Tuesday September 22, 2009

By Phil Smith                                                                                             

The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Series traveled to the New Hampshire Motor Speedway last week for the New Hampshire 100, which carried a purse of $166,917. Forty Modifieds were on hand for qualifying.

The Penthouse, the Firehouse and the Jailhouse all had their separate stories at Loudon. In the Penthouse was Ryan Preece who earned the 21 Means 21 Pole Award presented by Coors Light with a lap of 127.692mph. Also in the penthouse was car owner Eddie Partridge who watched with pleasure as his two drivers, Ronnie Silk and Keith Rocco qualified their cars in second and third place. It was Rocco’s first time at the New Hampshire mile. Rounding out the top five was Eric Beers and Doug Coby. Sixth through tenth were Todd Szegedy, Glen Reen, Erick Rudolph, Bobby Grigas III and Mike Stefanik. Current points leader Ted Christopher qualified 14th.

In the Firehouse was Donny Lia, the June New Hampshire winner. Lia’s car, the Mystic Missile, caught fire during practice and suffered severe damage that prompted to an emergency run back to the Mystic River Marina where an all night session was put in to make the necessary repairs. According to car owner Bob Garbarino a loose fuel line was the culprit. Unable to qualify, Lia was forced to take a provisional, which would place him in 34th starting spot in the 40 car-starting grid.

In the Jailhouse is part time Whelen Modified Tour Series driver Frank M. Ruocco, The Hartford Courant reported that Ruocco, who is also a weekly competitor at the Stafford Motor Speedway, was charged in a federal indictment on Wednesday, September 16, with obstruction of justice for trying to hide records of a scheme to illegally double the cost of removing contaminated soil from a New York construction site. Ruocco, Jr; his company, Earth Technology; and employee Boris A. Tomicic, 37, of West Hartford, also were charged with conspiracy, mail fraud, wire fraud and money laundering for billing the unidentified New York developer at inflated rates. Tomicic was not accused of obstruction.

Ruocco, who is 96 points behind Ted Christopher in the SK Modified point standings finished sixth at Stafford on Friday night.

Ron Silk passed Reggie Ruggiero on the backstretch of the last lap and held on through Turns 3 and 4 to earn the victory in the New Hampshire 100. Silk, swapped the lead with Ruggiero three times and ran bumper-to-bumper in the last 10 laps, with Silk surviving the battle. Ruggiero settled for a fourth-place finish after getting shuffled three spots on the last lap. Donny Lia crossed the line second followed by pole winner Ryan Preece and Mike Stefanik finished fifth. Lia entered the race third in points but his car caught fire during practice on Thursday and he was not able to qualify. After starting at the rear on Saturday with a provisional, Lia was involved in an early accident and went down three laps. He was the “Lucky Dog” beneficiary during three subsequent cautions, and rocketed toward the front for a runner-up finish. Keith Rocco, who was making his first start at New Hampshire finished 33rd after dropping out with mechanical problems.

The race featured 17 lead changes among eight drivers, and was slowed by 11 cautions. It was Silk’s fourth career NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour win and his first at New Hampshire.

The Whelen Modifieds now head south to Martinsville, VA for their 11th event of the season which will be run on Sunday, September 27.

In Thursday night Thunder action at Thompson, Ted Christopher made a mad dash from Loudon, NH, after qualifying for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour event to win his sixth Sunoco Modified feature event of the season at Thompson and his second in a row. Christopher edged out fellow Modified Tour competitors Rowan Pennink, Keith Rocco, and Woody Pitkat to take down the victory. Mike O’Sullivan scored his third Super Late Model victory of the season to bring the chase to the championship to single digits. Cam McDermott had a good point night as he scored his second win of the season in TIS Modified competition. Rick Gentes returned to his winning ways in the Late Models while Sean Monahan scored the victory in the Limited Sportsman division. Steve Michalski earned his second Mini Stock victory of the season.

Christopher drove by pole sitter Dave LaCroix in the first turn of the first lap and never looked back.

At the finish, Christopher took down the win over Pennink. Rocco had to settle for third over Pitkat and Bert Marvin. With the finish, Rocco gained two points over his nearest competition, Pitkat. Rocco has a four-point advantage over Pitkat going into the final point race.

The sparks flew between Keith Rocco and Ted Christopher at Stafford on Friday night. Keith Rocco took his fifth victory of the season in the 40-lap SK Modified feature, Dillon Moltz took his fifth win of the season in the 30-lap Late Model feature, Tommy Membrino, Jr. took down his second win of the season in the 20-lap SK Light Modified feature, Norm Sears took down win number two of 2009 in the 20-lap Limited Late Model feature event, and Stephanie Berardi scored her first career win in the 15-lap DARE Stock feature.

The 40-lap SK Modified feature took the green with two caution periods in the first two laps of the event. On the lap-3 restart, Keith Rocco moved by Matt Gallo to take the race lead. Richie Pallai, Jr. was third, Ted Christopher was fourth, and Todd Owen was in fifth. Christopher quickly moved into second behind Rocco, with Gallo, Pallai, and Woody Pitkat making up the top-5. Rocco held the lead until lap-10 when Christopher moved by. The next lap saw the caution come out for a spin by Sean Foster that collected several cars including Gallo, Joe Allegro, Jr., Kirk Zervas, and Wade Mattesen.

Christopher continued to lead back under green with Rocco, Curt Brainard, Pallai, and Chris Matthews making up the top-5. The top-5 ran in line for three laps before Pallai moved into third and Pitkat moved into fifth on lap-15. Christopher would continue to hold the lead until lap-20 when Rocco went back by to retake the lead. Rocco's lead was short lived as Christopher was able to move back by Rocco on lap-23 to take the lead back. The caution came out with 24 laps complete for a spin by Christopher Jones and slowed the action at the front of the pack. Christopher took the lead on the restart, but Rocco would move back out front several laps later on lap-30.

Rocco's move for the lead opened the door for Pitkat to also get by Christopher, dropping him back to third place. But Christopher took the spot back from Pitkat on the next lap and set his sights on getting the lead back from Rocco. Christopher got the lead on lap-35 and looked like he had a car to hold off Rocco for the win. On the final lap, contact between Rocco and Christopher, a bump and run, moved Christopher up the hill in turn 3, which gave Rocco enough room to take the lead and the race victory coming off turn 4. After the checkered flag, Christopher made contact with Rocco in turn 1, sending Rocco around and himself into the turn 1 wall. Pitkat finished third behind Rocco and Christopher, with Pallai and Owen rounding out the top-5.

The weather was cool but the action was hot at the Waterford Speedbowl as the track hosted Cystic Fibrosis Night and completed its NASCAR Whelen All-American Series race program with a first time winner and great battles in all the divisions taking center stage. Dennis Gada returned to victory lane in the SK Modifieds and Dennis Botticello ended a lengthy hiatus to Speedbowl Victory Lane in the Bob Valenti Auto Mall Late Models. Walt Hovey Jr. won his fourth Street Stock event of the year, Allen Coates checkered his seventh NEATV Truck Series race, and Ian Brew won his first ever Norwich Bulletin Mini Stock race.

After the pre-race Cystic Fibrosis festivities, seven-time Speedbowl champion Dennis Gada of Salem used his pole starting spot to move to the SK Modified race lead when the green flag came out. Jeff Pearl moved to second with Rob Janovic Jr. in third. Tyler Chadwick moved inside Jeffrey Paul for fourth on lap six. Contact in turn one of lap 15 left Glenn Pressell III slowing to bring out the first caution flag.

On the restart Gada jumped out over Pearl. Janovic moved in to challenge Pearl for second on the inside. Out of turn two on lap 16, Pearl and Janovic got crossed up triggering a chain reaction behind. Pearl and Janovic were able to continue through, however several cars made contact behind drawing the second caution when they stacked up into turn three. Gada again got out front over Pearl on the restart. Pearl began to look for a way around Gada. Janovic raced third and Chadwick in fourth. Keith Rocco was a man on the move, pressuring Tom Abele Jr. for fifth after starting from last after a qualifying race wreck. Ron Yuhas Jr., contending for the championship with Rocco, sat in seventh. Rocco made the move inside Abele on lap 23, advancing his way to the top five.

Up front Gada opened up a one car length lead over Pearl when Joey Gada spun in turn two with seven laps remaining. The restart was more of the same. Gada, Pearl and Janovic occupied the top three spots. Rocco moved up past Chadwick and immediately set his sights on Janovic, racing outside for third when caution came out with three laps remaining for Jeff Gallup and Rich Hammann who came together. Gada survived the final restart to go on to his second win of the year. The win is his 64th career at the shoreline oval. Pearl took second and Janovic held off the challenges of Rocco for third. Chadwick completed the top five. Rocco was able to sustain his points lead over Yuhas with his finish.

Dick Ceravolo continues to show a slight improvement in his condition. A slight infection continues to put reconstructive surgery on hold. He continues to be in an induced coma, now in its fifth week. Cards of cheer can be sent to Dick Ceravolo, 1348 Baldwin Hill Rd, Gales Ferry, CT 06335. Ceravolo, 70, suffered serious injuries on Aug 21 while attempting to jumpstart a farm tractor.

In TV land this week, NASCAR Now on espn2 will be shown at 5:00pm on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday NASCAR Now will air at 4:30pm on Friday. Viewing this week will begin on Wednesday at noon when the Speed Channel replays last Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Sylvania 300 that was run at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway. On Thursday at 3:00am Speed will replay the August 15th NASCAR Camping World Touring Series East Mohegan Sun 200 that was run at Lime Rock. At noon Speed re-shows the Sprint Cup 2008 Dover 400 that was run at the Dover Intl. Speedway. The NASCAR Camping World Touring Series East Heluva Good! Fall 125 that was run at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway last Friday follows at 3:00pm. Speed goes live at 11:00am on Friday with NASCAR Sprint Cup practice from Dover, DE. At 12:30 a one hour segment of NASCAR Live follows. At 1:30 the action switches to espn2 for Nationwide Series final practice from Dover. Sprint Cup qualifying follows at 3:00pm. At 4:30 the action switches back to Speed for NASCAR Live. Rounding out the day is Trackside (NASCAR) at Dover at 7:00pm. Saturday’s viewing gets an early start with NASCAR Nationwide Series qualifying at 10:30am on espn2. At 3:00 on espn2 it’s the pre-race show for the Nationwide Series which gets the green on espn2 at 3:30pm. Rounding out the day will be the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Qwik Liner Las Vegas 350 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Sunday’s viewing starts out with NASCAR Now on espn2 at 10:00am. At 11:00am the action switches to the Speed Channel for a two hour segment of RACEDAY. At 1:00pm the action moves to ABC for the pre-race show that will lead in to a 2:00pm start of the NASCAR Sprint Cup AAA 400 at the Dover International Speedway in Dover, DE. On Sunday evening, the Speed Channel has The Speed Report at 7:00pm, NASCAR Victory Lane at 8:00 and Wind Tunnel with Dave Despain at 9:00pm followed by NASCAR Now on espn2 at 10:00.

On the Speedway Stock Market Scene last week two of the three speedway stocks had positive results for the week. The International Speedway Corporation went up 1.08 to 28.51 while Speedway Motorsports went up 0.32 to 15.00. On the down side, Dover Downs dropped 0.02 to 1.40. NASCAR Cup sponsor Sprint went up 0.51 to 4.28 as NASCAR fuel supplier Sun Oil rose 0.94 to 28.44 and tire supplier Goodyear dropped 0.19 to 17.08. All three publicly traded automakers had negative endings. Ford dropped 0.39 to 6.94 while General Motors dropped 0.01 to 0.77 and Toyota dropped 0.38 to 83.58. With the exception of Coca-Cola which dropped 0.07 to 49.05, the major team sponsors had a good week. Dupont went up 1.93 to 33.74 while Target Department Stores went up 0.84 to 48.79 and Aaron’s Rentals went up 0.59 to 26.90. In the area of home improvement Home Depot went up 0.89 to 28.23 and Lowes went up 0.54 to 21.97.

The Charlotte Business Journal reported that Bruton Smith’s Speedway Motorsports Inc. filed suit against the city of Concord and Cabarrus County in North Carolina claiming they have failed to follow through on incentive agreements related to improvements at Lowe’s Motor Speedway and a nearby drag strip. The lawsuit, which was filed by Charlotte attorney Bill Diehl in Cabarrus County Superior Court, claims city and county officials have not reimbursed SMI for more than $4 million owed “toward public improvements that are reimbursable under the agreement.”

The incentive deal has been in dispute since it was originally proposed in fall 2007. City and county officials initially offered Smith the incentives in November 2007 after he threatened to move Lowe’s Motor Speedway during a dispute over building what became the $60 million Zmax Dragway. The incentives offered to Smith included a rebate of 85 percent of city and county taxes during the drag strip’s first five years of operation. The deal also called for Smith to make $200 million in speedway upgrades in exchange for road and other improvements around the track. The total value of the incentives was estimated at about $80 million at the time.

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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