Category Archives: RELOADED

RELOADED is a current Auto Racing column, written by Jared Echo, covering past and present.

I’m Not Sayin’, I’m Just Sayin’ and Good Memories


It’s been an interesting last couple of weeks since the publishing of my last column, “Money and the Underdog”.  Rain may have postponed and cancelled quite a bit of racing last weekend, but Memorial Day weekend’s televised events did not disappoint for this auto racing fan.  It was far better than any retired basketball star showing up to my birthday party that’s for sure.

I’ve been saying for the last month or so that Kurt Busch’s attempt at the double is a pretty significant deal.  Sunday it played out flawlessly for the first true fendered driver to attempt the 500 since 1972. Placing 6th in the 98th running of the Indianapolis 500 and taking Rookie of the Year honors along with a $423,889.00 check for his efforts says plenty from behind the wheel.  Sure his double ended early at Charlotte, but love him or hate him you can’t deny Busch proved he is one talented driver.  Well done.

We’re just two weeks away from the 4th annual SBM 125 at the very racy Star Speedway quarter mile in Epping, NH..  Kevin Rice, Jim Schaefer, and their fellow organizers are getting everything in line for the much anticipated second jewel in the triple crown of the Tri-Track Open Modified Series on Saturday, June 14th.  If you haven’t seen the SBM video promo produced by Bobby Webber’s 14 year old son Timmy, you should check it out.  It’s been shared by James Schaefer, the Tri-Track Open Modified Series, and on the NERF’ers Corner RELOADED facebook page.  Stop by either of those and give the young Mr. Webber some kudos.  Timmy Webber, you did a fantastic job!

A rabid blogger names a handful of people involved in the sport and proceeds to throw them under the bus with cries of being a victim of bullying.  When the one doing the crying and making accusations has been guilty of the same claims he is crying victim about, it falls flat.  What were the hopes behind this pathetic smoke and mirrors article other than an attempt to get those reprimanded in some way shape or form by their peers, employers or sanctioning bodies? Holding others to standards that one does not hold themselves to while throwing accusations and pointing the finger is absolutely pathetic.  So call it for what it is, Karma.  K-A-R-M-A.. You reap what you sew.  What was the line from back in March?  “You can’t have it both ways”?

The 3/8th mile clay oval of Thunder Mountain Speedway, located in Center Lisle, NY, held a $5,100.00 to win Open Dirt Modified event.  “Lightening on the Mountain”.  It was the second event for the National Dirt Racing League’s Short Track Super Series Fueled By VP.  Lightening on the Mountain, held Tuesday, May 17th had $31,813 in purse money on the line.  The event paid $500 just to take the green. 73 of dirt Modified’s finest showed up to qualify.  32 Modifieds made up the starting field which meant 41 Modifieds did not qualify.  Among those notables not making the field were Brett Hearn, Alan “AJ Slideways” Johnson, and Dale Planck. The event was won by dirt ace Matt Sheppard.  The huge turn out speaks volumes about the strength of the dirt Modified division.

Jerry Cook at Stafford in 1976, the year of his 5th NASCAR National Modified Championship. Howie Hodge photo.
Jerry Cook at Stafford in 1976, a year where Cook captured his 5th NASCAR National Modified Championship. Howie Hodge photo.

The NASCAR Hall of Fame have found their new class of inductees.  6 Time NASCAR National Modified Champion, Jerry Cook was unfortunately passed over yet again.  Cook is a 6 time title holder of what was a National Championship.  Cook battled door handle to door handle for years against Hall of Famer Richie Evans and chased each other up and down the east coast to collect those valuable NASCAR National

Mike Stefanik's Busch Grand National North and NASCAR Modified machines get prepped for battle at Nazareth in 1997. Howie Hodge photo.
Mike Stefanik’s Busch Grand National North and NASCAR Modified Tour machines get prepped for battle at Nazareth in 1997. Howie Hodge photo.

Modified Championship points.   First year nominee, Mike Stefanik also was passed over.  Mike’s 7 NASCAR Modified Tour titles and 2 Busch Grand National North titles are more than enough to get him in.  What more can anyone say about a driver who not only won multiple championships in two of NASCAR’s touring series, let alone earning titles for both series in the same year, not once, but in consecutive years, 1997 and 1998?  That my friends is the definition of a weekend warrior at the top of his game.  In my personal opinion, these guys both are more deserving of the honor than past inductees Rusty Wallace and Dale Jarrett, who each have 1 Cup title in 1989 and 1999 respectively.  No disrespect towards those two former Cup champions.  I am admittedly very biased on this one can’t you tell?

A Flood of Memorial Day Weekend Memories.

On the morning of Friday, May 25th, 2012 my wife, our daughter, a great friend of ours and myself walked into the Stafford Motor Speedway office and were told to go straight to the infield and take as much time as we needed.

Bob Polverari and his famous 711. Had a ton of photos of his Mods back in the day thanks to Mary. Howie Hodge photo.
Bob Polverari and his famous 711. I had a ton of photos of his Mods back in the day thanks to Mary. Howie Hodge photo.

We walked through the gates and I glanced over to the left where on so many a Friday evening, before the races or during intermission, I would bug Mary Hodge to death and enjoy some fun and good natured ribbing with Kevin and Howie.  Pointing at the booth I shared a memory with our daughter;  “I used to take a dollar over to that booth almost every Friday and I’d walk up to the side door.  I’d talk and talk to the Hodges, then hand Mary a dollar for a grab bag of 3 photos and Mary would usually hand me 2 or 3.  You know, I never really wondered how there just happened to be a couple photos in there of my favorite driver, Bob Polverari.  I thought it was luck, but now I know different.”

Further on down the midway, where it slopes down hill, memories of Seymour and Geoff Bodine each carrying newspaper sacks filled with lollipops as they both campaigned for mayor of Stafford Speedway came rushing back.  A little farther down and looking over towards the right was the spot by the fence I could be found as a youngster back in the day waiting for Bob Polverari to walk to the front of his hauler on the other side of the fence.  Many of the drivers always found time to meet and talk with the fans during prepping and intermission and Bob was always one of those guys.

Frank Sgambato and Chris Hopkins man Stafford's flag stand back in the day. Howie Hodge photo.
Frank Sgambato (left)  and Chris Hopkins (right) man Stafford’s flag stand back in 1982. Howie Hodge photo.

We walked down to the flagstand for which many a time back in the day Frank Sgambato with his “comb the hair” around the head flag wave and good friend of my parents, Chris Hopkins commanded the race track.

The same flagstand the undisputed mayor of Stafford Motor Speedway, Seymour the Clown climbed and proceeded to wave flag after flag as Mike Joy played along defining to the crowd what each flag was for.  After each explanation Seymour would toss the flag over his shoulder onto the track as the crowd would let out laughs.  When Seymour got to the black flag, oh boy!

Seymour atop the front stretch fence at Stafford doing what he did best, entertain. Howie Hodge photo.
Seymour atop the front stretch fence doing what he did best, entertain the thousands of fans. Howie Hodge photo.

We hopped over the wall and onto the start finish line in which legends flew over and new ones are still made thankfully.  I stopped for a moment to soak it all in, turning around to look up at the press box where I spent many nights sitting next to Brother Pat Evans and laughing it up.

This was the place my father and I enjoyed so many races together.  Besides the now long passed Riverside Park Speedway in Agawam, Mass, this was home.  Man he loved this track and that’s why it felt so right with what we were about to do.

We walked into the infield and picked a nice grassy spot.  I pulled the container from the box and opened the lid.  I said some heartfelt words.  Then a memory hit me that made me crack up through the tears and I shared it with those with me; “Years ago when Dad was still around he said that when he died he wanted to be mixed with the speedy dry and have the track crew spread him around with it during the night’s events.”

All of us chuckled and I then proceeded to spread my father’s ashes in the green grass.  Robert Echo was finally home for good.

Brother Pat Evans was always fun to sit with in the Stafford press box. Good times. Howie Hodge photo.
Brother Pat Evans was always fun to sit with in the Stafford press box. A true friend to the sport and dearly missed. Howie Hodge photo.

That evening we attended the TSI Harley-Davidson 125 under threatening skies and rain all around us.

Frank and Martin, long time family friends, awaited us in the stands.  When we got to their seats Frank said that as he watched us walk through the gates the cloud hanging over the speedway broke open enough to allow light to shine down onto the infield of the track.  With what took place that morning, to us it was just  another sign that my father was there with us.

The skies opened up with a light shower interrupting the Whelen Modified Tour’s time trials.  One of my very best friends, John turned around and remarked that my father might have a little something to do with it; “Bob always hated time trials.  He must have put an order in for rain so he could get watered in.”

The whole group of us laughed as that was the very type of humor my father had and would have appreciated.  Immediately after the shower the sun shined through for a spell and all in attendance witnessed a double rainbow in the direction of the 3rd and 4th turns.

Howie Hodge, myself, and my daughter pose for Mary to capture some more memories. Mary Hodge photo.
Howie Hodge, myself, and my daughter pose for Mary to capture some more memories. Mary Hodge photo.

During intermission my wife, our daughter and myself met up with Howie and Mary Hodge at the driver’s autograph session.  Seeing those two made this trip to Stafford feel a bit like all those years of attending with my father.  Again, it felt right.

Our daughter Madison soaking in the knowledge. Howie Hodge photo.
Our daughter Madison soaking in the knowledge and taking in the speedway her grandfather once attended. Howie Hodge photo.

At times that Friday night our daughter, who for the last couple of years would ask what her grandfather and I did together at her age, was understandably filled with emotion.  She never met him, but heard endless stories about him through family and friends.  Being on the same ground that myself and her grandfather used to frequent and sharing it with her after all these years had me feeling the same too.  She was like a sponge, soaking up the wall of champions banner that draped over the back of a concession stand for the pit area.  Howie managed to snap a shot of her studying it.  It’s a shot her mother and I will forever treasure.

Doug Coby crosses the line for the 2012 TSI Harley-Davidson 125. Howie Hodge photo.
Doug Coby crosses the line for the 2012 TSI Harley-Davidson 125. Howie Hodge photo.

The rest of the night’s events went on without a hitch.  Bobby Santos III had dominated the event from the start until the closing laps.  Doug Coby who charged to the front, after making a late race pit stop, took the top spot away and a well deserved victory as a light rain started to fall.

These are the memories that filled my Memorial Day.  I hope your memories were just as wonderful and all of you made some more this past weekend as well.  Until next week’s republishing of another classic NERF’ers Corner by Bob Echo, all the best!  Stay safe and enjoy the racing wherever you may attend!

Money and the Underdog


Money Matt Hirshman. A rendered Michael Jaworecki photo
Money Matt Hirschman. A rendered Michael Jaworecki photo

Money..  Big Money..  Tony’s boy..  Call Matt Hirschman  whatever you want, but don’t call him anything less than the current king of the opens.  This talented driver does nothing, but win when big purses are on the line.  Before the event took the green many were expecting he’d come out on top when the checkered flag fell.  Later in the event as Hirschman layed back to the point where some were believing he might have mechanical issues, it soon became clear it was all strategy.  A well thought out plan that, like the Opens days gone by, needed some help from lady luck and the ability to say “when” at the right time.

Let’s get one thing straight and out of the way.  Any crying that sandbagging ruined the BULLRING BASH is nothing short of nonsense.  Anyone who’s raced at Lee or has spoken to those who have competed at Lee USA Speedway (VMRS, Late Models, Ministocks, etc..) will tell you the track is a low grip facility that eats your lunch where the right rear tire is concerned.  This well known fact with a low grip facility amplifies what strategies are used making it extremely telling early in the run what type of strategy any team has decided upon.  It’s also what creates some interesting and extremely dicey racing.  Strategy is a live by the sword die by the sword deal with much depending on luck.  If Hirschman made his stop too soon or too late, if the caution never came out in the last 40 laps, if, if, if goes on until the checkered flag falls.  That’s the BEST thing about racing in general and the greatest thing about extra distance big money short track racing.

The famous Hill Enterprises #79 made the trip from N.C. with young pilot Spencer Davis. Here Spencer battles with Tommy Barrett Jr. and in a three wide battle. Howie Hodge photo.
The famous Hill Enterprises (79) made the trip from N.C. with young pilot Spencer Davis. Here Spencer battles with Tommy Barrett Jr. (9) and Jim Storace (47) in a three wide battle. Howie Hodge photo.

Sandbagging does not just occur in Open events.  It takes place in all forms of racing and in the Modified division just the same.  Opens, NASCAR’s Whelen Modified Tour events, the Race of Champions events, Valenti Modified Racing Series races and throughout the decades upon decades of Modified events all have seen their share of sandbagging.

How many times have we witnessed a late race pit stop and charge to the front or a “lay-back” and stay out of trouble until it’s time to make that charge?  Richie, Geoff Bodine, Charlie Jarzombek, Greg Sacks, right up to Doug Coby, Matt Hirschman, Tommy Barrett, Jr., and Steve Masse have all done it and in damn fine and exciting fashion to boot.

From all those in attendance, fans, competitors, and officials, the consensus was that the BULLRING BASH was a spectacular event filled with tons of passing, some three wide at times.  The BULLRING BASH ended with a tangle stemming from a battle between Ryan Preece in the Boehler #3, said to be a car built for the VMRS shows and VMRS hot shoe, Steve Masse.  The end result was Preece going on to nab second and leaving Todd Annarummo, in his VMRS mount, no where to go besides up and over Masse, literally taking the top off Masse’s Mod.

Rowan Pennink (25) and Richard Savary (99) battle it out in their VMRS machines. Howie Hodge photo.
Rowan Pennink (25) and Richard Savary (99) battle it out in their VMRS machines. Howie Hodge photo.

The field was filled with a handful of Race of Champions teams, Star Speedway, SK, and Sunoco Modifieds.  The Modified of eventual winner, Matt Hirschman, is believed to be used strictly for Open shows. The Valenti Modified Series was well represented however, only ONE full time NASCAR Modified team showed and that was the North Carolina based Hill Enterprises team that competes on the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour.  We’ll get to that lack of WMT team support later.

With that said, I pose the question to you..  What do you do with a “low buck” Thompson Speedway Sunoco Modified during one of many off weeks?  If you’re Dennis Perry and his crew, you took a shot at the BULLRING BASH this past Sunday at Lee USA Speedway. Everyone’s eyebrows on the speedway grounds met their hairline and if by chance you go “chrome dome”, by age or by choice, then those eyebrows made it over the head and disappeared down the back of your shirt collar.  Dennis and his team’s amazing performance was the very definition of what Open Modified races from the past and present define; ANSWERING THE BELL.

Dennis Perry (21) battles Steve Masse (13) at the BULLRING BASH. Howie Hodge photo.
Dennis Perry (21) battles Steve Masse (13) at the BULLRING BASH. Howie Hodge photo.

With a new spec motor in their 2012 Troyer ( their last engine blew up at the ICEBREAKER), a four barrel carb, and a change in gear, Dennis and the crew headed to the BULLRING BASH.

Before the last lap incident that took out Masse and Annarummo, the low buck Sunoco Modified team was a solid 5th.  But after that accident Dennis Perry was posing with a grin from ear to ear and a third place Modified with the front end resembling a pug dog’s snout;  “First thought was ‘I hope that was the end as I just killed this car!’ They said in the drivers meeting the race would end under green no matter what and when I saw Matt had taken the checkers I was just hoping the race was over.”

Tommy Barrett (9) and Dennis Perry (21). Howie Hodge photo.
Tommy Barrett (9) and Dennis Perry (21). Howie Hodge photo.

Dennis started racing part time back in 1987 in the wonderful world of the old school enduro racing and like so many young aspiring drivers before him he may or may not have fibbed just a little about his age;  “Then I went to ministocks in 95 to 97 Sportsman in 98 and late model in 99 thru 2008 when I semi retired to get my son started. I got into mods for 1 open show in 2011 at TIS (Thomspon International Speedway) and then went Sk at TIS driving for my cousin in 2012 where we won rookie and finished 3rd in points and again in 2013 where we were 4th in points.”

I asked Dennis if it was his first time competing at Lee and how he and his crew decided to take a shot at the BULLRING BASH;  “In a mod yes.  It was actually the first short track I ever drove a mod at as TIS is 5/8th of a mile.  I did run a couple of shows in the late 90s in ministocks and loved the place.  I love how the track doesn’t have a lot of grip and makes you drive on the right rear tire.  It fits the way I like my cars and I am just very comfortable there.  The Racing Guys are good friends of our team and as soon as we heard about the race we promised to support them.  Then when we saw the rules package for the Sk’s we felt we would be very competitive especially at the end. The bullrings help to equal the cars and then the rules package they put forth kept us close.”

Dennis Perry poses next to his Modified after a stellar performance in the BULLRING BASH. Mary Hodge photo.
A happy Dennis Perry poses next to his Modified after a stellar performance in the BULLRING BASH. Mary Hodge photo.

As if his landing on the podium with a Sunoco Modified wasn’t enough of a “feel-good” story, Dennis’ support team and crew at Lee was made up of friends and family;  “Norm Perry is the car owner and engine builder.  He owns APE (out of Ashway, RI) and is also the crew chief.  Norm is legally blind and I am always amazed by what he does.  Then it was a few friends and family.  My cousin Shelly Perry.  Chris Williams, my spotter who did an awesome job!  Chris Garside, Mitch Bombard, and Brendon Parenti helped in the pits.  My 12 year old son Jacob was involved heavily too as he helped Norm and I pull the transmission after issues on Saturday practice.  Our sponsors are limited, but we had Shantok Motors out of Uncasville and Groton, CT, who stepped up the day before the race and paid for tow fuel.  Treats Pools and Spas in Uncasville, CT has helped with a couple tires at Thompson this year other than that we race on what we win.”

Perry's Modified suffered damage in the last lap incident, but scooted by for a step on the podium. Howie Hodge photo.
Perry’s Modified suffered damage in the last lap incident, but scooted by for a step on the podium. Howie Hodge photo.

After wrecking in qualifying and having to make the field through the consi Dennis and his team had to come up with a strategy for the 100 lapper;  “We started 22nd right behind Preece and outside Matt and decided that we would do what Matt does.  When we went green we found a hole and saved what we had.  Matt took his change of tire earlier than we wanted so I rode around a little longer and I guess that cost us in the end.  With 19 laps left we were in 19th and the car was great just not a lot of room to maneuver.  The cautions kept killing us I think there was a few cars I passed 4 or 5 times only to have a caution come out and have to do it all over again.  At the end I think we were the only car with the Speed and handling left to give Matt a run but Masse, Preece and Todd were running each other hard and there was just no where to go so I dropped back in line and waited to see if I could capitalize if they made contact and as it happens that’s how the race ended.”

That underfunded team of Dennis and crew, Sunoco Modified and all, plan to run the SBM IV at Star Speedway on June 14th and Modified Madness at Seekonk Speedway on July 24.  That’s regardless of whether Dennis has ever seen Star or run a single lap at the Cement Palace.  It’s not surprising after his team’s amazing performance at the BULLRING BASH.  And what besides the Tri-Track Open Modified Series, are the team’s plans for the rest of the season?;  “Survive!  With limited funds we plan the next two open shows and the rest at TIS but money determines everything.  This was a race that could have taken our entire seasons funding if we did not make the show and as we race on our winnings the payout will be a welcome bonus.  Would like to run an MRS show or two at TIS and Lee but without putting a paying sponsor on the car it seems unlikely.”

The top 3. Dennis Perry (L), Winner Matt Hirshman (C), and 2nd place finisher, the always smiling Ryan Preece (R) pose for Mary Hodge's camera.
The top 3. Dennis Perry (L), Winner Matt Hirschman (C), and 2nd place finisher, the always smiling Ryan Preece (R) pose for Mary Hodge’s camera.

Dennis, with third place trophy and $2,500.00 to show for it shared his view on what it says about the open shows when a team like his earns a shot against the very best in the division and winds up turning heads; “I think the fact that a no name, low buck team like ours that ran with the top dogs will make the other Sk teams take notice and hopefully bring more teams to support this series.  I feel a lot of teams showed disrespect by not showing up after they said they would. These guys, Jim Schaffer, Dick Williams and the rest did something for the racers that has not been done in a long time and not enough racers supported them.  All the teams and drivers these guys have supported through the years need to apologize to them for not showing up and supporting the best paying series there is.  As for competition, I believe Matt was in a ROC car, Ryan was in a Whelen Car, my Sk and Rowan with his MRS ride were the top 4.  If that does not speak to rules parity what does?

Well said, Dennis.  Well said..

Opinions similar to Dennis’ regarding the BULLRING BASH have been mixed, but not in a negative way about the event itself as all who attended came away with high praise.  It was the teams that didn’t show which have received some harsh criticism and rightly so.

More three wide action at the BULLRING BASH. (20) Max Zachem, (15) Chris Pasteryak and (92) Anthony Nocella. Howie Hodge photo.
More three wide action at the BULLRING BASH. (20) Max Zachem, (15) Chris Pasteryak and (92) Anthony Nocella. Howie Hodge photo.

There have been complaints over the years by many WMT teams regarding the purses since the series was down graded by it’s sanctioning body many, many years ago.   The purses being terrible compared to glory seasons past while the expenses have shot through the roof.  Some teams and drivers had very legitimate excuses for being unable to make the trip due to repairs or what not.  A few of the drivers who compete on a regular basis on the tour already had rides for the event leaving their WMT seats idle.  However, the fact that only one full time NASCAR Modified team showed was quite shocking and downright disappointing.

Much has been said about Jim Schaefer’s dedication to the WMT Riverhead Tour shows along with teams he’s assisted with funding out of his own pocket through the years.  He’s worked hard for these guys to put extra money in their pockets over the years.  Where were they?  The majority of those teams didn’t show and to many it was a lack of respect for someone who has given so much to them.  Unfortunately “doing the right thing” is a belief that doesn’t appear to be part their vocabulary or beliefs in some cases and that in itself was a terrible discovery this past weekend and quite frankly heartbreaking.

A shot of champions. BULLRING BASH winner poses with the organizers responsible for such a spectacular show. Howie Hodge photo.
A shot of champions. BULLRING BASH winner poses with the organizers responsible for such a spectacular show. Howie Hodge photo.

Those teams without a legit excuse for not showing up, the same one’s who moaned and groaned over the years about poor purses, have landed themselves in the same boat as the legal US citizens, 18 years or older, who cry about the government, but don’t go and vote.  The race was put on. The purse money was put up, but you chose to be a no show and now you have absolutely no right to bitch about it.  The next time one of these teams breaks out the crying towels of crappy purses or expecting that extra money being placed in their hand which they’ve grown accustom to,  don’t be surprised to receive a “have a fresh cup..” type of response.  Dennis was right, the organizers deserve an apology.  They also deserve answers.

$43,660.00 was taken home by the 26 starters and $5,600 went home with those that didn’t make the field.  The real champions at the BULLRING BASH were those in attendance and the organizers who worked their butts off for the division to put on the high paying show.

Les Hinkley had planned to be competing at the BULLRING BASH, but family comes first.  He and wife Tracey’s 8 year old son Allen’s medical issues have understandably placed racing on the back burner.  Our thoughts and prayers go out to Allen and his family.  We’re all thinking of you and wishing you all the best!  If you would like to make a donation to help with the tough eight year old’s fight please click here.

Checkered Chatter…  This weekend is Indianapolis 500 qualifying.  On the opening day of practice the first full fendered driver to attempt to qualify since 1972, Kurt Busch went out and sat 2nd on the list with a lap over 224 miles per hour…  A brief reminder.  History proves that the more a driver wins the more fans will show up to see them get beat.  It’s great for the gate and great for business.  So the next time someone calls you a moron because you jeer and give a thumbs down to any driver remember, it’s YOUR right as a fan.  YOU are the ones paying your hard earned money for a seat in the stands along with food and beverages.  YOU have every right to boo, jeer, cry foul, and point fingers.  Don’t sweat the small things nor let those non paying in attendance put you down.  It’s your money and your butts in the seats that keeps this thing called auto racing going and makes it so damn great…  Dave Shipee, formerly of the Speedway Scene column he co-wrote with John Brouwer titled The B.S. Report passed away this past week.  The B.S. Report, much like the old NERF’ers Corner turned a lot of heads and fired people up over the years.  It was always an entertaining and tell it like it is corner of the once great paper.  One line from the column that always stuck out was; “Richard Petty Enterprises announced that Bobby Hamilton will drive the famous 43 this season.  Petty further announced that they have no plans on competing for a title this year.”  Gotta love the humor those two put out. Thoughts and prayers to his family and friends…  13 years ago the Modified division lost one of it’s great championship owners and supporters.  Lenny Boehler who owned and wrenched the famous Ole Blue #3 won many races with some of the best drivers the division has ever witnessed behind the wheel; Bugsy Stevens, Freddie DeSarro, Ron and Kenny Bouchard, Wayne Anderson, Tony Hirschman, and many more.

Until next week’s republishing of another NERF’ers Corner by Robert Echo, have a safe and enjoyable weekend at the races!

Open Season!


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.

Tommy Barrett (22) and Ronnie Silk (6) are always ready for a challenge. Howie Hodge photo.
These two NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour aces, Tommy Barrett (22) and Ronnie Silk (6), are always ready for an Open Modified challenge. Howie Hodge photo.

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.”

Richie Evans' 9 NASCAR Modified Championships were also sprinkled with some huge Open Modified wins.  Howie Hodge photo.
Richie Evans’ 9 NASCAR Modified Championship seasons were sprinkled with some huge Open Modified wins and even more “outsider friendly” NASCAR sanctioned events. Howie Hodge photo.

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.

Oswego Speedway's (Oswego, NY) history is not only filled with SuperModified champions, but the best Modified events of the division's past. Howie Hodge photo
Oswego Speedway’s (Oswego, NY) history is not only filled with SuperModified champions, but some of the best Modified events of the division’s past. Howie Hodge photo.

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..
Jerry Cook (38) sometimes passed up NASCAR points races to take a shot at in an Open.  Canadian legend Junior Hanley liked to go open wheel in outsider friendly and Open shows.  Mike Murphy, a Star regular had no problem traveling for the big shows.
Charlie Jarzombek (1) won quite a few Opens in his career.  Jerry Cook (38) sometimes passed up NASCAR points races to take a shot at in an Open.  Canadian legend Junior Hanley (72) liked to go open wheel in outsider friendly and Open shows back in the day.  “Irish” Mike Murphy (M3), a Star regular had no problem traveling for the former big NASCAR sanctioned “outsider friendly” shows.  George Kent (26) also skipped NASCAR point races for Opens. All Howie Hodge photos.

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.

What would be an Open show back in the day without the ultimate invader, Maynard Troyer and his beautiful machines. Howie Hodge photo.
What would an Open show be back in the day without the ultimate invader, Maynard Troyer and his beautiful machines? Howie Hodge photo.

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?

Reggie Ruggiero in Mario Fiore's 44 always looked forward to the Open shows.  When they first showed with their famous Chevette the were a team to be reckoned with. Howie Hodge photo.
Mario Fiore’s 44 and team always looked forward to the Open shows. Showing up with their famous Evans built Chevette they were a team to be reckoned with. Howie Hodge photo.

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.
A flyer from a 1979 Star Speedway Open that featured Supers and Modifieds.  It also was a rare Super appearance by Richie Evans who did double duty.  Evans won the Modified portion.  Cynthia Tebbetts collection. (Click to enlarge)
A flyer from a 1979 Star Speedway Open that featured Supers and Modifieds. It also was a rare Super appearance by Richie Evans who did double duty. Evans won the Modified portion. Cynthia Tebbetts collection. (Left click photo to enlarge)

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.

The other side of the flyer. This very same Star Open saw the likes of Geoff Bodine (99NH) and Satch Worley(66NH) compete in Lee Allard's team cars. Cynthia Tebbetts collection (Click to Enlarge).
The other side of the flyer. This very same Star Open saw the likes of Geoff Bodine (99NH) and Satch Worley(66NH) compete in Lee Allard’s team cars. Cynthia Tebbetts collection (Left click photo to enlarge)

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.”

Geoff Bodine poses next to his Lee Allard 99NH Modified at Trenton Speedway in 1979. Howie Hodge photo.
Modified legend and 1986 Daytona 500 winner Geoff Bodine poses next to Lee Allard’s 99NH Modified at Trenton Speedway in 1979. Howie Hodge photo.

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.

Satch Worley sits takes a seat on the front left of his Lee Allard 66NH at Trenton Speedway in 1979.  If you look to the right I believe the gentleman standing by Satch is the always classy Booker T Jones. Howie Hodge photo.
Satch Worley sits on the front left of his Lee Allard 66NH at Trenton Speedway in 1979. If you look to the right I believe the gentleman standing by Satch is the always classy Booker T Jones. Howie Hodge photo.

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.”

"Big Money" Matt Hirshaman is considered KIng of the Opens. Here victorious in the SBM III. Howie Hodge photo.
“Big Money” Matt Hirschman is considered KIng of the Opens. Shown here victorious in last year’s SBM III. Howie Hodge photo.

“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”

Matt Hirshman has got to be the favorite for the BULLRING BASH next Sunday at Lee USA Speedway.  Howie Hodge photo.
Matt Hirschman has got to be the favorite for the BULLRING BASH next Sunday at Lee USA Speedway. Howie Hodge photo.

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.

Pardon My French and Solute


The Blast-Off's VMRS 100 lap race had it's share of spins and pile ups.  This one left Modified ace Richard Savary (99) giving fellow Modified ace Steve Masse (13) a view of his under carriage.  Mary Hodge photo.
The Blast-Off’s VMRS 100 lap race had it’s share of spins and pile ups. This one left Modified ace Richard Savary (99) giving fellow Modified ace Steve Masse (13) a view of his under carriage. Mary Hodge photo.

This past weekend an extremely moody Mother Nature finally answered the racing God’s messages and allowed Waterford Speedbowl to open it’s season with a bang.  Since the final flag fell last Sunday Keith Rocco’s Waterford “hat-trick” has been the main topic of discussion throughout the Northeast auto racing community.

Todd Szegedy's new VMRS ride's  right side nerf bar was a little worse for wear after the big pile up at the Speedbowl.  Mary Hodge photo.
Todd Szegedy’s new VMRS ride’s right side nerf bar was a little worse for wear after the big pile up at the Speedbowl. Mary Hodge photo.

By all reviews and reports it was a good weekend of racing overall.  I could go over what I viewed on live reports and what every news source has already covered. However, I’ll spare you the “Pete ‘n’ Repeat” and just direct you to a damn fine video presentation of the VMRS 100 which includes driver’s intros and a “aerial cam” by the great folks at Sid’s View fueled by Sid’s Vault Productions!  These guys bring the video recap coverage to a whole new level.  It’s well worth the watch believe you me!

Power Down
Kieth Rocco's hat-trick at Waterford's Blast Off had everyone buzzing and rightly so for a very impressive performance. Howie Hodge photo.
Keith Rocco’s hat-trick at Waterford’s Blast Off had everyone buzzing and rightly so for a very impressive performance. Howie Hodge photo.

The Grand Prix of Long Beach was an interesting one.  Road course ringer Mike Conway came from 16th on the field to take the win.  It was a breath of fresh air seeing the IndyCar grid go off the line from a standing start.  In my opinion standing starts should be the case for all of their road course races. Will Power (for those unfamiliar, yes that is his real name) pulled some questionable moves involving contact that went unpunished by series officials.  However, Graham Rahal made what can only be described as incidental contact in the hair pin during a log jam and received a drive through penalty.  This left many fans questioning reasons behind series officials looking the other way from Will Power’s bullish driving with Penske’s multi car team yet hitting out at the Rahal/Letterman single car team.  After some incidents involving Power last year going unpunished and some questionable tactics in these first two races of the 2014 IndyCar season it gives the appearance that politics very well might be playing a part in official’s decisions.  Ah, the ever evasive calls of consistency.

What had me shaking my head was when the announce team took steps to pop off an excuse for Power’s rough driving.  After Power made contact with a competitor one of the announcers remarked in so many words that you can’t blame Power as he is just anxious to get by these guys so he can race the lead pack.  Really?  Doesn’t every competitor want to get to the lead pack and challenge for the win? The difference is the overwhelming majority in open wheel are of the opinion you don’t knock a driver out of the way or put them in the fence and wreck their equipment while doing so.  Leave that for the fendered up boys in Cup.  Come on guys.

Pardon My French

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway announced they will be adding a practice day in order for teams to prepare for the Indianapolis 500 that takes place on auto racing fan’s Christmas, uh, I mean Memorial Day weekend.

In other news concerning the Indianapolis 500, the scumbags of Westboro Baptist Church decided they will be picketing the Indy 500.   You know who I’m talking about, right?  The jackwads who like to protest our fallen soldiers at their funerals and what not?  Yeah those imbeciles.  Anyways..  Two sad excuses they referred to as reasons were given for the protest.  One being the large consumption of alcohol during the event.  (No!  You don’t say!)  The other is just plain distasteful, which coincidentally is exactly what these protesters are all about.

It’s an Indianapolis 500 tradition that Jim Nabors sings ‘Back Home Again in Indiana’.  He’s been a part of the 500’s long list of pre-race activities for as long as I can remember.  This year will be Jim Nabors’ final appearance at the speedway singing that traditional song and he is being honored.  It’s not because the disgraceful organization hates the song.  It’s because Jim Nabors is gay.  These pathetic pieces of trash who make up the Westboro Baptist Church have made it their calling card to stir the pot in an attempt to create an incident.  Now they are trying to grab more attention by ruining a well deserved tribute to a long time friend of the speedway and all the fans of the 500.   The only beliefs Westboro Baptist Church have are disrespecting life in general and those that have given the ultimate sacrifice to protect this country and seeking attention in the ugliest form.

Side thought..  Wonder how things would pan out say if they decided to protest at Talladega during a Cup race?  If I were a betting man I believe they lack the testicular fortitude to pull that one off on the boys down south.  One might say the red clay, bonfire, after hours, party goers would swallow them up whole.  Wishful thinking is a wonderful thing, isn’t it?


Recently, through a very heartfelt message, a friend reminded everyone that it has been 10 years this past Sunday since the passing of flagging legend Jim Hanks.  For those of you unaware who Jim Hanks is I’ll tell ya.  Jim Hanks was one of the elite chief starters in the Northeast to ever take command of a speedway.  Jim was every bit the definition of what a chief starter was and then some.  He flagged in the days when the chief starter position owned the speedway when competitors were on the track.  He flagged when a race director job was moving the show along and making sure everyone was well organized in doing so, not orchestrating official decisions while a race is in progress.  Hanks was a chief starter when the position meant you were responsible for everyone’s safety including the fans and track employees in the grandstands behind him.  I literally mean when Jim stepped onto the flag stand he held the keys to the speedway.

Legendary Chief Starter Jim Hanks stands beside Herb Simpson in Star Speedway's victory lane. October 1986. Speedway Scene. Walter Newall Collection.
Legendary Chief Starter Jim Hanks (left) stands beside Herb Simpson in victory lane at Star Speedway (Epping, NH) . October 1986. Speedway Scene – Steve Leclair photo. Walter Newall Collection.

When I was 13 my father offhandedly told Jim Hanks at a racing banquet that he had asked his youngest son if he wanted to race or be a flag man and his son answered the latter. After they joked about it Jim told my father with a straight face that if his son was serious about it he would be more than happy to help out in any way when he could.  The next year began an on again off again 2 years of training.  I look back on those years and my years as a chief starter and think of only five flagmen who were influential with my decision to pick up a flag set; Frank Sgambato Sr. (Stafford Motor Speedway), Chris Hopkins (Stafford Motor Speedway and GATR), Bob Watson (DIRT), Nick Fornoro Sr. (CART and so much more), and Mr. Jim Hanks (Monadnock and Star Speedway).

What Jim taught me while watching him and listening to his advice through the years that followed was not only lessons for the position, but life lessons.  He taught me how to carry myself when at the speedway and in front of the fans while on the flag stand.  He showed me how to stay cool and calm in an escalating situation.  He preached about reaction time and how every second counts.  Most of all Jim taught me to stand by a decision and don’t think twice about it “..because up there (Jim pointing at the flag stand) thinking twice gets someone injured or even killed.”

Jim Hanks was someone special whom I will be forever grateful for his willingness to take time and give pointers to a 14 to 16 year old kid before being thrown into the fire.  If not for him I would not have had the mind set or thick skin early on to withstand the punishment that sometimes fans, and more often drivers and crews dished out during any given race night.  Nor would I have had the right frame of mind to deal with the constant paranoia and adrenalin draining the position demanded.

To prove to anyone unfamiliar how the man performed his job at the highest level and what the chief starter position used to define here’s a math problem for you to solve.  Guesstimate how many people occupy a speedway grounds on any given night.  That number should include drivers, owners, crewmen, press, photographers, safety crews, wrecker crews, fans, and fellow officials.  Now multiply that by how many races make up an average schedule.  It’s quite mind boggling when you look at the number you have before you.  Now take into consideration of those he took the time to mentor or influenced along the way to be a chief starter.  The people those individuals saved through their actions and decisions on the flag stand just add to how many were kept out of harms way over the years.  That does indeed make up a big part of Jim Hanks’ legacy and one that his family and friends should always be proud of.

I feel fortunate to have witnessed him take control of the track like a general, beckon the field to the line for his green flag, have his head on a swivel (turn 1-2, back stretch-front stretch, turn 3-4, backstretch-front stretch, turn 1-2 and on and on), then drop the checkered.  Man it was something.

Until next week’s republishing of another Classic NERF’ers Corner by Robert Echo, be safe and enjoy the racing where ever you may travel.

Icebreaker and Being Punk’d.


Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park’s 40th Annual ICEBREAKER has arrived. Considered the Northeast’s first “superspeedway” at the time of it’s grand opening back in 1940, the Hoenig family’s Thompson Speedway has a rich history with the Modified division.

Defending WMT Champ Ryan Preece (16), seen here battling Justin Bonsignore (51) at Stafford, will look to defend his WMT crown. Mary Hodge photo
Defending WMT Champ Ryan Preece (16), seen here battling Justin Bonsignore (51) at Stafford, will look to defend his WMT crown. Mary Hodge photo

This ICEBREAKER should have been the Modified division’s second event in the Northeast, but Mother Nature had other plans for the Waterford Speedbowl’s BLAST OFF weekend.  A dose of inclement weather crossed with what some believe was an extension of time for repairs at the Waterford Speedbowl delayed the BLAST OFF and Valenti Modified Racing Series season opener.  If the latter rumored reason is even partially true, anyone who maintains a public seating venue right down to a being home owner can relate to well needed repairs.  With that said, kudos to the Speedbowl organizers and best of luck getting the facility race and fan ready when the gates open.

Now it’s the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour’s turn to take the baton and open the season in grand fashion.  It was recently reported that 27 total Modifieds have officially entered the WMT event.  As a fan those numbers are disappointing.  Seems every season the car counts take a slight dive with less than a handful of teams either folding up shop or scaling back to a limited schedule.  It’s definitely less than expected and hoped for, but times are tough and money is hard to come by these days for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour competitors.  The racing on the track is what will tell the tale and hopefully the crowd turnout is big and the race winds up being a barn burner.

2013 Icebreaker winner Mike Stefanik will be in a new ride to defend his Icebreaker title. Howie Hodge photo.
2013 Icebreaker winner Mike Stefanik will be in a new ride to defend his Icebreaker title. Howie Hodge photo.

Doug Coby in his new ride, the Smeriglio #2, will be looking to make it two for two in 2014.  Ryan Preece, who dominated in the Battle at the Beach before an incident with a lapped car in the last few laps ruined his night, has to be the favorite.  Last year Mike Stefanik scored the ICEBREAKER victory in the Our Motorsports #22.  This year he will be with another team as Our and Stefanik parted ways.  Young hot shoe Tommy Barrett Jr. of Valenti Modified Racing Series fame the last two seasons takes over piloting duties for Our and Stefanik will be behind the wheel of Ed Marceau’s Cady’s Tavern Chevy #1.

Tommy Barrett Jr. enters his rookie season on the WMT. Tommy is no slouch behind the wheel and is sure to be competitive right out of the gate. Crystal Snape photo.
Tommy Barrett Jr. enters his rookie season on the WMT. Tommy is no slouch behind the wheel and is sure to be competitive right out of the gate. Crystal Snape photo.

If you can’t make it to the ICEBREAKER you have many resources to choose from in order to get your fill from Thompson.  MyRaceNews will be updating us fans all weekend with stories, photos, and results as the weekend moves forward.  Tune into the ChromeHornLive with Denise DuPont‘s spectacular up to date reporting.  The ICEBREAKER will be shown on Fanschoice.TV.  Live 2pm Eastern on Saturday and Sunday immediately following the NASCAR Cup event.  Fanschoice.TV will have one manned camera for footage which will be located on the roof of the press box.  You could say it’s truly going to be by a fan’s point of view.   You can tune in here and search for the video stream.

Get the Punk Out!

Those that do know me know that I am not a fan of NASCAR’s self proclaimed big 3 divisions or what I refer to as the NNBD (NASCAR’s national broadcast divisions). However this past Sunday, knowing their Cup race was at the half mile short track of Martinsville, a former Modified favorite, I decided to tune in for a while before the IndyCar Grand Prix of St Pete.

Not long into the event, which in my opinion should be shortened by a couple hundred laps, Brad Keselowski, Kasey Kahne and Kurt Busch got into a fender bender on the severely cramped pit road. Keselowski was racing off pit road and when Kahne attempted to enter his pit box, Keselowski not only plowed into Kahne, but well after initial contact continued to turn Kahne in order get by. In the process of his carelessness he ran into Busch who was pretty much hugging the outer wall of pit lane.

What happened after was an epic whine-fest crossed with a terrible lack of officiating by the officials of NASCAR’s highest tier division.  Keselowski made an absolute jackass out of himself by pointing a proverbial finger at Kurt Busch.  As his car was being repaired in the garage, he cried into the camera.  Keselowski blamed Busch for everything except his upset stomach from lack of being burped the morning of the race.

Once Keselowski’s car was repaired and he was back on track his actions became the stuff usually seen and dealt with quickly on the short track level.  However, series officials turned a blind eye towards it.  Keselowski, 30 plus laps down, proceeded to drive around waiting for Busch to arrive on his rear bumper and then Keselowski, being the fine former champion he is proceeded to flip Busch off as he break checked and blocked Busch over a period of laps.  Once Busch attempted to make a pass, the kid made every attempt to wreck Kurt Busch.  At one point, while Busch was inside, Keselowski turned into him driving Busch down to the bottom as they flew down the back stretch.

Busch, while celebrating in victory lane, called the incident for what it was, an accident that happened on a congested and tight pit road.  Keselowski continued to whine and cry making a complete fool of himself.  Busch referred to the actions of Keselowski as “Punk-ass”.  I couldn’t agree more.  With NASCAR Cup officials allowing Keselowski to continue after the altercation, completing 469 laps, I’d add that NASCAR’s lack of dealing with the on track actions of Keselowski as being “Punk-ass” as well.

The control truck for Fox was all over it with cameras going back and forth to the 2 car just in case the kid ran into someone else.  Can’t miss that great television footage, right?  Why that’s good stuff for ratings!  I’m sure it is, but it’s terrible for the sport.  That’s not racing.  It’s interesting that the sanctioning body boasts to the heavens how safety aware they are yet turn a cheek to this kind of trash on the track because it’s a rating booster.  This just reminded me why I don’t normally watch NASCAR Sports Entertainment.

If you’re a fan of the Big 3, that’s fine by me.  I for one am waiting for the wake up call that returns NASCAR’s top division to the legit sport it once was, but as long as the ratings rule the decisions made in the booth and penthouse offices of the sanctioning body, I won’t hold my breath.

Checkered Chatter…

Young Modified pilot Cole Powell will be missing the Icebreaker.  Matters of family first have pushed the racing into the back seat.  Cole posted a very heartfelt update on his website which can be seen here.  Our thoughts and prayers of support go out to the Powell family in this trying time…  The F1 race in Malaysia was, to put it mildly, a snooze fest.  Sometimes real racing is boring though.  This weekend finds F1 in the land of sand with the Bahrain Grand Prix going under the lights…  Many facilities have opening night this weekend at some point.  Let’s all hope for a safe weekend enjoyed by all competitors, track officials and fans…  How can anyone claim to be a fan of the Modifieds and part of the media in the Northeast yet NOT cover the Tri-Track Open Modified Series?  Anyone?  Anybody?  Yeah, me either.  Can’t be that the Tri-Track organizers are lacking with getting the word out because James Scheafer, the Long Island Mod Maniac, has been spreading the gospel along with the Tri-Track Open Modified Series site.  We need more folks on the promotional side of asphalt Modified racing like James and The Racing Guys.

That’s all for this week my friends.  Next week brings another classic NERF’ers Corner by Robert Echo.



A recently formed group that calls themselves RIVERSIDE NATION has apparently purchased Riverside Park from its current owners of the amusement park.  Effective as of yesterday afternoon, RIVERSIDE NATION took over ownership and has immediately begun to dismantle the roller coaster and rework all surrounding area for which Riverside Park Speedway used to occupy.  Plans are to rebuild the speedway as the way she stood prior to being torn down after the 1999 auto racing season.

RIVERSIDE NATION, an organization which was recently formed by four friends (and I do mean RECENTLY) all began with a chain of events immediately following the Riverside Park Speedway Reunion. Upon leaving the Springfield Civic Center, on the night of the Springfield Falcons game,  the four that make up RIVERSIDE NATION stopped by a local gas station.  They purchased a Super-Mega-Mega-Jackpot Lottery Ticket while en route to the Riverside Park Speedway Reunion After-Party.  The foursome found out the next day that their ticket landed them 711 million dollars!

The RIVERSIDE NATION Board members are currently choosing to remain nameless so we’ll refer to the four as Robert, Scott, El Jay, and Fiorio.  They were kind enough to sit down for a brief interview concerning this very exciting endeavor.

[Robert] remembered the ticket in his pocket the next morning and heard the lottery numbers during breakfast; “I could not freaking believe it!  I flicked from channel to channel on the television to make sure we had the winning numbers.  Heck, I felt like I already won the lotto after bringing home the signed 711 Bob Polverari door panel! Now this? Bonus score!”

“[Robert] called me to let me know that our numbers hit last night.” said an ecstatic [Scott]. “Once everyone was contacted we all agreed what we had to do with most of the money.”

“I’m just speechless.” exclaimed [El Jay].  “When [Robert and Scott] told me and brought up the idea of buying back the Park and rebuilding the track I only had a few small demands.  One, we build a ¼ midget track.  Two, we allow free camping with a designated pallet burning bonfire area.  And lastly, Eno Lirpasti should be Grand Marshall on opening night!”

“Yeah, I’m all for it (rebuilding the speedway).  We’ve got to bring back Riverside Park Speedway.  I’m already working on some new specs for the rule book.  Tire soaking will not only be legal, but encouraged.  Traction control will be legal and I’m working on a DRS spec for the Modifieds (Drag Reduction System as run in Formula One).” said [Fiorio] regarding new technical specifications. “Everyone will be able to purchase soaks for all kinds of strategies from my other new company SOAK’R’CHOKE.  We’ll have 44 different flavors, I mean mixtures to choose from.”

As stated earlier, construction has already begun.  Material from the soon to be dismantled roller coaster will be melted down and recycled for new guardrail around the facility.  The left over steel will be recycled into feature winning trophies.  The Park that is not being consumed by the reconstruction of the quarter mile asphalt oval will be opened starting mid April.  New Amusement Park hours will be Saturdays only from 3pm to 5pm, from 7pm to 8pm, and from 10:30pm to Midnight.

I asked the RIVERSIDE NATION board as to why the odd amusement park hours?  [Robert] began to explain; “We decided to open with the new amusement park hours right off the bat so everyone can get used to the new hours when the track is ready to reopen.”

“The track gates will open at 3pm and the younger crowd might want something else to do besides sit in the track’s new luxurious stadium seating and admire what sets before their eyes.” said [Robert],  “I don’t know why, but..  Uh..  What was the question? ..  Oh yeah, anyways.. Speedway intermission is usually around 7 or 7:30pm so the fans might want something to do then as well.”

“So we figure why not let them buy some ice cream, hot dogs, tacos, or German potato salad and go for a walk.”  Added [El Jay].  “Heck they may want to eat while taking a ride through the new-old ‘Pirate’s Cove’ ride or dodge someone else’s meal on the Rotor. “

[Scott] continued where [Robert] left off; “..then on average racing is over around 10:30 or 11pm. Why not wind down from the great racing action and ride some rides for about an hour or so.”

“Once the track is completed we will be open on Saturday’s only unless we have an Enduro Friday night or Sunday afternoon a few times.” added [Fiorio]. “We only give a damn about the racing anyways.  The amusement park is just a form of concessions.  You guys talk about it.  I’ve got to lay some knowledge down on my internet peeps.”

Posted immediately after [Fiorio] stepped away from the interview.
Posted immediately after [Fiorio] stepped away from the RIVERSIDE NATION  interview.
While [Fiorio] walked away from his fellow RIVERSIDE NATION board members to spread some words of wisdom on the information super highway, he managed to send me an email with a few more Modified rules. 

Examples of Modified bodies that will be mandatory for competition as per RIVERSIDE NATION. 1st Photo is [Fiorio] photo /  5 that follow are Howie Hodge photos
Examples of Modified bodies that will be mandatory for competition as per RIVERSIDE NATION. 1st Photo is [Fiorio] photo / 5 that follow are Howie Hodge photos
By [Fiorio’s] message the Modified division will be returning to new-old templates consisting of Chevette, Pinto, Vega, Bob Cat, Gremlin, Coupe and other old school body styles.  In a second email he also announced he will be diving into the role of Mod owner and will field a #44 Chevette, #44X Monza, #44XX Pinto, and #44XXX Cavalier.  I was unable to inquire whether [Fiorio] had any past experience as a car owner and at the time of this publishing have been unable to reach him.

Although the four gentleman are the sole owners, they are taking investments from supporters who will become a small percentage owner of the new Riverside Park Speedway.

The group will soon be taking applications to fill all positions at the track.  Positions range from tech inspector to announcer and everything in between.  The four did hint that the role of Promotor could already be filled as they are currently in talks with someone.  [Robert] has stated he will be the speedway’s Race Director.  [El Jay] will be assuming the Pit Steward position.  [Scott] will hold the position of Media Relations Executive, dealing with all press persons personally.  [Fiorio]?  Well although [Fiorio] sounds like he’ll certainly have his hands full, he will be taking the reins of the Public Relations position.

When RIVERSIDE NATION is prepared to reveal their true identities and have more updates regarding this subject of severe wishful thinking and bull droppings, you will find it here on NERF’ers Corner RELOADED.

Happy April Fools Day everyone and a shout out to New England Modified legend Ernie Bodreau who turns another lap today!  Happy Birthday Ernie!

– Jared

I’m Not Sayin’. I’m Just Sayin’.. With a Little Bit of Bugsy.

RELOADED03Bugsy Stevens once gave the great New England auto racing writer, Pete Zanardi his opinion of what the upper level of auto racing consisted of.  With that, so goes this column..

“There’s the Formula One..”

Formula One kicked off it’s 2014 season this past weekend in Australia.  The new 6 cylinder twin turbo charged engines with kinetic energy system have turned the trademark sounds into more of an idling leaf blower.  Just terrible sounding engines.  I for one am a huge Formula One fan and when I tuned into Free Practice One and the teams started heading out onto the track, I had to stop myself from turning up the volume.  Not having that trademark scream of an F1 machine at full song will take some getting used to.

All these changes over the past few years on the F1 machines  keep being labeled by the FIA and Bernie Ecclestone as cost cutting rule changes to steer more manufacturers into the sport.  Kinda mixed signals there wouldn’t you say?

Bernie has said he prefers no more than 24 cars/12 teams maximum.  Of course, this is coming from the same Bernie who opened it up for 13 teams had the Peter Windsor/Ken Anderson US based team ever made it to the grid.  This is also the very same Bernie who was against more than 18 races in a season then followed it up by scheduling 20.  This cost cutting label is just a smoke and mirrors show.  The only thing that isn’t consistently changing is the fact that damn near every year the specification and regulations ARE drastically changing.

These overhauls of regulations effect nearly every aspect of the machines.  Where does this save any team money?  Engine, aero package, chassis, body, etc. and on top of that all the developement that goes into it, all have nothing to do with lowering costs.  They supposedly have everything to do with trying to persuade more manufacturers into throwing their hat into the ring.  But what manufacturer is going to want to enter a half electric, half  6 cylinder engine that is jacked up with a pair of turbos and regulated to use only so much gas in the engine per lap?  Anybody?  Anyone?  Yeah, me either.

Formula One 2006 US Grand Prix at Indy. Jared Echo photo.
Formula One 2006 US Grand Prix at Indy. Jared Echo photo.

Looking at the issue of saving fuel by implementing electronic or kinetic energy system.  I say trash the damn things.  If Formula One wants to save fuel and cut costs, first regulate how many transport trucks can be used by each team.  Half the trucks that arrive at each event for the teams are strictly for setting up each team’s headquarters or social area for the weekend.  There’s a fuel saving idea!  Bam!  Costs cut.  Click-click, that was easy.

If Bernie is stuck on 24 cars maximum grid then what is he going to do with all these new manufacturers that he believes will be breaking down the doors to join?  For the love of the sport don’t ruin one of the keys that makes F1 unique and bring back the trademark engine screams!

The Australian Grand Prix ended with Nico Rosberg outclassing the field crossing the line 23 seconds ahead in his Mercedes.  Daniel Ricciardo had a great run and finished second only to be disqualified later that evening and Kevin Magnussen had a spectacular rookie debut as well.  But Valttari Bottas, in his Williams machine, put in the drive of the day.  A cut tire after popping the wall forced him to limp around the majority of the Australian circuit to get to his pit box.  Once he pitted and came back out he started slicing up through the field like being shot out of a cannon.  Sure he had the help of a safety car period, but the passes he made on his way back up to 5th was the stuff of champions.  The fact that it was done with a team that had been in quite a slump through the past decade made the charge even more magical.  This made me wonder if Felipe Massa didn’t beach his Williams in the first turn on the first lap, would we have seen Mercedes on the top step of the podium?

“..and the Indy cars on top. ..”

Standing at the podium during a Racearama Roast back in the early 80’s Bugsy Stevens regarded Indy Cars as the only cars where you have to put your balls on the dashboard and drive.  Enter one Kurt Busch.

When I used to watch Cup religiously, I was never a Kurt Busch fan.  I’ll even go so far to say that for once in my life I cheered for Jimmy Spencer and that was when he planted Busch’s nose sideways during an altercation one season.  But my friends I have had a change of mind about Kurt Bush the driver.

Indianapolis 500 Time Trials. Madison Echo photo.
Indianapolis 500 Time Trials. Madison Echo photo.

It was announced a while back that one of NASCAR’s black sheep, Kurt Busch had decided to throw his hat in the ring to attempt the double on Memorial Day.  He’s not entering the run for the Borg-Warner Trophy with just any team either.  He’s landed a ride with Andretti Motorsports.  Busch, being the first true NASCAR driver to cross over and attempt the double of the Indianapolis 500 and World 600 at Charlotte in a really, really long time, has to be one of the biggest stories to hit in 40 plus years.  The significance of it is unlike Tony Stewart, Robbie Gordon, and John Andretti who all came from the open wheeled IndyCar ranks and moved to NASCAR.  Bush is a real deal full fendered driver stepping into an IndyCar.

In the past, these doubles have been cheered by faithful fans from both sides.  After all it is the ultimate level of weekend warrior. As May approaches the story will start to boil to the top, but it hasn’t received the full dial as it should so far.  Maybe it’s the lingering effects left from the reaction by NASCAR’s Brian France in a press conference on May 25th of last year which took place a couple weeks after Busch’s testing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway early last May.

France downplayed any double happening by mentioning that drivers have found their schedules prevent that.  He went on to say that any changes in scheduling times at Charlotte to accommodate any future runs wasn’t even on the proverbial radar.  Coincidentally the other side said they would be more than willing to adjust times for the Indy 500.  So was the reaction a snub to Indy or maybe a shot at Busch who has been on NASCAR’s black list for actions in the past?  Who knows.  In France’s defense, NASCAR has been concentrating on their top series with the steady drop in attendance so his mind might have been elsewhere with those answers.

Indianapolis 500 Time Trials. Madison Echo photo.
Indianapolis 500 Time Trials. Madison Echo photo.

The Indianapolis 500 is going on it’s 98th running of the greatest spectacle in auto racing.  Those in charge of the longest running auto race in North America are willing to adjust the times in order to allow doubles to exist.  France has no problems adjusting points systems and formats that completely change the landscape of a season.  He had no problem drawing further and further away from the true auto racing identity of “consistency win championships”, but is unwilling to contemplate adjusting an event by a half an hour or hour to help make the feat possible this year and for the future?  A little irony.

The Indianapolis 500 has once again reclaimed itself as the best race of May’s final Sunday.  2012 had 34 lead changes and last year’s 500 had a whopping 68 lead changes that even made Talladega stand up and say; “What the..?”

The last 2 Indy 500’s had more wheel to wheel racing than anything at Charlotte or Monaco combined could think about experiencing.  That very momentum switch has many baffled as to why France wouldn’t jump at the chance to play the give and take game with those running IndyCar.

“.. Then comes the Modifieds. Everything else is a step down.”

Though the Southern asphalt Modified season has two SWMT official races under their belt the Northeastern asphalt Modified season kicks off next weekend at the famed Waterford Speedbowl in Waterford, Connecticut.  The Blastoff includes the Valenti Modified Racing Series’ 100 lap season opener next Sunday.  Some new faces and teams have entered the series further creating a healthy pool of talent that is certain to make for a very interesting season.

The series gave a little tip of the hat towards the Tri-Track Open Series.  Add to that the Race of Champions tour combo event taking place late in the season and it’s a welcome breath of fresh air in regards to the betterment of the division.  Showing support and a good attitude for open shows can do nothing but good for the entire division as a whole.

When this happens it opens the thoughts of possible return of days of old.  It’s a no-brainer for all involved that stars from all current tours competing in these types of events, open or combo, helps promote those series just as much as much as it promotes those events.  Could this be the beginning of better days for the Modified division?  It certainly has the potential.

Bugsy Stevens was always a threat at open Modified shows. Howie Hodge photo.
Bugsy Stevens was always a threat at open Modified shows. Howie Hodge photo.

Remember the days of that guaranteed starting spots for the Race of Champions, Bud 200 and Thompson 300?  Spots were handed out everywhere regardless of series or any sanctioning body.  Wouldn’t it be fantastic to see the return of big championship type races again?  The return of what used to be the Bud 200 which shared the bill the same weekend of the Oswego Classic or the return of the Thompson 300 or real glory days Race of Champions event.  Sure some were still points races, but they were outsider friendly for competitors who competed weekly at other facilities.

Hopefully this “all for the division” type attitude bleeds over into the head offices of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour as well.  Improving the health of the Modified division can only improve if all facilities, promoters, teams, tours, and media drop their differences and focus more on the betterment of the Modified division.  One can only hope.   I for one am praying for it..

On February 19th Carl Steven Berghman, who every Modified fan knows as Bugsy Stevens, was deservedly honored at the Living Legends of Auto Racing banquet held in Daytona Beach, Florida.  Bugsy gave us all so many great memories in his racing career and I for one feel very fortunate to have watched the great champion race for many years.  A belated congratulations Bugsy!

Until next week’s republishing of another classic NERF’ers Corner by Robert Echo, here’s to a very successful Riverside Park Speedway Reunion at the Springfield Falcons Hockey game this Saturday and safe gathering at the watering hole to follow that up.