win both crowns in the same season.

Sixth thru tenth in the SK Modifieds were Diego Monahan, Tyler Chadwick, Todd Ceravolo, Joe Gada and Nichole Morgillo.

The NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour was in action at the Caraway Speedway in North Carolina. A short field of 16 cars went the 150 lap distance on the 0,455-mile banked oval. Pole sitter Burt Myers led the first 62 laps before giving way to Andy Seuss who led the balance of the event. Myers faded to eighth in the final rundown. George Brunnhoelzl III finished second with John Smith, third.

On the speedway stock market scene last week two of the three speedway stocks finished the week on a positive note. Leading the way was the International Speedway Corporation which went up 0.15 to 32.36. Dover Entertainment went up 0.09 to 2.40. On the down side was Speedway Motorsports which dropped 0.66 to 17.93. NASCAR Cup sponsor Sprint dropped 0.10 to 6.16 while NASCAR fuel supplier Sunoco (Energy Transfer) went up 0.73 to 52.07 and NASCAR tire supplier Goodyear went up 0.24 to 22.46. Two of the three car builders were down for the week. Ford dropped 0.34 to 17.05 and General Motors dropped 0.51 to 36.37 while Toyota went up 0.81 to 130.26. In the home improvement sector it was all negative. Home Depot dropped 1.04 to 75 96 and Lowes dropped 0.07 to 47.77. In big team sponsorship Aarons Rentals went up 0.15 to 27.60 while Dupont dropped 0.41 to 59.01, Coca-Cola dropped 0.50 to 63.36, Target dropped 0.61 to 63.94 and Fedex dropped 3.06 to 113.77.

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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