Tuesday September 8, 2009

By Phil Smith                                                                                             

The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Series was at the Thompson Speedway last Thursday night. The competition and excitement provided by the “Men that Live by the Grace of God and 600 horsepower” was at a fever pitch as fans were on the edge of their seats for almost the entire 150 laps of the event. Donny Lia, in a show of sheer determination after being all but ridden into the wall by Ted Christopher, came from the rear of the field after a lap 113 restart and latterly blew the defending series champion away as he retook the lead in turn 4 on lap 139. Many of those on hand expected a “Pay Back” to Christopher was coming but Lia didn’t lower himself as he was in a hurry.

Keith Rocco will pilot the No. 12 for the remainder of 2009.
 (Photo Credit: Howie Hodge/NASCAR)

Once back in the lead Lia dominated to the end as he recorded a convincing win. Christopher, who was experiencing electrical problems with his radiator fan ended up in the runner-up spot and was followed by Todd Szegedy, Rowan Pennick and Keith Rocco who was making his debut in the Eddie Partridge No.12 that had been vacated by Jimmy Blewett. Sixth through tenth were Eric Beers, Eric Berndt, Bob Grigas, Glen Reen and Eric Rudolph.

There were 33 cars on hand as the economy and high cost of racing is taking its toll. Christopher, who drew the pole starting position, took the lead on the start after running outside pole sitter Mike Stefanik into the marbles between turns one and two. Christopher led until a restart on Lap 29 when Ryan Preece took the lead away in turn 2. Preece was running like a bear as he had ‘Ole Blu flat out. Stefanik spun out and hit the inside wall on the backstretch on lap 32. Preece led the restart on lap 37 but quickly lost the lead to Christopher. Preece developed power steering problems and eventually ended up going laps down before his crew cut the power steering belt in order to bypass the steering pump. While Preece was having his problems Lia, who started ninth, moved into the second spot on lap 39. Lia took the lead in turn three on lap 47 as Christopher’s tires were shot and he began fading fast. Rowan Pennick moved into the second spot on lap

Preece spun on lap 72 which allowed almost the entire field to pit for tires. Lia only took on a right rear tire, which allowed him to get back out ahead of most of the field as he restarted in third spot behind Berndt who chose not to pit. Berndt led the restart on lap 76 and held Lia at bay until a restart on lap 92 when Lia retook the point. A nine-car wreck on the backstretch on lap 93 brought out the red as the track was blocked. Among those who were involved were Woody Pitkat, Renee Dupuis, Kevin Goodale, Johnny Bush and Rob Summers. Once the wrecks were cleaned up Lia led the charge to the green on lap 98. Christopher took the lead in turn 4 on lap 103. Lia took it back in turn 4 on lap 106. One lap later Christopher attempted to move Lia up between turns one and two. Lia went into the concrete slightly, doing no damage. On the lap 113 restart Lia started in the rear of the field while Christopher diced for the lead with Todd Szegedy. Szegedy took the lead in turn 3 while Lia began his determined march to the front. By lap 123 Lia was back in the top five and closing fast. Following a lap 137 restart, Christopher took the lead with Lia hot on his bumper. The final lead change came in turn 4 on lap 139 when Lia took the lead for the final time.

There were seven caution periods for 35 laps. The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour will hold its 10th race of the 2009 season at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Saturday, Sept. 19.

The Hartford Courant announced early last week that Jimmy Blewett had given up his Whelen Modified Tour Series ride and his SK-Sunoco Modified ride. Long Islander Eddie Partridge owns both cars. Blewett left to concentrate more time to his family and the family owned scrap metal business. Keith Rocco moved into Blewett’s vacant seat in the WMT car while Ron Silk assumed the driving chores in the SK-Sunoco car. Following the WMT event Partridge stated that he was happy with Rocco’s performance. Partridge was also happy with Silk as he finished fifth in the Sunoco-SK type Modified event.

In Thursday night Thunder action at Thompson, Rowan Pennink took a hard fought win in the Sunoco SK type Modifieds. Pennink led the opening lap but immediately had his hands full with Kerry Malone and Ted Christopher. Pennink was able to maintain the lead as Malone settled back in line ahead of Christopher. The fiercest battle amid the pack was for the fourth position between Tim Sullivan, Keith Rocco and Woody Pitkat. Sullivan had the spot with Rocco and Pitkat within striking distance. The action cooled when the first caution flew for a spin by Harry Rheaume. On the restart, Malone was able to get the edge but his advancement was for naught as the caution flew before the leaders could get out of turn two. The dreadful season for Sullivan continued as he made hard contact with the outside wall in turn one to bring out the second caution. Malone got slightly out of shape on the ensuing restart making contact with Ted Christopher. Christopher slid through the infield making contact with the inside wall on the front stretch. The damage forced Christopher to retire from the event.

Rocco looked like he was shot out of a cannon on the restart moving to the second spot. Pitkat was able to get by Malone as well. A quick restart allowed Pitkat to gain another spot into the second position. Ronnie Silk, the new driver of the TS Haulers #12, made his first appearance inside the top five. After a stop on pit road, Danny Cates had come back to ride in the sixth spot. A bobble by leader Pennink exiting turn four one lap shy of halfway gave Pitkat a shot at the lead. Pennink recovered to maintain the position. A half-lap later, Pitkat tried the low side in turn three. The lane swap gave Rocco the edge to put him back in the runner-up position. Pennink continued to show the way with Rocco bearing down. Pitkat had settled back into the third position before the fifth caution of the event flew for a spin by Carl Oberg. Cates was back on pit road during the caution at lap 17.

It was much of the same on the restart as Pennink had to fight off the advances of Rocco. Pitkat laid in wait in third followed by Malone and Silk. Rocco pushed Pennink on the straight-aways lap-after-lap. Rocco got alongside Pennink exiting turn four on lap 21. He had to settle back in line as Pitkat began to apply pressure to Rocco. On a restart on lap 24, Rocco tried the crossover move looking for the lead. He got the car a bit out of shape as he dove too low and into the dirt giving Pitkat daylight. Pitkat was able to take the second spot away. Rocco pulled in behind Pitkat. The two continued to dog Pennink. On the final two laps the cat and mouse for the second position between Pitkat and Rocco allowed Pennink to celebrate his birthday with a victory as he flashed under the checkers. Pitkat finished a strong second followed by Rocco. Malone and Silk completed the top-five.

In other Thursday night Thunder action, Derek Ramstrom and Larry Barnett stretched their point leads in the Super Late Model and Limited Sportsman divisions respectively. After post race tech, Tommy O’Sullivan was awarded his third Late Model victory of the season. Brian Tagg streaked in TIS Modified competition with his second straight victory. Randy Churchill took down his first Mini Stock feature event win at Thompson.

Dick Ceravolo continues to show a slight improvement in his condition. Cards of cheer can be sent to Dick Ceravolo, 1348 Baldwin Hill Rd, Gales Ferry, CT 06335. Ceravolo has gained a little ground. Surgery to reset broken bones had been scheduled but was put on hold as a minor complication developed. Ceravolo, 70, suffered serious injuries on Aug 21while attempting to jumpstart a farm tractor.

Dr. Dick Berggren was taking in the action at Thompson Speedway.

Among those on hand at the recent Thompson WMT event was former three time NASCAR Modified National Champion Carl “Bugs” Stevens. Getting a Bear Hug from the Bugman was the highlight of this reporters night. Also spectating was recently retired Dick Berggren. Berggren who was at the helm of Speedway Illustrated says that he will continue his work as a pit reporter on televised races but will take life easy when not doing that.

The Stafford Motor Speedway Stafford Speedway returned to action after two rainouts with its Second Annual Late Model 100. Tom Butler was the big winner of the night, taking his second win of the 2009 season in the 100-lap extra distance race. Woody Pitkat made it two for the weekend as he scored his first Stafford win of 2009 in the 40-lap SK Modified feature, Earl Pelletier was the winner in the 20-lap SK Light Modified feature, Andrew Durand won the 20-lap Limited Late Model feature, and Bill Dunn was the winner in the 15-lap DARE Stock feature.

Justin Gaydosh and Keith Rocco split the twin 25-lap SK Modified races, which headlined the Waterford Speedbowl’s Thunder on the Sound event. Other 25-lap NASCAR Whelen All-American Series wins went to Bruce Thomas Jr. in the Bob Valenti Auto Mall Late Models, Al Stone in the Street Stocks while Louis Bellisle III was a popular winner in the Norwich Bulletin Mini Stock event.

Jason Palmer, Allen Coates, Rob Corey and Onie Pierce also found themselves in Speedbowl Victory Lane on the night taking 25-lap wins of their own. With his win Gaydosh earned a guaranteed starting birth in the annual North-South Shootout taking place November 5th - 7th at Concord Motorsports Park in North Carolina.

In TV land this week, viewing begins on Tuesday at 11:00am on ESPN Classic with last Sundays NASCAR Sprint Cup Pep Boys Auto 500 that was run at the Atlanta Motor Speedway. The Speed Channel will also air the replay at noon on Wednesday. Thursday’s viewing begins at noon when Speed reruns the 2008 Chevy Rock & Roll 400 that was run in Richmond, VA. The September 4 NASCAR Camping World Touring Series West Central Iowa Building and Construction Trades 125 that was run at the Iowa Speedway in Newton, IA, follows at 3:00pm. ESPN2 goes live on Friday at 10:00am with NASCAR Nationwide Series practice from Richmond. Sprint Cup practice from Richmond follows at noon. NASCAR Live goes at 1:30pm on Speed before shifting back to espn2 at 2:00 for Sprint Cup final practice at Richmond. NASCAR Now follows at 3:30. Live coverage by espn2 continues at 4:00 with Nationwide Series qualifying from Richmond. At 7:00pm, espn2 has the Nationwide Series pre-race show that will lead to a 7:30pm start of the Virginia 529 College Savings 250 at the Richmond International Raceway. The Speed Channel rounds out the day with Trackside at Richmond at 11:00pm. Saturday’s viewing gets an early start as the Speed Channel starts it off at 9:00am with NASCAR Now. At 11:00am Speed has the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series qualifying for the Camping World 200 at the Gateway Intl. Raceway in Madison, IL. At 2:00pm Speed has the pre-race show that will lead to a 2:30pm start of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Camping World 200 at Gateway Intl which gets the green on the Speed Channel at 2:30pm. A two hour edition of RACEDAY from Richmond follows at the conclusion of the truck race. At 7:00pm the action switches to ABC for a 30 minute NASCAR Sprint Cup COUNTDOWN which will lead in to the 7:30pm start of the Chevy Rock & Roll 400 at the Richmond International Raceway, also on ABC. 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.

On the Speedway Stock Market Scene last week all three speedway stocks had negative results for the week. The International Speedway Corporation dropped 1.33 to 27.03, Speedway Motorsports dropped 1.24 to 14.52 and Dover Downs dropped 0.08 to 1.41. NASCAR Cup sponsor Sprint went up 0.04 to 3.81while NASCAR fuel supplier Sun Oil dropped 1.09 to 26.35. Tire supplier Goodyear went up 0.15 to 16.35. The team sponsors were down for the week. Dupont dropped 0.85 to 31.71, Coca-Cola dropped 4.47 to 49.85, Target Department Stores dropped 0.27 to 47.12 and Aarons Rentals dropped 0.13 to 26.51. The car makers followed suit. Ford dropped 0.30 to 7.43, General Motors dropped 0.03 to 0.80 and Toyota dropped 2.30 to 83.90. The home improvement segment didn’t fare any better as Home Depot dropped 0.66 to 27.03 and Lowes dropped 0.08 to 21.62.

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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