51's Modified Madness Presented by Advance Auto Parts Compiled by Mike Twist
North, South, Dirt and Asphalt...All The Latest From the Mod-ern Racing World
SK MODIFIEDS: WATERFORD PROMISES PLENTY OF ACTION THIS WEEKEND
The entry list of Sunday’ SK-150 divides nicely into two camps – those who want to take the money and run and those who want to keep the $5,000-first place prize home. The granddaddy of the division’s big-money events, the SK-150 is the feature act in this weekend’s 11th annual, nine-division Budweiser Modified Nationals at Waterford Speedbowl (CT).
Frank Ruocco won last year's SK Nationals at Waterford. (Jim DuPont Photo)
Frank Ruocco, the 2006 winner, along with Ted Christopher and Jimmy Blewett, the latter two winners last year on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, head up the “visitors” group. It also includes Matt Hirschman, Ronnie Silk, Rob Summers and Bert Marvin.
Defending track champion Dennis Gada, who begins a quest for a record sixth crown, leads the Speedbowl “regulars.” Tom Fox, Rob Janovic Jr., Jeff Pearl, Diego and Shawn Monahan, Jeffrey Paul and Frank Mucciacciaro Jr. are also members of that fraternity.
A trio of competitors will begin “full seasons” at the Bowl – last year’s SK-150 runner-up Kenny Horton along with Doug Coby and Dennis Charette, the latter two Whelen Tour veterans. They are all part of what is considered one of the best entry lists ever for the $20,000 race.
The program also includes extra-distance features for the ‘Bowl’s Late Models (50 laps), Sportsman (30) and Mini Stocks (30). The Northeastern Midget Association, Legends, Pro4 Modifieds, AllStar Trucks and Allison Legacy Cars will compete as well.
Action begins Saturday (1 PM) with SK time trials. Heats and consolations for all other divisions follow. The Legend, Truck, Pro4 and Legacy Car features will bring Saturday action to a close.
The traditional Pit Party (10:30) gets Sunday underway. The Midget, Mini Stock, Late Models and Sportsman features share Sunday with the SKs.
Despite the divide, Speedbowl experience is everywhere. In most cases, the “visitors” are “coming home.” The entry list includes 18 drivers with at least one Speedbowl SK victory and that includes everybody on the “visitors” list except Blewett, who came back from a pit stop to finish fourth in last year’s 150, and Hirschman.. Christopher’s 33 career SK Waterford wins is second only to Gada’s 50. Among active drivers, Marvin’s 10 ranks behind only Pearl (23), Janovic (13) and Fox (12).
The top seven were all in turns three and four when the checkered fell last year. Two laps before, Ruocco had to beat back a determined effort by Horton. “It will not happen again,” says Horton, determined to finish ahead of his best friend this time around.
Pearl is another filled with determination. He has not missed an SK-150 and believes he’s paid enough dues. Pearl’s best was a second (to Gada) in ’03.
Drivers on the 150 entry list with at least one SK Speedbowl win: Dennis Charette, Ted Christopher, Doug Coby, Don Fowler, Tom Fox, Dennis Gada, Justin Gaydosh, Rob Janovic Jr., Kurt Lenahan, Frank Mucciacciaro, Jeffrey Paul, Pete Pavone Jr., Jeff Pearl, Diego Monahan, Shawn Monahan, Frank Ruocco, Ronnie Silk, Rob Summers.
WEEKLY RACING: DEFEBO DOES WHAT SEEMS IMPOSSIBLE
For the first time in his history, Berwick native, Brian Defebo finished off a season in the open wheel asphalt modified ranks with overall top ten finishes in point standings at two different speedways. One might ask, what’s so great about that? Well, both speedways hosted the majority of their events on the same night!
Very familiar with victory lane visits, 29-year-old Defebo was the ‘94 and ‘96 Thriller champion at Mountain Speedway. After the family owned Welch Motorsports racing team purchased an open wheel modified in the late 90’s, Defebo continued with success by winning the ‘02, ‘03 and ‘05 Modified championships at the same speedway, which is located near Drums. Since the modifieds were not a regular division in ’04, Defebo had already broken records at the speedway with ‘hat trick’ divisional championships during those four seasons. In ’04, Defebo competed part time in the tracks late model division. After breaking those records, who could ask for anything more? Defebo.
After his first modified championship in ’02 (by a mere point), Defebo focused on winning feature events, which he had not done during his first championship season. He did just that in ’03, by winning an astounding ten evens out of the features he ran at the speedway, which was merely half of the total. Defebo capped off the season by not only winning the end of the year, extended distance race in the modified division, but by winning the event in the late model class as well. While trying to add other venues to his schedule for the following season in his modified, Defebo still set his concerns in racing toward the late models at Mountain Speedway, as the modified division was not part of the weekly venue.
Nine own at least one Speedbowl championship including Summers, the ’05 SK king. There are six who have been fastest in qualifying including Summers, last year’s leader. Pearl and Christopher are among the best ever time trailers at the ‘Bowl.
There is one notable rookie. Jimmy Broderick, son of two-time Speedbowl champion Jim Broderick, will make his SK debut driving for Harry Wyant. Both of older Broderick’s titles came in Wyant-owned cars.
The field ranges from the 17-year old Broderick to ageless veteran and sentimental favorite Donnie Fowler, a 30-year competitor.
There are five former SK-150 winners on the list: Marvin (‘98), Christopher (’99), Gada (’03), Fox (’05) and Ruocco. An extra-distance, extra-money SK race (it was originally a 200 lapper) was considered “revolutionary” when the Modified Nationals began in 1897, Steve Chowansky running off with the top prize.
Kenny Horton was the runner-up in last year's race. He hopes to better his position just slightly this time around.
DIRT: HAGERSTOWN READY TO ROLL
The 28th Advance Auto Parts Super DIRT Series kicks off March 31 at Hagerstown (Md.) Speedway with the $6,000-to-win 100-lap Big-Block Modified main event headlining the 'North-South Shootout' across the Mason-Dixon line. The 2007 edition features point events in five states and two Canadian provinces with 25 extra-distance races spread across the region running from March through October.
Hagerstown pits gates will swing open at 3 p.m. and grandstands are scheduled to open at 4 while big-block Integra Shocks Time Trials follow 6 p.m. practice with qualifying heats coming immediately after.
Not running the entire season at Mountain in ‘04, Defebo still managed to pull off four feature victories and finish fifth in the overall point standings. The feat was cherished, but Brian admitted that he would like to see the modifieds return to action at the track. Indeed they did in ’05, and Defebo was on target from the get go.
Visiting victory lane ten times, Defebo blatantly dominated the entire season. With a record 54 wins overall at the speedway, he also clinched his fifth championship of his career that season. What was next for this rising oval track star- traveling to Mahoning Speedway in Lehighton, PA. See, Mountain Speedway begins the first few weeks of their season on Sundays, while Mahoning Valley runs on Saturday evenings. Defebo decided to give both tracks an equal share of his #53. Indeed he did.
With a top five finish at Mountain on the first week, Defebo headed to Mahoning and won the following Saturday. He followed the feat by winning the next two consecutive shows at Mahoning, which was a track where he had never won. While making history, Defebo not only won at Mahoning on Saturday, May 6th, but he also won the following day at Mountain (Sunday, May 7th), which made him the first modified driver in history to win in a row at the two venues.
Near the top of the standings at Mountain and while leading the points at Mahoning, Defebo was faced with a tough decision. Which track would he race at for the points championship when both tracks went head to head on Saturday nights? For Defebo the answer was simple- neither. His objective for the season wasn’t to race for points, although ending the season with a record of four wins at Mountain and three wins at Mahoning, Brian also ran a select number of events with the RoC (Race of Champions) touring series. Ironically, even after missing a regular points show at Mountain, Defebo managed to finish as the ’06 runner up at Mountain. After missing numerous shows at Mahoning, he still nailed the tenth spot in the standings, which is something the young talent has never accomplished.
Still holding the overall win record at Mountain Speedway (58 wins), Defebo plans to return for a number of shows next season. Defebo praises his mother, Sophie Welsh, for all of his success over the years, along with his current sponsors, Sophie's Tiki Lounge, DeFebo Graphics, Avery Dennison, Don's Truck & Trailer, Town & Country Auto Credit, Bandit's Roadhouse and Balliet's Country Corners. Brian’s hard working crew consists of Chad, Jay, Dan and Brandi.
Although Defebo looks forward to racing at tracks, which he considers ‘local’, the talented business owner of Defebo Graphics is always open to moving forward in racing.
DIRT: NEW RIDE, OLD PATH FOR AJ IN 2007
For the fifth time the Advance Auto Parts Super DIRT Series opens with Alan Johnson positioned as the reigning overall Hoosier Tire-Sunoco Race Fuels Mr. DIRT Modified points king. And like many of his 35 seasons contending in the Northeast’s premier Big-Block division, it will be business as usual despite undergoing a team transition during the winter months.
Alan Johnson on track (DIRT Photo)
“Its actually similar to starting out last year as we didn’t have a lot of the equipment early on,” said Johnson, 49, DIRTcar Racing’s all-time Big-Block Modified feature winner with 344 checkered flags since the organization was founded in 1976. The Middlesex, N.Y. chauffeur will be looking to register his 46th tour victory when the 2007 Advance Auto Parts SDS kicks off with the 'North-South Shootout' at Hagerstown (Md.) Speedway on March 31. “We had a solid crew in place with a good car and hauler but after that it was really hit or miss at the beginning. I even ran a six year-old Tremont (Ken Sr.) motor at Brewerton until Tony (Laughing) helped us with out with an engine. Things really didn’t start picking up until June, and after that we thought there was a good chance to win every time out.”
Looking in from the outside, what a difference the past year has made. Annually showcased in the Advance Auto Parts Series, ‘A.J. Slideways’ was at the top of the world
in ’06 steering the no. 14J NativePoker.Com-WPC Associates,Inc.-Pine Line Auto Sales/Bicknell entry for owners Jeff Rudalavage and Tony Laughing, reaching the pinnacle of DIRT Big-Block Modified by season’s end. Accompanied by far less fanfare, Alan’s departure from Rudalavage during the off-season came in typical unceremonious fashion and he picked up a ride in Canadian Wallace Stacey’s second car just in time for the 36th Florida DIRTcar Nationals.
“I first met up with Wallace racing at Drummond and Granby about a dozen years ago,” recalled Johnson, who jumped in Quebecois racer Stacey’s red and renumbered 14J for the first time in February, improving every night with a third place tally in the 50-lap finale to vault him into ninth on the points chart. “I’ve had a couple offers recently but they’re at the wrong end of the state. I’m still working on a deal to stay in Central New York but it’s just so hard to get a ride nowadays. I’ve been pretty lucky the past few years. Wallace’s car is definitely capable of winning, we just have to figure out a way to make it better than the 27J (brother Danny Johnson’s top flight ride in ’07).”
Since returning from the ‘Sunshine State’ in February, Stacey has reloaded his Bully's Truck Stop-CFF,Inc./Bicknell entry with a Pat Morrison-prepared powerplant to carry Johnson around Hagerstown’s hallowed half-miler. Alan is looking for continue success in Maryland after finishing no worse than 12th in the five previous Advance Auto Parts Series stops. A.J. parked the Sherlock Racing #Ten Tri-State/TEO in victory lane in 2005 and last year chased winner Brett Hearn across the stripe steering the Rudalavage mount. He wheeled the no. 1 Beachy Motorsports/Bicknell machines in 2001 (6th) and ’02 (3rd) before salvaging 12th-place aboard the H&H Motorsports/Troyer ride in 2004. His only other win at Hagerstown was scored in a 2003 Small-Block event.
“I’ll probably have Wallace’s car most of the summer and he’ll be with me at Hagerstown and Virginia (May 3) running the early series shows,” added Johnson, who was fast from the beginning to end last year, tying for most fast time trial qualifications (5), winning the most preliminary heat races, then leading the most feature laps (479) during the ’06 AAP campaign. The second-generation driver further showcased his talent by matching his own season mark with six Super DIRT Series triumphs and totaling 21 top-10 feature finishes in 25 tour starts with all but two of those marches to the front resulting in top-five tallies. “If nothing happens pretty soon I’m looking at putting an old (Bicknell) car of my own back together. Yet the way things are going right now I might be forced to race away from home on a more regular basis.”