NERF'ers Corner by Robert Echo

Missing for 1979, Will Return in 1980

– FRIDAY, OCTOBER 20TH, 1978 –

Missing for ’79, Will Return in ’80

New England racing fans will miss seeing one of the premier Modified chauffeurs and his very popular car come 1979.

Yes. The rumor that has been floating around the Northeastern racing scene since the season ended at Stafford Motor Speedway is true. 

1978. Bob Polverari in his new 711 Racing Team Vega bodied Modified he campaigned at Stafford Motor Speedway. The beautiful machine was a featured spread in Stock Car Racing Magazine. Andy Boright Collection - John Driscoll Photo.
Bob Polverari in his new 711 Racing Team Vega bodied Modified awaiting competition at Stafford Motor Speedway in 1978. The beautiful machine was a featured spread in Stock Car Racing Magazine. Andy Boright Collection – John Driscoll Photo.

Bob Polverari and his crew have decided to pack up their 711 racing operation for the coming year.

The following is a conversation that I had with the three time Riverside Park Speedway Champion a week or so ago.

Nerf: Is it true that you have decided to halt all 711 racing action for 1979?

Bob Polverari: Yes!

Nerf: Did your crew have a voice in this move?

Bob: We’d been thinking of this more over for a couple of years.

Nerf: Did your family have any bearing on this decision?

Bob: I wanted to spend more time doing some of the things we haven’t been able to do in the last few years.

Nerf: Why is the 711 Racing Team taking a year off?

Bob: Being so involved over the past years hasn’t really given us the time to do some of the things we like such as hunting, fishing or just spending some time traveling around.

Nerf: Has your poor showing at Stafford this season brought about this decision?

Bob: Not really.

Nerf: Are you disappointed with your Stafford performance this year?

Bob: No! Every week we headed for the track, we were positive we could win.

Nerf: Were you pleased with the season you had at Riverside Park in the Czarnecki Brothers #20? 

Bob: Yes! With a break or two we could have won another title, but of course with a break or two there’s a couple others who could have won it all.

Nerf: What do you think of Stan Greger, the new Riverside Park Champion?

Bob: He did a super job all season and both he and his car owner, Bill Simons, deserve the title. They don’t have a lot of bucks, but they made them count.

Nerf: Can you tell me what the season has cost you? 

Bob: With the new car, expenses and all, I would estimate approximately $20,000. We’ve taken in around $2,500, sold about $6,000 in equipment since Stafford closed and if we can sell what we have left, we should come out on the plus side for this year.

Late 1978 at Stafford Speedway after Polverari and the 711 Racing Team sat their beautiful new 711 Vega and brought out the old Modified to finish out the season. Howie Hodge Photo.
Late 1978 at Stafford Speedway after Polverari and the 711 Racing Team parked their beautiful new 711 Vega and brought out the old Modified to finish out the season. Howie Hodge Photo.

Nerf: Is the fact that you parked the new 711 before the photo expose came out in Stock Car Racing Magazine been embarrassing to you?

Bob: No! We’ve never been embarrassed about anything the 711 has done. We always try as hard as we can, the best we can and that’s all that anyone can ask.

Nerf: What were some of the problems with the new 711? 

Bob: We had motor problems all season and spent so much time on engines that we couldn’t sort out other things in the car. We also lost a very valuable crew member that definitely hurt us.

Nerf: What are your plans for 1979 as far as auto racing goes?

Bob: We plan to build two identical chassis and two as close to identical motors as possible for our 1980 return.

Nerf: Is it true that the 711 Racing Team plans to spend some time with Maynard Troyer and Jack Tant in hopes of getting some insight on chassis and motors?

Bob: We plan on spending as much time we can with as many people as we can. We’ll also be asking as many questions as possible.

Polverari #711 lines up for heats at Riverside Park Speedway in 1977. The same year he won his 3rd consecutive track championship. Jared Echo Photo.
Polverari 711 lines up for heats at Riverside Park Speedway in 1977. The same year he won his 3rd consecutive track championship. Jared Echo Photo.

Nerf: We know you’ll be returning in 1980, but will you return to both Riverside Park and Stafford or if one, which will it be?

Bob: Being they’ve changed the motor rule at the Park, we’d like to run both Stafford and Riverside. If we can’t find time to run both tracks, then we’ll only compete on Friday nights.

Nerf: Will you have the same crew?

Bob: It’ll be primarily the same crew with a couple additional members.

Nerf: I would like to clear up another rumor now. What was the real reason you left Riverside Park with the 711 this past season?

Bob: We were only able to run one night a week and after running Martinsville Speedway and Stafford, we decided to try our luck on the bigger half-mile track.

Nerf: Are you sure it wasn’t the Riverside officials or in particular, John Tallini?

Bob: No! We’ve been upset with the officials before, but again, who hasn’t? The officials were definitely not our reason for leaving Riverside.

Nerf: Will you be racing anymore this year?

Bob: Yes! We’ll be at Martinsville for the Cardinal 500 on October 29th.

We concluded our conversation with Polverari at this point.

Reggie Ruggeiro #2 ahead of Geoff Bodine #1 and Bob Polverari #3 during the running of the 1978 Riverside 500 at Riverside Park Speedway. Reggie was teamed with Richie Evans. Bodine was teamed with Bob Stefanik. Polverari was teamed with Jerry Cook. Cook broke early forcing Polverari to drive 488 straight laps to win his fourth Riverside 500 victory. Mario Fiore Collection.
Reggie Ruggiero #2 ahead of Geoff Bodine #1 and Bob Polverari #3 during the running of the 1978 Riverside 500 at Riverside Park Speedway. Reggie was teamed with Richie Evans. Bodine was teamed with Bob Stefanik. Polverari was teamed with Jerry Cook. Cook broke early forcing Polverari to drive 488 straight laps to win his fourth Riverside 500 victory. Mario Fiore Collection.

Polverari took track titles at Riverside Park Speedway in 1975-76-77 plus he finished third in 1974 and came home second this year behind Stan Greger. Among his accomplishments are four Riverside Park 500 crowns, captured in 1971-75-76 and again this year. Add to this a second place finish in the 1977 Spring Sizzler behind Maynard Troyer and you know you have a very talented driver.

The 6’1” driver of the beautiful 711 Vega, sponsored by Perry Auto Supply in West Springfield, Mass., is looked upon by his fellow competitors as a super wheel man and a first rate gentleman on or off the track.

The men who have formed one of the finest and best looking crews around are; Barry Kuhnell (Crew chief), Don Merriman and Ed Foley. These are the guys that spend hours every week in between racing programs to prepare the 711 for the following racing show and then work their tails off on the night of the race.

So, to the fans we say; this dedicated driver, crew and car haven’t vacated the racing scene. They’ve just taken a year off to regroup for a mad charge in 1980. That being a challenge for a duel championship at Stafford and Riverside Park. As 1978 was the “Year of Bodine”, could it be that 1980 might be the “Year of Polverari”? Who knows! Stick around and you’ll find out.

Until next week; “NERF’ers Abide the Big 55”

*     *     *

Postscript

What’s not to say about a driver who was able to step away repeatedly from the sport he loves over his career only to return each time in grand fashion.. He went on to become a 5 Time Riverside Park Speedway Modified Champion 1975, ’76, ’77, ’82, and ’90. Won 4 Riverside 500’s, including the last one in 1978 by driving 488 straight laps to grab the checkered after his team mate, 6 time National Modified Champion, Jerry Cook broke 11 laps into the race.

As a life long Polverari fan since the age of six, I can name some of the most memorable races that had me cheering on the 711 driver and worn down afterwards.. Some were wins where others may not have been victories, but were just plain awesome performances that showed how clean, smooth, consistent and competitive of a driver Bob truly was.

In 1980, Bob was in a battle for the track title with Richie Evans. The title came down to the final race in Riverside Park Speedway’s triple crown. The Riverside 200. The race came down to Richie and Bob. For laps on end they battled. Richie down low, Bob up high, vice versa. They swapped the lead a few times and Richie eventually got by for good when the two were side by side coming into lapped traffic.  The lapped car pinched Richie down farther causing the National Champion to run all four tires under the line between turns 3 and 4. He was forced and it was obvious. The officials saw that and did not penalize. The remaining laps it was Richie leading and Polverari behind. Richie went on to take the victory and the 1980 Riverside Park title.

After the event, this upset and extremely biased 10 year old fan went right to his favorite driver and asked; “Why didn’t you protest?  He had all four tires under the line. That  was illegal! You should be the champ!”

I will never forget his answer; “I don’t want to win that way. Nobody would. Richie wouldn’t do that to me. He won. He’s the champ.”

It showed character and more so to a 10 year old it taught me that although racing may be about winning, it was equally about winning the right way and losing gracefully. A true trait of a first class veteran champion.

Although Bob Polverari has had many victories and fine performances throughout his career (The Park, Stafford, and Thompson) his 1981 Spring Sizzler victory, two years removed from his hiatus in 1979, is the most discussed and memorable finishes among the Modified faithful.

His team unveiled a different color scheme on a Plymouth  TC3  bodied Modified built by Chassis Dynamics for it’s first weekend of competition at the Sizzler set the stage. The black and gold Modified was sleek, clean and brilliant looking. Most importantly it was fast right out of the box.

Polverari's famed #711 from 1981 that took him to Spring Sizzler victory lane. A race which has been called the most exciting Spring Sizzler ever. Howie Hodge Photo.
Polverari’s famed 711 in 1981 that took him to Spring Sizzler victory lane. A race which has been called the most exciting Spring Sizzler ever. Howie Hodge Photo.

In 1977 Polverari shocked many when he finished on the podium of the Sizzler as a rookie at Stafford behind winner Maynard Troyer and ahead of Richie Evans who finished 3rd. So as fate would have it, what many fans believe to be his greatest performance on the biggest stage outside of Bob’s home track of Riverside Park, came down to two battles in the ’81 Sizzler, one with Maynard Troyer and the other with Richie Evans..

The finish of the race was as they say; “The stuff of legends”.

Lifelong fan, creator of the Bring Back Riverside Park & Speedway facebook page, and organizer of this past year’s well received Riverside Park Speedway reunion, held during a Springfield Falcon’s hockey game, summed up what it means to be a Bob Polverari fan; “It meant cheering on a man that truly appreciated his fans just as much as we appreciated watching his skill on the track. The meaning of class act on the track and in life. I’ve had guys I’ve cheered on since he retired but none I could get behind like that #711.

And if you ask every Bob Polverari fan, their answers would be extremely similar, mine included.

Have a great racing weekend everyone! All the best!

– Jared

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One thought on “Missing for 1979, Will Return in 1980”

  1. Nice seeing our Dad’s article reprinted. Always brings back memories to see his words on the web.

    Great job on the “Postscript” Bro! I agree 100% with your assessment. Though I was not a fan out of nothing more than rebellion, I had to respect Bob Polverari’s talent and integrity on and off the track. Great guy. I would never admit it back then, but after Richie, he was one of my favorite drivers. I also remember driving you to the ’81 Sizzler and how happy I was for my little brother who was bouncing off the walls with joy due to Bob’s victory on the way home in my old MGB. It was a memorable day. Bob Polverari was a class act in racing, that you don’t see much of any more.
    ~ Shane Echo, Helena, MT

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