Next Sunday, May 11th is a holiday for Mothers everywhere. It’s also an asphalt Modified fans holiday. It signifies the beginning of Open Season with the running of THE BULLRING BASH Open Modified race. The event takes place at the 3/8 mile asphalt oval known as Lee USA Speedway located in Lee, New Hampshire. It’s an exciting time for the division and the first race of the crown jewel of asphalt Modified racing that is the Tri-Track Open Modified Series. The BULLRING BASH kicks off the division’s old school tradition of the open format races which draws teams, drivers and fans from every series and speedway that runs tour-type Modifieds. It’s an opportunity to witness a championship caliber event with representatives from all series and tracks.
The two other events that make up the series are the SBM 125 IV on Saturday, June 14th at Star Speedway in Epping, NH and the MODIFIED MADNESS at the place they call the Cement Palace, Seekonk Speedway in Seekonk, Mass on Wednesday night, July23rd. As if each race purse isn’t enough, the bonus is a point fund at the end of the season.
I had the pleasure of interviewing two of the individuals who were kind enough to take a quick break from running absolutely ragged, gathering sponsorship, contingency and lap money from fans and businesses who wish to be a part of something special. Truly special is exactly what this band of individuals and all contributing truly are.
A 3 Step Program. Step 1: Become a Modified Fan.
It’s that ever popular question where everyone has a unique, yet at the same time, similar answer; How did you become a Modified fan?
Kevin Rice’s recollection is an all too familiar one for many of us. Kevin, an auto racing journalist and creator of what will soon be the 4th Annual SBM Open Modified race, was infected with the racing bug by his parents; “I have been a fan of racing since before birth while going to the races in my mothers stomach. In those early days, Spencer Speedway was my Friday night home first. Watching Bodine, Evans, Troyer, Kent, Cook, Treichler, Seamon, Loescher race weekly how could you not get hooked on racing? As I got older into the teen years I spent most of my Saturday nights at Oswego Speedway. There was no better place for racing in the 1980’s. At age 17, I made my first trip from home in Fulton, NY to Thompson, driving on a frosty morning in a compact car with no working heat and the rest is history. After traveling to New England for racing for many years, I moved there in 1998.”
And when did James Schaefer first catch the bug before he metamorphosized into the Long Island Mod Maniac? “I went a few times as a kid back in the late 60s and early 70s, but only to Riverhead (Raceway in Riverhead, NY). Finally around 1980, went to Islip (Speedway in Islip, NY.) for the first time and I was hooked. There was something special about those damn Modifieds! Who were my favorite drivers? It was all Charlie Jarzombek and Junior Ambrose back in the day. When I finally got to Islip, Charlie J was still the man.”
Step 2: Getting Involved..
Once the Long Island Mod Maniac got involved in the sport his level of enthusiasm, drive, and willingness to give to the Modifieds became easily defined by his nickname. “In 1985, the town of Riverhead was trying to shut the track down. I had my 4th grade students show up to town hall to give speeches to keep it open. Had a petition going around to keep it open too. Met the Brunnhoelzl family and sponsored my first car, the 8x of Eddie Brunnhoelzl. As I got older and had a little more money to spend, I started to travel, and started to help out when I could at different races with different drivers. I will always remember when I asked this woman to sign the petition, and she said, ‘I guess I better! My brother races there!’. Turns out she was the sister of Eddie Brunnhoelzl. So I asked her.. ‘so if someone wanted to sponsor one of these cars…how do you go about it?’ She told me to come in the pits next Saturday. I did and I haven’t stopped writing checks since then!”
He then took it another step further at a “flash” race in 2009 at Riverhead Raceway. “I decided to put up some extra money to the winner. The following year, I decided to hand out extra money to all the teams that participated at the Tour race at Riverhead. It just felt like the Modifieds were always getting screwed on good purses, and I just figured if I could help, why not.
“The idea of helping out the Modifieds seemed to grow each year we did it. More people would come on board, so it just continued to grow. We didn’t have the lap money at Riverhead at first, but it just seemed to make sense to have it, and get more fans involved. Now, we have lap leader money and leading Riverhead regular money to help out the local guys who don’t run the tour on a regular basis. This year , we almost have $9,000 raised to be split among the 2 races. We already have close to 30 people who are putting up $300 to each race team.” His dedication to raising extra cash for Riverhead Raceway Whelen Modified Tour stops for years should make it an easy decision for WMT teams to show their support by throwing their hats in the BULLRING BASH next weekend as well as the other two Tri-Track Series events.
Kevin Rice’s love of racing caused him to take it up a notch early on as a teenager. He began writing and putting together racing programs at the age of 16 when he operated a pedal bike track in the woods of Fulton, NY. “I started a weekly racing program with photos, points etc. I still have a couple of those programs. That was the best thing I have ever done. At one point we had 80 kids racing at that track, and knowing today they carry that experience with them for the rest of their lives is very special. In the early 1990’s I answered an ad to become a writer for the Oswego Speedway Eagle Program. As I gained experience I just got better at it, and I got satisfaction from how my work as a writer helped short track racing.”
His first taste of being a part of the promotional side of things in the auto racing world started at one of the most talked about facilities in the Northeast, the 5/8th mile Steel Palace, Oswego Speedway which used to play host to the Modifieds in an Open format about 6 or so times a year. It biggest Mod event was the 200 lap Bud 200 held on Oswego Classic weekend. “Oswego Speedway asked me to be their representative at the Guaranteed Starter events they used to have and use to promote Classic Weekend. So I took their pace car to Stafford, Shangri-la and other places promoting the Classic Weekend for them. That ended when they dropped the Modifieds from Classic Weekend. I quit.”
History My Friends..
For those unfamiliar with the significance of Modified Open shows I’ll explain just a little the part they played in the division back in the day. Modified Opens were practically jammed into a weekday every other week during the summer. Sometimes a track would take a weekend off from it’s regularly scheduled program just to run an open Modified show. At the end of the season us fans got to enjoy what we all called championship races. These events included some open and some “outsider friendly” races throughout the 70’s, 80’s and even the early 90’s. They drew the big names with big money and it also gave the home track Modified regulars or invaders an opportunity to defend their turf or compete against the very best teams and drivers the division had to offer. In doing so the fans, press and even other speedway’s personnel with their pace cars and wreckers would show up to not only promote their speedway or business, but witness great racing while sometimes lending a hand. It was good for all the facilities. Like bugs to a light and we couldn’t get enough of these championship level races.
They were so important to the division that the likes of Richie Evans, Jerry Cook, George Kent and Jimmy Spencer who were chasing NASCAR National Championship points made agreements to skip points paying races to hit many of these open shows.
Now let’s be honest here. Back in the 70’s and early 80’s no Modified tours existed and tons of tracks ran a regular Modified program with good fields. The much talked about ALL-STAR LEAGUE was pretty much a series of Modified Open shows all over the Northeast and lived up to their title. There were shows being put on everywhere.
Points in the NASCAR National Modified Championship were collected by competing at any NASCAR sanctioned track or event. Some of these points paying events for the Modifieds were held at facilities like Catamount Stadium (formerly in Milton, VT) which was a NASCAR North track. (Where you might see the likes of Jean Paul Cabana, Beaver and Bobby Dragon, Robbie Crouch, Claud LeClerc and Joey “The Kid” Kourafas competing regularly) would have an occasional NASCAR Modified points event that drew non-NASCAR competitors.
Oswego’s Modified events were all open shows that awarded a Modified title at the end of the season and events like the ICEBREAKER, SPRING SIZZLER, THOMPSON 300, and the RACE of CHAMPIONS were outsider friendly for competitors of non-NASCAR sanctioned facilities. Oswego’s Bud 200, Thompson’s 300 and the Race of Champions all had guaranteed starter races at most facilities around the Northeast that ran Modifieds with or without sanction.
Once the tours started to gain momentum most tracks running a weekly Modified division started to drop the division or go to an alternative Modified class. So in these modern times of three Northeast Modified tours and a small number of facilities running weekly what is now referred to as tour-type Modifieds, any thoughts of saturating the weekdays and off weekends with Open Modified shows would be unrealistic. Teams are competing for titles and with the extreme high costs of racing any damage could be a season killer for some teams. It’s a sign of the times, but that doesn’t mean there’s no room for a few big money open Modified shows. It only means the few that are out there is all that can be afforded to a division mostly made up of tours.
Kevin added some interesting insight and thoughts on asphalt Open Modified events. “The Open show was so popular back in the day but it is a LOT of work. I think that is the primary reason why you don’t see them much anymore. Maybe an even bigger factor though is cost. No matter what you do the tire bill is going to be a deterrent. Take last July at Seekonk for example. The racing that night was spectacular, but it was on life support because of car count issues. But now with this Tri-Track deal you will see a resurrection of that event for sure. If these were dirt track races for a $45,000 purse you would see 50 cars or more. Generally dirt teams can run the same tires more than once. It’s an unfortunate part of pavement racing. Open shows offer fans something different in these days of points and the same starting lineups week after week. To me there is nothing in the world more exciting than a field of 24 Modifieds that has six from the WMT, six from the VMRS, six from the RoC , three locals and three outlaw invaders. There is nothing better, and the fan reactions I have gotten all point to that.”
James Schaefer or Mr. Mod Maniac, same guy, shared his view on having Open shows for the asphalt Modified division and the teams that compete; “Remember, two of these races already exist. I’m putting up the extra money at Seekonk ( $7,030) and Star ($6,400) so that they become $1,000 to start shows. Who knows how long these shows will continue? Seekonk’s car count was low last year. And Star, unfortunately lost Kevin Rice to the south. So, the extra money is to let teams know, the fans want these races to continue! Hopefully, the support of race teams and fans will prove that we really do want these races. We were hoping to have a 3rd race just to try something different and make a series out of it! I’ve sponsored a lot of drivers over the last 5 years and I’d like to think I can count on those guys to support this series, knowing my involvement, and also because of the large amount of money we are willing to lay out to make this possible. Obviously, if it’s not supported, we’d be foolish to ever do this again. Word of mouth, says that these are going to attract a good number of cars and be a success. Hopefully, I am right.”
Their feelings of additional open shows for the future?
James; “There’s not much room on the schedule for many new shows. I doubt you will see much change overall. The 3 main tours will continue to do what they do. I wish the rules would allow for teams to go easily from one touring series to the next. For example, it is a crime that Dwight Jarvis can’t easily show up for a Monadnock show. But I can dream. It’s not going to happen. Even, with the Tri Track, many teams won’t support it because of the rule package. Some teams think they are at a disadvantage with the rules. Rules are not my area – so I can’t really say. But others tell me, when you race at a short track.. no matter where you come from, it should be a fairly even playing field.”
Kevin; “I think having too many of these Open shows would be a big mistake. Just like anything else, the more you do it, the less impact it has. Too many races could run the Open show into the ground completely, and if it didn’t, then it would just become another tour. We already have enough tours. We don’t need another one. My hope is that Open shows create new Modified fans, who then would want to go see these drivers on the tours. That would be a win-win for everybody involved.”
Those last two sentences are exactly why one Northeast Modified tour, The Valenti Modified Racing Series gave it’s support for the Tri-Track Open Modified Series and all open shows in general. These opens not only are great opportunities to pit the very best of all tour-type teams in a championship event, but in turn further promotes the series’ and tracks in which tour type Modifieds compete. VMRS understands the big picture and potential of such events. It is every sense of the word a win-win for all involved and promotes those series and facilities who run the tour-type Modifieds.
The SBM Open Modified Event.
In recent years Kevin Rice has built a fantastic 125 lap tour-type Modified all star race that has grown into one of the most talked about events in the division. The SBM 125 is going into it’s 4th year of existence. The high banked quarter mile of Star Speedway is where the event calls home and it’s somewhat fitting as in the past, Star was the scene of some memorable open Modified shows. The uniqueness of the event were the lap sponsors, contingencies, and awards are all funds from not only the organizers themselves, but
businesses, fans, teams, and drivers. The Grand Marshals are not placed there by sponsors. They are true legends of the sport chosen for their true contribution and hard work within the Modified division. The last two years it was legendary former Modified team owner Mario Fiore giving the command and last year it was legendary racing photographer Howie Hodge. Both were very humbled by the honor and equally deserving of it as well.
However, the SBM Open Modified race’s beginnings arose from some not so wonderful circumstances, but none the less, it got Kevin interested in being involved again; “It was rekindled when Bobby MacArthur took over Star Speedway. I helped him try to get the Modified Open Show format going. I sponsored the first open show myself for $3,000 out of pocket. From there he got big ideas and drove himself into debt. It was very difficult for me after he ran out of money and didn’t pay the teams.”
From those misfortunes the SBM race was born because although he wasn’t responsible he took it upon himself to make things right; “That is how the SBM got started. SBM I was run to raise money for the teams who didn’t get paid. It was a struggle. We had only 16 cars, but made a little money and gave it to those teams who were owed money by the previous owner. Teams were skeptical to support it, which was unfortunate.
“I thought it would end there, but in the process something magical was happening. The race was incredible and so many people asked me to give it another chance. Year two- SBM II we had 28 cars and a larger purse, but still not the crowd I had hoped for.
After thinking about it for a couple of months. I became determined to conquer the challenge of making something of this event. SBM III was hundreds of hours of very hard work in the making. It paid off. We had 32 of the best. I would say the most talented field of drivers anywhere all year.
After SBM III, which still didn’t have the overflow crowd I wanted. I was done. Too much work and I was getting set to move to North Carolina. But Jim Schaefer wouldn’t let this race die. Now I’m jumping in because this event means so much to me. I have a couple of things in the works and if they come to fruition I think we’ll pack the place, which is my ultimate dream, to see a packed house for a Modified race at Star Speedway.”
When I asked Kevin what it meant being in the same journalist /publication group who were also race organizers or promoters at one time or another; “I don’t consider myself to be in the group of the promoters you speak of at all. I was just very motivated to help the race teams who were screwed out of promised point fund money and the only way I could think of getting them paid was to hold a profitable event on their behalf. I had no plans for an SBM II, especially after only 16 teams showed up for the first one.”
Ah yes, but many of his predecessors also experienced rough goings in their first attempts and just like Kevin, those predecessors didn’t give up either and moved forward.
Nay Sayers and Critics..
Yes it’s true. There are a few out there who have unjustly thrown criticism, accusations and even gone so far as to avoid mentioning the series altogether.
For some reason the concept of a racing journalist dipping into the promotional side of the sport was questioned on ethics in his chosen profession for starters. An accusation that falls flat on it’s face if you know anything about the history of auto racing in the Northeast and quite frankly everywhere.
Journalists and publications being involved, through organizing or promoting racing events are as much a part of our beloved Modified history as our past great Modified champions who define the division itself. To name a few, Dick O’Brien formerly of Oswego Speedway, Speedway Scene, National Parts Peddler, Russ Conway formerly of NESMRA, Star Speedway, Hudson Speedway and Lee USA Speedway, as well as editor of many publications and television reporter, Dr. Dick Berggren, was a co-founder of Stafford’s SPRING SIZZER. All were/are writers/publications that promoted, managed or organized racing events. Most of those mentioned wrote about and pushed their events through their write ups in the paper they wrote for or within their pages. Do you think they were ever challenged over ethics in journalism?
Writing about an event a journalist or publication may be involved in is no different than those writing for websites throwing in mentions of their advertisers in articles to give their advertisers a push. It’s far more ethical than a site purposely tricking users such as posting what appears to be an article on a social media page, only for the reader to click and find it isn’t an article at all. A deceptive move by the one posting the link in hopes the reader will sift through pages for the article in a pathetic effort to boost their site’s views and hits.
We’ll not bother with the tactics of those who report on Modifieds and clearly cover the Northeast’s touring series, yet for some odd reason or another refuse or avoid covering these Modified Opens, because excuses are like, well you know. However, just for amusement, let’s tackle the other accusation of profiting from these events. Some have gone so far as to accuse Kevin Rice of profiting off the SBM races. These accusations are equally as laughable as those which challenged his ethics in journalism for being involved in the promotional side. More often than not, these baseless accusations are a sad attempt to grab the attention of anyone listening to their jeering and steer them away from attending or competing.
The whole point of running any show, or running any facility, being in business is to make a profit. If they make money, what would be the downfall? Creating more big dollar Open races? Increased purses for those events? Both of which everybody involved; fans, series, teams, drivers, organizers and facilities all prosper. Who could possibly think negative towards any successful Modified event where everyone leaving the parking lot have smiles ear to ear because of what they just witnessed. What teams would not be happy leaving with a good wad of cash in their pockets? What could be so terrible about that? What’s so bad about making money? However, these recent open shows by like The BULLRING BASH at Lee, the SBM IV at Star and MODIFIED MADNESS at Seekonk, as far as James, Kevin and the Racing Guys, are another story in terms of where profits go.
Step 3: Making Profits?
Kevin Rice made it clear regarding the earning of any profits from the SBM races. “Money? How much did I lose you mean? Year one I probably lost another three grand in all. Funny to look back on it that was more than the teams got from event proceeds. I could have just given out a three grand point fund and saved myself a few hundred hours of hard work.
“Year two I was reimbursed for most of the expenses for promotional materials and such, but I put a bunch of my own money into the purse so I guess that would be considered a pretty significant loss, although it was my choice to do so.”
For 2013 the SBM III race drew a great car count with all three Northeast asphalt Modified Tours being well represented along with competitors from a few remaining tracks running tour type Modifieds regularly. “For SBM III last season I worked so hard and did so much that I really couldn’t tell you how the final numbers came out, but Bob Webber Sr., was very thankful and gave me more than I had asked him for. Honestly though, I have no idea if factoring in every expense and the money I put into the race myself was more or less than what I got in return, but I would guess that it was pretty close to even.
“We added $19,621 to the payoff through my efforts, so that was very rewarding, although we fell $379 short of the ultimate goal of an all-time record purse at Star of $45,000. That record was from an ISMA race when Russ Conway was promoter there, so it was quite a few years ago. I would probably go berserk if we made it to $45,000 this year with a packed house.”
When I asked James Schaefer about profits, laughing, he answered; “I make no money from this.. I take a lot of money out of my pocket.. The Tri Track is probably costing me $15,000 this year. Riverhead, on the other hand, may cost me only $3,000. It would have cost me nothing, except I made this promise to make the June race a $1,000 to start feature. I get no money back from doing this except for the possibility of the Lee race. If that show takes in any profit, any money I receive will go back into other races. We might even just raise the payout for the May 11 show on the spot. I am NOT doing this for profit.”
The BULLRING BASH..
“Kevin Rice got me involved with some stuff at the SBM over the last few years. Now, with the Tri Track Modified Open Series, I recently retired, so I have more time on my hands. Dick Williams, one of the Racing Guys (along with Wayne Coats, Steve Main, Fred Perry, Butch Perry, and Charlie McGowan), had this idea of promoting a 3 race series with big money on the bottom, hence the $1,000 to start idea. I only met him last year at Seekonk, but he’s become a good friend who I talk to on the phone almost every day.” The Long Island Mod Maniac explained. And that my fellow fans is how next week’s, Sunday, May 11th BULLRING BASH at Lee USA Speedway’s 3/8th mile semi-banked asphalt oval in Lee, NH came to be.
James’ response to trying his hand at the promotional side of a touring series is not only great material, but just as much a tribute to the kind of individual he is; “NO! There are days when I think even what I’m attempting this year will be a disaster and have no support. I’d have to take up drinking. I don’t think I can handle the large number of races that a series has. We have 3 races on this Tri Track and technically they are each independently run. What I do works because I have a lot of friends who love the Modifieds and are willing to fork over their money to make this a success. Without them, this wouldn’t even be happening. I’ve tried to get people to come on board as sponsors but it’s not easy. Thankfully, Applebees, Panera Bread and Red Roof Inn are helping out at Riverhead. But mostly you get rejected if you try to get corporate sponsors. And on the Tri Track, Alloy Wheel Repair Specialists, and Sunoco have come on board.”
“I’d love to see the LEE race be a huge success, with 40 Modifieds, and 4000 fans in the stands.” he said; “And the Racing Guys and Long Island Mod Maniac don’t lose their shirts. It would show us that people really want to see creative ideas in racing, and they want to see their Modifieds run for good money”
So what’s the future hold for the Tri-Track Open beyond 2014? James laughed; “Future? Just get me through this year! Some teams have asked for a guaranteed spot, but unfortunately,this year, it’s gonna be race to get in. I will never forget going to my first Turkey Derby, and watching Charlie Jarzombek NOT qualify. It sucked for me as a fan and him of course, but I will never forget that. I’d hate to see Ryan Preece or Matty Hirschman show up for a race like this and not qualify, but I think having a large number of cars will make it very interesting.”
These guys, as all of us, are fans first. They are in it for all the right reasons and unlike some in the past who have made good money off of Open Shows, the money taken in from these events for which they gather get’s poured back into the sport. The payoff for their efforts is a great field and packed house at every event. Considering the purse, contingencies and awards, I’d say the Tri-Track Open Modified Series events will live up to the old school opens of great seasons past. In turn the teams and drivers who compete in these events will join the likes of the old school Modified warriors who align our hall of fames and championship walls at speedways across the Northeast and down the east coast. Is there anything better? I doubt it.
Until next week, with a very special NERF’ers Corner by Robert Echo, safe travels and enjoy the racing where ever you may go.