Tuesday September 5, 2006   

By Phil Smith                                                          

The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour headed into the eye of Hurricane Ernesto as the competitors traveled to the Martinsville Speedway last Thursday and Friday. For the most part much of the storm headed north by late Friday allowing qualifying to take place. There were 49 Modifieds on hand and when all was said and done Mike Stefanik took the Busch Pole as he toured the .525 mile speedway in 18.833 seconds which was to the tune of 100.547 MPH. Todd Szegedy was second fastest with a speed of 99.974 MPH. Rounding out the top five were Donnie Lia, Jerry Marquis and Eric Beers. Twenty cars qualified with the ballance of the field to be determined by a 50-lap consolation event. The top eight redrew for starting positions with Eddie Flemke Jr. drawing the pole position with Tony Hirschman drawing the second spot. Stefanik drew the fourth starting spot.
The 50-lap consolation event was slated to start at 7:00p.m. but a heavy shower drenched the track shortly after 6:00p.m. The consi didn’t get the green until almost 9:00p.m. Kevin Goodale took the eventual win over Ron Silk.

The main event, originally scheduled for 300 laps got the green flag at around 10:15p.m. Mike Stefanik had the dominant car but in the end, at 200 laps when the race was called, Jimmy Blewett had the Eddie Partridge No.12 in the top spot. Blewett and Partridge, who dedicated their win to the late Charlie Jarzombek, led only 20 laps. With 19 laps to go on lap 182 Blewett was following Stefanik into turn two. Stefanik drifted up slightly, which opened up a hole on the low side. Blewett went for the spot and in doing so nudged Stefanik. Ted Christopher, who ended up in second spot was also part of the controversy as he nudged Zach Sylvester out of the way. Stefanik and Sylvester finished 14th and 15th respectively. James Civali, Todd Szegedy and Doug Coby who drives the Curt Chase No.77 based in Mansfield, rounded out the top five. Coby and his crew were extremely happy as they recovered from qualifying problems, which forced them to take a provisional starting spot in the rear of the field. Just missing the top five but turnining in a fine run was rookie Ron Yuhas Jr. who finished sixth. Matt Hirschman and Kevin Goodale finished seventh and eighth while southerners Tim Brown and Gene Pack rounded out the top ten.

It was close to 1:00am when the checkered flag was displayed. Fifteen of the original 43 starters were running at the end. Early leader Jerry Marquis lost a lap in the late going and ended up 16th.

Corey Hutchings had a good shot at becoming the 2006 Late Model Champion at the Thompson Speedway on Thursday night until he came unglued on the 13th lap of his 25 lap feature. Hutchings, who has four victories to his credit, was battling with RJ Marcotte for fourth spot when contact was made on the backstretch, which resulted in Hutchings spinning around. Hutchings felt the contact and resulting spin was intentional. Chief Steward Richard Brooks also felt it was intentional and ordered Marcotte to restart in the rear. Marcotte refused to comply forcing Brooks to rule that even if he continued to race he would no longer be scored. Hutchings evidently didn’t get the word that the track had reacted to the situation and chose to retaliate on his own. After a pit stop Hutchings reentered the track and went after Marcotte, finally cutting him off in turn four. Hutchings then exited his car and went to Marcotte and started punching him. When all was said and done both Hutchings and Marcotte found themselves thrown out of the event and parked in the infield. Hutching is facing possibly a multi race suspension.

Repeat winners were the other stories at Thompson International Speedway on Thursday night. Tommy Cravenho of Raynham, MA took down his second win of the season in the Sunoco Modifieds. Fred Astle of N. Westport, MA scored his second Pro Stock win at the Connecticut oval while TIS Modified racer Leo Oliviera also of Raynham posted his second. Dave Trudeau of Mansfield, CT. proved that the third time is a charm with his Late Model victory. New faces in victory lane included Mike Romano of Pascoag, RI, who earned a career first in the Mini Stocks and Keith DeSanctis of Monson, MA, who claimed his first triumph of the season in the Limited Sportsman nightcapper.
Cravenho scored the victory in the Sunoco Modified main event presented by Independent Truck Service. It was his second win of the season. Cravenho pocketed an additional $200 from Independent Truck Service of Shrewsbury, MA and earned himself a coveted guaranteed starting spot in the 4th Annual North-South Shootout scheduled for November 3&4, 2006 at Concord Motorsports Park in North Carolina. Through the generosity of owners Bruce & Pat Webber, tenth-place finisher Dave Nordman, 15th place finisher Brett LeBlanc, 18th place Rick D’Abate, and 20th place finisher Joe Lemay each received a $200 bonus from Independent Truck Service. Keith Rocco took the early lead from his pole starting position followed by Cravenho, co-point leaders Jeff Malave and Woody Pitkat and Todd Ceravolo. The battle for the lead got interesting at lap six with Cravenho pressuring Rocco for the top spot. Malave was stuck to the bumper of the Falmouth Ready Mix #31. The top-five of Rocco, Cravenho, Malave, Pitkat and Ceravolo entered heavy lapped traffic on lap 10.

Rocco diced his way through traffic while Malave was not as lucky. A sliding lapped car of Rick D’Abate got out of shape, clipping the left front of Malave. After getting through the pack of slower cars, the running order was Rocco, Cravenho, Pitkat, Lemay, Ceravolo then Malave. A spin by fifth-running Lemay spun to bring out the caution on lap 13. Rocco was reported to be leaking fluid while Malave headed to pit road. Rocco’s car never leaked a drop until he shut it off on pit road but yet was not given his spot back by officials. It was hinted that Rocco, the fastest car in the field, was the victim of a false report.

On the restart Cravenho was the new leader. Ceravolo had a great run on the restart and after a quick battle with Pitkat took over the second spot. Woody was not done. He held strong on the outside for several laps before falling back in line behind Ceravolo. Buddy Charette was having a great race in the fourth spot.

There was a little bumper tag between Pitkat and Ceravolo as they raced for second. Lemay, Rocco, and Malave were gingerly working their way through traffic. By the time the caution flew on lap 21 for a spin by John Catania all three were back inside the top ten. Lemay was back to seventh, Malave back to ninth and Rocco in tenth. With Cravenho back out front, Pitkat got the edge on Ceravolo on the restart. Ceravolo took chase in third while getting heavy pressure from Charette. Stephen Masse spun on the front stretch from the sixth position to send the field scattering. Masse made a right hand turn which litterly drilled Lemay into the concrete. Also collected in the melee was Rocco. Malave barely escaped the incident. This restart pitted Pitkat to the outside of Cravenho. Malave had rocketed into the fourth spot after he rode Charette almost into the backstretch wall on the restart. Malave got a run on Ceravolo but could not make the pass stick. Charette fought back on the outside.

Over the final two laps, Cravenho, Pitkat, Ceravolo and Malave ran under a blanket. In a last effort, Pitkat got low but could not make the pass. Cravenho held on for the win over Pitkat. Ceravolo finished third over Malave and Charette. Pitkat took sole position of the Sunoco Modified point lead with his runner-up finish.

The Thompson Speedway will be quiet this coming Thursday night as final preparations are made for the first annual Modified Mania, which will take place next weekend on September 9 and 10. Modified Mania will bring together in separate features the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, the True Value Modified Series, the ROC Modified Tour, Sunoco SK type Modifieds, Thompson Modifieds and Pro Four Modifieds.

The Stafford Springs Motor Speedway beat the onslaught of the remains of Hurricane Ernesto as their September Series of Friday night racing went off as planned. Eric Berndt drove to his third SK Modified® feature win of the 2006 season, Scott Foster, Jr. won his first Late Model feature win of the 2006 season, Brit Andersen won his fourth SK Light Modified feature win of the 2006 season, Kevin Gambacorta scored his second Ltd. Late Model feature win of the 2006 season, and Jim Brice was a first time winner in the DARE Stock feature.

In the 40-lap SK Modified® feature, Eric Berndt, of Rocky Hill, drove to his third feature win of the 2006 season. Berndt took the lead from Rowan Pennink on lap-3 and led the rest of the way to pick up the win. Berndt had to deal with a number of restart situations, and he fended off challenges from Todd Owen, Bo Gunning, and then Willie Hardie in the process. Gunning and Hardie swapped the second position several times over the second half of the race, with Gunning taking the spot at the checkered flag. Jeff Malave finished third, with Frank Ruocco and Hardie rounding out the top-5. Among those in the SK Modified field was Waterford Speedbowl Rookie sensation Jeffrey Paul and New England driving legend Bob Potter. Paul, who was making his Stafford debut, finished a respectable 12th. Potter, who recently turned 65, finished 23rd. In the chase for the SK Modified championship, Frank Ruocco holds a 20-point lead over Todd Owen, 518-498. Woody Pitkat is tied for third with Jeff Malave, 36 points behind, and Eric Berndt is fifth, 38 points behind. In the 30-lap Late Model feature, Scott Foster, Jr., of Ellington, drove to his first feature win of the 2006 season with an unusual move to take the lead. Rick Lanagan took the lead at the drop of the green flag from the second starting position, and he led the first 15 laps of the race. A caution came out with 15 laps complete, and on the restart, Foster moved around Lanagan for the lead, taking to the high groove, a path normally not traveled when passing for the lead. Foster then held off challenges from Woody Pitkat and Jim Peterson to take the checkered flag. Peterson finished second behind Foster, with Tom Fearn, Ryan Posocco, and Tom Butler rounding out the top-5. Pitkat, who entered the race as the points leader, had contact with another car late in the race and had to pit for a fresh tire. Pitkat finished 12th.

Impending rain from what was Hurricane Ernesto prevailed at the Waterford Speedbowl on Saturday night. The entire program has been postponed until Saturday, October 7. Racing at the Riverhead Raceway on Long Island was also rained out.

In TV land this week viewing begins on Wednesday at 4:00p.m. on the Speed Channel with the Sept.2 USAR Hooters Pro Cup Late Model event from the USA International Speedway in Lakeland, FL. At 8:00p.m. the action moves to the Outdoor Channel for the August 26 World of Outlaws event from the Skagit Speedway in Alger, WA. Thursday’s viewing begins at noon on the Speed Channel with last Saturday’s NASCAR Busch Series, Ameriquest 300 that was run at the California Speedway in Fontana CA. The NASCAR Nextel Cup, Sony HD 500 that was run at the California Speedway on Sunday follows at 2:30. The action moves to Richmond, VA on Friday beginning at 2:00 with NASCAR Live from Richmond International Raceway. Live coverage on Speed continues at 2:30 with Nextel Cup practice. Busch Series qualifying follows at 4:30. Live coverage switches to TNT at 6:00p.m. for NASCAR Nextel Cup qualifying. TNT continues their live coverage at 7:45p.m. with the NASCAR Busch Series Emerson Radio 250. At 10:00p.m. the Speed Channel wraps up the days racing with Trackside at the Richmond International Raceway. NASCAR Live from Richmond starts the Saturday programming on Speed at noon. At 4:00, NESN presents NASCAR New England, which showcases the weekly racing at the Stafford Motor Speedway. At 5:00 p.m. the action switches to the Outdoor Channel for a USAC Thunder: Silver Crown event that was run at the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds in DuQuoin, IL on September 3. NASCAR RaceDay, which previews the Nextel Cup Chevy Rock & Roll 400 from the Richmond International Raceway, goes live on Speed for two hours beginning at 5:00p.m. At 7:00p.m. the live coverage switches to TNT for a half hour pre-race show followed by the Chevy Rock & Roll 400 at 7:30. At the conclusion or at 11:00 TNT will present a one hour special titled The Chase for the NASCAR Nextel Cup Championship. On Sunday, the Speed Channel will host the Speed Report at 8:00 and Wind Tunnel with Dave Despain at 9:00pm.

On the Speedway Stock Market Scene all three-speedway stocks ended the week on a positive note. Speedway Motorsports went up 1.16 to 36.93. The International Speedway Corporation was a close second as they went up 1.15 to 48.49. Dover Downs which historically been a slow mover went up 0.21 to 5.83. Nextel, which has been down sliding recently, turned the corner as they went up 0.80 to 17.09. On the down side was the Sun Oil Company which took a dive as they dropped 4.91 to 72.60. Featherlite Trailers went up 0.01 to 6.36 while DIRT Motorsports rose 0.15 to 3.05. In the drug sector Bristol Meyers-Squib jumped up 1.27 to 22.95 and Pfizer gained 0.73 to close out the week at 27.96. The home improvement sector also had a good week. Home Depot went up 1.16 to 34.64 and Lowes went up 0.58 to 27.33. The parcel carriers also ended the week in the green as Fedex went up 2.67 to 101.82 and UPS went up 0.51 to 71.08.

That’s about it for this week from 40 Clark St, Westerly, R.I.02891. Ring my chimes at 401-596-5467 E-mail  

Phil Smith has been a columnist for Speedway Scene for over 3 decades.
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