BLEWETT & TURKEY DERBY: TRADITIION OF SUCCESS By M. Dillner
Big day for Track and NJ Racing Family
The Turkey Derby is back. Yes, there has always been a Turkey Derby, but this year’s edition was extra-special. For Mod enthusiasts, Saturday marked the official return of the ‘Tour-type’ Mods as the headliner of the traditional Thanksgiving weekend race at Wall Township Speedway in New Jersey.
Not much has changed since the old bullring’s Turkey Derby heydays. The walls, at least those on the straightaways, are still intimidating wooden planks. The track was slick and tight and the temperature was seasonably cold.
But neither the cold, nor the fearsome old planks could keep fans and drivers away when the call for the return of the groundpounders came from the Jersey shore. Forty Modifieds came to Wall with hopes of winning Turkey Derby XXXI. Local Mod competitors, ROC Mod
With his newly formed family owned team, “Dirty-Dozen” driver John Blewett III held off invader Donny Lia to capture his third Turkey Derby title, but his first in a Tour-type Mod.
“This is very special, said Blewett after the win. “The crowd was huge and everybody was here. There were a ton of good cars here.
“The first Derby I won will always be the most special because we were stuck in Guatemala and didn’t get home until Thanksgiving Day. I worked on Barry Joe’s car all day long and we came here and won the Turkey Derby. But I will tell you, this Turkey Derby is a close second to that.
drivers, NASCAR Featherlite Series stars, and two SMART invaders came to try and take the prestigious Turkey Derby crown.
Could an invader from outside the so-called “Jersey Dirty Dozen” claim the $1500 dollar bonus by stealing the checkers from the state-favorites? A lot of hype surrounded the promotion and the return of the Mods, but one thing remained the same at Wall… the Derby day was dominated by the famed-Jersey Blewett family.
The quick pit stop that gave Donny his mojo.
“You can’t do this by yourself. I mean in reality, between Jimmy and I, we had five cars (tour-type and small block Mods) this weekend and had eight people to work on the things. The win is great for this program. We are going to try and run part-time on the Tour next year, so it’s a great way to go into the winter.”
Blewett had to fend off a late-race charge by Featherlite Series regular Donny Lia. Lia was caught up in an accident just past the halfway point in the race but used the misfortune to mount new rubber on his racecar. The move paid off for Lia, as he came on late and made a hard charge at Blewett in the closing stages of the race.
Lia and Blewett thrilled the fans a few times during the day with some spirited battles. It was fitting that the two drivers, whom battled so hard at North Carolina’s North vs. South Shootout, were at it again down to the wire at Wall.
Blewett (66) had a spirited battle with Donny Lia during the Turkey Derby. (Howard Hodge Photo)
“He’s such a good racer,” said Lia about Blewett. “I really try and race as hard as I can out there without making enemies. I just try to be clean. I was probably too aggressive early on and he had a problem and checked up. I thought I was going to be able to get underneath him and I just sent it in and we made contact. He came back at me but I kind of knew he was going to come back at me. I tried working him over a few times but he has so many laps around this place, he knows where to run. He’s got so much experience. I learned a lot following him around here.”
“As long as we keep it clean that is fine with me,” chuckled Blewett. “When the rubbin’ gets a little too much then I usually go off the handle. I think Donny knows just how far he can push me. That one incident here today was about as far as I can go (laugh). He always races me hard. He hasn’t been doing this very long and has a great future ahead of him.”
Even with older tires, John was able to protect the low-groove around the high-banked turns of Wall and hold off Lia for the win.
“I knew when Donny was collected in that mess that he was going to the pits,” said Blewett. “The guy came here to win. Nobody out there is racing for points or anything else. I knew I had to save what I could until he got into second and luckily when he got to us we had enough car to win.”
In a race that saw one local hero take main stage, another ol’ Jersey fan-favorite, Jamie Tomaino, looked rejuvenated at his old home track. Tomaino was fast and led some laps during the Derby and finished third.
For Tomaino, just having what some call the ‘real Turkey Derby’ back was special in its own right.
“It was so good to be back here that last night (the night before the race) I watched the 1981 Turkey Derby with my friends at home,” said the ’81 Turkey Derby champ Jamie Tomaino. “If that didn’t pump me up I don’t know what did.
events like this successful. I haven’t seen this place this alive in years. I think the track is going in the right direction.”
The 54-year old speedway woke up in a big way to the sounds of 650 horsepower this weekend and the wake-up call proved that the Turkey Derby is definitely back.
1. JOHN BLEWETT III, 2. Donny Lia; 3. Jamie Tomaino; 4. Tommy Farrell; 5. Wayne Helliwell; 6. Ken Woolley, Jr.; 7. Gene Pack; 8. Pete Brittain; 9. Ed Brunnhoelzl; 10. Jim Long; 11. Jim Willis; 12. Brian Cranmer; 13. Matt Hirschman; 14. Ken Barry; 15. Michael Bohn; 16. Dave Sapinza; 17. Mike Andrews; 18. Tom Rogers; 19. Rich Crompton; 20. Tony Ferrante, Jr.; 21. Chuck Steuer; 22. Reggie Ruggiero; 23. Jon Mannis; 24. Eric Beers; 25. Tim Arre; 26. Nevin George; 27. Jimmy Blewett; 28. TJ Potrezbowski; 29. JR Bertuccio
Jamie Tomaino was back to being "The Jet."
Blewett is one of the most feared drivers in Mods let alone on the Jersey shore. (51 Photos)
For this years’ winner, who cut, or shall we say, splintered his teeth at Wall, the win was a special way to cap off a Thanksgiving weekend. John Blewett III won the Turkey Derby and finished second to his little brother Jimmy in the B-Modified 100-lap feature.
“Anytime you win at home and then you go out and finish one-two it’s special. I mean, you couldn’t have written it any better than that.”
This race is always on Thanksgiving weekend, a holiday that centers around family. So how fitting is it that the all-time winning Turkey Derby family took the honors. John’s father won the Derby twice (1980 & ’84). Little-brother Jimmy won the Derby in a small block mod last season. With Saturday’s win, John III passed his father’s mark by making it three Derby titles and a total of six between the Blewett clan.
Four generations of Blewett’s, including John’s young son, his father and grandfather shared the glory in victory lane together. And for John, it’s extra special to share it his home track with his grandfather, whom he says is his inspiration in racing.
“It’s great to do this for him, said John III. “He is 72-or 3 now and realistically you don’t know how much longer he’s going to be around. As tough as he is, he may have a long way to go. It’s nice because he puts a lot of effort into the race team. He spends a lot of money. We just built two new cars. The man has spent 60 to 70 thousand dollars in the last year in just the Tour equipment. My dad builds the engines on the small block cars. It’s a whole team and family effort.”
John-boy celebrates with the rest of the Blewetts in victory lane. (51 Photo)
Grandpa was very proud of both of his grandchildren at the end of the day.
“I am proud of John, Jimmy and their father. Their father drove for me for 23 years before he retired. You’ve gotta be proud of all of them. They put a lot of time into it, especially John boy. He’s in there every night of the week working on the car. He lives it and it shows. They have the talent, but they also work on their own cars.
“I am the hatchet man. If it ain’t right, I yell and scream at him. Don’t forget we work together all day long in the junkyard. We are used to working together and it works here too.”
The return of the Modifieds at Wall was a success. A large crowd, great weather, a local hero and some great modified racing was living proof that racing on the Jersey shore is alive and well. With the North vs. South Shootout and the Turkey Derby during the past few weeks, it is apparent that Modified racing is also on the upswing.
“They did a good job,” said Blewett of the Turkey Derby weekend. “I think when people see what they are promoting here with all the money and bonuses, even more guys will come. All of that is what makes
One of the crashes on the day; this one Donny Lia overcame to finish second to Blewett. (51 Photo)