NERF'ers Corner by Robert Echo

340 OUT, FULL NASCAR IN

– Friday, September 15th, 1978 –

Next season will tell the story at Riverside Park Speedway as the track ventures into the land of bigger motors. The Park has never allowed engines larger than 340 cubic inches in 30 some years the Agawam oval has been in operation.

Riverside has been under the sanction of NASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing) for the past three years after a long association with Harvey Tattersall and United Stock Car Racing Club. During the three year period with NASCAR the number of Modifieds signing into the pits each week has declined very drastically.

Reggie Ruggiero chases Richie Evans at Riverside Park Speedway in a 1978 feature event. Photo courtesy of Mario Fiore's collection.
Reggie Ruggiero chases Richie Evans at Riverside Park Speedway in a 1978 feature event. Photo courtesy of Mario Fiore’s collection.

NASCAR officials feel that Riverside’s 340 CI motor limit has been somewhat of a factor in the short turnout of cars while many Modified owners think the rising cost in auto racing is the main culprit. Both feelings are a definite factor in the shortage of cars. Many owners of the 340 powered Modifieds feel they’re not competitive when venturing out to other tracks.

Just a few seasons ago you could find upwards of 50 Modifieds on pit road fighting it out for the 20 or 24 car starting fields while over the past eight weeks the number of cars at Riverside hasn’t reached 30. The first leg of the “Triple Crown”, a 100 lapper, saw only 26 Modifieds sign in and only 22 took the green flag in what was supposed to be a 24 car starting field.

The Park is not the only track having a problem with a shortage of Modifieds. The recent NASCAR National Championship race held at Monadnock Speedway had only 23 cars sign in with only 22 starting instead of the 24 that were advertised and that same track has fielded as few as 14 cars for a couple of their regular Friday night shows. Stafford Motor Speedway has had as few as 31 Modifieds sign in trying for 26 car starting spots on a couple of occasions. Claremont Speedway has started as few as 17 Modifieds and only eight cars showed to run the feature at Hudson Speedway on August 27th, a “Thompson 300” qualifier. Also, the Danbury Fair Racearena which generally has between 40 and 50 Mods in the pits each week under a closed sanction, has of late had as few as 32 cars sign in. So, as you can see, it’s not only Riverside that has felt the crunch with small turnouts of Modifieds.

A few of the Stafford regulars should now be entering the Park scene or will they? Remember, only two Modified tracks run on Friday nights, Stafford and Monadnock, and the turnout of cars at these two tracks has been less than impressive at times this year. Add to this the fact that there are eight ovals drawing Modifieds on Saturday nights in New England and there’s a good chance that going full NASCAR rules at Riverside may not have been the answer. There will be several Park regulars heading for other tracks such as Plainville Stadium, Westboro Speedway and Claremont.

Geoff Bodine and Reggie Ruggiero motor down the front stretch to start the 1978 Riverside 500 at the Park. The packed grandstands at Riverside Park Speedway back then was the place to be on Saturday nights. Photo courtesy of Mario Fiore's collection.
Geoff Bodine and Reggie Ruggiero motor down the front stretch to start the 1978 Riverside 500 at the Park. The packed grandstands at Riverside Park Speedway back then was the place to be on Saturday nights. Photo courtesy of Mario Fiore’s collection.

Several long time Riverside competitors will head elsewhere to run because they feel they’ve supported Riverside for a lot of years and now have been cast aside like so much garbage. One owner spoke of meetings that were held by many of his fellow owners with the approval of Riverside’s NASCAR Racing Director, Ralph Ouderkirk. The meetings covered the 340 motor, a need for a gear rule and also some kind of tire regulation. A ballot passed out in the pits at the Park during August showed that 70% were in favor of the 340 and the gear and tire items saw 80% vote in favor of both. The owner in question stated, “Why the hell did waste our time holding meetings to try and lower the cost of racing when NASCAR and the Park were going to do what they wanted anyway?” He also added, “One owner came to Agawam all the way from West Haven on a week night and for what?

The main cause for the shortage of Modifieds in New England is money. Racing has become very expensive over the last few years and during that time many cars have been parked. In the past five years tire costs have risen and some racing parts have doubled in price.

Two cars that won’t return for 1979 are the Czarnecki Brothers #20 Vega driven by Bob Polverari and Earl Reynolds #71 Bobcat wheeled by Bob Stefanik. Both car owners cite money as the main reason they won’t return next season.

Polverari also wheels his own #711 Vega at Stafford, and Jack Gelgut, owner of the #65 Pinto that runs at numerous tracks, both feel it’s almost impossible to lower the cost of racing.

Bobby Stefanik and car owner Earl Reynolds won plenty in 1977 & '78 and Riverside Park in their Richie Evans Chassis, Bobcat bodied Modified. Howie Hodge photo.
Bobby Stefanik and car owner Earl Reynolds won plenty in at Riverside Park in their Richie Evans Chassis, Bobcat bodied Modified. But the team folded at the the end of the ’78 season. Howie Hodge photo.

Polverari stated, “Auto racing today is an expensive sport just like yachting.” He also added, “If you can’t afford a Modified any longer and want to stay in racing then you best think about dropping to a lower more economical class.

Gelgut said, “A head rule would lower cost a great deal, but then how are you going to police it without tearing the heads off of every car in the pits each and every week?

Everyone knows there are rules, such as the 340 CI motor limit that aren’t being policed or enforced now.

It seems as though the 340 engine has been one of the biggest expenses for its car owner. The number of 340’s blown this season by Riverside competitors, but not necessarily at the Park, is in excess of twenty five. If you average that out at a conservative $4,000 per engine, that’s a cool $100,000 in scrap metal. One driver-owner, Don Desrocher, has exploded four this season at the Park. The entire season’s purse at Riverside doesn’t reach the hundred thou mark and many feel that if Riverside would boost its payoff it could help to alleviate some of the cost.

If you average out a Saturday night crowd at Riverside Park at around 4,000 fans and then estimate a $2 per head average it would come to $8,000 and now let’s figure that an average of $1 is spent per fan at the beer stand and snack bars, you would then have a total of $12,000 spent by Park enthusiasts for a regular 50 lap show. Now let’s look at the other side of the coin. The Riverside payoff for a 50 lap show is $4,900 and then add on a $1,500 sanction fee paid to NASCAR for that weeks show plus let’s figure $1,000 for employees that night and you will have a grand total of $7,400 paid out. Subtract the latter from the former and you will have an approximate profit of $4,500. Not bad for a nights work and please remember that all figures are estimated. Do you think an extra thousand or two could be thrown into the purse?

One owner told us that NASCAR is definitely structured towards the man who has a lot of money to spend on building his car and maintaining his equipment.

A survey, taken on August 26th, involving 100 Riverside fans showed they were in favor of the full NASCAR rules by a vote of 73-27.

So 1979 will show whether Riverside is right in the decision, whether NASCAR is good for Riverside, and whether the fans choice is right.

Till next week; “NERFers Abide, the Big 55!”

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s