On this weekend of the Racearama one of the hot topics of 2014 is the new Tri-Track Open Modified Series. The series is made up of 3 old school open format Modified events; the “Bullring Bash” at Lee USA Speedway in Lee, NH. (May 11th), the “SBM 125” at Star Speedway in Epping, NH. (June 14th), and “Modified Madness” at Seekonk, MA. (July 23rd). So I submit this to you my fellow NERFs..
This is an early column that involves an old school open modified show which took place at the famed Monadnock Speedway in Winchester, New Hampshire. A track ruled by the “Goshen Ghost” Punky Caron.
For those unfamiliar with Punky Caron please, I beg you to Google the man or sift through the social racing pages. What you’ll find are many stories, many hard fought races, numerous on track skirmishes, and tons and tons of respect. Punky was an aggressive driver. His fellow competitors might say he would race you just a little “harder” than you might race him at times. But make no mistake, he was not a dirty driver. He was a damn good one.
To sum up how it was watching Punky at Monadnock in the open shows, with that trademark Wirkkala Brother’s 121 coupe Modified, would be to describe the baddest World Heavyweight Champion boxer defending the crown in his home arena. What I mean by that is if you wanted to beat that World Heavyweight Champion in his back yard you have to fight the champion’s fight. This was his track and you best have brought your “A” game. He’s beaten invaders like Bugsy Stevens, Geoff Bodine, Ron Bouchard, Maynard Troyer, Reggie Ruggeiro, everyone for that matter on that lightning quick high banked oval.
Outside of the car Punky Caron was one of the most approachable and friendly individuals you would meet. When Punky retired he had sat upon the king’s throne at the place they call “MadDog” with 9 track championships. In 2011 he was voted into the New England Auto Racing Hall of Fame and very deservedly so.
The race this particular column speaks of has Punky falling one spot short of victory, but it’s to no damn slouch. Believe you me, I’m betting not too far down the road Punky was yet again the first to fly under Jim Hanks’ checkered flag.
Friday, May 19th, 1978 – NEW ENGLAND SPEEDWAY SCENE
As Cousin Minnie Pearl would say, “How-w-w-de-e-e! I’m so happy to be here.” My sentiments completely as this is the second time out of the pits for this writer with NERF’ers Corner.
We’ve had a couple of questions sent into us over the past week and they will be answered a little later in this column.
Just goes to show you that at least two fans read our words of wisdom last week and all I can say is “Jack Anderson watch out!”
Art Linkletter says that: “Kids say the darndest things” and this same term could relate to some auto racing fans.
A few Sundays ago I attended the Granite State Open at Monadnock Speedway and while watching the afternoon’s events from the stands, I overheard a conversation between a couple of fans behind me. In the next paragraph or two I will try to give you the play by play of the conversation but first let me set the scene for you.
Twenty-four modifieds roll out onto the track for the 100-lap feature coming to a stop in front of the stands so that the drivers can be introduced to the fans.
1977 Monadnock Champion Punky Caron of Goshen (NH) sits on the pole in the new Lindblad chassied Wirkkala Brothers #121 Coupe and along side of him is three-time National NASCAR Modified Champion Bugsy Stevens of Rehoboth (MA) in the Brandy Bunch #41 Pinto. The field is filled mostly with home track favorites such as Bob Karvonen, Dunk Rudolph, Donny Miller, Pete Fiandaca, Donny Ayer, Bruce Batchelder and Red Kimball. The challengers in from other ovals were Ron Bouchard, John Rosati, George Savory, Stan Gregor and Bob Stefanik.
The conversation started this way and we’ll call the two fans in question, “A” and “B”. Here goes……
(A) – “No one will catch Punky today.”
(B) – “Yah! He’s really running. Ran off and left everybody in his heat.”
(A) – “He’ll show all those hot shots from them other tracks.”
The race got underway and on lap twelve Bugsy got underneath Caron to take the lead and eventually the victory.
Hence our conversation continues…..
(B) – “It’s not fair to let all these outsiders come in to take away the trophies and prize money.”
(A) – “It sure ain’t. They never come to a regular show.”
(B) – “Yah! They only come when there’s a big payoff.”
Remember fans, the drivers don’t make the shows open events, the tracks do.
Racing fans pay anywhere from $3 to $6 to see one of these open shows and you would think they’d want to see a high quality show.
The home track drivers love the challenge of beating the best in the business and what better place to do it than in front of your own fans. If the home boy loses to a top shoe like the Bugman, he has nothing to be ashamed of as the biggest names in the business have been beaten by the likes of Stevens many time over. With the high cost of the sport today one has to go where he can shoot for the big purse.
By the way, Caron was the second fastest on the track and he did beat all them other “hot shots”.
Let’s face it fans, we want to see the best show we can for whatever the ticket price and that includes seeing all those hot shots from those other tracks.
So fans do sometimes: “Say the darndest things.” Think about it.
We had a couple of requests for addresses of the “Bugsy Stevens and Richie Evans Fan Clubs.” Anyone having this information, drop us a line.
**I know my father would have wanted to make sure that we don’t forget champion driver Jim Boniface who is battling cancer as hard as he ever did fellow competitors on the track. Jim has given so many fans great memories and we want to keep he and his family in our thoughts and prayers. Keep up the battle Jim. We’re all wearing your colors and cheering you on!
If you would like to contribute to The Jim Boniface Cancer Fund please click here.
The Valenti Modified Racing Series, based out of Canaan, NH, wrapped up it’s 10th season of existence in 2013. The VMRS has become a successful alternative to NASCAR’s Whelen Modified Tour in the New England region. That was proven when the series was the recipient of popular auto racing site, Speed51.com’s Best Touring Series voted on by the fans. The series has also seen it’s fair share of controversy over the last two seasons. Last years tour stop at Seekonk Speedway in Seekonk (MA.) on Saturday night, August 17 became arguably the most talked about controversy in Modified racing. When the smoke finally cleared on the following Monday the teams of Tommy Barrett (#9), Steve Masse (#13), and Richard Savary (#99) were disqualified for what was deemed tire tampering.
Rather than the headlines being about Todd Annarummo taking a huge victory that night at his home track, all the talk became that of Tiregate. The subject filled the grandstands and digital pages of racing news sites, blog sites, forums and social pages.
The subject is still being brought up six months later. So I decided to take a dive into the subject on the internet’s information super highway and place some calls as well as emails. I made some contacts and posed questions to some of the individuals involved from that night’s happenings and the days that followed. First though, lets not get too far ahead of ourselves and start from the beginning..
The Cement Palace
The Superior Team Racing #99 Modified, piloted by Richard Savary, is listed as owned by Rob Walendy. Rob became involved in asphalt auto racing in 2004 and came with plenty of experience working in
everything from go karts to Rolex 24 Hour Prototypes. He’s not only the owner of the Modified but is also a mechanic, spotter and tire specialist for the Superior Team Racing #99. Rob gladly went over in detail his duties on the night in question. One of those tasks included selecting four tires at the tire corral for the night’s competition. (Modified Racing Series teams are allowed to purchase 4 tires from the series for each event which are to be competed on the same night) They proceeded to mount the tires back at the hauler and air them up using the team’s air compressor; “As was often the case last year the tires did not size up as we would have liked. I do not remember which tire or tires we returned and selected new ones so we could get the stagger where we wanted it. We then returned to the hauler and mounted the new tires and inflated them with the air compressor to make sure we had what we wanted for sizes.”
“Once we were satisfied with the set we pulled the valve cores, let all the air out, inflated them with nitrogen, and set the tires off to the side in the hauler. We then proceeded to practice [with older tires] and make adjustments on the car. At the end of practice we removed the tires and wheels on the car and put the new tires we had purchased that day from the MRS on the car.” Rob’s team deflated the nitrogen from the tires and aired them back up. “I was present for all of these activities.”
Andrew Truchinskas, a crew member for Steve Masse’s Modified last season, assisted his team with selecting tires from the VMRS tire corral; “The crew chief and myself picked the tires that day and brought them back to the trailer. We mounted them on the ramp on the back of the trailer like we always do. They then sat there until we put them on the car for the heat race. They were in plain view all day to everyone.”
During the drivers meeting it was apparent post race procedures were going to be done a little differently. Andrew explained; “It’s common for the VMRS to have the top 5 teams break down 2 tires after a race in tech. During the driver’s meeting that day they told us the top 5 would have tires checked on the track immediately after the race and any random cars they decided on.”
Rob said much of the same; “Standard procedure was to have the top 3 stop on the track at the start finish line and be interviewed. 4th and 5th go directly to tech. The top 3 then go to tech after on track interviews and pictures. The practice for tech is no one touches the car until we are informed by the officials what they want to inspect. As I remember, the MRS officials would check bar codes on the tires against their list to make sure everyone was using the tires they had purchased that night. Sometimes they would ask to break two [tires] down in post race tech, but I do not remember that always being the case.”
Then came the introduction of the sniffer by Valenti Modified Racing Series officials. The sniffer device detects volatile organic compounds, v.o.c.’s if you will. Most any compound that is used to treat tires to alter their normal performance can usually be detected by the sniffer. When the sniffer goes off it signifies a reading by a “loud shrieking noise”, as described by Rob. According to him It was the first time VMRS brought out this device; “The Seekonk race is the first time I remember seeing the sniffer.”
Andrew Truchinskas also says the Seekonk pre-race was the first time he saw the sniffer device and upon inquiring received a rather strange response; “When they (VMRS officials) were sniffing the tires we asked what they were doing and we were told (by the official) not to worry about it. We had nothing to worry about so we didn’t bother to follow up with what they were doing.”
Why the series would decide to implement a sniffer device with half of it’s season already in the bag is their prerogative. In many eyes it’s also their obligation as a series to inform their teams who support the series what the device is and what it’s for. Why not introduce the device that night in the drivers meeting as is usually the case in regards to changes in procedures such as the aforementioned announcement for tech? Furthermore, when the official used the testing device on Masse’s Modified, was it such a secret that an official would be disrespectful to an inquiring crewman who’s car they were using the device on? After all it’s their series too, their equipment they are checking with the device, their money supporting the series and putting on the show. They had every right to know. To this writer it draws question as to why the sniffer and it’s application were held from the competitors, especially when it would later play a major part in the final outcome, but we’ll get to that.
I asked VMRS Director entering his sophomore year at the high ranking position, Scott Tapley if any of the teams in question were notified during pre-race that the sniffer did in fact register a reading on their tires?; “The pre-race checks were done in the line up in front of team members that were there, but copious amounts of folks were watching the process. … The results are not to be considered for dismount and inspection until the tires have been raced and tested immediately when hot off the track. That is the only way to accurately test with a sniffing device for conditioning. [It’s the] same procedures that tracks like Stafford have done for many years.”
Inquiring about the pre-race sniffing and any notification if the device went off, Rob Walendy stated; “I was not around the car the entire time. I asked the crew and no one remembers an official checking our tires.”
I asked Andrew if the sniffer made a shrieking sound Rob described earlier. Andrew simply replied; “No it did not.”
Rob described what took place after the feature was in the books; “The top 3 cars were requested to stop on the front stretch. I relayed the information to Richard and he stopped on the front stretch and got out of the car and was interviewed by the track announcer. After the interviews, Richard asked if I would drive the car back to tech. I placed my radio bag on the metal behind the drivers seat, climbed in and headed off the track. As I recall, the #12 and #13 Modifieds were in front of me as we drove up to the exit of the track. The VMRS officials stopped all 3 of us while we were still on the track. I stalled the damn thing at this post race check. The official then used what I later found out was a sniffer on the right front wheel. I heard a loud shrieking sound. The official then moved to the right rear tire and again I heard the loud shrieking noise. The official then moved to the left side tires. I heard no noise at either time [for the left sides]. The official at the driver’s side window then instructed me to take the car directly to the tech area. I drove the car to the tech area and shut it off. I remember one of our crew guys asking me what the officials wanted for tech. I told him I would find out.”
“I believe it was Chip (Pettengill, VMRS official) that I asked and he said they wanted the tires broke down. I went back to the car, about 20 feet away and said put it up on 4 and break the tires down. They want to look inside. We had plenty of guys at the car to take the tires off and if the officials wanted anything else, carb, ignition box, etc., we had people there that could handle that. I believe I went back over to the tech area and watched as one of the crew guys broke down the right front tire then the official looked inside.” Here is where things get a little interesting. Rob explains; “At some point the official at the car said that we were all set with the tires and one or two of the crew took the tires back over to the hauler. Not long after another tech official said they wanted our tires back over to the tech trailer. I went over to see what was going on.”
Backtracking a little, Rob gave good reason why he went back to tech; “When we were at Oxford Plains Speedway (Oxford, Maine) a few weeks earlier the VMRS officials had taken tires from some of the top finishing teams. We were told we would be getting them back. We did not. The VMRS had cut pieces out of them and sent them to a lab. I can only assume that those tires came back negative because no one was penalized. The VMRS only allows competitors to buy 4 tires per event in an effort to keep costs down. We use the tires from the last race as our practice tires when we go to the next track. Losing a set of tires is a disadvantage for the next race as we are forced to practice and make adjustments to the car based on feedback produced by very warn out tires. So I wanted to make sure we were getting our tires back.”
Upon questioning Rob about those tires being taken at Oxford (about $580.00 worth for a set of 4), the same tires his team was depending on for the next tour stop’s practice session, he not only never had them returned, but was never reimbursed in any way. The only thing the VMRS offered his team was being given the option to purchase a fifth tire at the next event, but it would be marked by the VMRS as strictly for practice.
Back to the night in question.. When Rob arrived at the VMRS trailer Rob says he spoke with series director Scott Tapley concerning his team’s tires. By Rob’s recollection, he said Scott informed him they were taking their tires because the sniffer had gone off and they suspected their team had been soaking tires. Rob denied any wrong doing; “I replied as best as I remember; No we haven’t Scott. I picked those tires out. I mounted those tires and I put them on the car and there isn’t anything in them. Scott said something like; Well were you watching them the whole time? I think I said; No I wasn’t watching them the whole time. They were lying on the floor in our hauler with people walking by all day! Are you kidding?”
“At that point he said they were going to send the tires out to a lab. I told him Good send them. They will come back clean because we didn’t do anything. [Later that night] Chris Grey (VMRS Operations Manager) took me aside and said that they didn’t think we were cheating, but they knew others were and that we were just caught up in it. I replied with something like; Fine. Just send the tires out and have them tested because we didn’t do anything.” Rob and his team packed up and got ready to leave the speedway grounds extremely upset at the allegations that the team did anything to their tires.
Before getting in the hauler and heading out, Rob pulled the two crewmen that worked on the tires with him and asked each of them, point blank, if they had put anything in the tires during the nights events. Both answered they had not. Only later did he find out that neither one of the crew members he questioned had any experience with treating tires of any kind. He assured his crew the officials were sending the tires to a lab and would find out the truth, that the tires were clean and legit.
Scott said the officials actually got confirmation during inspection of the broken down tires they confiscated; “We mark the insides of all the tires sold with a paint marker and write the car number on the inside of each tire. The positive tested tires had the paint [missing] and the car number was not visible as it should have been if no conditioner was present. The tires dismounted that did not read on the sniffer did have the number still as it was when initially painted. Representatives of two of the three teams witnessed the lack of number and obvious differences in texture inside. The third team declined to enter the tech trailer and witness the findings.”
Not Your Typical Monday
On Monday, Rob missed a call from Scott Tapley. Rob says Tapley had left a voice mail as well as sent him an email asking Rob to call him back. Once he got in contact with the series director early that afternoon, to put it mildly and cleanly, Rob was shocked at what he was told; “I was told that the Valenti Modified Racing Series had decided not to send the tires out to a lab and that we were being disqualified from the race along with the #13 (Steve Masse) and the #9 (Tommy Barrett Jr.). I was extremely angry. I spent approximately 20 minutes in discussion with Scott. I asked why they were not sending the tires out and I never received a satisfactory answer. I pointed out to Scott that VMRS was saying my team was cheating and I was saying that we were not.”
Rob was adamant that his team was not cheating; “I asked Scott if he would be willing to send the tires to the lab at my expense. I offered to pay the VMRS to box them up and ship the tires to the lab of their choice. Scott told me that wasn’t his call to make. So I asked him if I placed a call to Jack Bateman (VMRS series creator, owner and president) and made the offer to him would Scott be okay with that? Scott told me he wouldn’t be in favor of it.”
Rob reiterated his reason to the series director; “I said; Scott you’re saying I did something and I am saying I didn’t. All I am asking for is an impartial third party to decide which of us is correct. I am willing to pay for this to happen. You have my tires. You have the evidence. Why not let them make the call? He said that I would have to call Jack and that it was out of his hands.”
Meanwhile, keep in mind that Rob Walendy stated he returned Scott’s phone call early Monday afternoon. Coincidentally, by about1:30pm Eastern time a story was already published with news the teams of Tommy Barrett, Steve Masse, and Richard Savary had in fact been disqualified from the Seekonk race. No points, no purse money, and out of pocket with nothing to show for that past weekend’s series show besides a finger pointed in their direction for a serious offense. An offense that all three teams still say they were not guilty of.
Andrew and his team had the same view especially when told that the series said their tires grabbed a reading in pre-race, yet never hearing the sniffer go off. It started to have a stink about the whole situation; “We weren’t told anything about our tires before the feature and when we found out post race that our tires allegedly failed the sniffer in pre-race we immediately asked [VMRS officials] why they would even allow us to race if our tires were looked at as illegal before the race. We put 100 laps on the motor and used all the fuel when they already knew they were going to disqualify us? We even offered to pay for the lab tests!”
As soon as Rob Walendy finished his conversation with Tapley he dialed up Jack Bateman at the Valenti Modified Racing Series headquarters in Canaan, New Hampshire; “I asked to speak to Jack, but I was told he had just stepped out so I left a message for him to call me back.”
In the meantime, Rob decided to do some online research and decided to contact a testing lab. He called the lab and spoke with the owner of the facility; “I learned a lot about tire testing and the proper procedures while on the phone with him. [The lab] will only do testing for sanctioning bodies and tracks. They do testing for a bunch of both. I explained to the owner what had happened and he pointed out that the sniffer is only for indication that there are volatile organic compounds present and that in order to confirm whether or not a tire had been treated that further testing would have to take place. We spoke for a while about what kind of testing they do, but he was somewhat reticent to be specific.”
Regarding these v.o.c.’s being described, Rob recalls; “Memebers of our crew and other crews have pointed out that the sniffer was going off everywhere. The pit area is full of v.o.c.’s from what I have learned. Gasoline, oil, carb cleaner, brake cleaner and a lot of other products contain v.o.c.’s.”
After he got off the phone it wasn’t long before VMRS president, Jack Bateman returned Rob’s phone call. Rob went over the scenario with Jack regarding his and Scott Tapley’s conversation; “I asked him if he would box up the tires and ship them at my expense to the laboratory. Jack declined. I then asked him why he wouldn’t send the tires out to be tested and he told me that they had done that before and they came back clean. I then asked him if [the Valenti Modified Racing Series officials] had soaked a tire and sent that to a lab with the others as a known good example. He said they had not. I then asked isn’t it possible that no one was soaking then? He said that he knew people were cheating.”
At that moment Rob realized that continuing further into the subject with the series president was absolutely pointless. (Note what was mentioned prior about the tires they took from him after the series race at Oxford Plains Speedway earlier in the season.)
Rob’s question to Jack regarding the series purposely soaking a “known good sample” for testing brings up something to note. While interviewing the series director over a period of days via email, I mentioned to Scott Tapley that after I read up on numerous chemicals used to treat tires for almost every damn thing you can shake a stick at (some were quite MacGyver-esque), a link Scott was so kind to provide me was the only type I had seen where they claimed was a product undetectable by a lab. Others that have been listed as undetectable have been found in later tests at labs.
The reply I received from Scott was quite intriguing when he mentions prior lab testing; “Prior to any of the events you are talking about I spent 2 months of on track/lab research, treating 4 tires with 4 different conditioners. 2 chemicals I’ve used before and 2 that were the newest to the industry. I took 3 sample spots from each tire and had them analyzed. 4 dirty treated tires by myself and sealed by myself only showed results on 2 of the 4 tires.”
So, on the contrary, by Rob’s recollection of his conversation with Jack, the series had actually completed lab tests and had in fact sent a “known good sample” during the series director’s research earlier in the year.
“I went through this process because the integrity of my series is the most important thing in my life other than the love I have for my kids. I will never go into anything without first doing homework that no one else would go through because in the end with a position such as mine, integrity is the only thing that drives me.” Scott’s love and passion for his sport and family can not be questioned and that is not being challenged by any means.
Series officials announcing in the drivers meeting that there would be a change up in tech procedures is not uncommon. It happens quite frequently in all series and weekly speedways as a way to shake things up. Not introducing a new device in the drivers meeting, which would play a major roll later in tech on it’s first night in use is a little suspect. Tech for a series is there to assure not only the series officials, but also assure series competitors they are all on a fair playing field. However when adding up all of the little actions and what was said along the way will cause anyone to raise the eyebrows and does in fact draw question to the integrity of the series to a certain degree.
The fact remains when 3 teams left the Seekonk Speedway grounds they were led to believe that their confiscated tires were being submitted to a lab only to find out two days later they were not, but were being disqualified nonetheless. Then the remarks by officials regarding someone is cheating begins to resemble somewhat of an ongoing witch hunt. The only question is who was really being hunted?
Join us in two weeks time for the second and final installment of Tiregate.
A big NERF’ers congratulations to Doug Coby on winning the Modified half of Bash at the Beach. The Modified show far surpassed last years fiasco, as the division was well represented in terms of racing. If you’re a fan of NASCAR’s Cup series then this is your weekend, enjoy! See you next week for another installment of the old NERF’ers Corner by Robert Echo straight out of the pages of Speedway Scene. Be safe everyone!
Drivers have their fair share of not so great days, even the very best of them. I speak of the face-palm tantrum moments of playing park-and-go with a tow truck on the track after being black flagged or foolishly spinning someone out well after a race is over. Another form comes outside of the car in front of the fans with an interview or an altercation. The better you are on the track the brighter the spotlight that’s cast upon you. Enter one Geoff Bodine. The driver of the Dick Armstrong owned Nu Style Racing red Pinto bodied Modified during the mid to late ’70’s. Geoff’s unbelievable talent behind the wheel got overshadowed on occasion by an uncanny ability to do the wrong thing at the wrong time. Some of his most notable racing feuds with fellow competitors are well documented (Bones Bourcier’s “RICHIE“ and “BUGSY” books) and every once in a while it would happen outside of the car and make the papers.
The NERF had an additional reason for starting his anti-Bodine campaign and it all started when Geoff and his Big Red Machine decided to compete regularly at Riverside Park Speedway in 1977.
Back in the mid to late 70’s Riverside Park Speedway featured Modifieds and Figure Eights. After intermission the Modifieds would roll out of the pit gates, run over the scales in the infield in turns three and four, and park in their respective positions on the front stretch. The drivers would then get out of their Mods and start signing autographs for the mobs of fans at the fence. On this night in ’77, my older brother Shane was in that mob hoping to get an autograph from his new favorite driver, Geoff Bodine.
After waiting his turn, Shane started to pass the driver his new WINSTON Racing hat through the fence. Geoff looked up at my brother with a distasteful expression and blurted out; “Sorry, but I don’t sign autographs for older kids. Go bug someone else.”
Up until that moment my family attended the Park with an equal amount of interest each Saturday evening. After that night the trips were less a family member. The negative response wiped out my brother’s interest of attending the Park for quite some time and his new favorite driver became his last. On a scale of 1 to 10 my father’s anger reading was nothing short of severely pissed off.
Obviously many years have passed since then and as I stated earlier, every driver sees their fair share of not so good days, but at that moment in 1978 and being as it was his son, it was taken personally.
The next week Robert Echo began setting aside space in every article he submitted to the local paper and that space focussed on Geoff Bodine. When he left that local publication and started writing NERF’ers Corner, it only took one nasty incident at Stafford Speedway for that space to creep back into his column. So, to quote Apollo Creed in ROCKY III; “Ding.. Ding..”
Friday, May 26th, 1978 – NEW ENGLAND SPEEDWAY SCENE
Hello once again from Fan Club Headquarters here in NERF’ers Land. I’m sitting here at my rickety old wooden desk, that must have been left over from the days of President Washington, typin’ my column for all you NERF’s. In fact I think ol’ George used this desk to cross the Delaware in. It’s not really a bad old desk as there are only a couple of minor things wrong with it. The top drawer on the right side has never been open cause I ain’t gotta key and when you pullout the drawer on the bottom left, the right front leg falls off. Oh yes, I call my desk “Sexy” because the top has more bumps in it than Raquel Welch or Charo.
Well back to fan club news.
One New England fan club is presently planning their second trip to the “Cardinal 500” in Martinsville, VA in late October. Details have not been completed and the fan club’s president has asked that the club not be named at this time. When full details are set, we will pass them on to you.
I know there must be several fan clubs out there with some news for all the NERF’s in the Northeast. It could be you who might want to add some new members to support your favorite driver or you could need information on how to start a fan club. Drop us a line and we’ll put your news in this column or we’d be glad to help you organize a club for support of your favorite track gladiator.
Do you remember the old “I hate Elvis” clubs when the late Elvis Presley hit the scene in the 1950’s. Well after last Friday nights 30 lap Modified feature at Stafford Motor Speedway, there may be a new ”I hate” club and with all the tee shirts around with ones favorite driver scrolled across the front with a picture of his car, the new shirts would read “I Hate Bodine” with a big “X” across the picture of Bodine’s Pinto.
Bellingham’s (Ma.) Geoff Bodine and Ken Bouchard of Fitchburg (Ma.) are the only ones who really know what happened on the 25th lap restart with the possible exception of Ken’s brother Ron and Rehobeth’s (Ma.) Bugsy Stevens who lined up behind Bodine and Ken Bouchard.
With Bodine in the number one spot and Ken Bouchard on the outside, the two touched wheels sending the latter for a wild ride into the fourth turn wall. He then rolled back down across the track through traffic where he collided with Plainfield (Ct.) Dick Traynor.
A confrontation between Ron Bouchard and Bodine was thwarted by starter Frank Sgambato and several drivers sitting out the action in the infield.
It was twenty minutes before they removed the badly shaken Ken from his modified and he was later taken to the hospital for examination and release.
I don’t know who or what really caused the accident as there are many versions of the accident, but I do know Ron stirred the crowd up to a frenzy by going after Bodine and rightfully so as he was disturbed over his brother being hurt.
A couple of things cost Bodine a lot of his faithful fans. One was when he climbed from his car after the accident and raised his arms in what everyone in attendance thought was a gesture of victory. This brought a loud booing from the stands. Bodine also later remarked to fans in a “Victory Lane” interview with Pete Falconi; “If these people were real racing fans, they would understand.” Again the boos rose loud and strong from the spectators. The statement was a bad mistake. The people that attend Stafford week after week would have to be considered good dedicated racing fans and without them there would be no payday for winners like Bodine.
Just wonderin’ who’ll be the first to dawn an “I Hate Bodine” shirt or who’ll be the first to start a club under the same name.
Being a relocated Northeast asphalt Modified fan can be extremely frustrating. Any fan away from the region can relate. We keep abreast of the happenings through friends still involved in the Northeast auto racing scene and try to hide our envy the best we can. Fortunately for us, there are a few sites who supply excellent in depth coverage. Our friends at TheChromeHorn.com and MyRaceNews.compost articles and have live race reports of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, Valenti Modified Racing Series as well as “open” Modified events. If we need updates on tracks running weekly programs, they have that too. Both are extremely great news sources. We also look for the writers of both sites and others who are on the scene covering the events to give additional insights leading up to events and the days following. However, sometimes news slips through the cracks unnoticed and unquestioned. The following was one of them that certainly peaked this writer’s curiosity.
On Saturday, June 22nd, 2013 many of us, who couldn’t be in attendance tuned into the Chrome Horn’s race report as Waterford Speedbowl was playing host to NASCAR’s Whelen Modified Tour. The Waterford, Connecticut speed plant is a 3/8ths mile semi-banked asphalt oval with a deep history in Northeast auto racing.
During coverage of the 150 lap tour race, the Chrome Horn reported NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour officials had handed down a penalty to the Hill Enterprises #79 Modified, piloted by Woody Pitkat, for an unapproved change. The team was forced to start at the rear for repairing their Modified’s kill switch.
For those unfamiliar, the kill switch is one of many safety devices equipped on a Modified and many other types of racing machines for the sole purpose of saving a driver’s life. In years past, stuck throttles have been the cause of numerous horrific wrecks, some taking the lives of some of the best to sit behind the wheel of a Modified.
Speaking with a source close to the team I asked at what point in the night’s proceedings was the issue discovered; “[The Hill team] noticed the kill switch not working right before time trials. Some wires were grounding out on the steering shaft.”
Due to the timing of the kill switch failure the team’s driver, Woody Pitkat, was forced to hit the bypass switch in order to get through time trials. When time trials were over Pitkat had the Hill Enterprises Modified 13th fastest in a field of 27.
Upon returning to the pits, the team went to work to correct the issue with the kill switch. That’s when officials informed the team they were receiving a penalty for the repair and would start at the rear. When asked if anyone involved with the team questioned the tour officials over their ruling; “There wasn’t really much to talk about the penalty. [NASCAR officials] just said it’s a safety issue. You fix it and you will start at the rear.”
With the Waterford event being a one day show it’s considered an impound race; “I believe the procedures are that during an impound race, which is usually a one day event, you cannot work on your car after time trials. If you do you have to start at the rear. Officials do have to be at your car when making adjustments or changes, but you still have to start in the rear if it’s something besides air pressure, tire stagger or spring rubber.”
The Hill Enterprises team has been a strong supporter of the Modified division for decades on end. The popular North Carolina based team has made the haul to every tour stop on the Northeastern tour schedule for many decades. They are not only known for it’s late great driver/owner/patriarch, Roger Hill, but the great racing family carrying on the legacy. Drivers who have sat behind the wheel of the famous 79 since the team began competing on NASCAR’s Whelen Modified Tour is a who’s who in the division.
The rig they transport their Modified in guzzles fuel for the long hauls to each race costing enough for one to spray a mouthful of coffee across your computer/tablet/smart-phone screen. I’ll spare you the clean-up, but how about some other costs you may or may not know?
From what I have been told, the owner pays an entry fee every tour stop costing somewhere around $150.00. Those on the Hill crew, like many of their fellow competitor’s crew members, are made up of mostly all volunteers who pay for NASCAR licenses somewhere in the neighborhood of $370.00 a season just to help out. Last season, the Hill Enterprises team would bring with them anywhere from 3 to 8 crew members from their home base in North Carolina. A driver on the tour dishes out about $385.00 for their season license to compete. None of these costs include the pit passes everyone must purchase to enter each speedway’s pit area. Nor do these approximate numbers include other expenses such as lodging, meals, etc. Barring any major damage, the preparations to field one of these machines for each tour stop has been estimated around $2,500.00. The Modified teams competing on the tour haul into the speedway grounds early so their racing machines can be inspected by officials. I believe the inspection comes with another fee which is unknown to this writer. Considering that the tour purses have decreased terribly over the years the teams are racing dollars for donuts. When the night is over, more often than not, they’re leaving the grounds and heading home out of pocket. These are the true weekend warriors.
Their opinion of the unapproved change rule including safety devices; “My feelings were that because it was a safety issue it needed to be fixed and I don’t think [the Hill team] should have been put to the rear. If it was a shock or something then I understand being put back.”
I couldn’t agree more. The repair had no effect on the machine’s performance and everything to do with making sure the Hill’s driver, Woody Pitkat had that additional life saver inside the cockpit at his disposal.
It’s laughable when you think about it. The penalty NASCAR officials handed down to the Hill Enterprises team is the same as being sent to the rear for replacing; the window net, safety harness, fire extinguishing device, or even a driver’s suit or helmet for that matter. Call it petty or nitpicky . Whatever tag you want to slap it with, it’s a costly penalty and should have been a no-call. If NASCAR wants to penalize a team during an impound race for changes after time trials then so be it, but safety devices should be excluded from the rule entirely.
It’s apparent the majority of the fans and teams who attend and compete in NASCAR Modified racing are at their wits end as how to get the Modifieds back on track and headed in the right direction; “I know the costs for everything right now is outrageous and I think NASCAR could take some money from the big 3 (Cup, Nationwide and Trucks) to help the NASCAR weekly guys. [NASCAR] always talk about how it all started with the local short track series. So why not help [the Modifieds] out and give us bigger purses so we can make [Modified racing] a little more feasible.”
The amount of money these teams spend to field a Modified is bad enough. The volunteered hours these people spend working on the car beyond their full time job proves their love for the division, but hasn’t paid back as it should. They spend time in the shop after hours away from their families with out of pocket expenses to support a series that currently pays crumbs in comparison to all the costs.
This is NASCAR’s first sanctioned division. At one time the Modifieds were considered part of the “Big 3”, but lost out when the sanctioning body gradually placed more effort into their young fender-friendly series labeled as trucks. The Modifieds are the division which laid the foundation for the success of NASCAR. Whether its lack of consideration by rule book makers, lack of care by the sanctioning body, the empty promises heard every season or otherwise, one thing is for certain. The respect and attention for the Modified division as a whole, by the sanctioning body, has been long overdue.
If you have any news items, questions or comments you would like to discuss or bring to my attention you can comment on the post or drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. Until next time, always remember; The shorter the track, the shorter the temper.
*The individual who was kind enough to answer my questions will remain anonymous, but not from their own wishes. History has shown where there exists a “Rule 12-4A”, there exists a chance that anyone crewing, driving, owning or reporting can be effected just for giving their honest opinion. I appreciate the time they spent providing the information. You know who you are and I thank you.
Sometime in early April, 1978 the local newspaper Robert Echo was writing for decided to drop coverage on the local auto racing scene. Riverside Park Speedway, Stafford Speedway, Monadnock Speedway, Westboro Speedway, Plainville Stadium, Thompson Speedway, Seekonk Speedway, Lebanon Valley Speedway, and the Danbury Fair Racearena were all within 100 miles from where the publication was located. Robert confronted the sports editor questioning his motives and personal affiliation with a local radio personality that questioned auto racing as a legit sport and it’s competitors as athletes. After some additional choice words Robert quit.
I’m unsure of the details thereafter regarding the conversations between Val LeSieur and Robert Echo. Regardless, it led to NERF’ers Corner gracing the pages of New England Speedway Scene. Eventually Val hired Robert as Speedway Scene’s Public Relations Director in late 1979. As a team they helped bring Speedway Scene to another level. The publication was reaching more fans, spread like wild fire to a wider audience and creating great things in the Northeast racing community in just a few short years, most notably the RACEARAMA ‘n’ Trade Show.
The very first column published on Robert Echo’s NERF’ers Corner RELOADED could only be the very column that started it all. I feel it is only fitting that this first column be dedicated to The Fat Rat himself, Val LeSieur, who gave so many a voice by creating the perfect platform to print it in. Thank you, Val.
Friday, May 12th, 1978 – NEW ENGLAND SPEEDWAY SCENE
What makes the auto racing world go round?
It takes the race cars, the car owners, the drivers, the speedways and the number one ingredients, the fans.
The thousands of fans that fill the speedway grandstands each and every week to see their favorite car and driver are what makes the auto racing world what it is today.
Whether it be the home of the Indianapolis 500, or at the super speedways of Daytona, Charlotte, Darlington or your favorite New England race track, without you, the fan, there would be no auto racing.
An interesting discovery I made just recently was astounding. The Spring Sizzler at Stafford Motor Speedway drew arecord 13,049 fans which was comparable to recent National Basketball Association and National Hockey League playoff games. Crowds at Monadnock Speedway, Plainville Stadium and the Danbury Fair Racearena have been out drawing the New England Whalers during the World Hockey League playoffs.
We hear from time to time that auto racing is dying. This was confirmed by a fellow reporter, told by his newspaper that they didn’t want any further articles on motor racing as there weren’t enough people interested in reading about it. This same publication furnished most of the figures I used in this comparison. They should read the figures they publish. Fans won’t allow auto racing to die, will we?
I believe in the fan and this new weekly column is for you, the fan.
If you are an officer or public person for a fan club, we want you to send us any information you have on your club. We’ll print your fan club news in this column, so let us know what’s happening such as; driver, car and tracks he runs, type of car and division he runs in, club officers, meeting dates and where held, how to join your club and fee, club addresses and anything else pertinent to your organization.
No matter where your track is located in New England or New York, and no matter what type of car your favorite drives, Modified, Late Model Sportsman, Supers, Street Stocks, Midgets or Go-Carts we want to hear from you.
If you as a fan have a question about auto racing of any type or if you have some interesting information about the sport, then let us know.
This writer’s name is Robert Echo and on any given Friday night you’ll find me in the press section at Stafford and on Saturday, I’m at Riverside Park Speedway. You’ll also find me from time to time at Plainville, Monadnock, Thompson Speedway, Westboro Speedway and Catamount Stadium.
We’ll call this column, “NERF’ers Corner”, meaning New England Racing Fans Corner.
This is your own little corner within the New England Speedway Scene, so send me your news or questions so we can fill the space.